As hurricane 'Sandy' is headed towards the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast the United States, it is supposed to be a 'historic killer storm,' a hybrid system - a super storm even - hence the nickname 'Frenkenstorm' (an allusion to Mary Shelley's gothic creature of synthesized elements.). A perfect name for the Halloween season!In case major weather phenomenon might not be dramatic enough, the U.S. media love to hype it up by giving it a scarier-than-though name to get people's attention,. In the end, this could really be counterproductive. Think of last year's Snowmaggedon (Snow+Armaggedon) or Snowpocalypse which turned out to fail catastrophic expectations.
Let's use this event as a good opportunity to pause and talk about one topic that has been completely left of the presidential campaign: climate change.
Of course, not one single event can be directly linked to climate change but factual trends show higher water temperature in the Mid-Atlantic which can cause more intense storms. This should be a concern at least (here), and yet, the possible link is left silent in US politics and in the American press.Does this mean that Americans do not believe in climate change? Surprisingly, no. In fact, on this question, they don't seem so far apart from the French.According to this latest poll of worldwide opinion on climate change:
- Most French (82%) and Americans (72%) feel that climate has changed in the last 20 years.
- Most French (69%) and Americans (65%) believe that climate change has been proven by science.
- Most French (77%) and Americans (67%) are either very or somewhat worried of the possible consequences.
- A majority of people in either country (58% in the U.S. and 81% in France) think climate change is mostly the result of human activity, and that their government/country is mostly responsible (78% and 82%).
So how come this issue is not even mentioned once in the presidential campaign? Worse - how come no policy, not even the cap-and-trade bill has been passed to cut CO2 emission in the U.S.? After all, this was one of President Obama's promises which is supported by a majority of Americans.
A simple answer: the failure of the current American democratic system where lobbies and money trump over the will of the people.
This may sound harsh and rather extreme, but this is also the conclusion you will draw from watching PBS Frontline 'Climate of Doubt' last week.
Their show was not actually on the topic of climate change but more interestingly on the the chilling power of climate change deniers through ideological pressure groups (The American Tradition Institute) funded by private interests such as oil companies (Exxon) and industrialists (The Koch Brothers).This may sound harsh and rather extreme, but this is also the conclusion you will draw from watching PBS Frontline 'Climate of Doubt' last week. Their show was not actually on the topic of climate change but more interestingly on the the chilling power of climate change deniers through ideological pressure groups (The American Tradition Institute) funded by private interests such as oil companies (Exxon) and industrialists (The Koch Brothers).
The way these global warming deniers operate is simply fascinating and uniquely American. It is very much like what religious groups have done with the theory of evolution or the tobacco industry with cigarettes:
1. First they attack the scientific community:
- Science become a matter of opinion, and as such they claim that the views of climate change skeptics should be taught in school (as it happened in Tennessee) as any other 'opinion'. When confronted to scientific data, Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R) of Wisconsin, who is also vice Chair. in the Committee on Science, Space and Technology, says "they are entitled to their opinion".
- They use the scandal of a few scientists' hacked emails taken out of contexts to undermine the entire field (forgetting to mention that 9 subsequent investigations showed no tempering with data). They use the "freedom of information act to pressure scientists in making their emails available.
- They also say that scientists have a political agenda 'green is the new red' says one of them.
2. Then, they create their own science:
- they make scientific data match their agenda, by using partial findings. They call it "the science that makes good sense" (i.e. that fits their political agenda)
- They come up with phony but authentic looking documents (such as the Oregon Petition), using anyone with a bachelors degree as a "scientist".
- They use organization that sounds serious )such as the Science and Public Policy Institute) which are in fact political pressure groups.
At the same time, they reframe the issue: CO2 becomes a "gas used by beautiful trees" or "plant food". It is "what we breathe out and plants breathe in" (Exxon), thus using the same tactics as the tobacco industry.
3. Finally, they pressure the legislative body. Ideological groups such as the Tea Party, use the tactics they have used on other issues by pressuring the more moderate Republicans who might be inclined to believe in climate change, thus instilling fear in the party. (Such as former South Carolina Congressman Bob Inglis, who was defeated in a Republican primary in 2010.).
Of course, this is not necessarily going to work with a majority of Americans, but it seems to work with the Republicans. The issue of climate change, which should be primarily a scientific issue has been successfully framed into a political issue of government expansion, the hot button issue for conservatives that blinds them from any reasonable discussion.: only 44% of Republicans believe the U.S. should work to combat global warming.
There is hope - swing voters go green:
The immediate consequence of this strategy of doubt was that even though the cap-and-trade bill passed in the House, it was blocked by the Senate, and there is nothing that the president can do about it. not sure there is much he will be able to do in the future, because as John Kerry says in the documentary, the impact of money is too strong. Unfortunately, once the will of people on this issue becomes stronger than money, it might be too late. Of course, the current economic context is also an opportunity to push back on climate change, instead of being an opportunity for transformation.
NOTE: meanwhile, France, who signed the Kyoto Protocol, has reduced its CO2 emission by 11% in 20 years. (source here)