It’s Turn for Google’s Climate Ethics

Amita Singh

The digital ads promoting the triviality of claims made by climate change protagonists would now be pulled out from any public viewing.

Google is finally cracking down on ads falsifying the science of climate change to spread misinformation and to earn money. This is the second strong step taken against fake content by Google, the first taken a few days ago banning vaccine misinformation from YouTube. Climate deniers in a war front against climate protectors used social and digital media to counter claims on CFC-led global warming. These digital ads promoting the triviality of claims made by climate change protagonists would now be pulled out from any public viewing.

Climate deniers have always tried to be the best persuaders both online and offline. In 2010 I got a surprise parcel from USA at my office. It was a heavyweight book both in content and in pages which exceeded a thousand. It came from a Centre for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change which matched my prestigious university located Centre for the Study of Law and Governance in its title at least. The book titled, ‘Climate Change Reconsidered’.

During those years when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had just published its 4th Assessment Report, this parcel contained a book that countered all claims of IPCC on anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations and its impact on health of flora, fauna, food and future of planet earth. The time also matched with a new line of thinking emerging within the discipline of public administration as climate claims would find an immediate resonance with the way decisions would be taken, a core area of public administration. I was also trying to revisit and explore ecosystem approach given by a famous scholar of Public Administration in the 1960s Fred W. Riggs, in the context of climate challenges.

The discipline was witnessing a full war between those who refused to buzz from the three seductress syndrome globalization, liberalization and privatization and those who wished to take back the discipline downwards from land to the legislature at the top, in a more discerning manner. My work at a Riggs Conclave of Washington DC found support from an unexpected quarter of senior scholars like David Rosenbloom and Jamil E. Jreisat who felt the that disciplinary restructuring was a necessity.

The parcelled book probably wished to persuade people like us into believing authentically on the irrelevance and frivolity of all the noise around climate change as it starts with a tricky question, ‘before facing major surgery, wouldn’t you want a second opinion?’

This huge research bundle book was produced by a group of serious scientists mostly from USA and UK under the banner of ‘Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC)’.It emphasized a statement and a discourse, the mischief of which had deep philosophical and political echoes, in calling IPCC ‘as an activist organization right from the beginning…’ and a louder tone that IPCC’s agenda was to justify control of the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide as by the states and by virtue of which it focused solely on human induced climate change in complete defiance of natural changes which make earth warmer.

This had such a powerful impact upon minds of the young in universities that they saw the state as a culprit in talking about climate change simply to control money with the multinational corporates notwithstanding states-corporate nexus likely to define the predatory state. The not so benign state wore several masks to act benign at climate protection forums and back home become a rapid and rabid growth engine polluting air, water, and seas. The fuzzy logic of such heavy research-based publications excused governments in investing into transformatory alternatives to make growth climate-friendly.

The environmental sciences centres of big universities ended up analyzing soil, rain drops,glaciers, forests and groundwater rather than taking few steps further into a mindful transdisciplinary research for times to come. Climate change in research institutions became a big mafia to extract national and international grants with little standardization of its link to futuristic alternatives to existing growth.

IITs were researching on bio-friendly chulhas, fire proof leaf carpets, electric engines, water harvesting and solar rooftops but this was never scaled up for years of wastage. It suffered from the same problem that sociological research suffered during the 1970s, when a plethora of micro research accumulated without its powerful connect to macro institutions.

Everything at the grass root was important but only very few converged meaningfully at Panchayats to study institutions of real development and accountability. The failure of sociological research into Panchayati Raj institutions continues to haunt Indian Constitution’s third layer of governance as district administration remains the ‘Mai Baap’(parent).

The Sarpanchas (head of rural governance) and the Ward Councilors (urban governance) rally around the District Commissioners for release of funds, right to be heard, and for programme implementation. Lately, even Mayor’s name is being sent from the dominant party office. So climate change did not receive appropriate leadership to be able to achieve pro-climate alternatives to technology, strategies, designs or processes for production and growth.

Ideologically, anti-climate propaganda interestingly matched belief agendas of both the left and the right groups initially. The left groups wished to steer clear of the state trying to hijack the growth agenda and labour unions. The right groups encashed on the fears of the left. This philosophical battle came out in the open when our proposal for setting up a disaster research centre at JNU was scuttled by a powerful left-dominated association as they feared it would bring the Ministry of Home Affairs, under which disaster management falls, too close to university decision making bodies.

It was ironical that the left played in the hands of the right and battled one of their own commandment of working close to communities. The Disaster Centre could finally come up with the support of a Minister who was incidentally a climate protagonist but the right groups immediately took over its control and the left had by then lost credibility to participate in its decision making. If propagandist forces had not created fuzzy logic, panchayats would have become an infantry to fight against climate change and research could have been on addressing the impacts of climate change on life.

The heavy publication posted to my desk also generated a bad imagery for NGOs as a suspicious money-hungry lot rather than community based organizations (CBOs)with indispensable power to transform growth and development in a sustainable and cost-effective manner. As long as governments fail to see NGOs and CBOs as partners in growth, climate change will remain unattained despite solar and anti-plastics policies and laws.

The market of consumerism, materialism and commercialism is limitless but nature has limits as Aldo Leopold a famous conservationist wrote, ‘nature dries up under greed’. The cost of climate change is borne by those who do not benefit from the activities which cause degradation and are clustered at the grassroot of production industry. Rachael Carson who stirred America’s chemical industry with her book ‘Silent Springs’of 1962, a period of maddening chemical-based industrial growth, laments, ‘no witchcraft, no enemy action had silenced the rebirth of new life in this stricken world.

The people had done it themselves’ is one of the strongest rebuff to propagandist climate deniers who need more land and ocean to spill and more fur and food from slaughterhouses. Addressing concerns of climate change is one of the surest directions to achieve inter and intra-generational equity and justice. Our world is once again standing before what Meadows and Meadows in 1972 called a ‘Red Signal’ when the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) led to a severe increase in the price of oil. This led the Club of Rome (later FAO) to conduct a study on the ‘predicament of mankind’ called, ‘Limits to Growth’.

This study brought out that man’s inability to limit five factors ie; population, agricultural production, natural resources, industrial production and pollution contribute to retarding sustainable growth.The report came up with provocative demands for alternatives but till today how many environmental scientists actually take their findings beyond analysis and discovery of negative feedback loops into a real-world of whistle-blowing in policy formulations. A social scientist who had been doing this task for them is today’s greatest suspect on the government agenda.

Google’s clampdown should have occurred long back. The global media advertising industry is earning a worldwide revenue of more than USD 650 billion as per Statista 2021. While North America continues to be the largest advertising market worldwide it is interesting to note that the corporates which are spending the highest on digital media like Proctor and Gamble, Johnson and Johnson, Monsanto, and Bristol Meyers are those very same which had opposed Conventions on Climate Change and on Biological Diversity at the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) Rio Meet of 1992.

This has also retarded any advance by states on the Global Environment Facility (GEF) created in 1991 to address primarily global warming, destruction of biological diversity, pollution of international waters, and depletion of the Ozone layer.

Governments that have been ruthlessly deforesting and denotifying natural reserves for purposes of mining, roads and power projects may have to look back for alternatives rather than build behind the fuzzy logic of climate deniers. The third Constitutional layer of governance needs to be revived for risk identification and for first response when climate change strikes as disasters.

The Sendai Framework of Action (2015-2030) and the Disaster Management Act 2005 has many recipes for the government to implement beyond the guarded boundaries of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) where the indispensability of NGOs and CBOs can work with more thoughtfulness and prescience.

Climate change is a reality, the earlier we accept it the sooner we would be able to regulate human action in production. Governments and decision-making bodies need to move beyond launching programmes for climate protection to their regular and stringent monitoring by disaster management organizations as a slight slippage on monitoring may culminate into a devastating disaster.

The Era of Trump brand of politics may be a passe but its psychological residues may continue to weaken action on climate protection since Google ads by climate-deniers have flourished on digital media simply because governments have not been doing enough to prevent climate change holistically.

The article first appeared in The Daily Guardian titled It’s turn for Google’s Climate Ethics dated October 14, 2021.

About the Author

amita singh

The author is president, NDRG, and former Professor of Administrative Reforms and Emergency Governance at JNU. The views expressed are personal.



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