Really? Very odd, but it does seem that way. Global warming deniers—those who claim to know more about climate science than climate scientists do—make a lot of noise about the threat of big government. If they go so far as to admit the climate is changing, they assert that the only way to deal with it would be overwhelming government control. Which, they assure us, would be worse than any ill effects from the changing climate.
The denial argument used to be “Global warming isn’t happening, and besides, humans aren’t causing it.” In the face of massive amounts of data that it is happening and we are indeed causing it, they have shifted to “Global warming is not a bad thing, and we can’t fix it.” Well, to be accurate, they haven’t necessarily shifted. Global warming deniers seem willing to use anything that works to persuade people. It’s the old bucket argument: “There is no hole in the bucket, besides, I never borrowed it, and the hole was there when you loaned it to me!”
We don’t need to lay out the arguments again. The data are abundant, the observations fit what the models predict, and the theory of climate change is well established. The tough questions that remain are, how serious is it going to get, what is our future going to be like, and how much do we have to invest to fix it, if we can fix it?
There are three means of dealing with global warming: head it off, reverse it, or adjust to the new environment. It’s too late to prevent it from happening; we are already locked in to more than the 2° C (3.6° F) increase in global temperature that has been designated a tolerable limit. We have begun to implement policies that reduce CO2 emissions, but without much more stringent policies, we are on track to see a 4° to 6° increase by 2100 (about 7° to 11° F).
We could reverse global warming. It’s called geoengineering, and it is not out of the question. In fact, we may eventually be forced into it, simply for survival. Geoengineering entails using technology to either extract greenhouse gasses from the atmosphere, or reduce the level of sunlight reaching the ground in order to counteract the warming effect of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere. The former method looks to be expensive, and leaves the problem of disposing of the CO2 extracted. The latter may be feasible, but carries risks of its own to the environment.
That leaves simply dealing with climate change as it happens, adapting to a radically different, more hostile environment. We already have signs of what this will be like: more severe floods, storms, and droughts; species going extinct; changing and unstable growing seasons. If we don’t address those things now, we will have to later, when it will be more expensive and more difficult.
Global Warming Deniers
We are running out of time. Ignoring a problem usually means facing a bigger problem later. The conspiracy theory claim is that climate science is being faked to force government spending. It is a fact that the cost of global warming will continue to rise for several years after we reduce our CO2 emissions to zero. Those costs will not start coming down for hundreds of years if we don’t apply geoengineering fixes, and there is no guarantee that those fixes will work. More cost means more government.
And there you have it. The longer we put off controlling the problem, the more control we will need. Geoengineering will require massive oversight: coordination, funding, testing, cleaning up after unexpected consequences. A rapidly changing environment, one unlike any we have lived with since agriculture began, will lead to big disruptions: millions of refugees from uninhabitable areas, governments fighting over increasingly scarce resources, the increased likelihood of pandemics. How can we manage to keep all the world’s governments lean and unobtrusive under those conditions?
Global warming deniers are encouraging bigger government in the future by pretending to hate it now.