Four decades ago, climate deniers spread the myth that there were flaws in the scientific studies showing that humanity was changing the level of carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere.
Three decades ago, that myth became untenable, but another myth arose, one casting doubt on the finding that those gases could alter climate in a significant way.
Two decades ago, in the face of an overwhelming scientific consensus, the dominant myth shifted a little: those gases could warm the planet but their effect on climate would be minor compared to natural climate variation.
Last decade, many deniers accepted that human caused climate change would dominate natural variation, but spread the myth that the consequences to society would be acceptable.
Now, with compelling evidence from around the world of unacceptable damage from climate warming, the most spiteful myth of all has emerged: the costs of preventing future catastrophic warming will be more painful than the cost of suffering global warming.
Why is this the most pernicious myth of all? All the previous myths could be dispelled with good science, and they were. But this current myth is all about economics, engineering, ethics, and politics, not climatology. It is the last holdout of the deniers…if this myth is shattered, nothing stands between them and humanity actually taking actions to save itself.
But scientists are reluctant to speak out about matters outside their area of expertise. So who can speak truth to this final deception? And why is there a real possibility that solving global warming can create jobs and make us wealthier?
The reason is that a strategy actually does exist for preventing catastrophic climate change without burdening society with unemployment and economic ruin. From the perspective of economics and engineering the strategy is feasible. From the perspective of politics, however, it may be impossible to implement. Because of politics, the United States has squandered much valuable time, having taken only one of the major steps that comprise the plan: tightening fuel efficiency standards on U. S. automobiles. There is much more that can be done.
And then there are the large, looming ethical human rights issues. As reported in the Environmental News Network (May 22, 2015), last month, a Peruvian farmer called on German energy company RWE to pay its fair share to protect his home from imminent flooding caused by a glacial lake melted by global warming, bringing economics front and center into the global climate picture. “For a long time, my father and I have thought that those who cause climate change should help solve the problems it causes,” Saul Luciano Lliuya said. He holds that RWE, one of Europe’s largest emitters of carbon, has contributed to the greenhouse effect causing glacial melting that endangers his home, along with many others in the city of Huaraz.
Lliuya’s story illustrates the tangible human economic impacts of climate change, which can easily be forgotten amidst high-level debates over carbon emissions reductions. This is a key year for climate action by both governments and companies. In the lead-up to the much-anticipated Paris climate talks, states are preparing their pledges, and business leaders are developing their approach at meetings such as the Business & Climate Summit this week. Despite devastating impacts of climate change on the rights to health, water, food, housing, livelihood and life, human rights have been on the sidelines of these discussions.
Bringing human rights into the center of discussions would reinforce the call on states and businesses to step up their game. International experts, including former president of Ireland and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson, have recognized that a human rights focus would strengthen the Paris climate deal. The International Bar Association’s Task Force on Climate Change Justice and Human Rights also established the links between climate justice and corporate responsibility, recommending clear steps for companies.
As Unilever’s CEO Paul Polman puts it, “We can only solve the immense climate issues we face if we also address the human dimension.” However, climate change and human rights are addressed in siloes even within many of the most advanced companies. Making the link clear would allow internal human rights and environmental (or sustainability) champions to push for bolder action within their companies and deliver stronger benefits for the most vulnerable, while finally disposing of any myths still out there.
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