Are Political Climate Change Deniers Committing a Crime Against Humanity?

May 2015

Crime Against Humanity 

“The day will come, I predict, when world leaders are willing, even desperate, to curb greenhouse gases. But by then, I’m beginning to fear, it will probably be too late.” ~ Eugene Robinson[1]

There is a famous ethical thought experiment that you may have heard of called the Trolley Problem. It goes like this[2]: A runaway trolley is headed for five people bound to the track. You’re not close enough to untie them and get them to safety in time, but you are standing next to a lever that can reroute the trolley to an alternate track, with one person on it. Should you pull the lever, saving the five people on the original track but killing the one on the alternate track? Or should you do nothing, allowing the trolley to kill the five?

According to surveys, about 90 percent of people say they would pull the lever, killing the one to save the five.[3] I would venture to guess, moreover, that if, instead of five, the thought experiment had posited, say, 100 people on the original track, the case for pulling the lever as the “morally correct choice” would be that much more compelling.

I am reminded of this famous ethical thought experiment when I think about our Republican[4] politicians who are denying human-caused climate change, going so far as to try to obstruct the efforts of those who are taking steps to mitigate it. The “runaway trolley” is, of course, human-caused climate change. The person(s) at the switch are our Congressmen. They have the power to “pull the lever” to divert climate change from its present course toward catastrophic climate change by taking the necessary political steps to greatly curb the emission of greenhouse gases. The “five people tied to the track” are now millions (perhaps billions) of current and future people who will be killed or otherwise seriously harmed under a “business as usual” scenario (i.e., if our politicians continue to do nothing). And the “one person on the alternate track” – well, if our Congress actually were to seriously act to mitigate climate change, dislocation and discomfort could be felt, to one degree or another, by all of us who have enjoyed the easy benefits of a carbon-based economy – “easy,” that is, as long as we ignore the cumulative pollution problem it is creating.

It’s not a perfect analogy. U.S. Congressmen are not the only powerful people who must “pull the lever” to divert climate change from its present dangerous course. Other world leaders must act as well; it is ultimately a global problem that requires a global solution. But without full U.S. cooperation in the effort to mitigate climate change, that effort will fail.

As in the Trolley Problem, the larger disaster can be avoided only by “pulling the lever” – there is simply no way we will avert catastrophic climate change without government action. Climate change is a “tragedy of the commons” type of problem – where the “commons,” in this case, is our atmosphere. Individual “economic actors” (e.g., people or corporations) alone do not have the incentive to cut back on activities that result in the emission of greenhouse gases. It will take government action – most notably, putting a price on carbon – to ensure that everyone switches away from greenhouse gas-emitting activities as quickly as is necessary. Moreover, climate change is a problem of such great magnitude that, really, only governments have the resources at levels commensurate with the size of the problem. So unless our politicians “pull the lever,” we are almost certainly headed for the larger disaster.

And as in the Trolley Problem, our politicians have basically two choices: (1) They can take action and avert the larger disaster, or (2) they can fail to take action and allow the larger disaster to occur.

And, finally, as in the Trolley Problem, time is short. Tony Barnosky, professor of integrative biology, UC Berkeley, and a member of the Berkeley Initiative in Global Change Biology is just one of many scientists who have noted this crucial point, when (back in 2012) he wrote:

“Luckily, there is still time to slow climate change if we start dramatic cutbacks to greenhouse gas emissions now. That will allow us to avoid the worst-case tipping point scenarios, but that window of opportunity will only be open for another few years, if we continue to change climate at the rate we have been.”[5] [emphasis added]

Where the climate change situation diverges most significantly from the Trolley Problem is in the discrepancy between the two choices. In the Trolley Problem the person must choose between doing nothing, which would result in five deaths, and doing something (pulling the lever), which would result in one death. The discrepancy between the two choices that our politicians face is vastly greater.

Yes, there could be near-term adverse effects that many people could face if our politicians take action to mitigate climate change. Prices could go up in the near term. There are likely to be inconveniences and difficulties as we transition to a clean energy economy. These adverse effects would not necessarily be trivial, and could be serious for some people, especially those living in states whose economies are more dependent on fossil fuels. But they would pale in comparison to the alternative. If our Congress continues to do nothing, it will basically ensure catastrophic climate change.

What exactly does that mean? How bad could it get? While there are various projections of how much the global average temperature will rise (relative to pre-industrial levels) under a “do nothing” scenario, we are currently on track to exceed the 2° Celsius (C) of warming that scientists tentatively consider “safe.”[6] A study published in Nature estimated a likely rise in global average temperature of 4°C by the end of the century, which, the study’s principal author, Steven Sherwood, noted, “would likely be catastrophic rather than simply dangerous.”[7] The Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change has updated its earlier (2003) projection, and now predicts that “the median surface warming in 2091 to 2100 is 5.1°C compared to 2.4°C in the earlier study.”[8],[9]

If the highest emissions scenario (A1F1) considered in the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) turns out to be correct, we could reach a global average warming of 4° C before the end of the century, during the 2070s. Reaching that level of warming even earlier, by the 2060s, is also “consistent with the IPCC’s ‘likely range’.”[10] And despite all the international climate change summits that have been held to date, greenhouse gas emissions have been steadily increasing, not decreasing, so the highest emissions scenario may be within the realm not only of plausibility but of likelihood.

Because human civilization has never existed under such conditions, the short answer to the question – How bad can it get? – is that we don’t know for sure what would happen. However, scientists don’t use words like “catastrophic” or “game over” lightly; there are many reasons to suspect that the degradation of the climate and the biosphere (on which humans depend) would be horrendous, and that ultimately human civilization as we’ve known it would be at risk. As Elizabeth Kolbert observed in Field Notes from a Catastrophe, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” [11],[12]

The details of the various ways in which our technologically advanced society is in the process of destroying itself are too many to describe here.[13] Broadly speaking, we are currently on track for creating a world characterized by

  • frequent and widespread mega-droughts[14] and mega-floods[15];
  • increasingly long fire seasons and more severe fires in drought areas;[16]
  • increasingly frequent and destructive storms;[17]
  • increasingly severe heat spells;[18]
  • the spread and increased frequency of infectious diseases (such as malaria, dengue fever, and Ebola) that have been largely tropical, as temperate zone temperatures rise;[19]
  • the melting of the world’s glaciers and ice sheets;[20]
  • sea level rise on the order of meters due to thermal expansion of the oceans and melting glaciers;[21]
  • acidifying oceans (which are already 30 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times) due to the absorption of vast amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere;[22] and
  • mass species extinctions (as species will be unable to adapt to their changing environments sufficiently quickly).[23]

Much of this is already in progress, as measurements and photographs over time – e.g., showing receding glaciers, rising sea levels, and an acidifying ocean – attest.[24] And as these processes progress, the consequences will become increasingly dire.

The disappearance of mountain glaciers will result in water shortages for populations that currently depend on glacial runoff for their fresh water.[25] Add to that the expected increase in prolonged droughts in some regions, and it has been estimated that “up to a fifth of the global population will suffer from severe water shortages.”[26] The rise in sea level will threaten and eventually inundate the world’s coastal cities, including many of the world’s major cities.[27] The acidification of the oceans will result in a massive loss of marine life that many human populations currently depend on. The mega-droughts and mega-floods will result in a drastic decrease in our ability to grow food,[28] which will in turn result in famines and mass movements of “climate refugees” in search of food. All of this is likely, in turn, to result in an intense exacerbation of conflict between countries and, most likely, a steep rise in the number of “failed states.”[29]

There has been a fair amount written about all of this,[30] although words like “catastrophic” and “game over” and “existential risk” are often not clearly defined – in part, due to remaining uncertainties, and in part, perhaps, because “how bad it will get” under a “do nothing” approach to climate change depends on how far out we look.

James Hansen, who first brought climate change to the public’s attention in 1988 when he testified about it before Congress, may have most succinctly described what the findings of many scientific papers more drily imply, when he recently argued against the Keystone XL pipeline:

“If we were to fully exploit [Canada’s tar sands], and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.

“That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.

“If this sounds apocalyptic, it is.”

Whether climate change under a “do nothing” scenario is an existential threat to humanity in the literal sense of “threatening the extinction of the human species” is not known – although it is not beyond the realm of possibility if the climate spirals completely beyond what humans are able to adapt to. Looking at the projected effects of 4° C of warming, researchers at the World Bank were unsure if humanity would be able to adapt to such a world.[31]

It is beyond argument, in any case, that the consequences of not acting – and quickly – would be catastrophic, by any reasonable definition of that word. That is the message that the scientific community has been communicating with increasing urgency as they continue to observe the near-term consequences of climate change occurring at generally faster rates than their models had predicted.[32] As environmentalist and climate change activist Bill McKibben noted, “It’s not that the scientists are alarmists – it’s that the science is alarming.”[33]

Perhaps most alarming is that climate change is not a linear process; there are positive feedback loops and “tipping points” that could trigger climate change spinning out of control and “locking in” change to which human societies will find it hard to adapt.[34]

And yet, with very few exceptions, Republican politicians have not only refused to do anything to help mitigate climate change, they have actively tried to thwart the efforts of those who are trying to do something about it. As I noted elsewhere, “on March 15, 2011 all the Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee voted down an amendment acknowledging that ‘warming of the climate system is unequivocal,’ as well as two others ‘acknowledging the threat of climate change to public well-being.’[35]” In 2013 Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Committee refused to even put hearings on climate change on their agenda.[36]

Only one of the presidential candidates in the 2011/2012 Republican primaries (Jon Huntsman) was willing to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change. Attitudes of the current crop of Republican candidates (and possible candidates) for the 2016 presidential election range from “disappointing” (Chris Christie (R-NJ) has mostly been avoiding the issue) to “proud denial” (Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) emphatically denies global warming).[37] Senator Cruz recently went on the Seth Meyers TV show and continued to spread misinformation about climate change, saying the scientists have it wrong, the earth is not warming.[38]

The Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, effectively banned the use of the words “climate change” and “global warming” in official communications in his state (which, it might be noted, will be among the hardest hit by climate change).[39] Other Republican-controlled states – North Carolina, Louisiana, and Tennessee – have passed laws that in one way or another fail to acknowledge the reality of human-caused climate change.[40]

But it is in Congress where the climate change denial and obstruction is perhaps most notorious and most dangerous, because it is Congress that has the power to “pull the lever” in the most effective way to mitigate climate change. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) infamously called climate change “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”[41] – a sentiment he has expressed repeatedly. To “make his point” once again, Inhofe recently brought a snowball into the senate chamber to “illustrate” the “absurdity” of the climate change “hypothesis.”[42]

More substantively, the Republicans in Congress have vowed to fight President Obama’s efforts to give EPA the power to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants – a necessary but not sufficient condition for adequately reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went so far as to send a letter to the governors of all 50 states advising them to basically ignore the EPA’s rule to regulate CO2 emissions from power plants. [43] Republicans are also trying to defund NASA, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation – agencies that are needed to address the problem of climate change.[44]

So as I watch many of our Congressmen (and other climate change-denying politicians) on the right continue to deny the overwhelming evidence or spread lies and misinformation about climate change or acknowledge it but refuse to act on it or try to defund the agencies that are needed to address the problem, I cannot help but think of the hellish consequences not that far down the track.

There they stand, within easy reach of the lever of power to avert the “runaway trolley” that is headed directly towards all of us and our children and their children and all future generations. They know what must be done. Economists have been telling them for decades that to incentivize people and businesses away from fossil fuels they must put a price on carbon – either via a carbon tax or a cap and trade program. And to hasten the advance of affordable clean energy alternatives they must invest heavily in research and development of those alternatives, rather than continuing to subsidize the fossil fuel industry.[45]

And they have been told repeatedly what will happen if they don’t “pull that lever” – that the path we’re on is an existential threat to civilization as we’ve known it and to the entire biosphere on which we depend. They’ve been told about all the truly staggering consequences and they know – or certainly should know by now – that the problem is so big that only the government has the resources to properly address it. And yet they steadfastly refuse to act – and actually are trying to stop others from acting to address the problem.

Given all of this, it is hard for me to avoid coming to the conclusion that these politicians are committing what can only be called a crime against humanity – and the consequences of that crime, if it is allowed to continue, will dwarf the death and destruction caused by any of the actions that have so far been deemed “crimes against humanity” by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The ICC defines “crimes against humanity” as any of a list of acts – including murder, extermination, enslavement, and torture, among others – “committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack.”[46]

There are some differences between the kinds of actions the ICC has declared to be “crimes against humanity” and what our climate change-denying politicians are engaged in. The crimes against humanity so declared by the ICC were all active, intentional and completed. The perpetrators took action against a targeted population with the intent of inflicting great harm on that population. And only after the harm was done was the matter brought to the ICC to be judged.

In contrast, our Republican climate change-denying politicians are not taking action to harm people; instead, they are refusing to take action that would save people. Nor is their intent to cause great harm to people; rather, they are denying climate change (presumably) for reasons of near-term political expediency for themselves and their party – to appeal to the willful blindness of their base and the greed of their corporate donors, and, I suspect, because, after demonizing the federal government for decades, they don’t want to admit that some problems really do require a big government response.

And the devastation caused by their refusal to act is nowhere near finished. While some of the harm they have already caused by their recalcitrance is clear – as can be seen, for example, by the destruction wrought by early “mega-storms” like Hurricane Sandy or Typhoon Haiyan – the great devastation of what is yet to come under a “do nothing” scenario is still “in the pipeline.” But every year in which these politicians refuse to take action, more potential devastation goes into the queue to become actualized in a future year.

While the Republican climate change-deniers are not actively going out and causing people’s deaths, however, they are actively refusing to take the necessary actions that would stave off those deaths. That refusal is effectively an action; they are actively choosing not to do what they have repeatedly been told must be done to save the lives of many millions of people – to say nothing of saving the entire biosphere from severe degradation.

And, while they don’t intend to cause great harm to people, they are callously indifferent to the harm that will occur, and is already occurring, as a result of their refusal to take the necessary actions to mitigate climate change. This strikes me as not a lot better than intending to inflict the harm.

Ah, but aren’t there lots of situations where people are in grave danger and our politicians could save lives if they took action, but they don’t? If it’s a “crime against humanity” to not take action on climate change, why is it not also a “crime against humanity” for our politicians to not try to help people caught in the crossfire of the savage civil wars raging in the Middle East? Why was it not a “crime against humanity” for them to not heed the warnings, before Hurricane Katrina, that the levees in New Orleans were going to flood in the next major hurricane? Why was it not a “crime against humanity” for them to drag their heels in funding the kind of research that could have found a cure for Ebola before the recent horrifying epidemic in West Africa? If we declare that our climate change-denying politicians are committing a “crime against humanity” by refusing to act on climate change, are we not on a “slippery slope” to declaring all sorts of failures to act “crimes against humanity”? Is there any clear way to say this failure to act is truly a crime against humanity while the others are not?

The “slippery slope” concern is, I believe, worthy of serious consideration, but it’s as much a concern for actions that harm people as for refusals to take action to save people. The Holocaust, committed by the Nazi regime, was a crime against humanity, as was the (less well known) Holodomor, in which the Soviet Union intentionally starved between 2.5 and 7.5 million Ukrainians to death during peacetime.[47] There have been numerous acts of genocide over the years for which individual perpetrators and groups of perpetrators have been hauled before international tribunals. But not all acts of savagery have been declared “crimes against humanity.” And, as far as I’m aware, there is no clear “cut-off” point – no specific number of deaths or level of savagery that delineates a “crime against humanity” as opposed to “just” a massacre of innocent people.

Still, the truly glaring acts stand out, even among the sadly large and varied array of barbaric acts that have been committed throughout human history. The inability to draw a clear line of demarcation hasn’t stopped the world from identifying some acts as “clearly over the line” (wherever it is) because of the sheer magnitude and savagery of the harm done.

It is no different for cases of refusal to act to save lives – and this is what, I believe, distinguishes what our climate change-denying politicians are currently engaged in from all the other cases in which politicians could have acted to save lives but didn’t. What elevates what they are doing from merely “highly irresponsible behavior” to “a crime against humanity” is the sheer magnitude of the harm done as a result.

Their refusal to act to mitigate climate change will inflict greater harm on more people than any of the actions designated as “crimes against humanity” by the ICC – by far. It could destabilize the entire biosphere on which humans depend – and it is well within the realm of possibility that it could destabilize human civilization itself. It’s hard to beat that for sheer magnitude of horrendous impact. It is not only quantitatively beyond anything human beings have ever inflicted on each other, it is qualitatively in a different category altogether.

So even if it may be difficult to draw a clear “line” demarcating truly horrendous acts (including acts that are refusals to act to save lives) from all others, this refusal by politicians on the right to take the necessary action to mitigate climate change – having been informed of the very likely dire consequences – is clearly “over the line.”

But then why shouldn’t we all be accused of committing crimes against humanity, since we are all enjoying the benefits of a carbon-based economy? We drive our cars fueled by oil, many of us use electricity generated from coal-fired power plants, we ride on planes that use enormous amounts of fossil fuels, etc. And we generally don’t hesitate to do those things. Aren’t we guilty too?

Not so much. That’s because of the nature of the problem – the “tragedy of the commons” that ultimately requires the governments of the world to act to change the incentives we all face when we make decisions about what we do in our lives. Ordinary citizens cannot change the incentive structure that we all – including corporations – face when we make decisions. Governments can. Ordinary citizens do not have access to the magnitude of resources that will be necessary to push research and development hard enough and fast enough to develop affordable clean energy technologies and to make them readily available to the public. Our Congressmen do. They’re the ones who can pass legislation putting a price on carbon – and can stop the government subsidies the fossil fuel industry currently enjoys. They’re the ones who can change the government’s priorities so that funding for climate change mitigation and adaption efforts rises up to the top of the list. They’re the only ones who can do this.

With all the power that comes with elected office in the United States comes the obligation to use it responsibly. Beyond all the political “games” that we have come to accept as “normal” in this country, there is still a responsibility not to cause severe damage – and certainly not to cause an existential threat to human civilization. The stance of the Republican climate change deniers and prevaricators has gone beyond “irresponsible” to “dangerous” – because we are fast running out of time to avert a catastrophe for humanity.

Are political climate change deniers committing a crime against humanity? I would say they are – if not by the strict definition given by the ICC (which presumably has not yet faced anything quite like this before), then certainly in the colloquial moral sense of “committing a heinous act that seriously harms humanity.”

The immorality of what they’ve been doing is well captured by a legal concept that most Americans heard of only recently, when the Baltimore City State’s Attorney charged one of the six policemen implicated in the death of Freddie Gray with depraved-heart murder.[48] In Maryland and some other states, a person has committed a “depraved-heart murder” if he knew that his action was highly likely to inflict death or severe bodily harm on a person but was recklessly indifferent, even if he didn’t intend to kill the person.[49]

Of course, it’s not just a death that’s at issue; it’s many millions of potential deaths currently “in the queue” as a result of our political climate change deniers’ “depraved indifference.”[50] Do we really want to wait until those potential deaths are actualized in future years before charging these politicians with committing a crime against humanity? Do we want to wait until human civilization itself has been destabilized?

Even under the most charitable assumptions about their motivation – that they just cannot bring themselves to do something that will pose near-term difficulties for their constituents[51] – it is still a crime against humanity. And even if there is a large dose of motivated reasoning[52] behind their actions, it is still a crime against humanity. If there are any historians left in the coming century to look back on this current era, I would be surprised if, once they got over their shock at what went on, they didn’t come to a similar conclusion.

Still, one might reasonably argue that since this type of situation does not strictly fit the ICC’s current definition of “crimes against humanity,” it would be unfair to charge these politicians at the ICC with having committed one.

Nor are they doing anything that is, strictly speaking, illegal under U.S. law. It’s worth remembering that the set of behaviors that are illegal and the set of behaviors that are immoral are not one and the same. Not everything that is immoral is also illegal. One might argue that these climate change-denying politicians were democratically elected and their dangerously immoral behavior should therefore be addressed within our democratic system.

Given the nature of the problem of climate change (about which I’ve written here), it will be an uphill battle. And given the extent to which our democracy has been morphing into a plutocracy (about which I’ve written here and here), the hill on which we will have to fight this uphill battle will be steeper than it would be if we were still a true democracy. Nevertheless, we must have this fight. If we cannot try our climate change-denying politicians at the ICC or in U.S. courts, we can try them in the court of public opinion. We can get out the message – loud and clear and repeatedly – that they are indeed committing a crime against humanity. And we must.

The failure of our political leaders to address climate change for the last quarter of a century has put us in our current bind. At this point, we are in a race against time – we need to reach a political “tipping point” before we reach some of the physical tipping points scientists are so worried about. Because once we’ve reached those tipping points, once we’ve hit some of the positive feedback loops that are such causes for concern, the climate could spin rapidly out of control, beyond what the fragile biosphere and the human civilization that depends on it could withstand. I think about this every time I hear another Republican politician say “I’m skeptical about climate change” or “I’m not a scientist” or “It’s unclear” or “God wouldn’t let this happen to us” or some other prevaricating nonsense, as if we have all the time in the world to play these games. We don’t.

So one reason to “try” our climate change-denying politicians in the court of public opinion with committing a crime against humanity is that what they are engaged in is immoral, harmful, and dangerous in the extreme. There is a moral imperative to try to “bring them to justice.” Moreover, reframing the issue as a moral issue – the moral issue of our time – will have a practical advantage as well. It will move the “conversation” away from the kinds of prevaricating distractions that have been used by the deniers to where it rightfully should be: to a focus on the fact that if our politicians don’t change their ways – and fast – they will lock humanity into a future of death, destruction, and misery the likes of which the human race has never before seen. We cannot stand by and let them do that.

And there is another practical reason too. Because they have suffered no serious negative consequences as a result of their highly immoral and dangerous behavior, they have felt free to continue it. Perhaps if we make crystal clear to the American people just how dangerous and immoral these political climate change-deniers are – and the enormity of the crime against humanity they have, with depraved indifference, been committing – the fear of the consequences will give them a self-interested reason to change their behavior. It appears that only self-interest will motivate them to do what must be done to ward off total disaster.

[1] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/eugene-robinson-global-warmings-impact-cant-be-ignored/2014/01/27/b5917594-8792-11e3-a5bd-844629433ba3_story.html?hpid=z6

[2] The Trolley problem was originally posed as a thought experiment by Philippa Foot in 1967. The version given here is based on the description given in the Wikipedia article: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_problem

[3] Ibid. (See “Psychology”)

[4] As of this writing, the majority of Republican Congressmen are climate change deniers; most Democratic Congressmen are not. See, for example: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/01/republican-climate-denial-caucus; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/nov/17/climate-change-denial-scepticism-republicans-congress; http://www.nationaljournal.com/twenty-sixteen/the-guide-to-republicans-and-climate-change-20150208; http://irregulartimes.com/2015/01/23/three-senate-democrats-join-climate-change-deniers/

[5] Professor Barnosky is quoted in: http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/12/03/report-warns-of-climate-change-tipping-points-within-our-lifetime/

[6] The designation of warming of 2 degrees Celsius as “safe” is somewhat arbitrary, and not everyone agrees with it. In his seminal article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math” in Rolling Stone magazine, Bill McKibben notes that “many scientists have come to think that two degrees is far too lenient a target.” See http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/31/planet-will-warm-4c-2100-climate

[8] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2009/02/23/203730/mit-doubles-global-warming-projections/

[9] The study notes that this is compared to 1990 levels; to compare with pre-industrial levels, it would be necessary to add another 0.5 °C.

[10] http://rsta.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/369/1934/67.full

[11] http://www.amazon.com/Field-Notes-Catastrophe-Nature-Climate/dp/1596911301

[12] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/03/16/books/16gosn.html?_r=0;

[13] The Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the ultimate compendium of the published scientific literature on the subject: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/syr/

[14] See, for example: http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/02/150212-megadrought-southwest-water-climate-environment/?utm_content=buffer17715&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer ; http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/23/brazil-worst-drought-history?utm_content=buffer9d02a&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer; http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/18/3659911/washington-drought-emergency-declared/

[15] See, for example: http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/06/climate-change-could-double-number-americans-federal-flood-insurance

[16] See, for example: http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2013/12/big-sur-fire-climate-fire-seasons; http://www.climatecentral.org/news/drought-fueled-wildfire-near-yosemite-rages-on-16394; http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/06/climate-change-making-wildfires-worse; http://www.commondreams.org/news/2013/06/05/hotter-planet-creating-extraordinary-wild-fires-says-head-us-forest-service; http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/05/18/3659911/washington-drought-emergency-declared/

[17] See, for example: http://www.carbonbrief.org/blog/2013/10/what-the-ipcc-report-says-about-extreme-events/; http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2014/08/14/extreme_weather_new_research_links_it_to_global_warming.html

[18] See, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/28/science/new-study-links-weather-extremes-to-global-warming.html?_r=1; http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/capital-weather-gang/wp/2014/01/14/boiling-over-extreme-heat-causes-stir-at-australia-open

[19] See, for example: http://www.who.int/globalchange/environment/en/chapter6.pdf; http://www.nrdc.org/health/climate/disease.asp; http://www.newsweek.com/climate-change-poised-make-infectious-disease-outbreaks-more-frequent-307161

[20] See, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/13/science/earth/collapse-of-parts-of-west-antarctica-ice-sheet-has-begun-scientists-say.html?smid=fb-share&_r=0

[21] See http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter13_FINAL.pdf (p. 1140, in particular).

[22] See, for example: http://www.pmel.noaa.gov/co2/story/What+is+Ocean+Acidification%3F; http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter03_FINAL.pdf (see p. 259, in particular).

[23] See, for example: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/05/science/new-estimates-for-extinctions-global-warming-could-cause.html;

http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/newscience/2011/08/2011-0829-climate-change-extinctions/; http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/01/16/science/earth/study-raises-alarm-for-health-of-ocean-life.html

[24] See, for example: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2014/jul/14/8-charts-climate-change-world-more-dangerous; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jul/03/unprecedented-climate-extremes-last-decade-un;

http://climate.nasa.gov/state_of_flux?utm_content=buffer8d2cb&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer#Columbia_Glacier_930x312.jpg

[25] See, for example: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/07/cliamte-change-and-failed-states

[26] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/01/03/3113981/climate-change-water-shortage/

[27] See, for example: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/what-does-the-u-s-look-like-after-3-meters-of-sea-level-rise/; http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2013/07/climate-sea-level-danger-us-cities; http://www.businessinsider.com/what-us-looks-like-if-earths-ice-melted-animated-map-2015-4

[28] See, for example: http://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2014/oct/29/diet-climate-maple-syrup-coffee-global-warming; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/mar/31/climate-change-threat-food-security-humankind

[29] See, for example: http://podcast.zirve.edu.tr/sandbox/groups/economicsandadministrativesciences/wiki/fa50c/attachments/0e400/Climate_change,_human_security_and_violent_conflict.pdf;

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/11/24/3596227/world-bank-report-turn-down-the-heat/;

http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2009/07/cliamte-change-and-failed-states

[30] For a somewhat dry but comprehensive summary of potential impacts of climate change, see the IPCC’s Synthesis Report, “Climate Change 2014 Synthesis Report Summary for Policymakers,” at http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/AR5_SYR_FINAL_SPM.pdf

[31] See http://www.vox.com/2014/4/22/5551004/two-degrees

[32] Many sources, in addition to James Hansen, quoted above, have echoed this sentiment. See, for example: http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2013/10/qa-former-un-climate-chief-perils-2013101011191590761.html; http://talkingpointsmemo.com/news/climate-study-global-temperatures-to-go-off-the-charts-permanently-in-2047; http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warming-is-very-real-20130912

[33] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/a-call-to-arms-an-invitation-to-demand-action-on-climate-change-20140521

[34] See, for example: http://crooksandliars.com/2014/08/climatologist-methane-plumes-arctic-mean;

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2015/04/01/the-arctic-climate-threat-that-nobodys-even-talking-about-yet/; http://www.natureworldnews.com/articles/8232/20140724/scientists-identify-possible-tipping-point-of-global-warming.htm; http://newscenter.berkeley.edu/2013/12/03/report-warns-of-climate-change-tipping-points-within-our-lifetime

[35] See: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/house-repubs-vote-that-earth-is-not-11-03-16/

[36] http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2013/02/07/1557491/gop-rejects-climate-hearings/

[37] See, for example: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/05/12/where-the-2016-gop-contenders-stand-on-climate-change/

[38] http://egbertowillies.com/2015/03/18/ted-cruz-said-the-world-is-on-fire-and-he-is-right-video/?utm_campaign=coschedule&utm_source=facebook_page&utm_medium=EgbertoWillies.com&utm_content=Ted%20Cruz%20said%20the%20world%20is%20on%20fire%20and%20he%20is%20right%20%28VIDEO%29

See also: http://www.350moco.org/#!Breaking-News-Ted-Cruz’s-Climate-Change-Lies-Go-Unchallenged-on-TV-Show-Why-Lies-Are-Allowed-to-Linger/cro5/5512ed5e0cf215f35a17f5ad

[39] See, for example: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/03/12/rick-scott-climate-change_n_6855006.html; http://www.livescience.com/50085-states-outlaw-climate-change.html

[40] See: http://www.livescience.com/50085-states-outlaw-climate-change.html;

[41] Senator Inhofe elaborated on this view in a book in 2012: http://www.amazon.com/Greatest-Hoax-Warming-Conspiracy-Threatens/dp/1936488493.

Wikipedia has an extensive discussion of Inhofe’s history of climate change denial: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Inhofe

[42] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3E0a_60PMR8

[43] See: http://d35brb9zkkbdsd.cloudfront.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/McConnelltoGovernors.pdf

[44] http://www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/gop-war-on-science-gets-worse

[45] The cost of alternatives like solar energy has come down so much in recent years that it is virtually competitive with fossil fuels in some parts of the country. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/24/business/energy-environment/solar-and-wind-energy-start-to-win-on-price-vs-conventional-fuels.html?_r=1; http://grist.org/business-technology/solar-power-just-had-its-best-year-ever/?utm_content=buffer3ec04&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

However, some Republicans are actually trying to make it harder for people to switch to clean energy sources. See, for example: http://www.scholarsstrategynetwork.org/content/why-are-republicans-trying-kill-americas-wind-and-solar-power-industries; http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/26/us/politics/fissures-in-gop-as-some-conservatives-embrace-renewable-energy.html

[46] http://www.icc-cpi.int/en_menus/icc/about%20the%20court/frequently%20asked%20questions/Pages/12.aspx

[47] See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holodomor (accessed 5-3-2015)

[48] See, for example: http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2015/05/the-depraved-heart-murder-of-freddie-gray/392132/

[49] See, for example: http://www.wsj.com/articles/behind-the-charge-of-depraved-heart-murder-in-baltimore-1431109426; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depraved-heart_murder

[50] “Depraved-heart murder is sometimes called “depraved indifference murder.” See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depraved-heart_murder

[51] If we “follow the money,” we find that the Republican climate change-deniers receive substantial funding from the fossil fuel industry (no surprise there), so this “charitable assumption” is probably more charitable than accurate.

[52] Good explanations of “motivated reasoning” are available in several locations. See, for example: http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/intersection/2011/05/05/what-is-motivated-reasoning-how-does-it-work-dan-kahan-answers/#.VWDqzWTBzGc; http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2011/04/21/barack-obama-and-the-psychology-of-the-birther-myth/a-matter-of-motivated-reasoning

Advertisements

4 comments on “Are Political Climate Change Deniers Committing a Crime Against Humanity?

  1. Frank Dixon says:

    Recast the Trolley story leaving the hundreds on the main track nut replacing the few on the shunt with money, and in this ethical climate, the choice is simple. F Date: Tue, 26 May 2015 20:00:53 +0000 To: fdixon@hotmail.com

  2. ellen post says:

    Frank — Sad but apparently true. I spend a ridiculous percentage of my time in a state of gobsmacked incredulity at what goes on in this plutocratic country.

  3. […] few months ago I posted an essay to my website titled, “Are Political Climate Change Deniers Committing a Crime Against Humanity?” I expected to get some pushback on whether the deniers are indeed committing a crime against […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s