Nature has the upper hand. So far it has “gently” protested, but …

Nature has the upper hand. So far it has “gently” protested, but …

Bernard Lown, MD

Essay 33, Part 1

The planet is warming. Facts are marching in battalions, their steps in cadence, their destination known. The few contrarian scientists who in the past demurred are now overwhelmed by the sheer weight of confirmatory evidence. It is certain that Earth will grow hotter and less hospitable to life. Not a day passes without new warnings. Among scientists, the optimists profess that global warming will inflict dislocations, misery, and colossal social costs. The pessimists envision doomsday scenarios.

The recent quadrennial national election, the costliest spewing of political speech in human history, provided a democratic catharsis. Presumably all key issues confronting our society got an airing. There was ample opportunity in the four major “debates,” with 60 million or more viewers, to raise the salient issue of our age. Yet the phrase global warming did not cross the lips of any of the four moderators, nor did the presidential or vice-presidential candidates mention this seemingly proscribed subject. Once elected to a second term, President Obama said that his first priority would be jobs and that he intended only to foster “a conversation” on climate change.(1)

So what is actually transpiring? Why is it happening? Who is going to be affected and how soon? Why the silence of politicians? What will it take to reverse course or at least contain the inexorable global disruption? Is any sector of our government preparing for the likes of Sandy multiplied a thousandfold? Will the change in climate provoke a new ecology of disease and suffering? What should be the role of the health community to practice preventive medicine on a global scale? What, if anything, can we learn from the nuclear brinkmanship that threatened to incinerate planet Earth a mere quarter century ago? Lastly, leaping to a question few dare to pose: Is human survival incompatible with a market society, the vis a tergo of global warming? Clearly, to do justice to these questions requires not an essay but a tome. As time is short, facts and analyses need careful pruning and bull’s-eye targeting.


Rarely a day passes without some spectacular weather event, without nature wreaking havoc somewhere, without a fractured climate record. No corner of this planet is spared from the consequences of global warming. Climatologists, like their fellow scientists restrained in locution and loath to indulge in speculation, now engage in superlatives: warmest spring, hottest summer, greatest rainfall, worst blizzard, most flooding, most devastating dry spell, most extreme wildfire, most oft-recurring tornadoes, and on and on.

According to the climate activist Bill McKibben, this past June broke or tied 3,215 high-temperature records across the United States and was the 327th consecutive month exceeding average 20th-century temperatures.(2) Indeed, 2012 was the hottest year on record. Like the staccato drumbeat of some tragic “Bolero,” every successive year marks, at an ever-quickening intensity, the shrinking of the Arctic. A third of the summer sea ice is now melted. This formerly solidly frozen waterway, for the first time in more than a million years, is navigable in summer. Oil is being ferried from northern Russia to Japan via this passage. The irony would not be lost on a visiting Martian.

These momentous weather events are ignored for many reasons, one of which is that the changes are quantitative, not qualitative. After all, weather extravaganzas like tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and forest fires have occurred since the beginning of time. But when climate scientists predict – as did NASA’s James Hanson 25 years ago – that these natural occurring events will magnify in frequency and ferocity and even augur a long-term disaster, we need to take note. Since these predictions have come to pass, we must act.

Rising sea levels and flooded coastlines are the inevitable consequence of millions of tons of melting ice. The denouement is as inevitable as the outcome of a Sophocles tragedy. The small island nations in the Pacific, many at near sea level, canaries of our impending fate, are submerging.

Unrelenting tocsins are trumpeting from multiple quarters. News items plucked at random from a barrage of like reports: Millions of acres of Canada’s lush forests are turning red in spasms of death. A voracious beetle, whose population has exploded with the warming climate, is killing more trees than wildfires or logging. China and Australia are suffering the worst droughts ever recorded. Colombia has gotten more rain last year than ever in its history. A flood of biblical proportions inundated one-quarter of Pakistan. Now, a year later, according to the Red Cross, 4 million of the 10 million Pakistanis displaced by the flood are still refugees, struggling in fragile tent cities on the edge of subsistence. Last month the typhoon Bopha struck the southern Philippines with unprecedented vengeance, claiming more than 1,500 lives.

Less visible, less reported, but far more consequential are the changes in the bioecology of the oceans. Not only is carbon dioxide (CO2), one of the major culprits in global warming, spewing into the atmosphere, but a third of it is also being absorbed by the oceans. In seawater, CO2 forms carbonic acid, steadily lowering the ocean’s acidity. Chemically the scale from alkalinity to acidity is expressed as pH, which gets lower with increasing acidity. For at least 600,000 years, the oceans maintained a constant pH of 8.2. In the two hundred years since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution the oceans have absorbed 118 billion tons of CO2, resulting in oceans that are 30 percent more acidic.(3)

The change in sea chemistry impedes marine creatures from forming calcium carbonate, the matrix of shells and skeletons. Mounting evidence suggests plankton, sea urchins, mussels, oysters, squids, corals, and other marine life find it harder to reproduce and survive. Coral reefs, the largest living structures on Earth, have evolved over 400 million years. They are the basis for the rich marine biodiversity. Indeed a quarter of all sea species spend part of their existence in reefs. Scientists suggest that in twenty years half the coral reefs will be gone. Intensifying acidification ultimately threatens the marine food chain that a billion or more people depend on for survival.

The problem is far worse than so far described. Left out of the discussion are the cascading synergistic effects of growing pollution. The oceans are the ultimate receptacles for toxic urban garbage, the poisonous detritus from industry and the fetid runoff from agriculture. Included are numerous carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.(4)

This poisonous brew has transformed clear and fish-packed coastal seas into anoxic dead zones. They are now the domain of microbes and oxygen-depleting algae. From the coast of China to Chesapeake Bay, more than four hundred dead zones have been identified. These constitute vast stretches of oxygen-depleted sea floors no longer habitable to marine life. Anthropogenic extinction in the oceans is at a gallop, with unknown ecological and evolutionary consequences.

Mother Nature has more shocks in the offing. These are orchestrated by the laws of physics, totally indifferent to our prayers, entreaties, and ideologies. Global warming will melt a vast extent of the permafrost in Greenland, Siberia, Alaska, Canada, and the Arctic, which varies in thickness up to a mile. It stores huge pools of carbon- and methane-releasing greenhouse gases that could double those deposited atmospherically since the Industrial Revolution. What the consequences will be is unknowable.

Why is the climate under siege?

There is no mystery why this is happening. The culprit has long been known. It is anthropogenic. It is self-inflicted. It is caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuel. We don’t need to inveigh against deities. You and I are the ones who are deranging this magical balance forged over several billion years. Sadly, the miracle of life is probably a rarity, since it depends on a limited envelope of multiple conditions: a narrow range of temperature fluctuations, an oxygen concentration no less than a fifth of atmospheric gases, a fixed amount of moisture in the air, low levels of radiation and cosmic waves, and no poisonous elements admixing with air, water, and soil. Planet Earth is blessed with an exclusive formula, affirmed by the fact that ours is – as far as we know – uniquely populated with life among the hundred billion stars in our Milky Way. One should prayerfully celebrate this magical fact by exerting our every muscle and sinew to preserve our sacred surround.

Over the past twenty-five years climatologists have related global warming to the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) dumped into the atmosphere from fossil fuel burning, which began in a big way with the Industrial Revolution and has been accelerating ever since. Carbon dioxide, along with other gases such as methane, forms a thin canopy in the atmosphere, like the glass in a greenhouse. This favors retaining sun-generated heat. The pace of global warming has been accelerating largely due to the increase in fossil fuel consumption propelled by a growing population, increased urbanization, accelerated industrialization, and higher standards of living.

Scientists have emphasized two red lines not to be crossed; one involves the atmospheric CO2 concentration, and the other the interrelated rise in global temperature. These two boundaries consist of a CO2 concentration of 350 parts per million and a global temperature rise no greater than 2 degrees centigrade, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. Values above these inevitably undermine the conditions to which life on Earth is adapted. These are not speculations of some eccentrics or the beliefs of isolated scientists. This is the unanimous opinion of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Other than Darwin’s theory of evolution, no scientific theory has been as unanimously endorsed. Last year at the Copenhagen climate conference 167 countries, responsible for more than 87 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, supported the scientists’ red line regarding the 2 degree centigrade temperature rise. The CO2 red line has been crossed and is now 390 parts per million, the highest concentration in at least 365,000 years (some say 650,000). The average surface temperature has reached 60 degrees Fahrenheit, having risen 1.3 F (0.8 C), nearly halfway to the temperature red line.

A phenomenon worthy of comment is that more water evaporates in hotter climates. Warmer air holds more water vapor. Indeed, the atmosphere over the vast expanse of oceans is 5 percent wetter than it has been over millennia. This is an extraordinarily large shift in a tightly equilibrated system. It accounts for the floods of Pakistan and the downpour of Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma, and it augurs even more frequent extremes of weather.

A Martian onlooker could not readily fathom a glaring contradiction. On the one hand “Earthlings” possess deep intelligence. This year they demonstrated it by a perfect launch of an exploratory space probe to Mars, a distance of 563 million kilometers from Earth, achieving a bull’s-eye landing a mere 2.4 kilometers from the target. If this was not enough to crow about, the year also marked the discovery of the Higgs boson, the ultimate among fundamental particles that actuate the most intimate forces of the universe. On the other hand, these same ultrabright Earthlings are behaving with detached insouciance, even idiocy, soiling and destroying their own nest, sleepwalking to a nearly inevitable tragedy.

Who are the culprits?

Bloomberg Businessweek commented on the havoc wrought by the Frankenstorm that devastated the Mid-Atlantic states: “It’s Global Warming, Stupid: If Hurricane Sandy doesn’t persuade Americans to get serious about climate change, nothing will.” Yet before Sandy there was the even more calamitous Hurricane Katrina and a host of other destructive events propelled by weather extremes. In 2010, a sweltering heat wave exceeding 100degrees Fahrenheit in western Russia broke a 130-year record.(5) Seven years earlier, in 2003, Western Europe suffered the hottest summer on record since at least 1540. For seven consecutive days temperatures exceeded 104degrees. In France, the heat wave exacted a toll of 14,802 victims, primarily among the elderly. As I am writing, a mishmash of climate extravaganzas is being staged all over the world. Eastern Russia is freezing, at 50 below zero degrees Fahrenheit. In Rio de Janeiro the temperature surged up instead of down to a record 109.8degrees. A winter storm battered the Middle East, dumping an unprecedented foot of snow in the kingdom of Jordan and in Jerusalem.(6)

Such weather extremes have been predicted by climatologists as a consequence of global warming. This is but a prologue; far worse is yet to come. Similar mega-afflictions were visited on the Egyptians of yore, and like them we are seemingly unfazed by the fires, droughts, floods, pests, heat waves, freezing spells, animal extinctions, dying oceans, and on and on.

The governments’ inaction and the public’s somnolence cannot be ascribed to a lack of information. Twenty-five years ago, in testimony before Congress, the most distinguished world climatologist, James Hanson, warned that unless we acted, “it will become impractical to constrain atmospheric carbon dioxide … to a level that prevents the climate system from passing tipping points that lead to disastrous climate changes that spiral dynamically out of humanity’s control.” He identified the basic dynamic as well as the culprits: the “CEOs of fossil energy companies [who] know what they are doing and are aware of [the] long-term consequences of continued business as usual.” This despairing scientist expressed his opinion that the mandarins dominating the fossil industry deserve to “be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature.”(2)

Yet public opinion has increasingly rejected human agency as the cause of anomalous weather events. According to a Harris Poll taken in 2007, 71 percent of Americans believed that human activity roiled the climate. In a similar poll in 2012 only 44 percent believed that humans were responsible.

How is such perversity of judgment to be comprehended? Like any other social phenomenon it is charged with complexity and accounted for by a multiplicity of factors. Foremost is the economic and political clout of the fossil fuel industry. The swaying of public opinion also requires deep involvement of the PR industry. It demands the distracting power of the mass media’s 24/7 output. It depends on a disarray in democratic governance. It requires the wealth of 1 percent of the population to exceed that of 90 percent. It could not have happened without the market being credited with powers to repair all dysfunctionalities if only left free of regulation. It requires complicity from the intellectual classes. It requires undermining trust in the federal government. Such theology distracts the attention of people and paralyzes their will to act when confronting formidable perturbations mandating society’s total engagement. In the ultimate collision between iffy, hesitant, qualifying science and an all-knowing God, the outcome is predictable, even though the awed believer is forced to mutter, “Strange are thy ways, O Lord.”

The disarray in climate change opinion is not without a compass, though. In American politics one can rapidly penetrate media gibberish and learn what truly is transpiring by getting on the money trail, namely, finding out who benefits and who loses economically — and thus politically. In the case of the major climate culprit, the oil industry, the money trail is fully exposed.

In 2011 the big five oil companies, in the top ten of the Fortune 500 Global Ranking— BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Royal Dutch Shell—made a record profit of $137 billion, an increase of 75 percent over the previous year. Executive salaries did not quite keep pace, but they were bumped up a substantial 55 percent.(7, 8, 9) The oil companies spent $65.7 million on lobbying. For each dollar spent swaying Washington officialdom to its interests, the five oil giants received $30 in return in tax subsidies that over the next decade will amount to $24 billion.

Together with the coal and gas industries they have nurtured more than a dozen right-wing think tanks, swayed the mainstream media, bribed politicians, and dominated energy policy not only in the United States but globally.

Bill McKibben has designated the oil industry as a rogue, “reckless like no other force on Earth. It is Public Enemy Number One to the survival of our planetary civilization.”(2) Notwithstanding the unfolding climate catastrophe, the big five are intensifying the search for hydrocarbons, with a passion only huge profits can inspire. For example, Exxon’s CEO, Rex Tillerson, whose compensation came close to $100,000 daily in the past few years, plans to spend $37 billion a year through 2016 (about $100 million a day) searching for yet more oil and gas.(2)

Two questions have perturbed me: Do these tycoons have no moral center? And are they not inhabiting the same endangered planet? I come from a culture of medicine, where the dominant principle places a patient’s needs first. By contrast, the fossil fuel industry is organized like any other business to generate profit. In order to survive, the well-intentioned must hew to the competitive pressures of the market. This was spelled out by the panjandrum of market theory, Milton Friedman: “Few trends could so thoroughly undermine the very foundations of our free society as the acceptance by corporate officials of a social responsibility other than to make first, over and beyond personal interests or the interests of any third party … as much money for their shareholders as possible.” Perhaps the only tweet of morality is their forthright admonition caveat emptor, let the buyer beware.

The question whether the fossil industry tycoons share the same planet with us was indirectly addressed by Karl Marx 150 years ago: “With an adequate profit, capital is very bold. A certain 10 percent [profit] will ensure its employment anywhere; 20 percent will produce eagerness; 50 percent, positive audacity; 100 percent will make it ready to trample on all human laws; 300 percent, and there is no crime at which it will scruple, no risk it will not run, even to the chance of its owner being hanged.”

Perhaps corporate profitability filters out lightwaves from the tycoons’ vision, accounting for blind spots. McKibben reports that in 2009 the US Chamber of Commerce filed a brief with the Environmental Protection Agency urging it not to regulate carbon emissions. In case the planet heats up as scientists predict, the chamber said, “populations can acclimatize to warmer climates via a range of behavioral, physiological and technological adaptations.”(2)

How can we be so blind?

The question is enormously troubling: How is it possible that with an unending series of climate events, successively more disruptive and more threatening, the public continues to ignore them? The dynamics of distraction must be understood if we are to gain mass traction to rein in the climate cascade. To do so, the existing political terrain needs to be understood. Please bear with me.

Early in 1934, my family was living in a shtetl in Lithuania. Germany, next door, was rumbling with triumphantly emerging Hitlerism. As a precocious thirteen-year-old, I was transfixed by the historical upheaval. I was glued to the one radio in our town, listening for endless hours to the outpouring of propaganda from Berlin. One broadcast I have not forgotten. A Nazi gauleiter was addressing a large public gathering. He thundered, “The National Socialists do not support higher bread prices. The National Socialists do not support lower bread prices. The National Socialists support National Socialist bread prices.” The audience went wild with thunderous applause. Though I recognized this as gibberish, I was puzzled that such arrant nonsense was embraced in Germany. After all, until the advent of Hitler, Germany was the most cultured and the most advanced medical, technological, and scientific society in the world.

I have come to realize that, while not on the same demented scale, American’s blindness and thumb-twiddling about climate change are driven by a somewhat similar psychosocial machinery that churned out the robotic Heil Hitlers of a bygone era. This is utilized by  governments and corporations to manipulate public opinion.

Emerging from the thinking of Sigmund Freud in Vienna, his American nephew, Edward Bernays, made Freudian psychology airborne.(10) What transpired intellectually nearly a century ago continues to have a tight hold on our minds. I believe it is vital to understand the role of modern propaganda in shaping current thinking about climate change. An intellectual movement that began nearly a century ago continues to have a tight hold on our minds.

Steeped in the thinking of his uncle Sigmund Freud in Vienna, Edward Bernays made Freudian psychology airborne, bringing to the States and applying it on a mass scale.(10) Freud’s theory, in its barest essence, is that subconscious instincts, framed by our animal past, shape our thinking and behavior. These primitive sexual and aggressive impulses, though suppressed, may unleash chaotic mass behavior. Bernays, having witnessed governments employing propaganda to gain public support for World War I, concluded that these same psychological forces could be exploited for the marketing of goods and ideas during peacetime. But wanting to replace the term propaganda, he coined the euphemism public relations.

Using his uncle’s theory that untapped psychological forces, rather than information, shaped behavior, Bernays evolved strategies to link products to desires. The aim was to shift the act of shopping from obtaining something needed to purchasing something wanted in order to feel better. To achieve such a transformation in mass psychology, objects had to be attractively packaged, promoted by cult figures, and constantly put in the public eye. In fact, luxury buying, previously the exclusive preserve of the rich, was to invade the mass market. From here on, buying was not to be motivated by need but by desire. The rise of consumer-driven PR came at an auspicious time. As a result of WWI American industry had unleashed enormous productivity and was in dire need of a mass consumer market.

Bernays was up to the challenge. Illustrative of the potential of modern public relations was the way Bernays, seemingly in a flash, legitimized public smoking among women. In the 1920s women were not permitted to smoke in public. Violation could result in arrest. Working for the American Tobacco Company, Bernays engaged the leading American psychoanalyst, Dr. A. A. Brill, to probe the appeal of smoking for women. Brill concluded that for women smoking was a form of liberation. In fact, the cigarette was a phallic symbol and a sign of feminine power. Cigarettes enabled women to challenge male authority by engaging in activities formerly the exclusive preserve of men.

This led to Bernays’s first stunningly successful campaign. During the 1929 Easter parade in New York City he staged minitheater. Using young women models marching in the front row, on a cue from him, lit in unison Lucky Strike cigarettes, which he had named Torches of Freedom. The press, alerted by Bernays, had a field day and headlined around the world this break with tradition. In an instant the consumer base for tobacco consumption doubled. Bernays was able to convince industry that reported news, not advertising, was the best medium to carry their message to an unsuspecting public. News and advertising has remained indissolubly entangled ever since. Bernays introduced the practice of associating the names of opinion leaders with products. From then on athletes, Hollywood film stars, and celebrities in diverse fields promoted merchandise. It became commonplace to hear and see the message, “Your dentist uses” a  certain brand of toothpaste or “Your doctor recommends” some pharmaceutical.

Bernays was forthright about his manipulating of public opinion. He wrote: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society… Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country… It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind.”(12)

Bernays was also influenced in his thinking by Walter Lippmann (13), the most influential intellectual of the early 20th century, adviser to presidents from Wilson through Nixon and Ford. Lippmann convinced Woodrow Wilson, before America’s entry into WWI, that propaganda was as important as a military campaign. To be victorious required mobilizing the sentiment of the masses by equating individual sacrifice to a worthy national goal such as “making the world safe for democracy.” At the same time the United States would propagandize the German adversary, denouncing the evil actions of their leaders and asserting the inevitability of their defeat. To implement this program the US government established the first national propaganda agency, the Committee on Public Information.(14)

Lippmann was persuaded by Freud’s theories that human beings are driven by irrational forces. A new elite was needed to manage the “bewildered herd” and to do so with psychological techniques, thereby securing the existing power structure. Basic to Lippmann’s thinking was that the masses were beyond comprehending the world: Ordinary people were swayed more by symbols with universal appeal than they were by ideas, which merely led to frustrating debates. But if a confused, heterogeneous, and muddled public was confronted with poignant symbols, separated from ideas, its sentiments could coalesce into a unified perception and could harbor a shared national purpose. Lippmann described this as a process of “manufacturing consent.” Politicians, the mass media, powerful business lobbies, and the cultural elite have been adhering to these dicta ever since in an ever-growing assault on the democratic public space.

The public disengagement with global warming is incomprehensible without deep understanding of some startling contradictions. Veritably at our fingertips, at the click of a key, we are exposed to a gush of information and news from near and far. We have the capacity to be informed as never before in history. Yet the public is short in attention span, long on amnesia, devoid of a sense of history, disoriented as to geography, ever ready to be bamboozled with banalities and absurdities—all leading to the tragic or idiotic. How else to account for the public succumbing to the fabrication that Saddam Hussein stockpiled weapons of mass destruction? Or the more recent theater of the absurd, the fiction foisted by the sports and mass media of a tear-jerking love affair between a Notre Dame football player Romeo and a nonexistent Juliet? How we got here needs close examination. Otherwise we shall not have the moral and intellectual wherewithal to confront the monumental challenge of our epoch.

End Notes and Bibliography

1. John M. Broder. “E.P.A. chief set to leave; term fell shy of early hope.” New York Times, December 28, 2012.

2. Bill McKibben. “Global warming’s terrifying math.” Rolling Stone, August 12, 2012.

3. Robert Lee Hotz. “A look into future oceans for shellfish reasons.” The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2009.

4. Endocrine disrupter refers to the chemicals now pervasive in our environment that interfere with animal hormone systems and are known to cause birth defects, developmental disorders, and cancers. They are believed to be related to the growing prevalence of attention deficit disorders, learning disorders, and a host of other medical problems.

5. Alyson Kenward. “2010 Russian heat wave more extreme than previously thought.” Climate Central, March 17, 2011.

6. Sarah Lyall. “Heat, flood or icy cold, extreme weather rages worldwide.” New York Times, January 11, 2013.

7. Daniel J. Weiss, Jackie Weidman, and Rebecca Leber. “Big oil’s banner year: Higher prices, record prices, less oil.” Think Progress, Climate Progress, February 8, 2012.

8. Daniel J. Weiss and Rebecca Leber. “Ka-ching: Big oil’s mighty first-quarter profits.” Center for American Progress, May 1, 2012.

9. The salaries of executives went ballistic. For example, the 2011 compensation for Chevron’s CEO, John Watson, was $25 million, a rise of 53 percent; while that of Conoco’s CEO, James Mulva, was $27.7 million, an increase of 55 percent (see note 8 for details).

10. Edward Bernays was Freud’s double nephew. His mother was Freud’s sister. His father was Freud’s wife’s brother. Bernays was born in Vienna and emigrated to the United States early in the 20th century. He was the first to set up a public relations agency. In 1918 President Woodrow Wilson took him as part of the American delegation to the World War I Peace Conference in Paris. He was a consultant for some of the leading industries and corporations in America. In 1954, he conjured a communist menace in Guatemala as an excuse for overthrowing the democratically elected government, whose social reforms were threatening the United Fruit Company’s monopoly of the banana trade. Bernays called it a “liberation.”

11. Adam Curtis. “The Century of the Self: Episode 1—Happiness Machine” and “Episode 2—The Engineering of Consent.”

12. Bernays in his book Propaganda, published in 1928, wrote, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, it is now possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing it. … The intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses was an important element in democratic society” … and the manipulators “constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country.”

13. Walter Lippmann was a journalist and syndicated columnist, twice winner of a Pulitzer Prize (1958 and 1962). Lippmann alluded to the masses as the “bewildered herd” who needed to be governed by experts.

14. The Committee on Public Information (CPI), formed in 1917, was first headed by George Creel, a muckraking progressive journalist. Creel drafted an army of intellectuals—artists, teachers, journalists, community leaders, etc.—into the ranks of the CPI. They published daily, everything from brief, rousing posters to lengthy white papers. They formed the “Four-Minute Men,” who stood up in movie theaters during the break when the reels were changed to talk about the war effort and warned the audience against neighbors who called it a rich man’s war. The result was an unprecedented propaganda machine that left its imprint on the national advertising and film industry. CPI’s effectiveness was startling. Wilson ran for president in 1916 on the promise of keeping America out of war. A majority opposed entering World War I. Within short order, after inundating the public with real and concocted German atrocities, the CPI had achieved an abrupt turnaround, capturing the hearts and minds of a majority of Americans, who were now gung ho for our involvement.

18 responses to “Nature has the upper hand. So far it has “gently” protested, but …

  1. Dear Bernard,

    Once again, you are an inspiration. Thanks for this essay on the environment that I will send to my daughter who worked as a lawyer for the EPA for 10 years on this very problem.

    Best regards,
    Jim Muller

  2. Your facility to so readily synthesize seemingly disparate essentials remains awe-inspiring. I am left to imagine a world oligarchy of scientists rather than the world oligarchy of oil merchants we endure…until good sense might prevail? Or something else?

  3. Thank you, Bernard, for this remarkable and inspiring weaving-together of so many threads. By tying Bernays and Freud to climate change you do what so many people complain never happens in the climate change debate: you provide a way to understand, and potentially begin to change, the behavior patterns that are leading to such a terrible result.

  4. Dear Dr. Down,
    I’m writing a book about the World Youth Festivals, and would be very grateful to hear your reflections on the founding Prague Festival of 1947. A fellow delegate suggested that I contact you. If you’re interested to speak about the Festival over the phone, please write me an email at:

    Many thanks,
    Yale PhD

  5. John Pearse, professor emeritus of marine biology

    This is simply excellent. I fall in the camp of pessimistic scientists. That is because the statement “Coral reefs, the largest living structures on Earth, have evolved over 400 million years,” which goes on to how they are now threatened is a simplification. Over those 400 million years corals reefs have been devastated several times from high CO2 and ocean acidification. The worst was during the Permian extinction, 250 million years ago when nearly all the corals of the time, plus most other marine and terrestrial creatures went extinct. It took over 10 million years for new forms to arise such as scleractiinian corals and dinosaurs. The CO2 came from volcanic activity (the Siberian traps) and the burning of coal by the lava flows– essentially the same thing as happening today. No doubt the world will be thriving with life some 10 million years from now, but it will likely be a pretty impoverished place for a couple of million years.

  6. John Pearse, professor emeritus of marine biology

    And the author’s phrase “human beings are driven by irrational forces.” is best seen by human’s continuing faith in irrational religions (and all religions are irrational, by definition).

  7. Murray Henley

    Dr Lown, although I respect your opinions in the medical domain, it seems that you have been, like so many others, misled by global warming “experts”.

    Please read this blog daily for a couple of months and see what happens to your opinion on this subject.

  8. Howdy! Someone in my Myspace group shared this website with us
    so I came to check it out. I’m definitely enjoying the information. I’m bookmarking and will be tweeting this to my
    followers! Wonderful blog and amazing style and design.

  9. Douglas Sargent

    You may want to review this sentence: “In seawater, CO2 forms carbonic acid, steadily lowering the ocean’s acidity” , before someone uses it to impugn the rest of your excellent commentary.

  10. Dr Lown. Your essay 28, on what you experienced in cardiac medicine is very helpful to me in understanding the priorities and methods I’ve been subject to in recent years. It has also prepared me for the eventual meetings I will have with cardiac specialist.

    The Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) movement is very similar to the cardiac care movement you document in essay 28. AGW is a political movement, not a scientific one. AGW has forgotten that a scientific theory is invalidated by a single negative result. As your own published results that contradicted or invalidated the “standard cardiac care” standard were ignored or suppressed, so have published results that have invalidated AGW been ignored or suppressed. You haven’t heard about them for the same reason I didn’t hear about yours.

  11. Bernard Lown, this is a brilliant article! I am forwarding it, if able, to the Green Decade and other leaders in our local environmental movement. The information regarding the distracting of and selling to Americans of feel-good products controlled largely by the oil companies (and coal and automobiles) has kept Americans anesthetized. Your analysis is so clear. We must find a way to spread your article. Bravo again, Dr. Lown.

  12. Jimsher Lejava MD

    Dear Dr Lown,
    I am an old professor of clinical medicine in the republic of Georgia. Some years ago I have read your wonderful book “The Lost Art of Healing” in Russian translation. Your thoughts are in complete accord with my point of view on medicine and on doctor’s duties towards his patients. Unfortunately your book is almost unknown to young doctors in my country: first, the present generation of Georgian doctors does not know Russian and second, knowledge of English is still far from being universal amongst them.
    I suppose that appearence of such book in our native language would be a great help in upholding the most noble traditions in Georgean medicine. Unfortunately the present poor condition of Georgean economy makes it impossible to speak about reward or fee. I would be extremely thankful for your permission to translate your wonderful book into Georgian. I am sure it would open eyes of many future physicians in this country.I also am ready to make a translation of your book completely gratis, a sort of humanitarian help to my country…
    Jimsher Lejava MD

    My e-mail

  13. Some very interesting comments here to say the least, very amusing. I definitely admire the writer, great article. I took an interest in cardiology after going for my health check at Private Cardiologist

    Great read, thanks.

  14. It seems to me that the above analysis and findings are humancentric and the effects of human pursuit, consumption, curiosity and ultimately mediocrity that is leading to this irrational behavior. However, it is also true that the planet will readjust and life will go on through adaptability and reinvention. Laws of nature are based on intricate balance and are Universal, just because we think we are the center of all that exists around us doesn’t mean its True. I think that people like yourself are the essence of why we are here or what our purpose is; to care and be fascinated with the wonders of this world and the universe. I believe all creatures LIVE in the MOMENT Except for us humans, we have complicated life so much that we cant enjoy the moment. I believe this is our time after that there might be life of other form replacing us, just like the Dinosaurs were replaced by other life forms.

  15. That storms and floods have been increasing is certainly not the consensus view expressed in the IPCC’s own 2012 report on extreme weather events and in their AR5 report, although you wouldn’t know that from the press or from the campaign groups. Examples from AR5:

    “In summary, there continues to be a lack of evidence and thus low confidence regarding the sign of trend in the magnitude and/or frequency of floods on a global scale”

    “In summary, confidence in large scale changes in the intensity of extreme extratropical cyclones since 1900 is low”

    They did note that there is some evidence that heatwaves and, in certain areas only, rainfall extremes have been increasing.

    There were far, far greater weather extremes in the late 13th and 14th century as temperatures cooled following the mediaeval warm period, for example the storms of 1287 that flooded the Netherlands and reworked parts of the English coastline, throwing half of Hastings Castle into the sea.

  16. Glen R Rubin

    The first problem an objective scientist has with the human caused global warming hypothesis is the shoddy data underlying it. Merely considering the dearth of present day temperature monitoring stations let alone the scarcity of stations in huge swaths of the globe 50 years ago should give any serious quantitative scientist serious pause in estimating temperature variations from a ‘normal’. In order to really grasp the holes in current temperature data I suggest investigating historical temperature data from an agency nasa, but using the narrowest temperature interpolation window as possible and it becomes apparent how much of the data is just missing.

  17. Pingback: The Late Dr. Bernard Lown Challenged Us to See the Invisible, Do the Impossible – Not Mainstream News

  18. Pingback: The Late Dr. Bernard Lown Challenged Us To See The Invisible, Do The Impossible | Actify Press

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