Lie Now, Pay Later

30 08 2020

Let’s imagine I’d like to sell a lightly used car. It has low mileage, but I bought it used and so it has no meaningful warranty. It’s a desirable model – let’s say a four-door Lincoln sedan of recent vintage. It looks great, without a scratch. I paid a tidy sum for this baby, and I’d like to avoid taking a big loss on the sale. But there is a problem, you see. There are hints of transmission trouble, that show up only in certain driving conditions, at certain speeds, and only to a very discerning driver.  This, of course, is a risk of a very costly repair in the future. But for now, things mostly seem normal, and it’s a great-looking machine. Want a test drive?

This fictional scenario is analogous to a real-life, worsening dilemma affecting much larger sums of money. That is, the value of real estate threatened by the effects of human-caused climate change. Let’s say that Lincoln of mine is now my multi-million-dollar dream house on my native Long Island. It has six bedrooms, lovely grounds and an unobstructed view of the ocean. I’ve owned it for 35 years, and though it was high-end when I had it built, I paid nowhere near multiple millions to move in. Now, I want to sell it, but some “helpful activists” want to share the house’s significant flood risk, explicitly, with prospective buyers. I’m not too happy about that. Such truthfulness could sweep away quite a chunk of that multi-million buyout I long for. This is just the situation described in this short NPR story that I heard this week. If you give it a three-minute listen, you will hear that the Realtor.com web site has begun including flood risk information for the 110 million homes it lists for sale. The Realtor site is basing its disclosures largely on the work of a non-profit organization that has collected flood information and shared it on its own site – Floodfactor.com.

For now, at least, Realtor.com is an outlier in the industry. Reporters for that NPR story interviewed sources at several other real-estate info companies, including Zillow and Redfin. Their answers were telling, even amusing. Zillow reported internal discussions on the question, but no action. Redfin warned that including such science-based data “might crowd out other information about properties.” Really. Although this risk most obviously affects coast-hugging properties, it gets more generalized all the time, as inland ‘hundred-year’ and ‘thousand-year’ floods from extreme rains and consequent rising rivers occur ever more frequently.

Here is what I find most interesting about the real estate and climate change connection. The information about flood risk, while changing rapidly as we warp the climate, has been available for a long time. And, of course, it’s not just coastal and inland flooding risks – California is experiencing, right now, some of the worst wildfires in history. The conditions bringing about those fires are directly attributable to climate change. And the unfortunate souls in the path of recent Hurricane Laura have experienced the wrath of a category 4 storm supercharged, super-fast, by soaring Gulf of Mexico water temperatures.

All of this mayhem, and so much more, comes down to one cause – our continuing addiction to fossil fuels. And while Realtor.com is now sharing flood risk information as some sort of new revelation to potential buyers, information on the risks of greenhouse gas emissions has been available since -are you ready? – 1896. That’s when Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius identified the link between warming temperatures and adding fossil-fuel combustion byproducts to the atmosphere.  And yet, should you choose, you can still find what I call ‘denial-liar’ sites – many funded by the oil industry itself – “teaching the controversy.” Here are two of my favorites – the Heartland institute and Climate Depot.

The biggest demon in the war on the planet is, arguably, ExxonMobil. That’s because, back in the 1970s, they funded world-class research on climate science. That is, asking the question: “What will happen if we continue burning fossil fuels for energy, industry and transportation?” They got the results – in short, the climate crisis we are now witnessing on a daily basis – but suppressed the science. They instead launched a massive campaign of lies and propaganda that continues to this day, and has contributed mightily to failure in the United States and around the world to make meaningful progress on solving this existential crisis. If you follow that Guardian link immediately above, you will read about a trial where ExxonMobil was sued for misleading investors. Big Oil won. Surprised? Me neither.

To understand why the oil giant has been able to virtually get away with “geocide” for all these decades, you have to dig just a little deeper. And you find the reason – the incredible and ever-growing power of multinational corporations to influence policy, and avoid consequences for their actions. And there arguably are no more powerful multinationals than the big oil companies. If you wish to dig even deeper, here is a detailed account of the travails of attorney John Danzinger. This former journalist has waged a long battle to hold another oil giant – the conglomerate of Chevron and Texaco – accountable for wanton destruction in Ecuador’s Amazon region. It is truly a chronicle of what the article’s author – Chris Hedges – calls “corporate tyranny.” Chevron has done a very effective job of tying Danzinger and his clients up in knots. Why? Because they can.

Remember, the climate crisis, caused by burning fossil fuels, is essentially built on a giant lie. That is, that we humans can pretty much do what we want with the stored energy of millions of years, that we can continue to add more than 100 million tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every single day, without having to pay for our ecological sins. Of course, we are paying the mounting bills, and those least responsible and least able to pay – like those indigenous Amazon residents whose lives have been upended by Chevron – suffer the most.

The idea of lies and bills coming due sent me searching today’s headlines for other examples. They abound. India is the latest nation facing rapidly mounting COVID-19 case numbers, but the United States continues to lead all other countries both in number of cases and also fatalities. As of right now, the US has logged 6 million of the world’s 25 million. That computes to 24%. 183,000 Americans have died out of the world’s 844,000 – 21.7%. And mind you, this is at the end of meteorological summer, which was supposed to be a lull of sorts in the battle against the virus.

Here’s a sample of current and recent falsehoods, manipulations and sales pitches:

The problem with all this lying and manipulation is that the bill will come due ultimately. And the liars and manipulators will not be the ones who have to pay, at least in the short term. 

The biggest lie was foisted last week. That’s when speaker after speaker at the Trump coronation, er, uh, Republican National Convention, tried to sell us on the idea that Trump will ‘make America great again; again.’ (Thanks to Pious Mike Pence for that brilliantly inventive phrase.) Many of the presenters – some of whom were not even members of the Trump family – tried to sell us on the idea that Trump’s critics have him all wrong. That is, what we see is not really what we get. The hateful tweets, the ‘nasty’ misogyny, the overt and dog-whistled racist taunts, the incompetence and self-dealing, all that ‘greatness,’ is not the real Trump. No, the real Trump is a caring, empathetic, genuine nice guy who means well. Just ask sex abuse enabler and Trump defender Congressman “Jacketless” Jim Jordan. In other words, if Jordan is to be believed, a monster who shows five minutes of concern is no longer a monster. Uh-huh.

I believe all the dishonesty, obfuscation and outright lying in these transactions, be they automotive, real estate, environmental stewardship, public health or selecting top leaders, come from our adhering to the old adage, ‘caveat emptor.’ That is, buyer beware (lest thou be screwed by a sly, self-dealing snake-oil hawker).

What we need is a lot more ‘caveat venditor.’ That is, seller beware (lest thou be held accountable by those thou seeketh to screw).

Trump is easily the most dishonest president ever to disgrace the White House. We need to hold him accountable – with a reward. That would be, an endless vacation doing what he does best. That is, golfing, scarfing down Big Macs and tweeting simplistic solutions to complex problems. He has already shown how futile his ‘solutions’ are, and the damage they cause. November is the time to return him to his own echo chamber, where he has all the best words and ideas, where the craver of audiences has the most appreciative one of all – the guy in the gold-framed mirror – and where he knows more than any expert in any field.

Michael Murphy
Saint Paul MN


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One response

6 09 2020
nordstuff

Mike, thanks again, for your blog posts!

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