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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 5/2/14

Climate Change Messaging: Avoid the Truth

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And tell that, while licking the irony from your lips, to Peter Teague, former Environmental Program Director (now Chief Strategy Officer) of the Nathan Cummings Foundation, who wrote the Foreword to "The Death of Environmentalism." Here's Teague, from the Foreword,

"As I write this, the fourth in a series of violent hurricanes has just bombarded the Caribbean and Florida. In Florida, more than 30 are dead and thousands are homeless. More than 2,000 Haitians are dead. And ninety percent of the homes in Grenada are destroyed. . . .

Scientists have long said that stronger and more frequent hurricanes would be a result of global warming. It's an effect of warmer oceans.

Yet not one national prominent leader--environmental or otherwise--has come out publicly to suggest that the recent spate of hurricanes was the result of global warming. That's in part due to the fact that the common wisdom among environmentalists is that we mustn't frighten the public but rather must focus its gaze on technical solutions, like hybrid cars and fluorescent light bulbs."

Truth-telling regarding the growing evidence of links between global change and local effects convinces only liberals say Nordhaus and Shellenberg now, "but they alienate conservatives in equal measure." The authors actually believe that more than a handful of additional "conservatives" might board the climate change bus if we just get the message right? What's more conservative than ensuring the planet doesn't bake all the babies yet to be born (given "conservative" opposition to contraception and abortion)? Even Barak Obama, Self-Deluder in Chief, no longer believes he can work with "conservatives" (after years wasted trying to prove otherwise).

One can apparently reduce conservatives' climate skepticism if "they first read articles suggesting nuclear energy or geoengineering as solutions." This dubious pitch to broaden the appeal of messages meant to mobilize support for a carbon-free world--no serious person can today endorse geoengineering--is coupled to a muffled endorsement of fracking. "After all, if climate change is a planetary emergency, why take nuclear and natural gas off the table?"

Because those technologies make the problem worse. Without government loan guarantees, liability limitations, and a pass on waste disposal, there'd be no nuclear power industry. Nordhaus and Shellenberger believe it's better to spend billions of dollars and a decade to construct a nuclear power plant than to invest the time and money in energy conservation and efficiency (creating more jobs and preventing more pollution while at the same time ending the worries of eternal radiation, meltdowns, and terror attacks)?

They believe that pretending that the US is Qatar for a few years outweighs the growing number of adverse effects of fracking? The single problem of methane leaks is enough to rule out fracking for natural gas as a "solution" for climate change. That's what I mean by the pseudo-contrarian label at the top. Nordhaus and Shellenberger are frustrated, and feel the need to lash out at their impotent environmentalist brethren. They, like big environmental group leaders, do not understand (or will not admit) that climate change is an unavoidable outcome of an unsustainable political-economy, and are thus limited to suggesting failed techno-fixes.

Nordhaus and Shellenberger are right that 'building a better world' arguments are necessary to enroll a greater mass of people in sustainability campaigns. 'Playing defense' alone, focusing limited resources solely on 'putting out fires,' preaching only to the choir, does not a sustainable world build. But neither does pretending that inspiring rhetoric about solar panels, or a better public service announcement for energy policy tweaks, get even close to the epochal socioeconomic changes necessary to both stave off calamity and construct a superior civilization.

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Steve Breyman teaches peace, environmental and media studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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