Ideas

Are We F--ked? Decoding the resistance to climate change

The evidence is everywhere: forests retreating, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased five-fold over the past 50 years. And we’re only just beginning to feel the strain of climate change. It's estimated that rising sea levels will threaten 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. Miami could disappear within a generation. Despite all of these dire events and projections, the attacks continue — on climate scientists.
From Aug. 25, 2013, file photo, firefighters continue to battle the Rim Fire near Yosemite National Park, California. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
Listen to the full episode53:59

The evidence is everywhere: forests retreating, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. Droughts, floods, wildfires and storms have increased five-fold over the past 50 years. And we're only just beginning to feel the strain of climate change. It's estimated that rising sea levels will threaten 30 million people in Bangladesh alone. Miami could disappear within a generation. Despite all of these dire events and projections, the attacks continue — on climate scientists. Part 1 of 2-part series. Part 2 airs Friday, February 9. **This episode originally aired September 7, 2017.

"No one wanted to pay attention to the implications of a world four degrees warmer… It's too horrendous to think about.  And no one talked about it. Then a few scientists said let's have a conference and actually talk about it. They held this conference in Oxford and I went along. As the conference started, there was a kind of suppressed emotional intensity, except in the coffee breaks. It was then that I would buttonhole a couple of scientists and say: 'Well, you know we're speculating about this. But what do you really think is the situation?' And one of them just looked at me and said: 'We're f--ked.'" – Clive Hamilton 

Australian public intellectual Clive Hamilton describes how he’s been attacked for telling the truth about climate change. 1:55
 

Clive Hamilton is an Australian public intellectual who's written books about global warming, among them: Requiem for a Species and Defiant Earth. His books were intended to enlighten the public. But as he says: "anyone who engages publicly in the climate change debate has been subject to threats and abuse from a global army of climate science deniers. There are a lot of disturbed, angry people out there, which is, of course, socially worrying." 
 

"Climate change denial disorder"


The denial about climate change is widespread and profound. In fact, a term has been coined for it: "climate change denial disorder". And thinkers like Clive Hamilton are confronted by people who believe that climate change science is suspect at best, or a conspiracy at worse. Sometimes, as he attests, climate scientists are threatened with violence. So how did we get to this point of threatening to shoot the messenger? 

Naomi Oreskes ventured an answer in episode 2 of this two-part series. The Harvard professor and historian of science argues in her book, Merchants of Doubt, that there is a global industry of climate change denial. There are the American billionaire Koch brothers, who continue to finance "doubt" campaigns. Some observers put their contribution to climate change denial at $120 million, with the result that many now believe that stories about climate change are "fake news" or a "Chinese hoax". According to the Pew Research Center, almost half of Americans surveyed do not believe climate change is caused by humans. And 20 per cent of Australians don't believe in climate change at all. Canadians are divided on the issue, too; however, public opinion research in 2016 shows that two-thirds of Canadians want federal leadership to tackle the crisis.   

The journal, Global Environmental Change, refers to a study that lists the factors which connect climate change deniers to each other, no matter their country of origin: overwhelmingly, they're politically conservative, male and hold the environment in low regard. Some far-right groups do agree humans cause climate change but they maintain it's immigrants who are to blame.  
 

Why does climate science face such an intractable problem?


Naomi Oreskes says that, "it's not about the facts, not about the science. Underneath all of this is a fear that capitalism has failed. That new rules and regulations and carbon taxes to fight climate change are somehow an assault on our freedom and liberty — that we'll become Communists. That's why environmentalists are called "watermelons", green on the outside, red on the inside. Hard to believe, but that's the core of the resistance." 

Clive Hamilton's view is darker: "[the] world is on a path to a very unpleasant future and it is too late to stop it". Hamilton argues that to deny climate change is tantamount to wishful thinking.

**This episode features Clive Hamilton, an Australian public intellectual who has written books about climate change. He is a Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University in Canberra, Australia. 


Further reading:

  • Merchants of Doubt:  How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, published by Bloomsbury Press, 2011, New York.  
  • Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder, published by Tim Duggan Books, 2015, New York. 
     
  • Affluenza: How Overconsumption Is Killing Us--and How to Fight Back by Clive Hamilton, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., San Francisco, 2014.
     
  • Defiant Earth: The Fate of Humans in the Anthropocene by Clive Hamilton, published by Polity Press, Cambridge, 2017. 
     
  • Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth about Climate Change by Clive Hamilton, published by Earthscan, Oxfordshire, 2010.
      
  • Storms of my Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, by James Hansen, published by Bloomsbury, 2010, New York.  
     
  • Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas, published by National Geographic, 2008, U.S. 
     
  • Eaarth:  Making a Life on a Tough New Planet by Bill McKibben, published by St. Martin's Griffin, 2011.


Related websites:

**This episode was produced by Mary O'Connell.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.