What if climate change is a hoax?

Australia blog about climate change science media coverage : Anti-carbon tax protesters in Canberra

Pro-oil protesters hold signs at a demonstration against taking action on climate change.

The most demanding issue of our time is environmental protection. Over hundreds of years of exploding populations, consumption-driven economies, and carving up the planet for resources, the human species has completely reshaped its humble home world. For decades now, scientists have warned that this behavior, unchecked, could have an ominous consequence. Science has given humanity a simple ultimatum: change our behavior or face nature’s wrath.

This has led to a deep schism. Those who are most heavily invested in the current system fight scientists’ claims aggressively. Corporate giants have spent untold millions on disinformation campaigns and disseminated their propaganda through far-right outlets. They have successfully transformed a scientific and moral issue into a political one.

But for the sake of argument, suppose the denialists are right. If we turn our resources to the fight against climate change and it turns out to be a hoax, what will we have done?

First things first: Climate change is not a hoax. The basic science behind the theory is indisputable and fairly simple. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are emitted as byproducts of human transportation, manufacturing and farming. These allow ultraviolet rays from the sun to pass through earth’s atmosphere, but trap infrared heat reflected off the earth’s surface. Human beings have dramatically increased the quantity of those greenhouse gases, and the planet is heating: we now regularly break the record for hottest year.

Regardless, the steps we might take to combat climate change are positive for humanity, independent of the planet’s temperature. Sustainability and ecology will guide us toward wiser decisions overall. It will move us away from toxic byproducts of industry that pollute our air, land, and water. Millions of jobs in green infrastructure can be created. And our reckless, oil-driven imperialist foreign policy will cease – no one has ever gone to war over sunlight or wind.

The main argument against taking action on climate change is that it will cost America too many jobs. This is the reason President Trump gave for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. But his withdrawal speech relied on figures from a pro-fossil fuel think tank and was widely criticized as deceptive, even by Trump’s usual standards. In fact, phasing out oil is the right thing to do economically.

Pipeline Spills 2010 to 2015

A map of pipeline spills in the United States from 2010-2015.

Green infrastructure in the United States is already booming. Renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy and employs some 4.5 million Americans. There are now more jobs in green energy than in fossil fuels. Meanwhile coal, which has become a symbol of Trump’s populist Midwest rise, employs only around 75,000 Americans in some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs available – jobs that should be happily traded in for green alternatives.

Aside from the economic boons, there is the issue of sustainability. Estimates on how much oil is left vary, but it’ll run out a long time before sunlight does. Not only that, oil is a carcinogenic, deadly pollutant for which there is still no reliable transportation method. Tanker spills devastate huge areas of water and pipelines have dumped more than 9 million gallons of crude oil on US soil since 2010. Not only is energy from solar and wind clean, it could one day be free.

Our hang-up on oil has also caused the United States to pursue some of the most unsavory ties in all international relations. Saudi Arabia is the an oppressive, ultra-conservative Islamic fundamentalist state that provides ISIS a model for its dreamed-of caliphate, yet we share a “special relationship” with them over oil. Trump’s alliance with Vladimir Putin likewise appears to be triangulated around the matter of oil.

As Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, he alienated the US from our European allies on the single biggest global issue. He’s instead strengthening US, Saudi Arabian, and Russian relations – the world’s three biggest oil producers by far. A new international order is forming with despotic petro states on one side and green states on the other, and Trump wants the US on the wrong side of history.

Big Oil’s power can hardly be overstated. Politically, the industry can buy all the representation it needs – not a single Republican presidential candidate made climate change a priority and most denied its existence outright. Oil companies receive billions of dollars annually from the government in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Its profits depend on earth’s continued destruction. And it knows it’s lying: In-house scientists at places like ExxonMobil have, for decades, internally recognized the effects of climate change while externally publishing reports to downplay it.

In the classic comic series Watchmen, the villain Ozymandias kills millions of New Yorkers as part of an elaborate hoax to convince the people of earth that they are under extraterrestrial invasion. His ploy seemingly works to unite earth against this common threat, hoax though it may be. Dark as it may be, we should take the lesson to heart. Even if climate change is a hoax – which, again, it isn’t – we’d still gain from fighting it a better, cleaner, and more cooperative world.

Donald Trump’s ‘America Last’ energy policy

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Donald Trump displays an executive order reviving the Keystone XL pipeline.

With President Donald Trump’s revival of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, the gauntlet has been thrown down between Americans who care for the environment and the crony capitalists who want to pillage it. Supporters who gravitated toward Trump’s economic message applauded his executive orders, but the pipelines have little to do with job creation. Far from following through on campaign rhetoric, Donald Trump’s energy policy can best be described as America Last.

Americans will suffer the consequences of these pipelines. When they break, as pipelines routinely do – 140,000 gallons of oil leaked in Iowa the day after Trump signed the executive orders – the spills will contaminate American land and American water. When the few remaining traces of our beloved public lands are given away  by the GOP and ravaged by corporate interests, Americans will live in an uglier world deprived of wilderness and natural beauty. Continue reading

Crony capitalism goes into overdrive as Trump resurrects pipelines

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Oil giant Bechtel lays a pipeline in Idaho.

Capitalists don’t come any cronier than America’s new president. The latest example, however, is particularly egregious, destructive, and obvious. Reversing some of the most hard-fought gains of environmental activists in the last several years, Donald Trump issued an executive order to push the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipelines forward. Continue reading

Trump’s true agenda crystallizes, and it’s oil imperialism

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Trump may never have met Putin, but his Secretary of State, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, has received an Order of Friendship from him.

Donald Trump is less than five weeks away from being inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States. His cabinet picks offer Americans an ominous preview of what they can expect for the next four years. Corporate America will run roughshod over workers and consumers as Trump obliterates the line between big business and government. But it’s his Secretary of State pick, ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, which bodes most ominously for both the environment and international relations. Continue reading

DAPL standoff is textbook little guy vs. big business/big government

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On one front, militarized police in riot gear; on the other, protesters with drums.

While the news cycle remains fixated on Washington politics, the biggest story in America is unfolding in a remote region of North Dakota. In the small town of Cannon Ball on the Standing Rock Sioux Indian reservation, activists are defending sacred burial ground and their community’s water supply against construction of a major oil pipeline. Militarized police and private security forces are there to ensure the project is completed, arresting reporters and assaulting protesters.

In America’s hotly divided political and social climate, it’s rare to find a conflict in which one party is so clearly right and the other so clearly wrong. Continue reading

Resurrect the concept of the commons

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Swedish artist Oskar Perenfeldt proposed this flag as the International Flag of Planet Earth to remind humanity how we are all interconnected.

Dedicated capitalists may find the idea of natural resources belonging to all people and not corporations radical, but it’s nothing new. In 1217 King Henry III sealed the Charter of the Forest, a companion piece to the Magna Carta which recognized the importance of the woods to the livelihood of Englishmen. The Charter is seen as establishing a concept of the commons: Resources such as air, water, plants, game and land should be freely accessible to barons and peasants alike, rather than paying the crown for access.

Indigenous populations throughout the millennia have often had even more forceful versions of this philosophy. In 2011 Bolivia, a nation with one of the most politically active indigenous populations on the planet, passed the Law of Mother Earth. This law took the Charter of the Forest a few steps further, protecting nature from being “affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities.”

Assigning sacred value to the commons is the kind of wisdom that should be informing US policy making today. Continue reading

Bundy separatists: How America tolerates right-wing protest and stomps the left

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Ammon Bundy, left, and Ryan Bundy, sons of infamous rancher Cliven Bundy, are leaders in the occupation.

A group of heavily armed right-wing ranchers and self-described militiamen have occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge near Burns, Oregon. Their stated purpose is to protest the jail sentence of father and son ranchers convicted of arson charges, Dwight and Steven Hammond. More importantly, they are protesting perceived overreach from the federal government.

Leading the occupation is Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven Bundy, the rancher who made headlines in April 2014 for his armed standoff with the Bureau of Land Management. No shots have been fired and the group has no hostages, but they insist they are ready to defend themselves against law enforcement and claim they have enough resources to occupy the refuge for years. Continue reading

Criminal charges should be brought to Volkswagen

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars' gross emissions violations.

Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn issues an apology for his cars’ gross emissions violations.

Another major corporation has been caught in an environmental scandal, and again the news media is as sympathetic as possible. Last week, the EPA confronted German automaker Volkswagen about allegations that certain of their diesel-engine vehicles violated Clean Air Act standards. The response from Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn was the kind of “Aw, shucks” apology we’ve become accustomed to from the powerful: “I personally am deeply sorry that we have broken the trust of our customers and the public.”

But Winterkorn did far more than violate trust. According to the LA Times, Volkswagen has sold nearly half a million affected cars in the U.S. since 2009 and 11 million worldwide. These cars, which were heavily marketed as burning “clean diesel,” were emitting up to 40 times the allowed amount of nitrogen oxide into the atmosphere. Software in the car’s computer – apparently common enough in the industry that it has a nickname, a “defeat device” – tricks inspectors by switching over to a special mode at inspection time. That excess nitrogen oxide combines with oxygen in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide and smog. Continue reading

National Geographic’s future editorial integrity is in doubt over Murdoch merger

A 100-year-old National Geographic from January 1915.

A 100-year-old National Geographic from January 1915.

Rupert Murdoch, the Australian mogul who owns a vast media empire encompassing, among other important holdings, 21st Century Fox and FOX News, has purchased a 73 percent share of the National Geographic Society’s media assets for $725 million. The society will join with Murdoch in running National Geographic Partners, which will henceforth produce commercial National Geographic media.

Most notably, this includes the society’s revered National Geographic Magazine, published since 1888. And while the society will supposedly continue to play a predominant role in generating the magazine’s content, there is worry that its new, profit-oriented owner will compromise its strong editorial stance, particularly given Murdoch’s denial of man-made climate change. Continue reading

Special New Year’s edition: Three 2015 resolutions for America

Say what you will about America, there’s one thing that’s undeniably true: people don’t like you to say what you will about America. Despite being the most powerful economic and military force on the globe for the last 100 years, our culture is quick to take offense at even the mildest of criticisms. Self-reflection has never been our greatest strength, making a list like this controversial.

Nonetheless, we face several crises together. Most commentators don’t consider 2014 to have been a “good news” year. Whether we realize it or want to admit it, this country’s business and political classes have committed inhuman crimes in our name, and they will continue to do so for as long as we let them. If, instead, Americans pledged to confront these issues openly and honestly, we could pave the way to a much brighter future. These are the issues activists, organizers, and opinion leaders should be hammering home in 2015. Continue reading