Climate Change Misinformer of the Year…
Is Rush Limbaugh, according to Media Matters who did a good job of compiling his climate change denying quotes throughout the years. What are Limbaugh’s qualifications for pounding the radio air waves with his opinions about what he calls the climate change hoax? Nothing – he has no training in science, and dropped out of college. Neither of these facts means his opinions on climate change must be bogus, but he is a prominent radio talk show host who reaches millions of people regularly, so it only seems reasonable he should have some degree of scientific knowledge or at least an appreciation for science in general, but he doesn’t seem to at all. For example, he doesn’t have real scientists with verifiable academic credentials come on his show and debate climate change topics – rather he is a one-man band broadcasting his opinions and making up folksy analogies to support his positions, such as this one:
“I have a theory about global warming and why people think it’s real. Go back 30, 40 years when there was much less air conditioning in the country. When you didn’t have air conditioning and you left the house, it may in fact have gotten a little cooler out there, because sometimes houses become hot boxes. Especially if you’re on the second or third floor of a house in the summertime and all you’ve got is open windows and maybe a window fan. Or you have some servant standing there fanning you with a piece of paper. When you walked outside, no big deal, it’s still hot as hell. Now, 30, 40 years later, all this air conditioning, and it’s a huge difference when you go outside. When you go outside now, my golly, is it hot. Oh. Global warming! It’s all about the baseline you’re using for comparison.” [Premiere Radio Networks, The Rush Limbaugh Show, 7/26/11] (Source: Media Matters)
So he blames air conditioning as a reason for why people believe climate change is, or could be real?? Notice there is no scientific approach to determining the plausibility of climate change with him – he merely conjures a very common scenario (home air conditioning) and calls it a theory, in order for the creation of doubt within the audience. Then at the end he throws in one scientific term – baseline, as if he just measured something concrete and therefore proved climate change is a dubious effect. The true baseline used by real researchers with doctorates in their fields, is not personal anecdotes about walking out of one’s air-conditioned house during summer several decades ago vs. exiting an air-conditioned home today during summer.
Of course, his audience also is likely not aware of how real scientific research is conducted, so they relate more to the home air conditioning scenario, which is something they experience directly, and seems much more tangible and believable than giant sheets of ice in the Arctic they have never seen personally melting and falling off into an ocean they have never visited. Telling personal stories and believing in them, no matter how fictional, is far, far easier and requires zero formal training, study design, hypothesis creation, painstaking measurement, very complex analysis, years of study, verification, publication, re-testing by other scientists and so forth.
So he makes up silly but personal stories that are emotionally appealing and reassuring to non-scientists to oversimplify and muddy the waters for an audience who doesn’t know any better. It isn’t just climate change that is the main topic though – much more is at stake, because according to the deniers humans are not responsible for global climate change or virtually any other damage to the environment, to other species or even to our own health.
In economics climate change qualifies as a negative externality, an effect on society that is negative from our own actions. Government is often seen as the enforcer of making companies accept or internalize those externalities, but we see in someone like Limbaugh, someone who denies the existence of a particular aspect of reality, at the same time bashing the government as untrustworthy so his main message is that nothing ever needs to change.
If you look at the message carrier though, as someone who is overweight to the point of unhealthiness, smokes cigars frequently, suffered from prescription drug addiction, and so forth we can see denying reality and protesting against change, don’t work on the level of personal health or community health. In other words, it is much easier to be out of touch with reality because doing so requires no effort, and no thought. That a propagandist for unhealthiness can be so successful commercially is revealing, and yet predictable.
Image Credit: U.S. Government, National Science Foundation (NSF)
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