Ecorealism is yet another trick of fossil capitalism not to change anything
The fact that the emission of greenhouse gases leads to global warming has been known for several decades. And yet the public and political consciousness about it grew very slowly. How did that happen? And what does it teach us about the 'climate debate' of today?
Evidence continues to accumulate that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and other "greenhouse" gases will substantially raise global temperature. While considerable uncertainty exists concerning the rate and ultimate magnitude of such a temperature rise, current estimates suggest that a 2 ° C ( 3.6 ° F ) increase could occur by the middle of the next century, and a 5 ° C ( 9 ° F ) increase by 2100.
These are the first sentences from the executive summary of a scientific report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency that appeared almost 40 years ago under the title Can We Delay a Greenhouse Warming.
They are sentences that are surprising when you read them in 2019. After all, it all sounds so current, as if it were a passage that was plucked from yesterday's newspaper, while in reality it was typed out on a typewriter in the early 1980s.
In their conclusion, the authors of the EPA report emphasize that we only have a few decades to adjust to the coming temperature rise. "Changes can become catastrophic by the end of the 21st century", the researchers emphasize. What is needed for this is both "sobriety and a sense of urgency". The recommendation with which the researchers end their conclusion mainly masks the profound pessimism that accompanies their conclusions.
You can already feel their pessimism if you look at the title that researchers gave to their report. It does not ask whether global warming can be avoided, but whether and to what extent it can be delayed.
According to the researchers, there is really only one way in which an increase of two degrees can still be effectively avoided, namely a total cessation of the use of oil and coal. But, this is difficult to achieve, is indicated in the report. The cost of a total ban of coal and oil is too high and would also be very unevenly distributed because of a lack of global institutions who can bring the right changes.
Let us cast doubt
You would expect that after the publication of such a report, a kind of mild panic would arise among politicians. But that is not what happened of course. In the eighties, climate change was a phenomenon that virtually nobody had heard about, let alone it would keep people up at night. It was only in the course of the nineties that climate change awareness slowly began to emerge. But it did not become a real political agenda item.
That is no coincidence. From the moment the link between global warming and emissions was demonstrated, the industry has done everything to deny that link. The oil giant Exxon, for example, already knew from its own research in the 1970s that CO2 emissions led to global warming. But for decades the company has tried - against its own findings - to raise doubts about the link between climate change and fossil fuel emissions.
For example, Exxon paid for advertisements in newspapers that questioned global warming by pointing out the gaps in evolving climate research. It's important to understand that the aim was not so much to deny the findings of climate scientists, but to raise doubts and create confusion about the severity and scale of the warming. Any encouragements to tackle climate change had to be slowed down. This usually happened in a rather subtle way.
For example, an advertisement that was published in 1989 explicitly talked about climate change. The advertisement starts with stating that warming is in a certain sense normal. For if there should be no atmosphere that holds warmth, then the earth would be unlivable. Then it is announced that global temperatures seem to be increasing. It emphasizes that industry, scientists and politicians are joining forces to tackle the problem, but at the same time it is being warned that no easy solutions are available. At the end of the advertisement it is argued that it probably doesn't make any sense to tackle car traffic.
The effect of this type of advertisements is subtle. It is not so much about what is said literally, but about the general feeling after reading it. What prevails in this case is the idea that Exonn recognizes climate change as an important problem, but that much research needs to be done about its real size. So a reassuring message: we are working on it and it is not as bad as it seems. The effect is: slowdown.
To create a slowing effect, these messages are repeated over and over again to this day. For example, it is noticeable that the communication strategy that Business Europe uses today is very similar to the approach of Exxon in its 1989 advertisement.
In a leaked note that dates from 13 September 2018, Business Europe its approach is to sound rather positive about climate change. In addition, it emphasizes that the implementation of concrete measures must be prevented as much as possible by, among other things, pointing out that other large economies must first be convinced to participate. An argument that Exxon also used in his 1989 advertisement.
The promise of technology
Anyone who would browse through the many advertisements of Exxon would notice that statements and even whole pieces of text seem to come out of the contemporary "climate debate". Now take the advertisement that appeared on March 30, 2000 under the title The Promise of Technology. The principal reasoning is that climate change also creates opportunities, that the human species has always excelled in technological ingenuity and that we can tackle climate change through technological cleverness.
Although the techniques for tackling climate change have not yet been developed, Exxon indicates that it is hopeful that these techniques will soon come. Here too the message is: no worries, everything will be fine.
Privatization of the future
What the industry has been trying to do for decades is gaining time. She does this not only by denying or calling into question the existence of climate change, but also by ignoring the seriousness of the global problem and by putting a misguided optimism to the fore. In this way every possible political action is held back.
Up to now, lobby groups of the industry and their ventriloquist dummies in politics and the media have unfortunately succeeded with great efficiency. Despite the fact that it's known for a long time that climate change is caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, in all these years no measures have been implemented that drastically limit emissions. That was the intention from the outset. Only in this way can the profit margins be secured and the shareholders remain satisfied.
What fossil capitalism does is privatize the future. By consistently counteracting every attempt to reduce emissions, the possibility of a quality and happy life for these and future generations is becoming ever smaller. The future of billions of people is being sold and the proceeds go to a small elite that lives today. The longer the seed of doubt can be sown, the longer the party can continue. That is why there is so much money being pumped into disinformation and noise.
You can only hope that this generation, through all that noise, will continue to hear the alarm signal...
Note: This article focuses mainly on the fossil industry and its mechanisms for casting doubt. However, I am not a doom thinker. I do believe in technological progress. For example, KU Leuven researchers have succeeded in developing a special solar panel that produces hydrogen gas from the moisture in the air. Twenty of these solar panels could provide a family with electricity and heat for a winter.
I'm still optimistic, but it is important that we do not lose time. Politics have to fully support such initiatives. We can still succeed in our plan, but then we must get rid of all that useless noise.