Peter Gleick: More on Climate Deniers and Their Abuse of Science
An analysis of the special interest rhetoric behind climate change’s biggest naysayers.
I’ve blogged on occasion on the issue of climate change, in part because of the extensive research I’ve done on the implications of climate change for water resources, and in part because of my frustration at the inability of policy makers to move beyond their parochial political interests and take action to reduce the massive and growing threats of climate change in the name of the public good. Part of the problem is a small number of vocal, ignorant, or dishonest climate deniers who aggressively mislead the public, media, and politicians, using (or manufacturing) uncertainty about the science as an excuse.
In fact, climate change deniers are pushing an ideological fight masquerading as a scientific debate.
Now, in a strongly worded push-back, 255 members of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences have published an essay in the newest, May 7th issue of the journal Science (you need a subscription to see it, but the Institute has posted a .pdf of the letter (with permission). While I hate to send you from this blog to another, I’ve been invited to post on this essay over at Huffington Post. If you are interested in this issue, check it out. But here is a key finding:
“Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers, are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change.”
More on water here shortly, including Singapore’s remarkable water efforts, bottled water, California’s modest water reprieve, and my favorite movies related to water.
Dr. Gleick’s blog posts are provided in cooperation with the SFGate. Previous posts can be found here.
Facts, sadly, don’t win a public argument. It’s all about framing. How best to frame this?
As a non-scientist I think scientists have a PR problem. The deniers understand that people are moved by emotion, not facts, and are using this to their advantage.
“All propaganda must be so popular and on such an intellectual level, that even the most stupid of those towards whom it is directed will understand it. Therefore, the intellectual level of the propaganda must be lower the larger the number of people who are to be influenced by it.”
Adolf Hitler, Mein Kainpf, from Chapter VI: War Propaganda
Your blog quoting the typical abusive and ignorant email shows this – the writer claims scientists are motivated by money, left-wing politics etc. It’s all very tribal and allows the deniers a smug sense of “people like us aren’t fooled by this nonsense.” It used to be Reds under the bed, now it’s Greens.
Have you seen the adverts put out by Big Coal = “People say the Earth is warming. People said the Earth was flat”, that kind of thing.
Referring to CO2 as “plant food” is another trick. That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
It doesn’t help that there’s a lack of trust in many authorities: politicians (we’ve had a big expenses scandal in the UK), the Church (the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church), and scientists being portrayed in the media either as “mad scientists” or people isolated from ordinary concerns. It’s easier to smear them as being just out for the grants they can get by exaggerating the effects of climate change.
Also the media are obsessed with appearing ‘balanced’ so every time they have a scientists saying there is climate change, they want a denier to oppose the view.
If you haven’t seen it, there’s a great lecture on you tube by Dan Gilbert, a pscyhology professor explaining why we won’t respond to the threat of global warming (it isn’t scary enough, it doesn’t have a moustache…)
Also, if you look on Amazon, people who buy global warming books also buy other books which claim it is happening. But look up a book by a ‘denier’ and lo and behold, the purchasers all buy other books which rubbish the idea that the planet is warming. So it’s a self-perpetuating belief.
Scientists need a communicator from the advertising/PR world who understands psychology and that people are motivated by emotions, not facts.
The deniers are winning the argument with many ordinary people because they are using the big guns, talking about freedom, threatening people with higher taxes, job losses, the spectre of socialism etc.
You need an orator with the clout of a Winston Churchill or Martin Luther King to counter this.
I appreciate that this isn’t what scientists do!
The problem with environmental issues is that we are not dealing with one science, but a combination of different sciences, each controlled by ‘scientists’ that feel their branch of science is the most important. Consequently for the bystander this has created a situation whereby they do not to know who to believe in this fight of the “prioritizing of sciences” in environmental issues.
A much more effective approach for any environmental problem would be first a simple common sense approach. Regarding climate change, everybody will agree that when you sit in a car with its engine running in a garage with its doors closed, you have a problem. Most people also will agree that opening the door may solve the direct problem, but not on the long term, if you have millions of garages and cars.
Personally I have been trying to correct an essential water pollution test for the last 30 years, since this incorrect application is directly responsible for the failure of the Clean Water Act here in the USA, by ignoring the water pollution caused nitrogenous (urine and protein) waste of animals, including humans. This waste, in the nitrogen life cycle impacts the entire biosphere, thus also its climate. Since the same test (developed around 1920 in England) is worldwide incorrectly used, we see the same problems allover the world. This waste not only like fecal waste exerts an oxygen demand (depletion of dissolved oxygen in open waters), but also is a fertilizer for algae and other aquatic plant life, thus contributing to eutrophication, often resulting in red tides, dead zones and the destruction of coral reefs. (www.petermaier.net)
In spite of all these negative impacts and the “science”, it appears impossible to correct this essential test, so the question is: How will we ever solve much more complicated problems related to global climate change and global warming, if we can not even correct a simple test?