Climate change is the most important issue we face as a species. This is not an article on the validity of the science, as this is settled. Having said that, I am aware that science evolves with further evidence, but right now there is a consensus. Below is the now famous pie chart courtesy of James Powell, who searched 13,950 peer reviewed articles and identified which of these rejected the theory that humans have caused global warming. He outlined that to be classified as a rejection the article must state explicitly that global warming was false, or to provide an alternative reason regarding observed climate change. As illustrated only 0.17% of scientists reviewed refuted the theory that climate change was caused by humans. This line of enquiry continued with the work of Naomi Oreskes who conducted a similar study between 1993 and 2003, using 928 abstracts, finding no opposition to anthropogenic climate change. Just on the off chance we have climate change deniers in our midst, who are statistically challenged, here is a lovely colourful piccie presenting 4 easy to digest facts, by NASA no less. You could even print it out and stick it on your fridge. Good. Now we have the preliminaries out the way, we can get on to the real point of this piece. Climate change denial is as persistent as ever before. It is heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry, while being ideologically driven by politicians and professional mouthpieces who stand to gain from their advocacy. This campaign has been purposefully designed not necessarily to change people’s opinion, but to muddy the waters and to introduce an element of doubt. The epicentre of climate change denial is undoubtedly the US. Each year millions of dollars are spent lobbying the government and constructing huge nationwide misinformation campaigns. After all, the main protagonists stand to lose substantially if they are defeated in this battle of (mis)information. Therefore, it is of no surprise that roughly only 50% of American adults believe global warming is due to human activity. One of the most startling observations is that the nation’s who produce the highest levels per capita of carbon dioxide, are among the least concerned about the negative effects of climate change. This group is headed by not surprisingly; the US, closely followed by Australia, then Canada and Russia. Many of the nations who worry the most are some of the world’s most minimal polluters; Burkino Faso, Uganda and Peru to name a few. It also cannot be stressed enough that the people who are most at risk from the symptoms of climate change reside in some of the poorest nations on earth. Notably, the UK lies somewhere in the middle regarding polluters, however, they are also one of the least perturbed nations in world in relation to climate change. What is glaringly obvious is many of the most apathetic countries in the world regarding this catastrophe are English speaking. This includes the US, Australia, Canada and the UK, whilst in a further study it was discovered that only 53% of New Zealanders believed that humans are causing climate change. This result is frustratingly similar to the US figure of 50%, begging the question; what is it with English speaking countries, that make the inhabitants so susceptible to climate change denial propaganda? Let’s start in the belly of the beast, the fossil fuel corporations. A body called the Economic Intelligence Unit estimated that even if the temperature is held at a 2 °C increase, investors are still set to lose $4.2tn US. If the rise is by 5 °C, which is where we are currently heading, this could push losses to $7tn US. As you may have gathered this is not an unsubstantial amount of cash, even for this industry. Furthermore, the fossil fuel world has known about the effects of their product for decades. It is reported that Exxon Mobile produced climate change papers from 1977-2014 and approximately 80% of their research agreed with the scientific community, stating climate change was caused by humans. This information always firmly remained within the corporation boundaries, in contrast to this public statements aimed at a wider audience conveyed doubt about the validity of climate change. Exxon Mobile were not alone, Shell also released information regarding the probable catastrophic risks back in 1991. This was made into a half-hour film created for public viewing, in addition an earlier written report from 1986 also highlighted potential problems. The data presented on the 1991 film regarding potential sea level rises and temperatures were exceptionally accurate. Shell, however, ignored this and continued to invest billions in tar sand operations knowing that this was incompatible with their own stats from 1998. Although Shell was acutely aware of the impacts of fossil fuel extraction, they proceeded to lobby extensively against climate action. It’s patently clear that Shell among others are happy to secure a profit at the expense of the planet and of course the people who inhabit it. But to ensure this continues the industry requires an extensive propaganda and lobbying system that has their tentacles at all levels of power.
So lets investigate who the runners and riders are in the world of lobbying against climate action. If we are looking for the funders of think tanks and lobbying groups, it would be foolish to proceed any further without introducing the Koch brothers. For those who are unaware, Charles and David Koch control Koch Industries, which is the second largest privately owned company in the US. This business was started by their father Fred, who developed a new cracking method for the refinement of heavy crude oil into gasoline. The Koch’s are involved in asphalt, fertilisers, petroleum, plastic and natural gas production to name a few environmentally unfriendly endeavours. Their annual revenue was upwards of $100bn in 2015 and they stand to gain the most from the Keystone XL pipeline. With substantial skin in the game, the pair are massive political funders with $100,393,292 going to 84 climate denying groups since 1997. They have been successful by using lobbying groups to block, delay or subvert any bill that has been pro environment, including the ‘greenhouse gas emissions legislation’, proposed by Clinton and Bush Jr. This all fits into place when you consider Koch Industries are the 14th worst air polluter in the US. In 2011 Koch Industries was Inducted to the Corporate Hall of Shame, this was achieved by spending $50 million on funding for climate change denial, while also influencing the Supreme Court’s decision allowing unlimited corporate dollars to flood in to federal elections. The Koch boys joined five other notable corporate scumbags in to the hall; ExxonMobile, Monsanto, Blackwater, Halliburton and Chevron, wow they must have been so proud. The Koch’s have also over the years funded Governors and bribed companies all over the globe. Unsurprisingly the jewel in their crown for misinformation is the contribution they’ve made obfuscating and confusing the general public around climate change. Here’s how.
So who are these organisations that the Koch’s lavishly fund? One of the main recipients of this cash is the Cato Institute, this is a Libertarian think tank based in Washington DC. Initially Cato’s interests were focused on public advocacy, media exposure and societal influence. The Cato Institute state that they are “promoting American public policy based on individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peaceful international relations”. In contrast Greenpeace describes the Cato Institute as a “Koch Industries climate denial front group”. Between the years 1997 to 2015 the Cato Institute received just short of $9m (US) from the Koch’s. One of their senior fellow’s happens to be Patrick Michaels, who publishes the purposely ambiguously titled ‘World Climate Report’. This is an ongoing journal of climate science denial. Michaels’s work over the years has been funded by several body’s with polluter interests such as; the Western Fuels Association. The Cato Institute’s primary objective appears not necessarily to outright deny climate change but to baffle the public into a state of apathy and inertia. Here’s the Cato Institute official statement;
“Global warming is indeed real, and human activity has been a contributor since 1975. But global warming is also a very complicated and difficult issue that can provoke very unwise policy in response to political pressure. Although there are many different legislative proposals for substantial reductions in carbon dioxide emissions, there is no operational or tested suite of technologies that can accomplish the goals of such legislation. Fortunately, and contrary to much of the rhetoric surrounding climate change, there is ample time to develop such technologies, which will require substantial capital investment by individuals.”
Tellingly, however, Cato’s advice to congress was to pass no legislation restricting emissions of carbon dioxide. The Cato Institute are one of many think tank’s the Koch’s finance. Next, the conspicuously named American’s for Prosperity is another climate change refuting organisation funded and founded by the Koch’s. Between 2005-2015 the foundation received $6.2m from the dynamic duo. American’s for Prosperity are committed to distorting climate science which they describe as an “encroachment of the government”. The AFP is also a Libertarian group advocating for smaller government and free markets. They have been known to bolster it’s perceived supporters by using varying ‘events’. One such incident was the “$1.84 gas” where consumers who received gasoline discounts, were asked to provide their names and email addresses on a petition form. These events often proclaim to be raising awareness of “failed energy policies and high gasoline prices”, but participants are never informed about AFP’s connection to the oil industry or to the Koch’s. To get an idea of the kind idiocy involved with these groups, Peggy Venable AFP state director for Texas stated “carbon dioxide is not a pollutant, on the contrary it makes crops and forests grow faster. We exhale carbon dioxide”. The AFP doesn’t often engage in the science of climate change and there’s probably a good reason for that. They are more inclined to employ confusion, such as, claiming the Environmental Protection Agency and the legislation being considered by Congress as based on “global warming alarmism”. These tactics are designed to cause chaos without offering any specific details. They are also inclined to infer suggestions that any strategies to fight climate change would be massively costly without having much impact against the background of natural variation. All this is proclaimed without a shred of evidence. There are many other methods the AFP use to foster scepticism among the general populous, based around potential costs of reducing emissions. Conveniently omitted in their reports are the catastrophic potential costs of climate change itself. The AFP also like to encourage apathy by suggesting other big nations will do nothing about the issue. Although it is true other countries have been slow in acting, the US especially under Trump are definitely out on their own regarding denial.
The Heartland Institute, provide different tactics but the same ultimate goal, that is to increase the population of climate sceptics while causing bewilderment among the masses. Over the years The Heartland Institute having been generously funded by ExxonMobile and the Koch’s. They claim erroneously to stand up for “sound science”, while spreading propaganda about climate science and even attacking scientists involved with research. Heartland President Joseph Bast, once claimed “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen”. Predictability this was blurted out without any evidence or rationale, just hyperbole and bluster. To round off this review of anti-climate change think tanks, if that isn’t an oxymoron we have the Heritage Foundation. The Heritage Foundation seems to specialise in stirring the pot. A report from the Heritage Foundation stated “the only consensus over the threat of climate change that seems to exist these days is that there is no consensus”. Climate change contrarians have conveniently been announced as the ‘the worlds best scientists” by the foundation. While the Koch’s and ExxonMobil have graciously added over $5m to their coffers since 1997. Apart from a selection of ‘think tanks’ there are a range of politicians, contrarian scientists and talking heads who are often in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry. These useful idiots and science mercenaries are crucial for the delivery of the gospel of climate science denial.
Up first S. Fred Singer, a climate change denying, scientist for hire, once a cold war physicist and environmental scientist, from the University of Virginia. Singer left academia in 1990 to set up the Science and Environmental Policy Project. This ‘think tank’ had such noble goals such as debunking the science of; ozone depletion, climate change, tobacco and other health threats. Amazingly Singer has received funding from such moral luminaries as Philip Morris (tobacco), Monsanto (seed and pesticide evil empire) and Texaco (fossil fuels). One of his pieces of work, if that’s what you want to call it, was entitled, “Climate Change Reconsidered”. This ‘Orwellian’ inspired piece suggested that a warmer world would be safer and healthier for humans and wildlife alike. This narrative astoundingly wasn’t a view shared by much of the science community as it was dismissed out of hand and labelled as fabricated nonsense. The next charlatan is Steve Milloy a proclaimed environmental science expert by Fox News, he spectacularly fails to possess any scientific credentials whatsoever. Milloy has suggested that ailments linked to tobacco products, pesticides in environmental ailments and fossil fuels in climate change as “junk science”. Of course like Singer, Milloy has received payments from prominent agrichemical, fossil fuel and tobacco corporations to whistle their tune to all who will listen, such as Fox News. This leads me neatly to my final example of talking heads for hire and propaganda merchants, notably Rupert Murdoch. Of course Murdoch would have to make an entrance wherever there was any anti-truth rhetoric abound. Fox News has willingly offered itself up as the conduit for anti-science misinformation. This corporation is a strange, dark parallel universe where no rational, thinking human exists, especially with regards to science. The laws of physics are abandoned for a narrative aimed at supporting the super-rich and corporations at all costs. The greenhouse effect is considered a myth, while climate change is no more than a hoax concocted by the government in conjunction with those ‘crazy’ scientists.
So what are the rules of engagement for these deniers? How have they managed to get a large portion of the western world so confused about climate change? Firstly they managed to re-frame the problem and we all fell for it. They succeeded in convincing the vast majority of people to cease calling the problem “global warming” and to adopt a more cuddly term namely “climate change”, for which most of us (including me) are guilty of using. In an article a few years back published in the Guardian, the piece suggested that there are 5 stages to climate change denial. These are designed to perplex the general public by re-framing the issues, thereby, coercing them to re-evaluate their stance, despite the clear scientific evidence in support of climate change
- If in doubt, deny everything.
Denial is often a natural reaction in times of difficulty, in this case it is performed for example, by disputing the accuracy of records, such as surface temperature data. This approach has been reinforced over the years by decidedly dodgy research. In 1990 Christy and Spencer’s study displayed lower atmospheric temperatures using satellite instruments. On first glance their work appeared to show that the atmosphere was not warming. On further investigation it was discovered that this research contained several biases that added an artificial cooling trend. Once this was corrected it was noted that lower atmospheric levels were rising at the same rate as surface levels. Another falsity from deniers is that global warming ceased 15 years ago. The author David Rose amateurishly focused on atmospheric temperature which only accounts for 2% of warming from the planet. This disregards 98% of global warming, 90% of which is absorbed by the oceans thus raising their temperature. When we take all this information into account climate change indeed seems to be accelerating, as most scientific models predict.
2. It’s not us, honest.
This tack was promoted by John Christy and Roy Spencer, who on the back of their research, disputed the accuracy of global climate models. Spencer bullishly concluded; “we deny that most [current climate change] is human-caused, and that it is a threat to future generations that must be addressed by the global community”. Their study compared 73 climate models to satellite temperature measurements, this showed that the models predicted more warming than had been observed. The issue regarding this study was what they chose to compare, which was the temperature of the middle troposphere in the tropics (TMT). The problem with this is satellite measurements of the TMT are uncertain and results from varying scientific groups have been erratic. Another issue is the stratosphere the layer above the troposphere is cooling, which is expected due to an increase in the greenhouse effect. It is known that the stratosphere cooling bleeds into the troposphere leading to a cool bias and affecting data. It is not certain whether the disparity between the models and the TMT data can be linked to poor models or errors in measurements. Either way this was a deeply flawed study and certainly doesn’t substantiated the suggestion that humans have no role in climate change.
2b. Consensus Denial.
It appears de rigueur from deniers to attack the consensus of human made climate change. Primarily, a paper written by Cook et al. (2013), found just over 4000 papers equating to 97.1% endorsing human caused global warming. Andrew de Montford from Rupert Murdoch’s newspaper The Australian, illegally obtained private discussion material from the Skeptical Science forum and then quoted them out of context, to suggest the study was a public relations exercise. Presenting stolen information out of context runs the risk of purposefully misinterpreting the facts. I think it’s worth highlighting that despite his BSc in Chemistry from St Andrew’s, de Montford could not be described as a scientist, particularly not regarding climate science. Despite his obvious lack of expertise or credentials de Montford has successfully accrued plenty of appearances on mainstream media talking about climate change.
3. Deny it’s a problem.
The denial of a problem is usually supported by cherry picked data. Bjorn Lomberg has talked about how droughts have not worsened in the US, according to the IPCC, while failing to mention that they predict droughts will intensify over the century. He also suggested that increased CO2 fertilisation will increase wheat crop yields. This may be true when other factors are held constant, such as in a greenhouse, however, when more CO2 is added to the climate this leads to climate change. The outcome of which is more extreme weather, resulting in a rising amount of; heatwaves, bush fires and floods. Those conditions are clearly not conducive to plant growth.
Matt Ridley is a businessman and chairman of a failed bank (Northern Rock), he is a climate science contrarian, libertarian and very rich toff who publishes in mainstream media outlets. He has cunningly employed fake optimism in an effort to cloud the minds of the curious. Promoting ideas such as, the planet has become ‘greener‘ over the last few decades. He uses these nuggets of information to somehow explain climate change away. In contrast to this faux rosy outlook, it is suggested that this ‘planet is greener’ trend will not continue if we keep relying on fossil fuel. Ridley uses what appears to be a typical tactic, find something that is vaguely positive and project it out without scientific backing to support a particular narrative.
4. Deny we can solve it.
It is often stated that renewable energy is too expensive, when in reality it is actually cheaper than coal. That’s before you even consider the climate damage costs through carbon emissions. In fact solar energy is also cheaper than coal when you factor in the real costs.
5. It’s all over, there’s nothing we can do.
Some contrarians have arrived at this stage, suggesting that it’s too late to do anything about our predicament. This stance is a self-fulfilling prophecy, if we wait any longer there will be catastrophic climate change.
This brings us to the inner sanctum of the climate change conundrum, the US government headed by Captain Tantastic himself Donald Trump. By positioning themselves outside of the Paris Climate Accord, the US is officially a rogue state, a position that no other nation has adopted. This should come as no surprise as the US continue to isolate themselves on the world stage under the stewardship of Trump. What Trump truly believes regarding climate change like many issues is difficult to ascertain. As usual his aides are exceptionally evasive on this matter, what we do know about the Trump presidency is, all things are subject to change within a matter of seconds. If we look at Trump’s actions, for example, dropping climate change from a list of global threats on the National Security Strategy, does seem to indicate that he is in alignment with climate change deniers. The US isn’t the only country to be in denial, one of Theresa May’s first acts on becoming the Prime Minister of the UK was to dismantle the Department of Energy and Climate Change. May’s insistence to push fracking through at a time when we should moving away from fossil fuel isn’t exactly encouraging either. It is also estimated that between 2017-2020 renewable energy investment in the UK will be reduced by 95%. Deniers generally in the US often state that climate change is a government conspiracy. If indeed climate change is a conspiracy, wouldn’t we expect governments to be pretending to do something to alleviate climate change? Instead most are still happy to work with fossil fuel companies in Canada, USA, UK and Australia.
Another point is, if the global elites are fabricating climate change as suggested, what exactly do they gain by all of this. The reality is the manifestations of climate change will reshape life dramatically for the inhabitants of this planet, undoubtedly for the worse. Sea levels will rise and acidification will increase, this will not only affect the species, but what people can eat. Freshwater will be more in demand and there will be an increase in desertification. In many places crops will not be able to grow. Degraded air, water and a build up of insects is likely to increase the likelihood of diseases. Nation’s security will be under strain as people will fight over scarce resources, while climate change refugees will also increase the burden on governments. None of this sounds particularly pleasant, so why would the governments make this up? If this is a hoax firstly deniers need to prove this, as all we seem to hear from outlets such Breitbart or Fox News is a belief narrative without any accompanying facts. Secondly why? Most government’s in the west are intrinsically tied to corporations and are largely neoliberal, therefore, I’m not sure continuing to lie about a climate change hoax is going to help consumer confidence, it make no sense. It seems more likely to me that many western government’s are stagnating regarding climate change action so huge corporations can continue to suck the planet dry in the name of profit and at the expense of the one planet we have. In effect you have climate changes deniers who are paid by varying ‘think tanks’ to spout the ‘gospel of denial’. They are supported by followers, often people who are angry at the status quo, have no idea how science works or just hate what the other side believes in. These are the useful idiots who make enough noise to re-empower the paid corporate denial mercenaries to continue preaching the sermon. This confusion about climate change disempowers movements who are fighting against climate change inaction and thus allows governments to continue supporting the fossil fuel industry.
In summary, this is by far my longest blog, one that has taken an inordinate amount of time to complete, it is also probably the most important one for me to date. I think it’s exceptionally pertinent due to what is at stake, namely our planet. I felt I needed to delve into the reasons for the changing views on climate change particularly in the west. We have witnessed a marked shift from a position of agreement regarding anthropogenic climate change, to a state of confusion, scepticism and even denial. This journey, not surprisingly, led me to money, power and a vested interest. What is evident is this is a carefully organised, lavishly funded disinformation campaign in aid of incredibly wealthy fossil fuel companies and exceptionally rich individuals. The goal is to continue making vast sums of money at the expense of the planet’s environment for example via fracking and eventually the people will suffer, starting with the poorest. This crusade in my opinion is driven by greedy psychopaths with regards to the CEO’s and world leaders, but more importantly is guided by an ideology, that of neoliberalism. Neoliberalism particularly at this end stage is not conducive to supporting life on this planet. Ultimately we need radical societal change; economically, philosophically, psychologically and morally. We should endeavour to create a community that veers away from destructive self interest, towards one that promotes sustainability, not just for the planet, but for the good of our species.