What’s Up with the Discrepancy?

I recently read a Tweet by the World Resources Institute linking to an article by my local newspaper, The Vancouver Sun, titled, “A Humanitarian Emergency on a Global Scale“. This article regarding humans pushing the tipping points of planetary natural systems, including climate change, gave me an idea for an analogy.

This is not the first time I’ve read news of leading scientists making such dire claims. (i.e. 1, 2, 3) This is also not the first time that I shake my head thinking how a large section of our controlling political leaders will deny, or at best, delay actions on these warnings.

To me, as with most of those with any training  related to physical Earth systems, watching the recent political denial of these warnings has felt like stepping into a Looking Glass world of double speak where truth and fiction have been so contorted and inverted that it’s hard to know right from left, let alone good from bad.

Most people don’t spend their time studying climate, which is a complicated phenomenon. Why should they? Just like most people aren’t trained oncologists, who study cancer, another complicated phenomenon. However, for some reason, when our oncologist tells us we have cancer, we sit up and listen. We trust what they, as an expert on the subject tell us, and then we act accordingly. We change our life if need be. Quit work. Eat kale. Whatever it takes.

So, when thousands of climate scientists around the world tell us we have a dire climate change problem, that puts the future of the entire Earth at risk? Well then, in that case, we just go back to business as usual.

So, what’s up with the discrepancy?

To illustrate, here is a little story:

I wasn’t feeling very well a few months ago. I was getting internal pains and fever. I thought it was a temporary thing, a bad case of the flu. But it kept persisting, so I went to the doctor. She said she’d run some tests.

A week later she calls me and tells me the tests indicate I have cancer and they’d like to do some more tests. Those tests end up confirming the original results, and adding that my time on Earth as the functional person I have been may be severely limited.

Shaken up by this, I go to my boss to tell him the news. Imagine my shock when he tells me this:

“Cancer? What do you mean cancer? Well you and some doctors might believe in ‘cancer’, but let me tell you, they are a bunch of quacks who are just trying to take your money, fabricating stories of disease and dire predictions like crazy preachers on pulpits. And you? You’re acting like some kind of hypochondriac, feeding into their ridiculous claims.”

I plead my case. I cough up blood and he says it’s inconclusive and probably psychosomatic. I say I’ll show him the tests; they are based on repeatable concrete evidence by trained experts. He says he doubts whether they really know what they are talking about. After all, I look like I can go back to work to him.

Seeing that none of this is getting through to my boss, I say that there is a chance it could kill me, and I need time to be with my family and friends. He then just laughs at me and tells me that I’ve really gone off the deep end, and that I’d better go back to work… or else.

Ok, so I go and take my boss to court. It makes the news even. Politicians start to make statements because it turns out that other people’s bosses are denying their cancer too. And what does our local political leader say about the situation to the media?

“Cancer doesn’t really exist,” she says. “They can’t really prove it. They certainly don’t know how to cure it after soooo many years of research and expense. What a waste of time and tax payer’s dollars!

And, after all, people are dying of natural causes all the time. How can you say it’s caused by cancer? Maybe it’s something else that’s making people feel bad.

This so-called cancer, it’s also bad for the economy. It’s blown out of proportion, and we’ve decided that until we absolutely know what it is and how to cure it that it’s business as usual. People who think they have cancer should just go back to work.”

Ok ok. So I made that up. I do not have cancer. A crass example, not in the best of taste. Cancer is actually a real and very serious problem that millions around the world face. I have several relatives who have passed away from cancer, and it is a disease that disheartens and destroys lives. Yes, it is certainly real.

As real as the Earth going around the sun. As real as anthropogenic climate change. These are all measurable physical phenomena.

Climate change related causes have already been responsible for global mortality. The prognosis is also that climate change has the potential to affect billions, and our children, and our children’s children.

So what’s up with the discrepancy?

Both cancer and climate change are related to phenomena we don’t completely understand, and both have potentially dire results. One has to do with effects on an individual organism, the other has to do with effects on a planetary system.

Ok, I’ll admit, the scale of the latter may be harder to comprehend, and understand, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore warnings regarding its health any less seriously than to our own.

But we do. We take one way more seriously than we do the other. The difference is that we can literally feel it in our bones. We see our friends and relatives suffer directly from it. And so we tend to listen to the advice of the experts in their field about it.

The other? Well, it’s quite the opposite for the other. Well, maybe unless you live in Africa or the Maldives.

So, imagine for a minute, or a good few seconds, the kind of shock you would feel…

… if your boss and political leaders said something to you like the statements in the above cancer analogy. Well, this is somewhere on the scale that scientists who study climate change and earth systems science feel when years of their hard nosed research with concrete results they present on are categorically questioned, denied, and then followed up with disproportional cuts to research budgets. (Not to mention gag orders on federal scientists.)

But somehow, in North America this treatment of the problem of climate change is passed off as normal.

It’s about time we realized that the problem here isn’t with climate science and its prognosis. It’s with our leaders telling us the problem isn’t really there, then telling us to go back to work.

It’s with us.

Accepting the unacceptable, and just carrying on with business as usual.

Yeah, so forget the kale. Forget the radiation treatment.

If you deny it’s there, then it doesn’t exist.

Right?

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Defense and Climate Change – Little Room for Doubt

“Assessments conducted by the intelligence community indicate that climate change could have significant geopolitical impacts around the world, contributing to poverty, environmental degradation, and the further weakening of fragile governments. Climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration.” – United States Department of Defense, Quadrennial Defense Review 2010

I’ve been sitting on the above quote for a while now. The thing that really stirkes me about it—aside from the surety (notice the two “will”s which do not leave a lot of doubt in the matter)—is that this quote is not from the EPA. It’s not from the UN. It’s not from some scientific panel or from some university somewhere… It’s from an official document of the US Department of Defense. No matter what one’s political views, no matter where one lives, when one reads something put out by US “intelligence”, especially when inside an official military document, one sits up a bit straighter and pays a little more attention.  After all, many of the last century’s scientific advances had their start in the military (or were taken up by the military). When a Department of Defense talks science, they don’t mess around.

The quotes from the Defense Review stand out in particular with all of the political ‘debate’ on climate change in the last couple of years (noting that the science IS clear on the key points of global warming and there is consensus on the call to action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and that it is basically politicians and certain lobby groups that are  finding ways to reword, delay, de-fund and ignore scientists).

In particular, many climate change deniers also fall into the camp that shows strong support for the military, so I found this report by the US military to offer, frankly, an interesting discrepancy. Enough of a discrepancy that it makes one wonder why there is any doubt on climate change left.

Any.

Here are some more quotes from the document (emphasis mine):

“Climate change will affect DoD in two broad ways. First, climate change will shape the operating environment, roles, and missions that we undertake.
The U.S. Global Change Research Program, composed of 13 federal agencies, reported in 2009 that climate-related changes are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters. Among these physical changes are increases in heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the oceans and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows…

While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict, placing a burden to respond on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. In addition, extreme weather events may lead to increased demands for defense support to civil authorities for humanitarian assistance or disaster response both within the United States and overseas. In some nations, the military is the only institution with the capacity to respond to a large-scale natural disaster. Proactive engagement with these countries can help build their capability to respond to such events. Working closely with relevant U.S. departments and agencies, DoD has undertaken environmental security cooperative initiatives with foreign militaries that represent a nonthreatening way of building trust, sharing best practices on installations management and operations, and developing response capacity

Second, DoD will need to adjust to the impacts of climate change on our facilities and military capabilities. The Department already provides environmental stewardship at hundreds of DoD installations throughout the United States and around the world, working diligently to meet resource efficiency and sustainability goals as set by relevant laws and executive orders. Although the United States has significant capacity to adapt to climate change, it will pose challenges for civil society and DoD alike, particularly in light of the nation’s extensive coastal infrastructure. In 2008, the National Intelligence Council judged that more than 30 U.S. military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DoD’s operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the Department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required.

In this regard, DoD will work to foster efforts to assess, adapt to, and mitigate the impacts of climate change. Domestically, the Department will leverage the Strategic Environmental Research and Development Program, a joint effort among DoD, the Department of Energy, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to develop climate change assessment tools. Abroad, the Department will increase its investment in the Defense Environmental International Cooperation Program not only to promote cooperation on environmental security issues, but also to augment international adaptation efforts. The Department will also speed innovative energy and conservation technologies from laboratories to military end users. The Environmental Security and Technology Certification Program uses military installations as a test bed to demonstrate and create a market for innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies coming out of the private sector and DoD and Department of Energy laboratories. Finally, the Department is improving small-scale energy efficiency and renewable energy projects at military installations through our Energy Conservation Investment Program.

The effect of changing climate on the Department’s operating environment is evident in the maritime commons of the Arctic. The opening of the Arctic waters in the decades ahead which will permit seasonal commerce and transit presents a unique opportunity to work collaboratively in multilateral forums to promote a balanced approach to improving human and environmental security in the region. In that effort, DoD must work with the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security to address gaps in Arctic communications, domain awareness, search and rescue, and environmental observation and forecasting capabilities to support both current and future planning and operations. To support cooperative engagement in the Arctic, DoD strongly supports accession to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

As climate science advances, the Department will regularly reevaluate climate change risks and opportunities in order to develop policies and plans to manage its effects on the Department’s operating environment, missions, and facilities. Managing the national security effects of climate change will require DoD to work collaboratively, through a whole-of-government approach, with both traditional allies and new partners.”

And so there it is. It touches on climate change assessment, risk analysis, impacts, mitigation, adaptation, extreme weather, sea level rise, energy efficiency and renewable projects, and the opening of Arctic waters. It’s all there.

The only thing missing is mass recognition in North America that anthropogenic climate change is a fact. Enough of a fact that there is enough supporting measured and statistically significant data out there to make our own military intelligence design programs and strategies around it, and designate it as a significant security risk. So, if deniers don’t take science for fact, or at least a high risk factor, and if they wont take the advice of our own military intelligence as pursuasive, then perhaps they have argued themselves right off the table of logical debate.

So, perhaps it is time to put the unfounded politicized aspects of this debate to rest, and finally get on with taking some reasonable mitigation actions?