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Russell Wangersky: Taking comfort in denying climate change

Holding the world in their fingertips
Holding the world in their fingertips

One story? That there’s a shortage of small lobsters in the Gulf of Maine, and that means big trouble in upcoming years. The cause? Either reductions in the abundance of copepods the small lobsters eat, or an increase in predators, both potentially due to ocean temperature changes.

Russell Wangersky

“It isn’t encouraging. You’ve got to find out what’s causing it if we’re losing baby lobsters,” David Cousens, president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Association, told the Associated Press.

Lobster fisheries to the south of Maine have already slowed, as water warms: “(We) need to do as much as we can to slow down global warming. That is critical to our existence,” Cousens says.

The next story? That, as CO2 levels in the upper atmosphere continue to increase, air travel is likely to become more and more uncomfortable as something called extreme clear-air turbulence increases. The Independent looked at a study in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, which predicted that “doubling CO2 levels will increase light turbulence by 59 per cent, light-to-moderate turbulence by 75 per cent, moderate turbulence by 94 per cent, moderate-to-severe turbulence by 127 per cent, and severe turbulence by 149 per cent.”

Ouch — literally.

A sheet of ice the size of Delaware is about to break off of Antarctica — and the list of clearly measurable effects goes on, from elevations in CO2 levels to increasing ocean temperatures.

Meanwhile, Toronto Island is virtually underwater, with Lake Ontario some 32 inches higher than its average level, and there’s been massive flooding along parts of the Ottawa and St. Lawrence rivers — situations that climate scientists say we should expect more of as the direction and force of the high-altitude jet stream changes and weather systems both intensify and stay in place for longer. Exactly — exactly — what was predicted more than a decade ago, and summarily dismissed by the comfortable.

Why?

I have a theory about that, though it’s less than scientific: too many comfortable, well-off old men are in charge.

Find a climate-change denier, and you’re often likely to find someone who’s happy with the way things are, thank you very much.

They don’t want anything to interfere with the profitability of their investments, the availability of their creature comforts or the size of their cars. If they are in government, they don’t want to make the kind of hard decision that could get them turfed from their comfortable jobs.

They’re also old enough that the prediction of a dramatic sea level rise some 30 years from now is an ineffective way of raising concern — because, whether it happens or not, they’ll be dead already anyway.

Famines in drought-stricken areas are far away and do little to affect the cost of single scotch or a nice restaurant meal, and denial is more comfortable — and personally cheaper — than action. Look no further than the U.S. and the narcissist-in-chief — the entire direction of one of the most powerful nations in the world is being set according to the personal lens of someone who can’t see past the end of his own ego.

Like I said, there’s no science to what I’m suggesting.

But think of it this way: who is the most concerned about crime? Well, the people with the most stuff to lose. Why do you think law-and-order, tough-on-crime conservative voters trend towards being older? Well, because they have the most equity.

And so it is, I’d suggest, with the pricy but rumpled suits and long ties of the climate-change deniers.

It’s in their own interests to continue denying that global warming exists.

Comfortable old men, shaking their fists at the clouds — and forgetting that the clouds always win.

The one consolation? They won’t always be at the levers of government. Let’s hope it’s not too late by then.

Russell Wangersky’s column appears in 30 SaltWire newspapers and websites in Atlantic Canada. He can be reached at rwanger@thetelegram.com — Twitter: @wangersky.

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