This is the first installment of a three-part series examining historical incidents of air pollution and the individuals and organizations that have opposed regulation.
On November 9, 2015, prior to the start of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, the World Meteorological Organization reported in their annual accounting of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere that a milestone had been reached. Average CO2 levels had exceeded 400 parts per million (ppm) at the beginning of 2015, a rise of 43 percent over pre-industrial levels.
This somewhat abstract measurement to most of us, when put into context, is actually very scary. 2015 is on track to be the warmest year on record, and 2011-2015 to be the warmest five years on record. Historic heat events and other intensified atmospheric events are predicted to become more common, or so 97 percent of the climate scientists opine.
Are These Warnings, and if so, From Who?
Even though the vast majority of the world’s climate scientists believe much of global warming is attributable to human activity, there are still a few people (politicians) who do not believe these historic atmospheric events are warning signs or precursors of things to come. Rather than taking the prudent approach of erring on the side of caution and taking measures to minimize our possible impact on the Earth, this vocal minority seems to be either taking the fatalistic position that there is nothing we humans can do that would reverse or slow climate change, or placing their faith in a supreme being.
Rick Santorum, former Senator of Pennsylvania and presidential candidate, somewhat arrogantly stated in a speech given at the Colorado School of Mines in 2012,
“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit… We are the intelligent beings that know how to manage things and through the course of science and discovery if we can be better stewards of this environment, then we should not let the vagaries of nature destroy what we have helped create…”
Other politicians have invoked the religious card supporting their position as a denier or having a do-nothing policy. In a 2012 interview, Republican Senator Inhofe of Oklahoma stated, “[T]he arrogance of people to think that we, human beings would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is outrageous… [T]his is what a lot of alarmists forget: God is still up there, and He promised to maintain the seasons and that cold and heat would never cease as long as the earth remains.”
Republican Congressman Joe Barton has acknowledged the changing climate but compared it to the biblical story of Noah’s Ark and the Great Flood. In a statement made during hearings before the Subcommittee on Energy and Power hearing on the Keystone Pipeline in 2014, he opined, “I would point out that if you’re a believer in the Bible, one would have to say the Great Flood is an example of climate change, and that certainly wasn’t because mankind had overdeveloped hydrocarbon energy…”
Representative John Shimkus insists we shouldn’t be concerned about the planet being destroyed because God promised Noah it wouldn’t happen again after the Great Flood. The Illinois Republican said, “I believe that is the infallible word of God, and that’s the way it is going to be for his Creation. […] The Earth will end only when God declares it’s time to be over. Man will not destroy this earth. This Earth will not be destroyed by a flood.”
Whenever I read or hear about such rationalization, it brings to mind the parable about the pious man who didn’t quite get the hints sent to him from the Almighty.
The Parable Goes Like This…
There was man who lived by the river. He heard a radio report that the river was rising and going to flood the town, and that all the residents should evacuate their homes. But the man said, “I’m a pious man. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.” The waters rose.
A guy in a boat came along and he shouted, “Hey, you on the roof. The town is flooding. Let me take you to safety.” But the man shouted back, “I’m a pious man. I pray. God loves me. God will save me.”
A helicopter spots him on his roof and a guy with a megaphone shouts, “Hey you, you down there. The town is flooding. Let me drop this rope and I’ll take you to safety.” But the man shouted back that he is a pious man, that he prays, that God loves him and that God will make sure nothing bad happens to him.
The flooding eventually overcomes his house and the man drowns.
Standing at the gates of St. Peter, the man demands an audience with God. “Lord,” he says, “I’m a pious man, I pray, I thought you loved me. Why did this happen?” And God says, “I sent you a radio report, a guy in a boat, and a helicopter. What the hell are you doing here?”
I don’t believe a supreme being took care of addressing rampant pollution in the 20th century, but we were sent a lot of warnings, killer smog events, rivers that caught fire, lakes so acidified they could no longer support life. We got the hint and took action.
This is the first installment of a three-part series examining historical incidents of air pollution and the individuals and organizations that have opposed regulation. In Part 2, I’ll look at how drastically America’s energy consumption and carbon emissions have changed over the 20th century, whether or not more carbon is good for the planet, and the “horse manure problem.” To read the rest of the series, click the links below: