Why They Deny
What’s going on in climate skeptics’ deluded heads?
by Paul Dechene
Oh, you climate deniers have been on a tear lately. You’re all puffed up with self-importance. Bloated by a few victories.
Thanks to your efforts, support for climate science is sliding and the hopes that there’ll be any global action in time to slow the planet’s heating are all but lost. Good thing I’m heavily invested in hip waders.
Nice work! But I have to ask: why’d you do it?
Why do all you climate deniers risk your reputations defending positions utterly at odds with science and reason?
Much has been made of your ties to the oil and coal lobbies, but can you really be doing it just for the money?
George Marshall, the founder of the Climate Outreach and Information Network, the UK’s leading climate communications charity, doesn’t think so.
“To say these people are paid for by the oil industry is rather ignoring the point there’s a lot of environmental organizations that take money from oil companies,” says Marshall.
“The fact that people take money from oil companies does not in itself make them corrupt. There’s lots of reasons why you might want to work with corporations.”
He suspects your motivations are less venal and may be related to a kind of deranged careerism. Marshall notes that the most prominent of your kind are almost all men — men whose careers weren’t terribly noteworthy until you threw in with the adoring denialist hordes.
Alternately, some of you are men who are nearing (or at) retirement and looking for a way to stay in the game.
“George Monbiot wrote a piece in which he thinks this is related to mortality fear,” says Marshall. “But I think there is a thing that happens with men, especially as they get older. They look back on their lives and think on what they’ve achieved.
“If they are very argumentative driven, very self-willed men, you can see that for some, the appeal of going completely against the flow is very beguiling. Especially when the rewards are quite significant.
“And the status rewards are not to be sniffed at,” he says.
You can start out as a third-rate academic and by taking a stand against climate science, he says, your profile can be suddenly raised in certain well-funded circles.
“You can be in a situation of writing leaders for national newspapers, of speaking at keynote conferences, of dining with powerful and influential people,” Marshall says. “This stuff is very potent for people who in any way feel that their life has not achieved everything they’d have liked it to.”
“You get somebody like Lord Monckton for example,” says Marshall, referring to the climate “expert” the Frontier Centre for Public Policy brought to Regina in October of 2009.
“His life has been marked by a low level of achievement. His life has been one long series of disasters, actually,” Marshall says. “Not the least being a little business he ran selling a game — a puzzle — which almost pushed him to bankruptcy.
“He’s in a category I’d call egotistical, ego-driven denier. He’s a fantasist. He’s somebody who constantly fantasizes about and distorts his own life story based on what he thinks makes the best impression.
“If I was in the world of climate change denial,” Marshall says later, “I’d keep a very safe distance from Monckton because he is capable of saying such huge whoppers.”
Ah, Monckton. The battiest of a bad lot. It’s a pity that the media and public can’t see through this rogues’ gallery of failed men and aging cranks.
But Tim Kasser, a psychology professor at Knox College and author of The High Price of Materialism and Psychology and Consumer Culture, sees a psychological explanation behind the public’s willingness to listen to all this climate denial nonsense.
“The very short answer,” says Kasser, “is a lot of it has to do with identity dynamics and how people respond to evidence that conflicts with cherished parts of their identity.”
He points to several foundational assumptions of western society that leave us vulnerable to the climate deniers’ siren song, chief among them being the idea that consumerism and economic growth can solve all our problems.
“It’s clear that, as much as our government seems to be trying to tell us and business is trying to tell us we can green consume our way out of [climate change], it’s obvious that’s not the case.” says Kasser. “That spins in opposition to how we’ve been raised in our culture to believe that our worth as people depends upon how much money we make.”
Further complicating matters, says Kasser, is our desire to believe ourselves to be good people.
“Climate science suggests [people’s] behaviours are destroying the earth,” says Kasser. “If they accept that climate change is real, they also have to accept that they’re engaging in behaviours which conflict with their conception of themselves as good, caring people.”
To overcome all this psychology, Kasser believes scientists and environmental advocates are going to have change the way they communicate with the public — that is, if they’re serious about drowning out the misinformation.
Making the science even stronger isn’t going to cut it anymore.
“What we need to do is pay more attention to the emotional state that people are in when they’re hearing our data,” he continues, “and recognize that this data is scary and when people are scared they’re not more likely to listen to the data but less.”
But Kasser notes that if changing western society’s core values fails, there’s one last way in which people will ultimately be convinced that the climate is changing.
“Once Florida is under water and once we’ve got droughts threatening our food system and all the rest — eventually there comes a point where even the most die-hard identity falls to the data,” he says.
A study out of Stanford shows that climate change contrarians account for only three per cent of the scientific community. What’s more, the expertise of those climate deniers is “vastly overshadowed” by the scientists who defend the consensus on human-caused global warming. Despite this, climate deniers loom large in the media, achieving a prominence disproportionate to their credibility. Here’s a rundown on five of the most prominent climate deniers you may come across. /Paul Dechene
Name: Tim Ball
Fame: His bio used to state he was Canada’s first climatology PhD until that was disputed in the letters section of the Calgary Herald. Ball also vociferously denies being backed by the oil industry despite the fact that most of his paycheques come from oil-industry-backed think tanks.
Game: Proponent of the global-warming-has-stopped-and-the-Earth-is-cooling school of thought, except when he is arguing that global warming will be good for Canada.
Shame: In an April talk at the University of Victoria, Ball claimed Milankovitch Cycles (which measure the Earth’s orbit and tilt) and volcanism are not included in IPCC models. In the audience, climatology grad students who, unlike Ball, actually run climate models pointed out both factors are standard parameters in IPCC models.
Name: Ian Plimer
Fame: Author of many climate-deniers’ favourite tome, Heaven and Earth. While not a climatologist himself, Plimer is on the boards of directors of three mining corporations.
Game: The Gish Gallop, a rapid-fire debating style that involves evading questions by constantly shifting topics and arguments. Named for creationist Duane Gish.
Shame: Soundly thrashed on Australian TV by Guardian science columnist George Monbiot. Monbiot showed that, in his book, Plimer was wrong about global warming ending in 1998 and about the CO2 contribution of volcanoes. Plimer’s response was to squirm, evade and ramble off on digressions.
Name: Freeman Dyson
Fame: Renowned for groundbreaking work in quantum field theory, solid state physics and nuclear engineering. Posited several famous sci-fi concepts such as the Dyson sphere and the Dyson tree.
Game: Considers himself an aging heretic and uses his credentials as a physicist to get a hearing on the climate change issue. He concedes that human activity affects the climate but believes climate models are unreliable and that the impact of human-produced CO2 is exaggerated.
Shame: While he did some work on climatology in the late 1970s, several climate scientists have politely pointed out that his current proclamations on the subject reveal he hasn’t kept up on climate research much since then.
Name: Steven Milloy
Fame: When he isn’t running the website Junkscience.com, he’s a columnist for Fox News, a paid advocate for ExxonMobil and an adjunct scholar for the Cato Institute.
Game: Either fronts or controls from the background more organizations than you can count — several of which he runs out of his own home.
Shame: Milloy’s connection to the tobacco industry was a big embarrassment for his employers at Fox. In 2006, a journalist reported that Milloy received thousands of dollars from Phillip Morris over the years. He’s also been linked to RJ Reynolds’ Project Breakthrough, a PR effort to link tobacco prevention to alcohol prohibition.
Name: Marc Morano
Fame: Runs ClimateDepot.com. Worked for Senator James Inhofe and was a roving reporter for Rush Limbaugh’s TV show. Morano made his name by leading the Swift Boat charge against John Kerry and used the lessons he learned from that media feeding frenzy to control the message on the Climategate scandal.
Game: Esquire called Morano “the turd in the punch bowl” when they described his ability to influence media coverage and use the words of climate scientists against them.
Shame: Morano has none. He’s a tireless brawler who dances away from his every misstep and never misses an opportunity for a low blow against an opponent. Morano’s the dirtiest fighter in the climate denier gang. Do not underestimate.
Oil And Water
The crude truth behind the gulf of climate change disbelief
by Paul Dechene
Climate denial? That’s so 2009. The Deepwater Horizon spill is the environmental catastrophe du jour so why isn’t this issue devoted to savaging BP and its record of lies and shady practices?
Well, that’s coming. But don’t kid yourself — climate change and the oil spill in the Gulf are the same damn problem.
Every day, oil becomes a little more scarce and if it wasn’t so important to our daily lives, we wouldn’t need deep-water drilling to keep the pumps flowing. And if we hadn’t already used up the low-hanging fruit of our oil supply (note how the gushers in Texas and Saudi Arabia are long gone), we wouldn’t have to resort to increasingly dangerous and desperate measures to satisfy our need for the stuff.
Similarly, if our economy wasn’t so inextricably linked with oil and the cheap energy it provides, we wouldn’t need gangs of petroleum apologists and anti-science kooks wandering the globe, assuring the masses that, despite all evidence to the contrary, their burning of fossils fuels has nothing to do with our warming planet.
There are many reasons why it’s both convenient and comfortable to remain blind to the catastrophe our crude-fueled lives are leading us to. And there are many out there who’re more than happy to keep us in the dark, no matter how they have to twist the truth to do that.
For instance, remember Climategate? Anonymous hackers stole a bunch of e-mails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit’s servers and within hours conservative pundits turned a few uses of the words “hide” and “trick” into the Biggest Scandal Ever.
Turns out the whole thing was a load of bilge. Anyone who actually read the e-mails discovered there was nothing in them that contradicts the scientific consensus on climate change. The UK House of Commons Science and Technology Committee and an international panel found no evidence to support charges of dishonesty against the CRU scientists.
Despite the vindication, belief in human-caused climate change has dropped precipitously in the general public as a direct result of Climategate. Sure, a newspaper like the Sunday Times of London has had to retract some of the spurious allegations of malfeasance it published at the height of the anti-climate-science frenzy. But all that half-hearted backpedalling is coming months too late and is going unheeded.
Meanwhile the word “Climategate” continues to be dropped like punctuation by climate deniers and conservative pundits.
How does Christopher Monckton keep getting speaking gigs?
by Paul Dechene
Many consider him a fraud and fantasist. His claims of being a member of the UK House of Lords and a science advisor to Margaret Thatcher have been debunked. And while no one doubts his skills with the English language and ability to make scientific-sounding gobbledygook sound plausible, among serious scientists he’s a subject of ridicule.
So how does Lord Christopher Monckton still command speaking fees around the world as a climate science expert?
I asked David Seymour, Director of the Saskatchewan chapter of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy why they brought Monckton to Regina in October of 2009 despite the man’s dodgy credentials.
“Climate change is a controversial topic,” Seymour says. “People on both sides are damning of each other. I think the public knows that. Monckton is the guy who’s pretty controversial. He’s a figure of public interest. We had about 40 people come out to see his luncheon speech and another 100 to come and see him at the university.
“So, you know, we present the guy; he has a perspective,” says Seymour. “I’m aware of a lot of the criticism of him. We basically believe the public can decide if people are credible or not. There’s no pretense on our part that this guy is an indefatigable authority. I don’t think anyone seriously believes that.”
In short: Monckton puts bums in seats.
Forget that the science he peddles is twaddle. Forget that he’s trained in classics, not science. Forget that he’s a World Government alarmist and once said AIDS patients should be quarantined for life.
He gets a laugh by calling Al Gore a bedwetter, so he’ll be the guy the right-wing think tanks and the media outlets keep on their speed dial when they need a climate “expert”.