The deniers are familiar characters. They’ve been with us for 30 years. Some are crackpots like Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma senator who has written an entire book on the climate change “hoax.” Some are sophisticated purveyors on the payrolls of those profiting from the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, what filmmaker Robert Kenner titled Merchants of Doubt. And some are folks who believe and parrot everything Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Donald Trump, and other prominent deniers say about the climate crisis. You know, people who still think “Hey! It’s snowing, where’s that global warming now?” is the funniest joke they ever heard.
The deniers’ chief propagandists like to bolster their scientifically illiterate claims by asserting that transforming energy, transportation, agriculture, and land use will bankrupt the nation. The last thing they have wanted their audiences to hear is that outfitting the world in clean, renewable sources of energy while cutting carbon dioxide emissions to zero will generate millions of jobs, sustainable jobs, trillions of dollars worth of jobs.
The delayers are those people—including some progressives—who say we must do something but shouldn’t move too fast because it will cause too much disruption, and we don’t yet have the best technology to accomplish the necessary changes, and it’s too hard politically. Maybe that was reasonable advice in 1980 when atmospheric carbon dioxide was 338 parts per million. Four decades later, with CO2 at 406 ppm, it’s insane. The frustrating thing about most delayers is that they KNOW climate change is real, but they won’t get off their behinds to do anything truly effective to address it.
Notice that in the recent midterms, once again, candidates barely mentioned climate change. Their argument was and is that voters don’t see making policy on climate as a high priority so it’s unwise to campaign on it. That, of course, depends on the message being delivered. Our leaders’ job is to lead, especially in a crisis, and this is a gigantic one. Any politicians who say climate change is serious and that they are serious about addressing it, but simultaneously argue against acting “too soon” obviously aren’t serious. Delay is just another form of denial.
Then there are the despairers. They absolutely accept the science that says we are in trouble. But they say it’s trouble that is too late to do anything about. Addressing climate change is hopeless, they say, so why bother? Such talk is, in effect, no different than deniers and the fossil-fuel fools who say climate is always changing and we can’t do anything about it. Despair leads them to believe that nothing we do will keep climate change from being apocalyptic. Despairing is yet another form of denial.
As in any major crisis, there is of course potential for failure no matter how heroic and innovative and relentless the response. True enough, climate action may not rescue us. We could also have lost World War II to the Axis despite all the expenditure of lives and treasure. We will never know. But we do know that we surely would have lost if Americans had chosen not to retool the whole economy to meet the needs of the war effort. We need to treat climate change as our ancestors treated the crisis of World War II as the Climate Mobilization folks say.
Denial, Delay, Despair, the three Ds of destruction. As individuals and as a society we need to get serious about climate change, accelerate the energy transformation that is already underway, and push the changes in energy, transportation, and agriculture that are essential to keeping climate change from being far worse than it otherwise will be.
This means every progressive politician worthy of the name ought to be placing climate change at the top or very near the top of their priorities, not just in words, but by actions.
Fortunately, thankfully, climate activists are showing fresh energy. Young leaders are stepping up. In Congress and state legislatures and governors’ mansions, advocates of far-sighted climate policy are seeking to end the footdragging and are speaking up and crafting measures to take the actions that should have been taken long ago. Progressives should look to them and support them as antidotes to delay and despair.