For the sake of argument, let’s say that you are a 56-year-old lobbyist for the Chamber of Commerce, which is a DC-based trade association that influences lawmakers on behalf of enormous corporations.
Each morning, you wake up to the alarm on your Smartphone, a miracle of modern technology that can give you easy access to damn near every bit of information in the world. You walk into your kitchen for breakfast, and while you eat you turn on your television, flip through the hundreds of channels available to you, and decide to catch up on the news.
You then shower in water that is made piping hot by a high-efficiency, state-of-the-art water heater that can heat up to 50 gallons of water with barely any energy expenditure whatsoever. You dress yourself in attire that is suitable for work on Capitol Hill, walk out the door, and get into your car.
And what a car it is! It has a dashboard camera that turns on and shows you what’s behind you when you put the car in reverse. It has buzzers that go off if you start to drift out of your lane and into others. It has anti-lock brakes, a “steel bathtub” frame, crumple zones that help cushion the force of a collision in case you crash, and in the event that you do, there are also multiple airbags that are capable of cushioning every part of your body.
As you drive to work, your car automatically gives you a traffic alert and lets you know that there is a severe traffic jam on your normal route to work. Using Global Positioning Satellite technology, your display screen gives you an alternate route to work, providing you with audible instructions so you can keep your eyes on the road.
While taking your detour, you use your voice activated personal assistant to book a vacation for you and your wife to the Bahamas. You then make an appointment with your doctor so you can get a refill of the prescription that has helped fix the rigidity problems you’ve been having with what your wife refers to as “The ol’ bingbong” (it’s ok. You’re 56. It happens to the best of us).
You arrive at work just in time for your morning briefing, and a half an hour later, you have a meeting with a Congressman, where you will look him straight in the eye and tell him that science is bullshit.
This might seem like an inconsistency to y’all, but you have to understand that in America there are two different types of science. There’s science that is profitable for corporations, which is good and righteous and rock solid. That’s the Smartphone, the water heater, the GPS, the 700 channels on the 62 inch flat screen, the boner pills, and so on and so on. And then there’s the science that costs corporations money, which is fraudulent, con-artist mumbo jumbo. Under that second definition are things like climatology, pollution measurements, oceanography, and other disciplines that might fuck up the profit margins of energy producers and manufacturers.
Of course, the Chamber of Commerce knows damn well that climate change is real, and so does the American Petroleum Institute, and so does the coal lobby, and so does the natural gas lobby, and so do the Koch brothers. They all know. They just flat out don’t give a shit. Giving a shit would mean altering their business models, and that just ain’t gonna happen. As far as these folks are concerned, any consequences that come from environmental damage are going to happen long after they are dead and gone, and they’ve made enough money to the point where their great-grandchildren will have the wherewithal to set up their own personal thunder domes in which to live.
There is a tried-and-true playbook for getting both the general public and the US government to become completely skeptical about established science. Step one is to make sure that you buy up the loyalty of as many Congressmen and Senators as you possibly can, and step two is to make the scientific data seem fraudulent. The big tobacco companies used to do this, and they were really good at it. Back in the day, they owned every member of Congress in Virginia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Mississippi and Alabama, which were the states where most of the tobacco was produced. Once they had that sorted, it was ridiculously easy to slow down, neuter, or completely kill any regulation regarding tobacco. The tobacco companies also always had some Professor Frink type on the payroll to testify before Congress and contradict everything that the American Lung Association said. Considering that millions of Americans were completely strung out on cigarettes, they were more than happy to believe that tobacco wasn’t really that bad for you. And the tobacco companies themselves were completely shameless. For instance, here’s footage of executives from every tobacco company in America proclaiming before Congress that nicotine is not in the least bit addictive. This worked like all hell for about 60 years, until the smoking-related death rate became entirely too big to ignore.
Tobacco was able to reign supreme in this country because Big Tobacco had billions of dollars to spend and a relative handful of Congressmen and Senators in their pockets. Nowadays, the villain in the story owns pretty much every Congressman and Senator in the Republican Party. Tobacco was grown in a few states. Energy and manufacturing is everywhere. There’s coal production in 26 states. There’s oil production in Alaska, Texas, California, the Dakotas, Louisiana, etc. etc. And if there isn’t oil production in a state, there are certainly oil refineries in almost every state in the country. Natural gas fracking is happening everywhere. And if your state isn’t concerned with the raw materials, it’s a safe bet that it is concerned with the end users of those raw materials. Do you think General Motors, Chrysler, Ford, and all the foreign auto makers with plants all over the country are particularly psyched about fuel efficiency standards? Do you think the state governments want to shell out money for some newfangled hippy-dippy wind farm when the tried and true coal fired plant is still up and running?
The fossil fuel industry is everywhere, and while manufacturing is dying in America, there are still enough of them, and they are not fans of what climate change might mean to their bottom lines. And thanks to the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, these folks can give way more money to Congressional or Senate political campaigns than Big Tobacco ever could. And make no mistake about it, most of the Republican Party is owned, lock, stock, and barrel.
There was recently one of those “we’re just making a statement” votes in the Senate in which they determined that climate change is real, but the majority of Senators stated that while it might be real, human activity has nothing to do with it. That might seem like a quibble, but it’s a quibble with serious consequences. This means that the Senate is making it perfectly clear that they are ok with the fossil fuel industry continuing on willy-nilly.
The fossil fuel industry is doing a hell of a lot more than just buying politicians. They are also bankrolling a huge PR push, which ranges from the big stuff, like making it seem like all the climatologists warning us about the dangers of climate change are just charlatans looking for funding, to the little things, like making it seem like green, renewable energy is somehow vaguely leftist and for total pussies instead of just being practical.
Personally speaking, if I were a scientist who was simply in it for the money, wouldn’t it make more sense for me to take a job with Koch Industries? They have money falling out of their wrinkly old asses, while climatologists are doing everything short of having bake sales to continue on with their work.
But is this PR push working to change the minds of the average American? Absolutely. Mention climate change to your standard Republican voter, and he hears the theme song from The Sting. Also, consider the “rolling coal” phenomenon. In rural areas, truck owners are outfitting their trucks with smokestacks that emit enormous black clouds of diesel smoke at the push of a button. They usually pull this off when someone drives by in a Prius. Because, you know, fuck them and their global warming. I mean, it snowed this year, right?
Energy producers are not at all afraid of making examples out of regular folks if they don’t get their way. There’s this coal company called Murray Energy, owned by a devout, God-Fearing, total flaming red asshole named Robert Murray, and the day after Obama won re-election, he gathered a group of employees together and read the following prayer:
The American people have made their choice. They have decided that America must change its course, away from the principals of our Founders. And, away from the idea of individual freedom and individual responsibility. Away from capitalism, economic responsibility, and personal acceptance. We are a Country in favor of redistribution, national weakness and reduced standard of living and lower and lower levels of personal freedom.
The takers outvoted the producers. In response to this, I have turned to my Bible and in II Peter, Chapter 1, verses 4-9 it says, ‘To faith we are to add goodness; to goodness, knowledge; to knowledge, self control; to self control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; to godliness, kindness; to brotherly kindness, love.’
Lord, please forgive me and anyone with me in Murray Energy Corp. for the decisions that we are now forced to make to preserve the very existence of any of the enterprises that you have helped us build. We ask for your guidance in this drastic time with the drastic decisions that will be made to have any hope of our survival as an American business enterprise.
Then he fired 200 people. Which is totes what Jesus would have done. You guys remember in the Bible where Jesus had 20 disciples, but had to lay a bunch of them off because he wasn’t making as much money?
Murray the asshole blamed Obama’s “war on coal” for the firing, but really, Obama hasn’t done much of anything. Murray was making a point to his employees, as well as any other Americans working either directly or peripherally for the fossil fuel industry. Do you want to keep working? Watch how you vote.
I hate to break this to you, but in order for anything to really change regarding American policy on climate, something really terrible is going to have to happen. I mean really terrible, like we’re going to have to lose Florida, or Manhattan is going to have to go below sea level. There’s too much money involved and our system is too easily rigged for it go any other way.