Could Obama’s Best Climate Change Strategy Be Thwarted by Religious Fundamentalism?

Last updated on February 8th, 2013 at 08:15 pm


When do “alarmists” become thought leaders? Is it when their numbers reach a critical mass? It is when the threat they identify becomes so obvious to enough people, it becomes impossible to deny? Is it when long-time climate change deniers, funded by fossil fuel overlords, publicly admit that not only is the science showing the planet is warming up. More importantly that it is human behavior causing it?  The crop killing drought last year with record breaking heat and freakish storms, marked one of those times when people began heeding the warnings of so-called alarmists. Larger and larger percentages of the population are moving past their inertia on the issue of climate change and starting to at least talk about demanding action. President Obama has seen this as an “in” for building the political will to stimulate our Congressional leaders and others to actually address climate change. Obama is reportedly “seriously considering” convening a summit at the White House to develop a national climate change strategy and no doubt this strategy would dovetail on efforts being made internationally (as well as efforts like those of Bernie Sanders who is introducing climate change legislation.) If key scientists and environmentalists are accurate, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest they are, it may well be the most important decision of his presidency and represent the longest lasting impact of his legacy.

Environmental activist Bill McKibben is one of those climate change “alarmists” that astute people are listening to.  In his seminal Rolling Stone article, ” Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” McKibben summarized some of the most unsettling reasons why there is no time to wait for action on global climate change. Scientists have always stated that in order to avoid catastrophic consequences, temperature increases needed to stay below 2 degrees Celsius (we have currently risen 0.8 degrees so far). McKibbon also wrote about how the goal of keeping global temperature increases under 2-degrees Celsius was becoming a fantasy.

In fact, study after study predicts that carbon emissions will keep growing by roughly three percent a year – and at that rate, we’ll blow through our 565-gigaton allowance in 16 years, around the time today’s preschoolers will be graduating from high school. ‘The new data provides further evidence that the door to a two-degree trajectory is about to close,’ said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. In fact, he continued, ‘When I look at this data, the trend is perfectly in line with a temperature increase of about six degrees.’ That’s almost 11 degrees Fahrenheit, which would create a planet straight out of science fiction.”

A few short months after McKibbon’s article was published, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual report. As summarized by Michael Klare at Alternet,”Even if governments take vigorous steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions, the report concluded, the continuing increase in fossil fuel consumption will result in ‘a long-term average global temperature increase of 3.6 degrees C.'”

The state of climate change in 2012 is alarming indeed even if media coverage of the issue remains scarce:

1)      The world is producing a jaw-dropping 2.4 million tons of carbon per second. The world has broken its previous record for producing carbon in 2011 and it will continue to increase production. This is moving us rapidly toward our critical carbon limit which is a worldwide carbon emission allowance of 565-gigatons per year.  This was previously the amount scientists associated with a 2-degree Celsius increase in global temperature.

2)      Arctic ice is melting at “an amazing speed” according to scientists. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted that Arctic ice would not completely melt until 2070. This year that was revised to 2020. The North Pole is getting hotter and darker. Instead of reflecting back light, it is absorbing light which only increases problems with polar warming. After being triggered by manmade climate change, Greenland is in a cycle where it may be self-warming. All of this threatens to release methane trapped in the ocean which itself is predicted to cause runaway warming effects.

3)      Sea water levels are increasing 60% faster than predicted. Scientists are actually quite conservative in their estimations, rather than”alarmist” as so many conservatives try to claim. In 2001, the IPCC predicted that sea levels would rise less than 2 millimeters per year. Reports released in recent weeks found that once again scientists had been reserved about their sea level predictions, the actual levels are coming in far higher than they estimated. Between 1993 and 2006, sea levels actually rose 3.3 millimeters per year.

4)      The harsh results of this year’s drought should be considered just the beginning. The immediate effects of climate change were being felt in the agricultural sector throughout the neo-Dust Bowl drought and now the repercussions are being felt in other industries. The shipping industry is facing a huge dilemma as rivers become too shallow to allow passage of ships. Severe droughts are currently predicted throughout the next two decades.

5)      Food shortages have been associated with current increases in global temperature. For some reason, scientists at one time predicted that global warming might  increase food production, but now they realize that instead, based on desertification and other precipitation patterns, food shortages are predicted to be an issue.

So when President Obama convenes his summit, the best strategy for him to take would be to do an emergency intervention with the fossil fuel industry. Which is not unlike those practiced with alcoholics. This would also mirror the types of actions taken by FDR as the country went into crisis mode in WWII. It is time to put them in executive-ordered treatment for their denial, and finally get their full and hearty cooperation with an all-out effort to completely transform the way we produce energy. Scientists have spelled out the consequences for the Earth and humanity should we fail to stop the use of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Scientists need to be in the same room with the shareholders, the oil men, and anyone else who profits from the industry. This needs to happen until these people are convinced that their grandchildren will already be in dire circumstances at the rate things are going, and heaven help their great grandchildren. Given the time frame we face all of our available resources should be invested in new forms of energy.  Which if the fossil fuel industry bothered to consider the business model, would eventually provide a profit to them. Even if it didn’t, humanity and the state of the Earth are at stake.

Tragically, there is a big reason why such an intervention might not work, and it’s not just about the huge profits of the fossil fuel industries. The oil and coal men need to be convinced of the need to make change and these are the American ones.  As we all know, they control the behavior of the United States government through their blatant control of bought-and-paid-for legislators. These legislators then work strenuously to legislate only inaction on climate change by the world’s superpower. And the world waits for the United States to engage with them on tackling climate change. Why won’t these American oil men and their lackeys ever “respond to treatment” and break free of the delusion that there is no global warming, or that if it is happening, humans are not causing it and will adapt to it? Is it solely profit?

Perhaps not.  As it happens, the majority of these oil and coal barons come from families in Texas, the Deep South, and, originally, Appalachia. A good many of them are and always have been evangelical Christians who likely believe we are in the End Times anyway. Some may even believe that if they can hasten that Armageddon, then the sooner the better. The more the scientists describe the floods; disease, drought, battles for resources, widespread extinction, destruction of the very ecosystems we need to live, and our possible extinction then it sounds to this crowd like a prophesy.To this crowd  every apocalyptic prophesy come to fruition. Without the means to study the religious beliefs of the fossil fuel titans, this remains a hypothesis, but a compelling one.

Obama faces the greatest challenge a President has ever faced because humanity and the planet itself are both on the line. He needs the country and the world behind him. Instead, he faces a recalcitrant and ignorant blockade in order to progress. Could it be that beneath the surface these people are even hoping that these catastrophes will be realized in order to satisfy their fundamentalist beliefs about the second coming of their Messiah and the end of the world?

Deborah Foster

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