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Global warming, more than a heated debate

It is a really important topic but has evoked some really bizarre responses and comment. I personally see the climate has changed in the north since my childhood. I do find it remarkable the number of people who deny the existence of global warming. And these are not credible scientists, but laypeople who would defer to an electrician or plumber where appropriate but commit to an ideological position that will damn the globe with views contrary to the experts.

As I said I am not a climate scientist but I had started my academic career in forestry before switching to environmental science and then to anthropology with a botany minor, before I moved to graduate level anthropology, but even then I did a mixture of development studies, media studies and so forth in trying to understand what the hell we humans are up to. So I do have an understanding of science as a process and how it is constructed. I also know “real” scientists and I know how consensus is created in the natural sciences.

The scientific consensus is really there on global warming. It is an inescapable fact that the earth is getting warmer and that humans have played a large role. All the media hype about “Climategate” and other denialist positions are premised off of a solid base of ignorance. A small group of scientists fudged some data, but this does not throw global warming into doubt as it is represented. That is media misrepresentation and spin-doctoring of a rather blatant kind. Please do not supply links to random non-peer-reviewed websites at this point as “proof”. And definitely do not supply YouTube videos as even more proof.

But of course that is what will happen. I may even get statistics to show how many people do not believe in global warming or that because many people do not believe in it then politicians better listen as if the heating globe is subject to democratic whims. I also find it really strange that my experience with denialists of global warming always seem to be rather right wing of some sort or at least rabid individualists.

Global warming needs to be treated with urgency. Global warming is happening and faster than we expect. And we are not doing enough.

Canada is one of the worst contributors on a per capita basis. While we can expect that our energy needs are greater as we need heating to survive our harsh winters, we must also acknowledge that we have the resources to make a greater contribution to the fight against man-made climate change. Instead we are currently doing the least and our boring Prime Minister Steven Harper is still dabbling with denialist theories. And Canadians can selfishly afford to do this as we will not suffer the worst of the climate changes. We have massive amounts of water and it is really *%$#ing cold so a few degrees will not damn us in the way it will the Sahel regions of Africa that will become full deserts.

I spend my life studying humans and sometimes I feel a sense of despair as we destroy the natural environment around us, deny the humanity of those around us, engage in horrific wars, brutalise our neighbours and continue to commit the same errors again and again.

And we really do treat each other badly. I was watching a documentary and in the film there were whole villages of people living off of a garbage dump in India. They were paid a pittance to recycle plastic, tin and steel. I still feel like crying when I think of it. Little children were digging through the dump looking for little bits that they could eat, sell or use. There were no schools, no health clinics and the dump was now marked as carbon capture site for methane that was to be harvested, which really means burnt off. Methane is 20 times worse than carbon dioxide so it was burnt off to convert it to carbon dioxide. Some of these dumps just burn it and sell the credits they gain from doing so instead of using the methane (let alone questioning why there is a huge garbage dump creating so much methane). Other dumps were using the energy to create electricity that was being sold locally. So it did not benefit the poor who lived off of other people’s rubbish.

But again I digress from what I was saying about global warming being a strange topic online. I am really puzzled why global warming denialists always seem so right wing. Videos abound that link ideas on global warming to global governance. As if a global will to fight a global problem will lead to global government based on socialism.

I don’t know, maybe I am spending too much online and get exposed to stupid views far too often.

As for Africa and the rest of the global south there seems to be a strong view that because of poverty in the south pollution and industrial standards do not matter. Issue of rampant population growth are downplayed as the poor have a small carbon footprint. The real problem with this view, no matter how accurate, is that to maintain this level of population requires the world to maintain the current levels of inequality.

The lack of environmental controls is also dismissed due to the level of industrialisation. It is argued that a factory in the south can be allowed to emit more pollution because of the small number, yet these plants and factories poison the people that work on them and live near them. Global strategies to combat global warming must be global in scope without compromises over past inequalities or we will continue to destroy the only earth we have.


  • Michael Francis

    I have returned to South Africa. I now teach Economic History and Development Studies at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. I am happy to be back after a couple years away. I had been teaching anthropology at a Canadian University, but Africa called and I returned.