Politi­cians who deny re­al­ity aren’t fit to lead

The Western Star - - SCIENCE - David Suzuki David Suzuki is a sci­en­tist, broad­caster, au­thor and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foun­da­tion. Writ­ten with con­tri­bu­tions from David Suzuki Foun­da­tion Se­nior Ed­i­tor Ian Han­ing­ton. Learn more at www.david­suzuki.org.

When faced with con­clu­sive ev­i­dence of a ma­jor threat to cit­i­zens, a true leader would do ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble to con­front it. So, what was the U.S. pres­i­dent’s re­ac­tion to a U.S. sci­en­tific re­port com­piled by more than 300 sci­en­tists and en­dorsed by a dozen dif­fer­ent agen­cies, in­clud­ing NASA, NOAA and the de­fence depart­ment, that warned cli­mate change poses a dire threat to the Amer­i­can econ­omy, way of life and hu­man health? “I don’t be­lieve it,” Trump told re­porters.

Should we be­lieve a pres­i­dent who dis­plays pro­found ig­no­rance about cli­mate sci­ence and claims he has “a nat­u­ral in­stinct for sci­ence”? Or should we be­lieve those who rely on re­search, ev­i­dence and facts rather than “in­stinct”?

The pres­i­dent, who also claimed a re­cent cold spell showed global warm­ing couldn’t be hap­pen­ing, isn’t the only one in his ad­min­is­tra­tion who tries to hide and deny facts and ev­i­dence. The White House re­leased the re­port late on Black Fri­day, when many Amer­i­cans were caught up in the coun­try’s cel­e­bra­tion of ram­pant con­sumerism. Politi­cians who re­ceive huge amounts of money from the fos­sil fuel in­dus­try have ig­nored cli­mate sci­ence for decades, down­play­ing or out­right deny­ing the mas­sive sci­en­tific ev­i­dence for hu­man­caused cli­mate dis­rup­tion.

The re­port should be enough to rouse ev­ery­one to ac­tion, es­pe­cially those whose job it is to serve the peo­ple. It opens with a clear warn­ing: “Earth’s cli­mate is now chang­ing faster than at any point in the his­tory of mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion, pri­mar­ily as a re­sult of hu­man ac­tiv­i­ties.” It goes on to show that if green­house gas emis­sions are not brought un­der control, the U.S. can ex­pect “grow­ing losses to Amer­i­can in­fra­struc­ture and prop­erty”; hun­dreds of bil­lions in eco­nomic im­pacts; cat­a­strophic ris­ing sea lev­els; in­creas­ing ex­treme events such as heavy rains and floods; more wild­fires, crop and live­stock fail­ures lead­ing to food short­ages; con­tin­u­ing ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion; and thou­sands of deaths.

It also em­pha­sized the need to re­duce emis­sions im­me­di­ately: “Be­cause sev­eral GHGs, in par­tic­u­lar car­bon diox­ide, re­side in the at­mos­phere for decades or longer, many cli­mate-in­flu­enced ef­fects are pro­jected to con­tinue chang­ing through 2050, even if GHG emis­sions were to stop im­me­di­ately.”

Those who stand in the way of pro­tect­ing peo­ple and count­less other species from the worst con­se­quences of cli­mate dis­rup­tion, es­pe­cially those with the power to do some­thing, are com­mit­ting crimes against hu­man­ity. They aren’t fit to lead.

No­bel Prize–win­ning economist Paul Krug­man, writ­ing in the New York Times, ar­gues that we’re fac­ing some­thing far be­yond the tobacco in­dus­try’s at­tempts to deny and down­play risks from its prod­ucts: “In­deed, it’s de­prav­ity, on a scale that makes cancer de­nial seem triv­ial. Smok­ing kills peo­ple, and tobacco com­pa­nies that tried to con­fuse the pub­lic about that re­al­ity were be­ing evil. But cli­mate change isn’t just killing peo­ple; it may well kill civ­i­liza­tion. Try­ing to con­fuse the pub­lic about that is evil on a whole dif­fer­ent level.”

De­nial in the face of over­whelm­ing ev­i­dence is patho­log­i­cal, but is it any bet­ter when politi­cians talk about the need to con­front the cli­mate cri­sis while ar­gu­ing out of the other side of their faces that we need more pipe­lines, ex­panded oil­sands pro­duc­tion and in­creased drilling? When they claim to be com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing peo­ple from cli­mate change but have no vi­able plans to do so? Canada is among the top of­fend­ers, along with China, Rus­sia, the U.S. and Aus­tralia, for in­ad­e­quate cli­mate change strate­gies, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study.

Lack of ac­tion from gov­ern­ments and in­dus­try has left lit­tle re­course out­side of the courts. State and city gov­ern­ments, young peo­ple and oth­ers have launched law­suits against in­dus­try and gov­ern­ments for fail­ing to act on cli­mate change and for putting peo­ple at risk. These take time and money and are of­ten un­suc­cess­ful. No­body should have to go to such lengths to get the peo­ple who are sup­posed to rep­re­sent us to do their jobs and pro­tect the planet from cor­po­rate ex­cess. But many gov­ern­ment representatives be­have as though their re­spon­si­bil­ity is to the in­dus­tri­al­ists who line their pock­ets rather than cit­i­zens.

In the face of an over­whelm­ing cri­sis that threat­ens our very fu­ture, it might be time for an over­haul of our demo­cratic and po­lit­i­cal sys­tems, which are clearly fail­ing the peo­ple they were de­signed to serve.

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