At the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), which I attended in Vancouver, Canada, there was considerable discussion of climate change but not much enlightenment on how to make this threat to our planet real to American citizens and decision-makers.
Nor was there much discussion of the economic and political challenges of the lack of understanding or engagement by the public and only a little by the media of the consequences of climate change on human security.
One key participant was the scientist James E. Hansen of NASA, who was on an early plenary session panel. He is the person who was punished by NASA and in Congress for his outspoken defense of the reality and seriousness of climate change. He addressed at Vancouver directly the human made climate change question looking at the scientific, economic, and moral issues.
During this plenary panel session with thousands of AAAS participants, before the panel made its presentations, they asked this rather large expert group whether they thought the problem was very serious or not serious, and some 77% held that it was serious and some 86% said it was due to human activity. A recent Pew Poll, however, found that the public put climate change rather down on the list of issues they were most concerned about. And in this poll only 38% of the public thought climate change was due to human activity.
The disconnect between reality and the public understanding is one of the great barriers to achieving needed actions by the U.S. This ignorance on addressing one of the greatest security and environmental challenges of this century to our nation and our globe indicates that our political discourse is deeply corrupted and our mainline media has been irresponsible in not informing the public of the scientific facts.
It seems the “climate deniers” have at this moment won in the political debate forum, despite their demonstrable lies and misinformation about what is the clear scientific consensus. Like in so many other areas of our democracy, ignorance and wrong-headed and biased propaganda, backed by special interests like the oil and coal companies and right-wing think tanks, are gaining the political debate high ground with their unlimited money and the acquiescence of the media, much of which is dominated by corporate influence. The same situation is the case on issues like evolution, fisheries, mining, water, and health.
James Hansen put the issue directly when he said: “We need to reach the huge public.” He has a book out titled “Storms of My Grandchildren” which tries to tell to our youth the impact of the world they will face. On the same panel, as moderator, was Frank Sesno, of George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, and former CNN correspondent, who said that there is an “anti-science” out there. With this I agree; for a global power and a democracy it is a scary situation.
Already, the global community and the U.S. have dithered, fought when they should have cooperated and been unbelievably irresponsible in the face of a harsh reality of global acts of environmental destruction and human neglect. The horrific consequences are fairly well known and not that far away – they will impact on this generation in ways far beyond what we have faced in recent wars and natural disasters. The question now is how this disequilibrium can change and can it be done before the worst impacts of climate change?
By Harry C. Blaney III.