Our Society Is Living a Massive Lie About the Threat of Climate Change -- It's Time to Wake Up
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The Climate Lie
The United States in 2013 may seem nothing like the Soviet Bloc in 1978. In some ways, the situations are very different. But the crucial commonality is that both systems are built on lies, and are sustained by people living within the lies.
Havel described the lies of the totalitarian government:
Because the regime is captive to its own lies, it must falsify everything. It falsifies the past. It falsifies the present, and it falsies the future. It falsifies statistics. It pretends not to possess an omnipotent and unprincipled police apparatus. It pretends to respect human rights. It pretends to persecute no one. It pretends to fear nothing. It pretends to pretend nothing. (15)
Because Americans do not live in a totalitarian system, our lie is a lie co-created by the government, corporations, the media, and the people. These organizations encourage the lie, but it only exists because we, the people accept it and choose to live within it. The lie exists in different forms in different segments of society. But the basic lie is “We should continue with business as usual, for everything is fine. There is no impending climate collapse. There is no need for a massive social-political movement. There is nothing I can do; climate change doesn’t concern me.”
The lie itself is different in content, but it operates in the same ways as the Communist totalitarian lie–through conformity and collectively reinforcing the lie. As Havel describes:
Individuals need not believe all these mystifications but they must behave as though they did, or they must at least tolerate them in silence, or get along well with those who work with them. For this reason however, they must live within a lie. They need not accept the lie. It is enough for them to accept their life with it and in it. For by this very fact individuals confirm the system, fulfill the system, make the system, and are the system. (15)
Most Americans are aware that climate change is a near-term threat to humanity. But what they believe doesn’t matter. How they live matters. By proceeding with business as usual, by living and working within the current system rather than fighting for a major social and political change—they live within the lie, prop up the lie, and maintain the collision course we are on.
There are three major ways that the Climate Lie operates: Intellectual denial, emotional denial, and environmental tokenism.
When people reference “Climate Change Denial” they are referring to intellectual denial. People who refuse to believe that climate change is really happening, or really caused by humans, or so forth.
Some people don’t believe in climate change at all. They think that scientists are lying, or wrong, or unsure about whether carbon dioxide emissions are heating the climate, causing extreme weather, and setting us on a path to disaster. Other people believe climate change is happening, but too slowly to matter. That climate change is a problem for “our grandchildren” but not for us.
Naomi Oreskes has analyzed the way that the oil industry utilized corrupt and ideologically blinded scientists to sow and nurture this doubt in the American people. There has been a multi-million dollar attempt on the part of oil companies and investors, such as the Koch brothers, to assault Americans’ confidence to know about climate change.
Another culprit is the media. The American media, shaped by the two-party system, is enamored with idea that every issue has two sides, which should be given equal time, attention and respect. Climate change is continually discussed as a debated issue, not a scientific fact with terrifying implications. Further, the media propagates the climate lie by not discussing it when clearly relevant—such as when discussing extreme weather, increasingly hostile agricultural conditions, invasive species, water scarcities and droughts, with no mention of climate change. The news media, including the venerated New York Times has been cowed by the zealous lies of climate change deniers and are afraid to speak the truth.