The climate of the climate-change debate is changing swiftly.
The most dramatic example of that shift comes from the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing, corporate-sponsored warehouse that ships pre-packaged conservative ideology to state legislatures around the country. ALEC has come to believe, and with very good reason, that its reputation as a climate-change denier has made many of its corporate donors very uneasy.** So it is fighting to change it.
ALEC recently sent cease-and-desist letters to the League of Conservation Voters and Common Cause, demanding that they stop describing as ALEC a climate-change denier. ALEC’s lawyers are even threatening to file suit if its demands aren’t met, calling it “malicious and defamatory” to say that ALEC denies manmade climate change.
“ALEC’s position is clear: ALEC does not deny climate change”, the letter states. “ALEC has recognized the fact that ‘human activity has and will continue to alter the atmosphere of the planet’ and that ‘such activity may lead to demonstrable changes in climate, including a warming of the planetary mean temperature’.”
Technically speaking, ALEC has not “denied” the possibility of climate change; it has merely claimed that “a great deal of scientific uncertainty surrounds the nature of these prospective changes,” when in fact it does not. The degree of scientific uncertainty is minimal. ALEC has certainly denied the overwhelming scientific evidence that climate change is dangerous, claiming instead that human activity “may lead to deleterious, neutral, or possibly beneficial climatic changes.”
And what government action should be taken to combat climate change? In ALEC’s opinion, none:
“ALEC is opposed to government policy that distorts the energy market and picks winners and losers. ALEC holds that the free market, rather than governments, produces more opportunities, more energy, lower prices, and fewer economic disruptions. (emphasis original)”
In real-life terms, the difference between arguing that “manmade climate change is a hoax” and conceding that “manmade climate change might be real but hey, it could be beneficial(!!) and besides, we oppose all government efforts to address it” is minimal to nonexistent. But it is nonetheless important to see a group such as ALEC desperately adopting such a fallback defense, because it indicates how increasingly untenable their position has become.
In California, snowpack in the Sierra Nevada is at 8 percent of the historic average. In Australia, warming waters have killed off more than 50 percent of the coral forming the Great Barrier Reef. At Glacier National Park, only 25 of an original 150 glaciers survive. And in Florida, where sea levels are rising rapidly, state officials are forbidden to blame it on climate change even though alternative explanations — a sudden influx of fat tourists wading in the water? — aren’t sufficient.
If mankind is contributing to such changes — and we are — then it is within our power to stop. But first we have to admit that the problem exists.
** Last fall, for example, Google chairman Eric Schmidt expressed deep regrets for the company’s previous involvement in ALEC. “Everyone understands climate change is occurring and the people who oppose it are really hurting our children and our grandchildren and making the world a much worse place,” he said. “And so we should not be aligned with such people — they’re just, they’re just literally lying.”