The bad news, and the good

Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway have an interesting article in Yale Environment developing ideas from their book Merchants of Doubt. Some of it summarises the findings of the book concerning the organised campaigns of denial of science, but there are some new expressions of anxiety which are deserving of notice.

They draw attention to the fostering of a public image of climate science as a criminal conspiracy by a group called Cooler Heads Coalition, a creation of the Washington-based Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The CEI itself has accused NASA, the largest funder of climate science, of faking important climate data sets. And earlier this year Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, whose positions are frequently cited and promoted by CEI, called for a criminal investigation of 17 climate scientists from a variety of institutions for allegedly falsifying or distorting data used in taxpayer-funded research.
The shift in the community of global warming deniers from merely attacking mainstream climate scientists to alleging their involvement in criminal activity Oreskes and Conway describe as “an unsurprising but alarming development” in the continuing campaign to discredit the science.

They admit to having often felt demoralized as they researched their book by the efficacy of doubt-mongering tactics over a range of issues, and depressed that the American public had been repeatedly fooled by the same strategy and tactics. But they allowed themselves some cautious optimism for climate change because disputes over other issues – tobacco smoking, acid rain, second-hand smoke, and the ozone hole – ended with the scientific evidence prevailing, and with regulation that (however delayed or weakened) addressed the problem.

It has appeared in recent years that the science of global warming was also on the way to prevailing. They note, for example, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saying in 2005: “The debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat posed by changes in our climate.”

However, they express anxiety that progress may now have been reversed, pointing to the stepped-up effort on a broad front in recent months to belittle the overwhelming evidence of human-caused global warming. This has intensified as the US Senate prepared to consider climate and energy legislation. The overriding goal is to sow doubt in the public’s mind and head off government regulation.

They see evidence that the contrarian campaign is enjoying significant success, with many Americans accepting the deniers’ allegations as true, or at least being confused by them. The undermining of science has eroded public support for the decisive action needed to avoid the worst effects of global warming. They cite recent polls showing that more than half of Americans are not particularly worried about the issue and that fully 40 percent believe there is major disagreement among scientists about whether climate change is even occurring.

Oreskes’ and Conway’s pessimism about the poll findings may prove to be undue if a recently conducted poll commissioned by Stanford University presents a clearer picture of public opinion. Jon Krosnick, a Stanford professor, offers his interpretation in the New York Times, which is that when simple and direct questions are asked, polls reveal huge majorities of Americans still believe the earth has been gradually warming as the result of human activity and want the government to institute regulations to stop it. When respondents to the Stanford poll were asked if they thought that the earth’s temperature probably had been heating up over the last 100 years, 74 percent answered affirmatively. And 75 percent of respondents said that human behavior was substantially responsible for any warming that has occurred.

Perhaps the denialist campaign is having less success in the US than Oreskes and Conway fear. Their own thorough exposure of its unprincipled tactics can only help ensure its ultimate defeat.

18 thoughts on “The bad news, and the good”

  1. Sorry folks, global warming is old hat. Here's the new hobgoblin:

    "Move over, global warming: Biodiversity is the next central organizing principle of human civilization."

    "…as global warming fears collapse in the face of Climategate, the green socialist machine is scrambling to be ready to switch gears. Perhaps the new rationale for global wealth redistribution and deindustrialization will be preserving biodiversity. It's a good candidate: It has all the flaws of global warming – bad science, bad economics and totalitarian politics."

    There's still time to climb aboard the new bandwagon!

    1. Author: E. Calvin Beisner is with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

      You can start picking up the links at Sourcewatch. And yes, Roy Spencer's involved. The Cornwall lot were a sponsor of the Hearltand crankfest, and one of them contributed a talk. I wonder what the graphs were like… 😉

      [But, strictly, OT for this thread – we can discuss in People Talkin' if you want]

  2. "I wonder what the graphs were like…"

    LOL!! That's an amusing question from someone who believes Mann's hockey stick graph was a paragon of good science!

  3. Very interesting. The shame is that with cigarette smoking the effect on the earth's population as a proportion was small, and arguably the same with acid rain and the ozone layer depletion.

    With climate change it is pretty well total. And spending time on persuading those in the middle of the debate affected by the allegation that the science is not settled is wasting very precious time.

  4. If you've not worked in the fossil fuel industry you've no idea just how far below the belt these people are prepared to hit, nor how infused with self-righteous certitude they are. Read a few editorials in Oil & Gas journal to clue in on the moral high ground part, as to trickery and deception there's no substitute for growing up in the milieu; you'll simply never fully understand how self-assured and dirty these people are until you're accused of fraud and harassed with synthetic legal attacks.

    Coal mining firms are perfectly ok with openly killing workers and laughing at regulators all the way to the bank, the petroleum industry is slightly more evolved when it comes to accepting acutely life-threatening production methods but is equally contemptuous of regulators. In a twisted way the BP blowout may be the best thing to happen for years in terms of bringing these people to heel. They only understand money.

    Sovereign nations have gone to war and shed blood for less than what's at stake for the fossil fuel industry. Be surprised at nothing they do to defend themselves.

  5. The whole thing is becoming very reminiscent of the mid 50's McCarthyism and "reds under the bed". There seems to be this streak of paranoia in the American psyche that surfaces from time to time.

    from Wiki:
    "The term McCarthyism, coined in 1950 in reference to McCarthy's practices, was soon applied to similar anti-communist activities. Today the term is used more generally to describe demagogic, reckless, and unsubstantiated accusations, as well as public attacks on the character or patriotism of political opponents.[2"

  6. What I find really annoying is the way that these people with one breath will deny absolutely that global warming is happening, then with the next breath demand that they be allowed a say in determining our response to global warming.

    The professional denialists are exploiting one of the fundamental weaknesses of the democratic system – that everyone gets a say, no matter how barmy, even Wrathall.

    It would be nice if there was a way to exclude denialists from the debate – but can you imagine the howls of protest from Wrathall if that happened?

    1. It would be nice if there was a way to exclude denialists from the debate – but can you imagine the howls of protest from Wrathall if that happened?

      Not just him. At the very least that's a nice slippery slope you want to set up there, regardless of whether i agree with your proposal in itself.

      1. I think discrimination is the better term. Rather than excluding anyone, we just need to learn to discriminate between those talking nonsense, and those with a grasp of the facts. After all, we don't ask aroma therapists for advice on the health system….

        1. Ok, exclude was not the right word – my bad.

          Accountability is probably the better way to frame it. Right now, there is no (personal) cost to denial. If, in ten years time, the evidence of warming becomes so overwhelming that even Girma can no longer deny it, what happens? Well, he might be a bit embarrassed, but other than losing a couple of bets, he's not going to be out of pocket.

          However, if the denialists have managed to persuade to "wait another five years" before taking action, then it's going to cost all of us more to fix the problem. Why should I have to pay more in ten years time when I am perfectly willing to start now?

          Maybe we need climate futures. If you think the IPCC is right, you can buy "warming futures", which will count as discounts against climate taxes in the future.

          If you think the IPCC is lying, buy "cooling futures". These are free to buy now, but their future price is linked to global temperature. If the world obeys Girma, and cools down, then cooling futures grow in value. But it temperatures continue to rise, the cooling futures instead turn into a debt that increases along with temperature.

          That way it is up to every individual to make an assessment of what they think is actually going to happen (as opposed to what they would like to happen).

          Or not.

          1. Reminds me of a 'solution' which required higher climate taxes as temperatures rose, and lower ones as it fell – I think the assumption was that they would fall, otherwise rising would really…redistribute a lot of income 😀 Ignores the amount of time GHGs hang around too of course.

  7. (Part 1) The government says manmade climate change is a threat to the planet and to humans. This is the conclusion based on 20 years of research costing about $100 billion. The government obviously isn't afraid to throw a lot of money to identify a problem of this magnitude. Why won't it do the same to find its solution? Nowhere can it be found that the government intends to make it a national goal to fund research and development to find an affordable, full time alternative energy source to replace fossil fuels. The government HAS promoted and subsidized part time alternative energy sources (wind, solar, biofuels), and is determined to pass some form of carbon trading scheme to ration the fossil fuels that drive our economy, and thus force all manufacturers to pay for the fossil fuels they require over and above their ration. Manufacturers have no alternative but to pay the price and pass it on to the consumer… unless they can find a way for windmills and solar panels to provide full time power.

  8. (Part 2) If saving the planet and humanity is the end goal for these initiatives, then finding a full time replacement energy source is paramount. Yet the government isn't doing this. The part time technologies that ARE being promoted, along with the carbon taxation scheme, actually require continued reliance on fossil fuels. Invention of the needed alternative to fossil fuel energy would eliminate the need to make and sell windmills, solar panels, and biofuels. And it would make carbon derivatives worthless. It appears that the government is pushing the suboptimal solution for financial gain and redistribution of wealth, while waving the banner of saving the planet. Nothing the government is doing will eliminate the use of fossil fuels, and thus will not reduce the dreaded CO2 levels to solve the "$100 billion problem."

    Expectations that windmills, solar panels, and biofuels will ever replace fossil fuels are far-fetched. These are all part time sources of energy. They would make sense only if we were working hard to find the full time replacement for fossil fuels. And it seems criminal to ration fossil fuel energy with nothing being done to find a 24/7 alternative.

    1. We already have the alternative – its called Hydro and Geothermal. Wind, solar, tidal. and biofuels REDUCE the demand for drawing down on Hydro (Potential energy stays in the lakes for use at a later time). Not as far fetched as you imagine. NZ is already producing 70 – 80% of total electrical supply from renewables. It's only our consistently GROWING DEMAND for energy that forces us to overstep our renewable supply.

        1. That is because agriculture is such a large component. The main challenge for NZ and the world is transport, or rather the expectation of cheap widely available mobility.

          In my view irrespective of action on climate the transport paradigm that has become seen as the 'norm' since the 1940s(?) is on its way out. The question then becomes how do we sustain our qualities of life with much restricted mobility.


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