Tweets by the science writer Carl Zimmer led me to a AP-GfK poll (a PDF file) that was conducted last month and shows, among other things, that only 33% of US citizens are very confident that the rise in global temperature is anthropogenic (caused by humans). This represents not just a victory for petroleum corporations but also the very rich. And not just because many of them have shares in these corporations but also because addressing climate change with any seriousness would probably provide the kind of shock to the economy that would destabilize their current position in society.
As the French economist Tomas Piketty convincingly argues in his new book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the only thing that hit the rich hard and resulted in a massive transference of wealth from the top to the middle of capitalist societies was the two major wars in the first half of the 20th century. If these shocks are removed from history (as well as the welfare institutions and progressive tax systems they engendered), then the middle class as we understand it today (claiming about 25 to 30 percent of all wealth) wouldn't exist. Since the 70s, however, the rich have been successfully restoring the levels of wealth and power they had before these wars (80 to 90 percent), and the true horror of our times is the seeming absence of anything, politically speaking, that can arrest this process. Addressing climate change, however, could really shake things up. Why? Because of the massive amount of government spending and social reorganization that's required to meet this crisis.
In a post I made last year about James K. Galbraith's book The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too, I shared a passage that concerned precisely this kind of action:
What are the elements of [a plan that deals with climate change]? A rough template can be drawn from the only major example of successful planning in the history of the United States: the economic mobilization for World War II. That mobilization doubled GDP within four years, reduced unemployment to zero, placed an army of 11 million men and women in the field, controlled inflation, and established both the technical and financial foundation for a generation of stable prosperity and social progress—albeit founded on ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. Unraveling fifty years of burning [fossil fuels] will require economic transformation on a similar scale...
Sadly, an economic and social mobilization of that scale is not going to happen with only 33% of Americans reading the writing on the wall.