Most of the ‘climate realists’ I have spoken with, whether in an interview on our radio show or in casual conversation, went through some sort of journey to get the point where they accept climate reality; it often wasn’t easy. My case is no different; I did not always accept reality, but now understand why Gandhi once said “Truth is God.”
During my journey from climate sceptic/denier to climate warrior, some sources of knowledge were reliably honest, others were simply regurgitated opinions, and still others were outright wrong by design or denial. I have listed the books, movies, courses, and other actions that helped me face the truth, then accept it. I will warn you that the journey is highly personal, so may not apply to you. It also strays from strictly climate change into issues that were, for me, related. YMMV.
We are surrounded by reality, some of which we understand, most of which we seek to. Along the way, I discovered that there is no conflict between science and religion. I was trained by Al Gore to deliver the Inconvenient Truth presentation, and many of these have been in churches. The ministers, rabbis, and other religious leaders were very concerned about climate change; they understand the moral imperative to do something to prevent the deaths of billions and the trashing of Creation. Eventually, I came to see religion, science, and their relation to the universe like this:
Science attempts to explain the material world, and spirituality attempts to explain the spiritual world. Our morality is derived from our spirituality, and science cannot answer such questions. As my high school physics teacher put it to the class many years ago: “Science cannot explain, Why is a duck?” Meaning, why does anything exist?
The overlap should be philosophy and the related social ‘sciences,’ such as sociology). However, self-help gurus are closer to doing real philosophy – the meaning of life, what a good life is, and so forth – than most philosophers these days.
To continue on the journey to truth, you must accept that:
- Science discovers and explains the material realm
- Spirituality discovers and explains the spiritual realm, including morality
If you do not, you are likely to reject scientific findings that disagree with your spiritual beliefs, and thus reject truths about the physical world – the world we live in, and the only one we really know exists. For example, I find most deniers put the economy before the environment – often before anything else – because they have a belief that the economy is the most important. I once did. I thought that scientists lived in ivory towers disconnected from reality. That’s rather stupid assumption in retrospect – to believe that scientists out measuring and studying reality were disconnected from it.
I believed that it was cheaper to clean up messes after you make them rather than preventing them in the first place. That’s a very unflattering but correct way to explain laws that permit pollution. One of the great books that I read, Cradle to Cradle, opened my eyes to how industry can work without pollution – without waste of any kind. Instead of industry making things (cradle) and us using them briefly before discarding (grave), we should – must – operate in a closed-loop system, where the outputs from one industry, rather than being pollution, serve as an input to other industries. Everything is biodegradable, recyclable, or reusable.
As usual when exploring a topic, I delve into it to ensure that I’m getting an accurate view. Some people are masters at appearing right, whether they are or not. But Cradle to Cradle was borne out by Natural Capitalism. It was packed with working examples of people doing what we needed to do: greening the economy. And if done properly, it cost less and produced a better standard of living – and no pollution, of course.
I was excited about my discoveries and was talking to Jane Sterk, the leader of the Green Party of British Columbia, and she said, “Read The Ecology of Commerce. It’s better.” She was right; where Natural Capitalism is all examples of people doing it, The Ecology of Commerce explored why the green economy is so superior.
These books helped me see the possibilities – what we can do. What we will do is another question.
At some point on my journey, I passed a ‘tipping point’ and it was obvious that we had to do something about the climate. Since that point, I have tried to do whatever it takes to get as many people as quickly as possible to the same understanding. I am consciously seeking a lever big enough to move the world; climate change is that serious.
What got me started on my journey was getting a BBC online feed every morning with headlines and science. (The Guardian now has an excellent Environment section.) And every day, there were one, or two, or three stories about glaciers melting, diseases spreading, ocean acidification, and on and on. Eventually, it even got through my thick prejudices and I decided to be an honest sceptic and investigate things further.
And so I did. It didn’t take long for me to realise we do have a problem, because it just made sense to listen to people with climate change credentials. And those folks were all saying “We have a problem, a really big one. We’re just not sure about the timeframe at this point, but it’s looking more and more like climate change is happening sooner and faster than anybody expected.”
Still, my growing realisation was shaken a few times along the way. As I said earlier, some people are masters at appearing right. An article in Canada’s National Post really shook me; at the time I read it I was pretty much convinced climate change was real and dangerous, and then I read that article. It quoted reputable-sounding sources. And it was in a national newspaper; surely an editor would have fact-checked any article?
This was serious, so I started digging. The first ‘climate scientist’ quoted was Tim Ball. It didn’t take long to realise Ball does not have climate credentials. He loudly sued a former colleague who said as much, then quietly dropped the suit later. (As an aside, this later brought me to the realisation that these guys won’t sue because they can’t.) Ball has been outed as a paid liar.
But the next one was much tougher: Dr. Paul Veizer from the University of Ottawa. A real scientist at a real university. I read the paper on which he based his opposition to climate change action. The paper purported to show that temperatures on earth followed fluctuations in the sun’s output, and not carbon dioxide. I remember that this really threw me. The paper was published in a real journal. And how could you argue with the data as shown on the graph, which showed such a clear correlation?
I submitted this very question to the scientists at RealClimate, which I had come to rely upon as a source of scientific integrity. One of them pointed out that Veizer’s piece-de-resistance graph stopped at 1950. We have 50 years of data since then collected with vastly better precision, and he stops at 1950? The RealClimate scientist posted the rest of the graph, and it instantly become obvious why Veizer didn’t show it: It negated his entire paper. After 1950, CO2 goes up and so does temperature, but sun activity actually decreases. The paper was junk science, and they slip through the peer review / journal process sometimes.
After this it didn’t take long to shred the rest of the incredible sources, along with any remaining faith I had in journalistic or corporate integrity. Once you realise just how dangerous climate change is – it will end civilisation and most of humanity, quite possibly within the next 40-80 years – you see people who conceal it as betraying us all.
That sounds ‘extreme’ to most people, but that’s because most people are not looking at reality, they are seeing what they want to see. What they want to see is that the world will continue pretty much as they remember it up to now. To do so means ignoring signs that the world is changing, but eventually the change can no longer be ignored. When wishful thinking goes up against reality, wishful thinking is going to take a beating.
Once I had satisfied myself that the climate scientists were the experts on climate and that we had a serious problem, I started reading popular books on climate. The three below all came out around the same time. They are still on my bookshelf, as are almost all the resources linked here. I remember comparing them to my understanding of current climate science, and they were right on. One guy took a little heat at RealClimate, but in general all were good. These three – perhaps it was the effect of reading all three one-after-the-other – really got me rolling.
It turned out ignorance really was bliss. Once I understood the extent of the danger, I was morally obliged to do something. As are you. In fact, as I am defending myself and my family, I can morally do many things.
One of the things I did was run for the Green Party of Canada. I have misgivings about Elizabeth May, but she and her Green Party are the only ones remotely close to understanding the climate crisis. The others are all vote-grubbing dough-heads who are still playing political games. I was not and am not a partisan – I will happily support any party that is serious about the climate crisis. Unfortunately, none are.
Just as with climate change, I did some research before running for office. I chose these books because they were examples of people who had been very successful. They explained why the bad guys keep winning and the good guys are losing. Even though I am no longer involved in politics, the lessons learned apply equally well to climate change; there is a reason the planet is in far worse shape after 30+ years of struggle by environmentalists.
If you are interested in changing the world, I highly recommend these books. They are based on actual research plus real-world results. They clearly show how ‘progressives’ have failed to counter the messages put out by the opposition. I don’t want to call them ‘conservatives,’ because they are clearly not. They conserve nothing except power, profit, and prestige for a wealthy few. They are phony conservatives who have hijacked the Republican Party in the United States and the former Progressive Conservative Party of Canada.
And the same people have been enormously successful at hijacking the environmental movement, convincing most of us that the economy is foremost, ecology secondary. Once you think about this, it is so obviously false that you wonder how you ever believed such nonsense. It’s obvious: No environment = no economy.
The image above was created by the Bush administration and was part of the An Inconvenient Truth presentation. Note the ‘sciency’-looking person with the clipboard, presumably an attempt to add some credibility to the concept. However, think about it for a moment: Does it really make sense that we can have more gold and less Earth? Clearly not. Every time we degrade the Earth, we also degrade our ability to get the gold. We can burn through the natural capital of the Earth to temporarily get more gold, but once the capital is gone…so are we.
I was looking for a lever to move the world, and I realised that getting the Greens to power was a long-term process. We don’t have that kind of time.
Regardless of the party in power, shouldn’t all parties and leaders be open to the truth about threats to the nation and its people? Isn’t that part of his or her job? To quote Al Gore again, we cannot solve the climate crisis until we solve the democracy crisis, and is that ever being shown to be true now. (I also read his book The Assault on Reason.)
So my next step was to withdraw from politics to focus on real action. As we have seen in at the COP conferences in Paris, Copenhagen, Glasgow – wherever – our glorious leaders cannot be trusted to protect us. I came to realise that, even in the unlikely event that the Greens or any climate-friendly party won a majority, they would be unable to actually do much – because so many people – and businesses – would oppose action. Too many people still believe that economy > ecology.
The future is dire if we do not change, though. The An Inconvenient Truth presentation fell short on solutions. To be fair to Gore, I really don’t think anyone realised how much impact the movie An Inconvenient Truth would have, and so the solutions at the end of the film were all small, personal actions like changing lightbulbs.
We really are up-the-creek; do we have a paddle? The solutions exist, but what is stopping us from implementing them? Vested interests, mostly. And unfortunately, just because someone makes tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per year doesn’t make them wise about climate change or future threats. In fact, clawing your way to the top seems to require or produce a certain blindness.
The books below are all excellent. Collapse, by Jared Diamond, sold very well and explained “How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.” Note the word “choose.” What Diamond found is that those at the top resist new knowledge, even if the change is life-threatening. The classic example is that of the Easter Islanders, who cut down every last tree on their island to use as rollers to move the Easter Island heads – their religious symbols – to their display locations. The islanders also used the trees to make seagoing canoes, so once the trees were gone, deep-sea fishing and travel to other islands became impossible. Eventually, the civilisation collapsed and that was the end of the Easter Islanders.
This wilful blindness was repeated in case-after-case, from Greenland to the Mayans. Diamond suggests that the leaders associate themselves with the gods in order to maintain their position, and then when the gods stop smiling, civilisation collapses and quite possibly the people kill the leaders. If, for example, the leaders claim a connection to the gods in order to bring rains for the crop…and there is a long drought…then the emperors are revealed to have no clothes. If people are starving, they may well abandon the civilisation or execute the leaders.
Korten’s book suggests that humanity has lived through 5,000 years of empires of all sorts, and it is time for a change. The emperors invariably seek to enrich themselves at everyone else’s expense (and often life), and their greed and arrogance regularly causes collapse. I highly recommend the magazine he founded, available by subscription or online.
And George Monbiot is surely one of the most thorough and honest thinkers on climate change. His best-seller Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, ruthlessly looks at our current situation and what kind of greenhouse gas emission reductions are needed. There are no sacred cows; Monbiot looks at the climate crisis from the point-of-view of wanting to survive it.
There are many other great resources. I’ve read dozens of books on global warming/climate change, viewed movies, visited countless websites, and interviewed many scientists and other experts on Breakin Ice, a climate change radio show I cohosted some years ago. Here are some other books or movies well-worth checking out.
I read Six Degrees long after the previous books. The movie of the same name by National Geographic is also good, as is his website.
While James Howard Kunstler is primarily concerned with the implications of peak oil, he describes very well the kind of world we can expect as a result of climate change and declining everything. Kunstler goes through the facts in The Long Emergency, and uses A World Made by Hand – a novel – to bring the facts to life.
And finally, I would like to recommend I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, by James Hoggan and his site DeSmog. James and his team have spent years dissecting and exposing the deniers. Hoggan runs a public relations firm, and he is outraged that PR people would use their skills for such an evil task as concealing climate change.