Commentary: Blissful ignorance

When addressing climate change, The Oklahoman editorial board chooses comfort and convenience over responsibility.

If we are ever going to seriously confront the realities of environmental change, the flat earth society that consistently denies scientific findings needs to be spun off the globe. Now, I’m not seriously advocating for the systematic launching of climate change deniers into the void of space, but if members of the media thwart progress through unrealistic and compromised rhetoric and continue to deliberately misinform the public, they should not be part of any serious conversation about this world’s future.

The day after Thanksgiving, probably the one day of the year when even news junkies tune out current events in favor of leftovers and Black Friday deals, the White House dead-dropped a climate change report. The report prepared by scientists with U.S. Global Change Research Program offered few bright spots on the horizon if aggressive actions to reduce greenhouse gas production are not taken.

“Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities,” wrote David Reidmiller, federal coordinating lead author of the study. “The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future — but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.”

Two days later, on NBC’s Meet the Press, Danielle Pletka of American Enterprise Institute refuted the claims, using U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe’s “snowball” argument that the incidence of cold weather negates any claims of global warming and prefaced her statements with the now-infamous meme in the making, “I’m not a scientist, but …”

She is absolutely right. Pletka is senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI. Asking her to speak on environmental issues is like asking KFOR meteorologist Mike Morgan to discuss the U.S. Department of Defense’s cyber deterrence posture.

One week passed before The Oklahoman’s editorial board weighed in, and when it did, it was with characteristic condescension, dismissiveness and a desire for nothing to be done lest our petroleum overlords be rankled and our relative comfort be rudely interrupted.

“Ongoing technological progress, innovation and adaptation have continually proved naysayers wrong,” wrote the author or authors. “That’s why there is little reason to believe the apocalypse is nigh. And there’s no reason to embrace government policies that would reduce quality of life far more than what might occur because of climate change.”

Throughout the column, the writers referred to scientists as “environmentalists” and “activists,” which is Fox News lingo for “Hippies who want to take away your Hummer H2. Also, your guns, probably.”

Climate change, rising air temperatures and creeping shorelines should provide the jump-scares in this real-world scenario, but The Oklahoman editorial board instead chooses to emphasize the recent riots in France over the fuel tax increase imposed by Emmanuel Macron’s government as a deterrence against further greenhouse pollution. In the column, those riots were used the way the so-called caravan was used by President Donald Trump and his acolytes during the recent midterms. It was a fear tactic, plain and simple, to imply that any movement toward slowing, reducing or reversing climate change will destabilize society. The author of The Oklahoman column characterized climate change warnings as analogous to Dr. Peter Venkman’s “Dogs and cats living together — mass hysteria” speech in the original Ghostbusters, but in this case, it was the editorial board being irrational and hysterical over potential riots at QuikTrip over gas prices.

Besides, if you pay attention to Ghostbusters, Venkman was right. In the film, New York City was “headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.” We might be as well. Gas riots and graffiti on the Arc de Triomphe are not to be sniffed over, but they will be small Euros compared to questions like, “Where do we house and find jobs for everyone who had to abandon the underwater cities of Miami, Houston and New Orleans?”

Now I sound like a strident environmentalist, but that threat is real, and even Republicans in Dade County, Florida, finally admit it. Maria Elvira Salazar, the GOP candidate for Florida’s 27th district, told WLRN that “regardless [of] whether we believe that it was man-made or God-made or whomever made it, we have it, and our coastal areas are a danger.” In fact, there was no air between Salazar’s position and that of Donna Shalala, the former Democratic secretary of Health and Human Services who won that race. When in peril, both sides agree.

But we shouldn’t have to be in peril to get the message. At 1,201 feet above sea level, many Oklahoma City residents feel we can be chill about global warming and that there might even be something in it for us like beachfront property in Norman. But with rising water temperatures, increased salinity and the resulting fish kills, nobody will want to be near the ocean.

Clearly, we are going the wrong way. On Dec. 4, scientists with Global Carbon Project released yet another troubling report on this issue. According to the group’s most recent study, carbon emissions rose for the second year in a row in 2018. The projected total for this year is 37 billion tons of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere. For three years, 2014-16, there was virtually no change. Then, with Trump and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt enacting policies that relaxed controls on such emissions, the numbers started going up again.

Our state’s leaders love to use imagery of their families in campaign commercials during election cycles, but our children are getting a raw deal from people who want to kick the can down the road on climate change. Oklahoma’s interest in diversifying its economy and exploring clean energy sources is tied to gas prices. When they go down, interest in solar energy, battery technology and harnessing our plentiful wind goes up, but once prices stabilize and begin to creep up, the fossil fuel industry becomes something to be protected at all costs. Personally, I do not want to pass along responsibility for dealing with climate change to my son’s generation, but again, being a parent should not be the only reason to care about this subject.

Oklahoma is a conservative state, and The Oklahoman is a conservative newspaper, and that is unlikely to change much in the near future. But self-identified conservatives should look at what the word actually means. We must take care of what we have. Blowing everything on short-term gains does not sound like conservatism at all.

click to enlarge Commentary: Blissful ignorance
Nazarene Harris

Be a Theodore Roosevelt-style conservative and actually conserve. 

George Lang is editor-in-chief of Oklahoma Gazette and began his career at Gazette in 1994. He is married to Laura Lang, which greatly improves his likeability. | Photo Nazarene Harris

Opinions expressed on the commentary page, in letters to the editor and elsewhere in this newspaper are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of ownership or management.

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