Washington and the Media Fiddle While the World Burns

Stephen Smith | June 24, 2011 | Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy

This week I spent time in the Florida Keys SCUBA diving the coral reefs. As I glided over Sombrero Reef near Marathon, marveling at the biologically rich rainbow of tropical sea life, a sad thought filled my mind. Would my youngest son Warren or my grandchildren ever get to experience this magic of Earth’s diversity? Are we a generation that will leave a much diminished world for those who follow? As the predicted unstable weather patterns of a greenhouse world mount, the much needed public discussion on how we address the ever increasing carbon pollution concentrations in our atmosphere has been shredded by a tornado of misinformation, lies, and calculated corporate greed. I’m taking pictures, but they do not do the beauty of the reefs justice. My sadness and anxiety haunt me in this beautiful place as coral reef bleaching and disease are leading indicators of a warmer planet.

Wildfires have burned 828 square miles in Arizona this year.
Wildfires have burned 828 square miles in Arizona this year.

In his new article for Rolling Stone, “Climate of Denial” Al Gore makes the claim that the debate over climate change is rigged stagecraft. Where a toxic mix of wealthy corporate interest have fused with far right ideologues to intimidate and functionally paralyze the weak entertainment-based media and the dysfunctional Washington-centric political class.

In the article, Gore blasts the political and media elite for allowing false equivalences to distort the near-unanimous agreement among top scientists that climate change is real. The spin doctors of yesteryear, who propped up tobacco companies long after the health-risks were clear, now gaze admiringly at the level of doubt sown into the public discourse over climate change.

Gore writes, “The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.” Read it here, it’s well worth your time.

Unfortunately, the action we see in the United States Congress right now is in exactly the wrong direction. In April, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reject this simple statement: “Congress accepts the scientific findings of the Environmental Protection Agency that climate changes is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for public health and welfare.”

Cultivating denial with misinformation is hardly a new tactic. In the 1800s, snake oil salesmen peddled ‘miracle cures’ even if the bottles only held flavored water. A century later, tobacco companies denied connections between cigarettes and lung cancer despite their own studies which confirmed the link. Now we have a range of players – from the Koch brothers who I wrote about earlier this month to elected leaders – who continue to use their money and influence to spread misinformation and create doubt about climate science. In fact, an internal strategy document from a consortium of global warming polluters (leaked to the New York Times in 1991) urges members to “reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.”

If people don’t think there’s a crisis, or are unsure, then there’s no reason to change direction. Bill McKibben zeros in on this idea in his recent oped, A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!. He cautions us not to think or we just might start making connections between the dozens of severe weather events we’ve seen this year alone and the projections climate scientists have been making about how the Earth’s ecosystems will react to a changing climate. The video below is a powerful reading of that oped with images of the disasters McKibben speaks about.


We have enough of the scientific facts on climate change to demand action, but the question remains, do we have the moral resolve and political courage to take on the entrenched toxic mix of anti-science ideologues and the “let it burn” economic greed of those who profit from carbon pollution in order to stave off the worst impacts of climate change?

Stephen Smith
Dr. Stephen A. Smith has over 35 years of experience affecting positive change for the environment. Since 1993, Dr. Smith has led the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy (SACE) as…
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