What Can You Say To A Climate Denier?

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In my experience, when an educated person denies that human-caused climate change is happening, the reason can usually be traced to something that has to do with money. You can argue about science, ethics, national security, religion, or whatever else you might like, but their politics revolve around the issue of ownership, and the bottom line is the bottom line. Most conservatives are unmoved unless issues are expressed financially in some way.

This is somewhat complicated by the fact that if you try talking about opportunities, profits that can be earned by addressing the problem of climate change, conservatives will treat you like you are trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge. Until they can see that climate change is a real problem, they will think you are operating a racket.

When an acquaintance who “knows about energy” expressed disbelief that climate change was a problem, I decided to take a fresh look at the numbers. Sometimes it is not what the facts are so much as how they are represented that can open a person’s eyes.

The first thing I looked at was the growth of flood insurance premiums. On this issue, the graph of premiums in the United States for 1978 to 2015 is especially interesting:

Data for the graph comes from fema.gov/total-earned-premium-calendar-year. There is a similar graph on the site.

A real climate denier will point out that the data is raw, does not account for inflation, ignores the fact that increased population produced increased value of housing in the country, and is not adjusted for the real upward pressure on housing costs during the period. Here, however, is another graph with all those factors taken into account:

I will agree that this is not quite so steep. Nevertheless, this is impressive growth, and it is adjusted for inflation. It is growth that reflects directly amounts of damage being done by floods, and it is growing out of control by a government that denies it is happening.

A couple of observations need to be made about the graph. First, the growth does not reflect all damage from floods, because only 10% to 20% of properties have flood insurance. For example, in the 2016 Louisiana Flood, some parishes saw 75% of homes become total losses. (A parish is the size of a county.) Only about 1% of the homes in St. Helena Parish had flood insurance, despite their exposure. Real losses are 5–10 times the insurance premiums shown on the graph.

Second, as a result of the Flood Insurance Act of 2004, many of the most vulnerable properties have lost their federal insurance guarantees. The law was passed partly because it had become clear that 1% of the properties insured were making 30% of the claims. It stopped guarantees for properties that had made two claims within any 10-year period. The result of this has been a downward pressure on the premiums since 2004, a trend that seems to be masked by forces pushing premiums upward.

Third, there are many other types of weather damage that have nothing to do with floods.

A graph of all of overall weather damage shows more about how bad things have become. In it, only events with over a billion dollars in damages are included. Data for this chart comes from NOAA.

This chart is not adjusted for inflation, but even so, it is clear that the real value of property damage from weather events has been increasing over the last 40 years. The chart also incorporates damage from freeze and winter storm events, which have generally been in decline over the same period and tend to diminish apparent growth.

What this chart shows is that damages are getting to the point that they put a significant dent in the economy. The losses for 2005 were over $208 billion. That was a bit more than 65% of the size of the federal budget deficit for the year. Somehow, many conservatives who have complained loudly about the budget deficit have managed to ignore the damages related to weather entirely.

We might try another chart that has nothing to do with flooding and is entirely unaffected by inflation or costs because it does not include money in the calculations. It graphs data from the Wikipedia article “List of North American tornadoes and tornado outbreaks.” The data are a raw count of tornado funnels. Since Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellites went into use, beginning in 1975, tornadoes could be counted far more accurately than previously.

Clearly, the weather is getting worse, and the economic losses are considerable. So why would a conservative deny this?

When Donald Trump said that climate change was a hoax invented by the Chinese, he merely reflected a myth held by many conservatives, which is that it was being pushed by socialists as part of an effort to establish a centralized world government. But those conservatives might think differently if they are confronted by a central issue: Denial is costing them money – a lot of money.

As the charts show, the cost of weather damage can be enormous. But more to the point, it is getting bigger. The question of why conservative leadership would take the denialist stand when climate change is happening can be answered by a simple statement: The leadership is being supported by money from the fossil fuels industry, and it will do what its financial supporters want.

Oil & Gas Industry US Political Donations

Inevitably, the increasing costs of climate denial will become clear even to those who want to remain blind to them. When that happens, conservatives are likely to come to the sudden realization that they have been sold out, as their support has been hijacked to control the government, not for ideological reasons, but to maintain the bottom lines in companies that are doing the damage and funding denial, with the side effect of undermining our democracy.

The people behind the governmental takeover in the last election have a problem. They have managed to hijack the issue of climate change, but they cannot hijack the climate itself. It will continue to change, and reality will get them in the end.

I have no doubt that the hijackers have committed crimes against both our country and humanity. This is not merely a matter of people being taken financially; people are dying and entire nations are already at risk. I am not prepared to bet about whether they will die in or out of prison. What I feel sure of, however, is that unless conservatives take a hard look at the numbers, and do it soon, the entire movement will languish out of office while liberals do their thing. And that will be a long, long time.

Related: Russian Oil Billionaires, Trump World, Russian Hacking, & Firing FBI Director Comey … For Democracy?

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George Harvey

A retired computer engineer, George Harvey researches and writes on energy and climate change, maintains a daily blog (geoharvey.com), and has a weekly hour-long TV show, Energy Week with George Harvey and Tom Finnell. In addition to those found at CleanTechnica, many of his articles can be found at greenenergytimes.org.

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