Climate Denial — in Hindsight

By: Bill Henderson

Against the backdrop of grim news from the Amazon and the horrific loss of life in South and South-East Asia in particular, and in another attempt to focus attention on government action instead of the Tucson debacle, the president gave a long interview on Emergency Channel One where he tried to distance himself from those on trial for willfully spreading denial.

Here are edited segments from the transcript:

President Romney:

“Everybody should remember that few of us at the time recognized climate change like we do today. I did make comments during the primaries before I won my first nomination that now look like denial but I had long before been convinced about anthropogenic climate change – I’ve released statements on climate change I made before I became president that clearly show I was not in denial about climate change per se. Or more accurately, we were all in denial, everybody I knew. We were all preoccupied with the economic crisis and none of us really knew what climate change was like we know today. In the primaries I was trying to secure the conservative wing of my party and at that time most on the right thought that climate was a socialist plot. My concern was winning the nomination and then the election so that I could get America moving again, so that I could lead America back to prosperity. Climate change was just a wedge issue, an election problem to handle so that I could become president.

Remember this is before Talbot Hutchins and his explanation of how derivatives were always going to be an insurmountable problem at the end of cheap energy. We thought we could get America going again and this was our focus, what consumed all of our energies in that election and well into my first term, and climate change was just something that had to be shoehorned into this economic concern, something to bracket off as a distraction if you will. We didn’t know, we never knew, how serious it was back then.

……I barely remember my first briefing on climate on becoming president. Looking back I think it consisted of a couple of hours in one afternoon. Yes, I have now, of course, read the briefing notes presented to me then but when you become president there is so much to do in your first hundred days, and as I’ve said the economy and what we thought we could do totally preoccupied my attention. Remember few outside of the climate science community had even heard about Leemans and Eickhout. Sure their first paper came out in 2004 but climate change was a gradual warming – maybe; there were a lot of uncertainties back then and not just because of paid denial, uncertainties in the science; maybe, because most of my team and most of America didn’t even admit that climate change was a reality – climate change even to the believers was a gradual warming with supposedly problems building for late in the century.

Politicians before me had seized upon 2050 timelines – 80% by 2050 remember – as a way of stickhandling this issue. Nobody I knew even knew about the risk of rapid climate change, of .4C per decade and what would happen. .4C and lag times of 30 or 40 years? Who knew? Who cared? We were all in denial. Looking back Leemans and Eickhout and even the global carbon budget science of Schellnhuber and Anderson-Bows weren’t in those briefing papers. They should have been and we know now how our relentless economic focus deterred staff. We were ruthless in our transition strategy when I first became president. Deep capture is now recognized as the key impediment that kept most of us in denial but back then I don’t think that anybody other than Jon Hanson and a few social scientists understood how profoundly this bias controlled everybody’s thinking.

We were fish in water. You can’t blame people for their denial. Yes, the paid deniers and those especially in the energy business that conspired to create that denial are now on trial and should be, but even they were in denial or under deep capture. Tillerson is an old friend of mine; he’s not a criminal – well, he might have participated on what is in hindsight a terrible crime, but his motivation was always doing what he thought was right, and that was running his company properly and I’m sure he saw climate as just a political issue to be handled. We had talked about it, back before I became president; climate was just a scare tactic that leftists were trying to use, part of an anti-business pseudo-religion. As I said, we were preoccupied with the economic crisis; we didn’t accept limits to growth; we didn’t realize how late in the day it was. Even the paid deniers and those others now on trial, back then, saw this more as a game where they were the good guys and not even imagining the catastrophe we’re in now.¬†

There is lots of blame to go round. We were all in denial. Even the environmentalists. The big ENGOs mis-educated the public maybe even more than we did. Environmentalists, the science community, the faith communities – we were all captured. It’s the economy, stupid. We all thought we could handle climate; we had till mid-century and there were more pressing matters. What’s the phrase: ‘How will future generations judge us for staying in an orthodoxy where real emission reduction wasn’t possible?’

We were wrong about the economy too. In hindsight the crash in 2008 was an opportunity but you can’t blame President Bush or President Obama – what really could they have done differently? Was there enough information to declare emergency government in 2008? Economically and now, of course, far more importantly, about climate? There was, but I for one had never heard of David Spratt. Hansen was, of course, right but we never took him seriously. The Arctic icecap was melting. We should have known but …

….At the end of my first term, when there was the incredible die off in Alaska and in the boreal forests everywhere, the beginning of the cascade of die off, we knew, but with the election coming there was no way of agreeing on emergency government. Hutchins prognosis was getting grudging acceptance and in that gloom, with many companies and some big economies failing, we were paralyzed – I admit it. We knew – hey we now know that it was probably a decade too late then – but we couldn’t do anything. Runaway climate change – I’d heard about it back in the 90s but none of us took it seriously and election and economic timeframes, the tyranny of the now, conspire always against needed change. Yes we can was Obama’s mantra; no we can’t is now a more reasonable appraisal but we have no choice but to try.

I’m still president. As soon as the election was out of the way we got together and declared emergency government. I don’t have to tell you how difficult a situation it is even here in America. We are trying hard to stabilize the situation. Yes, some of us, all of us to some extent are guilty of allowing this catastrophe to happen. But we have to get beyond blaming. I’m admitting my mistakes. Hopefully the next round of geo-engineering will be more successful. Right now we have to concentrate on crops this year and preventive medical action for the plagues. We have to move on past blame. I am a caretaker president trying to facilitate changes advocated by those who weren’t in denial and whose vision wasn’t blinded by deep capture. I have repeatedly admitted my mistakes. If you want to put me on trial too so be it, but right now my every effort is in trying for a path through this climate crisis and division only makes this bad situation worse.”

The president also apologized again for Tucson and answered questions about the tense situation involving those who still control nuclear weapons in the chaos in China. He appeared to be in better mental and physical shape than in the days after the failed April meetings. Key members of the emergency administration said (off record) that they hoped Romney wouldn’t be indicted; ‘What good would it do?’ and ‘Get past blame’ were common messaging along with fear that the court proceedings would just inflame dissidents again.

About the author: Bill Henderson is an activist living in Gibsons, B.C.