In the past month or so, there have been fascinating about-faces over global warming: Monday, Richard Muller, a scientist of considerable renown as a global warming skeptic, released a study indicating that global warming is occurring, and that humans are almost certainly the cause. The study was paid for, in part, by a group of opponents to climate change legislation.
Muller’s surprising result come on the heels of recent comments by the head of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, who also rather surprisingly accepted that the planet was warming, before promptly downplaying the significance of such warming.
“Clearly there is going to be an impact,” Tillerson said, before following the comments up with, “We have spent our entire existence adapting. We'll adapt. … It's an engineering problem and there will be an engineering solution.”
It’s cast, of course, against a gallery of often partially informed commenters who quickly leap onto the comments section of any medium to inform readers and viewers that all climate science is junk science, that the scientists themselves are some sort of loose-knit conspiratorial cabal designed to increase their own research funding and any number of other vague slurs. (Cue the commenters.)
But leave all that aside for a moment and ask yourself just how well denial actually works as an effective coping strategy.
You go to your doctor, and he or she has a grim face on, sitting and thumbing through your test results.
“It looks like you could have cancer,” the doctor says. “We’d like to do some tests. What do you think?”
Is the right answer, “Let’s get a full workup and find out all the facts,” or is it “You’re just a shill for the international prescription drug conspiracy, and this is the last time you’ll be seeing me in this office”?
The bank calls: the mortgage payment is supposed to come out of your account, but there isn’t any money there.
Do you a) start talking about ways to pay or postpone your mortgage payment, or b) announce that the entire financial community is a global shell game, and that the concepts of interest and inflation are merely manufactured fakery designed to enrich the one per cent, and that, furthermore, you won’t be playing along any more.
Your car makes a horrible grinding noise. Do you take it to the garage and let specialists look at it, or do you turn up the radio real loud while insisting that any odd sound is actually the result of an inner ear infection you can’t address because you’re not speaking to your doctor (that international prescription shill) any longer?
The only thing that lets us continue to keep our heads firmly in the sand on issues like climate change is the fact that there aren’t immediate and direct impacts that we can recognize and tie to our own actions — or lack of actions.
If there are things we don’t know about the world’s climate and our impact on it, let’s find them out.