Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Power of Denial: Lessons from the CWG Corruption Scandal and the Climate Change Debate

Last week, Suresh Kalmadi, chair of the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee, tried to distract the country from the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal by playing the "anti-national" card. When that didn't work, he tried the next trick many politicians like to use when faced with bad news: denial.  Kalmadi repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, saying things like "We have nothing to hide...there is total transparency in OC and our conscience is clear" and "Every pie is accounted for." Claims like that sound a little like his now-famous promise that "the games won't cost the country a penny."

But even I was surprised to read that he based a large part of his defense on faked emails! Fake emails, my friends, is not a very smart strategy.  Simple, straightforward denial is almost always more effective, unless you are really desperate.  Is it any surprise that even his own party is no longer willing to defend him?

Kalmadi may be on the way out, but one has to admit the power of denial.  It doesn't usually solve problems, but it can be remarkably good at covering up the truth!  

If the press continues to do the job it has been doing, I am cautiously optimistic that the worst of the Commonwealth Games corruption will be addressed in time, though I suspect the really big fish will slip through the net as usual--in that way, politics does not resemble fishing!

In a strange way, the Commonwealth Games corruption scandal reminds me of the climate change debate, although there, I am not so optimistic. Let's look at the weather for a moment.  Things have been hot, not just in Delhi, but worldwide.  In fact, four of the first six months of 2010 were the hottest on record according to American scientists; this puts 2010 on track to be the warmest year since 1880. Along with that, Arctic sea ice is at record lows and new photos of Everest remind us that Himalayan ice is also rapidly disappearing.

One warm year is no proof of climate change--it's the long term trends that show that.  But climate deniers, like the ones who wrote the hack job that Open Magazine ran back in February, have never figured this out.  US economist Paul Krugman, writing in the New York Times, put it this way:
Of course, you can’t infer trends in global temperatures from one year’s experience. But ignoring that fact has long been one of the favorite tricks of climate-change deniers: they point to an unusually warm year in the past, and say “See, the planet has been cooling, not warming, since 1998!” Actually, 2005, not 1998, was the warmest year to date — but the point is that the record-breaking temperatures we’re currently experiencing have made a nonsense argument even more nonsensical; at this point it doesn’t work even on its own terms.
Unfortunately, the US senate didn't listen to Krugman, or any other rational voices for that matter, and it appears that serious action on climate change is dead in the US for the foreseeable future.  (And to think that officials were lecturing India and China on their need to do more during Copenhagen.) 

It's easy to get angry about all this, and I don't blame you if you do.  But it's probably better to do something.  If you are concerned about how the Commonwealth Games are taking money and resources from people who need it and transferring them to people who don't, go check out out ACORN International's Commonwealth Games Campaign.  If you are a student, why not work to fight the evictions at Delhi UniversityAnd whoever you are, why not write a letter to the editor of your newspaper or your local government official?
If climate is your main concern now, the Indian Youth Climate Network has some good resources on their web page, and of course you can check out the sidebar of the Dhaba for more links.  For something quick and easy to do, you can sign this petition against BP that someone sent me this morning--but this is a long term issue that will require a lot more than on-line petitions!
To read more about the CWG, go see our special CWG page.
To read more about Climate, go see our special Climate page.

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