About That “Hoax”

I  think climate change deniers will eventually be defeated by challenges to our common lives that most of us don’t currently recognize.

As Paul Krugman has recently noted, one of those is sewage.

How many people do you know whose homes aren’t connected to a sewer line? Sewers and garbage pickup are among those (largely urban) amenities that folks fulminating about “socialism” rarely consider, but they are part and parcel of important collective public health measures.

They are also services that are rarer in some parts of the country than in others.

As Krugman reminds us, many American homes, especially in the Southeast, aren’t connected to sewer lines. They have septic tanks, and these days, more and more septic tanks are overflowing. As he notes, that’s both disgusting and a threat to public health.

The cause? Climate change. Along the Gulf and South Atlantic coasts, The Washington Post reported last week, “sea levels have risen at least six inches since 2010.” This may not sound like much, but it leads to rising groundwater and elevated risks of overflowing tanks.

The emerging sewage crisis is only one of many disasters we can expect as the planet continues to warm, and nowhere near the top of the list. But it seems to me to offer an especially graphic illustration of two points. First, the damage from climate change is likely to be more severe than even pessimists have tended to believe. Second, mitigation and adjustment — which are going to be necessary, because we’d still be headed for major effects of climate change even if we took immediate action to greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions — will probably be far more difficult, as a political matter, than it should be.

At this point in my initial reading of the linked column, I rolled my eyes–because these days, anything and everything is more difficult as a political matter than it should be. When a significant percentage of the population insists on denying science, scholarship, logic, fact–opting to discount what their own “lying eyes” are trying to tell them–political gridlock is inevitable.

As Krugman points out,

Estimating the costs of climate change and, relatedly, the costs polluters impose every time they emit another ton of carbon dioxide requires fusing results from two disciplines. On one side, we need physical scientists to figure out how much greenhouse gas emissions will warm the planet, how this will change weather patterns and so on. On the other, we need economists to estimate how these physical changes will affect productivity, health care costs and more.

Actually, there’s a third dimension: social and geopolitical risk. How, for example, will we deal with millions or tens of millions of climate refugees? But I don’t think anyone knows how to quantify those risks.

Krugman, of course, is an economist, and he worries that the efforts so far to estimate economic costs of climate change have failed to take things like septic tank failures into account.

So what are we going to do about it? Even if we were to take drastic steps to reduce emissions right now, many of the consequences of past emissions, including much bigger increases in sea level than we’ve seen so far, are already, as it were, baked in. So we’re going to have to take a wide range of steps to mitigate the damage — including expanding sewer systems to limit the rising tide of, um, sludge.

But will we take those steps? Climate denial was originally all about fossil fuel interests, and to some extent it still is. But it has also become a front in the culture war, with politicians like Ron DeSantis of Florida — who happens to be the governor of one of the states at greatest immediate risk — apparently deciding that even mentioning climate change is woke.

Evidently, DeSantis’ definition of “woke” is “rational and informed.” Logic tell us that refusing to mention climate change–or the existence of gay people–won’t make either one disappear.

What will the politicians pandering to the frightened and angry folks frantic to reject any evidence of things they dislike or can’t understand–politicians like Indiana’s Jim Banks, who insists that climate change is a “hoax”– say when their constituents’ septic tanks fail? What will DeSantis say when significant portions of Florida are underwater. (I wonder who he’s blaming now for the rapidly growing inability of Florida residents to get property insurance–gay people??)

The disappearance of homeowners’ insurance and the failure of septic tanks are just two of the largely unanticipated–and logically inevitable– consequences of climate change. There will be others, no matter how many culture warriors like Jim Banks stand athwart reality yelling “hoax.”


  1. I hope that eventually even the most die-hard MAGA climate deniers will face reality and realize that they have been lied to and manipulated about the reality of climate change. And then, maybe, they will think “if they have been lying about that, what else are they lying about?”

  2. I’ve read that our “republican” party is one of the only major political parties on earth that denies human activities effect climate. Last summer was extremely wet in the NE, our summer cabin is hooked up to a small septic system and mid-summer the rains had filled it. Thankfully the “honey wagon” was in town, on a sunday yet, and pumped it dry. Climate change driven weather “weirding” is likely to produce extremes of wet or dry, more violent storms etc. I’m hoping for a moderate summer but it’s looking like a dry one this year, so far, ponds around camp are well below the levels they were at this time a year ago. Mans’ effect on climate may be hard for some to grasp, 50 -60 years of fossil fuel propaganda and misdirection doesn’t help, but we need to ensure our politicians understand that human activities are speeding up climate change, that is fact, and work to vote out those that insist on pandering to the denialist.

  3. Here’s how a failing septic tank will play out on an individual basis. When a person has problems flushing toilets and they decide it’s inconvenient, they’ll call a septic company and the company will quote a compliant (and working) system that requires a raised leaching field to the tune of many thousands of dollars. With the right messaging, the only thing they will hear is that government regulations require this. They will never hear the part about why their situation changed and how that now requires the new construction techniques.

    They will either choose to spend the money or their house will become unsellable because of standing sewage or backed toilets. It will be their personal expense. In their minds it will be because of the government.

    So you can see why Republicans need to lie about climate change. If it isn’t climate change, they don’t have to spend any government money. They can still cut taxes. They still gain voters.

  4. Thank you. I’m now adding those using septic tanks to the que of individuals I must hate in order to sustain my Demoratic Party bonafides.

    It’s obvious our government must start arresting and confiscating the properties of those using septic tanks.

    Moreover,those owning more than one home and enjoy the privilege of leisure travel are deserving of more tax breaks.

  5. Queue.

    Spell check is obviously an application coded by Putin apologists to aggravate the free-world.

  6. I have to bring it up, because it still irks me, in a profound way. In 1990 Al Gore began showing slides of the predicted causes effects of global warming, and then in 2006, wrote An Inconvenient Truth, The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming (I still have my copy). This is a man, and please pause for just a moment and imagine if SCOTUS hadn’t egregiously overstepped its boundaries and, in stopping the recount process in Florida, denied him the Presidency in 2000, a man who really understood, along with many other great minds, the dire consequences of doing nothing to try to mitigate the terrible damage that would ensue if things kept going on as usual, a man who, IMHO would have been a thoughtful, insightful, progressive and successful POTUS. What would America, and the world, look like today if he hadn’t been denied? Or if Ralph Nader would have decided not to run in 2000? Or for that matter if Jill Stein had done the same in 2016?

  7. Here in sunny southwest Florida, we have been experiencing the effects of bad septic systems for years. If you take it together with inland farm runoff, it’s easy to see what causes the blue green algae in our local canals. That causes respiratory problems for those living along those canals. It also makes the water perfect for the incursion of red tide, which kills fish and marine mammals by the thousands.

    We’ve identified the problems and the methods to fix them. The only thing that keeps us from fixing it is that we don’t have the will to raise taxes to fix it. If we were in Germany, where those responsible for the pollution are required by law to pay for the correction, we would be well on our way to better health and a much better standard of living.

  8. I had more than 25 years of experience in municipal and rural wastewater problems/remediation/management. Most folk with septic tanks and leach fields don’t think they ever have to do anything to keep them in good operating order. Not true. Some folks proudly claim that they’ve never had to do anything with their septic system for 40 years, not realizing they probably failed decades ago and are polluting ground and surface waters. Out of sight, out of mind. Talk to local boards of health about the problem; they know the issue well.

  9. Sheila mentioned socialism and climate change, an excellent example of socialism for Big Oil and other polluters. International organizations that study the effects of climate change talk about the trillions of dollars the public subsidizes instead of the polluters each year due to air, water, and ground pollution. We, the people, pick up the tab because we don’t pass the costs along to the polluters. All the societal costs should be borne directly by those creating the problem.

    Yet, the truth remains hidden, as the media and politicians, often under the influence of the oligarchs, choose to keep us in the dark. They refuse to disclose the true costs that we, as citizens, are subsidizing for industries in the US and beyond.

    Let’s bring the issue closer to home-in Indiana, every single waterway is polluted. The blame is conveniently shifted to homeowners’ fertilizer runoff, but the truth is far more alarming. The pollution stems from an alarming number of CAFOs, a problem that both Indiana and Ohio share.

    The Weather Channel blames the air pollution on filling up your gas tank during the day’s heat, lawnmowers, etc. They never blame it on the mercury-belching coal smokestacks in Southern Indiana (Asthma Alley). Ironically, the worst air quality days are when the wind blows up from the south and covers Central Indiana.

    Peggy says, “We don’t have the political will to fix it.” Exactly!

    Could you imagine the price of gas, energy, or food if we made them pay to clean up their polluting ways? We keep those prices “cheap” because citizens subsidize industries (socialism). If the costs were properly assessed by Krugman and environmental economists, we would have very expensive food, gas, and energy. Instead, the Kochs and Duke Energy get to claim they provide cheap energy, etc.

  10. Thank you, Gil! those examples of the undermining of our Democracy ought not to be forgotten. Without a cabinet of hidden mail-in votes in Florididia, there might not have been an Iraq war, and its dead and wounded, etc.
    “Greed is good!” until the sewers and septic tanks of the wealthy go south.
    As voiced, many years ago, by John Muir, “Everything is hooked up to everything else.” Damned woke fellow that he was! And so, we can look back at the thread of history and see the way that allowing greed to run wild has led us to where we are. One simple example, for people who really do not need one, I suppose: In the early 1900’s GM bought the trolly system in L.A. and purposely let it languish, so that they could sell more cars, and now the easily led (and scared) fools are, reportedly, hankering for even bigger SUVs.

  11. Oligarchs need workers to create the wealth that the wealthy are hooked on. They don’t even notice that the human race has reproduced beyond the carrying capacity of the earth we have filled up. The earth knows how to deal with that, the oligarchs don’t. So they use their one skill, propaganda, to try to get us to ignore the obvious.

    Some of us just aren’t equipped to follow such a delusion.

  12. The novel The Ministry for the Future is a frightening look at what climate change can do, but also has a hopeful tone of what can be done if the world unites to address the problem. The disasters portrayed in the book are already happening, such as the initial disaster it outlines, of massive heat waves killing folks all over Southeast Asia. It was a gripping read, highly recommend.

  13. Don Mullendore got it right. Excellent example for those of us with properties serviced by septic tanks. When we bought the property, we knew it was our s**t to manage. Not up to par? It is still our s**t to get it right. Our neighbors appreciate it.

  14. Maybe DeSantis and the other southern governors will emulate North Korea’s latest technological advancement and put the overflow of their sewage into bags attached to balloons and fly them to other places – preferably north. Wouldn’t that constitute another attack? Another civil war?

    Yes, humans have overpopulated the planet, but their intellects refuse to admit their mistakes that will, ultimately be humanity’s undoing. Isn’t it something like 60% of all humans live within the coming flood from rising oceans? If you are an interior country real estate agent, you’re thinking: “Let the good times roll.”

  15. Big business allowed to influence government to delay action to mitigate the harm their productions are having on our planet is short sighted, injurious and will cause greater expense in the long run. The cost of not changing our ways is growing exponentially in terms of effects on environment and health, when scientific applied positive/progressive changes would improve our conditions immensely.
    The meat industry adds a lot of destructive methane gas into atmosphere that worsens global warming, not to mention the horrendous treatment of the animals slaughtered. Are people willing to make the effort to study and change to healthier diet to also help environment? The long-term effects on a large scale would be tremendous.
    I’ve read US will have a warmer winter this year due to El Nina effect. It’s amazing we have the science to see this but are kept from applying methods to counteract the negative effects due to the cesspool of elitist political and business interests.
    One of the most interesting books I’ve read is “Flushed” by Hodding Carter about the beginnings of organized urban plumbing in Roman times. He refers to plumbing as the center of civilization.
    In northern Indiana the fertilizer runoff from farms into the lakes cause overgrowth of lake vegetation that interferes with boats and activities on the lakes. The farm lobby here is strong and farmers get the advantage in that situation. It seems there could be a fairer, healthier way for everyone.
    My husband and I are Urban walkers and enjoy walking in the older neighborhoods in town. We walk and gawk at the big old houses in Neiborhood’s like Woodruff Place and think of how some people use to live. We don’t mind the warmer weather we have here in the winter for the sake of our walks, but know the change isn’t all good.

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