“A lie can travel half-way around the world while the truth is still getting its shoes on.” - Mark Twain
Denialism. Here is a good intro to the general phenomenon of science denialism. This link as well outline the general strategy employed by denialists of various persuasions, including global warming. Why these strategies? Because they work! They work because of human ignorance and human temptations. There is more denialism in the United States - one of the world's top two carbon polluters and home to many of the largest oil and mining corporations - than any other country. No lay person or college student can hope to understand and judge the issue without understanding the phenomenon of denialism in general, and climate denialism in particular.
First, a bit about my own politics. I'm not a Democrat, nor Republican. Never have been, never intend to be. Nor do I have any sympathy whatsoever with communism, socialism, fascism, or religious authoritarianism of any form. I was, for many years, a registered Libertarian. No longer - more on that below. A proper, moral, humane political/economic system has not yet come to prominence, so far as I can tell. If I had another lifetime, or even just a couple of years, I'd love to devote much thought to just that question. It seems instead that mankind has oscillated between various forms of predation on our fellow humans and other species. I'm currently a political Independent, and will likely stay that way.
Here is a separate webpage I've put together on Climate Denialist Tactics, many of which I've personally been subjected to.
Here's a well documented report from the Union of Concerned Scientists on the massive global warming disinformation campaign funded by Exxon-Mobil,
Koch Industries, and other fossil fuel and right-wing interests, and the complicity of the corporate news media in not exposing this fact. Generic funds are being used to hide massive funding of $120 million to climate denial groups, hiding the identity of the donors, as detailed in this article. Professor Robert Brulle at Drexel University estimates that (as of 2013), in the past decade over $500 million has been given to organizations dedicated to slandering the science of climate change, often in the most shamelessly ludicrous way. This funding is ramping up strongly - in the 2014 mid-term elections, fossil fuel corporations spent over $700 million for lobbying (successfully - Republicans now control both houses of congress). Rupert Murdoch's Fox News is perhaps the largest media empire dedicated to this slander (see Jan '14 example in box at right). Here is another excellent exposition on the AGW denialist tactics and history. This article, by a professor of marine biology concerned with global warming, has many links to articles and papers regarding AGW-denialist funding and tactics. Particularly ugly is the section on "black ops". More links here, here, here, here. And hate-filled threats against scientists here. The notorious PR firm Berman and Company is very open about playing dirty to win this "endless war" against environmentalists. Take note of how explicitly his son expresses his assessment about the work (and character) of his father. Pause to think of how the sons and daughters of the many right-wing ideologues and other fossil fuel CEOs will feel about their fathers lies and funding of climate denial slander and attacks on scientists, and that it seems not to faze them in what they are doing.
The steep ramp-up in climate denialism is relatively recent, despite the fact that the actual evidence for AGW has only grown steadily stronger over the past 60 years. One can see this from this moderator's question on global warming from the 1988 Presidential election's debate. We see that blatant tampering of climate science results by the G. W. Bush White House made it appear as if there was a real debate on human-caused global warming, with the hard evidence revealed by Rick Piltz (of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program), and show the close ties between Big Oil, Republican government, and climate denialism. This, despite the internal documents showing the Bush Administration knew full well that the global security risks of climate change paint an apocalyptic future of endless war . As late as 2007 a Harris poll showed 71% of Americans believed climate change was real and human-caused. In 2011, that had dropped to a new low - only 44%. Scientists are brilliant - at science. They have not proven themselves brilliant, or even particularly capable (yet), at getting their findings understood by decision-makers. However, this is beginning to change, as the truly disastrous consequences of our present course continue to become clearer. Some scientists are beginning to take their science to a wider audience than their fellow journal-reading scientists. More on that later. Remedying this is part of the motivation behind my website here. Denialist efforts are strategically aimed where business interests are most critically decided and where scientific acumen is the poorest - media and politicians - with
the goal of preventing policy action. And they do it dirty. At this, denialists are practiced and skilled, to the detriment of future generations.
The science is clear - we are responsible for global warming and the damage it will cause to all future generations. Not the sun, not "natural variability", not cosmic rays, not some other scapegoat that would relieve us of the responsibility to take action.
See how the popular press and AGW denialist interests deliberately lie and distort the words of scientists - a revealing example. Another recent example of the complete idiocy of the certain right wing press outlets in their climate-related science pronouncements. Here, Exxon Mobil is still funding groups that deny climate change, despite claiming that it had stopped doing so. This Bill Moyers piece is also a good source of links on how many of our largest corporations are attacking scientists whose research results endanger their profits. Oil money funneled through the Koch Group to fund AGW denialists. Note too how the oil industry will ignore its own scientists on climate, if it might endanger profits. Exxon, indeed, knew as far back as 1981, with high accuracy, how dangerous their own product was to Earth's climate, as newly exposed documents show (see this Frontline video)
Conspiracy Theory? AGW denialists (one of the highest profile examples - Richard Lindzen) claim that there is a conspiracy to prevent publication of anti-AGW papers, and a conspiracy to commit scientific fraud in order to dupe the public with alarmist predictions of disaster, their motivation being to insure that climate scientists receive more funding by creating a problem which doesn't in fact exist. They provide absolutely no evidence, only op/ed's in blogs and venues such as the Wall Street Journal. But I'm a scientist, and have been for 30 years. These charges are absurd. To commit fraud is a career-killing move. Imagine what would await the first scientist to try and organize such a conspiracy - it would be fatal to their credibility and career. For a global conspiracy among thousands of climate scientists from virtually every country to engage in this kind of fraud and keep it going for years - it's simply ridiculous. Imagine being a new graduate student, confronted in a back room with the demand he buy into the conspiracy, while this graduate student knows that fame and truth and vindication for a heroic maverick stance await him by simply exposing the fraud. Now imagine every such graduate student (there are over a thousand at any given time in atmospheric science in the U.S. alone), who was motivated by a genuine curiosity about the truths of Nature, turning against their own best interests, even their own careerist interests, and caving in to becoming a conspirator and publishing false science. Run that movie in your mind and you'll see what absolute lunacy it is to claim reality for such a scenario. When's the last time you saw a genuine, confirmed case of significant fraud by a non-industry related scientist? It is extremely rare. When's the last time you saw lies and fraud from corporate interests or politicians? Last week? Yesterday? This morning's news? These are people for whom lying is a way of life. Sacrificing their integrity is simply another cost of doing business. To be as charitable as possible, they commit psychological projection when they see lies and fraud among academic scientists. More to the point, can you see the motivation on the AGW-denialists side to muddy the waters with junk science and charges of fraud? Many billions of dollars in oil and mining corporation profits are at stake in battles over carbon taxes and other mechanisms which may be imposed to reflect the true cost of fossil fuels. There are many people who inhabit corporations (including their labs), Wall Street, and Washington DC who are tempted to adopt morally reprehensible means for monetary rewards. When talking to the science-challenged public, the honorable requirement to speak only with integrity can be a liability. Denialists too often feel no such restraint, as this article shows . If you like curling up to a good listen, click and listen to this talk from Stanford University - The general public: why such resistance? This video also shows the incredibly naive science and even more naive statistics by Douglass et al. (2007) in their paper claiming "natural variation" can explain climate trends.
The Culture of Science. I've lived and worked among academic scientists most of my life. They're good people. There's great pleasure in seeing some new insight into nature for the first time. And we all, scientists included, want to be admired by colleagues for work well done, and for insightful discoveries. It's also good for one's career. A new discovery can open up whole new lines of investigation. It invigorates a field which might be getting too dull if the big questions appear to have been solved. So startling papers will get noticed and be read. If a careful look suggests the idea is solid, then everyone gets excited. It doesn't matter whether the author(s) are already big names or not. Consider Albert Einstein, who was once told "you'll never amount to anything" by a grade school teacher. After his university physics education, he started off as a lowly patent clerk when he published his famous 1905 paper on the Special Theory of Relativity. To believe the claims of the denialist blogs, this would be a perfect set up for Einstein to be ignored. But his reasoning was solid, and his career took off northward. Or the discovery of Dark Energy in 1998, which initially "horrified" Brian Schmidt, head of the team that put together the evidence. But the evidence was confirmed by an independent group about the same time, and after concerted efforts on the part of both teams and others to find alternate explanations and weak points in the data and reasoning, it is now an accepted part of cosmology. There's a less inspiring example in geologists' reception of the "continental drift" idea hypothesized by many in the 1800's, but first pulled together into a reasonable observational case by Alfred Wegener in 1912. It wasn't until the 1960's that plate tectonics was generally accepted. However, in fairness to the early 20th century geologists, Wegener did not have a mechanism to explain continental drift, and his attempts to do so were shown to be physically impossible (and conversely in fairness to Wegener, a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation would've shown there's plenty of energy available in the Earth's interior to power such movement, so the idea should have been taken more seriously, Wegner's theoretical explanations notwithstanding). So despite his impressive circumstantial case, geologists on the whole rejected the idea. Eventually, the truth will win out, and that is because the people who go into science or motivated from all angles to make it so. So yes, it might be dreamy to be a maverick and overturn a field and become famous, and despite the lurid media-profit-motivated headlines, in the real world there are hundreds of failed paradigm-shifting ideas for every one which in fact proves everyone else wrong. And if it's status you're after, good scientists know you'll not get respect unless your record shows you to be bright, insightful, objective, correct, and above all, honest. The fastest way to "fortune and glory" is to be RIGHT with the facts when your colleagues are WRONG with the facts. So any "hoax" would be immediately exposed with solid hard science by your fellow climate scientists for exactly that, for purely careerist motives if nothing else. Yet what we get from climate denialists is simply slanderous charges and no trace of evidence.
Swing for the Fences. Science has been very successful, and gets a fair amount of justly earned prestige (at least among educated peoples) in the modern world. There will always be those who so envy that prestige that they're tempted to get some for themselves by whatever means. Many scientists will find their university mail and email boxes sometimes contain off-the-wall "papers" which posture as ground-breaking paradigm-shifting discoveries. Except - they can't convince editors or science journal referees that there is any merit in publishing it in a real journal - hence they resort to self-promotion. In my personal experience, a quick read often shows that the depth of understanding doesn't extend beyond repeating some of the jargon. Sending your papers out unsolicited to scientists mailboxes when the papers are not in line for publication in a real journal, is not a mark of distinction. What is FATAL to your career is to be found to be anything less than truth-driven. At a bare minimum, other scientists will stop reading your papers. Pick up a typical ~15 page published journal paper on a topic at the frontiers of knowledge and you'll see it takes real time and effort to digest it, no matter how smart you are. Time and effort are scarce resources and won't be invested on a researcher who has compromised his integrity. Be wary of those who seem over-motivated to make a big splash in the eyes of others. When a scientific paper has been discovered to contain bad data, plagiarism, clearly invalid conclusions, or worse, falsified data, it is retracted. The rate of retraction of journal papers is only 0.02% (while this may still underestimate the rate of papers which should be withdrawn, how do you suppose this compares to the rate at which you hear dishonest statements from politicians, lobbyists, and corporations?). The vast majority of these retractions involve medical papers, where big money from Big Pharma is involved (see, for example, the BPA research below). Retraction Watch is a good watchdog of scientific paper retractions. Here's a recent article from Nature on the scientific paper retraction and the politics involved. I've not seen any involvement here of mainstream climate science, or astronomy for that matter.
It may also be relevant to consider scientific honesty vs. a "swing for the fences" mentality in young vs. old scientists even in academia. Suppose you're a post-doc or new tenure-track faculty, and your own look at evidence and atmospheric physics shows that the entire climate science community has been involved in a conspiracy to cover up the fact that climate change is just "natural variation". Your temptation will be VERY strong to show the truth, knowing that the truth will win out in the end anyway, and it'll be quite a feather in the cap of your career progress to have stood up to this nonsense early on. All scientists know this, and so the temptation to try and form such a conspiracy would simply not exist. Now look at the other end - suppose you're already a tenured or emeritus professor in his 60's or 70's at a prestigious university like MIT or Berkeley, and your marginal utility of basking in the glow of that position has long since faded. You want one last moment of glory, and so you take a position opposite to the consensus, tempted by the vision of yourself as a lone maverick, a heroic champion admired by all of humanity. You enjoy the maverick role, you're getting attention again, and even oil money to boot.. but your papers trying to support this position are shown to be embarrassingly wrong and so now all you can do is hope to hell that the science will somehow turn around and prove you right and everyone else wrong. It's not a very noble motivation, but not hard to understand. It's fortunately rare.
Science Journals vs. Trade Journals: Another thing to be careful of is the quality of publication outlets. The prestige of a good scientific journal is hard won - by a track record of publishing papers showing well-done research on important questions. And just as important, a track record of NOT publishing papers later shown to be full of embarrassing flaws. A real journal will send out papers to referees (peer scientists) with a track record of publications in the specialty being addressed. The referees study the paper and look for weak points, for conclusions which are not well supported, and they make recommendations for further work before re-submitting for publication. Or if it's deeply flawed, recommend against publication. Or if you've done a great job from the outset, a green light on an excellent piece of work. I've been a referee for numerous papers on galaxy clustering and numerical simulations in astrophysics. And I've published papers in these areas and been refereed. The referees almost always have good points to help improve the paper. The instructions from the editor are to insure that the quality of the paper is as high as possible, and only if it has major and central flaws, or adds nothing to the field, do they simply recommend against publication. The journals will have their own (hefty!) subscription charges, and page charges (yes - if you want to submit a paper, you'll pay about $200 per type-set page to the Astrophysical Journal. Journals aren't going to fill your pockets with money for doing great science). I'm a member of the American Astronomical Society - which publishes the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, we call it), the ApJ Letters, the Astronomical Journal, for example. In climate research, the top scientific organizations include Nature: Climate Change, the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union, and top journals include Geophysical Research Letters, Journal of Geophysical Research, Journal of Climate, and others). The reason you need care is that there are also so-called "trade journals", which are not supported by professional societies of scientists, but instead largely by corporations. Or you may have a dubious paper attempting to get published in a journal whose specialty is really elsewhere - the goal being to avoid competent referees. These trade journals often have a pretty dismal record of objectivity and genuine peer review. Often, a paper may simply be accepted or rejected from such journals for political or corporate reasons. A recent example is the Soon and Baliunas paper claiming that late 20th century global warming is typical of many in the recent past. An excellent examination of the real journal vs. trade journal issue and the peer review process within climate science is here. The most notorious trade journal in climate matters is no doubt Energy and Environment, which, except for right-wing news sites and blogs, is one of the few publication outlet opportunities for bogus AGW denialist claims, and is frequently cited in their publications just as if it were a real journal. Its editor once famously remarked, "when asked about the publication of these papers (editor) Boehmer-Christiansen replied, 'I'm following my political agenda -- a bit, anyway. But isn't that the right of the editor?'[source]"
Where Do the Best Scientists Go? It is a truism that the best scientists in most fields tend to gravitate towards jobs in academia, for several reasons: here they have access to graduate students to help do original research, they get to teach the next generation of scientists, they have the freedom to do their work without external pressure to fulfill some business agenda, they get to spend their time with other quality scientists, and they find it a refuge from a world too often ruled by less than pure motivations. Academic scientists apply for grant money from agencies such as the National Science Foundation, NASA, and other government grant agencies which do not have profit motive behind them. Those who can't win academic jobs, or who put a high priority on the size of their monetary rewards, tend to end up in industry. Here they're expected to help the corporation survive and prosper in a competitive world. Industry scientists which do not further that aim tend to find themselves looking for work elsewhere. So there's a powerful motivation for industry "science" to be heavily skewed towards what the corporation wants it to say. History shows this pretty convincingly. The tobacco industry (too many links out there, but here's one from the Lancet - a top medical research journal), drug companies, (here's a New England Journal of Medicine paper on Big Pharma's shamefully biased record on antidepressant data and marketing, and a YouTube on the same subject and this from the British Medical Journal on how unfavorable clinical trials data is buried rather than published) and now the fossil fuel industry. Here is a recent source showing the communications between Tobacco executives which have strong relationships to the roots of climate denialism. Sometimes, to be fair to the industry scientists themselves, they do decent work but as has been shown, it is hushed up or buried if it conflicts with corporate profit interests. A prime recent example is the revelations in the "Exxon Papers" scandal. The sugar industry has followed the same tactics in insuring throwing mud in the understanding of the dangerous health effects of sugar.
Recently I happened to be doing some web research on the dangers of bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical put into polycarbonate and other plastics. Take a look at the table and quotes below, quoted from Environment California. Over 90% of independent government funded research studies show BPA's harmful effects on health, even at every-day exposure levels. Yet NONE of the (flawed) industry sponsored studies show any harmful effects (I've tossed all my polycarbonate. Especially if you're male - who needs emasculating plasticizers?).
Independent Science Shows Harmful Effects from BPA, while "Science" from the Plastics Industry Shows None
A recently-published review of scientific studies shows that, in the last 7 years (through November 2005), 151 studies on the low-dose effects of BPA have been published.(37) None of the 12 studies funded by the chemical industry reported adverse effects at low levels, whereas 128 of 139 government-funded studies found adverse effects. These many studies were conducted in academic laboratories in the U.S. and abroad. Even the 12 industry-funded studies have flaws, however. Of the industry studies, two had their positive controls fail—an indication that the entire experiment had failed, not that BPA had not caused an adverse health effect.
Another industry study concluded BPA caused no adverse effect, but an independent analysis of the experiment's data by scientists convened by the National Toxicology Program of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services concluded that in fact there was an adverse effect. Industry scientists had misreported their own results. The chemical industry relies on an incomplete review of scientific studies by an effort funded by the American Plastics Council at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis. The panel funded by the American Plastics Council only considered 19 studies in concluding in 2004 that the weight of the evidence for low-dose effects of BPA was weak.(38) As of November 2005, there were 151 published studies on the low-dose effects of BPA.
Lead exposure to children and brain damage and other neurological damage, is another area where industry has fought against good science showing the poisonous effects of lead. See "Lead Wars" for a documenting of the outrageous attacks that industry has launched against scientists, and "Deceit and Denial" exposing the tactics of the chemical industry in fighting pollution laws and pollution science. We don't see this sort of betrayal in astronomy. However, I need to comment on the case of Willie Soon, who postures as an "astrophysicist" but who in fact is supported only by the oil companies as a purveyor of junk science on climate. He has an office in the Smithsonian Astrohysical Observatory building on the campus of Harvard University, but is not on the Harvard payroll, and even the SAO is distancing themselves from him and his activities. Harvard says he works "outside the University".
The conclusion is clear - industry "science" does not have the hallmarks I have always taught to my students - a respect for the truth. A respect for objective, faithful communication of exactly what the evidence shows - neither more nor less. Be suspicious of industry-sponsored science, but don't let that taint your appreciation of Science itself. Industry "science" is an indictment of those who posture as having integrity towards science, but in fact do not.
And last, but perhaps most telling. At the same time that the oil and mining industry is so furiously trying to tell us that global warming is a lie, their longer term actions clearly show they do indeed know it is not a lie, as this article details. This is what most infuriates me on a personal level: The pretence. The posturing. The lying. The bald, two-faced lying. Exxon knew exactly what their CO2 would do to climate, as far back as 1981 (and here). I hate having my intelligence and perception insulted, and you should too.
I don't belong to Earth First, so you might wonder what is a college Astronomy chair is doing wading into such offensive material as this. Unfortunately, scientists are being compelled to engage denialism with no punches pulled, because what good is good science if it is smeared or ignored by those who most need to understand it, if we're ever to insure political leaders commit to good policy action? Is it the best strategy to educate in part by exposing the ugly side of AGW denialism as bluntly as I am doing? Time will tell. This thoughtful article from the European Journal of Public Health says "yes". Without blunt confrontation with lies, we grant a legitimacy to denialists they do not deserve, and it becomes a never ending battle. Denialists simply do not listen (example - the Spencer (2011) paper). They don't listen because they know they don't have to - their target is a science-ignorant public. All that's required is to throw mud in the public's face and let the desire to avoid awareness of uncomfortable truths finish the job of insuring policy paralysis.
Do I enjoy doing this? No. It's been a thankless job and costly in every way I can describe. I have been threatened, in writing, by college administration officials I once respected, I've been shunned and treated as "radioactive" by others at work. I've watched an administration-enforced cover-up ensue. And never once an apology. I am one of those people who have loved science, as a refuge from a world too often run by those worried more about their image than about truth, as a place where I can instead deal with kindred souls who want only to understand the universe and share it. But the spin, misinformation, and outright lies continue to weaken Americans' understanding that global warming is real, human-caused, and on course to destroy the Earth as we knew it. It cannot continue. How can students understand and advocate for good policy action when they've been spun towards cynicism about human responsibility and cynicism about science itself - in an Environmental Science class of all places - as I have witnessed here at my home institution? It is young people and their children's children who will be left with a frightening future. I want to look back on my legacy as a teacher with pride, and so I try to be philosophical about the costs. My essays On Teaching and Chapter 0 address some relevant issues on honesty and teaching.
It's sad for me to witness the wholesale abandonment of reason by the self-defined-as-rational Libertarian Party, as I was a registered Libertarian for many years. I've had to watch how many Libertarian speakers dismissing climate change as nothing more than a plot by "intellectuals" to puff up their importance (e.g. Thomas Sowell), or a liberal plot to justify Big Government. These Libertarians do so with not a shred of evidence or rational argument. This is slander. I've watched how the billionaire Libertarian Koch brothers, of Koch Industries (fossil fuels and chemicals), who are the major contributors to PBS's Nova science series, influence how Nova and other PBS programs now tellingly confine themselves to trivial subjects such as how chariots were made, and not a single episode on human-caused climate change - the largest and most important scientific issue of today and tomorrow. For several years now, the signature Libertarian think tank - the Cato Institute - has sided with climate denialists. They've done so by repeatedly distorting and lying about the actual scientific results, taking data published in peer-reviewed science journals and then doctoring it in order to try and minimize the importance of human causes of global warming. This doctoring has been done without mention of the actual original results - this is fraud; plain and simple. The authors of the original papers are justifiably outraged at the behavior of Cato Institute fellow Pat Michaels in these distortions of their work, and in lying to Congress about climate science. It is sad, because the modern Libertarian movement began with the thinking of Ayn Rand, whose first and defining foundation was that "A is A; Objectivity and truth are not to be sacrificed to anything or anyone". Yet this is precisely what the Libertarians have done. Koch Industries provides the major funding of the Cato Institute, and Pat Michaels himself claimed that only 3% of his funding was from the oil industry and, when called out on this lie, later admitted that fully 40% of his funding comes from the oil industry. Given how obvious and reprehensible this all is, one would hope that the fossil fuel corporations might realize the ultimate disgrace that will sooner or later be obvious to all, and seek to cut their reputational losses. Perhaps show a bit of respect for the American public's intelligence as well as retrieve some honor in their responses. Instead, now here in 2014, Koch Industries is hiring Steve Lombardo, Public Relations/Crisis chair of the same public relations firm - Burson Marsteller - responsible for media whitewashing some of the worst industrial corruption scandals (e.g. the Bhopal disaster) on record (see here and here). That the libertarians tow this political line is a massive betrayal of intellectual honesty by an organization whose very appeal to young people, once, was exactly because it was thought they stood for intellectual honesty. This betrayal will doom the Libertarian Party, I predict.
The complete intellectual implosion of the Republican Party, most obvious in the climate issue, has been breathtaking to watch. It's worse than simple, rigid, head-in-sand ideology. It's outright lying to the public about their own understanding (as revealed on an episode of NPR's "This American Life" here, and a 4 minute digest excerpt here). It wasn't always so. I recently came across this 36 minute address by British Prime Minister and arch-conservative Margaret Thacher to the U.N. back in 1987, when human-caused climate change had already been scientifically demonstrated as a serious danger. The intelligence and detail with which she addresses the U.N. is such a stunning contrast to what we see today, that it is simply stupefying to behold how conservatives today have abandoned reason and buried themselves in religious fundamentalism, anti-science, and blind denialism. That they can continue to get elected at all, is amazing and frightening. It testifies to how far the ordinary voter can allow themselves to become sheep and indulge their own desire to bury awareness. What does this say for our future, as conditions become more frightening and more demanding of tough-minded intelligence? Capitalism and politics have amply demonstrated their willingness to indulge short-term greed at any and all expense to the future of everyone, for thousands of years to come. One would think that for anyone concerned with their image, with the view history will take of their behavior today, that they come to their senses out of plain self interest.
The House of Representatives, now controlled by the Republicans, have made it a priority to de-fund climate science. The theory is - heads placed where sun doesn't shine can't think about climate policy which is dangerous to Fossil Fuel corporate profits.
It should be clear by now that the problem of climate denialism is not due innocently to ignorance of science. This was verified again by Kahan et al. (2012) , who tested the hypothesis that lower science literacy was correlated with stronger denial of climate change danger, but instead found "public
divisions over climate change stem not from the public’s incomprehension of science but from a distinctive conflict of interest: between the personal interest individuals have in forming beliefs in line with those held by others with whom they share close ties and the collective one they all share in making use of the best available science to promote common welfare." In the graph at right from their paper, at the risk of slight oversimplification, "egalitarian communitarians" are more commonly characterized as "liberals", and "heirarchal individualists" as far right-wing conservatives. As a teacher, this is vital knowledge - teaching efforts are not going to be helpful when directed at conservatives and "individualists". Efforts need to instead be directed at helping those who want to make a contribution to the policy solutions necessary, to understand the science but then, to direct their efforts at strategies to dis-empower the political and economic power structure which has a lock on how government works.
Update 2013. Despite the rising number of climate disasters, this conduct continues. Pollsters for the Republicans are trying to impress upon them that they face becoming "fossils" as young people overwhelmingly consider their denial of science as fatal to their electability (Guardian 2013). The general public has finally begun to see through the denialist nonsense, and are coming to accept global warming is real and human-caused, according to a poll by Stanford University researchers (2013). Yet there remains a sizable majority of Republicans in both the House and Senate who remain stubbornly against accepting the science or doing anything about climate change. One reason is that fundamentalism is very strong in this same group. Barker et al. 2013 in the June issue of the journal Political Research Quarterly, described here) find an "overwhelming majority" of Republicans, 76%, believe in the Second Coming apocalypse and human interference in this may not be part of God's Plan. This is not to claim that all Christians are against acknowledging or addressing human-caused climate change. Professor Katherine Hayhoe is an example of a solid, competent climate scientist who is also a devout Christian (recent Bill Moyers interview video). However, Barker et al. 2013 find a strong statistical correlation between belief in the Second Coming and opposition to any climate action. How far will they go, in pressing forward towards the Biblical Apocalypse? The chairman of the House Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy, John Shimkus, expresses this well (quote from Barker et al. 2013) " 'That very sentiment has been expressed by federal legislators. Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) said in 2010 that he opposed action on climate change because “the Earth will end only when God declares it to be over.' He (incredibly) is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Environment and the Economy." From this source, is quoted "James Watt, Secretary of the Interior for Ronald Reagan, made several controversial statements implying that the next coming of Jesus Christ would put an end to any worries about the fate of the planet. This attitude persists in certain evangelical communities today." There are congressmen (e.g. Joe Barton, R-Texas) who believe that climate change is God's punishment for our evil ways. I witness this with amazement. It says that the hard efforts to bring greater public clarity about the science of climate is a hopeless exercise for a large fraction of Americans, and others with such beliefs around the world. It provides a key understanding to why we do nothing while the last moments available for meaningful and drastic action slip away. If, for this large segment of the Republican Party, the death of the Earth is OK, since they believe they'll be Rapture'd to Heaven, and there's no future to worry about anyway... what then? What does that mean for the rest of us and our children? U.S. House of Representatives member Paul Broun made an incredible speech exemplifying the anti-science attitude of the right wing, recently, described in the L. A. Times. Broun is, incredibly, on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (!). It would be hard to imagine a less qualified person for this committee. You can watch and listen to the essential 1 min 25 sec here. One is strongly tempted to conclude that it is hopeless to expect the United States to be a leader in climate policy changes. Yet the United States is the world's second leading CO2 emitter (behind China, who likewise has their competitive agendas). The recent UN Warsaw Conference on Climate ended in selfish political bickering and inaction, exactly as predicted by Game Theory, which won the Nobel Prize in economics for Princeton's John Nash (of "A Beautiful Mind" fame). And another study finds the same result.
The unforgiving physics of the climate system's time scale, small-minded politics, unenlightened belief systems, and media control of a complacent, ignorant populace in the hands of those with only short-term motives and no apparent morality, have convinced me that the worst scenarios are probable. By the time the true costs become obvious enough to a voting majority in the competitive major industrializing countries, and significant policy action might be possible, it will be far too late. I confess I remain deeply pessimistic about the future.
Despite the continued censorship of human-caused climate change by the Libertarian Koch Industries, there are, however, occasional hopeful signs of cracks in pro-business right-wing denialism.. Tim Cook of Apple and Richard Branson of Virgin Airlines have angrily told denialists to "get out of the way", and some oil companies are already beginning to incorporate into their future business models a tax on carbon (albeit small). The Koch Brothers, however, and Exxon, and the Republican right show little sign of tempering their attacks on science, and continue to fund the denialist tactics described here and elsewhere. All the Republican candidates for the 2014 Senate seat in North Carolina are denying the very existence of climate change (18 sec video of debate). Fossil fuel interests funded the 2014 national elections to a staggering $700+ million (vs. $500M funding climate denialism for the entire previous decade), leading to the Republican takeover of both houses of Congress.
Climate denialists' skill in turning this issue into a street fight puts scientists at a distinct disadvantage in a society which is so ignorant and suspicious about basic science, so that even seemingly decent folk are getting twisted into serving the interests of anti-science business interests. Here is climate scientist Michael Mann's response to notable political blogger and author Nate Silver's error-filled The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail -- but Some Don't. I do applaud climate scientists finally beginning to rise to the challenge of taking on the vitriolic hatred they have had to endure. A former biologist and then attorney has taken on the task of formalizing the defense of climate scientists against these vicious political attacks, now in 2014. With the takeover of Congress by the Republicans in 2014, expect attacks to increase. Clearly, confining themselves strictly to calm and patient scholarly publication has done nothing to change economic/political policy or slow the rise in CO2 emissions (2013 saw a new record in global CO2 emissions, and 2014 a new record in global average temperature). Fossil fuel interests indeed paid little public attention to climate scientists as long as they stayed in their own insulated scholarly world. It was the wide popularity of "An Inconvenient Truth" and its Nobel Peace Prize award which showed the fossil fuel industry their profits could be endangered, and prompted the appalling campaign that we have witnessed in the past decade. The world needs to see more scientists rise to this challenge. It will continue to be a steep uphill battle, since many scientists (myself included) have been attracted to science in significant part as a refuge of rationality from precisely this kind of world, and the skills and nerve to stand up to it are rare. A new study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology by Campbell and Kay (2014) show
From Campbell and Kay 2014. For Democrats, whether it is free market or government solutions which are believed to be required, makes no statistically significant difference on their conviction of the validity of the science of climate change. For Republicans, it makes a large difference - they deny the science if government solutions are required. Unfortunately, Senator James Inhofe personifies this attitude: "I thought it must be true (the science), until I found out what it cost. (to deal with climate change)"
convincingly that Republicans are massively engaged in "motivated disbelief" on climate. Their dogmatic attachment to the notion that any government intervention in the free market's influence on climate justifies disbelieving the very truth of science itself, is a stunning demonstration of how futile is education aimed at the party which now controls both houses of Congress. The published paper is behind a paywall, but Chris Mooney gives an insightful analysis and presentation of the results here.
We need a revolution - technological fixes alone will not save us. The culture of growth-as-ultimate-standard-of-value will always out-run technology's attempt to fix it (Garrett, 2012, Ahmed et al. 2014 and UK study). The economic benefit to an individual or a corporation of using the atmosphere (or ocean - the other great commons) as their free waste dump will always be larger than their personal environmental cost, since the full environmental cost will be spread out over the entire globe. Their personal share will be insignificantly tiny for the individual or corporation doing the dumping. This makes strongly enforced universally-applied policy action essential. Externalized costs are a key fatal flaw in laissez faire capitalism. But what laws are passed is controlled by the corporations (Princeton study 2014), not by those who suffer the consequences. So - how do you galvanize a world-wide public which shows little motivation to act in sufficient numbers to change our course? I don't yet have an answer. I think about it every single day. It has to start with confronting squarely the reality that confronts us. Yet Republicans are unwilling to do so, and it appears that nearly everyone is engaged in denial to a significant extent. Doing small daily Earth-friendly actions can feel good, and I encourage everyone for their own self-satisfaction to do them - but they'll change nothing. We need far more, a massive global effort, immediately. Not the recent U.S. / China climate agreement, which is inconsequential in its effects on climate. Vastly more. A disastrous future is already assured. Our only hope now is to try to keep it from becoming truly catastrophic. More on this here, and an upcoming PowerPoint of mine in progress.
A sad fact is that Big Oil and right-wing political groups are pros at manipulative slander, and scientists are not. And it shows. Professor S. Lewandowsky dissects how the slam label "alarmist" has intimidated scientists in the language they use in their communications lately (Lewandowsky 2015) and discussed here and here. The effect is for the genuinely frightening implications of their paper to be downplayed, and then for the downplayed version to then be labelled as the extreme "alarmist" end of the spectrum, leaving a disinterested public to be sedated by it all. This, of course, is exactly the intent of the denialists. They continue to "win" the battle for the future. The newly announced Republican slate of candidates for the 2016 Presidential election... are all adament climate denialists. The first to announce candidacy, Ted Cruz of Texas, is also on record with extravagant praise for famously biggoted and openly racist former Senator Jesse Helms. The fact that a great deal of behind the scenes polling and effort and funding seems to justify the expense of launching a campaign with such a platform, is itself pretty disillusioning. Could they be correct in believing they're electable with such anti-science attitudes, still today? I hope not. There are hopeful signs that at least the official position of the Catholic Church has take a strong turn for the better with the new Pope Francis. And too, some key Islamic leaders.
Sept 16: The largest PR firm in the world, Edleman, Inc., has decided to cut all ties to coal companies and to climate denialists, because such ties have been too costly to keeping its other clients. Other PR firms had already begun to retreat from working with climate denialists. The story is here. Can we hope the tide has turned?
Sept 17: Apparently not - the Republican Presidential debate #2 was last night - and filled with the same head-in-sand climate denialism from all candidates, complete with pompous rhetorical flourish. Apparently the Big Oil overlords of the candidates have spoken, behind the scenes. If the Republicans win the presidency next year, they may control the entire government, and expect them to follow through on their promises of wholesale dismantling of environmental laws, defunding of satellite monitoring of our climate and other Earth systems, and therefore an accelerated pressing onward towards a catastrophic future. The good news is that millennials are quite concerned about climate and the environment and not going to vote Republican. The bad news is, they aren't likely to vote.
Sept 25: Republican House Majority leader John Boehner has resigned. The no-compromise urging of Pope Francis to treat the Earth with respect and not simply an object to be plundered for short-term monetary gain, is having Republican leadership break down in tears - the same who have made so many outrageous lies in their no-compromise climate denial. But perhaps even more important - The Paris Climate Summit is only 2 months away, and legal scholar G. Van Harten is today warning of a little-known clause in the existing trade agreements (NAFTA, TPP...) called the ISDS Clause (Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism) which gives a powerful weapon to corporations to sue foreign governments for loss of profits coming from any climate policies enacted. Unless these mechanisms can be neutralized, this may spell doom for any climate agreements anywhere.
Sept 22: Inside Climate News has uncovered the wide extent to which scientists at Exxon-Mobil knew way back in the late 1970's of the reality of CO2-induced climate change, that it would be disastrous, and how well their studies showed pretty much exactly what the future has turned out to be - and that the management at Exxon-Mobil instead chose to lie, and to fund the massive dis-information campaigns which still go on today. Hopefully this scandal will not suffer the fate of so many others - a conspiracy of silence in the media.
Oct 1: Republican rank-and-file are increasingly acknowledging that climate change is real, and at least in part caused by humans (NY Time article). However, lobbies are still maintaining that coming out in favor of a carbon tax or incentives for renewable energy is a "political loser". Again, the people don't control the agenda - the money does (well-funded lobbies).
Oct 26: Lest you think the "tide has turned" in favor of reason and climate action - the Republican Congress has initiated new harassment of climate scientists who have refuted the "global warming has stopped" myth.
Oct 26: New studies are showing human ability to think declines by a startling 21% when CO2 levels double. A doubling of CO2 is the path we're on, before the end of the century. Several studies show that Republicans are already struggling with sub-par IQ's . How will this affect their decision-making? How, when our leaders sense their growing intellectual inferiority, will it affect their tendency to react out of fear rather than focus?
Nov 5: The science-hating corporate Right Wing has claimed another victim - the National Geographic organization. It has now been absorbed by Rupert Murdoch's Fox News empire. Their first act is the firing of a sizeable fraction of the staff - especially those in charge of fact-checking. It is a powerful truth that we take our cues for alarm from those around us. Hear "Fire!" yelled in a crowded theater, and if everyone else ignores it, you will likely ignore it too. So when the science is getting more dire, a powerful solution for the Right Wing ideologues is to cripple or de-fund the discovery and communication of science to the public. We saw it earlier with the Koch Brothers funding of PBS/Nova.
Nov 13: It has now been 8 weeks since the revelation that Exxon-Mobil's own climate scientists were warning of the great danger that fossil fuel CO2 posed to climate for our future, yet they continue to deceive the public by funding climate denial groups. The story has gotten the attention of NPR, PBS, the New York Attorney General who is looking to file charges against Exxon. It has also been widely discussed on many independent media. It's the most starkly outrageous example of deliberate harm to public understanding of this issue that we have seen. Yet, the conspiracy of silence continues on broadcast network evening news. There has been not a single mention of the Exxon story on network media: ABC, NBC, CBS, or Fox News. Amazing.
Nov 15: Climate change is already severely impacting Asia and Africa, compounding political instabilities and causing the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II. This graphic from data firm Lucify captures it well.
Sept 16. Arch climate denier and former Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, has signed on to the Board of Directors of one of the biggest of Big Tobacco, Reynolds America, for over $300,000 salary. This is the standard path for so many in Congress - take up lucrative lobbying and corporate shill jobs, making use of their strong connections to insure corporate-friendly legislation.
Return to Climate home page