Oreskes is re-hashing the Exxon stuff again, how very dull-man-at-a-party of her. So, I won’t join her in re-hashing the reasons that much of what she is saying is wrong. But my attention was drawn to my titular sentence, where “sensible policies” was linked but – how modestly – she refrained from pointing out that those very sensible policies were ones that she herself0 was proposing: The climate responsibilities of industrial carbon producers, Essay, Climatic Change, September 2015, Volume 132, Issue 2, pp 157-171.
I won’t bore you with the details but essentially the situation is unchanged: global warming is still all someone else’s fault. Not you, not I, who drive the cars that burn the petrol and live in the houses heated with fossil fuels. No! The fault is all down to the Evil Fossil Fuel Companies who force us to use their evil products, much in the way that cigarette companies once forced people to smoke even while the surgeon-general told them to stop. This is the same confusion of responsibility at Fossil fuels subsidised by $10m a minute, says IMF? – the people responsible for emitting most of the CO2 are consumers like you and I, not the fossil fuel producers.
To state the bleedin’ obvious: people know that fossil fuel emissions cause global warming. People know perfectly well that the IPCC, and various scientific organisations, are telling them the truth; and they know that the various denial-o-sphere organisations are lying to them. Just like they knew the surgeon-general was telling them the truth about smoking being bad for them, and they knew then fag1 companies were lying. For various exciting reasons including but not limited to human psychology, that doesn’t affect people’s behaviour as much as you’d like it to. It is possible that if, as Oreskes suggests, companies unequivocally communicate to the public, shareholders, and policymakers the climate risks resulting from continued use of their products, and therefore the need for restrictions on greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the 2 °C global temperature target; [and] firmly reject contrary claims by industry trade associations and lobbying groups then it might even make a difference. People do, generally, need an excuse to lie to themselves; its helpful to latch on to someone external lying to you; you can always blame them later when it goes pear-shaped.
Constantly whinging about fossil-fuel producers lobbying against CO2 restraint; or even complaining about them lying, is to my mind all rather beyond the point. You expect them to do it; its hardly a shock. We should be able to cope. If our politics is so rubbish that lies from entirely predictable sources causes it to malfunction, then the real problem is our politics, which again is sourced back to the populace.
Oreskes discussion of responsibility is remarkably unthinking. Starting at section 2, “What is responsibility?”, it salivates over lawsuits but takes corporate responsibility itself for granted, and doesn’t even consider the consumers at all.
[Update: oh yes. I also forgot to say that I object to her very first sentence: Responsibility for climate change lies at the heart of societal debate over actions to address it. I don’t mind people being interested in who was responsible, but I don’t think it should be a big focus of the debate, because it gets in the way of solving the problem. If you start with “right, who is responsible then?” everyone starts getting defensive.]
0. Update: actually, the authors are Peter C. Frumhoff & Richard Heede & Naomi Oreskes.
1. In the Olde Worlde, a “fag” is a cigarette. Not a woofter.