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People in northern California believe the wildfire sweeping through their neighborhoods is caused by failed government policies, not climate change. What will it take to convince them otherwise?

Climate Change

Horrific Fires In Northern California Do Little To Change Attitudes On Climate Change

People in northern California believe the wildfire sweeping through their neighborhoods is caused by failed government policies, not climate change. What will it take to convince them otherwise?

A recent CleanTechnica story about climate change focused on the words of Michael Mann, one of the world’s  preeminent climate scientists. He claims the spate of forest fires happening today all around the world are “the face of climate change.” That story spurred a few comments from CleanTechnica readers who wonder when — if ever — humanity will take climate change seriously and give it the attention it deserves.

Ron: “I’ve thought about the reason for inactivity and I’ve come to the conclusion that ONLY after a super cataclysmic event, something really, really big, equivalent to 911 if not more dramatic, will scales tip. How close are we to that? We, certainly here in the western world but generally everywhere in the world, are risk averse. We won’t take even a small chance doing something that will hurt us in the short term. Short term always wins.”

John Donovan: “Regulation of safety usually improves after an airliner crash. But not until then. It takes a horrific event to spur action, i.e., Love Canel, Exxon Valdez, Three Mile Island, etc., etc. Human evolution causes us to hyperbolically discount the future. Because life was short, brutish and nasty, our emotional sensitivities don’t not respond to slow threats. Hence the metaphor of the frog in a pot of water slowly being heated up. If we’re going to die this afternoon, that will get our attention, but next year? Not so much.”

Andy: “Yes, this is the reality. While politicians still persist in these ridiculous ‘target’ dates of anything up to 20 years in the future, when in reality no such ‘future’ exists. The time for very serious, and determined action, as if mobilizing for World War III, is today, and no other day will do.”

wildfires and climate change

Government Policies Are To Blame For Forest Fires

Those thoughts would seem to sum up the general attitude among CleanTechnica readers. But The Guardian has gone to Redding, California, where a massive wildfire is roaring through the community, to get the reaction of local residents. Located 200 miles north of San Francisco — which may be ground zero for the chablis drinking environmentalists in America — Redding and Shasta county are Trump country, where the Mouth That Roared won 65% of the vote in November, 2016. Asked if the fire was changing attitudes about climate change, The Guardian found the answer was, “Nah, not so much.” Here’s a sampling of the reactions from people living in the heart of the inferno.

Longtime Shasta county resident Ray Cutchen was dismissive of any link between the fire and human caused climate change. “I think it’s bull,” he said. “It’s just fire season. It’s hot. There’s more people living out further and further in the woods. I can remember as a kid in Red Bluff, it’d be over 100 for three weeks at a time. People are babying themselves right into the grave.” The fire “was an unfortunate event, but everything was just right for it to happen.”

His attitude meshes perfectly with that of congressman Doug LaMalfa, who represents the district where the fire is still blazing. “I’m not going to quibble here today about whether it’s man, or sunspot activity, or magma causing ice shelves to melt,” he told The Guardian. LaMalfa blames the greenies for opposing logging — once the industry that provided those who live in the area with their livelihoods.

He believes the fire has less to do with human activity causing changes to the atmosphere than it does with wrong-headed forest management policies limiting logging that have been imposed by federal and state authorities over the years. Those policies have led to “fuel loads that have been left in the forest for 30 to 40 years,” says LaMalfa. State senator Ted Gaines, a Republican, agrees. “It was the environmental community that resisted for decades our ability to get into forests and manage them,” he said. “I think the environmental community has come around and realized we have created a tinderbox.”

Liberals Are To Blame

In other words, it’s all the fault of those damn liberals and their insistence on messing with the “free market” by cramming government regulations down the throats of the people. Is it any wonder Trump got two thirds of the votes in this area? “The county went 65% for Trump,” says David Ledger, a member of the Shasta Environmental Alliance. “The media here runs a lot of very conservative talk shows. The newspapers tend to have very conservative editorials. Almost all of them are skeptical of anthropogenic climate change.”

Will the latest fire change anybody’s mind? “The fire will not cause a huge shift, but it may change some attitudes in the area.” Very modest progress indeed at a time when humanity needs nothing less than the most concerted efforts by every living soul to keep the planet we all live on from turning into a lifeless wasteland. “Climates always change, so the question is what do we do about the conditions” that exist at the present time, La Malfa asks. In other words, when can the people of Shasta county get back to logging?

A team from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication visited Redding in 2016. It found only 35% of residents believed that global warming would harm them personally, five percentage points lower than the national average and 12 points less than the average Californian.

“Experience is an important part of determining one’s belief on climate change, but not necessarily the determining one,” said Christopher Borick, director of the National Surveys on Energy and Environment, which has carried out long-term studies on attitudes to climate change and other environmental issues. But political affiliation is the most accurate predictor. “If you gave me one factor to explain someone’s belief, I’d ask you what party they belong to,” he says. “Among Republicans, about half think there’s evidence of climate change, but only a third think it’s anthropogenic in its roots.”

As Andy says in his comment, the time is now if humans are ever going to address climate change effectively. But with such naked hostility between climate advocates and climate deniers, how is such a thing  possible? A new report from the International Consortium Of Investigative Journalists provides a clue.

The Allure Of The “Fake Science” Claim

One of the most powerful arguments against anthropomorphic climate change is the claim — widely and loudly proclaimed by Fox News, the Koch Brothers, and apologists for the fossil fuel industry — is that all climate scientists are quacks. The ICIJ study provides some support for that notion. It finds that the number of scientific journals has tripled since 2013. In total, they have published more than 175,000 articles involving work by some 400,000 scientists.

Many of those studies have not been peer reviewed and have received only the most cursory reviews by editors. Very often, the publishers charge to include the materials in their journals and accept papers submitted by people who work for drug companies and climate change skeptics promoting questionable theories. Some even target scientists who are under pressure to publish as many articles as possible in order to obtain promotions and improve their curriculum. The investigation showed that articles are often published within a few days of submission without any vetting process taking place.

In one case highlighted by the ICIJ report, an article in the Journal of Integrative Oncology stated that a clinical study had shown the extract of propolis, a secretion that bees use to glue hives together, was more effective than chemotherapy in treating colorectal cancer. The study was fake and the authors were affiliated with a research center that doesn’t exist, Le Monde reported. After the journalists questioned the journal about those findings, the article was deleted but an archived version is still available online. A spokesperson for the publisher has denied any wrongdoing and defended the integrity of its publications.

Several Nobel Prize winning scientists are appalled by the ICIJ revelations. “If there is a system behind it, and there are people who aren’t just duped by it but who take advantage of it, then it has to be shut down,” said Stefan Hell, a Nobel laureate in chemistry. He is joined by fellow laureates Ferid Murad, the 1998 winner of the prize in medicine, Randy Schekman, a US cell biologist who shared the prize in 2013, and Robert Huber of Munich, who was awarded the prize in 1988.

The Digital Revolution Has Driven Us Apart

It is all part of the digital revolution. That which was supposed to set information free has instead created enclaves where even the wildest speculation gets passed off as “science.” The internet has made it possible for anyone with access to a server to become a “publisher,” whether it is Matt Drudge, Alex Jones, Breitbart, or the Union of Concerned Scientists. Is it any wonder that conservatives reactionaries have seized on this to bat away all climate studies as “fake science?”

Of course, the hypocrisy they exhibit while accepting as true the torrent of hatred and bile that pours forth from their own fake news sources every minute of every hour or every day never gets questioned, even though it puts monsters like Donald Trump in office and enables Russia to meddle in American elections by remote control from afar.

Oddly enough, if humanity succeeds at rendering the planet uninhabitable, the internet will be one of the primary reasons why people failed to pay heed to the threat and take reasonable and prudent actions to avoid calamity. Just as the builders of the Titanic believed in their heart of hearts that ship was unsinkable, so to do the climate change deniers believe down deep inside that it is impossible for humanity to destroy the Earth.

Electric cars and renewable energy won’t save us. Only concerted action that involves virtually everyone alive has a chance — albeit a slim one — of averting a climatic disaster of epic proportions. If anyone has any ideas how to get people to stop pointing fingers at each other and start listening to each other for a change, please share them. The need is great and the urgency is extreme. As the old colonial era motto said, “We must all hang together for otherwise we shall all hang separately.”

Redding resident Voyd Fleming told The Guardian he didn’t need science to tell him climate change is happening.  It’s obvious. “Look at the trees around you right now. The leaves are falling out of the trees when they shouldn’t be. The environment is changing, and it’s changing everywhere.” What can be done, he was asked? “The good Lord has to fix it. We’re not capable of it.” He may be half right.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?

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