The Phony Cry of Doomerism

The reports from the field observations on climate are returning with ever worsening reports, as predicted. Heat absorption, the Arctic and Antarctica, mounting land degradation tallies are ticking upward, which again, were explicated in the climate models. Last week, Greenpeace released a report on an Exxon lobbyist who was tricked in admitting fierce lobbying behind the scenes and the corruption of key senators to prevent climate change legislation in the U.S. Senate, as per the Tobacco playbook of fifty years ago. The interview also shows the campaign to prevent climate change legislation is shifting into another, well-documented gear: “Give up,” certain no-name writers press. “Give up and go home; enjoy these better days while you have them.

The new task at hand is not defending the veracity of the data. The evidence proving climate change has swayed approximately 70 percent of the American population according to the latest surveys. Climate Denialism continues to lose adherents as the effects of global warming are experienced by more people with no alternate explanations possible. Scientists and activists are winning the first battle of denialism, but the fossil fuel industry has already moved on.

More than one set of delaying tactics are described in the earlier Tobacco Industry playbook, which goes back fifty years. Thwarting legislation is a multi-pronged approach requiring several different strategies, and different types of timing. As denialism tapers off, the fossil fuel industry is pivoting to two other methodologies: denigration and delay. As the Tobacco Industry demonstrated, these tactics work, delaying anti-tobacco legislation and litigation for fifty years.

On the denial track, we have passed through most of the “denial that the problem exists,” although there is still funding flowing to professional deniers such as the Heartland Institute. Thirty percent of Americans still believe that climate change does not exist, that it is a hoax, or that its existence and effects are overblown. These public relations campaigns have been unusually effective.

One of the most effective components happening now is the half-step campaign. The half-step is the acknowledgement by the industry that climate change exists. Such pronouncements are hailed as great milestones and proof the fossil fuel industry is finally paying attention to the threat of climate change. In truth, they have been paying close attention since the late 1970’s according to their own internal studies and documents. With this half-step announcement, the industry pivots to a stance of non-engagement. In the same breath that they confirm climate change is real, they deny that climate change is a problem. No one needs to act because climate change is benign.

Continuing further down the denial track, the fossil fuel industry pushes two specific ideas. The first project is to deny that the fossil fuel industry is the cause. They point fingers at cows, governments, corporate agriculture and most effectively, at ordinary people. There are kernels of truth in their accusations, but not even close to a whole, accurate truth. Just enough truth to make the accusations appear tenable is part of the strategy.

Their claim is if everyone would take personal responsibility for their contributions to climate change, the crisis would be solved. The argument is demonstrably false, but it accomplishes its true goal of shifting the conversation away from fossil fuels. Other permutations include “we’re trying, why aren’t you” or “we’re doing our part, everyone else is the problem.” Most insidious of all is the claim “not to worry, a technological is fix is coming to save us.” There is no technology in a production pipeline to address climate change now.

The second idea, which has not emerged fully into blossom yet, is to deny that we can solve climate change. The climate is complicated involving ocean currents under the ocean to carbon accretion in the upper layers of the atmosphere, and no one can really understand all of it. Even the climate scientists do not have all the answers, they claim. The fossil fuel industry will humbly profess the problems are too complicated to solve at this time, but they promise to continue studying the issue.

Delaying action on climate change is the arena in which doomerism is actively pushed. Two types of delay are in play, but both are concerned with politics. The most expensive element in the industry’s push to stop legislation is lobbying. They make donations to politicians and political campaigns. If they identify a vulnerable legislator, they fund campaigns to raise a primary challenger or fund the candidate who supports their industry in the full election. They have lobbyists in every state, working with municipal, county, and state legislators and with the regulatory agencies. They fund think tanks and institutes whose sole purpose is to stop climate change legislation from being passed. They have been successful.

However, constituents vote, and they lobby too. The power of the electorate is formidable when it is engaged and their aggregated votes and demands of legislators are effective; they are a deep challenge to the fossil fuel industry despite their billions of spent dollars. To delay the electorate, they hire firms to prevent aggregating into large coalitions. These firms target individuals who are aggregators of public concern including scientists, teachers, clergy, pundits, environmental groups, and informed politicians. They also attempt to discourage people from taking up the cause using media, social media, print campaigns, and any other method they think may work. They have money to spend.

The promotion of doomerism, the fear that it is too late to save the planet and that all is lost, is a pernicious delaying tactic. The voice of doom sends the message that nothing can be done. The concerned citizen who learns this terrible truth should go home and close their doors. They should use their energy to live the best life they can while they can because all is lost. They should give up the fight because the battle is already lost; we are too late.

“I came to view with despair all the gains I had made under the sun,” Kohelet records in the Book of Ecclesiastes, falling into a funk of futility despite his recounted successes. Doomerism is the latest expression of well-attested despair. Despair is crippling, leading to withdrawal from the world and from everything that gives life meaning and worth; it is an affliction.

As a tool to discourage people from taking community and political action, despair is potent. From young adults through every decade through the elder years, despondency is a cruel and crippling reality to the vulnerable. “No sickness like despair” declared Israel Salanter Lipkin centuries ago.

To the power hungry and cynical, promoting despair in the opposition or in the population is a documented path to success. Take the fight out of one’s enemies and they will not bother to raise their arms in defense, much less raise a counterattack. Peeling off parts of the population who would care about climate change and neutralizing them is an appealing strategy. The promotion of doomerism lately demonstrates the effort is well underway.

Across the globe in almost every generation, people have risen to overcome their despair and move forward. Despair is an ancient problem, which is found in the writings of every religious tradition. St. Francis of Assisi encouraged his fellows, declaring that hope is the antidote to despair. The ancient Jewish traditions argue that despair is the loss of hope. The Buddhist teachings direct the practitioner to lean into the despair, using the pain as a lever to raise others out of their despair.

Despair is real and its presence is a necessary component of our response to climate change. Hopelessness reminds us of all that is precious to us, from our fellow human beings to the planet that sustains us all. The suffering of human beings from global warming is cataloged as an evil in the Western religious traditions and as avoidable suffering in the Eastern traditions. Both traditions are on point, signaling why despair over the climate is painful and even crippling at times.

The toxic nature of despair is not a foregone conclusion. The presence of despair is a moment of self-revelation, an insight that all is not right. Anguish is an opportunity to examine the causes of our pain and to challenge our lack of hope. The propaganda surrounding the push of climate doomerism is an attempt to extinguish the presence of hope. Hope is the target to be eliminated as the industry pushes against change.

Despondency need not be a stumbling block. The power of this human sentiment is available to all people, and the power can be a great source of motivation. Without this element of threatened hopelessness, the fights for climate change legislation would be an academic one or the work of a professional gunslinger who earns a paycheck lobbying politicians. Despair is an engine that galvanizes the religious soul, that bothers the people on the sidelines who await a goad to act. Despair is the call to action. The presence of despair informs us that this battle to save the planet is the movement of peoples against the lust for wealth and power. As climate change is global, the gathering to force change on the fossil fuel industry is worldwide, and all of this gathering, each and every individual joining the cause, begins with despair. As one organizer declares in her email signature, “From pain, to protest, to power.” Despair is not a conclusion, but a beginning point. From anguish and hopelessness, the only path is upward.

Understanding Climate Legislation

Six Arenas

Sitting in front of a computer screen in the middle of another Zoom conference on climate change, the exuberance of the presenters is consistently tested by the scope of the legislative endeavors that must pass. The issue is not the cliché that “no bill is perfect,” which is true. Rather, climate change is a threat multiplier across every human activity and endeavor, and its footprint is global. A Green New Deal bill will accomplish much in the coming decade, but no one bill can anticipate nor address all the issues created by human output in the last one hundred years.

At present, we are on a baseline trajectory to raise the median temperature of the earth by 2100 +3.5oC (6.4oF). The baseline is the output of carbon we are experiencing today without any change or mitigation.  Today’s baseline is unsustainable, and the result would be a planet with huge swaths of uninhabitable land and ocean by the end of the century. With the proposed legislation, we will continue to produce carbon, pumping the element into the water and into the air, but the goal is to control and reduce the carbon output to a sustainable +1.5oC (2.7oF).

M.I.T.’s Management Sustainability Initiative divides up the carbon reduction puzzle into six arenas:

  1. Energy Supply
  2. Transport
  3. Buildings and Industry
  4. Growth
  5. Land and Industry Emissions
  6. Carbon Removal

Our legislative endeavors need to force changes in each of these six areas. If all the areas are not addressed, even if only one area is ignored, we will be unable to reach our sustainable goal of +1.5oC (2.7oF). Each area requires a firm legislative shove, often more than one. What follows is an outline of what is contained in each arena and what must be done. Each bullet point requires new aggressive legislation.

Energy Supply

The big four carbon producers that must be reduced to as close to zero as possible are:

  • Coal
  • Oil
  • Natural Gas
  • Bioenergy (e.g. wood, wood pellets)

The energy producers that do not produce carbon are called renewables. They must take over as much energy production as possible:

  • Solar
  • Geothermal
  • Wind
  • Nuclear* (*renewable but not clean)

The lever that forces the energy supply to shift from coal/oil/gas to renewables is:

  • Carbon price/Carbon Tax

We may also need a break-through technology that does not emit greenhouse gases. Several have been proposed but none will be available in the foreseeable future. Funding is through research and development.

  • New Zero-Carbon Breakthrough

Transport

All forms of transportation (ships, planes, trucks, cars) must shift to,

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Buildings and Industry

All mechanicals in buildings and the processes and machines for manufacturing must make the same shift as transportation.

  • Energy Efficiency
  • Electrification

Growth

Some parts of the world are already experiencing a slowdown in population from an exponential trajectory to a geometric one, although not all populations are decreasing. Economic growth as defined by Gross Domestic Product must also decrease. We need to aim for less people and less stuff, backing away from a growth model for economies.

  • Population
  • Economic Growth

Population tends towards self-regulating when education rates rise in general and when education policies specifically targeting women are implemented. The issues of less manufactured goods are partially addressed in “Right to Repair” laws that create longer-lasting products and the legal ability/capability to repair locally.

Land and Industry Emissions

While energy consumption is tackled above, the pollution generated by industry and agribusiness must all be addressed. Monoculture agribusiness must transform to soil-healthy processes that are not dependent on manufactured fertilizers, herbicides, and insecticides.

  • Deforestation
  • Methane, fertilizers, HTC’s, and PFC’s

Carbon Removal

The only known carbon removal technology available today is replanting what we have destroyed on land and in the ocean. We will need new technology to pull carbon out of the air, either enhancing natural removals or manually sequestering carbon. Such technology does not exist yet.

  • Afforestation
  • Technological Carbon Removal

Putting the Points Together

No one bill will address all these issues. Legislation that redirects agriculture hardly seems like a climate change bill but both monoculture farms and beef ranches are huge contributors to the carbon pollution matrix. Government investments in education lead to smaller households in the next generation, an education bill. Shifting government subsidies from coal, oil, and gas to renewables would address the most significant source of carbon production, which is a straightforward energy bill. One bus can remove sixty cars from the daily commute, which would be funded in a transportation bill.

Some solutions will require international treaties and corporate compliance. We should invest in research and development, which would have a side effect of reducing college costs as the Sputnik program did. Corporations are guilty of the worst carbon pumping crimes and they need to fundamentally change or be forced to change into implementors of solutions.

We must pass legislation that does not include wishful thinking. A breakthrough technology just around the corner, hydrogen-powered cars for example, is a fantasy. The technology solution is not around the corner, which is no surprise because we have not invested much in developing such an invention. New technologies require investment and time; we have given neither.

Final Word

Your head should be spinning. At the least, organizing the bullet points in one place presents a clear direction of what sorts of legislation and regulations we need in the next year. Every bill is a battle and we need a lot of bills to become law.

We are asking our legislator allies to cover all these legislative areas when we cannot track them ourselves. Using the M.I.T structure, we can organize progress in each of the six arenas. This tracking helps us help our legislators stay informed and on-track, while keeping ourselves informed as best we can.

We can do this.

After a weekend of protests over the murder of George Floyd

In the protests over the state-mandated lockdowns a week earlier, the protesters were shouting, “My rights! My rights!” Pretending they were innocent victims, they were asking us to consider, “What are my rights?”

The correct response at the time was, “If you want rights enforced, then what are your responsibilities in return.” President Kennedy had something to say on the subject.

Then came the murder of George Floyd. All the arguments over rights and responsibilities were put under a glaring focus that played across our screens. In this light, the arguments over rights are selfish and shallow, coming from a place of no fear while parading around government buildings fully armed. Few if any were arrested.

“Where are my rights?” The African American community is asking a more fundamental question. It is the same question they have asked since they arrived here on slave ships: “Where are my rights?”

Where are they, indeed. As the protests across the nation demonstrate, the rights of Black men and Black women are lacking in most every metropolitan city from coast to coast, and in the rural outposts in between. I am surprised that I have not seen a protest sign saying, “Do I even have rights?”

“Do citizens have rights in the United States of America?” On paper, you do; however, in the streets, it may depend on the color of your skin.

Testimony before the NY State Senate Committee

Testimony before the NY State Environmental Conservation Committee

12 February 2019

I am Rabbi Glenn Jacob, and while I am executive director of New York Interfaith Power & Light – an organization dedicated to passing climate science-based legislation from a religious perspective, I come here first representing the initial wave of climate refugees in New York State. In 2012 on 29 October, Superstorm Sandy slammed my neighborhood in Oceanside, Long Island with a five-foot surge of water. My house had over $100,000 worth of damage, of which $18,000 was covered by flood insurance. I told my wife the day after the storm that we would move, and in November 2017, I moved from 25 miles east of Manhattan to 40 miles north.

My personal experience is framed in my religious perspective. I and my organization are non-partisan, representing about 15 different religious denominations from Suffolk County on Long Island to the city of Buffalo, with all points, rural, suburban, and urban in between. The message we bring is that climate change is a moral issue and the Climate and Community Protection Act (CCPA) is a matter of personal and professional integrity.

Contrary to caricatures, most synagogues, churches, mosques, temples, and gurdwaras have no issue accepting scientific facts, concepts, and conclusions. Climate change is real, climate change is manmade, and the only question is what is humanity going to do? To do nothing, to keep the status quo is evil in religious language. It is the path to more harm and danger to human life – deliberating allowing destruction is evil, a human, preventable evil.

The good news, to borrow the term from the Protestant Tradition, is that we have the knowledge base, the technology and the wherewithal to address climate change. Everything to address climate change is in some sort of readiness in New York State, from detailed plans for job creation to the equitable spread of resources, to energy infrastructure initiatives. The only thing we have lacked in the last few years is the political will.

Our religious traditions do not tolerate half-truths, because they have no integrity. To say that we are going to lose jobs in the fossil fuel industry is to deny that we are bringing entirely new energy industries into the state. To say that the CCPA will cause prices to rise is a half-truth as well. We already balk at paying for the damages of evermore powerful storms and violent temperature swings. Roads meant to last 20 years are lasting 15 years or less; we have yet to fix the most expensive damage from Sandy. Do you want to spend the taxpayers’ money solving the crisis or do you want to spend ever increasing sums patching roads, wires, sewers, channels, and buildings, which we see are already falling short of completion, just to maintain the status quo?

Whether you want to or not, you will be spending large sums of taxpayer funds on climate change in the coming years. The climate science and our real-world experience confirm this conclusion; no prophecy is necessary. Climate change is more than a technical issue, a reasonable issue, or a political issue; it is an unavoidable moral issue. The question from your religious constituents is: Are you going to spend state funds with integrity, namely the CCPA and its goals to address climate change, or are you going to squander the short twelve-year window we have to address climate change? We are the first generation to confront climate change and we are the last generation that can address climate change.

As I stated in the beginning, the CCPA is a matter of integrity, the integrity of the political will to act.

My TEDx Talk

TEDx Adelphi University | AU PAC | April 5th 2016. Copyright Chris Bergmann Photography

“God in the Public Square” has been posted here. This seventeen minute talk examines non-theist God beliefs, a huge part of our culture today that few even acknowledge exists. For non-theists, God is a “What” rather than a “Who”. Non-theists have been central to the conversation in the Public Square since the founding of the United States and are still in the middle of the great debate.

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TEDx Adelphi University | AU PAC | April 5th 2016. Copyright Chris Bergmann Photography