Thursday, March 24, 2016

Trench warfare in the climate wars: no victory in sight

Image from "ThinkProgress"

The latest data from Gallup about how much Americans worry about global warming are nothing less than amazing. Today, we are exactly where we were more than one-quarter of a century ago. And yet, climate science has progressed, temperatures have been rising, the ice has been melting, the sea level has been rising, and plenty more evidence of dangerous global warming has accumulated. But the curves go up and down while the average remains constant; no long-term trend is apparent. It looks like trench warfare during the first world war. Mighty battles, lots of casualties, but neither side is winning.

In a sense, it is not surprising. I have been following the climate debate for several years and I can say that it is not a debate - it is a war. And in a war, you don't debate using rational arguments, you take sides. It has to do with the extreme polarization that is taking hold in most Western societies (and it is increasing!). When it comes to discussing major issues, such as global warming, people are not debating; they are only making statements of identity. And it is normal that we are not going anywhere: neither scientific data nor anti-science spin campaigns (*) can move people who have chosen the side they belong to.

However, it is also true that trench warfare in the first world war didn't last forever. At some point, one of the two sides couldn't take it anymore and had to concede. Could something like that occur for the climate war? Possibly, yes. Indeed, many of us have been hoping for an event so major and so evident that the danger of global warming could not be denied anymore; the equivalent of a "decisive battle" in war. But even facing extreme events, reality can always be denied when ideological polarization takes hold. For the time being, we remain locked in trench warfare.

(*) At least, it is a consolation to note that all the money that was spent by the fossil fuel lobby for those spin campaigns was wasted.


Ugo Bardi is a member of the Club of Rome, faculty member of the University of Florence, and the author of "Extracted" (Chelsea Green 2014), "The Seneca Effect" (Springer 2017), and Before the Collapse (Springer 2019)