The “Fever of Denialism” About Climate Change

Johann Hari, columnist for the London Independent, writes the following in an article published yesterday, titled, “Twelve Days to Save the World.”

A ream of scientific studies now suggest we could be on course for 6°C of global warming this century. It doesn’t sound like much at first. But the last time the world warmed by six degrees so fast was at the end of the Permian period, 251 million years ago. The result? Almost everything on earth died.

The only survivors were a few shelled creatures in the oceans, and a pig-like creature that had the land to itself for millions of years. The earth was racked by “hypercanes” – hurricanes so strong they even left their mark on the ocean floor. Oxygen levels in the atmosphere plunged to 15 per cent; low enough to leave any fast-moving animal gasping for breath. These six degrees of separation stand between us and a planet we do not recognise and cannot live on.

The fever of denialism is natural. This is so far outside our experience that is seems intuitively untrue, wrong, or even mad. I desperately wish the deniers were right: I would jump on the next flight to Tahiti for a month-long party. But the scientific consensus is overwhelming – as strong as the consensus that smoking causes lung cancer, or HIV causes Aids. The deniers are a discredited fringe with virtually no scientists currently working in the field. If you release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere on an industrial scale year after year, the world will get much warmer, and many of us will die.

I have seen it happen. In the past few years, I have reported from three places where global warming is having a catastrophic effect – the Arctic, Bangladesh, and the borders of Darfur. I spoke to Inuit who are watching in disbelief as their historic hunting-lands disappear and the ice-sheets crumble into the sea. I stood on the drowning coast of Bangladesh as villagers pointed to a spot in the middle of the sea and said: “That is where my house was.”

“When did you leave?” I asked.

“Last year,” they said, shaking their heads.

But it was in Darfur that I got the plainest glimpse into a much warmer world. The settled farmers and the nomadic pastoralists had developed a peaceful way to share the water supplies of the area – but then, in the Nineties, the water started to vanish. As one refugee put it to me: “The water dried up, and so we started to kill each other for what was left.” (The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has said this is due to global warming, summarising the reports of his leading scientists.) When the things we require to survive vanish–water, food and land–we don’t wait to die. We kill for them.

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