Area Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers

Climate change, politics and corporations; a case of cross-contamination

by Lisa Mol

So once again I am on the climate change high horse, but this time spurred on by a rather interesting news article so please indulge me while I put together the latest developments for you. The Guardian brought up debate  which has up to recently not received much attention: “Is climate science disinformation a crime against humanity?” Since ‘Climate-gate’ earlier this year, the validity of climate data has been hotly contested. More recently, the Tea Party in the USA is gathering followers, which is concerning considering their ranks contain some of the most fierce anti-climate lobbyists. It is no coincidence that they take this stance, as the Deutsche Welle and the Guardian report that they are heavily supported by companies dependent on continuing burning of fossil fuels such as oil company BP, chemical manufacturers Bayer & BASF and steelmaker ArcelorMittal and energy provider GDF/Suez.  They have given a total of $306,100 to Senate candidates, 78% of which are known climate change deniers or senators who voted against the Obama administration’s cap-and-trade legislation. The hypocrisy lies in the fact that all these companies profess to prioritize climate change countering measures (the most famous example being BP’s ‘strenuous’ measures to cap the Gulf of Mexico oil spill) yet deliberately aim to shift power to those who are most fiercely and publicly in denial. To some extent it can be claimed that they are taking advantage of the current public confusion regarding the impact of climate change. BBC reporter and psychotherapist Mark Brayne explains: “Climate change contradicts the way we grasp and tackle problems. As a problem it overwhelms us.” George Marshall confirms this statement in the same report, saying that ‘the sticking point is the time-frame: political systems might be able to address an immediate and pressing concern such as the financial crisis, but are unable to implement global action when faced with a problem on the scale of climate change’.  A BBC survey carried out in February showed that only 26% of the British public believes that climate change is happening and “now established largely as man-made”.  According to the New York Times this view is further strengthened by the lavish funding of anti-climate change studies, paid for by the fossil fuel industry.

In my previous article I referred to the misunderstanding of climate change and its position within the public sphere. The recent rise of the Tea Party in the USA only confirms this worrying trend and shows that not only there is a severe lack of understanding among the public but this attitude is also heavily infiltrating politics, the collection of people who have the power to implement measures even when the public may not understand the reasons or the consequences. Which brings us back to the original question “is climate science disinformation a crime against humanity?”.  Here are companies and politicians who are taking advantage of the current confusion, the uncertainties and scepticism which has arisen. Not only is this an issue in the USA, these politics are heavily funded by European companies in a case of what can only be called cross-contamination. As Bulkeley (2001) reports: “The challenges of governing climate change have been apparent as nation-states struggle to come to international agreement and take domestic action. These struggles have been particularly evident in contexts where environmental and economic interests are seen to be in conflict, such as the USA and Australia, as the recent (2001) withdrawal of support by the Bush administration for the Kyoto Protocol illustrates all too clearly.”

We are now arguably making progress in our understanding of climate change, but the opposition is fierce and unfortunately we still face the issue that “some doubts and uncertainties are ‘real’ in the sense that they are related to measurement issues “. This statement was made nearly ten years ago (O’Hare 200o) but still holds true. Every time a doubt, miscalculation or exaggeration comes to the surface, there is a strong lobby with a fishing net preying on the bank to catch these prized nuggets and exploit them to their advantage. Are they committing a crime against humanity by putting their economic interests first? How about we ask the people in Pakistan who are currently fighting to reclaim their livelihoods back from the floods. Or the Tibetans who have seen their pastures deplete over the past 10 years. Or how about the Australian farmers who are facing year after year of ever increasing droughts? Or perhaps we should just wait until our own livelihoods are affected and continue on as normal. If so, then Vote Tea Party!!

The Guardian Is climate science disinformation a crime against humanity?‘ 01/11/2010

Deutsche Welle European companies back climate skeptics in US Senate race, report says 26/10/2010

The Guardian Tea Party climate change deniers funded by BP and other major polluters’ 24/10/2010

Deutsche Welle ‘Psychology of fighting climate change often ignored, experts say 17/08/2010

Bulkeley, H (2001) Governing climate change: the politics of risk society? Transactions of the institute of British Geographers 26 (4) 430 – 447

O’Hare, G. (2000) Reviewing the uncertainties in climate change science Area 32 (4) 357 – 368


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