Beyond an ethical aversion to lying, there are hard-nosed political reasons why the forces of climate protection need to keep ringing the climate alarm bell.
- Whether or not they currently believe in climate change, people are going to experience the climate catastrophe. Disasters are coming — indeed they are already here — and that is going to drive the agenda. It is up to us to explain why the floods, hurricanes, droughts, and other catastrophes are happening and to lay out what to do.
- Even though people may initially curse the messenger and trigger despair, history shows that bad news can spur action and social change. It was the danger of nuclear fallout in America’s children’s milk that spurred the movement that led to a ban on nuclear testing and ultimately to the reduction of strategic arsenals by 80 percent. It was Rachel Carson’s revelation in Silent Spring that DDT was poisoning the songbirds that led the public to understand the ecological interaction of nature and therefore support environmental protection legislation.
- Success goes to those who change the polls, not those who follow them. Al Gore, climate scientists, and millions of climate activists reshaped public opinion on climate. A majority of Americans are still seriously concerned about climate. They — and others — need to know why they’re right. Dreadful events — interpreted truthfully — are unlikely to be ignored forever. But people will have little opportunity to connect the dots between devastating floods, catastrophic storms, and lethal heat waves on the one hand and the greenhouse gasses that cause them on the other unless they are persistently and consistently presented with the facts.
- The right wing, backed by the fossil fuel industry, have spent millions of dollars promoting this story: The climate crisis is an imaginary threat invented by liberals to justify government power over individuals and companies, destroying both liberty and jobs in the process. To remain silent about the reality of the climate change threat is to maximize the credibility and effectiveness of this argument. Conversely, spelling out the facts of climate change is the way to expose the climate denialist argument for the hoax it is.
- As the climate crisis deepens, many people are likely to pass directly from denial to despair. Fear can make people hopeless and immobilized. If they don’t hear realistic explanations of what the climate crisis is all about, combined with rational proposals for what to do about it, they are made vulnerable to fantasy-based explanations and irrational solutions. Climate change is indeed scary, but it is a threat that affects all of us, so it provides an opportunity to cooperate in new ways at every level from the local to the global.
- The right wing is talking about climate change all the time. They have the initiative in framing the debate. And people will make ignorant decisions in the face of a one-sided debate. Without forceful articulation of the truth, the proportion of the public who grasp the seriousness of climate change could fall even further.
The real “good news” is that there are climate activist groups like 350.0rg and the 1SkyCampaign that never bought into the Frank Luntz’s school of climate politics. They kept sounding the alarm about the climate crisis. These are the folks who organized a global day of action with 5,200 rallies from Mt. Everest to the Great Barrier Reef in what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action on the planet.”
Of course we should keep talking about green jobs and reduced dependence on foreign oil — in fact we need to be presenting a robust vision for how to build a more just and sustainable future. And of course we need to avoid scaring people into despair. But that doesn’t require us to be silent in the face of an existential threat. It is as true as ever that silence equals consent.