Global Warming Denialism
The Environmental eZine - Global Warming



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The Misinformation of Deniers

By Suzanne MacNevin - October 2009.

Global Warming Denier with Fingers in Ears

Many scientists agree that the world is now facing a greater threat than the threat posed by World War II. This new threat is global warming and climate change, which many scientists agree holds the potential to eradicate human life and turn the earth into an arid hostile wasteland if we fail to act.

During World War II we were fighting a tangible threat. We could see the spreading evil of imperialist Nazi Germany and we rose to the challenge of fighting it. With global warming and climate change however there is a problem. The temperatures and the weather around is changing, we can feel it and measure it, but there is some denialism about whether global warming is real.

Historians looking at both the eradication of the Jews in Europe, and the history of holocaust deniers, have termed this as Global Warming Denialism. People see the evidence, but they refuse to believe it because it contrasts with their political beliefs.

Global Warming poses a much more difficult threat this time, but it is a reality that we can struggle to understand it and combat it.

Denialism Vs Skepticism

Uncle Sam, I Want You to Deny Global Warming

Some people who deny the existence of global warming claim they are skeptics, however skepticism denotes that they are "open minded". That is the complete opposite of what denialists do. There is nothing open minded about their blatant struggle to cause doubt amongst the general populace by spreading lies that global warming/climate change isn't real.

Someone who is truly a skeptic would be saying "Maybe it is real, but we need more proof". which is something people were saying during the 1980s. We now have proof. Scientists have determined without a doubt that global warming is real, that the earth is indeed getting hotter and hotter and this heat in turn is effecting weather patterns and causing climate change.

Science already accounts for skepticism. The Scientific Method makes no assumptions and scientists are encouraged to be skeptical. Only after they get the raw data are they able to make conclusions, and those conclusions are inherently non-biased. Some religious people would claim scientists have an agenda of atheism or are members of the Democratic Party (or working for Satan depending on which conspiracy theorist you listen to). Science is about determining measurable facts and making accurate conclusions based on measurements and proof.

The problem with denialists is that no amount of proof will convince them. They are politically motivated and utterly opposed to environmental issues due to a variety of reasons.

#1. Ideological Denialism - Motivated politically by right wing conservatives who don't like the government telling them what they can't do.

#2. Economic Denialism - Motivated by concerns over whether this will hurt our economy and will hurt the business sector.

#3. Fossil Fuel Denialism - Motivated by the oil and coal industries who are concerned this will hurt their business.

#4. Psychological Denialism - The belief that global warming is too big that humans could have caused it, or that its too big for us to fix it.

#5. Genuine Skepticism - The belief that climate change might be real, but the individual hasn't yet seen the evidence themselves to realize that global warming is a real threat.

#6. Casual Denialism - A type of Psychological Denialism caused by people not wanting to worry about Global Warming, because they A) Don't understand it; B) Worry too much and don't want another thing to worry about; C) Are too busy with kids/work that they choose to ignore it.

#7. Hard Reactionary Denialism - The belief that climate change is an hoax created by hippies, the Jews, the Left Wing, scientists, etc. and its all one big conspiracy. These are same time of people who oppose feminism, multiculturalism, post-colonialism and generally try to impose their will on others through extremism and misinformation.

#8. Technological Denialism - The belief that mankind doesn't yet have the technology to create cars or electricity in an eco-friendly manner. They believe that environmentalism will cause mankind to go back to the dark ages in terms of progress and hurt the western way of life.

Oil / Coal Industry Misinformation

The Coal Industry

Since the collapse of Communism in 1989, neo-Conservatives in the United States have been looking for a new threat to rally against. Overseas they have chosen Islam as the new threat to American life and George Bush Sr. wasted no time finding a reason to invade Iraq during the early 1990s, something his son George W. Bush would repeat over a decade later when attacking Afghanistan and Iraq again.

But domestically they also chose Environmentalism to be a new threat to neo-Conservatism, which in the United States is primarily funded by the oil and coal industries in order to keep Americans dependent on oil/coal for transportation and energy. Since then neo-Conservatives (with funding from the oil/coal industry) having been waging a war of misinformation in order to keep Americans in the dark about the danger of global warming.

BRIEF TIMELINE OF MISINFORMATION

1990: The White House under Bush Sr's Administration begins a policy of doctoring (censoring/changing the wording) of scientific reports in an effort to keep the American public in a state of ignorance.

1992: During the Rio Earth Summit (attended by 17,000 people, including 108 leaders of different countries) George Bush Sr. ordered his staff to "water down" or block any information or initiatives they believed to be a threat. "I am afraid the conservatives in the United States are picking Ecologism as their new enemy," commented Germany's Environment Minister at the time.

1992: Dixie Lee Ray also attends the Rio Earth Summit, who is an influential conservative activist and author of the 1994 book "Environmental Overkill". She is also associated with The Heritage Foundation and The Competitive Enterprises Institute, two conservative think tanks which actively fight against environmental science and denying global warming. While at the summit Dixie Lee Ray said the Rio Earth Summit was sponsored by United Nations officials, who she claimed were members of the "The International Socialist Party". There is no such party, but anyone listening to her might have thought her comments were genuine and not complete lies. She believed the summit's goal was "to impose world government under the UN so that all governments give up their sovereignty and that nations will be frightened or coerced into doing that by threats of environmental damage." Taken in context you begin to realize such people are essentially conspiracy theorists and should be promptly ignored.

Global Warming Deniers

1997: A poll conducted compared Republicans and Democrats as to whether they believed the effects of global warming has already begun. 48% of Republicans said yes, 52% of Democrats said yes. An identical poll in 1998 saw a significant shift, with Republicans down to 42% and Democrats up to 76%. It used to be there wasn't much difference between Republicans and Democrats when it came to global warming, but in the last 10 years the misinformation spread by the oil/coal industry has caused many Republicans to change their opinions despite the growing body of scientific evidence.

Rejecting the Science

Using the Creationists / Pro-Life movement, it wasn't really that hard to find people willing to reject science in favour of religious beliefs. It is a commonly held belief in such circles that science is all well and good, just so long as it doesn't conflict with their religious ideology.

During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s there was a strong trust in scientists and what they working to accomplish in the name of progress and understanding. However during the 1970s and 1980s there began to be a backlash against scientific thought created by conservative elements in the United States to dissuade people from believing everything scientific discovery tells us. Concepts like the Big Bang, that life begins when a baby has a brain and a heartbeat, that condoms prevent the spread of STDs, that smoking causes lung cancer, that overeating/lack of exercise causes obesity, evolution, genetics and of course environmental science were suddenly seen as threats to neo-conservative leaders reliant on the conservative grassroots for votes.

Global Warming Deniers

Indeed one of the primary sources for finding so-called "scientists" to promote the idea that global warming isn't real was found within the tobacco industry's wide selection of paid employees who were paid to tell people that A) Smoking doesn't kill you and B) Its your right as an American to have a cigarette whenever you want to... but instead changing these 'mottos' to A) Global Warming isn't Real and B) Its your right as an American to pollute as much as you want. They argued that government intervention was unwarranted and that people should decide for themselves whether smoking is actually dangerous (or whether global warming is real), fostering a climate of skepticism in which denialists could spread misinformation about "junk science". One such group even wrote in a memo said "Doubt is our product. Doubt is our product since its the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the mind of the general public. Its also the means of establishing controversy."

One of the key concepts of this misinformation was to depict scientists as promoting "panic over nothing", claiming that global warming is either not real, or that its natural and has nothing to do with mankind's actions... and that therefore we shouldn't worry about it.

Global Warming Deniers

It should be noted that this is largely an American problem, and to a lesser extent in Canada and Australia. If you go to Britain, Europe or Asia everyone (both conservatives and liberals) is concerned about global warming and is endorsing government initiatives to fight it. Only in America is there a huge difference between conservative denialists and the rest of the population which accepts the reality of global warming. According to a 2009 poll 18% of Americans are doubtful or dismissive of global warming, 12% are disengaged (they just don't care), while the remaining 70% are either cautious, concerned or alarmed about global warming.

If you go to Canada for example, in the province of British Columbia the conservative government there passed a tax on greenhouse gases, not only acknowledging that global warming is real, but making efforts to cut greenhouse gases. The idea of a Republican politician in the United States doing such a thing is so ludicrous as to incite laughter. The difference is that in Canada conservatives are much more willing to accept scientific fact and haven't been misled by lies as much as Americans have. (Someone could point the blame at the American media for being biased, corrupt and giving too much air time to denialists.)

FACT: Mankind has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by approx. 40% during the last 50 years.

That 40% increase has resulted in a 0.8 degree rise in the average global temperature, which may not sound like a lot, but since its only an average what you get is warmer weather in the poles and more dramatic droughts, storms, floods & other forms of climate change.

An increase of another degree over the next 50 years could result in widespread extinctions due to loss of habitat.

The Cassandra Effect

Cassandra was Trojan woman who tried to warn the people of Troy to flee before the Greek army and that the Trojan Horse was a trick, but nobody believed her. The problem with global warming and climate change is that people need to experience the effects of climate change themselves before they are willing to take it seriously. Canadians for example have seen more dramatic changes than Americans before global warming is effecting sub-arctic regions more so than temperate regions.

Thus trying to convince Americans that global warming is real is doubly difficult because A) Climate change denialists are spreading misinformation, B) Americans are being misled by the conservative media and C) Americans are less likely to see the effects of global warming. There is also the problem of apathy, as you will recall above 12% of Americans simply don't care because it hasn't effected them.

Mind you if even the most conservative estimates of rising sea levels come true, then mankind is going to see a massive exodus of people living in large coastal cities which will become flooded when the ice caps completely melt.

The Fabrication of False Science

If there is any sin in science its the manufacture of false data to serve an ideological purpose. What global warming denialists are saying is that scientists (all of them, since 100% of peer reviewed studies into global warming / climate change confirm its existence and that its a real threat) are all a bunch of liars. And since these denialists are limited to the United States, their world view is that all the scientists in the world is in some kind of conspiracy against the USA.

It is in fact quite mindboggling to think that every scientist in the world is lying, but this is the kind of misinformation being used by right wing extremists in an effort to cast doubt and prevent government intervention in the United States.

Indeed they have even gone so far as to employ people, often graduates from unrelated scientific fields or with no scientific background, to claim to be experts on climate change/global warming and then claim it was all a hoax.

This is where the peer review process comes into play. When a scientific study is published, its given to other scientists to review and check to see if all the math and measurements are accurate. These scientists are inherently skeptical and its their job to make sure the information is factual. None of the documents claiming that global warming is a hoax has ever made it past the peer review process because the measurements/math were either fabricated or falsified, and the document in question is just a complete lie.

Conservative Estimates

If anything scientists have been guilty of making too many conservative estimates when it comes to predicting the future of global warming. In recent years many scientific journals have noted that scientists have been using scientific measurements to create conservative models of what might happen in the future. The problem however is that these models are turning out to be making estimates that aren't predicting the changes fast enough. The new data being collected shows that global warming is happening at a rate faster than expected, that temperature rises are hotter than expected and that climate change is becoming more disastrous than expected.

The problem is that these conservative models are reliant on several things:

#1. They are toned down in order to look realistic in an effort to persuade politicians of the danger of the threat. If they were more moderate or extreme estimates politicians simply wouldn't take them seriously because of the air of denialism/slepticism.

#2. Incomplete data, and by incomplete I mean no scientific model predicting future weather patterns can account for everything. We are no doubt getting better at predicting the weather, largely due to more processing computer power and more complete computer models, but we will never have a perfect model for predicting the weather.

#3. Meteorologists (scientists who study weather patterns) have a standard of making conservative estimates and making vague statements like "chance of showers" or "partially cloudy with a 30% chance of thunderstorms". They're not about to come out and start issuing thunderstorm, flooding and tornado warnings, because if they do their reputations will be ruined and thus they prefer to only make such statements when their is actual proof of flooding, tornados, etc. Thus when choosing a weather model for the future meteorologists have a tendency to just pick the most conservative estimate and then update it later depending on new evidence.

How to Spot a Global Warming Denialist

#1. Denialists don't like to use facts and numbers, because they know if someone checks those numbers or facts they will discover its either not accurate or unrelated figures.

#2. Denialists like to talk about the Ice Ages, saying that the earth goes through warm and cool stages. This is true, but the earth has never before had a Arid or Humid Age in which the earth becomes partially desert and under the constant pressure of huge storms, which is hardly a blessing. The earth has never seen extreme heat and humidity before, nor the kind of weather such humidity would create.

#3. Denialists sometimes claim this extra heat could be a good thing for farmers, but what farmers world wide will tell you is that they're experiencing more droughts, and more extreme weather that flattens their crops. There is no benefit.

#4. Denialists will claim the sun is giving off extra heat and that this is just natural, but they don't provide any facts or figures to support this theory. The facts are that the sun's temperature does fluctuate slightly, but that it is actually down right now compared to a mean average for the last 50 years. Thus even though the sun's temperature is down, global warming is still rising because more heat is being trapped in earth's atmosphere due to greenhouse gases.

Newsweek, Global Warming is an Hoax, Or so claim well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change.

#5. Denialists don't like to talk about insulation from the sun, how the earth's atmosphere works and how the sun's rays are partially reflected off the atmosphere and back into space. Nor do they like to talk about greenhouse gases and how they trap heat inside the earth's atmosphere.

#6. Denialists like to think global warming won't effect North America and that it will only hurt Africa and Asia. This isn't just bogus, it is not based on any scientific fact, this particular idea seems to be purely based on racism. If you use temperature data from NASA however what you actually see is the countries most effected will be Canada, Russia, northern countries in Europe, Argentina, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

#7. Denialists don't like to talk about all the temperature records that been broken in recent years.

#8. Denialists like to think we are due for another Ice Age, as if we will suddenly experience a cooling period and all the melting glaciers will suddenly grow back again.

#9. Denialists seem to think global warming will mean the whole earth will become a tropical or sub-tropical paradise. This couldn't be further from the truth as hurricanes feed on hot water currents and tropical regions will see their share of dramatic weather changes.

#10. Denialists don't like to talk about what will happen about the melting of the polar ice caps and all the species that will be effected, to say nothing of the loss of the earth's "thermal regulator". (The ice caps acts a bit like an air conditioner, melting ice cooling the earth whenever we get too hot, but if all the ice caps melt completely we will no longer have ice to cool the earth down.)

#11. Denialists promote the idea that this is all just a big hoax designed to give money to environmental groups, make Al Gore rich, is a scam by third-world countries, etc. They are basically conspiracy theorists.

#12. Denialists sometimes like to talk about God, that global warming is caused by God, that this is just temporary and has nothing to do with mankind's actions. Essentially they use God as a scapegoat.

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