The farce of denying climate change

The farce of denying climate change

By Naomi Oreskes

If the names and the date of that conference were removed, it would be possible to imagine that the theme of the call was climate change and that it had taken place last week. In fact, climate science has been under attack from the same people and organizations that attacked the scientists who worked with the ozone layer and used many of the same arguments, just as wrong today as they were then.

Let's think about what we know about the history and integrity of climate science.

Scientists have known for more than 100 years that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CO4) capture heat in a planet's atmosphere. If the concentration of these gases is increased, the planet warms up. Venus is incredibly hot - 460 degrees Celsius - not only because of the primary fact that it is much closer to the Sun than Earth, but also because its atmosphere is several hundred times denser and composed primarily of CO2.

Oceanographer Roger Revelle was the first American scientist to focus his attention on the risk of putting increasing amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. During World War II, Revelle served in the United States Navy Hydrographic Office and continued to work closely with the navy throughout his career. In the fifties of the last century, he echoed the importance of scientific research on climate change caused by human activity and drew attention to the threat of rising sea levels as a consequence of the melting of glaciers and the expansion ocean heat, a threat that put the security of large cities, ports and naval facilities at risk. In the sixties, several of his colleagues joined him based on his concerns, among them the geochemist Charles David Keeling, who –in 1958– was the first to measure the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and the geophysicist Gordon MacDonald , who served on the first Council on Environmental Quality during the Republican presidency of Richard Nixon.

In 1974, the growth in understanding of climate change was summed up by physicist Alvin Weinberg, director of the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, who argued that fossil fuel use may have to be limited well before depletion due to the threat that represented for the climatic stability of the Earth. "Although it is difficult to estimate when we will have to make an adjustment in the world's energy policies to account for this limit," he wrote, "that point could be reached in 30 or 50 years.

In 1977, Robert M. White, NOAA's first administrator and later president of the National Academy of Engineering, summed up scientific findings in Oceanus this way: "We now understand that industrial waste, such as carbon dioxide released by burning fossil fuels, can have climatic consequences that pose a threat to future society worthy of consideration ... Experiences in the last decade have demonstrated the consequences of even small fluctuations in climatic conditions and outline a new urgency in the study of climate ... The scientific problems are formidable, the technological problems are unprecedented, and the potential for economic and social impacts is ominous. "

In 1979, the National Academy of Sciences concluded that "If carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase, we see no reason to doubt that climate change will occur and there is no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible."

Those findings prompted the World Meteorological Organization to join forces with the United Nations to create the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The idea was to establish a solid scientific basis for informed public policy. Just as good science laid the foundations for the Vienna Conference, good science would now also build the foundations of a United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change, ratified in 1992 by President Bush.

Since then, the scientific world has affirmed and reaffirmed the validity of scientific evidence. The National Academy of Sciences, the Meteorological Society of the United States, the Geophysical Union of the United States, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and many other similar organizations, as well as the world's leading scientific and academic organizations, granted approval. to the work of climate science. In 2006, eleven national academies of science, including the oldest in the world, the Italian Accademia Nazionale dei Licei, issued an unusual statement to highlight that the "threat of climate change is clear and growing" and that "any delay in action will cause higher costs. " Since then almost 10 years have passed. Today, scientists assure us that the evidence for the reality of human-induced climate change is "crystal clear" and the World Bank tells us that its impacts and costs are already being felt.

The scientific work that is at the basis of this consensus has been done by scientists around the world; men and women, old and young and, in the US, both Republicans and Democrats. In fact, this is quite curious, given that those recently denounced of "cheating" by Republican congressmen, it is possible that most of them are Republicans and not Democrats. Gordon MacDonald, for example, was a very close adviser to President Nixon, and Dave Keeling was awarded the 2002 National Medal of Science by President George W. Bush.

Even so, despite the long history of this work and its apolitical nature, climate science continues to be insidiously attacked. Last May, the world's most prestigious climate scientists met with Pope Francis to brief him on the facts of climate change and the threat it poses to the future health, wealth, and well-being of men, women, and people. children, not to mention the many species with which we share this one planet. At the same time, in an attempt to prevent the Pope from speaking about the moral significance of climate change, global warming deniers were gathering near the Vatican. Wherever there are signs that the political landscape is changing and that the world may be ready to act against climate change, denial forces are doing nothing but redoubling their efforts.

The organization responsible for the denialist rally in Rome was the Heartland Institute, a group with a long history of rejecting not only climate science but science in general. For example, this institute was responsible for the infamous billboard that compared climate scientists to the Unabomber. It has a documented history of working with the tobacco industry to challenge scientific evidence of harm from tobacco use. As Erik Conway and I demonstrated in our book Merchants of Doubt, many of the groups who today deny the reality and importance of human-induced climate change had previously worked to question the scientific evidence of tobacco harms. .

Today we know that millions of people have died as a result of tobacco-related illnesses. Should we wait for people to die in equal numbers for us to accept the evidence of climate change?

Private financing creates a hole in the atmosphere

The science that investigates the ozone layer was not attacked because it was wrong from the scientific point of view but because it had political and economic importance, that is, it threatened powerful interests. The same goes for the science that deals with climate change, which warns us that the concept of "business is business" endangers our health, our wealth and our well-being. In these circumstances, it should come as no surprise that some sectors of the business community - notably the Coal Combustion Complex, the network of powerful industries based essentially on the extraction, marketing and burning of fossil fuels - have tried to undermine that message. . This complex has supported attacks on science and scientists while funding distracting research and misleading lectures to create the false impression that there is fundamental scientific debate and uncertainty surrounding climate change.

The point of all of this is, of course, to confuse Americans into delaying all action, which brings us to the heart of the matter when it comes to "politically motivated" science. Yes, science can be biased, especially when financial support for that science comes from groups that have vested interests related to a particular outcome. However, history tells us that these vested interests are much more likely to be a private sector trait than the public.

The most strikingly documented example of this is related to tobacco. For decades, tobacco companies funded scientific research in their own laboratories, as well as in universities, medical schools, and even cancer research institutes. We now know from their own archives that the purpose of these investigations was not to arrive at the truth about the dangers of tobacco, but to create the image of a scientific debate and cast doubt on whether tobacco was really harmful when used. Industry bosses already knew it was. Thus, the intent of the "investigation" was to protect the industry against lawsuits and regulations.

Perhaps even more important - as is certainly true of many of those who fund climate denialism - the industry knew that the research it supported was biased. In the 1950s, your executives were fully aware that tobacco caused cancer; In the sixties, they knew that it caused a great number of other diseases; In the seventies, they knew that tobacco was addictive; And in the 1980s, they knew that secondhand smoke also caused cancer in second-hand smokers and sudden infant death syndrome. Still, this industry-funded research work was far less likely to find tobacco use harmful to health than independent research. So, of course, the false financing was increased.

What lessons can be drawn from this experience? One is the importance of disclosing funding sources. When preparing my testimony before Congressmen, I was asked to disclose all sources of government funding for my research. This request was entirely reasonable. But there was no comparable request for it to disclose any private funding it may have had; a very unreasonable omission. Asking only about public funding but not private funding is like doing a safety inspection on just half an airplane.

Abnormal disasters and the nightmare of denial

Many Republicans are reluctant to accept the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change, fearing it will be used as an excuse to increase the scope and reach of government. Here's what should encourage you to rethink the whole question: Thanks to the more than 20-year delay in action to reduce global carbon emissions, we've already significantly increased the likelihood that damaging global warming will force government interventions. that they so fear and try to avoid. In fact, climate change is already causing an increase in countless extreme weather events - especially floods, severe droughts and heat waves - that almost always lead to large-scale government responses. The more time we allow to pass, the greater the necessary interventions will be.

As the devastating consequences of climate change in the United States demonstrate, future disasters will result in an increasing reliance on the government, especially the federal government (of course, our grandchildren will not call them "natural" disasters as they will know very well who has induced them). The significance of this is that the current work of climate deniers only helps to ensure that we are less prepared to deal with the full impact of climate change, which in turn leads to ever greater state interventions. Let's put it another way: climate deniers are doing their best to create the prey they fear most. They are guaranteeing the very future that they claim to want to avoid.

And not only in the United States. Given that climate change affects the entire planet, climate disasters will provide antidemocratic forces with the justification they seek to appropriate natural resources, declare martial law, meddle in the market economy and impede democratic processes. This means that Americans who care about political freedom should not hold back when it comes to supporting climate scientists and acting to prevent the threats they have so clearly and intensely documented.

Acting otherwise can only increase the chances that authoritarian forms of government will develop in the future. A future in which our children and grandchildren - including those of the climate deniers - will be the losers, as will the Earth and most of the species that live on it. Admitting and highlighting this aspect of the climate equation may provide some hope that some republicans - the more moderate ones - will distance themselves from the suicidal politics of denial.

Copyright 2015 Naomi

Video: The In-depth Story Behind a Climate Fraud (May 2021).