Conservatives, fossil-fuel biz throw shade on manmade climate change
by Mike Killalea, NSD President
Hot enough for you? Probably most folks in Travis County have had their fill. No one’s arguing that it is too cool. The latest Facebook joke was that we’d better run our taps next week, in anticipation of temperatures dropping below 100 degrees. (So the pipes won’t freeze, you see.)
July was recently reported as the hottest month ever recorded globally, and possibly the hottest in at least 120,000 years. (1, 2, 3)
But increasingly, conservatives and the fossil-fuel industry are throwing shade on the scientifically supported explanation that our alarming weather is driven by manmade use of coal, oil ,and natural gas.
Climate change is new front in culture wars
“Understanding climate denial used to seem easy: It was all about greed,” wrote The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman recently (4). “True, greed is still a major factor in anti-environmentalism. But climate denial has also become a front in the culture wars, with right-wingers rejecting the science in part because they dislike science in general and opposing action against emissions out of visceral opposition to anything liberals support.”
Discoverers become the biggest deniers
Ironically, it was oil-industry scientists who first discovered that carbon dioxide emissions would lead to global temperature increases. Beginning in the late 1970s, Exxon scientists made remarkably accurate projections of the effects of fossil-fuel burning. Their projections were as accurate, and sometimes even more so, as those of independent academic and government models. But even then, Exxon was pulling out the stops to deny and discredit climate-change theories (5,6).
Exxon was not alone. Through its trade association, the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry has been aware of potential human-caused global warming since at least the 1950s; the coal industry since at least the 1960s; electric utilities, Total Oil Company, and General Motors and Ford motor companies since at least the 1970s; and Shell Oil Company since at least the 1980s (6). Reference 6 includes scans of Exxon graphs dating from the 1970s that predicted temperature increases.
(Full disclosure: I worked for an Exxon affiliate for five years in the early 1980s, and for decades afterward in the oilfield-service industry.)
Krugman notes that the conservative Heritage Foundation is spearheading an effort called Project 2025 that will probably define the agenda if a Republican wins the White House next year. Project 2025 calls for “dismantling almost every clean energy program in the federal government and boosting the production of fossil fuels.” (7)
This climate change is not natural
Some are in denial that increased CO2 is responsible for climate change, that it is somehow part of a natural cycle. Sure, temperature change naturally over time, thanks to variations in the planet’s orbit, solar cycles, and volcanic eruptions can all cause periods of warming or cooling (8).
However, Kim Cobb, a climate scientist at Georgia Tech, says none of these natural causes can explain the Earth’s current warming trend. “What we see clearly is that the rate and the magnitude of current warming really dwarfs anything in this most recent geologic period,” she said (8).
Cobb says that the current concentration of global warming pollution in the atmosphere is the only factor that explains it.
“We can use global climate models to understand what would be happening if greenhouse gases weren’t in the atmosphere,” she said. “When we leave greenhouse gases out of the equation, we don’t get the warming that we’ve seen over the last several decades. When we put in those greenhouse gases, we do see this accelerated warming.”
Other deniers blame sunspots, cosmic rays, crooked scientists, unreliable models (9, 10). Maybe the man in the moon is the bad guy.
Unfortunately for fossil-fuel apologists, real science lays the blame squarely at the feet of fossil-fuel use. An overwhelming consensus of scientists and scientific organizations agree that we the people are changing Earth’s climate, primarily by pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere (11, 12).
"Scientists have known for some time, from multiple lines of evidence, that humans are changing Earth’s climate, primarily through greenhouse-gas emissions,” stated the US National Academy of Sciences (12).
This is not a great time for the world to butt heads on solutions to this unprecedented and potentially catastrophic phenomenon, to put it mildly. Fortunately, most Americans want action.
Two-thirds of Americans want climate action
According to Pew Research, more than two-thirds of Americans think addressing climate change should be an important priority for Congress and the President. 37% think that this should be a top priority, while another 34% say it is an important but lower priority (13, 14)
On the other hand, nearly 30% shrug off the importance of action on climate change — 17% say action is not too important, and 11% say nothing should be done (14).
Thanks to unprecedented wildfires, dozens are dead on the devastated island of Maui. Here in beautiful Lago Vista and Central Texas, we also see an alarming increase in wildfires. Thanks to the quick response from our local fire and police departments, the fires have been manageable — so far.
Younger people are more likely to favor a complete phase out of fossil fuels (14). Let’s just hope that they are around to enjoy a greener world.
2 https://www.washingtonpost.com/weather/2023/07/08/earth-hottest-years-thousands-climate/ (Possible pay wall)
4 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/07/opinion/climate-is-now-a-culture-war-issue.html (Possible pay wall)
5 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/12/climate/exxon-mobil-global-warming-climate-change.html#:~:text=Share%20full%20article-,Exxon%20Scientists%20Predicted%20Global%20Warming%2C%20Even%20as%20Company%20Cast%20Doubts,fuels%20would%20warm%20the%20planet (Possible pay wall)
7 https://www.nytimes.com/2023/08/04/climate/republicans-climate-project2025.html (Possible pay wall)