The Self-Interest in Climate ‘Denial’

Even in the face of new scientific reports on the escalating dangers from global warming, the “deniers” continue to pick at the now overwhelming data and pick up their checks from oil and other industry groups, write Bill Moyers and Michael Winship.

By Bill Moyers and Michael Winship

Just as Sunday’s big People’s Climate March and next week’s UN global summit on climate converge in New York City, the nation and world are experiencing weather of an intensity that should rattle the stubborn false convictions of even the most fervent climate change denier.

Terrible flooding in India and Pakistan, the worst in more than a century, with heavy monsoon rains, 500 lives lost and hundreds of thousands left stranded thousands of wildfires ignited by severe drought in California and the West flashfloods in Arizona the punch of a hurricane pounding Mexico’s Baja coast, the strongest in nearly 50 years, battering locals and trapping tourists in their hotels without electricity.

The image of the Earth rising over the surface of the moon, a photograph taken by the first U.S. astronauts to orbit the moon.

The image of the Earth rising over the surface of the moon, a photograph taken by the first U.S. astronauts to orbit the moon.

We know it’s important not to confuse day-to-day weather patterns with climate, which measure variations of things like temperatures and humidity over long periods of time, but it’s clear that these disasters are made more powerful by global warming. The pain is only going to get worse for us and for future generations, unless we act now. Our governments must reduce those carbon emissions that are heating up the atmosphere before it’s too late.But up to now, world leaders have refused to give global warming the crisis treatment that’s needed, even as the evidence mounts day by day. A draft report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says that the vast amounts of greenhouse gases being released into the atmosphere will have “severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,” and that we’re already seeing the effect in heat waves, floods and rising sea levels.

Another UN report, this one from the World Meteorological Organization, says that amounts of carbon dioxide, the gas that traps heat in our atmosphere, are increasing even faster than scientists predicted, more than in the last 800,000 years at least.

The accounting firm PriceWaterhouseCoopers has crunched the numbers and spots an “unmistakable trend” that puts us just 20 years away from catastrophe. “In a highly globalized economy,” they write, “no country is likely to be spared as the impacts of climate change ripple around the world”

If for some reason you don’t believe the scientists and the accountants, listen to the birds. Last week, the National Audubon Society reported that of some 650 bird species studied in the United States and Canada, “more than half are at risk from global warming.” The study’s chief author, Gary Langham, told The New York Times, “The notion that we can have a future that looks like what our grandparents experienced, with the birds they had, is unlikely.” Imagine a world without birdsong.

But climate change deniers persist in telling us it just ain’t so, like the tobacco industry claiming for decade after decade that nicotine wasn’t addictive or that cigarettes couldn’t kill you. It’s been more than a decade since Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, once chair of the U.S. Senate’s committee on the environment and public works, told us that “man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.” He still says he thinks so and so do many of his allies.

Slick public relations and advertising campaigns are underwritten to fool the public and smear the truth-tellers. Foundations and think tanks have been created by industry just to create doubt and hammer away against the overwhelming evidence of climate disruption.

Last year, the British newspaper The Guardian reported that between 2002 and 2010, via two right-wing groups, Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund, billionaires had given nearly $120 million to more than 100 anti-climate change groups. And the progressive Center for Media and Democracy revealed that a web of right-wing think tanks called the State Policy Network, affiliated with the notorious American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and funded to the tune of $83 million by companies including Facebook, AT&T and Microsoft, was pushing a hard-right agenda that includes opposition to climate change rules and regulations.

A new study from two groups, Forecast the Facts Action and the SumOfUs.org, says that since 2008, businesses have given campaign contributions to the 160 members of Congress who have rejected climate change that amount to more than $640 million. That includes Google, eBay, Ford and UPS; in fact, 90 percent of the cash came from outside the fossil-fuel industry.

Many of the naysayers are not in total denial; they either say climate change is happening more slowly than we think, the so-called “lukewarmers”, or they insist that global warming actually is good for you!

Here’s a headline from the conservative Heartland Institute: “Benefits of Global Warming Greatly Exceed Costs, New Study Says.”

And here’s a statement responding to that new UN report on carbon dioxide from Chip Knappenberger, assistant director of the Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science. Cato has received funding from the Koch brothers, much of whose billions have come from fossil fuels, and Exxon Mobil.

We should, Knappenberger said, be proud of those greenhouse gases and “applaud our progress in energy expansion around the world,” and he noted a previous statement of his in which he exulted that the rise in carbon dioxide “is cause for celebration.”

Much of this has little to do with the reality of science, some has to do with fundamentalist religious beliefs but most has to do with, you guessed it, money and politics. A study by the journal Climatic Change finds that the more wealthy Republicans are, the more likely they are to think that rising global temperatures are non-existent or no big deal.

After all, the industries that are causing the problem, especially anything to do with the extraction or use of fossil fuels, are making them filthy rich. And many of them actually believe further climate change could be good for business. Those melting icecaps and glaciers are opening up waterways in the north, you see.

And the defense contractor Raytheon Industries sees big profit opportunities because “climate change may cause humanitarian disasters, contribute to political violence and undermine weak governments.” We’re not making this up.

So intense is the political and corporate opposition to the concept of manmade climate change, despite a majority of Americans who accept it as reality, that some of the more rational officeholders and local governments quietly are trying to work around the resistance, preparing for the worst without mentioning the dreaded words climate change or global warming.

In Grand Haven, Michigan, AP reports, officials are preparing for heat waves and storm erosion without saying anything about you-know-what. In Florida, communities are taking steps to protect towns against rising sea levels without getting into a fight over what’s causing them. In Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Senator Jim Inhofe used to be mayor, flood control and drought prevention are sought in the name not of warming but of disaster preparedness.

Meanwhile, some of the media finally are coming around, catching up with public opinion. Once enslaved to the notion of having to give equal weight to both sides despite the overwhelming evidence supporting climate change, they’re changing their tune.

A few months ago, the independent BBC Trust said that the British broadcaster was giving “undue attention to marginal opinion” when it came to airtime for climate deniers and should adjust accordingly. The Los Angeles Times announced it would no longer print climate change denial letters to the editor contrast that with Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal, which last year ran more anti-climate change letters than any other major newspaper.

And last month, The Washington Post, long criticized for the space given such climate deniers as columnist George Will, ran a week’s worth of climate change editorials, declaring, in the words of its editorial page editor, “an existential threat to the planet.”

So we have to ask, how long will we allow the climate deniers the prominence and weight that lets them give our political leaders cover to run and hide from reality?

Two men in Massachusetts decided: No longer. This past May, they used their lobster boat the Henry David T., as in Henry David Thoreau to block a coal freighter from docking at a Massachusetts power station. They turned themselves in and faced charges that could have resulted in two years in jail and thousands of dollars in fines.

But last week, the local district attorney, Sam Sutter, stood on the courthouse steps and announced that he had dropped the criminal charges. “Climate change is one of the gravest crises our planet has ever faced,” he said. “In my humble opinion, the political leadership on this issue has been gravely lacking.”

He then announced his intention to be at the People’s Climate March in New York.

Pope Francis would say “Amen” to that. “Safeguard Creation,” he warned, just around the same time the Henry David T. was blocking that coal freighter. “Because if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!”

Bill Moyers is the managing editor of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com. Michael Winship is the Emmy Award-winning senior writer of Moyers & Company and BillMoyers.com, and a senior writing fellow at the policy and advocacy group Demos.

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8 comments for “The Self-Interest in Climate ‘Denial’

  1. Evangelista
    September 29, 2014 at 8:01 pm

    Everyone concerned with, or interested to learn, the actual physics of global warming should begin by reviewing solar activity through he past several years. Those interested will find that there is more activity and more flaring and that this extra activity is the primary driver of our current warming cycle. The current criers of global warming catastrophe are Chicke-Littles hyperventilating themselves on horror-movie panic. The crowd that is howling human activity to be responsible for global warming are of two types, first, the opportunists. Most of these are corporate and corporatist-government sponsored, with an agenda to ride a carbon-credit “exchange” into being by sponsoring a groundswell of popular panic. Carbon-credit exchange is a private-taxation scheme, in which financial manipulators, like Goldman Sachs, buy “interest” in low carbon usage activities, like wind-farm and hydro electricity production, whose hypothesized “carbon savings” they will “own” to “sell” to industrial producers, who make things and so need to use coal, oil, etc. to melt steel, etc. Carbon credit trade is selling nothing for something, and does nothing to reduce carbon usage (except where the added tax-cost puts an industry out of business). The second group are the lemming-public panic-flappers, who are accusing their neighbors of not being “carbon-consious” enough and who are equivalent to a flock of mice trying to convince all the mice in the field to join in holding ends of grass-blades across the path the elephants walk, with intent to trip the elephants to change their course across the mouses’ field. All those mice would do a lot better to lay in supplies for their winters, instead of running in a useless crowd enthusing for a useless prject.

    Meanwhile, don’t worry about the world. The world is doing just fine, and will do just fine. The world will survive the solar warming and the human warming, and all else. The world will be here and still doing just fine when mankind has drowned itself out in its own waste and radioactive and chemical byproduct.

    World climates have changed before, before human beings, and after. Look at the deserts of Ebypt, with remnants of human civilization buried in sand, and at the Middle-East, here civilizations were buried in silt. You can bet there were more than a few idiots then who were accusing their neighbors of not being passionate enough in propitiating the volcano-gods, or whatever the popular delusion was then: “If you had not refused to sacrifice your daughter!” “Me? If yours had been a virgin!”

    The problem is the Gods don’t drown enough, or the right ones…..

  2. N. Joseph Potts
    September 28, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    There is a great deal of self-interest on the part of Warmism, too, chiefly on the part of people like Al Gore who wish to garner toward themselves and their cronies the incredible power that regulating human activity so as (purportedly) to reduce the rate or change the direction of climate change. Theirs would be the power to (selectively) visit bottomless poverty on any (large) sector of the population they might choose, via the political process.
    But even that doesn’t describe the wrongness of Warmism. Never mind whether the planet is getting hotter, and never mind whether that is influenced by human activity. FIRST: do we (or anybody) know what to do to reduce the rate or change the direction of climate change, short of all killing ourselves (or each other)? SECOND suppose the answer is “yes:” is there any sort of process, political or otherwise, that could equitably and efficiently redirect human activity so as to bring about the desired changes in human activity – again, short of all killing ourselves (or each other)?

  3. MS19
    September 22, 2014 at 12:54 am

    This article does not match the standards of this website.

    Almost every metric measured shows no trends or beneficial trends in weather related phenomena.
    http://www.globalwarming.org/2013/07/26/are-weather-extremes-getting-worse-roger-pielke-jr-shares-the-data-with-senate-panel/

    As a physicist following this debate for years, I can confirm, that skepticism is a grass root movement and description or associations as done in this article are derogative.

    Modeled data now deviates so far from measured data, that the current level of alarm can no longer be justified. The main issue is now to stop the millions of people affiliated and the billions invested in this agenda before they can cause even more harm to mankind.

    Climate change is progressing much slower than predicted, natural influences have been grossly underrated and the net effect on the biosphere and mankind have been clearly beneficial and will remain beneficial for the next several decades.

    • Zachary Smith
      September 27, 2014 at 5:02 pm

      Climate change is progressing much slower than predicted, natural influences have been grossly underrated and the net effect on the biosphere and mankind have been clearly beneficial and will remain beneficial for the next several decades.

      1) climate change isn’t happening fast.
      2) lots of it is natural anyhow.
      3) and the climate change has been and will continue to be good for us.

      How do we know that? Well, the man says so doesn’t he? And he provided a genuine link to a genuine Denier site didn’t he?

      BTW, the globalwarming.org site is an offshoot of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. They delayed action in tobacco for a long time, and are working to do the same with climate change.

      Tobacco killed individuals. Climate change is destroying the planet.

      Does our “physicist” poster give a damn? I doubt it.

      My previous point was that Big Energy has all the money in the world to fund all levels of Denial, even the guys posing as really educated real people on forums like this one.

  4. Zachary Smith
    September 19, 2014 at 9:04 pm

    Surely there are more important topics to be discussed than these doomsday fantasies?

    Ok, you’ve got me curious enough to ask: What “doomsday fantasies” are you talking about?

  5. schmenz
    September 19, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    Surely there are more important topics to be discussed than these doomsday fantasies? Please stick to the topics you do so well: US imperialistic actions, the demonizing of Russia, the motives of the warmongers, etc.

    • Brendan
      September 19, 2014 at 3:57 pm

      The motives of the warmongers have at least something to do with hydocarbons which produce greenhouse gases. Libya, Iraq, Iran, Russia and Venezuela are major hydocarbon producers. Syria and Ukraine can be useful for gas pipelines to transit gas to Europe. All these countries have been targeted by the West for regime change, sometimes successfuly.

  6. Zachary Smith
    September 19, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Slick public relations and advertising campaigns are underwritten to fool the public and smear the truth-tellers. Foundations and think tanks have been created by industry just to create doubt and hammer away against the overwhelming evidence of climate disruption.

    I’m going to say that the authors have seriously underestimated this ‘underwriting’ of the Deniers by devoting a mere two sentences to the issue.

    A couple of days ago I was examining the latest news stories posted at a quasi-libertarian site, and found a link to this:

    http://truth-out.org/news/item/26244-mexico-researcher-raises-alert-about-environmental-risks-in-region-with-highest-concentration-of-wind-farms-in-latin-america

    Among the things I learned at the link:

    The environmental studies for the local wind farms were suspect.
    The sound contamination from the Wind Turbines could cause bats to get lot.
    The magnetic contamination from the Wind Turbines could cause fish to get lost.
    Both microorganisms in the soil and human beings could be adversely affected by the turbines.

    Hmm. Time for me to read up on this. Where did Biologist Patricia Mora publish her startling research?

    From what I could tell, nowhere.

    But in the course of looking, I found a site titled The Original “Mothers Against Wind Turbines” TM

    One of the things I saw there was an art competition: Win Prize Money for Anti-Wind Turbine Art! AWESOME!

    Then there was the post touting a new book.

    As ever-more scientists denounce misguided attempts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, the evidence grows that more CO2 in the atmosphere, not less, is best.

    A new book ‘About Face!’ by two respected scientists and an economist makes the case for adding more CO2 to earth’s atmosphere.

    The scientists are Madhav Khandekar in Canada and Cliff Ollier in Australia, plus economist Arthur Middleton Hughes in the USA. They show us why CO2 is essential to all life on earth. It is plant food.

    The authors say, “We believe that the more CO2 there is in the atmosphere the bigger and better plants will grow all over the world. Three million people die each year because the prices of food are too high for them. We want to increase CO2 in the atmosphere and reduce world malnutrition.”

    The people financing the grass-roots Deniers are filthy rich. They can and do pay for thousands of sites like this, and the outlays amount to pocket change for them. Whenever I’m researching any topic connected with Global Warming, I have to use some complicated ‘filters’ to avoid having the Denier hits swamping my results.

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