By David Horton on Iraq
The puzzle about current political debates on the environment is that there is not simply great resistance to the idea of global warming, but the most angry and vehement denial that there is any problem at all with greenhouse gases. It is a reaction so strident that it resembles most closely the denial of an alcoholic that he has a drinking problem, or claims by a smoker that she could give up at any time. The resemblance is not accidental.
Greenhouse temperature rise is a massive refutation of the proposition that the world should be run by businessmen for businessmen. Businessmen and conservative politicians hate global warming because it is one of those stubborn facts that keep getting in the way of ideology. Global warming is the final exam mark for the difference of opinion between conservationists and the Right, and the Right know that they have failed the exam. The Right are outraged by any attempt to carry out any conservation measure anywhere. But their ultimate outrage is reserved for global warming. This is a great big judgment in the sky, saying 'hey, we don't care what the radio shock jock says, or what your buddies in the bar say, you got it wrong. The environment should have been nurtured not totally exploited. You were wrong. Wrong. Wrong.'
So they thrash about. Their hated enemies among the scientists and academics and the young left are the ones pointing at them and echoing -- 'you got it wrong.' They cover their ears, and they find obscure right-wing groups, or single rogue scientists, or think tanks funded by the energy industry, or extreme right wing organisations, who claim that global warming is a conspiracy. 'A conspiracy', they cry, 'we knew it must be'. And they dash off columns, or letters, or post on blogs, or phone the radio station, to announce that whatever all the scientists of the world say, and indeed whatever the evidence of our own senses and the mountain of data now available, there is no such thing as global warming, we can continue bull-dozing trees as usual, can continue burning fossil fuels in cars and power stations as usual. And because they now take up so much space in print and the broadcast spectrum, their opinions appear to represent some significant part of public opinion. And conservative politicians, sharing so many of the beliefs of these people, and having obligations to energy companies, find an excuse in the 'division' of public opinion, for doing nothing.
The obvious way to address the problem of global warming would be to hold an international conference in which all countries had an equal say and in which programs for energy conservation were developed in cooperation not competition. But just as the US and Australian neoconservatives hate the very idea of a United Nations that restricts the right of their rulers to do anything they choose to do in terms of war and peace, so they oppose it in terms of the environment. These are people who believe there must be no limitation on the rights of certain [very rich] individuals even in the interest of the social cohesion and well-being of a country, and no restrictions on certain [very rich] countries in the interests of the social and environmental well-being of the world community. To these people there is no such thing as society, and no such thing as a world community -- a national boundary (except that of a country with a left wing government) is an inviolable marker of the property rights of a country.
The arguments against global warming are so flimsy that they could only be believed by people so driven by ideology that they have to make the world fit their beliefs and not the other way around. It is ironic then that the people (sometimes the same people) presenting the case loudly proclaim their freedom from ideology. In contrast of course people concerned about rising global temperatures are portrayed as being driven by ideology.
There is no doubt at all that global warming as a result of greenhouse gas increase is occurring, and no doubt either that it is going to have dramatic effects on the well-being of the world environment. There could be a sensible debate (and indeed there is) on what the precise effects are likely to be in different regions, but the critics want to deny that there is any change occurring. You can only get away with this because the damage being done is still largely invisible. They can therefore pretend that each extreme climatic event that occurs (like 200 year droughts, or category 5 storms) is an isolated incident, and that trends in temperature or ice melting or plants flowering are merely short term. The media are complicit in this by reporting such events with no context.
There are high stakes in play here. The longer you can hold back the tide of public knowledge of global warming the longer business as usual can continue and you can continue to make huge profits which also involve pollution and environmental damage, and the longer you can continue to pretend neoconservatism provides not just the best answers but the only answers. These days there are no 'academic' debates that do not resonate through the political agendas of western countries.
In the case of global warming there is a vast hidden truth that can be suppressed for a while but will inevitably break out. As Senator Robert Byrd said recently in relation to Iraq -- "Truth has a way of asserting itself despite all attempts to obscure it. Distortion only serves to derail it for a time. No matter to what lengths we humans may go to obfuscate facts or delude our fellows, truth has a way of squeezing out through the cracks, eventually. But the danger is that at some point it may no longer matter. The danger is that damage is done before the truth is widely realized. The reality is that, sometimes, it is easier to ignore uncomfortable facts and go along with whatever distortion is currently in vogue".