In 2011, Al Gore penned a blistering indictment of climate change denial, putting the facts in clear view and condemning the media for favoring spectacle over science. His arguments still ring true today.
Three years ago this week, Al Gore’s lengthy essay, “Climate of Denial,” took aim at every party responsible for impeding climate progress: the media (especially Fox News), the fossil fuel industry, Republicans and, yes, even President Barack Obama.
The President: Playing the Long Game
Gore had nothing but praise for Obama’s initial environmental fervor:
“President Obama included significant climate-friendly initiatives in the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress during his first month in office. … [H]e helped secure passage of a cap-and-trade measure in the House a few months later. He implemented historic improvements in fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward on the regulation of global-warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. He appointed many excellent men and women to key positions, and they, in turn, have made hundreds of changes in environmental and energy policy that have helped move the country forward slightly on the climate issue.”
But Gore says the president fumbled the followthrough:
“After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that ‘drill, baby, drill’ is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil. … The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is ‘the power to persuade.’ Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis.”
For a long time Gore was right, but today’s Obama is in the midst of a climate blitzkrieg, almost as if he were trying to make up for lost time. In this past month alone he has proposed landmark carbon reductions for current power plants, moved to expand Pacific marine sanctuaries, blasted climate deniers for ignoring reality, and vigorously encouraged college graduates to embrace a green future. He has also announced a $2 billion initiative to increase energy efficiency in federal buildings.
The Role of the Media
Whereas Obama’s failure to deliver a potent climate agenda was eventually overturned by time, Gore’s media polemic is as accurate today as it was in 2011.
The former Vice-President likens the media to a referee at a WWF match: “In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.” In professional wrestling, the referee is just as much an actor as the fighters. The Question is: “Is he responsible for ensuring a fair match? Or is he part of the show, selling tickets and building the audience?”
Essentially, today’s media can be in the business of entertainment or news, and news is fast becoming a rarity from outlets that would prefer to hype the controversy – even when no controversy exists.
In fact, the “controversy” is the same as when the tobacco industry tried to fight the evidence that cigarettes lead to cancer. Back then, writes Gore, Big Tobacco “hired actors, dressed them up as doctors, and paid them to look into television cameras and tell people that the linkage revealed in the Surgeon General’s Report was not real at all.”
Today, the scientific consensus on climate change is even stronger:
“It has been endorsed by every National Academy of science of every major country on the planet, every major professional scientific society related to the study of global warming and 98 percent of climate scientists throughout the world. In the latest and most authoritative study by 3,000 of the very best scientific experts in the world, the evidence was judged ‘unequivocal.’”
The Evidence Is Everywhere
As early as the 1990s, industrial polluters decided on a principal strategy to “Reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact,” to make everyday citizens question the science and allow them to continue their toxic policies.
But no matter where you look, the evidence of climate change is everywhere. Nine of the ten hottest years on record have all occurred in the last 13 years, according to NASA. The past decade was the hottest ever measured, despite the sun being at its lowest ebb and emitting its “solar minimum.” West Antarctica is melting and the Arctic has lost 40 percent of its ice cap. Megafloods are inundating cities planetwide, with 20 million people displaced in Pakistan and 28 of Colombia’s 32 districts flooded after an almost year-long downpour. Droughts and fires have killed an estimated 56,000 people in Russia, ruining crops and driving up the price of food. As Russian President Dmitry Medvedev put it, “Practically everything is burning. What’s happening with the planet’s climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us.” America is also experiencing bigger wildfires every year. Since 1970, fire season in the American west has increased by 78 days.
Individuals Need to Take Action
Of course climate change needs to be addressed at the state, federal and global level. But there are five things individuals can do right now to make a difference:
“First, become a committed advocate for solving the crisis. You can start with something simple: Speak up whenever the subject of climate arises. … Second, deepen your commitment by making consumer choices that reduce energy use and reduce your impact on the environment. … Third, join an organization committed to action on this issue. … Fourth, contact your local newspapers and television stations when they put out claptrap on climate — and let them know you’re fed up with their stubborn and cowardly resistance to reporting the facts of this issue. … Finally, and above all, don’t give up on the political system. Even though it is rigged by special interests, it is not so far gone that candidates and elected officials don’t have to pay attention to persistent, engaged and committed individuals.”
The current state of the climate requires individuals to take these steps. To do so ignores an inconvenient but no less damaging truth. “The truth is this,” Gore writes, “What we are doing is functionally insane. If we do not change this pattern, we will condemn our children and all future generations to struggle with ecological curses for several millennia to come.”
Read the full article on Rolling Stone.