Michael Mann: Grounds For Hope?

When Jaisal Noor of The Real News Network recently interviewed climatologist Michael Mann, she asked him about the recent trend of multinational corporations gradually beginning to recognize the magnitude of the crisis, as reported in a New York Times article, “Industry Awakens to the Threat of Climate Change.” In particular, she wonders if the Times’ article described a business sector that was responding to a genuine civilizational danger, or merely a recoiling from a threat to their profit margins.

As befits a scientist, Mann’s response was measured, acknowledging that many industries are driven by the prospect of huge costs down the road:

The reinsurance industry in particular, they are the ones who are going to have to pay out the claims. They’re the ones who have to insure the insurers who have to pay out claims when we continue to see, like we have over the past few years, literally more than $10 billion weather- and climate-related disasters a year. Hurricane Sandy alone cost more than $60 billion.

If you look globally right now at the toll that climate-related damages are having on our economy, the most credible estimate, from a fairly large group of economists who have studied this problem, is that we are currently spending about $1 trillion of global gross domestic product a year. It’s a 1 percent tax on our global economy. That’s huge. It’s a huge tax on our global economy. And it will get much larger if we commit to greater and more damaging climate changes.

I think the notion that the costs of inaction are essentially a “failure-to-respond tax” could be a good one to pursue when dealing with anti-tax zealots — but we are dealing with zealots in more dimensions than the purely “fiscal conservative.” While the Inhofes, Brouns, Gohmerts, and Blackburns of our Congress mouth deficit hawk rhetoric, they are far more invested in an apocalyptic Christian worldview in which a fiery end to human civilization is not a bug, but a feature. Their blanket denial of scientific expertise is merely the anti-intellectual means to an end.

The same problem applies to the military’s recognition of climate change as a geopolitical threat, which Mann acknowledges:

“The national security community, the U.S. military recognizes that climate change is the greatest security threat that we face in the decades ahead. The Pacific Navy commander has said that our greatest national security challenge in the decades ahead is climate change, because it creates conflict, because it creates more competition for diminishing food resources and fresh water and land.”

He goes on to discuss the “very cynical fossil fuel funded organizations” who fund climate-change denial and have invested very heavily in disinformation strategies. He suggests that they themselves “deny that the problem even exists” — which is true enough as far as it goes. But is industry denialism entirely driven by profit, as Mann suggests? I think not. I detect the heavy hand of the Book of Revelations behind much of these machinations; why else would a business kill off its customer base?

I don’t say this malign synergy between nihilistic profiteering and Armaggedonist teleology is necessarily conscious, but I do say it’s there. Having gained practice in believing absurdities through their immersion in the unsupportable myths of Abrahamism, these corporate forces are now committing atrocities in the cause of profits. After all, if the world’s going to burn, why not make some money from the flames?

Mann is (very guardedly) optimistic, noting that there is “some progress” on the issue, even as “bad-faith actors” continue to exert disproportionate influence:

“And so we’re sort of seeing right now a developing battle of the titans. On the one hand, you have the fossil fuel industry, or at least some fossil fuel interests who are going to fight tooth-and-nail against any regulations of carbon emissions. But you have the rest of the business community that increasingly sees that we need to do something about this problem.

And it’s my hope–and I remain optimistic that it is those better angels, that it is those voices that will win out in this ongoing debate.”

You and me both, sir. You and me both.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.