Climate Deniers’ Strategy of Confusion

The fossil-fuel industry has invested billions of dollars in propaganda – funding phony “scientists” and bankrolling politicians – to confuse the public about the threat from global warming. The deception is aided and abetted by the mainstream media’s misguided “balance,” as Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang explain.

By Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

The Los Angeles Times has announced that it will no longer print letters to the editor that state “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change,” because they are factually inaccurate. Now, it is time for reporters and editors across the country to follow suit. To avoid misleading readers with a false “balance,” they should also stop paying attention to the deniers.

Hurricane Sandy as it approached the U.S. coastline. (Credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab)

Hurricane Sandy as it approached the U.S. coastline. (Credit: NOAA Environmental Visualization Lab)

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Just last month it reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90 percent versus the 95 percent in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen.

But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

Do we have a dog in this fight? Absolutely. We just think the debate should be about fact, not fiction. We are not trying to muzzle those who disagree with us. There will be plenty to disagree about in deciding what actions to take. But it is time for journalists to ignore false and misleading statements that mask the source’s bias and scam the public.

With the new attention that the I.P.C.C. report brings to the science of global warming, in coming weeks and months more than a few serious news reporters will be tempted in the name of “balance” to quote the deniers — journalists call them “skeptics” – who have presented increasingly discredited messages: Global warming is not happening. Or if it is, it is not caused by carbon dioxide emissions or other human activity. Or, well, it won’t have an impact — we’ll be fine.

Who is saying what?

–Bob Carter, Heartland Institute: “Currently the planet is cooling.” Wrong. The last decade (2000-2009) was the hottest on record; 2010 was the hottest year recorded.

–Fred Singer, Science and Environmental Policy Project: “Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant.” Oh, yeah? Acting under U.S. Supreme Court direction, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that CO2 is a pollutant because of the harm it causes.

–Joseph Bast, Heartland Institute: “Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth’s climate.” Misleading, to say the least: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are causing global warming.

For those who write about global warming, spreading the pronouncements of fringe “skeptics” doesn’t show balance. For those who read about global warming, it equates serious climate science and evaluation of peer-reviewed reports with the declarations of individuals, most lacking background in climate research, who are often funded by those standing to profit if the United States fails to curb carbon dioxide emissions.

Exxon, for example, gave $2.8 million to the Heartland Institute, the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the Cato Institute alone from 1998 to 2012, according to corporate tax records cited in a Greenpeace report.

The attention paid to the deniers has real consequences. For one, it puts pressure on the I.P.C.C. to censor its conclusions. Climate “skeptics” have vilified the U.N. panel, made up of several hundred of the world’s leading climate scientists, subjecting them to “abusive language on blogs, comparisons to the Unabomber, e-mail hacking, and even occasional death threats,” Justin Gillis wrote in The New York Times.

“Who could blame the panel if it wound up erring on the side of scientific conservatism,” he wrote. The clear implication: The criticism could lead the panel to pull its punches when, he wrote, most would want “an unvarnished analysis” of global warming’s risks.

More broadly, relying on the deniers to provide so-called “balance” also helps create political pressure that makes it all the more difficult to act against global warming. It fuels efforts in the House of Representatives to thwart sensible measures to fight climate change. A solid majority of House Republicans denies that global warming is even occurring, pointing to the alleged disagreements among scientists to justify siding with the fossil-fuel industry.

At a minimum, good journalism — and the readers’ right to be fully informed – requires identifying a source’s stake. Is the source an environmentalist or coal or oil spokesperson? Their interests are clear.

But what about those claiming expertise or academic credentials in climate science who are supported by think tanks and front groups funded by oil, coal and others with a financial stake in the debate? The reader deserves to know their potential for bias.

Better yet, it’s time to toss the denial machine into the bin of discredited ideas. It can keep Joe Camel company.

Dan Becker directed Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Program for 18 years before founding the Safe Climate Campaign, which advocates strong measures to fight global warming. James Gerstenzang is the campaign’s editorial director. During four decades as a journalist, he covered the environment and the White House for the Los Angeles Times. [A version of this article previously appeared in USA Today.]

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19 comments on “Climate Deniers’ Strategy of Confusion

  1. I don’t see how anyone can deny that the world’s climate is changing! The question is, are humans hurrying it along. I say yes, by overrunning the globe, the answer is BIRTH CONTROL.

    • rosemerry on said:

      Tell “christian” Yanks like the Duggars (19 kids) rather than general blaming of the victims in poor countries. Give decent education and health c

      • rosemerry on said:

        sorry! continued from above! care to allow kids to survive and thrive, and people do not have excess children. Instead of invading lands and killing people, allow them to live.

        • Rosemerry, your comment about proper care to allow all children a chance at a healthy future is so right. Along with caring for all children, the best way to control population growth is to provide educational opportunities for girls and young women. Young women who remain in school to complete the local equivalent of high school tend to have fewer children. The high school education of girls should include training in local cookery and traditional womens’ crafts. Skilled widows could be hired to teach girls the feminine aspects of their cultural heritage. This would also provide employment for older women who do not have adult sons to support them. Parents and community leaders should be heavily involved in organizing the cultural education of the girls in their communities. This would tend to make them less hostile to female education. In addition to literacy and numeracy, girls could be trained in vocational skills they can use in case they become widows without adequate economic support (like surviving sons). Basic education about science, geography and other cultures is extremely desirable although loud resistance from some community and religious leaders seems to be the norm. Gifted girls should be allowed to pursue higher educational opportunities if they wish. We could start by implementing this sort of public education for all girls in the US.

  2. Like the missing heat, we sceptics can’t find any of this fossil fuel funding.

    … unless you are one of the alarmists lobbyists who are funded by BIG OIL.

    How do we know? Did we infiltrate BIG OIL’s board rooms and install bugs?

    No! They openly admit they are funding wind energy because they see it as a way of making money.

    And who pays for it all? The public!

    Come on, this nonsense about BIG OIL funding sceptics would only be swallowed by complete nutters because even a complete moron would realise that the biggest winners from rising fuel prices are the shareholders of BIG OIL.

  3. Dan Becker, fomer 18-year Directo Sierra Club’s Global Warming and Energy Program: The “climate change denial machine,” has for more than 20 years sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.
    Jct: Once we real scientists found out that the Mann-Made Global Warming Fraudsters had used a “trick to hide the decline” in temperature since 1998 when the cherished Hockey Stick Graph broke off despite rising CO2, it became much easier to cast doubt on the pseudo-science that does not demonstrate that pollution is to blame. Har har har. Caught fudging their data but Dan didn’t notice.
    DB: The Los Angeles Times has announced that it will no longer print letters to the editor that state “there’s no sign humans have caused climate change,” because they are factually inaccurate. Now, it is time for reporters and editors across the country to follow suit.
    Jct: We real scientists have used the “decline” they used a trick to hide to so successfully cast doubt on Becker’s cherished fraud that his only recourse is to try to stifle debate. Do you hear any “deniers” ducking debate? Har har har. The cowardice of Ben’s censorship proves the point.
    BD: To avoid misleading readers with a false “balance,” they should also stop paying attention to the deniers.
    Jct: One of the liars who did the misleading wants to avoid “misleading.” Isn’t it neat how the crooks accuse the other side of doing what they’ve done? Remember Ronald Reagan accusing the Sandanistas of smuggling cocaine when it was George Bush’s CIA all along. When caught, accuse the other guy of the same thing so the allegations not yet proven may be surmised to work either way. Drug smuggling accusations accused the US, accuse Sandanistas. Who’d expect such a height of hypocrisy? Who’d have expected Ben Decker’s height of hypocrisy. The liar calling his refuters “liars!”As someone with a real Applied Science degree, Ben Decker offends me.

    • Bob Jacobson on said:

      …and this makes even less sense.

      We’re driving on three cylinders and a couple loose bolts.

  4. rosemerry on said:

    The creationists have the same impact, and to use their arguments as “balance” is wrong.
    “Guns save lives” and “Obama is a socialist” are other mantras USans should resist.

  5. Scientists accept evolution as fact, which automatically means a significant segment of Christians will reject their opinions on global warming, while they like science for giving us more toys and good medical research. The rich like the side of science that gives them greater wealth—even if it means global warming, so they have good reason to deny it. Perhaps it is impolitic, but I note that a large percentage of the wealthy deniers are old guys. Why should they care if they are dead and gone when the consequences of global warming seriously hits the fan? The military certainly knows global warming is a reality; they are preparing for the eventuality of putting down uprisings due to depleting resources.
    Science is a two-edged sword. It can do good things for us, warn of global warming, etc., but it had made possible the fossil-fuel driven economy that created global warming in the first place. We do not talk about that much.

    • gregorylkruse on said:

      I like your comparison of the creationists and the rich. They both have segmented brains, one part of which denies the existence of the other. The rewards of this mental strategy is well-known and well-worn.

    • Bob Jacobson on said:

      Knowledge of all types, not just science, has always been used for good and bad, to maintain power and to attain it, to gather great wealth and to work for social equity, to fight “good wars” and bad ones. It’s no revelation that human beings have it within them to do good and do evil. However, oil as an industry was mainly made possible by oil wildcatters, large capitalists (“the robber barons”), engineers, lawyers, lobbyists, and people who wanted relatively cheap and compact energy to avoid having to avoid heavy labor or to do things that couldn’t be one before (like fly, which takes enormous expenditure of energy on humans’ part. Science per se had relatively little to do with it. In fact , scientists (mostly oil geologists) have been warning about Peak Oil and environmental consequences for at least three decades. But they don’t own the military that consumes the bulk of our nation’s oil supply or the media who champion buying cars and gasoline (although the industry has become so consolidated, so monopolistic, we don’t see many gasoline ads on TV these days — they’re just not needed). Poor Science: no one gives it respect anymore. Most scientists change our lives in beneficial ways. A few go to the Dark Side and there wreak havoc. So it always will be.

      • You are right about the differing effects of technology, politics and science. In addition, biologists and chemists have also been warning about risks of global warming. One of the goals of “reformers” of higher education is to stifle credible critics of environmental policy. The replacement of tenured faculty postions with temporary faculty, visiting faculty and adjunct faculty has made it much more risky for technical experts to speak out publicly and explain the scientific backgound of environmental issues.

  6. gregorylkruse on said:

    I also like the comparison of the authors of the GW denial propaganda lobby and the tobacco denial propaganda lobby. One difference is that individuals had a choice of avoiding the worst of the damage by not smoking even though tobacco smoke wasn’t entirely avoidable. In the case of CO2 “pollution”, global warming is entirely unavoidable.

  7. Saturation is the Demise of Global Warming Fakery.

    http://nov83.com/gbwm/satn.html

    By Gary Novak
    Independent Scientist

    There is an unsolvable problem at the starting point of global warming claims: There is no mechanism for carbon dioxide creating global warming.

    Carbon dioxide absorbs all infrared radiation available to it by the time radiation travels 10 meters from its point of origin (http://nov83.com/gbwm/hnzh.html#ten), which is called saturation. Doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can do nothing more than shorten the distance to 5 meters. Shortening the distance is not increasing the heat.

    The first attempt by climatologists to rationalize saturation was to claim saturation does not occur on the shoulders of the absorption peaks, because few CO2 molecules have the unusual stretched bonds which absorb at those wavelengths. After numerous attempts to explain such a mechanism failed, the rationale shifted to the upper atmosphere, where saturation supposedly does not occur. Contradictions go from bad to worse in the upper atmosphere.

    The most important fact about global warming is that the subject was contrived without a scientific mechanism being known. It means there was no scientific reason for contriving the subject. There still is no known mechanism, while everything on the subject continues to be contrived.

    The near-earth explanation fails due to extremely thin CO2 concentrations on the shoulders of the absorption peaks. Shoulder molecules spread miniscule amounts of heat over long distances resulting in no significant temperature increase.

    If 5% of CO2 molecules are assumed to have shoulder characteristics, they would be spread over 20 times as much distance as the other 95%. Not only do they represent 1/20th the heat captured by CO2, but they produce 1/20th as much temperature change with each unit of heat, since they are spread through 20 times as much atmosphere. Multiplying 1/20 times 1/20 equals 1/400th as much temperature change as the other 95% of the CO2.

    The total temperature increase resulting from doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is said to be 1°C. Does this mean shoulder molecules are doing this? If so, the other 95% must have increased the temperature by 400°C. How do climatologists resolve these contradictions? They don’t. Which is why this subject is not science; it’s religion and politics—religion because 97% of the scientists could not be wrong, and politics because energy systems are destroyed and economies are bankrupt imposing the fraud upon everyone.

    Actually, this shoulder effect is pre-saturation logic. After saturation, no heat change exists for either the main 95% of the CO2 or the 5% on the shoulders. In both cases, the distance reduces to half as CO2 concentration doubles. Reducing the distance is not increasing the heat. Where then does 1°C temperature increase come from? It doesn’t exist. But if it is created by shoulder molecules, then the other 95% has to increase by 400°C.

    Shifting the explanation to high in the atmosphere creates additional absurdities. The first problem is that there is no way to get high enough in the atmosphere to get around saturation. Climatologists picked 9 km up as a means of staying within the troposphere. At that height, the atmospheric density is 30% of that at sea level. This means distances increase by a factor of 3.3 for absorption of radiation. Changing the distances is not increasing the heat.

    Another problem with the upper atmosphere is the temperature would have to increase 24°C to radiate enough energy back to increase the temperature of the near-surface atmosphere by 1°C. No temperature increase due to CO2 has been detected in the upper atmosphere.

    The basis for 24°C is this: Since half of the radiation would go upward and half downward, the required temperature must be increased by a factor of 2. Since 30% of infrared radiation goes around greenhouse gases, the temperature must be increased by a factor of 3.3. Sometimes a range is given as 15-30% for radiation going around greenhouse gases. If it’s 15%, the temperature increase high in the atmosphere must be 48°C rather than 24°C.

    According to the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, matter at a temperature of -43°C emits 40% as much radiation as matter at near-surface temperatures. So the temperature increase at 9 km up must be divided by 0.40, or multiplied by 2.5.

    About 30% of radiation would be reflected at sharp angles, which means the temperature increase at 9 km must be divided by 0.70. The result is (2 x 3.3 x 2.5) ÷ 0.70 = 24°C.

    Climatologists have crazy ways of getting rationalistic numbers, but they never produce the same ones twice, and the results never stand up to criticism. The usual error is ignoring major effects. Then they bury most of their math in models and do not allow other scientists to see what they are doing. The models are now in conflict with an absence of temperature increase over the past 15 years.

    Gary Novak
    Independent Scientist
    October 31, 2013
    http://www.nov83.com
    http://www.nov79.com

    • Gary Novak’s revisionist science is like a block of Swiss Cheese. It’s laced with tunnels and holes.

      If you are interested in learning more about the “saturation effect, check out the following article posted on SkepticalScience.com

      “Is the CO2 effect saturated?”

      http://www.skepticalscience.com/saturated-co2-effect.htm

    • Glenn Tamblyn on said:

      Gary. Your post is riddled with errors of logic and fact. It has so many holes in it I could drive a double-decker bus through it.

      “Carbon dioxide absorbs all infrared radiation available to it by the time radiation travels 10 meters from its point of origin, which is called saturation. Doubling the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere can do nothing more than shorten the distance to 5 meters. Shortening the distance is not increasing the heat.”

      Gary misunderstands how the Greenhouse Effect works. Increasing CO2 does not cause the atmosphere to absorb more heat. It causes it to re-radiate less of the heat it has already absorbed. And this occurs in the thin upper atmosphere.

      “The near-earth explanation fails due to extremely thin CO2 concentrations on the shoulders of the absorption peaks. Shoulder molecules spread miniscule amounts of heat over long distances resulting in no significant temperature increase.”

      Gary totally misunderstands what the ‘shoulders’ are. All CO2 molecules can absorb across the entire band including the ‘shoulders’ There aren’t some molecules in the shoulder and others at the center. Thus there are no variations in concentration at the shoulder – this is a nonsense statement. Rather for each wavelength across the CO2 band there are different probabilities that a molecule will absorb there. Any CO2 molecule can absorb at any point across the band but its probability of absorbing is much higher near the center and much lower near the shoulders. But there are not different types of CO2 molecules. That is a nonsense.

      Thus “If 5% of CO2 molecules are assumed to have shoulder characteristics” is an absurd statement 100% of CO2 molecules have what Gary is calling ‘shoulder characteristics’ Just as 100% of CO2 molecules have what could be called ‘central band characteristics’.

      “Since half of the radiation would go upward and half downward, the required temperature must be increased by a factor of 2.”
      Wrong. Gary doesn’t understand the Stefan Boltzmann Eqn even though he refers to it. The exact usage of the SB Eqn calculates the energy radiated from a body at a temperature per unit of solid angle. The common form of this eqn simplifies this to be the radiation over a hemisphere – a solid angle of 2 PI Steradians. This is the figure Gary refers to. When looking at radiation over a complete sphere – 4 PI Steradians – the SB Eqn gives twice as much energy being radiated. So Gary’s division by 2 is incorrect. The form of the SB Eqn he uses predicts how much energy is radiated upwards. The same amount of radiation is also sent downwards.

      “Since 30% of infrared radiation goes around greenhouse gases, the temperature must be increased by a factor of 3.3. ”

      Gary is really confused here. He is discussing what happens to IR radiation emitted by the atmosphere and what temperature change is needed to create that. And he seems to be assuming that the atmosphere radiates oiver the complete IR spectrum. It does not. GH gases are the only molecules in the atmosphere that can absorb IR radiation – Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon, the bulk of the atmosphere don’t absorb. So too it is only the GH gases that re-radiate – Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon don’t radiate either. So 100% of the re-radiation originates from GH gases, there is no percentage to be deducted.

      “According to the Stefan-Boltzmann constant, matter at a temperature of -43°C emits 40% as much radiation as matter at near-surface temperatures. So the temperature increase at 9 km up must be divided by 0.40, or multiplied by 2.5.”

      Gary is making a profound error of both fact and logic here. Having stated earlier that most IR radiation absorbed by GH gases at sea level pressures is absorbed within 10′s of meters of travel he now assumes that any IR radiation reaching the surface from the atmosphere is originating many kilometers high in the atmosphere where it is colder and thinner and thus that any increase in this radiation requires a major increase in the upper atmosphere’s temperature. But his logic is totally flawed. Any radiation originating from higher in the atmosphere and traveling downwards will not reach the ground. It is absorbed again by the atmosphere. In fact the only IR radiation emitted downwards from the atmosphere that is able to reach the ground can only have originated from the air within the same 10′s of meters of the ground – if it has to travel further it would be reabsorbed by the air itself. And the air 10′s of meters above the ground is only a negligible difference in temperature from the ground itself. So Gary’s whole argument it utterly flawed.

      “The first problem is that there is no way to get high enough in the atmosphere to get around saturation. Climatologists picked 9 km up as a means of staying within the troposphere. At that height, the atmospheric density is 30% of that at sea level. This means distances increase by a factor of 3.3 for absorption of radiation”

      Wrong. The 9 km altitude Gary refers to was not ‘picked’. It is calculated. How high one needs to go in the atmosphere to become unsaturated depends on the wavelength one is looking at. At wavelengths such as the ‘shoulders’ for CO2, since the probability of a molecule absorbing an IR photon is lower, the air can be denser and still be unsaturated. At the center of the CO2 absorption band the probabilities of absorption are higher so densities need to be lower before desaturation occurs. At the center of the CO2 band this occurs at an altitude of 25-30 km where density is only about 1.5% of sea level. Also Gary is ignoring the fact that concentration of water vapor, a major GH gas, actually drops markedly with altitiude. At sea level water vapor can be 1-4% of the atmosphere (10,000 to 40,000 ppm) However once one reaches the stratosphere the water vapor concentration has dropped to only 5-10 ppm, 50 times lower than CO2. So not only a drop in density but a drop in concentration as well.

      Also Gary is completely ignoring a more complex factor which is ‘line broadening’. The bands that GH gases absorb in aren’t continuous; they are actually made up of 100′s and 1000′s of separate absorption lines very close together but with small gaps between them. Due to several different processes these lines are wider in warm dense air at sea level with much smaller gaps between them. In contrast in cold and thin air the lines are quite narrow and sharp and the gaps between them are wider, thus allowing wavelengths through these gaps at high altitude which would be absorbed at lower altitude. This reduction in ‘line broadening’ with altitude also contributes to desaturation as one goes higher. The 9km figure cited by Gary is simply the calculated average altitude after all these factors have been considered. Trying to do a back-of-an-envelope calculation as Gary has done will produce hugely inaccurate results.

      I could go on but enough said. If Gary wants to comment about the GH Effect he should make sure he actually knows enough about it first.

    • All carbon dioxide molecules contain one carbon atom and two oxygen atoms. The atoms are connected in a relatively straight line with the carbon in the middle, O=C=O. There are NOT two different kinds of carbon dioxide that are either with or without shoulders.

      When a unit of infrared energy (photon) hits a carbon dioxide molecule it can be absorbed, causing stretching motions of the bonds between the carbon and oxygen atoms. If the infrared photon was traveling toward outer space a carbon dioxide molecule that absorbs it will take on the heat energy of the photon. The energy absorbed by the carbon dioxide can then be released to continue traveling as a photon, but there is a good chance it will be released back toward Earth instead of heading onward to outer space.

      If there are more carbon dioxide molecules in the atmosphere, there is a greater chance for each infrared photon to be caught and sent back to Earth instead of continuing toward outer space. The heat of these infrared photons traveling back toward earth will then be available to warm our planet.

  8. C sense on said:

    Global warming is bunk, Maurice Strong’s idea of Global Cooling would have fooled the America people much better.