April, Fools, and Climate Change

Originally, an April Fool was someone who didn’t realize the times are changing.

April Fool’s jokes are a curious tradition, and I started to wonder where this custom came from. The origins of April Fool’s Day aren’t known with certainty, but there’s reason to connect it with blindness to change. In 1582, France switched from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar. This meant that the year began on January 1 rather than the end of March. Those who hadn’t caught up with the changing time became targets for mockery. The word “fool” itself comes by way of French from the Latin word “follis,” meaning bellows or by extension windbag. (So “airhead” is a pretty accurate modern rendition.) I’ll leave you to think about how the windbag concept and ignorance of fundamental changes might apply to present-day circumstances and climate change.

Being fooled is the subject of popular sayings, such as “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Many people have been taken in by climate change denial; whether we should blame them for continuing to believe these falsehoods over time is a different question. It is at least heartening to think about Abraham Lincoln’s famous dictum that “you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” The idea that truth will prevail in the long run is deeply embedded in post-Enlightenment culture, as in the metaphor of the truth winning out in the marketplace of ideas. We can only hope that this optimistic vision proves well-founded, that at some point the denialist ideologues and special interests will lose out to the cool, clear light of science.

The hallmark of science is the willingness to apply reality checks to our own ideas. As the brilliant physicist Richard Feynmann said, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool.” It’s for that reason that climate scientists have rigorously tested their theories against the climate record, constantly looking for signs that they may be missing something significant.

In contrast, you almost never see climate deniers putting their own theories to the test. When a Berkeley physicist did so, he was forced to admit that he had been wrong in rejecting climate models; he was immediately disowned and vilified by the remaining denialists. He described his findings in Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic : “Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.”

In the end, whatever people may choose to believe or not believe, reality is unmoved. As Feynmann said, “Reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.” Even King Canute actually understood that he couldn’t really halt the tides by royal edict. Donald Trump can keep on denying that climate change is serious or that it’s caused by humans, but the climate is changing nonetheless. The longer we close our eyes to reality, the less ability we will have to avoid disaster. Climate denial is the biggest and most dangerous April Fool’s Day joke of them all.

Oh and by the way, according NASA, the years 2016, 2017, and 2018 had the warmest Aprils on record.

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Reader Comments

5 Replies to “April, Fools, and Climate Change”

  1. Don’t forget the fact of history that intellectuals have also failed to meet the challenges of change, as documented by historians Will and Ariel Durant.

    The root cause of the out of control climate change disasters today is the Power of Money that controls far too many Washington politicians, but also dominates far too many Ivory Tower elite who refuse to join together to communicate with the public as spokespersons who can protect the future of our civilization by overcoming the Goebbelsian (v.21C) propaganda machine that controls all branches of government in Washington today.

    1. Hmmm, still no response, you keep proving that your Ivory Tower elite culture is producing the ultimate Us/Them dichotomy vs. the human race. This fact of life is one of the greatest proofs that today we live in a decline and fall of yet another civilization, and due to global warming, probably our last.

      The greatest tragedy is that you and your academic colleagues are supposed to be the best and the brightest of the human race to lead us in resolving our global warming crisis, especially since historians and scientists like the Durants, Hofstadter, Maddox, Wilson and many others warned us about the worst case scenario we are experiencing today.

  2. The problem with climate change is that it seems to be an existential threat with no real practical solution. Therefore the best course of action for fear based thinkers (who are also more often conservatives) is to deny it altogether – as long as Wile E. Coyote doesn’t look down, he won’t fall – though in the long run Nature is not fooled.

    One part of fighting denial is to present solutions that give hope and therefore eliminate the need for denial. If some solutions also give former denialists a role, so much the better.

    For example, remember as April 15 approaches, that California taxpayers can take a small step towards enhanced oceanic carbon sequestration by making a donation to sea otter restoration on your income tax return.

    As another small example, adding heat recovery hoods (that use the heat for hot water) over stoves and ovens in commercial kitchens can save several kW per hood; essentially several kg of carbon dioxide from coal fired electricity, per hour. Another example, especially for California, is that conventional thermal solar panels can be used to boost the low end of a heat pump and greatly improve the COP (efficiency) of a heat pump and reduce power use. Another example is that a heat pump operated by a natural gas engine in the system would use the waste heat in the system in a combined heat and power system and greatly increase the efficiency of that system. Thermal solar power can also be used via absorption cooling for air conditioning in a sufficiently well insulated building… and it goes on and on, especially for energy saving systems. Each of these devices could also provide manufacturing jobs in the Midwest or even Fresno, and installation jobs wherever they are used.

    As for renewable energy, there are many approaches, each of which would provide jobs as well as energy. For example, much of the Pacific Coast has very rich wave energy resources, hence surfing culture. (Western shores in the Northern Hemisphere generally have good waves; much of the world action in wave energy is in Scotland, Portugal and Ireland.) One point of wave energy is that because waves travel long distances with little dissipation, and travel faster than the wind that generates them, wave energy is steadier than wind energy; it is likely that there is a storm at sea somewhere at any one time that is making waves. Wave energy is fairly expensive to harvest, though. (As full disclosure, note that I have a patent on a wave energy conversion device, though everyone and their dog does as well, and I have no idea if my device is actually practical.)

  3. Give me a break climate change is a hoax it is a cover for stratospheric aerosol injection a.k.a. chem trails and weather modification you fools need to wake up !

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Dan Farber

Dan Farber has written and taught on environmental and constitutional law as well as about contracts, jurisprudence and legislation. Currently at Berkeley Law, he has al…

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