Climate Change Denial

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September 26, 2006


George Marshall @ 10:55 am
At a talk at the Brookings Institute in Washington in April 2005, Stavros Dimas of the European Commission gave his audience “a concrete example of how we in Europe are combating climate change”. The Gurschen glacier in Switzerland has melted so much over the past fifteen years that the top is now twenty metres below the Andermatt ski resort cable car station – the poor skiers can no longer reach it when there is no snowfall. So, beginning this summer, the local authority wrapped 30,000 square feet of the glacier with reflective foil. Other resorts at Saas-Fee and Titlis are planning to test similar schemes. Fully storySo here’s a promising way to deal with climate change- let’s wrap everything up in Bacofoil so that we can keep flying in the tourists.

Harebrained plans that use foil to reflect the sun are nothing new. Five years ago Edward Teller, so-called ‘father of the hydrogen bomb’, suggested spreading strips of foil (or ‘optical resonant scatterers’ in his language) into the stratosphere. I have no idea whether it would work or not- maybe it might. However I would seriously question the judgment of anyone who solves a systemic problem by addressing its effects rather than its causes. It is like promoting lung transplants as a solution to nicotine addiction.

In the past Teller advocated the use of hydrogen bombs for underground mining and creating new ports. He was a man of immense intelligence and learning – proof, were any needed, that cleverness does not necessarily bring wisdom.

Other brilliant ideas to deal with the effects of climate change include erecting carbon dioxide “scrubbers” on mountaintops, seeding the oceans with iron filings to encourage plankton to soak up carbon dioxide, and a fleet of planes pumping ‘cooling’ sulphur dioxide into the upper atmosphere.

All those billions of reflective strips are already flying in the minds of conspiracy theorists who believe that the US government is secretly implementing these schemes. One site tells us that ‘the US is flying military planes painted to look like commercial aircraft implementing a top secret government scheme to counteract global warming by spraying fine aluminum dust, barium, titanium and assorted chemicals, thus using the aircraft as distributors of reflective aerosols or humidity collecting aerogels’

One of the reasons why denial is so prevalent is that climate change poses a huge challenge to the existing worldview of most people. Rather than change the way they think, many people prefer to manipulate the problem to fit their existing understanding of the world.

The worldview of the technological optimists is that all problems- including those that result from our current technology and resource use- can be posited as an engineering challenge and countered with yet more resources and pollution.

The paranoid pessimists reformulate all threats as the planned strategy of an enemy. They have no capacity to engage with a problem that results from unplanned and diffused mass behaviour. When they look at the vapour trails of airplanes- which have a major and demonstrable warming impact- they prefer to see a strategy by a shadowy enemy to poison them.

Both groups are far larger than one might think. Techological solutions to emissions are the main thrust of the US government’s strategy on climate change. Type “chemtrails’ into a search engine and you will find hundreds of very active sites dedicated to this dangerous fantasy- many times more than are concerned with the real relationship between aviation and climate change.

Surely it is time for both groups to indulge in a little self-reflection on why they find it so hard to accept climate change as it really is.

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7 responses to “WRAP IT UP TO GO”

  1. Jonathan Ward says:

    Good Post. I am often confronted by technological optimists. a lot of them have no understanding of phyiscs, engineering or electronics…just blind faith in man’s ingenuity and the boffins they hear of.

    on asking where and how this techonology will be designed and made and run considering the diminishing number of energy sources and raw materials, I am told we’ll find a way for this too.

    never mind the fact that half the world still has shortages of essential raw materials and energy sources.

  2. Chris Shaw says:

    The thing is, from my perspective at least, the connection between technology, denial and hierarchies. Many people suffer from an irrational and all powerful desire to get to the top of their respective tree, and this consideration appears to trump all other concerns. The hierarchical nature of the society into which we are born is itself necessitated by industrial technology – it needs people to adopt a specialized role and to forgo the ability to imagine a life outside of the laws, rules and needs of our masters.

    Any non-political response to climate change (which seems to be the vast majority of responses I have encountered) is no solution at all – this crisis demands a totalising perspective and the courage to imagine, and campaign for, a future informed by values very different from those which currently dominate life in the West. At the moment people are just being presented with solutions which are hairshirt in nature and lead people to believe a low carbon future is a misearble future.

  3. Mark Ritzenhein says:

    I have concluded, in a similar vein, that human behavior indicates that we will never find a solution to collectively save ourselves from the Global Warming crisis. Nearly all people will remain ignorant, then react with denial; this is the stage we are at now. Others, the opportunists, will see it as a means for them to prosper individually in any way. The conservative (not politically conservative, but always the same people) power element will try to maintain the status quo, as that is where they derive their power and wealth–hence the coal industry’s disinformation campaign on GW.
    No, I believe that the only way to effect total cultural shift is to shock the society, as happened on September 11. This will have to be the environmental Krakatoa heard round the world–say, the West Antarctic ice caps sliding suddenly into the sea, sending a great roar through the atmosphere and tidal waves to every shore (it cannot just be a remote event as that will not get the average person’s immediate attention and chemical brain reaction). But it is just as likely that panic and chaos will ensue as orderly transition.
    I am beginning to think that Lovelock is right about the matter of nuclear energy (–any dissenters on this?), and that the only sensible solution is to let the coal and petro boys have in on building nuclear power plants as soon as possible. The direct transfer of power and wealth to another energy source would insure that a transition to non-carbon would actually occur without effective resistance.
    Even with that, I believe that it is still too late.

  4. Bill Dowling says:

    Sadly, I have to agree with Mark Ritzenhein.
    Only a short sharp shock on the lines of Krakatoa, or 9/11 will do the necessary.
    The trouble is – will that happen soon enough so that those left to learn the lesson can take collective, effective and sufficient global action to prevent serious climate change – that will be by then irreversible anyway, presumably?!
    How many minor incidents and warnings signs equate to a major catastrophe anyway?
    With the permafrosts in Siberia and Alaska now melting and self-fueling this effect due to the release of trapped Methane gas – are we not already at the tipping point?
    If the whole world agreed tommorrow to shift towards a mix of nuclear power and renewable energy sources and away from fossil fuels completly by an agreed target date – would the energy still required from fossil fuels for such massive construction and reconstruction projects to be implemented soon enough to carry out such a transformation in time to achieve such an uncertain target in such an uncertain time do too much further uncertain damage to the climate?
    How could we even agree on the necessary target date, and be sure it was soon enough?!
    Surely this cannot be done without massive global lifestyle changes, particularly in the West, at the same time?
    How else do we persaude the Millions of Chinese and Indians to and developing countries to follow suit?

    Therein lies the rub.
    Since we still dont even know exactly how much time we have got left, if any, nor exactly how serious the problem is, shouldn’t we be adopting a far more precautionary principle?

    If you only have a very limited amount of coal to keep you warm through the winter (which you know is coming but you dont know how long it will last or how cold it may get later on)if it is very cold in the first few weeks, how much coal do you burn then?
    It depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist I guess – but the “realist” or “common sense” says ration it out carefully, based on past experience!
    My lifetime of experience,at age 64 so far, says human beings always live in the short term and with too much hope, and have a very bad habit of doing too little too late, or in mad panic which is even worse, an attitude particularly prevalent among our leaders…..!!
    The “realists” (and some pessimists) have been warning of climate change, the perils of overconsumption, and the need for sustainability measures for several decades now.
    While I am pleased that our numbers are growing and our impact is increasing, I still do not think we will ever achieve enough in time by persuasion alone.
    Fear of the consequences when experienced personally, or dramatically enough by many others, is the only thing that may yet do it.
    Either that or a truly benevolent world dictator must emerge with the wisdom and absolute power to ensure the necessary compliance by the people for such big changes!
    Christian believers seem to be sitting back more or less waiting for this to happen.
    Their societies are thus founded on nothing more than faith and hope! True optimists.
    I am not at all sure what the Muslims want except global Sharia Law. True pessimists perhaps?
    Is the battle against climate change being delayed by the distraction of Islamic terrorism, and the different religious belief systems in the world?
    I believe this is the case, that the two are inextricably linked, and that these differences must be resolved first.
    If climate change is not the “common enemy” that should unite the world, what is?
    The real “common enemy” is the lifestyle still being epitomised by the USA, and those who still seek to emulate it.
    This was and will continue to be the cause of climate change.
    We realists who want to save our planet from destruction have a long long way to go in our use of argument and persuasion.
    Scientific argument and facts alone wont do it.
    We need to encompass all the facets of global societies, and particularly focus on their belief systems.
    Western society’s belief system is, in general, now founded on money, supported by the faith of Christianity only when it suits them.
    This belief system is hardly likely to help us win the battle against climate change.
    Do the Muslim societies have a common view in line with us “realists” on climate change?
    One that should be heard and respected in the West, one that will help us all?
    Or, are they very much as confused and divided on this?

  5. Valuethinker says:

    Edward Teller had a remarkable reputation.

    He claimed to have invented the 3 key discoveries behind the hydrogen bomb. In fact, he discovered 1, and was involved in the discovery of the other 2.

    He sold out Robert Oppenheimer in the hearing in the US Congress regarding Oppenheimer’s security clearance, leaving Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb, a broken man.

    He endorsed Reagan’s ‘Star Wars’ system, when all the scientists involved on the programme knew it would never work.

    Edward Teller was one of the century’s great opportunists, and would gladly lend his hand to right wing causes and grinding axes.

  6. Stephen Watson says:

    “I am beginning to think that Lovelock is right about the matter of nuclear energy (–any dissenters on this?)”

    Yep, one here.

    Quoting from a Green Party leaflet many years ago: “A power generation method that is so expensive, so incomprehensibly technical, so centrally organised, so elusive of democratic control, so elitist, so male-dominated, so thoughtlessly, massively exploitative of resources – such a system mirrors precisely those areas in our society most in need of ecological change”.

    I believe that’s even more true today. The fuel supply for nuclear reactors exists because of fossil fuels because the mining and processing wouldn’t happen otherwise. The concentrations of uranium are getting smaller and smaller and more difficult to produce. How do you keep the spent fuel handled, processed, protected and cooled without an abundant supply of fossil fuel for the job? As we have either reached, or will soon reach, peak oil, whereafter oil availability will decline year on year forever, how will we address nuclear in that light? Realise that if fossil fuels had not been around we would never, ever have been able to create a nuclear power plant.

    Sea level rise could easily compromise nuclear stations situated on the coast as in the UK. In France they had to switch off a number of their power stations a few years ago as due to the heatwave sweeping Europe the rivers became too warm to cool the reactor. It sounds that not only are we predicating nuclear on continued oil but also on a stable climate.

    Climate change and peak oil will change everything. In my view, power generation in the future begins with the blindingly obvious: insulate, reduce waste, stop burning it up on things like outside heaters so that smokers can enjoy pizza at 10:30pm on a December night (round the corner from where I live, honest!) and then try to meet a much reduced demand with renewables.

    Nuclear? No thanks.

  7. “never mind the fact that half the world still has shortages of essential raw materials and energy sources.”

    one of the best lines for this topic.

    Unfortunately “lifestyle” will always be dominating youth mind unless the media change the brainwashing, which I highly doubt

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