Back during my former career as a full-time journalist at the Martinsville Bulletin, I wrote a column about climate change.
As I recall, the column was about how I was a climate change skeptic back when I was in high school, but over time, I realized that my skepticism was fueled not by doubt but rather by the paralyzing fear of the inconceivable, existential threat posed by climate change.
The day after the column ran, I arrived to work and one of my colleagues flagged me down. With a knowing grin, she told me that a reader had left a book for me.
The book was published by The Heritage Foundation, and it was all about how climate change is a myth cooked up by scientists out to get some easy money. There was a sticky note on the front of the book informing me that I “just might learn something.”
And indeed, I did learn something that day. I looked up The Heritage Foundation and learned that they’re a right-wing think tank that digs up scientists willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that horses should be allowed to vote just so long as their checks clear.
The thing about climate change denialism is that every argument presented by deniers withers under the slightest application of critical thinking. My favorite argument is that we cannot trust the scientists who are warning us about climate change because they’re all getting paid off under the table, but we CAN trust those honest, straight-shooting scientists in the employ of the oil industry who swear that man-made climate change is a great big hoax.
If you can’t trust an oil baron, who can you trust?
I know scientists. I’m friends with scientists. Rest assured, scientists who work in the public sector — the kind of scientists studying climate change with a critical eye — are in little danger of losing their bejeweled golden crowns at the Ferrari dealership. They’re doing honest work because they’re passionate about it, not because they’re looking to make a fat paycheck.
And that’s the exact reason their warnings should be terrifying: they have no agenda beyond the truth.
It’s only mid-July, but 2023 is already shaping up to be the hottest year on record, and likely the hottest year within the last 100,000 years. The southwestern U.S. is currently in the grip of a lengthy triple-digit heat wave that shows no sign of letting up any time soon. In Mexico, more than 100 people died between March and June solely from heat.
When it comes to climate change, this summer feels different. For most of my life, climate change has been an abstract threat, something that we would have to figure out how to deal with in twenty or thirty years. It was a problem that would start somewhere else, somewhere over in the eastern hemisphere, and we would all sit back and shake our heads sadly as poor people far away had to suffer through it.
I’ll give the climate change deniers this: the scientists WERE wrong after all, just not in the way the deniers thought. They were too optimistic in their projections and expected us to have more time to deal with the fallout. Instead, we here in America are already getting to experience climate change firsthand, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
What’s that worse going to look like? If you’re looking for a profoundly depressing conversation starter, I’ll be happy to share the theories I’ve heard. There will probably be some cascading loss of biodiversity as many animals can’t cope with a changing climate and will become extinct. There will be famines as crops can’t grow properly (the Texas corn crop this summer is already struggling). Famines will lead to wars for resources. Millions will die from the heat.
After all that, it’ll probably get really bad.
Despite all evidence to the contrary, I try not to be defeatist about climate change. There are concrete steps that we as a civilization can take to mitigate the damage. We can use solar panels and wind turbines to generate clean energy. We can stop clearcutting forests. We can find ways to manufacture materials and products in a less wasteful manner. We can embrace electric vehicles. Just getting rid of cruise ships alone would make an enormous impact.
The question is, how bad does it have to get before the people demand these changes?
I enjoy a loud, dumb Roland Emmerich disaster movie from time to time. It’s fun to watch “Independence Day,” or “2012,” or “The Day After Tomorrow,” or, to a much lesser extent, 1998’s “Godzilla.” These are movies where the Earth faces an enormous destructive threat and people of all nations and beliefs put aside their differences to come together and solve the problem.
Roland Emmerich’s movies don’t make money quite like they used to, and I think climate change is part of the reason why. How can you believe that people will come together to tackle an existential threat when we’re literally facing one now and half the people deny it’s even a problem?
It’s just a little too far-fetched, even for a guy who made a movie about the moon falling out of the sky.