Tag Archives: climate change denial

Climate change deniers still receiving disproportionate attention from the media, study finds

It’s already a classic debate: someone is making the case for climate change, someone is trying to argue against it. The problem is that this sort of 1 on 1 debate is extremely misleading — they create the idea that it’s somehow a balanced, 50-50 debate, when this couldn’t be further from the truth. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree that human activity is causing climate change. It’s a consensus akin to cigarettes being bad for you.

This type of false balance can help to distort public opinion on the matter, making people more likely to fall into the deniers’ trap. In recent years, outlets have been trying to eliminate this false balance and promote a more accurate stance but things are still not as they should be.

A recent study found that “climate change contrarians” are getting 49% more media coverage than scientists who support the consensus view that climate change is man-made. The study analyzed 200,000 research publications and 100,000 media articles, finding an important difference between the actual science and the way the media portrays the science.

Speaking on New Zealand television, Shaun Hendy, Professor of physics at the University of Auckland explained the idea of “false balance” and how it’s impacting peoples’ understanding of the issue.

“I think this is something we’ve sort of been trying to combat for a long time, this idea of false balance that when you have a climate scientist talking about climate change, then you’ve got to have a contrarian,” Prof Hendy told TVNZ1’s Breakfast this morning.

He added that the consensus is so well-established that some media feels that writing about climate change isn’t even newsworthy — so they add in a contrarian for the extra spice.

“Partly, it’s to do with the way news works, right? It’s not newsworthy that, from year on year, 97% of climate scientists still think that climate change is occurring. When a news story happens, you want some controversy, and so often, you get those two opposing viewpoints being presented — but they’re not equal.”

Herein lies the most important takeaway: climate change and climate change denial are absolutely not equal. The science is unequivocal, so let’s portray it as such

However, it should be noted that some media are doing much better than others. The study concludes:

“Here we show via direct comparison that contrarians are featured in 49% more media articles than scientists. Yet when comparing visibility in mainstream media sources only, we observe just a 1% excess visibility, which objectively demonstrates the crowding out of professional mainstream sources by the proliferation of new media sources, many of which contribute to the production and consumption of climate change disinformation at scale.” We all need to play our part in addressing this issue, they add.

“These results demonstrate why climate scientists should increasingly exert their authority in scientific and public discourse, and why professional journalists and editors should adjust the disproportionate attention given to contrarians.”

The study was published in Nature.

Want to combat scientific disinformation? Here’s how

If you’re reading this, there’s a very good chance you tried to combat some science misinformation at some point. Whether it’s an antivaxxer friend, that climate change-denying uncle, or just some internet comment, disinformation has become so pervasive that it’s impossible to avoid — and if you’ve tried to talk them out of it, you know just how insanely difficult it can get.

Now, in a new study, researchers describe some evidence-based strategies to combat the misinformation.

Transparency is a must, researchers say.

Misinformation is hardly a new thing. it artificially generated backlash against climate change science — ironically just as the scientific community was reaching a consensus on the issue.

“Nowhere has the impact of scientific misinformation been more profound than on the issue of climate change in the United States,” researchers write in the study.

That might seem like a contradiction, but it is actually the result of a carefully planned strategy. An organized network, funded by organizations with a lot of money invested in the fossil fuel industry, devised a campaign to slow down the transition to a low-carbon economy, especially by eroding public confidence in climate change. The result was a large-scale misinformation campaign which was wildly successful, says Justin Farrell, of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES).

In a new paper, Farrell and colleagues shed new light on this misinformation, and describe four evidence-based strategies to combat it:

  • Public inoculation: A growing body of research shows that our individual perceptions are strongly influenced by our culture — the set of pre-existing ideologies and values we have. However, there is more and more evidence showing that we can use this and “inoculate” against misinformation. This inoculation is essentially exposing people to refuted scientific arguments before they can even hear them — fittingly, like using a “vaccine”. This strategy can be very effective if done quickly, before misinformation spreads, and if more attention is placed on the sources of misinformation.
  • Legal strategies: It’s well-known that fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil have systematically downplayed the risks for their products. Industry leaders knowingly misled the public. As a response, several cities and states have sued these companies — while this is a lengthy process, it can help shed new light on how these companies lied to the public and to political leaders.
  • Political mechanisms: Like the public opinion, political opinion has also been swayed — but the exact way in which this happens remains difficult to assess. For instance, they identify a case in which the energy company Entergy Corporation paid actors who posed as grassroots supporters of a controversial power plant in New Orleans — but this got little attention in the media, and it’s unclear how politicians were swayed by this manipulation campaign. Placing cases like this under the spotlight, as well as discussing more political candidates’ views on climate change could be very useful in encouraging the election of responsible leaders into office. Also, shedding light on politicians’ financial connections to fossil fuel companies needs to be addressed more — which leads us to our last point.
  • Financial transparency: “follow the money” is generally a pretty good plan. The number of campaigns that promote science misinformation — coming from donor-directed foundations that shield the contributor’s identity from the public–  has grown dramatically in the past few years, topping $100 million. This is done especially to make it difficult to learn who the authors of the disinformation campaign are and to spread haze around the money trail. How often have we heard that scientists are “lying about climate change to get research money” — when the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. The authors call for new legislation to improve funding transparency.

“Ultimately we have to get to the root of the problem, which is the huge imbalance in spending between climate change opponents and those lobbying for new solutions,” said Farrell. “Those interests will always be there, of course, but I’m hopeful that as we learn more about these dynamics things will start to change. I just hope it’s not too late.”

While the study was focused on climate change, similar strategies can be used to address all sorts of misinformation — from antivaxxing and homeopathy to astrology and conspiracy theories.

The study has been published in Nature.

Why are climate change deniers more likely to be racist?

A new study highlights a disturbing correlation: people who don’t believe in man-made climate change are also more likely to be racists.

Image credits: Zbynek Burival.

The parallel between climate change denial and slavery has been drawn several times in the past — just like it was wrong to keep other people enslaved, just like it was wrong to deny women the vote, so too it is wrong to simply refuse a verifiable scientific fact, with vast consequences for the entire world.

But what if the correlation isn’t only abstract, but also has a concrete component?

A new study analyzed the connection between climate change denial and racism, two seemingly unrelated things, which do however share a strong correlation.

Climate change deniers as a group have been shown to share certain similarities in the past: they’re more likely to be old, they’re more likely to be white, and they’re more likely to lean towards the political right. According to this new research, they also share a nasty attitude towards other races.

Denial is skin-deep

“I’m not trying to make a claim in the study that race is the single most important or necessarily a massive component of all environmental attitudes” the researcher behind the study, political scientist Salil Benegal from DePauw University, told Sierra.

“But it’s a significant thing that we should be looking out for.”

Benegal analyzed two collections of data: Pew data and data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), which interviews a national sample of voters before and after each presidential election. The ANES has collected racial information since the 1960s, by asking respondents how much they agree with the following statements, on a scale of 1 to 5:

  • Irish, Italians, Jewish, and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors.
  • Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for Blacks to work their way out of the lower class.
  • Over the past few years, Blacks have gotten less than they deserve.
  • It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough. If Blacks would only try harder, they could be just as well off as whites.

When Benegal correlated the two datasets during the Obama administration, he found that white Republicans who scored highest for racial resentment were 300% more likely to also be climate change deniers.

Obama himself was a strong polarization element — being a black president and very interested in environmental issues, he gained the popularity and respect of some voters, while antagonizing others (particularly the ones mentioned above). Benegal also wanted to assess whether the polarization on the climate change issue was exacerbated by Obama himself (i.e. people who disliked Obama were against his environmental reforms just because they were against him).

“There has been increasing polarisation on this issue,” Benegal told Think Progress, “and this is one thing my own research has been examining for a while  –  trying to figure out what are some of the root causes of this polarisation.”

Benegal found that white voters became 18 percent less likely than black voters to see climate change as a very serious problem over the course of Obama’s presidency — even after controlling for factors such as political partisanship, ideology, and education,

Ultimately, the more racial resentment people harbor, the more likely they are to disagree with the scientific consensus on climate change.

“I found that the racial resentment scale was incredibly significant in predicting whether or not people agreed with the scientific consensus,” Benegal said.

Full story here.

This seems to further suggest the idea that climate change denial isn’t necessarily based on a scientific reality, but on a personal belief. Which makes a lot of sense if you’ve been following the discussions around this hot topic.

Benegal underlines that political partisanship and racial attitudes go strongly together, with consequences that are hard to foresee.

“There is the tendency to just read something like this and say, ‘Oh well, maybe it’s not partisanship; it’s race,’” Benegal says. “But I think the important thing is to understand that racial attitudes and partisan identity are becoming more closely aligned and go hand-in-hand for an increasing number of issues.”

“We’re noticing the interactions between these factors more frequently. It’s important to understand how race and partisanship are tied together on so many issues.”

Journal Reference: Salil D. Bengal — “The spillover of race and racial attitudes into public opinion about climate change”. Environmental Politicshttps://doi.org/10.1080/09644016.2018.1457287

97% consensus on climate change? More like 99.94%, study finds

The general trend in the media seems to suggest that there’s a 97% agreement between scientists regarding the validity of climate change. However, that might not be accurate. Recent studies indicate an even stronger agreement.

Scientific consensus on human-caused global warming as compared to the expertise of the surveyed sample. There’s a strong correlation between consensus and climate science expertise. Image Credits: John Cook.

A century ago, people thought smoking was pretty healthy — some even thought it was good for your lungs. But year after year, the evidence started piling up: smoking wasn’t good for you, it was bad. It causes cancer, heart diseases, and a myriad of other conditions. Of course, the tobacco industry was one of the first to learn about this, but they denied it. They hid the truth, they carried aggressive advertising and lobby campaigns against scientific facts, promoting laws and regulations that worked to their advantage, at the detriment of the general population. Even after the scientific evidence came in, it took decades before public opinion followed — and even more before healthy policies were set in place (in many parts of the world, there still aren’t any proper anti-smoking policies).

Something similar is happening today, except instead of smoking, we have man-made climate change.

There are thousands and thousands of studies documenting climate change and its effects and among scientists, there’s essentially a consensus regarding climate change. While the details and the exact specifics of how it is happening are still very much an area of active research, there’s not much denying that it is happening and that we are causing it.

To portray this, the media often uses the phrase “97% consensus” — likely originating from a 2014 study by Cook et al. entitled “Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature“. In the study, Cook analyzed 11,944 peer-reviewed papers published between 1991-2011. Out of them, about a third (4,013) expressed a position on man-made climate change, and 3,894 (or 97%) supported the position that humans are causing climate change. The authors also found that more recent papers were increasingly attributing climate change to mankind, indicating an increasing acceptance level.

But in 2017, James Powell published an even larger meta-analysis of 54,195  peer-reviewed papers, finding a 99.94% consensus about human-caused climate change. Again, more recent papers seem to back the idea up even more overwhelmingly.

At the end of the day, a difference between 97% and 99.94% is probably not going to sway many people who aren’t already convinced. As with smoking, public opinion is slow to follow the science, and the insidious marketing and lobby machine is working in full gear. Just like the tobacco companies knew about the damage that smoking can do, oil companies have been aware of climate change for decades, but continue to fund denier and pro-fossil fuel media.

The important takeaway is that regardless of whether we like it or not, the science is in: climate change is happening, and it’s happening because of us.

US politicians held an insane and embarrassing hearing just to attack climate science

The hearing, led by Chair of the House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology Lamar Smith, descended into an old-fashioned bullying of science, with Smith and his peers stepping way out of bounds just to make it seem that scientists have no idea what they’re doing — and they themselves, the politicians, are much better informed.

Climate change has been associated with droughts and water scarcity. Image in Public Domain.

In the US, anti-science is winning, at least at a political level. Just after President Donald Trump ordered a massive rollback of rules that limited carbon emissions, and a few weeks after he released a budget proposal which aims to slash funding for science and health agencies, the Trump administration made it clear once more that they have no regard for science or the environment. The mock hearing, called “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications, and the Scientific Method,” was basically a series of accusations and name calling, with Lamar Smith especially saying that climate scientists use “alarmist findings that are wrongfully reported as facts.”

“Much of climate science today appears to be based more on exaggerations, personal agendas, and questionable predictions than on the scientific method,” Smith said.

Smith, who has received more than $600,000 from the fossil fuel industry during his career in Congress (like almost all climate change deniers), is well known for conducting “witch hunts” against scientists. In the past, he has threatened to prosecute the NOAA if they don’t release public information about how their studies are conducted — which might not sound that unreasonable if the information wasn’t already public. I guess this just goes to show how well-informed Smith is. But back to the hearing. Michael Mann — a Penn State University professor of atmospheric science who has been repeatedly threatened for his work on climate change — was the only climate scientist participating at the hearing.

Lamar Smith climate change

Lamar S. Smith, member of the United States House of Representatives, did his best to make it look like climate scientists don’t know what they’re doing. Image credits: House Judiciary.

Several colleagues have urged Mann to boycott this hearing, as everyone was well-aware that it’s basically a charade.

“In the past, the science community has participated in these hearings, even though questioning the basics of climate change is akin to holding a hearing to examine whether the Earth orbits the sun,” wrote David Titley, a professor in the department of meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, in the Washington Post on Tuesday, the eve of the hearing. Enough!”

But in a room stacked with career politicians and lawyers, Mann was the only non-denier scientist, and he felt that injecting some science into a hearing that was “ostensibly supposed to be about science” was necessary.

Michael Mann climate change

Michael Mann was the only scientist chosen to represent what’s basically a consensus on climate change. Image credits: Karl Withakay.

Judith Curry, a former professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who has retired from academia due to what she calls the poisonous nature of the scientific discussion around human-caused global warming, turned to paraphrasing Donald Trump to emphasize her points:

“Let’s make scientific debate about climate change great again,” she said.

When asked about the Antarctic Ice, Curry highlighted the limits of her knowledge, by giving a bizarrely vague answer focusing uncertainties due to past measurement issues and regional differences. Mann was quick to tell her that we now have satellites (called GRACE) that measure ice, so we clearly know we’re losing ice. Another scientist present at the debate, Roger Pielke, who doesn’t currently study climate science, seemed to take a more reasonable position and even argued for a carbon tax at one point, though he is well known for publishing a piece where he states that the price of disasters is rising, but not because of climate change. Criticism of that piece led his editor to respond and publish a rebuttal.

Three out of the four scientists present at the hearing are at the fringe of science, Judith included. Considering that 97% of scientists agree that man-made global warming is a thing, it’s at least strange that 75% (3 out of 4) are climate change deniers. It’s almost like the hearing’s opinions were predetermined and they don’t really care about the science, isn’t it?

“For a balanced panel we would need 96 more Dr. Manns,” said Democrat Suzanne Bonamici of Oregon.

But this was just the beginning, the best was yet to come. Smith objected to Mann quoting articles from Science magazine, stating that Science “is not known as an objective magazine.” I’m surprised he didn’t call it fake news. Not long after that, the name calling began. California Republican Dana Rohrabacher likened the tactics of climate scientists to the those of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, while Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk said of Mann:

“We could say you’re a denier of natural change.”

Climate change co2

Yes, this totally looks like natural change to me. Image credits: Hanno / Wiki Commons.

Mann stood his ground, and he too accused the politicians of being swayed by the money they receive from fossil fuel companies. Basically, he tried to present science and objective facts to some of the biggest climate change deniers in Congress. By the end, it was clear that the scientific reality is not enough for Lamar Smith, who said that scientists have lost their way, and that:

“Their ultimate goal,” he said, “is to promote a personal agenda, even if the evidence doesn’t support it.”

Ironically, despite overwhelming evidence, despite decades and decades of thorough research done by thousands of people, Smith, like EPA chief Scott Pruitt, believes that the science is not in yet. It’s almost like he has a personal agenda that he’s pursuing, even against all the evidence. But hey, who needs facts when you have alternative facts?

At the end of the day, objective observers will easily discern the scientific reality from the bias. But what happens in the US is extremely worrying. The country is the world’s second largest polluter, and any backtrack of environmental issues will have drastic consequences not only for Americans themselves but for the rest of the world as well.

Scientists call out Pruitt’s false view of climate change

A few days ago, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruit, said in an interview that he doesn’t believe “the science is in” and CO2 doesn’t cause climate change. Now, thirty prominent researchers, including a Nobel laureate, sent an open letter to Pruitt, calling him out on his false statements.

Science vs Politicians

In one corner, we have one hundred and fifty years of research, thousands of the world’s most brilliant minds, Nobel Prize winners, and effects which can easily be seen worldwide. In the other corner, there’s Trump, the fossil fuel lobby, and their henchmen. Image shows Scott Pruitt. Credits: Gage Skidmore.

Even ignoring the absolute absurdity of the situation in which the head of the EPA is clearly anti-environment, his statements are blatantly false. The letter reads:

“As scientists who study the Earth’s climate system, we are deeply troubled by your recent statement that there is ‘tremendous disagreement’ about whether carbon dioxide from human activities is ‘a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.’ That statement is incorrect.”

That’s a burn right there. In the world of science, definite statements such as the one above are rarely used, but this is absolutely necessary in this case. Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, is a lawyer and a Republican politician. His scientific qualifications are limited at best — which was evident from the get-go. But now, as fact-checking organization Snopes reports, he just went against a scientific consensus that has lasted for over a century. Yes, the realization that CO2 warms the atmosphere dates back to the late 1850s and the pioneering work of British professor John Tyndall.

The letter continues:

“In fact, we know with exceptionally high degree of confidence that most of the climate warming over at least the last six decades has been caused by rising levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere due to the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities. Further, we know that if we continue to increase the atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases, the Earth will continue to heat up, with serious consequences for economies and ecosystems across the globe.”

Sticking your head in the ground won’t solve any problem, but I’m not sure solving problems is what Pruitt is after. At this point, it seems extremely clear that Pruitt (and the Trump administration as a whole) does not have an unbiased view of climate change. This is not about a political disagreement of sorts, it’s about a government refusing to accept simple scientific principles — something which can have dire consequences for everybody. With the US being the world’s second largest polluter, their lack of action will cost us all.

“Just as there is no escaping gravity when one steps off a cliff, there is no escaping the warming that follows when we add extra carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases to the atmosphere,” the scientists wrote. The group included Nobel laureate chemist Mario Molina of the University of California, San Diego, and eight members of the National Academies of Science.

Michael Oppenheimer, an atmospheric scientist at Princeton University, who also signed the letter said that there are two possibilities: either Pruitt is ignorant, or he’s simply lying. If the first possibility is true, then Oppenheimer declared his availability to brief Pruitt on climate change, but if the latter is true… there’s not much that can be done.

“I have no idea how he made this error, whether it’s intentional spinning of the facts, or, as I prefer to think, he really doesn’t know,” Oppenheimer said. ” We and any number of climate scientists would be perfectly happy to brief him about what’s known and what isn’t known and what the uncertainties really are.”

The correlation between atmospheric CO2 and global average temperatures. Image credits: Wiki Commons / U.S. Department of Energy

“Alternative facts”

In a very short time, the Trump administration has made a name for itself in its refusal of reality and its acceptance of what they call “alternative facts.” The term was coined by U.S. Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway. Conway’s used the phrase “alternative facts” to describe what are demonstrably falsehoods promoted by the White House — and nowhere is this more evident than in their climate policies.

Again, just stop for a moment and think that the leader of the EPA just went on national television and said that CO2 doesn’t cause climate change. That’s literally the opposite of what the EPA itself states on its website:

“It is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming,” and then, “Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change.”

This letter sent by some of the world’s most respected scientists, but it’s not like that was the only such response. Earlier, the American Meteorological Society (AMS) also forwarded a letter to Pruitt with an official response underlining the key role that CO2 has played in raising our climate’s temperatures. This has been affirmed by thousands of independent scientists and numerous scientific institutions around the world based on multiple lines and independent evidence. AMS executive director Keith Seitter further emphasized this consensus by saying: “We are not familiar with any scientific institution with relevant subject matter expertise that has reached a different conclusion.”

The American Geophysical Society gave a similar response, pointing to their position on climate change, which “leaves no doubt that increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide resulting from human activity is the dominant source of climate change during the last several decades.”

NASA says the same thing, NOAA says the same thing, there’s thousands and thousands of studies that say the same thing — it’s laughable that this is still being discussed. Unfortunately, that’s what it has gotten to.

In times of turmoil, academics stand up, develop code of conduct and reaffirm fight against racism, misogyny and climate change denial

In times of political turmoil, academics are often the first to react, and they are often vulnerable. It’s not just that research funding is the first to be cut off, but things can be much more severe, as we’ve recently seen in Turkey. But in tough times, academics have also become leaders. Benjamin Franklin is always a good example, but to a lesser extent, scientists have often played a key role in troubled societies. To this purpose, Rachel Barney, a professor of classics and philosophy at the University of Toronto (and a dual U.S.-Canadian citizen) has proposed what she calls the Anti-Authoritarian Academic Code of Conduct.

This seems absolutely normal to me and should be upheld by all professors everywhere. Even if you’re not an academic these should be words to live by.

  1. I will not aid in the registering, rounding up or internment of students and colleagues on the basis of their religious beliefs.
  2. I will not aid in the marginalization, exclusion or deportation of my undocumented students and colleagues.
  3. I will, as my capacities allow, discourage and defend against the bullying and harassment of vulnerable students and colleagues targeted for important aspects of their identity (such as race, gender, religious beliefs, sexual orientation, etc.).
  4. I will not aid government or law enforcement in activities which violate the U.S. Constitution or other U.S. law.
  5. I will not aid in government surveillance. I will not inform.
  6. As a teacher and researcher, I will not be bought or intimidated. I will present the state of research in my field accurately, whether or not it is what the government wants to hear. I will challenge others when they lie.
  7. I will not be shy about my commitment to academic values: truth, objectivity, free inquiry and rational debate. I will challenge others when they engage in behavior contrary to these values.
  8. As an administrator, I will defend my students, faculty and nonacademic staff. I will not allow the expulsion, firing, disciplining, harassment or marginalization of individuals targeted for being members of disfavored groups or for expressing dangerous opinions. I will speak up for academic freedom. I will insist on the autonomy of my institution.
  9. I will stand with my colleagues at other institutions, and defend their rights and freedoms.
  10. I will be fair and unbiased in the classroom, in grading and in all my dealings with all my students, including those who disagree with me politically.

Other academics have praised this initiative. Dr. Kathleen Nicoll, professor of Geosciences at the University of Utah announced her support for this code on her Facebook page, Geomorphology Rules. In a comment on Facebook, she wrote:

“These are tough times, globally. As an academic, I believe I have to stand up for intellectual freedom and to maintain a voice. That has been difficult during my career, and I do not want matters to get worse. The number of threats and trolling I have received when posting about climate and environmental topics on this page have significantly escalated recently to the point that I am alarmed.”

We at ZME Science are not academics, but we’ve dealt with our fair share of trolling and threats when it comes to climate change. As we wrote several times, climate change is a scientific issue, not a political one, even though some want to make it seem so. Yet despite the overwhelming scientific evidence, we still receive emails saying either that climate change isn’t real, or that we shouldn’t cover political subjects (this being climate change).

Normally, I wouldn’t be to bothered with this. However, it’s gotten to the point where misinformation and fake news are causing too much damage. There’s good reason to believe that the default position of Trump’s White House will be that climate change isn’t real. Trump has called global warming a “hoax,” “mythical,” a “con job,” “nonexistent,” and “bullshit.” But things get even worse. Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, has often spoken about “white superiority,” has said he “didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews” and his website featured a category called “black crime.”

Example of headline on Breitbart news.

Addressing these concerns, 400 faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have already signed a statement affirming their shared commitment to diversity and inclusion, the free and respectful exchange of ideas, and objective inquiry and the scientific method.

“The president-elect has appointed individuals to positions of power who have endorsed racism, misogyny and religious bigotry, and denied the widespread scientific consensus on climate change,” reads the MIT statement. “Regardless of our political views, these endorsements violate principles at the core of MIT’s mission. At this time, it is important to reaffirm the values we hold in common.”

“For any member of our community who may feel fear or oppression, our doors are open and we are ready to help,” pledged some of the world’s most respected researchers. “We pledge to work with all members of the community — students, faculty, staff, postdoctoral researchers and administrators — to defend these principles today and in the times ahead.”

Normally, I’d say things like these aren’t necessary. Why should academics reaffirm a fight against misogyny and religious bigotry? Why should professors pledge to not be bought or intimidated? Well, it’s because they feel threatened. The political rhetoric has grown so virulent that science and scientists feel like the need to realign to ideals which should be normal in this day and age. For starters, NASA’s climate studies seem to be threatened, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Things are not looking great, but I’m glad to see academics standing up. This is absolutely necessary.

snowball inhofe

Pepsi, DuPont, Google and others play both sides by funding climate change deniers, despite publically supporting climate action

snowball inhofe

No comment.

Last year, in anticipation of the COP21 UN climate change summit in Paris, President Obama convinced more than 150 companies to sign the “American Business Act on Climate Pledge,” which commits them to sustainable business practices and signaled that these businesses support the UN agreement to drastically cut down on greenhouse gasses. After Reuters reporters studied the donations made during the 2016 election cycle by the biggest publically traded companies from Obama’s Climate Pledge list, they found 25 out of 30 also funded the campaigns of lawmakers listed as ‘climate change deniers’, most of whom are Republican.

The most duplicitous companies considering their pledge were Pepsi and DuPont, whose political action committees offered about half or more of their top donation money to senators and congressmen on the Organizing For Action’s climate change denier list. Pepsi handed out $56,500 to climate deniers, while DuPon gave $40,000. The political action committees (PACs) of Google, AT&T, GE, Verizon, and Mondelez each directed at least a third of their funds to climate change deniers. Some call themselves climate change skeptics, but as we’ve previously reported the two aren’t interchangeable.

“The five companies reviewed by Reuters that did not fund opponents to Obama’s climate change agenda either had no political action committee, like Apple, or made only a small number of contributions, like Coca Cola,” Reuters wrote.

The list includes more than 130 members of Congress, the vast majority Republican, who actively seek to undermine Obama’s environmental policy. Some are more radical, like Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma who last year threw a snowball on the Congress floor to prove that man-made climate change is a sham and famously said ‘only God can change the climate’. Others like Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa are more moderate acknowledging climate change but, nevertheless, block climate mitigation measures because these hurt the competitiveness of American businesses.

reuters-graph

Credit: Reuters

Yet, both Grassley and Inhofe, along with scores of other climate change deniers with political power, have been funded by companies that ought to know better, at least judging from what they publically committed to.

It’s not uncommon, to use a euphemism, for companies to spread their funds across the whole political spectrum. This way, no matter who wins, businesses know at least they have an open door to lobby their interests. All of these corporations, however, might want to reconsider how they behave. In essence, what they’re doing is called “greenwashing” — deceptive PR used to create the impression that a company’s services, product or mission is environmentally friendly.

Many of the companies on this shame list gathered by Reuters have indeed made progress in improving their carbon footprint and sustainability. Pepsi has the largest fleet of electric delivery trucks and Google gets 3.5 times the computing power out of the same amount of energy in its data centers than five years ago. But besides being lame and deceptive, playing both sides might hurt their business as the public becomes more and more environmentally conscious. Jon Lukomnik, head of the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute says this inconsistency between a company’s environmental position and its political financial is in need of better oversight.

“No company should want to be perceived as espousing progressive climate policies on the one hand, while funding climate deniers on the other,” Lauren Compere, managing director at sustainable investment manager Boston Common Asset Management told Reuters.

 

 

 

climate change denial

The difference between a climate change skeptic and a climate change denier

climate change denial

Credit: EcoWatch

Climate change is happening now — it’s man made and occurring at a rate that has never been encountered before apart from those seen in mass extinction events. This conclusion is backed by 97% of climate experts, yet the general public is far more polarized. While 70 percent of Americans believe that the climate is changing, only 27 percent of respondents for a recent poll agree with the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activity is the main cause of climate change.

There are various causes for this discrepancy, among them willful manipulation of the public by some mainstream media outlets backed by vested interests (for example here, here, and here but we got a whole lot more.) There’s also a worrying trend of expert dismissal and concerns that climate mitigation leads to higher taxes or business restrictions. Those who refuse to accept the scientific consensus are often labeled under an umbrella term of climate change denial, but they’re also sometimes called climate change skeptics. Often, the two terms are used interchangeably.

climate change denial

Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This is wrong, says a group of leading climate scientists and psychologists including Michael Mann, one of the world’s leading authorities on climate change, and Stephan Lewandowsky, the author of a famous study which found climate change denial is associated with rejecting other scientific consensuses like HIV causes AIDS or tobacco smoking causes lung cancer.

The researchers explain that while one type respects the peer-review and scientific process, and is willing to engage in sensible, fact-based discourse, the other blindly rejects facts and is politically motivated.

“People who deny scientific facts that they find challenging or unacceptable, by contrast, are by and large not skeptics,” the study’s authors write. “On the contrary, they demonstrably shy away from scientific debate by avoiding the submission of their ideas to peer review.”

To illustrate their point, the researchers mention some key differences between skepticism and outright denial. For instance, denial commonly invokes conspiracies, like the book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future authored by Republican senator Jim Inhofe. Another feature that is common in denialist circles, but a stranger to skepticism and legitimate debate, is personal or ad hominem attacks. Some of the authors of this op-ed have been threatened by people who “would like to see them six feet under.” Those public attacks are often paralleled by prolific complaints to scientists’ host institutions with allegations of research misconduct, the authors wrote in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology.

Although Sen. Inhofe calls himself a “climate change skeptic”, he’s, in fact, a denier. Previously, Inhofe illustrated how climate change is a hoax by throwing a snowball on the senate floor. He also famously said that “only God can change the climate”. Inhofe is not only rejecting the science, but is actively persecuting climate scientists and those who do not fit his narrative.

The authors also underscore that there is room for debate in science and the public is not only welcomed but entitled to join this debate. However, this debate needs to be held in certain conditions of scientific scrutiny and politeness. “Being taken seriously is not an entitlement but a privilege that needs to be earned by participating in scientific debate by acting scientifically,” they write.

To help skeptics from the public move the conversation and science further, the authors included an Appendix to their paper which you’re welcome to visit.

It’s not just big oil – big coal is funding climate change denial too

It’s a reveal which unfortunately surprises no one.

A mining technician oversees a coal export terminal at Peabody Energy.

We knew that oil companies are investing into making it seem like climate change isn’t happening. ExxonMobil, the world’s largest oil company, knew about climate change since the 70s, and yet they swept it all under the rug. In total, five big oil companies spent $114m obstructing climate news in 2015 alone, and 9 out of 10 top climate change deniers are linked with Exxon Mobil. But the coal industry doesn’t want to be left aside either.

Peabody Energy, America’s and the world’s biggest coal company, has also put money into at least two dozen groups to deny climate change and oppose environmental regulations. Known for their public rejection of climate science and refusing to believe that climate change is happening, Peabody has vehemently denied funding climate change denial groups. However, the truth was revealed during the discussions for bankruptcy the company was having.

“These groups collectively are the heart and soul of climate denial,” said Kert Davies, founder of the Climate Investigation Center, who has spent 20 years tracking funding for climate denial. “It’s the broadest list I have seen of one company funding so many nodes in the denial machine.”

Notably, among their main beneficiaries, Peabody had Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Soon has been funded almost entirely by the fossil fuel industry, receiving a whopping $1.2 million to publish climate change denial research. According to leaked documents, the papers were simply “deliverables” that he completed in exchange for their money. He used the same term to describe a testimony he prepared for Congress.

Peabody refused to comment on this matter.

“While we wouldn’t comment on alliances with particular organizations, Peabody has a track record of advancing responsible energy and environmental policies, and we support organizations that advocate sustainable mining, energy access and clean coal solutions, in line with our company’s leadership in these areas,” Vic Svec, Peabody’s senior vice-president for global investor and corporate relations, wrote in an email to The Guardian.

Scientist offers $10.000 to anyone who can scientifically disprove man-made climate change

climate change challengeAre you a convinced climate change denier? Wanna make a quick buck? This is the thing for you! A physics professor is so fed up with people denying climate change, that he’s willing to offer $10.000 out of his own pocket to anyone who can scientifically disprove climate change.

So what if the scientific community is basically unanimously agreeing that climate change is happening, and we’re causing it? Climate change deniers get just as much air time on television, and that’s why many people still don’t understand the gravity of the situation. But Dr. Christopher Keating, a professor who previously taught at the University of South Dakota and the U.S. Naval Academy wants to change that. He will offer ten thousand dollars to anyone who can show, in a scientifically valid way, that climate change is not happening or it is not caused by humans. It’s as simple as that.

“I know you are not going to get rich with $10,000. But, tell me, wouldn’t you like to have a spare $10,000? After all, the skeptics all claim it is a simple matter, and it doesn’t even have to be original,” Keating wrote. “If it is so easy, just cut and paste the proof from somewhere. Provide the scientific evidence and prove your point and the $10,000 is yours!

Naturally, some comments accused him of not being a fair judge – but as he also explains, he’s kind of stuck with keeping this bet. Because if someone actually proves it, and he doesn’t pay up the money, then this will cause a huge media backlash:

“If I am a fraud, then I will be held up as an example of how climate scientists everywhere are frauds,” he told the College Fix.

He also launched a smaller challenge, for $1.000 – to anyone who can show even an indication that climate change isn’t caused by us. So, there you have it – go ahead and earn some easy money!

Also, one thing which I really agree with is the comparison to the tobacco industry: Keating accused “the climate deniers of today” of waging a campaign “very similar to the one waged by tobacco advocates to deny a link between smoking and lung cancer.” The scientific consensus is the same with climate change as it is with tobacco, but it will sadly take a while, and a whole lot of effort, before that finally sinks in.

Climate change denial books: Over 70% have “verifiable link” to conservative think tanks.

It is indeed a war of manipulation and misdirection, but the main actors are not the ones you may think about first. As a new study concluded, some 3 out of every 4 climate change denial books have direct, easily verifiable connections to conservative organizations.

A research conducted by Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State University and Peter J. Jacques of the University of Central Florida concluded that authors of nearly 90 percent of books from publishing houses (others were self-published) had ties to conservative think tanks such as the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Heartland Institute, the Cato Institute, and the Marshall Institute.

climate dinosaurs

Another reported problem was the fact that most people writing such books had actually little or no adequate scientific training. It appears that at least 90% of denial books do not undergo peer review, allowing authors or editors to recycle scientifically unfounded claims that are then amplified by the conservative movement, media, and political elites.

So we have a lot of biased, unscientific books that are used as weapons to manipulate people into thinking that climate change is a “hoax”:

“[The books] confer a sense of legitimacy on their authors and provide an effective tool for combating the findings of climate scientists that are published primarily in scholarly, peer-reviewed journals,” Dunlap and Jacques noted in the paper.

Also, they keep on pushing forth the same arguments over and over, even when they’re proven to be wrong time and time again:

“zombie arguments are disproven over and over and then pop up again. The books can make any points they want to,” without going through any of the scientific peer-review process that traditional scientific papers require.

Dunlap and Jacques’s study will appear in the June issue of American Behavioral Scientist as part of a seven-part special package, edited by Dunlap, focused on “climate change skepticism and denial.”

Wikileaks reveals US bribes and cyber-espionage stop climate change action

Negotiating an official climate change pact is an extremely high-stake game, not only due to the threats posed to our entire civilization, but also because re-engineering the global economy to a low-carbon model will redirect a massive, multi billion dollar sum towards different sources.

Of course, behind all the “save the planet” rhetoric lies the mucky realpolitik: money and threats buy political support, while cyberespionage is used as a way to seek leverage.

“The elites continue to discredit themselves at every opportunity,” South African Professor Patrick Bond, the director of the Centre for Civil Society at the University of KwaZulu Natal in South Africa, told IPS. “The only solution is to turn away from these destructive conferences … and build the world climate justice movement and its alternatives.”

Seeking to gain as much negotiation advantage as possible, the US state department sent a secret cable on 31 July 2009 seeking human intelligence from UN diplomats across a range of issues, including climate change. Diplomats were asked to provide evidence of UN environmental “treaty circumvention” and deals between nations and negotiate certain wanted positions.

But this was just the first stone; on 19 June 2009, the state department sent a cable detailing a “spear phishing” attack on the office of the US climate change envoy, Todd Stern, while talks with China on emissions took place in Beijing. Here’s how this goes: five people received emails, personalised to look as though they came from the National Journal. An attached file contained malicious code that would give complete control of the recipient’s computer to a hacker. This specific attack was unsuccessful, but it is by no mean a singular one.

The point was to get as many countries as possible to back US interests; a massively offensive diplomatic campaign was launched, leaving the Copenhagen summit in ruins. It deeply saddens me to write news like this, which seem to be taken out of bad spy movies, but apparently, this is the reality we live in, so whenever you read or hear something about climate change negotiations, bare in mind that behind the rhetoric, many shady things happen.

Sources: GreenLeft, Guardian

“Climate-Change Deniers Have Done Their Job Well”

The big money out there is invested in climate change denial, as major oil companies fight to eliminate climate protection laws or intentionally fund studies which deny climate change; and it’s been a tough few weeks for them.

More and more independent studies are highlighting the amount of damage human-caused global warming is caused, and numerous organizations are desperately struggling to find ways to counter these scientific results, mostly using advertising campaigns and all sort of biased claims. First came the Unabomber billboards, created by the Heartland Institute. They displayed pictures of Ted Kacynzki, with an incredibly misleading text: “I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?”. The campaigns was supposed to draw attention that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen”. But results came out the wrong way; the Heartland Institute, the central nerve of climate change denial advertising, shook and took quite a fall, as investors withdrew financing and many members resigned. The billboards were released before the ones with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled – but the damage was already done.

But things don’t stop here – they only begin. Take Lubos Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist who has never published on climate change; he keeps a blog which releases a constant stream of web assaults on scientists he calls “fringe kibitzers who want to become universal dictators” who should “be thinking how to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will spend as little time in prison as possible”. Just to make a side note, he also said that while he agrees with many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik’s ideas, it was hard to justify gunning down all those children. Yeah, really ?

But if you think this is some kind of sick joke… well then, the joke’s on you – because it worked. These ruthless and misleading campaigns and statements actually work for some. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged victorious in every Senate fight on climate change, cites Motl regularly. How does it feel now? Fox News constantly display such ideas as well, providing no true scientific basis to their claims and just streaming statements on and on. This relatively small group of people, funded by major oil companies such as Exxon or BP manage to convince people everything is just fine. Their campaign has been so successful that they actually managed to intimidate the other side. Not many senators are willing to risk the wrath of big corporations and energy companies, even though the cause is right. Barack Obama, a man who definitely knows how to take care of his image, is so aware of these issues that in his four year mandate, he barely even mentioned global warming.

But not everyone has been intimidated; following the absurd Unabomber billboards, thousands of rallies were held against such campaigns. Hundreds of thousand have signed a petition demanding an end to fossil fuels subsidies. But it’s a tough fight – fighting against money, giant corporations, and inertia. Still, truth will prevail, because physics, chemistry and geology bow down to no one – regardless of how powerful he is and how much money he has. Bill McKibben, perhaps the most prominent environmentalist of the moment, discussed all these things, and many more, in one of the best articles I have read all year. I warmly recommend you read it in its entirety.