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Saturday, January 28, 2012

James Hansen: Cowards in Our Democracy -- Part 1

Cowards in Our Democracies: Part 1

by James Hansen, 27 January 2012

The threat of human-made climate change and the urgency of reducing fossil fuel emissions have become increasingly clear to the scientific community during the past few years.  Yet, at the same time, the public seems to have become less certain about the situation.  Indeed, many people have begun to wonder whether the climate threat has been concocted or exaggerated. Public doubt about the science is not an accident.  People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science.  Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage.

The scientific method requires objective analysis of all data, stating evidence pro and con, before reaching conclusions.  This works well, indeed is necessary, for achieving success in science. But science is now pitted in public debate against the talk-show method, which consists of selective citation of anecdotal bits that support a predetermined position.

Why is the public presented results of the scientific method and the talk-show method as if they deserved equal respect?  A few decades ago that did not happen.  In 1981, when I wrote a then controversial paper ( about the impact of CO2 on climate, the science writer Walter Sullivan contacted several of the top relevant scientific experts in the world for comments.  He did not mislead the public by dredging up and highlighting contrarian opinion for the sake of a forced and unnatural "balance."

Today most media, even publicly supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual.  Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces -- all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability.

Distinguished scientific bodies such as national science academies, using the scientific method, can readily separate charlatans and false interpretations from well-reasoned science.  Yet it seems that our governments and the public are not making much use of their authoritative scientific bodies.  Why is that?

I believe that the answer, and the difficulty in communicating science to the public, is related to the corrosive influence of money in politics and to increased corporate influence on the media. It is a tragic and frustrating situation, because when all the dots in the climate-energy story are connected it becomes clear that a common-sense pathway exists that would solve energy needs, stimulate the economy, and protect the future of young people [1]. As I discussed in "Storms of My Grandchildren," a gradually rising carbon fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies, with the money distributed uniformly to legal residents.  This would stimulate the economy, making it more efficient by putting an honest price on fuels, incorporating their costs to society.  

"Captains of industry" told me they would prefer such a course with knowledge of a steadily rising carbon price, which would stimulate innovations in efficiency and clean energies. Despite the obstacles presented by the role of money in politics and by the huge advertising campaigns of the fossil fuel industry, the urgency of addressing the climate-energy issue demands that we do the best that we can to inform the public.  One of the things we can do is try to expose how the public and our democracies are being manipulated for the benefit of those profiting from the public's fossil fuel addiction.

For that purpose I provided the witness statement below in support of an effort to reveal the name of the seed funder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) in the UK. GWPF is "successful" in casting doubt on the reality and significance of human-made climate change. The newsletters of Benny Peiser, Director of GWPF, can be quite entertaining and sometimes include useful references.  He pings the impracticality and costliness of an energy approach that relies excessively on renewable energies.  But ultimately his purpose seems to be to persuade the public that climate science is flawed.  I don't know if GWPF is supported by the fossil fuel industry, but it seems to me that the public has the right to know.  Ultimately, I hope and believe, the public will be able to appreciate how our democracies are being twisted by people with money for their own purposes.  But that requires freedom of information.

Jim Hansen

Some clarification of what this is about, the secret efforts of Lords, the wealthy, the privileged, to dupe the public in our democracies into supporting their continued and growing privileges, is provided by this news article and press release:
[1] The simple across-the-board fee on all fossil fuels would be collected at domestic mines or port-of-entry, with 100% of the money distributed to the public, via equal monthly electronic deposits to the bank account or debit card of all legal adult residents.  More than 60% of the public would get more in their monthly dividend than they pay in increased energy prices.  Knowledge that the carbon price will rise would affect decisions made by consumers, businesses and innovators.  Economic models show that in 10 years fossil fuel emissions in the U.S. would decline 30%, which is equivalent to the oil carried by 13 Keystone XL pipelines – thus obviating the need to develop destructive energy sources such as tar sands, tar shale, and mountaintop removal.

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