Smoke, Mirrors, and Hot Air: The Denial of Global Warming — James L. Powell

James Lawrence Powell, Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences

“As bad as the effects of smoking have been and will be, they pale beside the death and destruction that global warming is set to visit upon us. Will Big Oil one day find itself in the courtroom?”—James Lawrence Powell

The following is by James Lawrence Powell, author of Four Revolutions in the Earth Sciences: From Heresy to Truth. Powell examines the persistence of the denial of global warming and the forces behind it:

Why, in spite of the undeniable scientific evidence, do so many mem­bers of the public and so many politicians fail to accept global warm­ing? Mainly for two reasons. First, for several decades, newspapers have bent over backward to present global warming as though it were the subject of a genuine debate—and not just the sensationalist press, but mainstream papers like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. When one of these papers runs an article on some new finding that supports global warming, the reporter feels compelled to add, “but some scientists disagree,” going on to quote one of the always available deniers. The reader is presented with “both sides” of an issue on which, as far as science is concerned, there is only one side. This has happened too many times to be put down to sloppy journalism. It must be the result of a policy decision made at the upper echelons of each newspaper’s decision makers.

As evidence, consider this example. In the first five months of 2010, the New York Times ran twelve prominent articles about global warm­ing. Judging from the headlines, ten were about the alleged contro­versy: “Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons” and “Skeptics Find Fault with UN Climate Panel,” for example. Only two articles were about the science of global warming, and one of them was writ­ten in such a way as to give the impression that scientists might have cooked the evidence. During 2010 the evidence for global warming was growing stronger, but from the paper whose masthead proclaims “All the News That’s Fit to Print,” readers got exactly the opposite im­pression. Television has done no better. The major network news re­ports spend less and less time on climate, leaving the field to Fox News, which has denied global warming at every opportunity.

The second reason that the public has been misled is that fossil fuel companies and conservative foundations have poured scores of mil­lions of dollars into propping up denial propaganda groups with such names as Competitive Enterprise Institute ($2,005,000), Frontiers of Freedom Institute ($1,002,000), and the Heartland Institute ($561,500). The figures are the amounts that ExxonMobil alone provided each or­ganization from 1996 through 2005. But these front groups and dozens more like them used the money to deceive the public and Congress about the true state of climate science. According to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists,

like the tobacco industry, ExxonMobil has:
Manufactured uncertainty by raising doubts about even the most indisputable scientific evidence.

• Adopted a strategy of information laundering by using seemingly independent front organizations to publicly further its desired message and thereby confuse the public.

Promoted scientific spokespeople who misrepresent peer-reviewed scientific findings or cherry-pick facts in their attempts to persuade the media and the public that there is still serious debate among scientists [about] global warming.

In the 1990s, the four largest U.S. tobacco companies agreed to set­tle a lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of forty-six states. The amount was finally set at $206 billion over twenty-.ve years. The com­panies settled in part because whistleblowers and the process of legal discovery had turned up documents showing beyond doubt that the companies had engaged in a systematic campaign to mislead the pub­lic into believing that tobacco is not addictive and that smoking does not cause lung cancer. Yet for decades, the companies’ own research had shown that both claims are true. Big Oil has engaged in its own cam­paign of misinformation, deceit, and science denial, using the same tactics and even some of the same people as Big Tobacco, while never producing any evidence to show that global warming is false. As bad as the effects of smoking have been and will be, they pale beside the death and destruction that global warming is set to visit upon us. Will Big Oil one day find itself in the courtroom?

1 Response

  1. Does it really matter if media outlets stick to the facts? Facts aren’t for the willfully ignorant. They don’t want facts. They want information that supports their worldview.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment