Given that over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on the matter, the fact that anyone is questioning the reality of anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) remains an amazing phenomenon.
If your child were sick, and 97 percent of doctors recommended one treatment for them, which treatment would you use?
Yet this kind of reasoning need not apply, apparently, to vast sectors of the media, political apparatus and general public in the United States. Instead of an informed public and rational elected leaders, we are left with what author John Kennedy Toole so perfectly described in the title of his most famous work, A Confederacy of Dunces.
Some very special ACD denial quotes from the confederacy:
“Every cow in the world, you know, when they do what they do, you’ve got more carbon dioxide.” John Boehner, Speaker of the House (R-Ohio).
“It could just be a shift on the axis.” Bill Cassidy, Congressman (R-Louisiana).
“The new fad thing that’s going through America and around the world. It’s called global warming.” Steve Stockman, Congressman (R-Texas).
“All voodoo, nonsense . . . a hoax.” Michele Bachmann, Congresswoman (R-Minnesota).
” . . . The idea that manmade gases, CO2, are causing catastrophic global warming is the greatest hoax every perpetrated on the American people.” James Inhofe, Senator (R-Oklahoma), former chair of the US Senate Committee on the Environment and Public.
“[ACD] led to the Vikings dominating Europe for several hundred years.” Morgan Griffith, Congressman (R-Virginia).
“It is not proven, it’s not science. It’s more of a religion than a science.” Steve King, Congressman (R-Iowa).
And one of my current favorites:
“The ice caps are melting, which we see over and over again. Yeah, they’re melting on Mars, too!” Dana Rohrabacher, Congressman (R-California).
The reason for this lunacy is simple, and the evidence lies not far below the surface.
An Industry of Denial
In 2008, the Republican and Democratic parties were generally seeing eye to eye on ACD, as evidenced by this commercial broadcast nationally, in which Nancy Pelosi and Newt Gingrich sat together and said that climate change needed to be addressed.
The fossil fuel industry, seeing the writing on the wall, dumped more than half a billion dollars into the coffers of their lobbyists in 2009, and the rest, as they say, is history.
The fact that there is any “doubt” about the science and reality of ACD is not happenstance – it is the direct result of a carefully orchestrated project that has included heavy lobbying, bought-and-paid-for pro-fossil fuel industry scientists and a massive amount of propaganda.
The 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, provides an excellent history on how the ACD denial apparatus came to be.
The realization that humans are fueling rapid changes in climate is not new. Scientists have been linking carbon dioxide emissions to its impact on the global climate for 150 years, and US President Lyndon Johnson, during a special message to Congress in 1965 said, “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through . . . a steady increase in carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels.”
By 1977, as climate modeling continued to progress, Robert White, the head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a prophetic warning about the future impacts of ACD if it went unaddressed:
We now understand that industrial wastes, such as carbon dioxide released during the burning of fossil fuels, can have consequences for climate that pose a considerable threat to future society . . . The scientific problems are formidable, the technological problems, unprecedented, and the potential economic and social impacts, ominous.
Additionally, the idea that capitalism is harmful to earth is far from new, as economists in the 1960s realized that free market economies aiming toward infinite growth and consumption were inherently destructive to ecosystems.
Action toward mitigating the impacts of carbon dioxide emissions progressed through the 1970s on a federal government level, and then again during the 1980s, when James Hansen, then head of NASA’s Goddard Space Center, sounded the official alarm in 1988 that humans have definitively impacted the atmosphere.
As the climate crisis became more evident and publicized, pushback also gained steam. For example, not long after Hansen sounded the alarm, the “blaming the sun” argument for increasing global temperatures was introduced by the Marshall Institute, mirroring the strategy used by big tobacco companies to instill doubt about the harmful effects of cigarettes.
The George C. Marshall Institute is a “non-profit” organization funded by the profits from oil and gas interests and right-wing funders (listed later). It has received substantial funding from Exxon’s Exxon Education Foundation.
Its nominal creators, aside from Exxon-related entities and others, were William Nierenberg, Frederick Seitz and Robert Jastrow. This industry and right-wing front group has described its role as encouraging “the use of sound science in making public policy about important issues for which science and technology are major considerations.” The institute makes claims about “national security and the environment,” generally to the detriment of the latter.
The institute purports to investigate what it calls “facts” about global climate change, which is largely attributed by others to the burning of fossil fuels. The institute also focuses its resources on making claims about the effect of the Kyoto Protocol upon “national security.”
The Institute issued a “white paper” that basically claimed that since Hansen didn’t precisely track historical increases in carbon dioxide, then the warming must have been caused by the sun. Conveniently overlooked was the fact that the data used in the Institute’s paper was misrepresented and cherry-picked from peer-reviewed studies that pointed to the contrary, using only selected parts of studies that actually confirmed ACD – tactics which continue to be used today.
The first Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published in 1990, specifically addressed the “sun” argument put forward by the Marshall Institute, and completely debunked it.
Nonetheless, with willfully ignorant political sock puppets like the aforementioned Cassidy, who quipped about “a shift on the axis” causing ACD, it is clear where these echoes originated.
Despite the facts – or more than likely because of them – the Marshall Institute’s “scientist” William Nierenberg, a chief mover behind the “white paper,” went on the warpath against the IPCC and, with the backing of the World Petroleum Congress in Buenos Aires in 1992, began attacking the Panel.
As scientific evidence and consensus around ACD mounted in the early 1990s, so did the pushback from the Marshall Institute players, who began spearheading the “doubt” meme.
In 1996, the Institute’s Frederick Seitz, who was not even a climate scientist, was working to undermine the IPCC completely. As chronicled in Merchants of Doubt: “‘If the IPCC couldn’t follow its own procedures,’ Seitz claimed, ‘it should be abandoned and governments should look for more reliable sources of advice to governments on this important question [ACD].’ Presumably, he meant the George C. Marshall Institute, of which he was still chairman of the board.” (p. 208)
Despite massive blowback from the scientific community against the baseless and outlandish claims put forth by the Marshall Institute, by the mid-1990s the Institute’s claims were nonetheless being published regularly in The Wall Street Journal, where they were read by millions, and both Congress and the White House were taking them seriously.
Merchants goes on to, extremely effectively, outline the media’s role in catalyzing the situation we find ourselves in today in the United States, in which ACD deniers and their “doubt mongers” are given equal time with credible climate scientists, despite the deniers and doubters now only forming, at most, 3 percent of the scientific community. (Most of that 3 percent are clearly being funded by the fossil fuel industry and other similarly biased corporate entities.)
The authors sum up the results of the denial project perfectly:
This divergence between the state of the science and how it was presented in the major media helped make it easy for our government to do nothing about global warming. Gus Speth had thought in 1988 that there was real momentum toward taking action. By the mid-1990s, that policy momentum had not just fizzled; it had evaporated. In July 1997, three months before the Kyoto Protocol was finalized, US senators Robert Byrd and Charles Hagel introduced a resolution blocking its adoption. Byrd-Hagel passed the Senate by a vote of 97-0. Scientifically, global warming was an established fact. Politically, global warming was dead.
Since 1997, that trend has not only continued – it has increased.
This explains why a poll by the Pew Center for the People and the Press showed 71 percent of Americans believing there was “solid evidence the Earth is warming” in 2008, while the next year the number had dropped to 57 percent.
The tactic works. And this isn’t the first time it has been deployed in the service of corporations. A mirror image of the strategy being used to maintain “doubt” about ACD was used by the tobacco industry to instill doubt about the negative health effects and addictive quality of smoking cigarettes. The same strategy was used then, when big tobacco worked to bring doubt into the argument that cigarettes are harmful to human health.
While the plan for instilling doubt around the impact of smoking on human health eventually failed, for now the project promoting ACD-related doubt continues apace, and the jury is still “out.”
Between 2002 and 2010, billionaires had donated roughly $120 million to over 100 anti-climate science groups, according to The Guardian.
A similar move, as reported by the Center for Media and Democracy, revealed how a group of right-wing think tanks called the State Policy Network, affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and funded with over $83 million by companies including Facebook, AT&T and Microsoft, pushed an agenda that included opposition to climate change rules and regulations.
Furthermore, as previously reported by Truthout:
A new study from two groups, Forecast the Facts Action and the SumOfUs.org, says that since 2008, businesses have given campaign contributions to the 160 members of Congress who have rejected climate change that amount to more than $640 million. That includes Google, eBay, Ford and UPS; in fact, 90 percent of the cash came from outside the fossil fuel industry.
And So It Goes . . .
Examples of the denial project abound during any given week.
During a recent hearing on the Hill, Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-Indiana) admitted that he did not accept the scientific literature on ACD. The reason he didn’t, he said, was because the scientists producing the reports needed ACD to exist “in order to get paid.”
Bucshon took it further by trotting out the usual tired arguments that have long since been addressed: that the global temperature hasn’t changed in nearly 20 years – and then the other stroke of brilliance, that “the climate is always changing.”
Meanwhile on other fronts, the ACD denial mechanisms make themselves known through other strategies. One example of this is how The Heartland Institute, an extremely right-wing “think tank” funded by the Koch brothers, has pushed a proposal for Texas to adopt new textbooks, in which ACD would be denied.
The denial-based antics of Gov. Chris Christie are ongoing as well: He recently said that a regional cap-and-trade program from which his state of New Jersey withdrew in 2011 was “a completely useless plan” and added that he “would not think of rejoining it.”
Louisiana’s Gov. Bobby Jindal, a potential Republican presidential candidate for 2016, is taking a “soft denial” approach by admitting that ACD is real, but the extent to which humans have a role is still in “doubt.”
The denial project’s success is evidenced by large numbers of Americans racing to buy and develop seashore properties despite them being in areas well known to be at high-risk for rising seas and increasingly intense storms. Mike Huckabee, now apparently a chronic presidential candidate, is among those racing to build on shores that will be submerged in the not-so-distant future.
It’s no coincidence that merely 3 percent of current Congressional Republicans have even gone on record to accept the fact that climate disruption is anthropogenic, according to PolitiFact, which also found that there is a grand total of eight Republican non-deniers, total, in the House and Senate.
Another interesting turn of events shows companies like GE and Google operating as large companies do in advance of elections – funding both sides to safeguard their interests. In this case, these companies, along with others, are making campaign contributions to Congressional ACD-deniers while simultaneously professing to be pro-sustainability companies.
Meanwhile the media blitz continues, as the Rupert Murdoch-owned and ACD-denying Wall Street Journal recently ran an article titled “Climate Science Is Not Settled,” which was of course chock full of the usual ACD-denier talking points. The article provides us with a prime example of how the doubt-narrative is consistently slipped in as a meme: “Any serious discussion of the changing climate must begin by acknowledging not only the scientific certainties but also the uncertainties, especially in projecting the future.”
Almost needless to say, Steven Koonin, formerly with BP as that company’s “chief scientist,” generated the propaganda.
So stay tuned.
With major money being funneled toward projects to instill “doubt” about the science and reality of ACD, which only continues to worsen, we can only expect for these antics to both continue and increase in their hysteria.
For now, we can remain contented with ongoing quality antics:
“As Steven Guilbeault of Greenpeace explained, ‘global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter,'” Ann Coulter has said. “No set of facts can disprove the environmentalists’ secular religion. In 2004, former vice president Al Gore gave a speech on global warming in New York City on the coldest day of the year. Warm trends prove global warming. Cold trends also prove global warming. This is the philosophy of a madman.”