The most demanding issue of our time is environmental protection. Over hundreds of years of exploding populations, consumption-driven economies, and carving up the planet for resources, the human species has completely reshaped its humble home world. For decades now, scientists have warned that this behavior, unchecked, could have an ominous consequence. Science has given humanity a simple ultimatum: change our behavior or face nature’s wrath.
This has led to a deep schism. Those who are most heavily invested in the current system fight scientists’ claims aggressively. Corporate giants have spent untold millions on disinformation campaigns and disseminated their propaganda through far-right outlets. They have successfully transformed a scientific and moral issue into a political one.
But for the sake of argument, suppose the denialists are right. If we turn our resources to the fight against climate change and it turns out to be a hoax, what will we have done?
First things first: Climate change is not a hoax. The basic science behind the theory is indisputable and fairly simple. Greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are emitted as byproducts of human transportation, manufacturing and farming. These allow ultraviolet rays from the sun to pass through earth’s atmosphere, but trap infrared heat reflected off the earth’s surface. Human beings have dramatically increased the quantity of those greenhouse gases, and the planet is heating: we now regularly break the record for hottest year.
Regardless, the steps we might take to combat climate change are positive for humanity, independent of the planet’s temperature. Sustainability and ecology will guide us toward wiser decisions overall. It will move us away from toxic byproducts of industry that pollute our air, land, and water. Millions of jobs in green infrastructure can be created. And our reckless, oil-driven imperialist foreign policy will cease – no one has ever gone to war over sunlight or wind.
The main argument against taking action on climate change is that it will cost America too many jobs. This is the reason President Trump gave for pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord. But his withdrawal speech relied on figures from a pro-fossil fuel think tank and was widely criticized as deceptive, even by Trump’s usual standards. In fact, phasing out oil is the right thing to do economically.
Green infrastructure in the United States is already booming. Renewable energy is creating jobs 12 times faster than the rest of the economy and employs some 4.5 million Americans. There are now more jobs in green energy than in fossil fuels. Meanwhile coal, which has become a symbol of Trump’s populist Midwest rise, employs only around 75,000 Americans in some of the dirtiest and most dangerous jobs available – jobs that should be happily traded in for green alternatives.
Aside from the economic boons, there is the issue of sustainability. Estimates on how much oil is left vary, but it’ll run out a long time before sunlight does. Not only that, oil is a carcinogenic, deadly pollutant for which there is still no reliable transportation method. Tanker spills devastate huge areas of water and pipelines have dumped more than 9 million gallons of crude oil on US soil since 2010. Not only is energy from solar and wind clean, it could one day be free.
Our hang-up on oil has also caused the United States to pursue some of the most unsavory ties in all international relations. Saudi Arabia is the an oppressive, ultra-conservative Islamic fundamentalist state that provides ISIS a model for its dreamed-of caliphate, yet we share a “special relationship” with them over oil. Trump’s alliance with Vladimir Putin likewise appears to be triangulated around the matter of oil.
As Trump withdrew from the Paris Climate Accord, he alienated the US from our European allies on the single biggest global issue. He’s instead strengthening US, Saudi Arabian, and Russian relations – the world’s three biggest oil producers by far. A new international order is forming with despotic petro states on one side and green states on the other, and Trump wants the US on the wrong side of history.
Big Oil’s power can hardly be overstated. Politically, the industry can buy all the representation it needs – not a single Republican presidential candidate made climate change a priority and most denied its existence outright. Oil companies receive billions of dollars annually from the government in the form of tax breaks and subsidies. Its profits depend on earth’s continued destruction. And it knows it’s lying: In-house scientists at places like ExxonMobil have, for decades, internally recognized the effects of climate change while externally publishing reports to downplay it.
In the classic comic series Watchmen, the villain Ozymandias kills millions of New Yorkers as part of an elaborate hoax to convince the people of earth that they are under extraterrestrial invasion. His ploy seemingly works to unite earth against this common threat, hoax though it may be. Dark as it may be, we should take the lesson to heart. Even if climate change is a hoax – which, again, it isn’t – we’d still gain from fighting it a better, cleaner, and more cooperative world.