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Climate change denial describes efforts to counter all or part of the theory of global climate change. While the term "climate skeptic" generally refers to scientists taking good faith positions on the global warming controversy, climate change denial usually refers to disinformation campaigns alleged to be promoted and funded by groups with a financial interest in misrepresenting the scientific consensus on climate change, particularly groups with ties to the energy lobby.[1][2][3] Newsweek,[4] [5] as well as numerous opinion journalists, including George Monbiot[6] and Ellen Goodman,[7] among others,[8][9] describe it as a form of denialism.

Denial vs. skepticism Edit

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"Modern skepticism," according to Michael Shermer, editor of the scientific skepticism quarterly Skeptic, "is embodied in the scientific method, that involves gathering data to formulate and test naturalistic explanations for natural phenomena. A claim becomes factual when it is confirmed to such an extent it would be reasonable to offer temporary agreement."[10] Terms such as "deny global warming" and "climate change denial" have been used since 2000 to describe business opposition to the current scientific consensus.[11] Organizations such as the Global Climate Coalition, according to a leaked 1991 "strategy memo," set out not to gather data and test explanations, but to influence public perception of climate change science and "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact."[12] The strategy was criticized as misrepresenting science in a 2006 Royal Society letter to ExxonMobil expressing disappointment that a recent industry publication "leaves readers with such an inaccurate and misleading impression of the evidence on the causes of climate change ... documented in the scientific literature."[13]

The August 2007 Newsweek cover story "The Truth About Denial" reported that "this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks, and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change."[4] Newsweek published a rebuttal piece by contributing editor Robert J. Samuelson, calling it "a vast oversimplification of a messy story" and "fundamentally misleading". He argues that "journalists should resist the temptation to portray global warming as a morality tale... in which anyone who questions its gravity or proposed solutions may be ridiculed".[14]

Several commentators have compared climate change denial with Holocaust denial,[7][15][16][17] whereas others have decried those comparisons as inappropriate.[18][19][20][21][22]

Denial industryEdit

"As soon as the scientific community began to come together on the science of climate change, the pushback began," according to University of California, San Diego historian Naomi Oreskes.[4] Newsweek has reported that:

Individual companies and industry associations — representing petroleum, steel, autos and utilities, for instance — formed lobbying groups with names like the Global Climate Coalition and the Information Council on the Environment. ICE's game plan called for enlisting greenhouse doubters to "reposition global warming as theory rather than fact".[4]

In 1998, John H. Cushman of the New York Times reported on a memorandum[23] written by a public relations specialist for the American Petroleum Institute. The leaked memo described a plan "to recruit a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views of climate science and to train them in public relations so they can help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases." As part of a US$ 5,000,000 strategy to "maximize the impact of scientific views consistent with ours on Congress, the media and other key audiences," the document mentioned:

A proposed media-relations budget of US $600,000, not counting any money for advertising, [which] would be directed at science writers, editors, columnists and television network correspondents, using as many as 20 "respected climate scientists" recruited expressly "to inject credible science and scientific accountability into the global climate debate, thereby raising questions about and undercutting the 'prevailing scientific wisdom.'"[24]

Several journalists have argued that the strategy resembles the one adopted by tobacco lobbyists after being confronted with new data linking cigarettes to cancer — to shift public perception of the discoveries toward that of a myth, unwarranted claim, or exaggeration rather than mainstream scientific theory. In 2006, The Guardian reported:

There are clear similarities between the language used and the approaches adopted by Philip Morris and by the organisations funded by Exxon. The two lobbies use the same terms, which appear to have been invented by Philip Morris's consultants. "Junk science" meant peer-reviewed studies showing that smoking was linked to cancer and other diseases. "Sound science" meant studies sponsored by the tobacco industry suggesting that the link was inconclusive. Both lobbies recognised that their best chance of avoiding regulation was to challenge the scientific consensus. As a memo from the tobacco company Brown and Williamson noted, "Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy."[25]

Former National Academy of Sciences president Dr.Frederick Seitz earned "approximately US$ 585,000" in the 70s and 80s as a consultant to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company while continuing "to draw a salary as 'president emeritus' at Rockefeller University". R.J. Reynolds contributed $45 million to the medical research co-ordinated by Seitz and others. Although the research did not touch upon the health effects of tobacco smoking, "the industry frequently ran ads in newspapers and magazines citing its multi-million-dollar research program as proof of its commitment to science—and arguing that the evidence on the health effects of smoking was mixed."[26]

Seitz went on to chair groups such as the Science and Environmental Policy Project and the George C. Marshall Institute alleged to have made efforts to "downplay" global warming. Seitz stated in the 1980s that "Global warming is far more a matter of politics than of climate." He stated in an April 2006 interview that he believes "we're having a natural change, whatever that means, due to natural causes as yet unexplored." He elaborated by saying that "I would say it's unlikely that we face serious danger from global warming" and "Any good scientist would recognize that it cannot be ignored, but I think, under present circumstances, the only thing we can do is proceed as we are and wait to see what the result is."[27] Seitz authored the Oregon Petition, a document published jointly by the Marshall and Oregon Institutes in opposition to the Kyoto protocol. The petition and accompanying "Research Review of Global Warming Evidence" claimed:

The proposed limits on greenhouse gases would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind. There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth's atmosphere and disruption of the Earth's climate. … We are living in an increasingly lush environment of plants and animals as a result of the carbon dioxide increase. Our children will enjoy an Earth with far more plant and animal life than that with which we now are blessed. This is a wonderful and unexpected gift from the Industrial Revolution.[25]

The Guardian has reported that, in 1993, Philip Morris established the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TAASC) in conjunction with the APCO public relations firm as part of a plan to combat proposed regulation of secondhand smoke: "Philip Morris, APCO said, needed to create the impression of a 'grassroots' movement—one that had been formed spontaneously by concerned citizens to fight 'overregulation'. It should portray the danger of tobacco smoke as just one 'unfounded fear' among others, such as concerns about pesticides and cellphones."[25] Within ten years, the group was also receiving funds from Exxon:

TASSC, the ‘coalition’ created by Philip Morris, was the first and most important of the corporate-funded organisations denying that climate change is taking place. It has done more damage to the campaign to halt it than any other body.[25]

Several think tanks funded by Exxon or, later, ExxonMobil to contest climate change have also reputedly received funding from Philip Morris such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, the Reason Foundation, George Mason University's Law and Economics Center, and the Independent Institute.[25]

A survey carried out by the Royal Society found that in 2005 ExxonMobil distributed $2.9m to 39 groups that the society said "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence".[28]

Instances of climate change denialEdit

Public sector Edit

A report by NASA's Office of the Inspector General has revealed that personnel in the agency's public affairs office were guilty of "inappropriate political interference" in their attempts to play down climate change findings.[29]

In 1994, according to a leaked memo, the influential Republican strategist Frank Luntz advised members of the GOP, with regard to climate change, that "you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue" and "challenge the science" by "recruiting experts who are sympathetic to your view."[4] In 2006, Luntz stated that he still believes "back [in] '97, '98, the science was uncertain", but he currently agrees with the scientific consensus.[30]

In 2005, the New York Times reported that Philip Cooney, a former lobbyist and "climate team leader" at the American Petroleum Institute, had "repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents."[31] The George W. Bush administration had hired Cooney in 2001 as chief of staff for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, "the office that helps devise and promote administration policies on environmental issues." The New York Times reported:

Climate experts and representatives of environmental groups, when shown examples of the revisions, said they illustrated the significant if largely invisible influence of Mr. Cooney and other White House officials with ties to energy industries that have long fought greenhouse-gas restrictions.[31]

The newspaper also claimed that "[e]fforts by the Bush administration to highlight uncertainties in science pointing to human-caused warming have put the United States at odds with other nations and with scientific groups at home." Cooney reportedly removed an entire section on climate in one report, whereupon an oil lobbyist sent him a fax saying "You are doing a great job."[4]

The Washington Post reported:

[I]n April, the Supreme Court ... rebuked the administration for not regulating greenhouse gases associated with global warming, issuing its ruling less than two months after Cheney declared that 'conflicting viewpoints' remain about the extent of the human contribution to the problem.[32]

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney's connections to the Energy Lobby, and to ExxonMobil in particular, have fueled speculation that his characterization of climate change science is linked to the "denial industry."[33] In 2000, Cheney’s Energy Task Force, officially known as the National Energy Policy Development Group, invited the executives of various major oil companies, including Exxon, Conoco, BP, and Royal Dutch Shell, to consult with the White House regarding the development of a national energy policy, although this was initially denied by the participating companies.[34] An Exxon lobbyist - among others - was thanked by the U.S. Undersecretary of Global Affairs for Exxon's role in convincing President Bush to reject the Kyoto accords. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists:

In her talking points for a 2001 meeting with a group that included ExxonMobil lobbyist Randy Randol (uncovered through a Freedom of Information Act request), U.S. Undersecretary for Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky thanked the group for their input on global warming policy, noting, ‘POTUS [the president of the United States] rejected Kyoto, in part, based on input from you.’[35]

The Government Accountability Project's "Climate Science Watch" has questioned the administration's appointment of officials with private-sector ties to climate change denial:

Jeffrey Salmon is the Associate Under Secretary for Science at the U.S. Department of Energy. Prior to moving to DOE, from 1991–2001 he was Executive Director of the George C. Marshall Institute, a key actor in the global warming disinformation campaign. In 1998 he participated in the development of a now-notorious oil industry-sponsored plan to wage a campaign against the mainstream science community on global warming. Before that, he was senior speechwriter for Dick Cheney, when Cheney was Secretary of Defense. The Office of Science oversees roughly $4 billion a year in DOE-supported research, including a roughly $140 million climate change research budget. What does Salmon do in this position—for example, on matters of climate change research, assessment, and communication?[36]

Private Sector Edit

After the IPCC released its February 2007 report, the American Enterprise Institute reportedly offered British, American, and other scientists $10,000, plus travel expenses, to publish articles critical of the assessment. The institute, which had received more than $US 1.6 million from Exxon and whose vice-chairman of trustees is Lee Raymond, former head of Exxon, sent letters that "attack the UN's panel as 'resistant to reasonable criticism and dissent and prone to summary conclusions that are poorly supported by the analytical work' and ask for essays that 'thoughtfully explore the limitations of climate model outputs'." More than 20 AEI employees have worked as consultants to the George W. Bush administration.[37] Despite her initial conviction that with "the overwhelming science out there, the deniers' days were numbered," Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer said that when she learned of the AEI's offer, "I realized there was a movement behind this that just wasn't giving up."[4]

The British Royal Society conducted a survey that found ExxonMobil had given US$ 2.9 million to American groups that "misinformed the public about climate change," 39 of which "misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence".[38][2] In 2006, the British Royal Society issued a demand that ExxonMobil withdraw funding for climate change denial. The letter, which was leaked to the media, drew criticism, notably from Timothy Ball and others, who argued the society attempted to "politicize the private funding of science and to censor scientific debate."[39]

ExxonMobil has denied the accusations that it has been trying to mislead the public about global warming:

"The recycling of this type of discredited conspiracy theory diverts attention from the real challenge at hand: how to provide the energy needed to improve global living standards while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions."[40]

Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Edit

Main article: Kivalina v. ExxonMobil Corp., Et al.

On February 26, 2008, attorneys for the Native American Rights Fund and the Center on Race, Poverty & the Environment brought suit against ExxonMobil Corporation and two dozen other members of the energy lobby, including BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Royal Dutch Shell.[41] The complaint seeks to recover damages for the destruction of Kivalina, Alaska, a village which "is being forced to relocate because of flooding caused by the changing Arctic climate."[42] (The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers determined in 2006 that Kivalina residents would be forced to relocate, at a minimum cost of US$95m, as soon as 2016.)[43]. According to Stephan Faris, a writer for The Atlantic, the Kivalina suit accuses ExxonMobil et al.

"of conspiring to cover up the threat of man-made climate change, in much the same way the tobacco industry tried to conceal the risks of smoking — by using a series of think tanks and other organizations to falsely sow public doubt in an emerging scientific consensus."[44]

Kivalina v. ExxonMobil is reported to be the first climate-change lawsuit with "a discretely identifiable victim."[45]

Possible effects of climate change denial Edit

Former Democratic Senator Tim Wirth has claimed that the denial effort affected both the Congressional political climate as well as the general public opinion. "They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry. [...] Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That's had a huge impact on both the public and Congress."[4] In an interview with the journal 'Science, physicist and U.S. Representative Rush Holt called the opposition in the climate debate a "denial machine":

"...for more than two decades scientists have been issuing warnings that the release of greenhouse gases, principally carbon dioxide (CO2), is probably altering Earth's climate in ways that will be expensive and even deadly. The American public yawned and bought bigger cars. Statements by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Geophysical Union, American Meteorological Society, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and others underscored the warnings and called for new government policies to deal with climate change. Politicians, presented with noisy statistics, shrugged, said there is too much doubt among scientists, and did nothing."[46]

A 2006 Newsweek poll reported that only one third of Americans believed climate change is "mainly caused by things people do" and 64 percent believed scientists disagree "a lot" about it. A 2007 Newsweek poll found 42 percent of the general public believed scientists disagree "a lot" that "human activities are a major cause of global warming."[4] A May 2007 CNN poll, in contrast, found a 54 percent majority agree with the IPCC that "Global warming is a proven fact and is mostly caused by emissions from cars and industrial facilities such as power plants and factories." [47] A 2007 CBS News poll found that 49 percent think "global warming is having a serious impact now" and 36 percent think it "will in the future". It also reported that 78 percent of Americans "think that it is necessary to take steps to counter global warming right away". [48]

Robert J. Samuelson in Newsweek has argued that "Global warming has clearly occurred; the hard question is what to do about it."[14] Former Australian Prime Minister John Howard has asserted that the "real climate change deniers... are those preaching Malthusian pessimism or anti-capitalism" and that "Human ingenuity, directed towards clean technology and wise institutional design, remains our best weapon against climate change."[49] Alexander Cockburn of The Nation accused "climate spokesmen" such as Al Gore of being "shills" for nuclear energy, arguing that "the best documented conspiracy of interest is between the fearmongers and the nuclear industry" and "Hysteria rules the day, drowning useful initiatives such as environmental cleanup, while smoothing the way for the nuclear industry to reap its global rewards."[50] Carbon taxes such as the one advocated by Al Gore as Vice President have faced bipartisan Congressional opposition. House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick J. Rahall II, Democrat, stated that "That's going to be passed on; the consumer would end up paying for that." [51]

American public opinion is relatively split on possible measures to combat global warming. A March 2006 ABC News poll found that "Six in 10 think much can be done to reduce both the amount of global warming", but it also found that only 45 percent think that government should require "Cars that use less gasoline" and only 42 percent think it should require "Appliances that use less electricity". However, the poll's opinions regarding voluntary measures are far more positive, even though 56 percent "oppose giving companies tax breaks to build nuclear power plants".[52] A CBS News poll reported that Americans support some compulsory regulations, for example, 64 percent would be willing to pay higher gasoline taxes if the money is used for renewable energy research.[48] Peter Aldhous at New Scientist has argued that "policies to combat global warming can command majority public support in the US, as long as they don't hit people's pockets too hard." [53]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. Adams, David (2005-01-27). "Oil firms fund climate change 'denial'". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Adams, David (2006-09-20). "Royal Society tells Exxon: stop funding climate change denial". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  3. Gelbspan, Ross (December 1995). "The heat is on: The warming of the world's climate sparks a blaze of denial". Harper’s Magazine. Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 Begley., Sharon (2007-08-07). "The Truth About Denial". Newsweek.
  5. "Timeline, Climate Change and its Naysayers", Newsweek (August 13, 2007). 
  6. Monbiot, George (2006-09-19). "The denial industry". Guardian Unlimited.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ellen Goodman (2007-02-09). "No change in political climate". The Boston Globe. Retrieved on 2008-08-30.
  8. Christoff., Peter (2007-07-09). "Climate change is another grim tale to be treated with respect". The Age.
  9. Connelly, Joel (2007-07-10). "Deniers of global warming harm us". Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
  10. Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time. qtd. in. " A Skeptical Manifesto" (online) retrieved 10 Aug 07
  11. Main, Bill (2000-11-10). "Industry’s green light for change". The Scotsman. Retrieved on 2007-08-16.
  12. Memo qtd. in Mark Hertsgaard, "While Washington Slept." Vanity Fair, May 2006
  13. Royal Society letter to Nick Thomas, Director, Corporate Affairs, Esso UK Limited, 4 September 2006 retrieved 10 Aug 2007. (PDF)
  14. 14.0 14.1 Samuelson, Robert J. (2007-08-20). "Greenhouse Simplicities". Newsweek. Retrieved on 2007-08-16.
  15. George Monbiot: The threat is from those who accept climate change, not those who deny it | Comment is free | The Guardian
  16. Climate change is another grim tale to be treated with respect - Opinion
  17. Deniers of global warming harm us
  18. Prometheus: On Language Archives
  19. Comparing Global Warming Denial to Holocaust Denial::By Dennis Prager
  20. Global warming: the chilling effect on free speech | spiked
  21. The Social Affairs Unit - Web Review: Why do people become climate change deniers?
  22. RSA Journal - February 2008
  23. "Denial and Deception: A Chronicle of ExxonMobil’s Efforts to Corrupt the Debate on Global Warming". Greenpeace (2003-08-14). Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  24. Cushman Jr., John H. (1998-04-26). "Industrial Group Plans to Battle Climate Treaty". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
  25. 25.0 25.1 25.2 25.3 25.4 Lane, Allen (2006-08-19). "The denial industry". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  26. Hertsgaard, Mark (May 2006). "While Washington Slept". Vanity Fair. Retrieved on 2007-08-02.
  27. FRONTLINE: hot politics: interviews: frederick seitz | PBS
  28. "Exxon to cut funding to climate change denial groups". Retrieved on 2008-12-23.
  29. Nasa 'played down' global warming to protect Bush - News
  30. FRONTLINE: hot politics: interviews: frank luntz | PBS
  31. 31.0 31.1 Revkin, Andrew C. (2005-06-08). "Bush Aide Edited Climate Reports". New York Times. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
  32. Becker, Jo; Barton Gellman (2007-06-27). "Leaving No Tracks". Washington Post. Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
  33. Dickinson, Tim (2007-06-20). "The Secret Campaign of President Bush's Administration To Deny Global Warming". Rolling Stone. Retrieved on 2007-07-14.
  34. Abramowitz, Michael; Steven Mufson (2007-07-18). "Papers Detail Industry's Role in Cheney's Energy Report". Retrieved on 2007-08-06.
  35. Robinson, Emily (2007), Exxon exposed, 6, Catalyst,, retrieved on 6 August 2007 
  36. "What is a climate disinformation activist and former Cheney speechwriter doing as #2 at DOE Science?". ClimateScienceWatch (2007-07-11). Retrieved on 2007-08-03.
  37. Sample, Ian (2007-02-02). "Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study". The Guardian. Retrieved on 2007-08-16.
  38. Ward, Bob (2006-09-04). "Letter to Nick Thomas, Director, Corporate affairs, Esso UK Ltd. (ExxonMobil)". Royal Society. Retrieved on 2007-08-06.
  40. "Gore takes aim at corporately funded climate research". CBC News from Associated Press (2007-08-07). Retrieved on 2007-08-16.
  41. Kivalina Complaint
  42. "Flooded Village Files Suit, Citing Corporate Link to Climate Change." New York Times 27 Feb 2008
  43. Faris, Stephan. "Conspiracy Theory." The Atlantic, June, 2008, p. 32
  44. Faris, Stephan. "Conspiracy Theory." The Atlantic, June, 2008, p. 32–34
  45. "Climate Change Threatens Existence, Eskimo Lawsuit Says." CNN 27 Feb 2008
  46. Holt, Rush (13 July 2007), "Trying to Get Us to Change Course (film review.)", Science 317 (5835): 198–199, doi:10.1126/science.1142810, 
  47. "Pollingreport: Evironment". Retrieved on 2007-08-16. "Polls from various sources (Newsweek, CNN, and others"
  48. 48.0 48.1 CBC News and New York Times (2007-04-26). Poll: Americans' Views on the Environment. Press release, Retrieved on 16 August 2007. 
  49. A prudent conservative case for combating climate change | The Australian
  50. Who Are the Merchants of Fear?
  51. Tax on Carbon Emissions Gains Support -
  52. ABC News: Poll: Public Concern on Warming Gains Intensity
  53. Exclusive global warming poll: The buck stops here - earth - 20 June 2007 - New Scientist Environment

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