OPINION | LOWELL GRISHAM: “Prophets” of climate change were thwarted by profits of climate denial

‘Prophets’ of climate change warned the world

Hot enough for ya?

Triple-digit days. Brown grass. Stressed trees. Parched plants and animals. I feel for people who work outdoors. It's brutal. Electric bills are through the roof.

Someone forwarded a tweet: "Fires in England now. And France, and Spain, and Portugal. Flooding in New York and India and Bangladesh. Waves coming over sea walls in Hawaii and drought across the Southwest. The climate emergency is upon us."

I think we heard some warnings about this.

A good portion of the Bible concerns "prophets." Prophets were people who claimed to speak in the name of God in order to interpret the meaning of events or to motivate people to specific actions. "Thus says the Lord," the prophet announced. "If you do not do justice and righteousness, here are the consequences. Judgment! Catastrophe!" Or the prophecy might be cast positively. "If you do right, these blessings will follow!"

Prophets also interpreted the meaning of current events. They might explain famine or disaster as God's judgment. "Because of your wrong behavior, this suffering has come upon you."

The message always included an intended change of behavior. Turn from your wickedness and live.

Prophets were controversial. They often delivered bad news. They frequently challenged the powerful.

The historic prophets usually earned their reputation by being right. There were other prophets claiming to speak in the name of God, but they are lost to history and forgotten, mainly because they were wrong. They were the false prophets.

Scientists often perform the function of prophets in our age.

Scientists began warning us about impending climate change in the late 1950s and early 1960s. My usually stoic freshman biology teacher in college nearly broke into tears when she said her generation had failed, and my generation would be Earth's last chance. That was spring 1970. In a prophet's voice she told us that human behavior is changing Earth's climate, and we only have a short window to act, or else. Judgment! Catastrophe!

So, why didn't we listen?

It was the false prophets. Disinformation. By the 1980s it was known that greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is the primary driver of climate change. The coal, utilities, oil and gas industries felt threatened. So they financed the false prophets.

Libertarians Charles and David Koch gave $145 million to climate-change-denying think tanks and advocacy groups. Exxon invested $37 million to spread misinformation. Groups like the Global Climate Coalition hand picked scientists and pseudo-scientists to give megaphones to the few researchers willing to be paid to deny the growing scientific consensus connecting climate change and human activity.

Today the data on climate change is so persuasive that the only arguments are whether 91% or 97% or 100% of climate researchers agree that the evidence is sound and convincing. The Earth is undergoing dramatic, dangerous changes as a result of human activity.

Take a little walk around your neighborhood, and you will feel it and see it.

Here's what bothers me. This is not a liberal/conservative thing. It's a science thing. It's about facts and data and evidence-based truth.

Scientists follow the data from carefully structured research procedures. They are as competitive as football teams when reviewing protocols, data and conclusions. The gold standard is peer-reviewed research published in independent journals. Their mission is to to seek evidence-based truth.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to tell the difference between legitimate objective research and self-interested misinformation disguised as fact. Social media has made that discernment harder.

For decades the coal, utilities, oil and gas interest have invested not only in false science but they've also invested in politicians, social-media and news outlets, successfully stalling public policies and investments to counteract climate change.

You may remember the car mechanic advertising oil filters. "You can pay me now, or you can pay me later." We didn't pay for the fossil-fuel filters in the 1980s and 1990s, and we are paying for it now.

I don't understand why so many people who describe themselves as conservative resisted efforts to protect the climate and environment. A conservative's first loyalty is to conserve whatever is good, to protect whatever has value. Environmental protection is a conservative value.

The Biblical prophets challenged the people to choose between the real prophets and the false prophets. Following the real prophet was usually more costly.

We can still choose. We can learn from our failure. We can develop more trust toward traditional evidence-based science -- the good prophets. We can show more skepticism toward self-interested disinformation of the false prophets.

Choose well, and live.

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