Saturday, August 11, 2007

GWDI: The Global Warming Denial Industry

I'm not sure which I find more amazing:

Is it this article, chronicling the "well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry" designed to "creat[e] a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change"?

Or is it the fact that it came out as this week's cover* story in Newsweek, not Mother Jones or Utne Reader?

Here's a taste:
If you think those who have long challenged the mainstream scientific findings about global warming recognize that the game is over, think again. Yes, 19 million people watched the "Live Earth" concerts last month, titans of corporate America are calling for laws mandating greenhouse cuts, "green" magazines fill newsstands, and the film based on Al Gore's best-selling book, "An Inconvenient Truth," won an Oscar. But outside Hollywood, Manhattan and other habitats of the chattering classes, the denial machine is running at full throttle—and continuing to shape both government policy and public opinion.

Since the late 1980s, 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. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. "They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry," says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. "Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That's had a huge impact on both the public and Congress."

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was "a lot" of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was "mainly caused by things people do." In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world's economies—are altering climate. A new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the influence of the denial machine remains strong. Although the figure is less than in earlier polls, 39 percent of those asked say there is "a lot of disagreement among climate scientists" on the basic question of whether the planet is warming; 42 percent say there is a lot of disagreement that human activities are a major cause of global warming. Only 46 percent say the greenhouse effect is being felt today.

As a result of the undermining of the science, all the recent talk about addressing climate change has produced little in the way of actual action. Yes, last September Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a landmark law committing California to reduce statewide emissions of carbon dioxide to 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent more by 2050. And this year both Minnesota and New Jersey passed laws requiring their states to reduce greenhouse emissions 80 percent below recent levels by 2050. In January, nine leading corporations—including Alcoa, Caterpillar, Duke Energy, Du Pont and General Electric—called on Congress to "enact strong national legislation" to reduce greenhouse gases. But although at least eight bills to require reductions in greenhouse gases have been introduced in Congress, their fate is decidedly murky. The Democratic leadership in the House of Representatives decided last week not even to bring to a vote a requirement that automakers improve vehicle mileage, an obvious step toward reducing greenhouse emissions. Nor has there been much public pressure to do so. Instead, every time the scientific case got stronger, "the American public yawned and bought bigger cars," Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey congressman and physicist, recently wrote in the journal Science; politicians "shrugged, said there is too much doubt among scientists, and did nothing."

Read it all:
  • Learn about the industry lobby and fake-science group the Information Council on the Environment, whose acronym, fittingly, is ICE!

  • Read about the "variable Sun" theory of the George C. Marshall Institute! Discover the significant role in confounding public consensus played by prize-winning pumpkins!

  • Explore the difference between empirical scientific research and "studies!"

  • Learn why the global warming deniers worried that even George W. Bush couldn't be trusted!

  • Thrill to a Republican Senator denouncing global warming as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people!"

Hats off to Newsweek writer Sharon Begley for writing the unwritable, and who should probably watch her back now, since her boss was evidently losing his nerve even before the issue hit the stands.

This is going onto the Reading list on the sidebar.

(h/t to Bob Somerby.)

*By the way, the print you can't quite read on the image of the Newsweek cover is: "*Or so claim well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change."

(And am I the only one who thinks it's needlessly alarmist, even for an article exposing how the global warming denial industry has hampered any attempts to save our planet, for Newsweek use as its cover image a picture of the doomed planet Krypton moments before it exploded?)

1 comment:

Steve said...

I'm not sure which I find more amazing:

That Mother Jones in fact *did publish* this story in its April 2005 issue (and then online at, that it was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, that Al Gore himself quoted it on NPR's Fresh Air?

Or that it took Newsweek more than two years to develop the cojones to publish the same thing (and do a damned good job at it, too) without, of course, attribution?

A little late to the game, I'd say.