Climate change denial comes in many flavors these days and Bob Stilwell’s opinion piece, “Climate Change Gut Check,” published in the Gettysburg Times on Thursday, December 19 draws on almost all of them. If you care about environmental issues and haven’t seen the article, you really need to check it out. And respond with a letter to the editor if you have time.
Back in the bad old days, climate change denialists simply denied that the climate was changing at all. It was a hoax, perpetrated by greedy climate scientists thirsty for grant money and clean energy investors hungry for profits. As temperatures have risen and unprecedented weather events have accumulated, however, the narrative has had to change and denialists have had to adapt. Wild fires, hurricanes, flooding, droughts, heat waves, rising seas—they have become pretty hard to ignore.
Yes, the denialists now say, and Bob Stilwell says too, temperatures are rising and the global climate is changing but… it has nothing to do with human activities such as the burning of fossil fuels. This despite that fact that we have known at least since the days of the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius in the late nineteenth century that carbon dioxide traps heat and that the burning of massive amounts of fossil fuels—coal in those early days—would raise earth’s temperature significantly.
But “Earth’s climate has been changing for millions of years,” the denialists and Stilwell counter. Humanity, he says “needs to shed the arrogant notion that we can change what has been happening” for so many years. He neglects to mention, of course, that back in the good old days when carbon dioxide levels were even higher than today, temperatures (and sea levels) were much higher, too. Dinosaurs might have walked the earth, but humans did not.
The truth is we have occupied a relatively stable climate “sweet spot” through the entirety of human evolution, a sweet spot that we have now put at risk. We need a functioning biosphere. We need a stable climate to support human civilization. And we have damaged both, not only with the burning of fossil fuels but with the destruction of forests and grasslands, and the pollution of the world’s air and oceans.
Toward the end of his article, Stilwell gives the game away with his pitch for burning more fossil fuels. In the end, isn’t that what denialism is all about: making excuses for continuing to burn—or turn into throwaway plastics—more and more fossil fuels? Fossil fuels that now must stay in the ground if we are going to deal effectively with rising temperatures.
Like most denialists Stilwell assumes that we have an either-or choice to make: either fossil fuels, a robust economy and jobs or cleaner energy, a healthy biosphere, and a stable climate. But that’s a false choice. The truth is every environmental solution must also be an economic solution and every economic solution must also be grounded in respect for the environment.
We have the tools we need to address the climate crisis and other environmental problems. Now it’s time to face these problems squarely and get to work fixing them.