Peace & Justice

This is the blog of the Commission on Peace and Justice for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Denying the science of climate change

Reporter Carolyn Lochead of The San Francisco Chronicle has written a fascinating article about how we went from a nation in which most people believed in climate change to one in which it is a partisan issue that divides the electorate:
In 1990, "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher, the conservative hero, scientist and former leader of Britain who died April 8, called for swift action to combat climate change.
She said scientists knew enough that governments should proceed with an "insurance policy" against catastrophe. 
Thatcher borrowed the insurance idea from former President Ronald Reagan, who led negotiation of the 1987 Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer.
Eight days after Thatcher died, talk radio host Rush Limbaugh said, "There is no science in global warming." What science there is, he said, "is not settled. Besides that, we all know that it's a hoax now." 
On a chilly day this past March, Rep. Joe Barton, R-Tex., stood outside the Capitol calling for more global warming and denouncing efforts to set a price on carbon as "recycled liberal policy that raises taxes and kills jobs." 
Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz insisted last month on removing the word "climate" from a resolution celebrating International Women's Day. 
How did the conservative movement travel so far, so fast? How did a party that prided itself on reason become a hotbed of scientific denial? 
The transformation has paralyzed U.S. policymaking and squandered decades that could have been spent weaning the world from fossil fuels. Twenty-three years after Thatcher urged action, the United States has no policy on climate change, even as its effects are evident and the window for action is closing. 
In 1997, "There was no difference between the way Democrats and Republicans across America viewed the issue," said Ed Maibach, executive director of George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, a research center. Two out of three Democrats and two out of three Republicans believed that climate change was both real and serious. 
"Somewhere along the way, conservatism became, 'I've got a God-given right to drive my SUV wherever I want to go and we'll send somebody else's kids to the Middle East to fight for it," said former South Carolina Rep. Bob Inglis, who lost his 2010 primary election over global warming and now runs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative, where he is pushing for a price on carbon pollution. 
A growing trove of scholarly studies, interviews with former Republican politicians and with leaders of the denial camp show a concerted public relations campaign to cast doubt on climate science. 
That campaign is funded by fossil fuel interests, nursed by a network of think tanks and amplified by conservative media. 
The think tanks rely on a tiny cadre of scientists who dispute mainstream climate science; some also questioned the science of tobacco, acid rain and ozone depletion.
. . .
Naomi Oreskes, a science historian at UC San Diego, whose 2010 book, "Merchants of Doubt" with historian Erik Conway traced climate denial's origins to the tobacco industry's efforts in the 1950s and 1960s to muddy the science on smoking, said raising doubt about science has proven extremely effective. 
"You don't actually have to lie, you just have to ask questions," Oreskes said. "The problem is the questions actually have answers. Scientists have actually answered them. So by posing the question, it gives the public the impression that these questions have not been answered, even though in fact they really have."
You can read more here.