The Strange State of Climate Change Denial

by Bill Chameides | December 6th, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 3 comments

“Team Duke” with U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change Todd Stern at the 17th Conference of the Parties (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, where international negotiations do not look headed for a new climate plan.

Crossposted on National Geographic’s Great Energy Challenge blog.

Denial in more ways than one?

On Global Front, No Consensus Is a Consensus

The Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, but there seems little chance that the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa, will end with an international plan on the next steps for climate change. The major sticking point remains how to split the responsibility for emission cuts between developed and developing economies.

But all the international wrangling in the world will not change how the accumulation of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere affects the planet. A new report by the Global Carbon Project reveals that global CO2 emissions took their largest annual jump upwards in 2010, while new analysis, by the International Energy Agency, indicates that if no action is taken to curb greenhouse gas emissions, global temperature could climb by 11 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) by 2100. And the latest from the World Meteorological Association is that 2011 is expected to be the tenth hottest year on record.

Such news may make it seem as if the world has not yet reached a consensus on climate change. In fact, it does reflect a consensus: a consensus to do nothing and just proceed with business as usual despite the warning signs.

Score one for the deniers.

All Not Quiet on the National Front

In the United States, the deniers, not content with business as usual, appear to be aiming for the jugular. With calls to disband the Environmental Protection Agency and bills in Congress like the oh-so-cleverly titled “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny” — or REINS — Act to require Congressional approval of new regulations proposed by the executive branch, the deniers seem to be hoping to use their current political ascendancy to deal a fatal blow to even the possibility of a nationally coordinated climate change policy anytime soon. (For insight into Congressional members’ unofficial climate-denial caucus and their motivations, I strongly recommend checking out this recent article from the National Journal.) Score another for the deniers.

With news like this, it’s little wonder why deniers like those whose bylines frequent the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal are gleefully proclaiming victory. You can almost hear the corks popping from their CO2-laden Champagne bottles.

Don’t Pop Those Corks Just Yet

But just as Yogi Berra advises that “it ain’t over ’til it’s over,” declarations of denial victory may be premature. Consider the following:

  1. Congressional denial out of touch with America?
    Most people are surprised to learn that a healthy percentage of Americans (see here and here) accept the basic facts of climate change and favor the nation taking action to address the risks. Members of Congress (and presidential hopefuls) who have changed their climate stripes to garner votes may be in for a rude surprise.
  2. Deniers swimming against the investment tide?
    It may also come as a surprise that, according to a report by American Public Media’s Marketplace, 2010 saw, for the first time, more dollars poured into green energy investments than into conventional fossil fuel-based technologies.
  3. Deniers out of step with industry?
    Even more surprising is the pro-science, pro-taking-climate-action of some of the world’s largest energy companies. Take Exxon Mobil, for example, thought by many to be the ultimate dyed-in-the-wool corporate denier. Actually not true. To be let in on one of the best-kept secrets of the climate change story, check out the the energy company’s website where you’ll see its position on climate change is largely in step with the message of the scientific community. To wit:

And Exxon Mobil isn’t alone. Shell, BP, and Chevron all have similar statements.

Deniers on one side; and voters, investors, and corporations on the other. Sure, the climate deniers are in a state of denial about the future course of our climate. They could also be in a state of denial about the direction America and the rest of the world are inevitably taking in response to climate change.

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  1. Travis
    Dec 26, 2011

    Climate change has always been a reality. Whether it will change in the trajectory you believe remains to be proven. The real issue should not be that we deal with externalities, but how we deal with them. Exxon should have always developed its business to reduce/eliminate its pollution as pollution is an attack on your private property right to be free of invasion by the putrescence and effluvium created by others. History tells us that central planning (command and control) by government agencies such as EPA will fail for reasons having to do with knowledge problems, perverse incentives, and calculation problems (read Mises and Hayek). If you really want to find a sustainable solution, you might invite Duke’s Mike Munger to speak to the students rather than Lisa Jackson.

  2. MattN
    Dec 8, 2011

    “In recognition that GHG concentrations influence long-term risks from climate change, the climate policy debate has shifted from a focus primarily on targets to limit near-term emissions to also include consideration of long-term emissions pathways that ultimately stabilize GHG concentrations.” I *HIGHLY* doubt it….

  3. Luise
    Dec 7, 2011

    Dr. Chameides, I am somewhat pessimistic that the press release you quoted from Exxon/Mobil is actually the companies business model or in fact even influences their business model. I am more inclined to think it an advertising gimmick.

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