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How the Myth of the Free Market Has Blocked Climate Action

Event Type
Hosted by: Department of Atmospheric Sciences; In conjunction with: Certificate in Environmental Writing Program (iSEE), Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering, Department of History, Department of Physics, School of Earth, Society & Environment
Knight Auditorium, Spurlock Museum
Oct 2, 2023   4:00 pm  
Naomi Oreskes
Heidy Barcus
Originating Calendar
Center for Advanced Study

In 1988, American climate modeler James Hansen testified in the US Congress that he and his team were 99% certain that man-made global warming was underway. Hansen’s testimony reflected decades of sustained scientific work predicting that burning fossil fuels would cause climate change; now, in 1988, he was saying that change was no longer a prediction, but a fact.

Hansen’s testimony was widely reported, including on the front page of The New York Times. When Vice President George H.W. Bush ran for President that year, he promised that, if elected President, he would bring the power of the “White House effect” to fight the “Greenhouse effect.”[i] Four years later, political leaders from around the globe—including now-President Bush—gathered in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, to sign the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, committing its signatories to preventing “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system. The science was clear, it had been widely communicated, and political leaders had made a commitment to act. So what happened? Why didn’t we act when there was still a chance to stop climate change before it became the climate crisis?

In this talk, Professor Oreskes will show that a major part of the answer involves the role of corporate America in promoting the myth of the “free market” in order to prevent government regulation of dangerous practices and products, including fossil fuels. She argues that, to address the climate crisis at the necessary scale and rate, we must reject that myth and re-embrace the essential role of governments in addressing market failure.

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