Saturday, September 15, 2007
Global Warming Denial is a Hoax
Last month Newsweek had an incredibly informative article about the global warming denial machine - the "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry [that] has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change." With many facts and examples, author Sharon Begley illustrated just how deliberately these conspirators have attempted to sow doubt for their own self-interested ends. The bottom line is that corporations who would be negatively affected by government pressure to reduce greenhouse emissions have poured millions of dollars into creating the illusion of doubt and controversy regarding global climate change. And they've succeeded too - while over 95% of climate scientists strongly affirm global warming theory, 64% of the American public think there is still significant disagreement among scientists on the issue. Not to mention that Republicans, and conservatives in general, have made denial of global warming practically an article of faith.

Deniers have been nothing if not flexible too. As the science for global warming has become more and more convincing, they've changed their argument. As Begley describes it:
"Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless."

Robert J. Samuelson, another Newsweek editor, takes another approach in his response to Begley's article, which also ran in Newsweek. Oddly enough, while he claims that Begley's article was "simplistic" and "misleading", he doesn't actually dispute it's central claim that controversy over global warming has been artificially manufactured by politicians and industry leaders with a vested interest in the matter (except to point out one minor factual error regarding how much Exxon-Mobile donated to an anti-global warming political think-tank). Instead, he argues that yes, global warming is happening, but regardless, "we simply don't have a solution for this problem." So apparently, according to Samuelson, it doesn't matter that some people have deceived the public into thinking global warming isn't happening, since (again, according to Samuelson) it's too late to do anything about it anyway.

Samuelson points out that even if we took the most aggressive steps possible to curb greenhouse gases, and did so on a global scale, we still would not be able to significantly reduce our total-emissions over the next 40 years. This may be true (though he doesn't cite his sources) and is certainly a point of great concern, but I fail to see how this fact somehow excuses those who have obscured the truth and deliberately stood in the way of what solutions we do have.

And if even a fraction of the facts in Begley's article are accurate then it is pretty obvious that we have been deliberately deceived. One of my more libertarian/conspiracy-theory minded friends once tried to convince me that global warming theory itself was a hoax, a conspiracy on the part of scientists and environmentalists. I agree there has been a conspiracy, but it has been on the other side of the issue. If it comes down to it, I'm much more inclined to trust the consensus of scientists from all around the world, than to trust the nay-saying of a handful of contrarian scientists paid large sums of money by big corporations for the express purpose of disputing global warming.

I've long said that global warming, and environmentalism in general, ought not to be a conservative vs. liberal issue. These are just the realities - we are damaging the earth and we need to do what we can to fix it - and it seems like we ought to be able to come together to find solutions without all the partisan bickering or one side just adamantly closing their eyes to the facts.

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posted by Mike Clawson at 5:57 PM | Permalink |


16 Comments:


At 9/15/2007 06:54:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

And they've succeeded too - while over 95% of climate scientists strongly affirm global warming theory, 64% of the American public think there is still significant disagreement among scientists on the issue.

That seems to be a pretty typical denial strategy these days. The same thing seems to be going on with evolution, for example. Unfortunately, the magazines seem to do an excellent job of obfuscating things further. Why in the world would they pick "Global Warming is a Hoax*" as the title for that article? Similarly, why'd NatGeo feel the need for the two-page article title "Was Darwin wrong?" (flip page) "NO."?

Samuelson points out that even if we took the most aggressive steps possible to curb greenhouse gases, and did so on a global scale, we still would not be able to significantly reduce our total-emissions over the next 40 years. This may be true (though he doesn't cite his sources) and is certainly a point of great concern
Honestly, we could easily do it in ten years if we were willing to pay the cost. Of course, whether that cost is prohibitively expensive is another question: but it's a political/economic/moral question, not a scientific one. The "we lack the ability to stop it" argument is just the latest incarnation in their chain of 'flexible arguments.'

 

At 9/15/2007 07:03:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

"Why in the world would they pick "Global Warming is a Hoax*" as the title for that article?"

Well, the cover did have the asterik footnote that read "* Or so claim well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change. Inside the denial machine." I'm sure they put the provocative (and potentially misleading) title just to sell more magazines.

And who knows, maybe some conservative looking for confirmation of their denial really was gullible enough to pick it up and ended up discovering that he had actually been duped.

 

At 9/15/2007 07:42:00 PM, Anonymous Miko

I'm sure they put the provocative (and potentially misleading) title just to sell more magazines.

Yes, I'm sure that's why they did it as well. (I'm reminded of the Simpsons' TV 'action news' report: "President Reagan dyed... his hair.") I just wish they'd leave science reporting alone; we've got a hard enough time getting accurate science across as it is.

And who knows, maybe some conservative looking for confirmation of their denial really was gullible enough to pick it up and ended up discovering that he had actually been duped.

Perhaps so. But I'm more concerned with the people who spend three seconds looking at the cover while buying their groceries and then casually mention a few weeks later that they seem to recall having heard that global warming is a hoax.

 

At 9/15/2007 09:56:00 PM, Blogger rick

So how do you convince people like me who just don't buy the global warming theory? I don't trust people on either side of the issue. There are reasonable people touting data on both sides and mostly there are emotional people getting spouting rhetoric on both sides.

Do you suppose there is a way to get through to me? I see this like politics in that I (and I think most people) are filter data through my preconceived ideas. A paradigm shift is required and a few bumper-sticker-like facts aren't going to get that done.

 

At 9/15/2007 10:28:00 PM, Blogger Mike Clawson

I have no idea Rick. Why don't you tell us what it would take to change your mind.

Personally I was once a "doubter" too. But what changed for me is that I started questioning my conservative preconceptions and started listening to the people who know what they're talking about regarding this issue (i.e. scientists, not politicians or pundits).

But I don't know what it would take for you. Feel free to let us know.

 

At 9/17/2007 08:37:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous

I propose that the "Global Warming" debate is no longer a useful conversation. We don't know whether warming trends are man-made or natural (both sides have their own evidence). Instead, we should focus on the real problem: "global polluting." Regardless of whether our pollution is warming the planet, we know that it is damaging the earth in many tangible and extremely harmful ways. The fruitless debate of global warming is detracting everyone from the real issue.

 

At 9/17/2007 11:20:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Really, I never understood why environmentalism is considered "liberal". Making the planet more hazardous for future generations is a Bad Thing, period, regardless of whether you "buy into" Global Warming.

(I also never understood why they call it Global Warming "theory", just like they call evolution Evolutionary "theory". Especially since the word is applied to Evolution so often that laypeople use it disparagingly to mean "Probably Not True Even Though The Scientists Think It Is".)

The scary thing is, the people with the most money can now dictate what people believe about stuff. Precious few use Critical Thinking anymore. If you want my honest opinion, I'm scared to death for this country and this planet. I think the whole thing is headed to hell in a handbasket and we passed the point of no return about 6 years ago.

What happens when you apply Pascal's Wager to Global Warming? Infinite gain? Infinite loss? We're looking right at it.

But I suppose Jesus is probably coming back in 6-7 years or so, so concerning ourselves with 40 years down the road is pretty silly after all when you think about it.

 

At 9/17/2007 11:25:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Global polluting is certainly a problem too Nony Mouse. But the whole point of this article was that there really isn't a scientific debate about global warming. It's already confirmed (at least with about as much certainty as any scientific theory can have - though of course this will never reach 100%.). The illusion of debate is just something manufactured by big corporations and conservative politicians. Both sides don't have evidence. One side has evidence and the other side has misinformation and misleading, easily answered questions.

 

At 9/19/2007 07:36:00 AM, Blogger Alexa

Global warming controversy take new picture when a writer say that temperature increase is actually a good thing as in the past sudden cool periods have killed twice as many people as warm spells. He accepted global warming issues is big but he said not our fault.

 

At 9/19/2007 08:42:00 AM, Anonymous Dan W.

I appreciate your focus on this issue. But if you will forgive me, the tone of your presentation sounds all too familiar. Pick any two-sided polarizing issue. For example, the creation-evolution debate: both sides are known for similar comments as you made:

"One side has evidence and the other side has misinformation and misleading, easily answered questions."

Surely you don't think it is that easy. Everyone has their so-called facts and proof. There are intelligent caring people on both sides with convincing arguments. It might be one of those "both-and" situations, not "either-or."

I would propose again that we encourage people to get past the what I think is a mostly useless debate on what causes global warming. Regardless of whether our activities cause warming or not, our pollution causes great harm to our environment with serious consequences. Now that is something that I think everyone can agree on and with that basis, maybe we have something that we can move forward with. Peace.

 

At 9/19/2007 09:59:00 AM, Blogger Derek Berner

Except, Dan -- Just like Evolution, scientists are in 95%+ agreement. There is no real controversy.

It's just that nobody wants to listen to scientists anymore because people are afraid that science has a hidden agenda to convert America into atheists. Richard Dawkins aside, if you approach the science with an open mind you'll discover that no such agenda exists.

 

At 9/19/2007 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Surely you don't think it is that easy. Everyone has their so-called facts and proof. There are intelligent caring people on both sides with convincing arguments. It might be one of those "both-and" situations, not "either-or."

Actually Dan, I do think it's that easy. Many debates are both/and... but that's when there is an actual debate between equally informed people. Global warming is not like that. Debate between politicians and pundits doesn't count here. Debate between laypersons that only listen to what the politicians and pundits tell them doesn't count. We can all be as intelligent and caring as you like on this issue but it makes no difference because we don't really know what we're talking about. To debate the merits of a complex scientific theory like global warming you have to be a scientists. And among the people who actually are scientists there is no significant debate.

You mentioned "convincing arguments". What convincing arguments do you think the denial side has that have not already been satisfactorily answered by the majority of scientists who hold to man-made global warming? What has that 5% minority come up with that does not have an equally convincing explanation from the 95% majority of scientists?

Rick asked what could change his mind to believe in global warming. I don't know, but I can tell you what would change my opinion: a significant number (over 30% at least) of people who really understand the science, raising significant, unanswerable doubts AND a plausible alternative theory to explain the existing data. So far the global warming deniers have none of that: no unanswerable questions, not plausible alternative theory, and very, very few scientists. Until they can come up with those, I'm going to err on the side of trusting the consensus opinion. This issue is too potentially catastrophic to do otherwise.

 

At 9/19/2007 11:49:00 AM, Anonymous Dan W.

Thank you Derek and Mike.

Articles like this one keep me on the side of doubt:
http://www.earthtimes.org/articles/show/news_press_release,176495.shtml

The hypocrisy of Hollywood stars who have jumped on the Global Warming bandwagon and Global Warming Prophets like Al Gore and their private jets and over-consuming lifestyles also keep me on the side of doubt. I agree with Rick - I don't trust either side.

Even if someone were to prove the earth was cooling, should we then sit back, relax and do nothing about the toxic pollution that our lifestyles produce? I doubt you'll change anyone's mind about the debate. But take someone to the countries I've lived in where smog visibly pollutes the skies and makes your eyes sting... live there for awhile and start to deal with serious respiratory problems, then some people might wake up to the real dangers of our pollution (warming or not).

 

At 9/19/2007 01:59:00 PM, Blogger Derek Berner

The hypocrisy of Hollywood stars who have jumped on the Global Warming bandwagon and Global Warming Prophets like Al Gore and their private jets and over-consuming lifestyles also keep me on the side of doubt.

Dan, perhaps choosing a politician or celebrity to side with is the mistake. I choose to side with independently funded scientists who have all analyzed the data for themselves and reached the same conclusion, not the politicians.

Absolutely, something should be done "regardless" of the truth of global warming, but none of us is arguing whether something should be done. Not to mention "regardless" becomes a moot point when the data is staring you in the face. It's wrong to break other people's legs "regardless" of whether they can feel it ;-)

 

At 9/22/2007 11:37:00 AM, Blogger Mike Clawson

Dan W., thank you for that article. I've been wanting to reply sooner but it's been a busy week. Rather than do it here in the comments though, I'm going to give it a whole post here.

 

At 10/01/2007 08:38:00 PM, Anonymous Dan W.

Thank you for that follow-up Mike.

Here's another page for you to tackle if you feel up to it:
http://junkscience.com/Greenhouse/index.html

Once again, they claim that they have the "facts." Maybe you'll turn up that they are funded by George W. himself.

If you don't take too much offense, I'd have to say that your original tone of your post - the "we've got the facts straight and others are blinded" sort of tone - it sounded so stereotypical evangelicalish (obviously not on the issue but on the approach).

I remain as skeptical as ever about the who-is-causing global warming thing. I think I can go with the "climate change" theory, or the Pollution Is Hurting Us Theory.

By the way, I really enjoy your blog and the interesting things you come up with. Peace.

 

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