Do You Like Your Planet Regular, or Extra Crispy?

Fifteen years ago today, just weeks after George W. Bush invaded Iraq in a war for oil, Princeton University Professor Michael Oppenheimer wrote a column for the New York Times in which he observed:

[T]he global warming issue, and particularly America’s handling of it, has become a central geopolitical concern.

Speaking at a delicate moment in the Iraq crisis, [then-British Prime Minister Tony] Blair contrasted the current situation with “issues that affect us over time. They are just as devastating in their potential impact” as weapons of mass destruction and terrorism, “some more so, but they require reflection and strategy geared to the long-term, often straddling many years and many governments. Within this category are the issues of global poverty, relations between the Muslim world and the West, environmental degradation, most particularly climate change.”…

Blair’s statement that “the world is in danger of polarizing around two different agendas” serves as a warning to Bush that his emphasis on near-term security concerns attends to just half the equation of human well-being. Global stability depends equally on the United States stepping up to the plate on global warming and other long-term issues.

For environmentalists who have pressed the foreign policy establishment for 20 years to take their concerns seriously, this welcome juxtaposition of global environment and international security brings along a touch of irony. In 1989, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher of Britain underwent a conversion experience on the environment, and called for an international treaty on climate change.

In her 1989 speech to the United Nations General Assembly, Thatcher declared:

It is of course true that none of us would be here but for the greenhouse effect. It gives us the moist atmosphere which sustains life on earth. We need the greenhouse effect—but only in the right proportions.

More than anything, our environment is threatened by the sheer numbers of people and the plants and animals which go with them. When I was born the world’s population was some 2 billion people. My grandson will grow up in a world of more than 6 billion people.

Put in its bluntest form: the main threat to our environment is more and more people, and their activities: the land they cultivate ever more intensively; the forests they cut down and burn; the mountain sides they lay bare; the fossil fuels they burn; the rivers and the seas they pollute.

The result is that change in future is likely to be more fundamental and more widespread than anything we have known hitherto. Change to the sea around us, change to the atmosphere above, leading in turn to change in the world’s climate, which could alter the way we live in the most fundamental way of all.

That prospect is a new factor in human affairs. It is comparable in its implications to the discovery of how to split the atom. Indeed, its results could be even more far-reaching.

There are millions of right-wingers in this country who literally have no idea that Thatcher, long praised by the right as an icon of conservative leadership, agreed with Al Gore on the threat of human-caused climate change. They have no idea that Exxon and Shell internally recognized that their product was perilous to the planet. They have no idea that corrupt Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt’s views on climate change have no scientific basis.

The sad thing is, those who promulgated disinformation about climate change to protect the interests of the fossil fuel industry will survive the storms that come; their financial power will allow them to avoid the worst chaos from a warming climate. Less well-off folks who bought into such right-wing disinformation, on the other hand, will likely be the first ones to suffer. If climate change is not the starkest example of wealthy right-wingers screwing over right-wingers on the lower end of the economic scale, what is?

D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.