In Nero’s footsteps

In 2022 global carbon emissions hit a record high. This July was the warmest on record, and 2023 is likely to be the hottest year ever recorded. The world is now 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the preindustrial average temperature. The burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and gas) acts like a blanket covering the earth trapping heat and raising the planet’s temperature.

As of Aug. 26, almost 6,000 wildfires have burned in Canada this year, scorching 36.7 million acres, approximately the size of Michigan. For days Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit had some of the worst air quality in the world. Phoenix had temperatures of 110 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for 31 straight days. Warmer temperatures will increase the number of disease-carrying parasites and the area they inhabit. Mosquitoes already infect about 700 million people annually, almost 9% of global population.

Arguably the most troubling aspect of climate change is water related problems. Water scarcity (droughts) and floods both reduce the planet’s food supply. Only one half of 1% of the world’s water is fresh water in liquid form. The rest is saltwater or water frozen in now-melting glaciers. As sea levels rise, coastal cities will have to deal with saltwater seeping into groundwater and decreasing the supply of fresh water.

A warmer and wetter atmosphere increases the likelihood that hurricanes will become stronger and produce more rainfall. The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution states that global warming “is altering critical ocean systems from primary productivity to the distribution of species. The impacts on fisheries and aqua-culture threaten food security for millions, and the global economies that depend on them.” Melting glaciers have unleashed deadly floods in the Andes and Himalayas.

Based on survey research, Yale University concludes that Americans fall into six categories regarding climate change. These categories, and the percentage of respondents in 2022, are as follows:

¯ The Alarmed (26%) are convinced global warming is happening, human-caused and an urgent threat. They strongly support climate policies.

¯ The Concerned (27%) believe human-caused global warming is happening, is a serious threat and support climate policies. However, the majority believe the most negative climate impacts are still in the distant future.

¯ The Cautious (17%) haven’t yet made up their minds if global warming is happening, if it’s caused by human and is a serious problem.

¯ The Disengaged (7%) know little about global warming. They rarely if ever hear about it in the media. I would add these individuals should be called the “willful ignorant” as it’s near impossible not to be aware of climate issues.

¯ The Doubtful (11%) do not think global warming is occurring or believe it’s a natural cycle. They rarely ponder climate change or consider it a serious issue.

¯ The Dismissive (11%) believe global warming is not occurring, is not human-caused or a threat. Most endorse conspiracy theories, that is, “global warming is a hoax.”

The internet is rife with conspiracy theories offering “proof” that climate change is a hoax. One study found these theories have four main themes. Scientists are faking or manufacturing climate data for political reasons, to promote a world government, for example to secure research funding to promote a “green agenda” and to promote the nuclear power industry.

Psychologist Alexander Jack (Birmingham, England) reports an especially interesting aspect of these theories. Counter-evidence that refutes conspiracy theories is ridiculed or dismissed. The “logic” of this position is that powerful people and organizations arguing against their conspiracy theory is proof of its veracity. Jack notes: “The stronger the evidence against a conspiracy theory, the more vehemently the counter-narrative is held.”

After a 2021 winter storm caused a massive power outage in Texas, ultra right-wing QAnon declared that President Biden allowed China to hack a section of the U.S. power grid (Texas) apparently to punish the conservative Lone Star state.

QAnon is not a handful of mentally disturbed individuals who wear tin foil hats to prevent space aliens from picking their brains. In September 2020 the Pew Research Center reported that of those Republicans aware of QAnon, 41% said it’s a good thing for the country. Of this group 32% said it’s somewhat good and 9% thought it was very good.

Climate deniers have influential-powerful friends in a number of “red” states including Florida. School children in the Sunshine State will soon be watching videos comparing “climate activists to Nazis.” Scientific American notes these programs declare that “wind and solar power pollute the Earth and make life miserable.” These videos are produced by the Prager University Foundation, a conservative organization with a history of distorting science, history and gender studies among other topics. Sociologist Adrienne McCarthy of Kansas State University, notes these videos are “trying to grow the next generation” of fossil fuels supporters.

Co-founder of Prager University (not an accredited university), Dennis Prager (a syndicated conservative radio talk-show host) believes teaching children the science behind climate change is liberal “indoctrination.” He told Moms for Liberty (a political organization that opposes school curricula mentioning LGBT rights, race and ethnicity and critical race theory — the latter code for American history) that Prager materials are designed for “our indoctrination.” He noted “It’s true we bring doctrines to children … But what is bad about our indoctrination?”

Historian Eden McLean of Auburn University who studies fascism, reports that Florida’s move to exert more power over education is “disturbingly familiar …” Withholding information available to students “mirrors fascist ambitions … and threatens the very democratic foundations its proponents claim to champion.”

In his bid to become the GOP presidential candidate. Vivek Ramaswamy is attempting to outdo Trump and DeSantis on climate change denial. During the first Republican debate he proclaimed “the climate change agenda is a hoax” and pledged that if elected his energy policy would be to “drill, frack, burn coal and unleash nuclear” power.

In the expression “Nero fiddled while Rome burned,” fiddle means to waste time or do nothing as in “he’s just fiddling around.” Climate change deniers led by MAGA Republicans are fiddling as the earth burns and floods, animals and marine life perish.

— — —

George J. Bryjak lives in Bloomingdale and is retired after 24 years of teaching sociology at the University of San Diego. A list of sources accompanies this commentary online.


“Explainer: How climate change is amplifying moquito-borne diseases” (accessed 2023) World Mosquito Program, www.worldmosquitoprogram.org

“Global Warmings Six America’s” (2023) Yale Program on Climate Change Communication,


Gilbert, D. (2021) “QAnon thinks Biden helped China create the Texas energy crisis,” February 10, Vice News, www.vice.com

Kaplan, S. (2023) “Floods, fires and deadly heat are the alarm bells of a planet on the brink,” July 12, The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com

Mandi, C., E. Douglas and M. Ferman (2022) “How Texas’ power grid failed in 2021 – and who’s responsible for preventing a repeat,” February 15, The Texas Tribune, www.texastribune.or

McDonald, S. (2023) “Our Warming Planet,” July 7, The Nation, www.thenation.com

McLean, E. (2023) “Fascism’s history offers lessons about today’s attacks on Education,” April 7, Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com

Milman, O. (2023) “Videos denying climate science approved by Florida as state curriculum,” August 10, The Guardian, www.theguardian.com

“Most Americans who have heard of Qanon conspiracy theories say they are bad for the country and that Trumps seems to support people who promote them,” (2020) Pew Research Center, www.pewresearch.org

O’Kane, C. (2023) “Chicago has the worst air quality in the world due to Canadian fires,” June 27, CBS News, www.cbsnews.com

Patel, K. (2023) “2023 is on track to be the hottest year on record,” The Washington Post.


Robinson, E. (2023) “Opinion: Trump’s aggrieved victimhood is a recipe for carnage,” August 24, The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com

“The world just got it’s first real taste of what life is like at 1.5 degrees Celsius,” (2023) August 3, The Washington Post, www.washingtonpost.com

Waldman, S. (2023) “DeSantis’s Florida Approves Climate-Denial Videos in Schools,” August 7, Scientific American, www.scientificamerican.com

Watson, R. (2023) “Rampant heatwaves threaten food security of entire planet, scientist says,” July 21, The Guardian, www.theguardian.com

“Water – at the center of the climate crisis” (accessed 2023) The United Nations, www.un.org

“What is climate change?” (accessed 2023) The United Nations, www.un.org


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