Climate Change Denial by Al Sikes


Denial can be encapsulating—totally so. It, not infrequently, is an emotion that takes over our brain and sometimes destructively. The hard right of the Republican Party is in denial on the subject of climate change. Those who populate that branch regard scientific findings as polemics from the Democratic National Committee. To put it another way, “if Democrats are for it I am against it”—almost regardless of what the “it” is. Democrats often suffer from the same myopia.

I lack the necessary background knowledge to delve deep into the science behind the various and sometimes conflicting claims about the trajectory of our climate. While I have read quite a few articles and essays on the subject, I never pose as an authority.

I am probably more of an authority on the dynamics of people and groups who convert a narrow set of facts into political causes—they are never wrong. To admit being even a little bit in doubt seems tantamount to heresy with punishment to soon follow. Many climate change activists are absolutists. The problem with absolutism is that it fights science—inquiry is no longer needed.

But, to me climate change is personal. Are we insuring the future for our children, grandchildren and their progeny? Are we leaving the earth better off than we found it? Are we meeting our obligation to be better stewards?

Some of my hard-nose friends will say I have gone soft and perhaps that is right. I know that the weather at any given point is a consequence of colliding patterns. Chaos Theory examples often start with the weather.

A study just published in Geology by Michael Toomey of the United States Geological details a survey of sediment cores collected off the coast of Florida. The study suggests that “hurricanes which struck Florida during a cool period 12,000 years ago were more powerful than those during a subsequent time of warming.” This finding is contrary to the oft-stated (and if you state it often enough it becomes fact) conventional wisdom that warming translates into more powerful hurricanes.

But then I come back to the question of insuring the future, after all, many more scientists believe climate change is affected by our carbon emissions than not.  We buy insurance to protect ourselves from all sorts of unpredictable possibilities. The patterns in my life suggest I will not need automobile insurance this year, but I have it. When I was young, I would buy term life insurance even though mortality tables said I was very unlikely to die in the covered period. In fact, caution is probably our most conservative impulse.

So, what kind of insurance premium should we pay as it is clear that engineering a more rapid transition away from carbon-based fuels will carry a large price tag? In the world of insurance, there are actually “catastrophists” who specialize in the mathematical modeling of extreme risks. In our political system, we ultimately decide how much economic disruption we will bear—what insurance price we are willing to pay and how it might be mitigated.

The question does not give way to easy political solutions. Predictions, regardless of how skillfully modeled, are still predictions. Plus, we know that America alone cannot fix anything—the result, complexity squared.

And when there is an honest debate about alternatives, we find that the use of alternative fuels is riven by what else, environmental considerations. Environmentalists fight coal generation under any circumstances but also the nuclear generation which offers the most scalable carbon-fighting alternative.

Ultimately we must do what we are no longer good at doing. We need an honest debate, not overwrought polemics. We need to debate, not just weather change but insurance policies. In short, what environmental and economic policies will fulfill our obligation to protect the future? Or, are we prepared to go uninsured?

Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, and mathematician argued that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. He said if God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss, whereas they stand to receive infinite gains and avoid infinite losses if they bet on God and are right. Seems to me taking rational steps to lessen our real or even theoretical effects on the weather is a sound wager.

Virginia Election

“Virginia has told us to end the divisiveness, that we will not condone hatred and bigotry,” Northam said. “It’s going to take a doctor to heal our differences. And I’m here to tell you; the doctor is in!”

This comment by Governor-Elect Ralph Northam, a doctor, sums up what America needs. Issue specifics aside political healing is needed, and the Virginia electorate has just sent a strong message.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.


Letters to Editor

  1. Deirdre LaMotte says:

    This issue illustrates a total lack of critical thinking for many in this nation. So, you cannot reason with stupid.

  2. Thank you so much for your article. I agree 100%, we need an honest debate. I believe dialogues, conversations, and debates are the only way we will move forward positively. I’ve been interested in the topic of Climate Change recently on the local level and produced a community performance art project called Make a Movement in Kent County MD, leading workshops with youth and adults, engaging with organizations to study and understand our community’s thoughts, feelings and willingness for action about this topic.
    I don’t pose as an authority on the topic either, but it didn’t take me long to realize that I don’t need to be one in order to understand the massive threats humans and our environments are facing. Climate change is about our human condition. It’s only a political cause because one side of our present dual political system has decided, denial of climate change works for them economically and politically. Interests that support the denial of climate change as the public narrative, bank on that as well as a feeling of helplessness. It keeps profits in their control, but a little more study shows, it’s not good business for our future.
    You mention being accused of “going soft” in regards to climate change. Isn’t that ironic, because caring about our children’s future is powerful, strong and hard in the state of our world today. Thank you for your strength. In my public performance piece, I thank everyone who was an adult in 1970 when our Republican President, Richard Nixon called it the decade of environmental transformation and founded the Environmental Protection Agency. Its mission continues to be vital: to conduct research on the adverse effects of pollution and on methods and equipment for controlling it; to gather information on pollution; and the use of this information in strengthening environmental protection programs and recommending policy changes, to assist others, through grants, technical assistance and other means, in arresting pollution of the environment, and finally to assist the Council on Environmental Quality in developing and recommending to the President new policies for the protection of the environment.
    I disagree with your staement that climate change activists fight science. On the contrary, I didn’t have to go far in my novice study of the issue to find numerous deep and wide studies by scientists and organizations who show very clearly that the excessive amount of heat trapping gases in our atmosphere caused by human activities is changing our ecosystem. The clearest study for me which is said to be the foundation of climate change science, is The Keeling Curve which measures the amount of CO2 in our atmosphere. As you may see in the study since the Industrial Revolution and WW2 the level of CO2 has only gone up further than in the last 4 ice ages. These aren’t hyped facts in the media news to manipulate people. I wish the information out there about the serious studies had as many views as the most ridiculous YouTube videos.
    Of course, we need to study more, not to prove our climate is changing because of our excessive use of fossil fuels, but as you mention, to meet our obligation as better stewards of our planet and for humanity’s existence on it. I looked into that too. There are many people, organizations, businesses and countries doing amazing things, from learning how to pull CO2 out of our atmosphere, to investing in renewable energy. 40 Catholic churches recently divested from fossil fuels on the anniversary of the death of St Francis of Assisi.
    I put all my novice findings on the Make a Movement Facebook page. There is hope. We as American citizens, as leaders, have the opportunity to step up to the plate and get into the game. This is not about politics. It’s about our survival on a healthy planet. I’m extremely conservative, with my water, with my material purchases, and my trash creation. Our insurance may lie in the types of investments we make, from the few pennies more per kilowatt we may pay for 100% wind power to where we bank. Now, there is a bank called Aspiration where you can invest, 100% fossil free.
    My second most powerful choice is my vote, because ultimately, I need my political leaders to be better stewards of our planet for humanity than they are now. Perhaps you and I can meet for a cultural exchange to debate more about insurance and environmental policies that effect our health and economy. I agree 100% “taking rational steps to lessen our real or even theoretical effects on the weather is a sound wager.” Peace.

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