Global Warming on This American Life

Listening to a naysayer to global warming on NPR today was profounding depressing. Basically, this teenage girl was never going to be convinced by any scientific evidence, despite being presented with plenty of such evidence. It’s a learned response, through indoctrination both deliberate and societal.

We have a world rapidly being contaminated by plastic, ecosystems being degraded, species dying out, overpopulation, pollution that creates accelerated cancer rates, and a host of other problems attributable to human activities, behavior, or inventions.

Even if you took global warming off the table–poof, global warming doesn’t exist–we would need to make major changes in our values, our attitude, our daily lives to maintain a liveable world.

So the questions are really

—Can we take the risk that, despite overwhelming scientific evidence, global warming isn’t occurring and isn’t mostly created by humans? I.e., if it is true, we’re headed toward catastrophe, so why take the risk of not taking action?

—Wouldn’t we want to reduce pollution levels, find alternatives to fossil fuels, reduce our population supersaturation, and protect ecosystems even if there were no such thing as global warming?

Related questions I keep asking myself are:

—Are we now so divorced from the natural world and our place in it that we can conceive of existence on an Earth without complex ecosystems, without non-degraded air and water?

—Are we so far gone that we cannot come around to a position in which we value animal life more, and therefore the natural settings they need to live? (All of which affects our own quality of life.)


  1. says

    You’d be surprised just who won’t listen to the evidence, Jeff…

    A lot of reasonably smart people are in denial about it all. In fact, those with half an idea about science are usually the first to accept the crack-pot theories, and bend it to their needs. I think, ultimately, it comes from not wanting to accept that we do wrong by our lifestyles: perhaps even not wanting to accept responsibility for our actions?

    That, and a heck of a lot of money is spent by oil companies in causing confusion, much in the same way tobacco companies acted when presented with evidence of smoking being linked to cancer. Greenpeace puts the investment in millions of dollars, in fact.

    But as you say, no matter how much evidence is out there…

  2. says

    Thanks for the link, Mark. It truly is disturbing. I hate seeing an issue with rigorous science behind it reduced to a “there are two sides to it” argument.

    The problem is there are many of us I think who hate even getting in a car every day, have no real choice (most US cities being so unfriendly to other options by their design or their crappy train/bus systems), who would *love* the government to impose stricter standards and provide alternatives. At this point, individual efforts to conserve energy, use environmentally friendly options re everything from toilet paper to bags to lightbulbs, are of course somewhat useful but systemic change is only going to happen when governments and corporations implement them.

  3. says

    Just back from Cape Town, Jeff, where I met up with Ian McCallum, who used to take adolescents from the local psychiatric hospital we worked in, on wilderness trails. This he did in order to reconnect them with nature — and almost without fail improved their mental health too. Ian argues we need the natural world to survive psychologically as well as physically – and he’s now planning an expedition following elephant trails from the Angolan to Kwa-Zulu Natal coasts; ‘In the Tracks of Giants’, in order to highlight this message.

  4. says

    I completely agree with Mark. He puts it all just in right words. What is the most frightening is the undeniable fact that there will still be a decent number of affluent “creatures” claiming the non-existence of such threatening problem such as global warming. On top of that normal people are simply lost in pro and against argumentation even though they face daily the consequences. Argumentation made up by gas companies is well thought through. What to do then?

  5. Jeff VanderMeer says

    Nick: I really believe that’s a great message. It’s a little like if you’re part of a neighborhood and you know your neighbors, you feel a connection to them and you feel like a community. The less we reconnect with nature the less we feel, I think, like we’re actually part of this world, or that this world matters.

  6. Nathan says

    For your last two questions, yes and yes. We have spent so many years conceiving of ourselves as somehow superior to other animals, and for a large portion of the population as having dominion over the other animals, and there are so few who recognize that we are part of an ecological network that it would do us well not to destroy for our immediate convenience, that by the time we convince a majority (or convince those with the power to compel a majority) otherwise it will be too late. Even a number of apparently successful conservation and preservation schemes have actually failed because the specific creatures or ecosystems they’re attempting to protect have gone ecologically obsolete in the meantime. By the time we got to this generation that has finally started to realize that animals not only feel, but are in many cases actually moral creatures, to this generation that has begun to recognize that we are part of our environment and not its masters, it was already too late. Any steps we take now are most likely damage control and salvage more than preservation.

    Anyway, my favorite non-fiction read of last year — actually perhaps my favorite book I read last year in any genre — was PARADISE FOUND by Steve Nicholls. It’s a pretty astounding synthesis of history, natural history and ecology that reveals the incredible diversity and abundance of North American life when Europeans first arrived, and the ecological changes that have been wrought by — and that continue to take place thanks to — disease, market forces, introduction of foreign and invasive species, development of civilization, culture clash, sheer chance, antipathy for certain species, environmental legislation and conservation efforts and more. Nicholls has a knack for narrative, a cinematic eye for detail, and a talent for rendering complex relationships understandable. I’d highly recommend reading it if you’re interested in the fate of our environment and its various inhabitants.

  7. says

    Here in Australia there is a general acceptance of global warming; we’ve had extraordinary weather patterns over the past decade which has reinforced the idea. Though admittedly there are still many who live in denial.

  8. says

    “Even if you took global warming off the table–poof, global warming doesn’t exist–we would need to make major changes in our values, our attitude, our daily lives to maintain a liveable world.”

    I’m wondering if there is a way to promote conservationism, respect for the ecology, etc. and divorce it from what has sadly become a completely political, divisive terminology. The words “global warming” have been so misused (probably not the right word) by the political right and left that even people who would sit down and agree whole-heartedly that it is our job as stewards of this world to treat it well are polarized by that terminology. It is sad, but true.

  9. klem says

    “Basically, this teenage girl was never going to be convinced by any scientific evidence, despite being presented with plenty of such evidence.”

    It’s worse than that. I know a lot of children in their early teens and pre-teen age that completely reject ACC. They accept climate change but not the anthropomorphic version. You might think that they have been indoctrinated perhaps at school, but nope, you’d be wrong. All of them go to liberal public schools which have been showing “An Inconvenient truth’ over and over with no opposing films or opinions, the teachers openly blaming humans for climate change, they ridicule any opposing views from their students, as a result most of the students have had enough and reject it all. I have been an environmentalist since 1970, and I have never seen anything like this. I have been saying for years; AGW will kill the environmental movement in the end. And now I’m seeing how. There is a whole new generation of kids who will not fill the ranks of the green movement in the future. They reject environmentalism. This is a disaster in the making.

  10. says

    I agree with what klem said above. Environmental education is important, but if it turns into indoctrination and is coupled with guilt-inducing and shaming techniques directed against the students, it can easily lead to a wholesale rejection of environmentalism. As a kid in the 1980s, I attended a school that was very big on environmentalism of the shaming kind. Kids were publicly shamed and called rainforest destroyers for buying a burger at McDonalds at a school trip, leaving the classroom lights on automatically meant that you were singlehandedly responsible for the runtime extension of nuclear power stations. And if your parents made their living in an industry deemed an environmental hazard, then prepare for some really nasty blaming and shaming. It’s that aspect that was the most harmful and led to rejection.

    A handful of kids lapped it up, many pretended to conform and rebelled quietly, some rejected it openly. Except for one or two kids, you didn’t get any who supported the green movement.

    As for what to do about hardcore global warming deniers, you don’t necessarily need them to believe in global warming itself, only in the necessity to conserve resources. And the best way to do that is to appeal to their personal interests. Hence instead of stressing how conserving resources now may help to save the planet in the future and keep small Pacific islands from sinking (all of which is very remote, even if they do accept it), better tell them how conserving resources and energy and e.g. using energy-efficient appliances and lightbulbs, insulating their homes better, buying a non-gas-guzzling car and maybe installing solar panels on their roof can help them to save money now. Not everybody cares about the environment, but most people love saving money.

  11. klem says

    “Not everybody cares about the environment, but most people love saving money.”

    That’s right, I would love to install solar and wind on my property but the capital cost and 40 year payback period is unacceptable. I’ll wait until solar and wind are cost effective. Might not be in my lifetime.

    I know a guy who built his house so it was completly energy self sufficient with geothermal, wind and solar. It cost him a fortune. He admits that it will not pay for itself within his lifetime, but the next owner of the house will benefit greatly. It is worse than that actually, little does he realise that wind and solar on a house are UGLY, and have reduced his property value, I can guarantee that when he goes to sell his house he won’t get what he thinks he will get for it. Ugly means alot to house buyers.