Of course climate change is real. So what? Is this really helping? I’d say no.
Given the appointment of climate deniers to key cabinet posts coupled with the rapid rollback of environmental regulations by the Trump Administration, it feels OK to be angry.
Scott Pruitt, the new Administrator of the EPA, recently stated, “There is disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that CO2 is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” How could Scott Pruitt say CO2 doesn’t contribute to global warming?
The response by Progressives and the Left is to try to convince people that global warming is real. Again, and again, and again.
My social media and inbox are now deluged with posts proving to me that global CO2 levels have risen to 405 ppm, or that the Arctic is melting. So what? It feels a little like Lucy holding the football out for Charlie Brown to kick. We see it coming, we know she will pull the ball away before we can kick it, but we can’t help ourselves. We are responding to an intentional frame.
What’s a frame? It’s a narrative that “frames” the argument with a familiar metaphor and also shapes the argument into being one-sided. The “Clear Skies” initiative of the Bush administration is good example. “Clear Skies” creates an image of a bright blue sky with white clouds and clean air. Who’s against that? Yet despite its Orwellian language, it didn’t actually do anything for clean air. Simply by the use of words, the argument sounds pro-environment, but it actually protected industrial polluters more than those that breathed the air.
The problem is that fighting against the frame only strengthens it. Let’s say we are in a group of people, and I say to you, “Good to see you, how long have you been out of jail?” People will instantly get a mental image or activate the metaphor of jail and associate it with you.” Jail equals bad. When you laugh and say, “That’s funny! I haven’t been in jail,” my response could be simply, “Sure, prove you weren’t in jail.” You are now stuck in an endless attempt to clear your name. This is exactly the game and rhetoric used by climate deniers. “Global warming isn’t real. Prove it.”
The second reason that arguing against climate denial and Pruitt’s statements doesn’t help is that it’s the wrong target, and therefore a waste of time and effort. No amount of “facts” are going to convince the Trump Administration or Scott Pruitt that they are wrong. Pruitt is a tool. He is a tool of the now coopted Republican GOP. The GOP has become the party of big oil, fossil fuels, utilities, and the defense industry. If it weren’t him, it would be some other tool of these industries. Why do Republicans support the absurd position that there is no climate change when our military does? It’s because their donors and supporters are from these industries. Look at the Koch brothers, for example.
Our legislators are afraid to say anything that puts their donations at risk. They have to make up a “disbelief” in science and global warming in order to rationalize their position. If by some chance they were convinced, then they will make some other reason in order not to respond. Look at the progression of frames. “Global warming” moves to “climate change,” which is softer and easier to accept. This moves to “Climate has always been changing.” “Man-made climate change” goes to “Natural” causes. Next we will hear that “Oil is good for civilization,” and “CO2 is good because it makes plants grow” and “there is nothing we can do about it.” It’s in an infinite loop of Whack-a-Mole.
As observed by Jonathan Chait, “Of all the major conservative parties in the democratic world, the Republican Party stands alone in its denial of the legitimacy of climate science.” The problem is not Pruitt, it is the Republican GOP’s failure to serve the American people to provide a clean and sustainable environment for the earth.
What can we do about this form of climate denial? It’s a bigger subject than one post. Of course all discussion about reasons for climate change will not and should not disappear. It also might be harder to take money out of politics than to solve climate change.
Instead, make your legislators, state and federal, understand that no matter how much money they get, you are working to vote against their absurdity, but will support them if they change. Votes trump money.
While the environment is partly an economic issue, it’s a moral issue as well. The excuses for not addressing it are similar to slavery. Slavery, was defended economically, but we had the moral courage to overcome it.
Don’t get caught up in the “Is it real?” frame. Move beyond the discussion about climate change being real. Simply assume it, and move past it. Find your own new positive frame that works for you. Whether economic or moral. For example, if you believe in jobs or clean energy, you can ask “Why would the Republican GOP deny Americans a clean environment or clean jobs?” Or, “When is it morally acceptable to damage the health of Americans by polluting our air and water?
Words matter and they will help us win in the end.
Savor the Earth!
Lee Hobart Stocking