Telling people to “follow the science” will not save the planet. But they will fight for justice | Amy westervelt
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The biggest success of the fossil fuel industry’s decades-long campaign to cast doubt on climate science is that it has forced the conversation about the climate crisis to focus on science.
It’s not that we don’t need scientific research on climate change, or that we don’t need much more. Or even that we don’t need to do a better job of explaining basic science to people, at all levels (hello, Covid). But right now, “believing in science” is too high a bar for anything that requires urgent action. To believe in science, above all, to understand it. In the United States, the second largest carbon polluter in the world, less than 40% of the population has a college education, and in many states, public system schools do not have climate science on the agenda. So where exactly should this belief – strong enough to push for large-scale social and behavioral change – be rooted?
People don’t need to know anything about climate science to know that a deep injustice has happened here and needs to be fixed. It’s not a scientific story, it’s a fairness story: people with more power and money than you have used climate change information to solidify their own perspectives and told you not to worry about it.
This story is supported not only by internal memos from various oil companies and the discrepancies between those internal communications and what they were telling the public, but also by their patents. In 1973, Exxon was granted a patent for an oil tanker that could easily navigate a molten Arctic. In 1974, Texaco obtained a patent for a mobile drilling platform in a molten Arctic. Chevron has been granted a patent for his version of a drilling rig ready for arctic melt in the same year. Shell was a little late; he patented his cast iron-arctic drilling rig design in 1983.
When shown this proof of the oil companies’ preparations for a warming world, Lori French was shocked. The French family fish for crab off the coast of California, and their business has been rocked by warming waters in recent years. But she and her husband are not big “believers” in the climate catastrophe. “We’re both kind of of the opinion that climate change has been happening since the dawn of time,” she says.
You may be surprised to learn that she told me this in 2019, shortly after her family and several other crabbers signed up to support a lawsuit brought by their trade association against the 30 largest oil companies in the country. world for their role in delaying climate action. . Not because of science, but because of fairness. They were shown various documents detailing how the fossil fuel industry had prepared not only to cope with climate impacts, but to continue to benefit from melting glaciers.
“When we saw this information, it definitely changed the game,” she told me. “It was like, oh, there’s this higher thing that controls the choices you’re allowed to have. And I would like to believe, in my Pollyanna world, that most people operate on a fair and level playing field. But they don’t.
For the French, it didn’t matter whether climate change was caused by the burning of fossil fuels or by natural planetary force. She avoided the origin story of climate change and instead focused on the injustice inherent in preparing your own business for trouble while telling everyone not to worry.
Climate change is affecting fisheries all over the world, of course, and displacing entire communities. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate change is already affecting all regions of the Earth in a variety of ways, from rising seas to intensifying storms and forest fires. The World Bank predicts that more than 200 million people will likely migrate over the next three decades due to extreme weather events or the disappearance of their country of origin. In 2020, 30.7 million people were internally displaced by disasters, more than three times as many as conflicts and violence (9.8 million people). This displacement – like other climate impacts – hits communities in the south of the world first and will disproportionately affect the poor and the working class everywhere.
Meanwhile, in the same decade that scientists’ warnings about climate change have grown more severe, social scientists have found that there is almost no correlation between public understanding of climate science and risk perception, and therefore little or no relationship between understanding the science of climate change, believing scientists’ warnings, and doing anything about it.
The is a relationship, however, between Americans’ awareness of inequality or injustice and their willingness to support social change. A Norwegian study examining the impact of various stories on the climate found that those with heroes and villains had “a great persuasive impact” on readers. A study of students in six countries found that a legal framework motivates young people to take action on the climate.
For more evidence that a fair sense of outrage, rather than a scientific understanding of the issues, drives social change, just look at history. With the United States entering World War II (the war effort people most like to compare with what’s needed to tackle climate change)? To verify. Civil rights, consumer protection, women’s rights, anti-war movements and gay rights? Recheck. All motivated by moral indignation in the face of the power exercised by the few over the greatest number.
The climate crisis is not a scientific or technical problem, it is a question of justice and political will. Acting on this challenges not only our source of energy, but also our power structures, catalyzing widespread social change. The only thing that has ever really succeeded in doing this are the movements for justice – the public’s cries against blatant injustice and a demand for change. If progressives and climate activists are to have any hope of sparking the kind of movement needed to shift political and economic interests away from fossil fuels, it’s time to put ‘believe the science’ aside and embrace a broad embrace instead. fight for justice.
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