Where Are the Hotheads?

Remember this past February, when for a few weeks it was really cold and snowed a lot? Places like my town, Pittsburgh, got buried, as did Washington, D.C. And all the deniers of climate change came out crowing that the world, quite obviously, was not getting warmer after all. Move along, nothing further to see here.

Now it’s June. In Pakistan and China, millions of people are refugees because of flooding. Wildfires are tearing across Russia. An iceberg four times the size of Manhattan has split off Greenland and is bobbing menacingly about the Atlantic. The East Coast of the U.S. has had 100-degree heat waves. Here in Pittsburgh, no 100-degree days yet, but with summer only about half over, we’ve already about met our quota of 90-degreers.

The climate-deniers were wrong in February, of course: A couple cold, snowy weeks in one little part of the world doesn’t disprove climate change, which is based on decades of data worldwide.

But where are the deniers now, to tearfully admit that a few weeks of disasters and climatological weirdness prove their earlier misstatements incorrect? Shouldn’t they be stumping for climate legislation as hard as they were opposing it before?

But no, I kid the climate-change deniers, whether they’re free-market ideologues., researchers bought and paid for by the fossil-fuels industry or just good old-fashioned eye-rolling nutjobs. Of course we don’t want people using short-term cherry-picked data, anecdotal evidence or the snow piling on one’s ears to make their case. That would be just plain dishonest.

On the other hand, as of the late 1980s, there was already plenty of evidence the planet was getting warmer, and that human activity was the cause. (Lots of people were getting worried about it even in the early ’80s, when they stilled called it “the greenhouse effect”). That was when the people we now call deniers were saying “not enough evidence,” and the media fleshed out the “other side of the debate” with the one scientist in 100 who agreed we couldn’t say for sure the climate was changing.

By the late ’90s — by the time that decade became the new hottest decade on record, topping the ’80s — the deniers could no longer plausibly object to thermometer readings. Now they moved to saying we couldn’t prove that humans were responsible.

Having just completed another new hottest-decade-ever, with greenhouse-gas emissions getting higher and most countries viewing themselves as helpless to do anything to slow them, the denier refrain is: “Well, it’s obviously too late to do anything about climate change. Might as well keep doing what we’re doing. It’ll all work out somehow.”

Actually, there’s a new wrinkle, something called geo-engineering. That’s a good ‘un, too. But I’ll save that for the next post.

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