August 12, 2020 by Firinne Rolfe
The adamant denial of the world’s changing climate has been around since scientists started to share their research. Climate change deniers use various methods that purposely spread misinformation. They use fake experts, argue that the problem is too hard to tackle, say the present is more important, and discredit the scientists and their research. Although the staggering majority of scientists believe we are in an anthropogenic climate crisis, there are still pockets of American (and other countries’) societies that deny these findings to some extent. It is notable that climate denial comes in different forms. Some believe the whole thing is false while others acknowledge the existence of climate change but do not see it as a pressing issue, and think activists and scientists are exaggerating it.
The use of experts who do not have the necessary credentials is a mode of persuasion frequently present in propaganda. There are different mediums used to discuss climate change, one of them being books. Numerous books going against scientific consensus around climate change get produced in different countries and are rarely connected to scientists who hold advanced degrees in natural sciences. However, they are often connected to conservative think tanks (Dunlap 693). In the peer reviewed study “Leading Voices in the Conservative Choir: Conservative Columnists’ Dismissal of Global Warming and Denigration of Climate Science,” the writers looked at multiple conservative newspapers. Elasser and Dunlap looked at newspaper editorials on a conservative news source, www.townhall.com, and found that opinion editorials are often used in the spread of climate change skepticism (Elsasser, Dunlap 754). Upon searching “climate change” on the Townhall site in 2019, an article came up titled “Climate Change is a Hoax,” while another has a paragraph reading “the leadership of the climate cult is made up of adults who privately know better and children manipulated by people they’re supposed to be able to trust. They’re a doomsday cult that continually moves the goalposts” (Derek Hunter). These articles are not written by climate change experts, just people who have strong opinions.
Blogs are another medium where many fake experts can be found. Bloggers share their personal feelings but can have a profound impact on their readers and therefore public opinion. These bloggers often call themselves “Citizen Scientists” (Elasser, Dunlap 755). Those who read these blogs have a deep trust for the news they are provided, more than a typical news source. In the peer reviewed paper “Internet Blogs, Polar Bears and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy,” the authors looked at 90 blogs. One they looked at, “Watts Up With That,” provides a strong stream of climate change denial posts and received more than two million unique views a month (Jeffery A. Harvey et al. 282). Of the 90 blogs looked at, 80% of them used Polar Bear Science by Susan Crockford as evidence. The issue is that Crockford is not an expert in anthropogenic global warming (AGW), having neither done any research nor ever published in a peer reviewed journal. Although Crockford is not an expert, she was called “one of the world's foremost experts on polar bears” by the Heartland Institute . Crockfords argument is that polar bears will evolve to their changing environment (Jeffery A. Harvey et al 283). It is harmful to public opinion to have her identified as an expert when she is spreading scientifically disproven information. In “Internet Blogs, Polar Bears and Climate-Change Denial by Proxy,” the authors provide suggestions on how to learn if a piece is based on scientific studies. One of their main suggestions is to “follow the credentials,” because the majority are not there (Jeffery A. Harvey et al 284).
It is not the science that people have an issue with in terms of climate change, but rather how the findings have an impact on people's lives (Hayhoe, Shwartz). This issue is something that climate deniers grab on to. Skeptical Science is a reputable blog by John Cook (an Australian cognitive scientist also trained in solar physics,) where he rebuts climate change deniers arguments. He found “it’s too hard” to be a frequent argument (Elsasser, Dunlap 765). Many companies and people are too concerned with their immediate needs. The car industry is a clear example of this. They have been trying to resist amendments to their companies for a long time (Sandra Laville). “The sector has dug in hard to dampen rising vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards. Through their lobbying, auto companies have delayed the transition of a sector sucking up a huge proportion of oil demand globally”, said Edward Collins who wrote The Carbon Policy Footprint. When Sandra Laville was writing Car Makers and Climate Change, she contacted many of the offending companies (Fiat Chrysler, Ford, Saimler, BMW, Toyota and General Motors,) and they all informed Laville that they were working to meet environmental goals, but other considerations such as what customers prefered, the reality of the market and infrastructure development had a large impact on them (Sandra Laville). In other words, “It’s too hard.” Julia Poliscanova, the clean vehicles director for the NGO Transport & Environment believes the car industry is trying to gain the last bits of profit from current car models. They do this by “questioning every aspect of electric technology.” Car companies attempt to excuse their actions by arguing their work is onerous. A struggling economy does impact action because the public sees fighting against climate change as something that can wait (Dunlap 694). It is the ultimate procrastination of a hard to handle project.
Riley E. Dunlap, an Environmental Sociology Professor at Oklahoma State University, wrote in his paper “Climate Change Skepticism and Denial: An introduction” that a common strategy is to “manufacture uncertainty” by attacking scientists and their research. One of the ways to realize if an article is scientifically backed is to “follow the language” because often in writing by climate change deniers, many insults are thrown at scientists (Jeffery A. Harvey et. al 284). The climate scientists are called alarmists, green-terrorists, eco-fascists and all their research are referred to as scams. The 2009 email scandal Climategate sufficiently dented the public's opinion of scientists' legitimacy, however, it was exaggerated and warped by those looking to gain from climate change denial (Dunlap 694). The “Keystone Dominos” effect, which is when one aspect of research is questioned, has dangerous implications because when the public sees one aspect of evidence challenged, they then correlate all related evidence with one mistake (Jeffery A. Harvey et. al 282). It is common to find neither context nor evidence backing up arguments against the science community. Another way deniers attempt to discredit scientists is by using religious metaphors. They say scientists and activists are extremists focusing on environmental beliefs (Juliet Roper et. al). Scientists are also held to unreasonable standards where all their research methods get questioned (John Cook).
The denial of climate change will not go away anytime soon. When reading on the topic, there are certain things readers should keep in mind. For example, experts used for arguments must come with credentials. The world is in the middle of a climate crisis and although corporations and many people find it easier to focus on quicker and simpler problems to solve, that is not an option. In addition, scientists do make mistakes and not all research is perfectly accurate. However, there is a near consensus in the science community about the pressing reality of climate change. Understanding the rhetoric behind climate change denial is an important step in combating the ignorance surrounding the issue. The world has run out of time for the superfluous debate on anthropogenic climate change. The time for arguing is over, it is time for action.
Firinne Rolfe ('21) is a Senior Editor at SPR and a co-Head of Politics Club for the upcoming year.
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