Climate change sceptics: healthy cynics or shameless liars?

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This month, the US midterm elections saw more than 60 candidates backed by the right-wing Tea Party movement gain seats in Congress, which now strongly leans towards climate change scepticism.

More than 50% of the new congressmen are on record denying the existence of global warming, a stance that many view as foolish given the wealth of scientific information providing evidence that global warming is real, that it’s here (97% of actively publishing scientists support man-made climate change), and is extremely likely to be anthropogenic. This new conservative majority is currently threatening to investigate climate scientists and obstruct the Obama administration from regulating greenhouse gases (along with Solvay, a Belgian chemical company masquerading behind a previously unknown frontgroup called the Coalition for Responsible Regulation Inc. Responsible indeed – they don’t even have a website).

In response to the political triumph of the sceptics, the leading climate-based scientific organisation, American Geophysical Union, has mustered support from 700 volunteers to provide a web-based service that will offer high quality information on climate science to the public and the media. There are even plans for an iPhone app.

A ‘rapid response unit’ has also been created comprising 40 scientists who will give interviews to the media with the aim of improving communication between the public and the world of science. This will hopefully address a rather worrying disconnect – a February poll indicated that a quarter of the British public are still sceptical of climate change despite large amounts of evidence to the contrary. This figure is also on the rise.

Behind the trail of climate change denying propaganda that attacks Obama’s green agenda can be found some of Europe’s largest greenhouse gas producers. It was discovered in a report by Climate Action Network Europe last month that BP, EON, BASF, Lafarge, BAYER, Solvay and more have been actively funding candidates backed by the Tea Party that deny the existence of global warming, with nearly 80% of campaign donations finding their way towards senators who have obstructed plans to aggressively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Whilst rational scientific scepticism is traditionally welcomed by most academics, deliberate claims that there is no evidence of anthropogenic climate change, or even climate change at all is to be deplored. A perfect example of the problem that scientists are up against is in the case of Christopher Monckton, the 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley. The country’s most infamous climate sceptic gave a stirring speech to an audience at Bethel University in Minnesota earlier this year. He was found to actively distort evidence from numerable published papers that provided evidence for climate change, use it to infer that global warming didn’t exist, and claimed that even if it did, it wouldn’t be as bad as scientists make out. The disconnect between scientists and the public is ever more noticeable in these situations, as there many people like Christopher Monckton, who are practised public speakers that can be extremely convincing, especially when they are supported by other ‘negli-gents’ that parrot the same spiel.

John Broder recently reported in the New York Times how the fossil fuel industries have:

“…created and lavishly financed institutes to produce anti-global-warming studies, paid for rallies and Web sites to question the science, and generated scores of economic analyses that purport to show that policies to reduce emissions of climate-altering gases will have a devastating effect on jobs and the overall economy.”

This irresponsible machine of counter-information is ethically indefensible, as it is very possible (especially given the recent news in Congress) that it could lead to nonintervention of global climate change – an action that would increase threats from global warming that include floods, droughts, rising ocean levels, the spread of disease, decreasing resources as a result of heat effects on agriculture, the loss of livestock, and many, many more.

It is important to note that the majority of actively publishing climate change sceptics have not been able to find fault with the data supporting anthropogenic climate change, nor have they managed to come up with an alternative reason for the observed global warming. I’m talking on a time scale of 20 years by the way. Doesn’t a 20 year lack of persuasive evidence against global warming, coupled with a 30 year campaign of propaganda from protagonists in the fuel industry, show that even perhaps by proxy, climate change is real and here to stay, whether or not you’ve personally read a single supportive academic paper?

I think it’s a great shame that scientists in this highly important area are having to defend the validity of their work (isn’t that what peer-review is for?), and spend their time fighting faceless and shameless liars situated in corporations backed by billions of pounds that spread masses of harmful disinformation for seemingly no other reason than to protect their financial affairs. Personally, I am of the (not unpopular) opinion that the distributors of these damaging lies should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity, as that is what they will eventually commit if they continue to get their way.

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3rd year biologist at the University of Southampton. Likes science, film, and discovering new ways to make one of my housemates lose his deposit.

Discussion3 Comments

  1. avatar

    Well said sir. Although sceptic is a bit generous. If you are ‘sceptical’ that the bus will hit you, you will jump out of the way just in case. If you are ‘in denial’ that the bus will hit you, you will do nothing. Hence my preferene for ‘deniers’. Sorry for the awful analogy.

    Henry C Taylor
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    You’re absolutely right Tom, thanks for the heads up! Most of the people I referred to are in fact deniers.

    I would hope that the US congress have at least reviewed the evidence and that I could safely call them skeptics, but I fear that is not the case…

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