CLIMATE AND THE SKEPTICS
The globe is getting warmer and denial is absurd
Action on the climate can no longer be deferred
So I’ll separate the paper and the plastic in my trash
But change my style of living? That is utter balderdash!
Here are the unpleasant facts: 2014 was the hottest year since temperature recording began in 1880, and the ten warmest years on record have all occurred since 1997. The primary cause is human activity by a global population that has increased from 2 billion in the 1920s to over 7 billion today, many of whom enjoy a historically bountiful living standard based on lavish energy use. Without world-wide and urgent efforts to slow the warming process the human species faces acutely damaging and dangerous consequences..
Who says so? The great majority of scientists who specialize in this field. And yet they face intense skepticism. Now, skepticism is usually the default attitude of political satirists. Typically they throw doubt on the statements of powerful people, and scientists exercise great power over our ideas and behavior.
Indeed, there are satirists who, citing the claims of a small number of dissenting scientists, persist in the view that the warnings of disaster are vastly exaggerated. Thus the headline of an article in the conservative Town Hall website describes “The Great Climate Change Bamboozle Industry”. And there are cartoons by the widely syndicated Michael Ramirez, one debunking the claims for electric cars by noting that much of their fuel originates in coal, another showing the Statue of Liberty swathed in warm clothes to fend off a particularly cold winter (an event featured in a flurry of conservative memes).
But the bulk of the satire on this issue is skeptical not of the scientists but of the climate “deniers”. A cartoon by Sack, for example, shows a balance scale with a single climate denier on one side believing she is outweighing “virtually every scientist in the world”. Tom Toles shows us a denier seeking advice from “the last Japanese soldier fighting World War II.” And The Onion offers a report suggesting that “climate change skeptics could reach catastrophic levels by 2020” fuelled by “an alarming upsurge in the number of discredited scientific studies, adversarial cable news show guests…and politicians whose opinions are controlled by fossil fuel company lobbying groups.”
This last quip underscores the point that, in defending scientific findings against deniers, satirists are not deserting their customary skepticism, but rather re-stating their hostility to concentrated economic and political power. This is illustrated by jokes and cartoons about the Koch Brothers, whose huge holdings in coal and oil are mocked by a Joe Mohr cartoon depicting them as Don Quixote and Sancho Panza on horseback literally preparing to tilt at windmills. Republicans like Senator Ted Cruz are seen as a cohort of the Kochs. According to the National Report, a “fake news” site, Cruz is too smart to be a thoroughgoing denier (“the jury is still out on global warming”) but believes that the problem can readily be handled by building “a giant fridge some place, open the door, and let nature take its course.”
Satirists also draw on another of their favorite targets – fundamentalist religion. According to a Pew survey in 2014 a third of the American public believes that “human and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time” and one quarter think there is not “solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades.” These attitudes make it clear that there is still a substantial audience for mockery of the dire warnings of climate change. On the other hand, The Daily Currant (“our stories are purely fictional”) urges true Christians to accept that climate change is “harming God’s creations and preventing the second coming of Christ”, for “Jesus will have a tough time coming back to judge the living and the dead if half the earth is under water and people are too busy dying from starvation and limited resources to pay attention to him.”
Actually, there is some evidence that all is not lost. Past global agreements have already saved the ozone layer. Now the U.S. and China have agreed to cut emissions significantly – the U.S. by 2025, China by 2030. The European Union has set ambitious goals. At the annual UN climate conference in 2014 there was preliminary agreement on the need for world-wide approaches to the problem.
Yet much of the satire on the issue is skeptical that many of the declared goals will be met on time, and that even if they are they will not be sufficient to avoid grave damage to the global environment. Cartoonists from around the world warn that rich and poor nations are busy with their respective blame games: “Don’t blame us, we never actually promised anything”, and “At least we have policies (we’ll carry them out some
day”). Moreover, growing recognition of the problem around the world that the globe is warming doesn’t mean that most people are ready for drastic and costly counter-measures. In The Economist a cartoon depicts massed ranks marching in lockstep behind a banner declaring “Climate Change Is Real”; but when it comes to “Now On To Next Steps” the ranks break, everyone goes in a different direction, and the banner droops. Around the world a frequent cartoon theme is ice disappearing under polar bears and a North Pole transformed into a tropical resort. And in America an inevitable reference is to the Statue of Liberty almost inundated because of “Climate Change Procrastination.”
Of course, even the present overwhelming preponderance of evidence does not provide final proof that, without drastic action, the future will be catastrophic. But a Joel Pett cartoon sums up the issue very nicely: A scientist lectures on the changes that would create a healthier, more productive and sustainable environment, and a questioner asks: “What if it’s a big hoax and we create a better world for nothing?”