Get Email Updates!

Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

The Cost of Denial

When it happens in the Statehouse, we all suffer.

By George Harvey

Denial is a matter of asserting that something is different from what it actually is. It might be that most of us do it from time to time. Many people say, “I’m okay,” as they shed a tear that says clearly they are not.

When denial is about something really important, it can be costly. There are many examples of that, but one story is particularly instructive on the subject of climate change. It is about Tim and Sally Canfield, who lived in Alstead, New Hampshire. They twice refused to evacuate their home as a flood threatened in October of 2005, asserting that they were in no danger. They stayed in their home, and within hours they had vanished. In fact, not only did they vanish, so did the entire home. Not even the foundation remained, as everything was swept away in the flood.

The weather has been getting worse for years. This is clear from the cost of flood insurance. In 1978, premiums for flood insurance in this country totaled about $82 million. Increases due to inflation, increased population, and increased value of real estate might have driven that up by a factor of five or six in the years leading to 2016. But the premiums did not go up by a factor of six; they went up by a factor of 43.

Please do not be fooled by the assertion that this was because of increased building in flood-prone areas. The Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2004 said that if a property gets claims of $1,000 or more over a ten year period, it loses its federal guarantees of insurance, and its premiums disappear. Unfortunately for the owner, so does most of the value of the property.

The steady increase in weather damage has happened in lock step with the increase in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the increases in temperature. The assertion of denialists that temperature increases plateaued in 1998, by the way, can clearly be seen to be a fraud by anyone who actually looks at the figures. 1998 smashed the previous record, but new records were set in 2005, 2010, 2014, 2015, and 2016. You would have to be wearing a blindfold to fail to see the pattern.

The cost of the damage has been increasing dramatically with increased violence in storms. Hurricane Harvey produced about 60% more economic damage than the previous record, set by Hurricane Katrina. Only two weeks later, Hurricane Irma set a record as the most powerful storm on record to have formed in the Atlantic, outside of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean. Only two weeks later, Hurricane Maria came along, more powerful than either of those, and caused the longest extensive power outage in the history of the United States. Only two weeks after that, Hurricane Ophelia was the first major hurricane ever to have formed in the eastern Atlantic; it hit Ireland with 119 mph winds.

Denial comes in numerous forms. For climate change denial, one form says it is not happening. The Trump administration has mostly stopped doing that, and this may be in part because the decision on whether climate change is happening has already been made in federal courts.

Another form of climate denial says that it is not caused by human beings. For example, over a ten year period, aeronautical engineer Willie Soon published a series of papers in peer-reviewed journals of astrophysics saying that climate change was caused by the sun. These papers were reviewed primarily by astrophysicists, not by climate or weather scientists. They ignored the easier, long predicted explanation that climate change is caused by human beings.

Climate science has been around a long time. Climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions was first predicted in 1824 by Joseph Fourier. It was described quantitatively by Svante Arrhenius in 1896. The science behind it was developed over a thirty year period beginning in 1930 by Guy Stewart Callendar. By 1960, a scientific basis had been built.

The first president of the United States who was warned about the problem was Lyndon Johnson, who was given the information by scientists in 1966. While it was not public knowledge by that time, it was known to other scientists.

We have no way of knowing when they warned the board of Exxon about it, but the evidence we have seen in the press indicates that they hired their own scientists to look into the matter sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. An article in Scientific American, “Exxon Knew about Climate Change Almost 40 Years Ago,” appeared in December of 2015.

In June of 1988, Dr. James Hansen, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified before Congress that climate change was already under way and threatening.

Since that time, there has been a lot of denial financed by the fossil fuel industry and the people who have invested in it.

A third type of denial says that global warming is real and that human beings may be causing it. It goes on, however, to say that this could be a good thing. And that, unfortunately, is what seems to be happening in the Vermont State House.

Vermont Governor Phil Scott recently told reporters that climate change could turn out to be an “economic boon” for his state. “Climate change is going to happen. It’s happening,” he said. He acknowledged that it would cause problems for other parts of the country, and for the world. “We’re seeing wildfires in California,” he said. “It makes Vermont look pretty good.”

I guess that means that Phil Scott puts no value on the famous Vermont ski industry, its maple products, or the tourist industry supported by fall colors, all of which depend on the old weather patterns that are now disappearing.

Governor Scott seems not to know that Lyme disease, which has spread through Vermont since 1990, is arguably driven by climate change, as are babesiosis, West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis, and other diseases yet to come.

It may be true that for certain purposes, a warmer Vermont would be better. Certainly those of us who wish to grow peaches or pawpaws will find the environment better suited to their purposes. But any agriculturalists who grows apples or blueberries would have to replace his trees and bushes, and that means delays in production.

We could assume that Governor Scott’s expectation of a “boon” might be based on something other than anything like the traditional products of the state. After all, while climate change may be the greatest problem humanity has ever had, addressing it is very probably the single biggest business opportunity we have ever seen.

But another clue tells us this is probably not the case. A draft report from the Vermont Natural Resources Board on updating Act 250 had all mentions of climate change redacted by the governor’s office.

And that looks like denial, pure and simple.

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>