Every former addict seems to remember the moment he decided to change: maybe he woke up in prison, or in the hospital; or maybe he injured someone, or lost his job. Whatever the cause, something forces him to accept that his actions have consequences, and that those consequences will lead to disaster for him and others if he doesn’t alter his behavior. Then, in the best of cases – and if it’s not too late – he fixes himself.
A recent poll by Yale and George Mason Universities shows that most Americans are at or near that point on climate change, with 72% of us seeing a link between extreme weather and our own actions. It’s a link that climate models have long predicted, and with the benefit of hindsight we see that even the earliest models have proven accurate over time.
At the same time, however, the denial machine is ratcheting up its disinformation campaign, and therein lies the problem. Every time someone validates or fine-tunes the science, ten or twelve well-funded and active propagandists pop up to distort it – usually by twisting the attempts at fine-tuning into “proof” that the models are fundamentally useless, and then launching childish attacks on the scientists themselves.
This propaganda has already set us back two decades, during which the costs of dealing with climate change have risen and our chances of curtailing it have diminished. As crop failures mount and costs from damages rise, the denial machine will first continue to blame everything on nature, then it will pretend to be reconsidering its position in light of “new” evidence, and finally it will pretend this was all just an honest mistake – oops, sorry.
Well that doesn’t wash, because the evidence is there right now for anyone who does their homework, and it has been for some time. What’s also there is a very public record of who has been lying to the public and who hasn’t – and it’s time to start using this information to make the liars and shirkers pay.
Let’s take a page from those Tennessee firemen we heard about a few times last year – the ones who stood idly by as houses burned to the ground because their owners had refused to pay a $75 fee.
We can apply this same logic to climate change.
We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies. Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay. Let’s let their houses burn until the innocent are rescued. Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands. Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.
They broke the climate. Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?
Obviously, the ideal solution is to get our collective act together and prevent this from happening, but we need a fall-back – a mechanism that puts responsibility for damages on the shoulders of the shirkers and deniers who cause it and profit from it, and we need to build that mechanism before the damages materialize.
If the shirkers and deniers actually believe their propaganda, they’ll go along with this – because they only have to pay if they’re wrong and 98% of all climate scientists are right. (And what are the odds of that happening – nudge nudge, wink wink?)
Some groups have already tried suing oil companies under “public nuisance” laws, and a handful of cases are ongoing – but the chances of success look slim, because the US Supreme Court ruled that the US Environmental Protection Agency has responsibility for dealing with climate change.
If you want to sue someone, the court seems to be saying, sue the EPA. Well, why not sue the people who have been hobbling the EPA?
Beyond the jurisdictional issue – which can be corrected through legislation – we have the problem of how to assign damages, and this is a doozy. The models have proven incredibly accurate when it comes to projecting the overall rise in extreme events, they still can’t tell you exactly which specific storms arose from climate change and which would have happened anyway – and they probably never will. They also can’t tell us which company’s emissions caused which change in temperature – and that’s something they’ll never be able to do, because CO2 emissions all get mixed up in the air.
But they can tell us how many extreme events would happen each year on average without manmade greenhouse gasses, so we can see what percentage of the damage is caused by man and what percentage is caused by nature. This gives us a global amount of damage that can be attributed to man. We combine this with our transparent reckoning of who the bad guys are, and we have the beginning of our Tennessee fireman’s solution to climate change.