Cognitive Dissonance and Climate Calamity

Climate Activist Greta Thunberg speaking at the UN on September 24th, 2019

The meteoric success of teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg has finally managed to put climate change on the map of the media and world organizations. On September 24th, 2019, Greta spoke forcefully in front of the United Nations General Assembly, blaming politicians and adults in general for their lack of action at tackling the climate disaster that we are facing as a species.

Greta’s anger is justified, we are in the Anthropocene, our actions have disturbed the Earth’s systems enough to turn the reliable climate we had for 11,000 years into an unpredictable one, unable to support many species, including ours.

Greta’s outrage is shared by many other climate activists, including serious organizations like 350.org, The Climate Reality Project (Al Gore’s NGO) and climate advocates like Naomi Klein, Jane Goodall, David Attenborough, and George Monbiot. Some politicians proposing a Green New Deal join in the same advocacy for action. The chorus of indignation at climate inaction is a welcome thing, except when you notice that the hopeful and easy solutions they advocate betray a dogmatic approach far from the scientific rigor they claim to pursue. For these advocates, the only problems seem to be bad politicians and oil companies who refuse to stop fossil fuels and replace them with renewable energy.

It sounds so easy; it seems almost weird that nobody else before Greta was able to convince people before! How many scientists and climate advocates have written articles trying to explain the reality of the environmental mess we are in, only to see that their work never receives much attention? In the meantime, a Swedish teenager can get the whole world moving on climate, just by sitting in front of the Swedish parliament with a sign.

Greta’s sudden success with climate activism contrasts sharply with the experience of climate scientists who don’t advocate easy solutions. Only big money can give you access to the media and do the miracle of turning media outlets that never even mentioned climate change into climate worriers. Greta’s success betrays a well-oiled machine behind her that only corporations and the rich can provide.

The above photo of Greta and Jane Goodall shows in the background the proof of the corporate backing. Who would use words like the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” and “Salesforce” at a forum where climate advocacy will be discussed? A corporate world interested in profits for their investments, not in environmental concerns. Who could imagine that a solution to our climate calamity would be a Fourth Industrial Revolution, while we know that the climate disaster was started by the first one and enhanced by the subsequent ones?

Corporations aren’t philanthropic organizations that spend their money advocating for non-profit ventures. Our economic system is based on a cut-throat profit mentality, in which the only variable that matters is pleasing bankers and investors; human rights and the environment aren’t on their list of concerns. It is logical to conclude that the aims of Greta’s corporate backing are far from ecological and the solutions that they advocate are tailored to suit their interests, a continuation of the same economic system of profits at any cost.

The easy solutions advocated in unison by supposedly serious scientists and climate activists, betray a cognitive dissonance kindled by a corporate bias that directs people’s attention to unfeasible but readily market-acceptable solutions. In January 2019, about 600 environmental groups, including 350.org, Food & Water Watch, Friends of the Earth, and the Environmental Working Group submitted a letter to the U.S. House of Representatives demanding that the U.S. shifts to “100 percent renewable power generation by 2035 or earlier.” Their “definition of renewable energy must exclude all combustion-based power generation, nuclear, biomass energy, large-scale hydro, and waste-to-energy technologies.” Their letter added that this new hypothetical electric grid must have the “ability to incorporate battery storage and distributed energy systems that are democratically governed.”

These climate advocates accept that our climate and environmental woes are man-made and threatening to our species, but see no problem since they have the solution ready, as stated in the above letter. All we have to do is to magically stop all fossil fuels quite soon, replace them with renewable energy, and do fuzzy math with zero net carbon emissions, carbon sequestration, and pricing.

It certainly seems logical to stop fossil fuels since their prolonged use has brought our atmosphere to the brink. However, it is sad to notice that the old cognitive dissonance of climate deniers has transitioned into a cognitive dissonance of scientists and activists who espouse unattainable solutions. This new form conveniently ignores the available empirical evidence proving that their demands are nothing but wishful thinking influenced by what suits corporations.

To begin with, 80% of our total global energy consumption is currently provided by fossil fuels. Electricity use represents just 18% of the total energy we consume; the remaining 82% corresponds to the energy required for manufacturing, mining, processing, and transportation. We learn from the media the increasing role of modern renewable energy in providing electricity for cities around the world, yet these claims are never put in the context of the reality of our energy situation. Projecting electricity needs until 2023, renewable electricity will account for only 23% of all electricity and large hydroelectric power will still constitute the biggest percentage, followed by biomass. In this same projection, modern renewable energy like wind will provide 6%, solar 4%, and bio energy 3% of the total electricity, for a total of 13%. Renewable energy doesn’t even enter the picture for 82% of the energy that isn’t used for electricity.

The climate activist’s petition to Congress demands that no large hydroelectric and biomass energy should be included, since they have been correctly considered to be detrimental to the environment, and in the case of biomass, require too much land. The activists insist on a fairy tale transition to only modern renewable energy: wind, solar and bio energy. As we saw above, by 2023 we can project that these energies will provide about 13% of our global electricity, which leaves out of the equation about 87% of electricity and 82% of non-electricity energy we will need in 2023.

The activists also demand that the transition to complete renewable energy should be done in 10 or 15 years from now. Keeping in mind the above data, who could believe that it is possible to increase renewable energy by such huge factors in such a short time, or any time, for that matter? With what energy would we mine the lithium, rare earths and copper for our storage batteries, electronics, cars, wind turbines, and solar panels? In what extreme dire state will the Earth’s systems be after this ‘green’ race to exploit more raw materials and spew greenhouse gases for the building of ‘green’ infrastructure?

Currently, modern renewable energy provides about 11% of global electricity. It is difficult to imagine the kind of fossil-fueled effort that would be required to enlarge this infrastructure by a factor of 9 in order to fill the gap. Not to mention the big tracts of land and sea dedicated to their site of operation, the steel, and concrete, the mining and manufacturing of components, all of which add up with emissions and environmental entropy production. It is even difficult given a lot of time, but completely impossible to perform in 10 to 15 years.

The proponents of this solution claim to be “United Behind the Science”, but the numbers above betray a convenient calculated choice to ignore the data that doesn’t suit their solution, creating a very dangerous cognitive dissonance. This cognitive dissonance is becoming more dangerous because the media has suddenly transitioned from ignoring the climate crisis to misinforming people, fooling them with easy solutions that aren’t feasible.

The insistence on the easy solutions is acceptable to many people because it frames the climate problem in a manner consistent with our technological progress-oriented culture; more technology will bring the solution. The scientists who espouse the easy solutions know that by ignoring the ugly reality of climate disaster and providing fake hope, their careers get a boost. While the media and scientists bask in the glory of being for climate action, corporations are the ones who really benefit. When you see that the corporate backers of this green revolution go from Chevron and Exxon-Mobil to Wal-Mart, and from Goldman Sachs to Dow Chemical, you can tell that the feasibility of the proposed solutions doesn’t matter, what matters is their power to whitewash the corporate image, while increasing their profits.

Corporations have understood that a green image can do wonders for their reputation and profits. People are redirected to see these corporations as ‘enlightened’, but never question the reality of the proposals they spouse. Corporations know that the climate crisis is real; they know there is going to be a lack of water and resources, so they want to have early control of land and raw materials around the world to cash into the crisis. They cleverly announce their divestment from fossil fuels, while reinvesting in what appears to be ecological, like planting trees. In reality, this translates into land grabbing ventures that displace indigenous people in the more forested areas of the world. This allows corporations access and control over resources like water, timber, industrial agricultural products, and mining raw materials. If you don’t feel like going into a greening venture by yourself, there are numerous new green funds that invest in that same land and resource grabbing scheme.

The cognitive dissonance between the dire state of the planet and the lack of awareness by the dominant and most intelligent species is getting wider, putting into question a claim to the high intelligence of the species. This conundrum brings to mind the Fermi paradox, which ponders the reasons why we haven’t found any extraterrestrial life in such a big universe with abundant probabilities for the occurrence of intelligent life. Why then, has there been not even a blip of extraterrestrial contact with us?

There have been many answers to the Fermi Paradox, but the current evidence of Homo sapiens behavior in the face of the climate crisis gives high probability to the following theory: intelligent beings in this universe are unable to leave their planets and contact other peers, because their own advanced intellect leads them into a technological progress path that causes their own self-destruction. Our intellectual prowess has allowed us to develop sophisticated technology, industrialize and use the Earth’s materials and fuels to benefit our quality of life, but it is having trouble seeing the other side of the coin, the extreme damage this has caused and the dangers that it poses to our own survival.

The cognitive dissonance that allows us to disregard the negative side of our progress also extends to ignoring the reality of the alarming evidence of the Earth’s disturbance caused by our excessive fossil- fuel use. The current state of destabilization of the Arctic and Antarctic, and of atmospheric and oceanic currents, implies that even if we stopped all emissions now, the wheels of climate disaster are already turning and even accelerating. The advocates of easy solutions routinely report miraculous fixes that are never put in the context of their feasibility and collateral damage to ecosystems. They offer isolated solutions but forget that on Earth all is connected and Homo sapiens isn’t the exception.

This cognitive dissonance aided and abetted by corporate money, proves the inability of intelligent species to correctly assess a dire situation, when doing so implies revising the basis of their culture: extreme reverence for-profit and technology. The crazy race to burn fossil fuels hasn’t taken that long, 150 years at most. Their appearance on the scene allowed for the dramatic increase in technology and population that we consider normal, but it is just a blip in human history. This success has blinded us to the dark side of our technological prowess, leading us into the fulfillment of an unfortunate solution to the Fermi Paradox.

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