Friday, November 01, 2013

STEM the Science Deniers – Part VII

Insurance Assurance

“Indeed, if free-market conservatives really want evidence of climate change, they ought to look towards the insurance markets that would bear much of the cost of catastrophic climate change. All three of the major insurance modeling firms and every global insurance company incorporate human-caused climate change into their projections of current and future weather patterns. The big business that has the most to lose from climate change, and that would reap the biggest rewards if it were somehow solved tomorrow, has universally decided that climate change is a real problem.”

The above is a quote from an article that appeared in, of all places, the neoconservative magazine, The Weekly Standard, founded and edited by the very staunch, uber-Conservative, William Kristol. The article goes on to emphasize, “In fact, the Geneva Association, (an insurance research organization), recently issued a report titled ‘Warming of the Oceans and Implication for the Reinsurance Industry, suggests that climate change is making certain regions — including Florida and the United Kingdom — uninsurable.’”

A staff scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory wrote, “There is growing acknowledgement among insurers that the impact of climate change on future insured losses is likely to be profound. The chairman of Lloyd’s of London has said that climate change is the number one issue for that massive insurance group. And Europe’s largest insurer, Allianz, stated that climate change stands to increase insured losses from extreme events in an average year by 37 percent within just a decade. Losses in a bad year could top US $1 trillion. Insurers increasingly recognize that it is the lack of action to combat climate change that is the true threat to their industry and the broader economy.”

The article continues, “Allstate, for instance, has said that climate change has prompted it to cancel or not renew policies in many Gulf Coast states, with recent hurricanes wiping out all of the profits it had garnered in 75 years of selling homeowners insurance. The company has cut the number of homeowners’ policies in Florida from 1.2 million to 400,000 with an ultimate target of no more than 100,000. The company has curtailed activity in nearly a dozen other states.” Enough said—Science Deniers, what say you?

The Pentagon Prepares

Over the last 40 years, Gallup has conducted an annual poll to determine the public’s confidence of various institutions such as Congress, Police, Schools, Banks, the Presidency, the Church, the Military, and several more. The question posed by Gallup is “How much confidence do you have in each institution listed—a lot, a great deal, some, or very little? The answers project an historical trend that can be easily interpreted.

Using a combination of the categories “a lot, plus a great deal,” of confidence, the lowest ranking institution in the June 2013 survey, is—really a no-brainer—Congress, receiving a score of 10%, ranking the legislative body last on a list of 16 societal institutions for the fourth straight year. This is the lowest level of confidence Gallup has found, not only for Congress, but also for any institution on record over the 40-year period of the poll. (In the recent “debt default crisis” that number dropped to an inconceivable 5%. That shouldn’t come as a surprise.) It is therefore logical to assume that public confidence in the ability of Congress to do something—anything—right about climate change would be remote. So the fact that they are doing nothing at all may be a blessing—although it is also a testament to its failure.

The institution that received the highest score, and has done so in almost every year in the 40-year history of the poll is the Military (essentially the Pentagon). So. Here’s a hypothetical: what if the military is taking very significant, robust actions, establishing plans to combat what it (and the CIA, and the Homeland Security group) considers to be serious threats to the security of the country—those threats that result from the future consequences of climate change?

Why would the Pentagon be so concerned? A website titled, “Nebraskans For Peace” provides excellent information on this subject, calling attention to the fact that “As far back as 2003, during the first term of the Bush/Cheney Administration, a specially commissioned Pentagon report titled ‘An Abrupt Climate Change Scenario and the Implications for United States Security’ warned that rapid climate change could ‘potentially destabilize the geo-political environment, leading to skirmishes, battles and even war’ over scarce food, water and energy supplies. The report went on to state, “The threat of climate change, needed to be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern.” Naturally, the administration did nothing about it, in fact, debunked the concept of climate change.

In 2007, the Defense Department’s “Center for Naval Analyses” released a landmark report, “National Security and the Threat of Climate Change.” At that time, there was a Military Advisory Board (MAB) of retired three-star and four-star admirals and generals who headed up the Center’s study. That report unanimously accepted the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, concluding that “the evidence is sufficiently compelling and the con-sequences sufficiently grave” to warrant the military’s urgent attention.

The MAB asserted that climate change acts as a “threat multiplier for instability in some of the most volatile regions of the world.” In response, the MAB proposed a number of recommendations, including that, “The national security consequences of climate change should be fully integrated into national security and national defense strategies; The United States should commit to a stronger national and international role to help stabilize climate changes at levels that will avoid significant disruption to global security and stability; The United States should commit to global partnerships that help less-developed nations build the capacity and resiliency to better manage climate impacts.”

Every four years, the Department of Defense issues a congressionally mandated “Quadrennial Defense Review” (QDR) framing the Pentagon’s strategic choices and establishing priorities to determine appropriate resource investments. In February 2010, for the first time, climate change was formally designated in the QDR as a “National Security Threat.”

The QDR also noted that climate related changes, from increases in heavy downpours and rises in temperature and sea levels to rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost and earlier snowmelt “are already being observed in every region of the world, including the United States and its coastal waters.” It warns that “climate change will contribute to food and water scarcity, will increase the spread of disease, and may spur or exacerbate mass migration. While climate change alone does not cause conflict, it may act as an accelerant of instability and conflict …”

It would certainly appear that the above provides overwhelming evidence that the “military” strongly and decisively accepts the reality of climate change, as well as human involvement. However, that leads me to what I believe is a real enigma. The Gallup Poll, cited above, conspicuously displays the public’s faith in the military, however there is another institution that is even more fervent in its veneration for the military—to the point of zealotry. For decades, the institution that has become most closely associated with the military, and with national defense is the Republican Party. (Think of its current drive to reinstate the sequestered funds to the Pentagon budget.)

Here is what is so mysterious and confounding: Considering its zeal for the military, why has discrediting, disparaging, denigrating and denouncing the international scientific consensus on climate change become a veritable article of faith for Republican politicians, at the same time that the military has not only emphatically accepted climate change, but taken aggressive action to mitigate its consequences?

Exactly two years ago the Pentagon’s Defense Science Board released its own study, “Trends and Implications of Climate Change for National and International Security.” The study asserts, “Climate impacts are observable, measurable, real, and having near and long-term consequences. Failure to anticipate and mitigate these changes increases the threat of more failed states with the instabilities and potential for conflict inherent in such failures.”

If the science deniers in Congress and others, those who are so enamored with the military (holding it in far more esteem that any other major institution), would read only this last study emanating from the Pentagon, the current antipathy to climate change, and or global warming might dissipate—or maybe not.

One More Thing

Since this is the last article in the Science Denier series of articles (the longest I have ever written for Viewpointe) there is one more important issue that should be addressed. In examining Climate Change deniers, and Evolution deniers, they are often one and the same. When queried, both have a visceral response that rejects central principles of science on ideological, religious, and political grounds. Both also reject well established, proven scientific techniques that are based on empirical evidence, as well as basic methodologies accepted by scientists across the disciplines.

Deniers who do so predicated on religious beliefs are the most difficult to convince. John Shimkus, Republican of Illinois, is a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives. He has argued that climate change is a myth because God told Noah he would never again destroy Earth by flood. Another example is Young Earth creationism promoting the religious belief that the Universe, Earth and all life on Earth were created by direct acts of the Abrahamic God during a relatively short period, sometime between 5,700 and 10,000 years ago.

Each year since 1982, when Gallup asked for their views on the origin and development of human beings, between 40% and 50% of adults in the United States say they hold the creationist view that “God created humans in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years.” A 2011 Gallup survey reports that 30% of U.S. adults say they interpret the Bible literally. What does that tell you about the intelligence of the average voter? If the above wasn’t so sad, it might be funny.

Speak about funny, Voltaire wrote “God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.” If Voltaire is right, here is a good joke for God’s repertoire, one I used about ten years ago in this column.

John was having a tough time, what with the bad job market and the debts he had accumulated, so he walked into a church and prayed to God saying, “God, I’ve been good most of my life, but now I’m broke, and I need to win the lottery, please help me out.” A week went by and he hadn’t won, so he walked into a synagogue making the same prayer. Another week went by with no result, so he went into a mosque, again beseeching God to help him win. This time, as he started to walk outside, he heard a quiet voice in his ear saying, “John, you’ve been a good man and I would like to help you, but you’re making it difficult for me to do so, you have to give me some help.” John was stunned, but he quickly recovered, saying, “God, I’ll help, I’ll help, just tell me what to do.” Then, in a booming, voice, God roared, “Buy a damned ticket!” (How do we convince the Science Deniers to buy a ticket into the Science community?)

As a comedian God must have a sense of humor. With the prevalence of Science Deniers within the general population, as well as in Congress, God must be looking down from heaven laughing at the foibles of mankind. Some day, instead of being afraid to laugh at God’s jokes, perhaps we will learn to laugh with HER.