Planet Experts does its best to bring you the facts on environmental news without putting too much of our personal politics into the mix. Currently, climate change trends toward the liberal/progressive side of the news, but that’s because it’s been politicized. In truth, most climate news is about reporting data obtained from men and women who have spent many, many years dedicating themselves to understanding the world and sharing its wonders and tragedies with the rest of us.
But in extreme cases, I can’t even pretend to report objectively on something so foul and blisteringly stupid as the video recently released by former vice-presidential candidate and half-term governor of Alaska Sarah Palin.
This is, in all likelihood, exactly what Mrs. Palin wants. As she recently told ABC News, she wants to “bug the crap” out of her haters. The media, she says, “want to destroy personally those they disagree with…. They want to crush us.” I’m afraid, in this instance, I can’t really argue with that.
And the reason why is because what Palin says in this video is ignorant, wrong and dangerous.
“Here’s the con,” says Palin, “we’re being told that the planet will suffer catastrophically unless we cut our emissions, which means losing jobs, wrecking the coal industry and dramatically hurting our economy. But wait, the so-called experts now tell us that even if we do all those things…the effect on the actual temperature on the planet will be imperceptible.”
This is simply untrue. On September 23, the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate released a report that said the transition to a global economy based on renewable and more efficient energies will actually produce a net gain for all nations. In fact, last month Shaun Donovan, the U.S. Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that the cost of inaction will be much more damaging to America than climate action. “Climate denial will cost us billions of dollars,” he said in a speech delivered at the Center for American Progress.
As to the “imperceptible” effect on the planet’s temperature – the fact of the matter is, Mrs Palin, our atmosphere is so saturated with greenhouse gases that it will take longer than a three minute video to change the global climate – which is not the same as weather, by the way.
So then Palin (who attended five colleges in six years before finally graduating – which is perfectly understandable and I have no beef with that, but it will become relevant in a second) says some other stuff while thinking about all the money she’s getting paid to say it, and ends with:
“I’m in no mood to cripple the American economy for imperceptible changes estimated by flawed computer models.”
I’m not sure where Palin gets her information – sources were not included in her video’s credits – and far be it from me to impinge on another American citizen’s first amendment right to say whatever they feel like as long as they’re not in a crowded movie theatre, but as a person of (God help us) public interest, Palin has at least some tenuous responsibility to not lead her followers down the primrose way to the everlasting bonfire that will be our collective future if we listen to Palin and politicians like her.
The point is, scientists are scientists. I was taught, in school, that you should respect people who are teachers and spend decades learning things. Chances are, they’re smarter than the rest of us – in those specialized fields that they work in. So when these hard working men and women tell us that the climate is changing because of human activities – and 97.1 percent of them agree on that fact – we don’t get to say their math is flawed because we don’t understand how math works.
So then Palin says, “I’m not a denier. I don’t doubt that climate change exists… No one has proven that these changes are caused by anything done by human beings via greenhouse gases. There’s no convincing scientific evidence for man-made climate change. The climate has always been changing.”
Sarah Palin lives in Alaska. Let me tell you about Alaska: There’s so much carbon in the atmosphere – and so much of it is being absorbed by the ocean – that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has warned that Alaska’s fisheries are now at risk. This is because of ocean acidification, the chemical change caused by ocean water turning into carbonic acid and dissolving the exoskeletons of shellfish, destroying the food chain and killing off marine life. You can learn all about it from Planet Expert Benjamin Kay.
Also, in Alaska, so much sea ice has melted away that 35,000 walruses had to come to shore – for the sixth time in eight years – because they had nowhere else to go. Also, 20 to 35 percent of the Northern Hemisphere’s permafrost is set to melt by 2080, according to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about this:
“Climate change is to this century what eugenics was to the last century. It’s hysteria and a lot of it’s junk science. And when it’s as discredited as eugenics, you know a lot of people are going to look very foolish and heartless.”
First of all, Palin says climate scientists are heartless because if they get their way, changes we make to our economy will hurt our poorest citizens. Do you know what hurts poor citizens? Air so polluted that it causes lung cancer. China is the largest emitter of atmospheric pollution on the planet and between 2002 and 2010, lung cancer rates in Beijing rose over 50 percent.
That’s not a coincidence. The specific type of cancer that is increasing in China’s capital is lung adenocarinoma, which is caused by exposure to polluted air. This and other health effects – plus the increasing frequency and severity of heatwaves – is what has motivated China to implement a nationwide cap-and-trade program by 2016, something the U.S. can’t even seriously consider because its politics are so divided by people like Sarah Palin and despite the fact that the four most recent Republican administrators of the EPA have all publicly begged the Republican party to stop opposing climate action.
The transition from a fossil fuel economy to one based on solar, wind, water, fusion and biogas will of course be a challenging one, but a challenge that will make America stronger and healthier. And unlike trickle-down economics, it actually helps the most and least fortunate in equal measure.
Eugenics was indeed junk science. The changes that are happening to our planet are observable via satellite and they’re evident in our oceans, our soil and in the absence of half of the Earth’s wildlife. There are things on this planet that are gone and that we will never get back, and some people have the audacity to smile and say all of that data and all of that evidence and all of that hard, honest work is “foolish.”
In the next 100 years, as the seas rise over southern Florida, as the west is burned by bigger and costlier wildfires and as our coastal states’ essential fisheries are eradicated, Palin is right, a lot of people will look very foolish and heartless indeed.
And that, dear readers, is the truth.
(To learn more about some of climate change’s inconvenient impacts, read up on our Planet Experts omnibus.)