by David R. Montague
Mr. Montague was raised in Billings, where he wrote a column for the Gazette for 6 years. He’s the author of two books and has written for Northern Lights Magazine which gave many now-famous writers a start, including Mark Spragg, William deBuys and Terry Tempest Williams. He is now retired and lives in Potomac near Missoula with his wife.
In an essay about what he calls “normalized ignorance,” Professor Henry Giroux observes that “successful political campaigns are now dependent on an uninformed public.”
How accurate is his observation when it comes to the issue of climate change?Alarmingly accurate. A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center found that only 48% of Americans accept the conclusion that global warming is caused by human activity and that it poses an immanent existential threat, a consensus reached by 99+% of scientists who are not paid to ‘think’ otherwise by fossil fuel developers such as Koch Industries, Exxon-Mobile, and Chevron-Texaco.
85% of conservative Republicans and 30% of liberal Democrats express doubt or outright denial of the reality of anthropocentric climate change. Is this an example of “normalized ignorance?”
I would have to say ‘yes.’
Global warming is the most dangerous issue that has faced homo sapiens in the 200,000 years we have flourished, and one of the most dangerous to face all life on the planet. Our planet is approximately 4.55 billion hears old, and life began to take hold somewhere between 3.5 and 4 billion years ago. The planet has endured many catastrophes and at least 5 major extinctions which obliterated most life forms. In the long run, all life is precarious. 99.9% of all species that have ever inhabited earth are now extinct. The chance that humanity will in time become just another fossil memory seems probable. Does that mean that we should not rally all our resources in the battle to survive and prosper? Or worse that we should bury our heads in the sand to hasten our own decline?
Global warming is an emergency. Given present conditions on earth, one sixth of all species face the probability of extinction, and as many as 90% of all species could face massive reductions or extinction if global warming continues unabated. That includes homo sapiens. A majority of scientists agree that we have already begun the sixth ‘great extinction’ in the planet’s history. The principal cause of global warming is the massive release of greenhouse gasses, mainly carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane, from the burning of fossil fuels like gasoline, natural gas and coal, and from mass animal agriculture.
The buildup of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere traps the sun’s heat and warms the planet hotter than livable norms. CO2 trapped in oceans makes them too acidic. As a result coral reefs are bleaching and dying and fish and shellfish populations are shrinking. Glaciers all over the world and ice fields in the Arctic, Antarctic, and Greenland are melting rapidly. During the next half century, many rivers, which people and whole ecosystems depend on, will shrink to seasonal channels or dry up, and ocean levels will rise significantly. In some areas rains will become torrential, in other areas fires will burn as never before. People who live on atolls and coastal communities will find themselves under water. Many birds, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and plants are already stressed, trying to adapt or find new suitable habitat and they are losing ground rapidly. As the effects of global warming intensify, droughts will dominate some areas and excessive heat will render some regions non-arable and completely uninhabitable. Storms more violent than any we have known will sweep the planet.
Masses of people will leave uninhabitable places and attempt to migrate elsewhere. The resulting ethnic, racial, tribal and national tensions will cause widespread conflicts and massive bloodshed. Some economies will fail, and some food supplies will shrink, even as earth’s population multiplies. Many populations will go hungry and some will starve. A broad spectrum of diseases will arise and spread, many to places where they were previously unknown. Most of humanity will know no peace, no quiet, no leisure, and little pleasure. Some extinctions will take place; many more will loom.
We must rally to fight global warming as individuals, as a nation, and as a species. For starters, I urge everyone to express contempt for scientific ignorance by voting against any candidate who expresses his or her disbelief in global warming; candidates like Donald Trump, Mike Pence, Greg Gianforte, Ryan Zinke, and Steve Daines; Roy Blunt, Richard Burr, Shelley Moore Capito, Bill Cassidy, Chris Christie, Ted Cruz, James Inhofe, Mitch McConnell, Rand Paul, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan, Jeff Sessions, Dan Sullivan, David Vitter, and dozens more. Politicians who gain and use power appealing to this kind of ignorance will inadvertently be destructive and will be remembered, if there is anyone left to remember them, as over-confident and comfortable careerists who failed to engage their gray matter when it was most needed to prevent the disintegration of the planet, the decay of civilization, and the collapse of humanity into deprivation, chaos, and possible oblivion. Am I complaining too harshly?
Would anyone forgive a messenger who could have warned but didn’t the inhabitants of Pompeii and Herculaneum in 79 A.D. that Vesuvius was about to erupt? Would anyone forgive an observer who failed to report waves of dive bombers approaching Pearl Harbor in 1941?
Keep deniers out of office or vote them out if they are already in. I’m sure they don’t mean to be, but in fact they are traitors and potential assassins to their own species, to their planet and to all its life forms. And despite what their spin doctors and PR professionals say, these people are utterly unqualified to lead. Elect people who know how to use their minds, who have the honesty to actually do so, and who will help mobilize humanity to combat the gravest challenge we have ever faced. Our quality of life, possibly even our survival, will depend on it.