During hard economic times, it is difficult to get people to focus on an environmental issue which seems to have little immediate bearing on their lives. The public’s weariness with the climate change issue has also been exacerbated by the endlessly equivocal “he said, she said” nature of the coverage itself. In one study of four leading newspapers (The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times) over half the articles presented a scientist on one side and a corporate-friendly spokesperson (usually a non-scientist) on the other. Readers are left with the impression that the whole thing remains a muddle and that it is better to let the experts sort it out for themselves.
But the question remains: why is the media paying any attention to the discredited ideas of the denialists? We don’t give Holocaust deniers equal time to vent their noxious views, so why offer it to the climate change deniers?
The analogy might seem far-fetched, but the findings of climate scientists tell us that it is apt. We are facing a potential holocaust for life on earth, which could destroy entire ecosystems, turn productive regions into dust bowls, multiply catastrophic weather events, wipe out a large proportion of the planet’s species and cost us more in dollars (not to mention lives) than all the wars in history combined.
You would think that even conservatives would appreciate the huge economic threat this poses. When you get right down to it, acting to minimize the effects of climate change is a quintessentially conservative cause; it is about conserving the earth and our way of life for future generations. So, if the real conservatives are not behind the war against climate science, who is?
Until recently, the groups pushing the denialist agenda have lain low to avoid public scrutiny. Before they were outed by a leak of incriminating documents in February, few had heard of the Heartland Institute. Other big wheels in the denialist camp include the American Petroleum Institute, the American Enterprise Institute and – you guessed it – Charles and David Koch. A report by Greenpeace revealed that, in the last decade, the secretive brothers’ oil and manufacturing company channeled over $50 million to a number of front groups that promote skepticism about climate change.
That’s about double what ExxonMobil is currently spending to recruit “experts” to debunk climate science. Nine out of ten of the published papers dismissive of climate change, according to an analysis conducted by The Carbon Brief, were penned by authors who had received cash grants from the oil giant.
One of the most effective, if shadowy, figures in the denialist camp is the George C. Marshall Institute, which was set up by a group of cold-warrior scientists in 1984 to lobby against scientific criticism of Ronald Reagan’s missile defense system popularly known as Star Wars. Since then, the Marshall Institute has turned its attention toward other assaults on mainstream science on issues ranging from acid rain, the chemical threat to the ozone layer, the effects of secondhand tobacco smoke and, most recently, global warming.
In each case, the Institute’s goal, according to professor Naomi Oreskes of the University of California, San Diego, was to cast enough doubt on the prevailing science to delay needed legislation and government regulation for years and even decades.
As Oreskes documented in her book “Merchants of Doubt,” many who are fighting this behind-the-scenes war on climate science are the very same people who spearheaded earlier efforts of cigarette makers to deny that smoking was harmful, and they have adopted the same strategy here - setting up front groups with grassroots- or scientific- sounding names to confuse the public about the science.
Now that the Supreme Court has overruled a law that would have set limits on corporate spending for political purposes, we have become even more vulnerable to these wolves in sheeps’ clothing, according to Francesca Grifo of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
“That has opened the gates for corporations – often those associated with coal and oil industries – to flood the market with adverts that support rightwing politicians and which attack government bodies that impose environmental regulations that these companies don’t like,” Grifo told the Guardian in February. “The science that supports these regulations is attacked as well. That has made a terrible difference over the past year and it is now bringing matters to a head.”
To make the right decisions about climate change and how to limit its destructive impacts, Americans need accurate information, not ideologically motivated propaganda. Let’s hope that the recent Heartland crash and burn will help give the media the backbone it needs to stop equivocating and tell the climate change story straight.
This post was originally published by Truthout.
Image from Heartland Institute website
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