We know the science of climate change. It is clear: The planet is heating up placing humanity at significant risk. Arguing whether this is occurring is like saying that an apple will not fall on you from a tree. The theory of gravity is real, just the same way as anthropogenic climate change is occurring. So what is going on? Why are Americans so confused about this?Never mind that we are getting more frequent heat waves, droughts, overall more extreme weatherWhy is it that they are denying what their eyes are telling them?
I am going to avoid science in this argument. For what you are seeing is the result of a classic fear, uncertainty, disinformation campaign. In other words, a marketing campaign. This add campaign is not unlike the cigarettes are not bad for you of the 1950s,‘60 and ’70s. It is not unlike the lead wars that finally ended with regulation and lead paint off your gasoline and house paint. This is about wealth, and property. It is about the right to use property as one wishes. It is about regulations and lack off. In this case science is the enemy of property.
The argument used by friends of the earth most be reframed. This is no longer about science, good, bad or the ugly. This is a battle about concepts of property and property rights. It is also related to how we assign value. A high concentrated form of energy is very useful to modern society. You may say it’s essential. Without it I would not be typing on this computer. at least not yet. Without it I would not be able to move the tonnage of my car either. In short, without fossil energy modern society is not possible. At least for the present moment. We need to transform our energy systems. But wealth and concepts of value are getting in the way.
This concentrated energy transformed black gold into an incredibly valuable commodity. At one time it was used for water proofing in boats, and sometimes in lamps. But until it was refined, black gold was a sticky nuisance. Refining it, and using it to power vehicles instantly transformed this annoyingly sticky substance to something incredibly valuable. It was also one reason electric cars lost the technological fight at the beginning of the 20th century. Gasoline powered cars were more reliable. They also had more range.
Coal went through this transformation earlier as well. It was an incredibly concentrated energy. It was the source for the Industrial Revolution. It powered the steam plants needed to run early factories. It did two things. It started to pollute the air, and it became incredibly valuable. It was the reason the British Isles became the heart of that revolution. The United Kingdom had deep reserves of coal, which was mined to power the revolution. It made some people very rich, just as oil would do the same later. Both became extremely profitable products. And both are last century technology. The future is a new form that will run our modern world. Meaning, they will lose value. Coal is well on its way of staying in the ground, with economic disruptions that are quite massive. This includes deep poverty and unemployment on the former coal fields, as coal fired plants close.
This breeds resentment. A way of life is gone, and potential for good incomes. It should not be a surprise that coal miners resent these changes. This leads us to property rights.
Here we need to take a detour to another incredibly expensive product, especially in the beginning. This is tobacco. When Europeans came in contact with first peoples in the future United States they were introduced to this addictive leave. It was exported to Europe where it wasn’t used for ceremony. They smoked it for pleasure. It soon became a status symbol that only wealthy people could afford. This drove a few things in the newly emerging colonial economy. They range from the slave trade, to ideas of property. This was the most important export product for the new colony. It was hardly something that would be let go easily.
Centuries passed and the United States became independent. Tobacco, especially in the form of cigarettes, entered widespread use. Market penetration was deep. Some people became very wealthy. Then came meddling science. A report in 1955 showed that it could cause lung cancer. Panic spread within the companies. Who would use a product that was harmful? The evidence was strong. And we know what happened next.
The companies put profit, present and future, before the health of their present and future users. They went to war with science. They literally created a marketing campaign against science. Their model, of creating fear, doubt and uncertainty, FUD for short, is exactly what the oil companies are doing at present. It is successful, and they know it. They are exploiting two things in this marketing campaign.
- Lack of scientific literacy by the American public.
- Science speaks in the language of theory, which is the highest level of proof.
Both of these are related. Americans are not that familiar with the language of science. Nor do they understand the scientific method. For all I care, the theory of gravity could be wrong, or a future scientist may find ways that will radically change how we understand it. This has happened already. The way that classical mechanics and Newton explain gravity is a far cry from how Einstein describes it. However, an apple still falls from a tree and can hit you in the head if you are standing under that tree.
So this is an intrinsic weakness that the marketing campaign exploited. It is only theory, ergo, it is not proven beyond any doubt. Oh never mind that the scientific consensus with climate science is at ninety seven percent.
So the obvious question is why? And here we go into tobacco again, and profits, present and future.
A product is only valuable when we think it is. Tobacco lost a lot of its intrinsic value, and we might add, market share, when the research finally came out. Less smokers meant less customers. And when they were not able to sell their wares on tv, radio and other media the value also went down. When Joe Camel was forced into retirement, the cool that was tobacco lost its allure.
Some of it has returned and they are busy recruiting a new generation of consumers though a new sham product. These are vaping pens, which are portrayed as the coolest thing ever. Kids, if you are reading this, don’t start. They are neither cool or safe. They are addictive however, and likely will also cause cancer. That research is emerging.
The same is happening to oil, and oil reserves. They are rated in the trillions of dollars by investors. They will continue to make some people very wealthy, unless… they have to remain in the ground. If they do, the value they hold will crash. This is why we have had a long running campaign of FUD. This is also why they are fighting renewables.
What To Do?
The first thing that people need to realize is that their eyes and ears are not lying to them. There are dramatic changes in the frequency of dangerous weather. It will only accelerate as time goes on. Most people really do not care about parts per million. They do not care about the science. To be brutal, they do not understand it either. See that point about that lack of scientific literacy. So stop with the facts that matter to people with a scientific inclination, but really nobody else. And if you do, put them in the full context of what is going on. Make it relevant to their everyday lives.
An Inconvenient Truth, but especially the sequel did this well. They gave massive data dumps, but they also scared the viewer with actual video from what looked like the book of revelations. It made climate change relevant in very personal ways.
Think MARKETING when you speak to friends and neighbors. In what way can you convey the message that will make sense to anybody? I still remember when the phenomena was called global warming. It was a bad choice when it came to marketing. Yes, it described changes to a T, since the atmosphere is indeed warming. However, the first serious winter storm, and you were done. It was enough to seed doubt since warming does not mean cold weather. This is common sense!. If the world was warming, why did we have that winter storm and a United States Senator took it to the level of good marketing for his side. When Joe Inhofe brought a snow ball to the well of the Senate he was not being stupid, or funny. He was seeding doubt, and doing a magnificent job out of it.
The term “climate change” also lacks in marketing value as well, but for different reasons. Yes, it is descriptive of the somewhat slow nature of the phenomena, but it still lacks punch. The people who are fighting you are spending millions in both market research and add people to seed that doubt.. They also have bought some scientists to their side, to seed that FUD. These people are either skeptics, or bought over. Most are not climate scientists either.
Extreme weather is the better term. It covers all kinds, and matches frequent and deep winter storms, as well as summer droughts.
They have also used the media against you. How? Media hates it when they are accused of bias, any bias. Oh never mind that there are some situations where there are no two sides. This does not matter. Or that media lacks the qualified personnel to evaluate the science.
Think about it this way, how did the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association won in the end against big tobacco? Their fight against Tobacco has some lessons in this war against the oil lobby. They were Davids fighting a Goliath. Trust me, big tobacco had the add money to fight them to a standstill.
It was not the distant fact that tobacco could cause cancer. Humans are funny that way and they will always defy the odds. Nor were the hearings in Congress. I mean, they were interesting, and dramatic, but most people do not pay attention to those either. They were able to win when they made it personal to individuals. It became an issue about asthma for children. It also became about clothes not smelling. Tobacco became socially unacceptable. We literally went from smoke clouds at family gatherings to smokers who are socially shunned. .
But most importantly, it is time to understand that this is a fight about property. This is not about the atmosphere, at least not to the oil conglomerates. It is about their ability to exploit a very valuable commodity that they have a god given right to do. This is why you are seeing feel good campaigns from the American Petroleum Institute and the Koch brothers. The air is getting cleaner, not because of natural gas, but regulations. They want those regulations to go away. They get in the way of profit and property rights. They KNOW that things will turn nasty if people connect the present heat waves and winter storms to what they are doing. People will demand renewables even more than they already are.
Humans are capable of change, but only when you make it so personal they have no choice. Yes, our backs are against the wall already, but people need to get that at a very personal level. This is about me and my children. The data is nice. But the data is hardly transparent to the average person. This is partly due to a low quality science education, but that is a debate for another century, assuming there is another century.