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Republican lawmakers react to the IPCC report – ‘we have scientists’ too!

Posted on 17 October 2018 by dana1981

Major climate science reports usually pass by largely unnoticed, but in the wake of the latest IPCC report a number of journalists laudably grilled Republican lawmakers about its findings. While their responses were predictably terrible, it’s nevertheless crucial for journalists to hold GOP politicians accountable for their climate denial and policy inaction. Donald Trump’s answers were particularly ignorant and nonsensical in his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.

Welcome to Stage 2 climate denial

None of the Republicans exhibited Stage 1 climate denial (denying that it’s happening), but several remain in Stage 2 (denying humans are responsible). Trump was the worst of the lot, telling Stahl:

Something’s happening [with the climate] and it’ll change back again … I don’t know that it’s manmade.

Earth’s climate isn’t magical. Each of its changes has physical causes and will only “change back” if something causes them to do so. Trump’s claim is akin to arguing that if he gains 50 lbs by eating McDonald’s fast food every day he’ll eventually ‘change back’ to his less obese self. Doing so would require a physical cause, like a change in diet. Fossil fuels are the climate’s greasy fast food.

Similarly, Trump’s top economic advisor Larry Kudlow said to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week:

how much of [climate change] is manmade, how much of it is solar, how much of it is oceanic, how much of it is rain forest and other issues? I think we’re still exploring all of that.

And Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN’s Jake Tapper:

I can’t tell you to what percentage of [climate change] is due to human activity

Climate scientists can. It’s 100% since 1950.

Gavin Schmidt?@ClimateOfGavin

For @marcorubio @jaketapper and anyone else, it’s a good thing that scientists have indeed already looked at how much recent trends in climate are due to human activity. 

[narrator: it was all of it]

This is settled science, about which there’s a 97% expert consensus. But of course, Republican politicians prefer the beliefs of the less than 3% of contrarian climate scientists.

Republicans have their own “scientists”

When Stahl pressed Trump on the conclusions of expert climate scientists, Trump cited some “scientists” whose opinions he prefers.

We have scientists that disagree with [human-caused global warming] … You’d have to show me the [mainstream] scientists because they have a very big political agenda

The only ‘political agenda’ of the climate scientists writing the IPCC reports is to accurately communicate our understanding of climate science to policymakers. The latest IPCC report cited over 6,000 scientific studies. Marco Rubio used the same tactic as Trump, saying:

And I think many scientists would debate what percentage is attributable to man versus normal fluctuations

Trump’s Fox friends also echoed this sentiment:

Bobby Lewis@revrrlewis

Kilmeade on Stahl’s climate change question: “She really believes in global warming, and that’s fine,” but “I don't think you should bring your point of view” in b/c “there’s other scientists” and “the role of man has not been unveiled to a way in which the president accepts.”

There are of course “other scientists.” The question is why we should believe the tiny minority of contrarians are right and the 97% of climate science experts who are convinced by the evidence that humans are driving global warming are wrong.

For example, one of deniers’ favorite contrarian scientists is Richard Lindzen, formerly of MIT. Last week, Lindzen told the Daily Mail “Warming of any significance ceased about 20 years ago.” That’s Stage 1 climate denial and a ludicrously wrong assertion:

Dana Nuccitelli?@dana1981

Richard Lindzen tells @DailyMailAU, "Warming of any significance ceased about 20 years ago" 

Reality tells a very different story:

So yes, there are scientists who disagree with the magnitude of the human contribution to global warming. And those scientists often deny even the most basic facts and data. They’re the fringe who reject the vast majority of the available scientific evidence.

Republicans deny basic economics too

After denying that we know humans are driving climate change, the Republican politicians shifted to economics denial, with Trump again the worst of all:

I don’t want to give trillions and trillions of dollars. I don’t want to lose millions and millions of jobs. I don’t want to be put at a disadvantage.

Rubio similarly said “I’m also not going to destroy our economy.” But Trump and Rubio seem to think that any efforts to cut carbon pollution will destroy the economy, and that’s just willful ignorance. As Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) said:

We ought to be talking about the things that we can do and still maintain a strong economy, because we’re not going to be able to address it unless we keep a strong economy

Rounds is right. Republicans ought to be looking for policies to address climate change that will maintain a strong economy. But with a few exceptions, they (including Mike Rounds, who’s voted against the climate 100% of the time) are not. Kudlow noted:

Bill Nordhaus from Yale got a Nobel Prize on his own economic work with respect to climate change … I respect that he’s a really brilliant guy.

In 2012, Nordhaus wrote an editorial entitled, “Why the Global Warming Skeptics Are Wrong.” In that piece, he noted:

the cost of waiting fifty years to begin reducing CO2 emissions … is $4.1 trillion … Current economic studies also suggest that the most efficient policy is to raise the cost of CO2 emissions substantially, either through cap-and-trade or carbon taxes … The claim that cap-and-trade legislation or carbon taxes would be ruinous or disastrous to our societies does not stand up to serious economic analysis.

It’s ironic that Trump says he’s worried about losing trillions of dollars as the economist who his top economic advisor cites as a brilliant expert says that waiting to cut carbon pollution would cost trillions of dollars.

The latest IPCC report cited a study finding that 1.5°C global warming would lead to climate damage costs of $54tn, 2°C of $69tn, and 3.7°C of $551tn. We’re currently on track for 3.4°C warming by 2100, and the Trump administration is doing everything in its power to increase carbon pollution and global warming. For perspective, the $551tn estimated cost of climate damages at 3.7°C far exceeds the current global wealth of around $100tn.

On the other hand, climate policies need not be expensive. Studies have shown that a revenue-neutral carbon tax could grow the economy and create jobs, for example. And as California has demonstrated, smart climate policies are entirely compatible with economic growth.

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Comments 1 to 24:

  1. Excellent article. I'm wondering what is the best approach to convincing The Republicans to do more about climate change? Some advocate being inclusive and nice and polite, and  trying to frame issues in ways that appeal to their world view, (me included in the main) but this has been tried and isn't working too well.

    For example, Obama reached out to the Republicans, and had his hand torn off (figuratively speaking), and he kept doing it with the same result. Being nice or conciliatory, and seeking consensus doesn't seem to be working too well. If people, or entire political movements are being plainly idiotic, how much should we try and sugar coat our response?

    I'm not advocating blatant personal abuse or nastiness, because I deplore that, but it seems that strong and simple words can be effective political tools at times.

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  2. "Rounds is right. Republicans ought to be looking for policies to address climate change that will maintain a strong economy."

    The problem with that statement is that the best chance to do that was 'starting in the 1970s'.

    The over-development in the wrong direction that has occurred instead of correction has set up the challenging current reality for those who resisted being corrected - It is likely impossible to maintain the unsustainably developed perceptions of prosperity (and superiority relative to others).

    The likes of Republicans should indeed be looking for 'answers from their perspective'. But until they actually come up with something better, they should get out of the way of people who actually want to develop a sustainable better future for humanity, and they should accept their deserved loss of status due to their stubborn refusal to be corrected.

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  3. Recommended supplemental reading:

    Trump: My ‘Natural Instinct for Science’ Tells Me Climate Science Is Wrong by Jonathan Chait, Intelligencer, New York, Oct 17, 2018

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  4. nigelj: Check out this website:

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  5. Interestingly, just published today was a report on falling CO2 emissions.


    Noting that the recent emissions reductions are to a great extent linked to the price of gas relative to coal, but moving forward as renewables become increasingly price competitive it will be natural market forces that drives emissions reductions in the energy sector, so the administration's views on climate change will become increasingly less important.   

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  6. John Hartz @4, thanks and interesting, but if "the free market" was going to solve the climate problem, it would have done so by now, or at least have had a discernable effect, but pretty much all the evidence I have seen is that any climate progress of any significance has come from government subsidies, cap and trade schemes, regulations, taxes, and the like. 

    I think the problem is the profit motive and vested interests in fossil fuels are just too strong, leading to pollution, and the whole trajedy of the commons problem. No doubt some corporations do act responsibly on their own initiative, without having to be pushed by the state,  but they are clearly in a minority.

    I think the "eco rights" dogma about a true level playing field goes along the lines of "if all government influence was removed from the economy, we would have some economic paradise" like the Ayn Rand school of thought. I don't believe it for a second, and never have, and historical examples of laissez faire capitalism or something close to it do not support the contention that laissez faire is an optimal system. Having said that, I think government interventions should be sparing, and evidence based and time limited.

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  7. I believe that the whole debate has been obscured by terminology, specifically looking at the changing weather patterns and referring to it as climate change--hear me out a bit.  Scientists have a good understanding of the causes that drive the changing weather patterns and increasing severity/frequency of extreme weather events, but when they summarize that dynamic as being “caused” by “climate change,” it confuses many, many people. We need to look at it more like baseball. That's because “climate” is an abstraction, i.e. the averages of actual weather events over time. “Climate” is very analogous to the “batting average” of a baseball player, which is an abstraction created by averaging the numbers of hits and misses the player performs over the baseball season, right? But if the player’s batting average jumps 50 points, from say .250 one season to .300 the next season, we start looking for the reasons. If blood tests show that the player has started using steroids this season, we say that the player’s batting average jump was “caused” by his using steroids because of what we know about the physiological effects of steroids on the human body. It’s not that he doesn’t possess a wide range of skills that got him to the major league in the first place; it just means that those skills were enhanced through the presence of steroids. When he steps up to bat and hits another home run, we say that the home run was “juiced” or likely assisted by his use of steroids. What we DON’T say is that the home run was “caused” by the increase in his batting average.

    But that’s exactly what the media and the scientific community has latched onto saying about the increasing frequency and severity of weather events. In baseball, enhanced performance is clearly understood to be an outcome of steroid use, and not referred to as “batting average change,” which sounds nonsensical and confusing. The scientific community clearly understands the physical role of carbon in the atmosphere and oceans and with great confidence can say that the resulting changed atmospheric and oceanic chemistry is what is driving the more extreme weather events, oceanic acidification and sea level rise. Excess carbon in these system and the resultant changes is “juicing” the atmosphere in the same way that steroids can juice the baseball player’s performance, and if we start saying that Hurricane Michael and Hurricane Florence were carbon-juiced weather events or some such terminology, the public will “get it” and will be more likely to move past the climate change debate and get down to what we’re going to do to get the carbon back into the earth so our weather patterns, sea levels and acidification will gradually return to levels we can live with.

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  8. In a recent BBC news panel discussion wih denier Myron Ebell (Competitive Enterprise Institute) the host effectively silenced Ebelll a couple of times by saying something like "now lets stop there; again, you're saying you know more than the scientists ... but you don't .. because they're the scientists, so lets move on from that .." 

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  9. wilddouglascounty@7,

    The debate is very powerfully fueled by desires to personally benefit from the understandably unsustainable and harmful burning of fossil fuels.

    The CO2 impacts are the most significant recently understood harmful consequence of the burning (an understanding that was pretty solid in the late 1970s). Many other harmful conequences have been identified, with some of them sort of mitigated by government regulation.

    The developed socioeconomic-political systems have developed unsustainable perceptions of superiority of some people relative to others. And those undeserving Winners have proven that they will not willingly have their developed perceptions corrected. And the developed socioecoinomic-political systems have actually allowed them to powerfully resist being corrected.

    Changing terms is unlikely to change 'willingness to understand'. The term climate change is not difficult to understand in the context of a simple understanding of the science. This site has many levels of presentation of the fundamentals. It is simple enough that I can make my own presentation as follows:

    • CO2 is a very important trace element in the atmosphere. Without it, the surface of the planet would be significantly cooler.
    • CO2 is increasing dramatically due to fossil fuel burning and other human activities. There is no other plausible explanation for the increased CO2.
    • Increased CO2 leads to more solar energy staying in the planet's system. The global average surface tempreature has been rising in response. The planet's climate system is complex and the global average surface temperature has its ups and downs, but the trend is clear.
    • Increased energy in any system will change the system. So climate change is what is happening because of increased energy in the planet's climate system due to human impacts affecting the system.

    That concluding statement is the same as 'juicing the climate'. And anyone fully familiar with the above string of connected points would get a reference to carbon-juicing.

    But using that term is unlikely to change the mind of anyone who has developed a personal preference for ways of personally benefiting and enjoying their life that they have to understand are unacceptable, and need to be given up, if they choose to better understand the climate science.

    Also, if the scientific community started using that term there would be claims that they are just making up new names. People have already claimed that climate science 'changed' the term it used even though the science has always been about improved understanding regarding 'the connection between increased CO2, global warming and climate change'.

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  10. One Planet @ 9,

    The reason for the clarification is so that the average "Joe" understands the role that steroids play in sports, and knows that the enhanced "performance" from even a little increase is illegal for good reason. Furthermore, it is confusing to attribute a baseball player's enhanced performance to "batting average change," which is exactly what we are doing when we attribute increased freqency and severity of extreme weather events to "climate change."  We need to start referring to the sources of those changes, just like we do with steroids, so the public understands the connection, and once they do, we can move ahead. If new langage helps, it should be used. If you can do it with existing langauge, that's fine, too.

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  11. It wouldn't matter what Trump says on climate change, and how contradictory or absurd it is, his followers will follow. People love authoritarian blowhards, bullies, and anti intellectuals and as long as the economy seems ok everything must be fine in la la land.

    Trump's approval rating is back up to 44% which shows what Americans really value.

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  12. wilddouglascounty,

    I believe it is less helpful to try to get someone to relate to climate science in the same way that they relate to sports, rather thna simply telling them the basics of climate science.

    I also doubt that the change of term would actually change many minds. The reasons people are choosing to disbelieve and dismiss climate science has little to do with 'difficulty relating to the language'.

    As I presented, climate science is pretty simple to understand. It is just hard for some people to 'accept the required corrections of the ways they are living'. And changing the words would not make it 'easier to accept that required correction'.

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  13. One Planet 12

    I am merely pointing out that saying that climate change "causes" increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events is a confusing statement because it is the increasingly number of more severe extreme events that changes the climate.  It is the elevated carbon fraction in oceanic and atmospheric composition that "causes" increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events, not the change in the statistical averages of those weather events, otherwise known as the climate. You don't need to use the steroids in sports example if you don't like it; there are plenty of other apt attributions of carbon as the reason for the changing weather patterns instead of confusing people by saying that "climate change" caused it. Come up with your own. 

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  14. wilddouglascounty,

    Got it now. Thanks for the clarification.

    It is ioncorrecrt to say "climate change "causes" increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events". Anyone who has presneted a point like that should be advised to say "human induced climate change due to global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is seen in many ways including increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather events"

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  15. wilddouglascounty,

    I am not sure I have ever encountered science reports, or even reliable media source reports, that say "climate changes causes (anything)" (I do not follow "Other News Media" which, by its less professional nature, may poorly present many things).

    I will pay more attention for that type of statement.

    Can you point to locations in the recent IPCC report where that type of statement is made?

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  16. wilddouglascounty,

    I have seen statements like "... climate change resulting in ..."

    Of course saying climate change results in something is not the same as saying climate change causes something.

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  17. wilddouglascounty,

    Your concern appears to be that the media say "climate change is causing more extreme weather". I have heard them say this, and superficially this is illogical because some people might see climate change as changing weather patterns, so obviously changing weather patterns are not causing changing weather patterns. But climate change is actually technically a change in the heat balance of the atmosphere longer term. I think most people more or less understand this, or at least interpret the issue as "global warming" is causing more extreme weather patterns,  so I dont think theres likely to be huge confusion out there that you think there might be. 

    But I think you are right that more specific explanations are needed on just what it is that is causing the more extreme weather.

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  18. I think you are right: the scientific community is pretty good about saying that increasing extreme weather event frequency and severity is attributable to changes in the earth's atmospheric and oceanic chemistry. But most of the public does not read scientific journals. Instead they read things like the following:

    "How climate change causes extreme weather"

    "Climate change causes severe storms that damage our homes, crops, and cost more than hundreds of millions in insurance claims." in

    "Climate Change Causes Extreme Weather Like Smoking Causes Cancer, Scientist Says" in

    "Where’s the proof climate change causes the polar vortex?" in

    ...and on and on and on.

    In the public forums that we are all part of, it benefits moving the discussion ahead if we keep bringing up the true causes of the changing climate, reminding folks that it's not some abstraction called "climate change," rather it is human emissions that are overwhelming our planet's ability to maintain a homeostatic balance.  That's all I'm advocating for, because we need to quickly shift gears to looking at ways to change those emissions.

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  19. One thing that I have become very clear on in recent weeks is that to attempt to pursuade any form of conservative of an urgent need for changes in everyones behaviour from climate change is never going to move them.

    To build on that let me zoom out a bit so we can imagine the entirety of humans inhabiting Planet Earth.

    Humans are 'Hunter Gatherers' by scientific definition and just because we now parade around the planet as if we made it ourselves with great ease, this hasn't removed the tendency of most to grasp more and give away as little as possible, conservatism.

    But exactly who are conservatives?

    Examine the word and you see it mostly made up of the word 'conserve' so logically it can be interpreted as the tendency of those like it who hold onto what ever they possess or control.

    It doesn't necessarily mean political conservatives though I'm certain that their use of the name is no coincidence.

    So we have a low level (often unreviewed) human baked in trait from millions of years ago, coupled to the most powerful technical mechanism yet created, which is fuelled by fossil energy in the hands of the already established to take as they lplease and deny access to any proceeds by others.

    Therefore I say that the issue is a human one, its a deep flaw in our current state as beings that we haven't evolved as rational beings by reviewing our current life state. Instead we keep a tight hold of our traditions both in civil life and especially in law which then guide us to a future vastly unlike the past in which they were formed in!

    Rather like sitting on a train window seat facing backward so mostly only seeing past land marks, conservatism justifies itself based entirely on the past!

    And as our collective future is becoming impossible to control due to the consequences from 7.x billion humans all seeking to grow their families and prosper on a finite planet, the ecosphere suppkly of life force services is straining under the weight.

    In summary I see this as similar to a bunch of over weight juveniles sitting on a camel (as they did as infants) but now they are heavier and in greater numbers. The camel is walking ever more slowly into a barren land and is their only hope of survival and yet they see no reason to look after it so they and sing loudly their traditional songs to keep them cheery.

    Blindness from madness or the other way around, you decide!

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  20. GregDance,

    I agree, and would add that the human developed socioeconomic-political systems are the real problem because they discourage people from helping others. And they allow misleading marketing to influence people to develop and hold onto unjustified greed or intolerance based opinions (those opinions that conservatives would like to preserve).

    Our sports have all been constantly developing improved regulations, monitoring and enforcement to sustain the legitimacy of the games played.

    The Conservative-Right fight against any correction or regulation of their behaviour. They like systems that let them get away with actions based on what they have developed liking and dislike for. They choose to be very difficult to correct (like the bully hockey player who will not stop punching other plaayers, and whose team fans and management defend and excuse because they like the other things the player does or the impact on the games when the player punches someone from the other team)

    In the Feb 29, 1960 issue of Time magazine Ayn Rand stated that “If any civilization is to survive, it is the morality of altruism that men have to reject.” and “Capitalism and Altruism are incompatible ... capitalism and altruism cannot coexist in man or in the same society.”

    Ayn Rand's observations were correct, but she came to the wrong conclusion. Since every human can understand that it is better for the future of humanity if they behave altruistically, the correct conclusion is that capitalism discourages the development of altruism and encourages the development of anti-altruism if it can be gotten away with.

    Capitalism that is not fully governed by altruism can be expected to be detrimental to the future of humanity. Anti-altruistic capitalism will create a hiatus in the advancement of humanity, or create damaging set-backs like the unsustainable burning of fossil fuels already has. Technological development is not necessarily advancement of humanity. It can actually be the opposite.

    Any competition for impressions of superiority relative to others encourages the development of anti-altruism (egoism). It is seen all the time. And rules and enforcement to limit behaviour need to be developed whenever competition driven anti-altruism creates the potential for harmful results.

    More potential for personal benefit creates more temptation to be anti-altruistic, because the less altruistic have a competitive advantage (advantage increasing the less altruistic they can get away with being). This is especially true in mass-advertised capitalism and politics.

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  21. GregDance,

    In spite of the powerful influence of capitalism discourging altruism, the global community has still altruistically collaborated to developed improved awareness and understanding.

    That type of development was apparent in The Enlightement. And it got re-started globally with the League of Nations. And the UN replaced the League of Nations by starting with the establishment of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    The UN then developed the Stockholm Conference in 1972 as a global leadership formal documentation of the many concerns being created by capitalism and managed economies that are not altruistically governed, including the concern about CO2 from fossil fuels.

    Those efforts have continued, including the formation of the IPCC. The latest greatest development is the gobal identification of the Sustainable Development Goals which includes Climate Action.

    So altruism has survived the pressures against it. Humanity does have a future. It just needs to correct and disappoint the appropriate portion of the current day population.

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  22. Greg Dance,

    I think you are broadly right, and I like the camel analogy. But heres my slightly different take. Science tells us there are quite deep seated differences between conservatives and liberals, the main difference being that conservatives hold onto traditions and are sceptical of change, liberals are the opposite. More or less what you are saying. These differences have a genetic and evolutionary basis, so we are essentially born leaning liberal or conservative. This stuff is easily googled.

    There's also an interesting and reasonably compelling theory called moral foundations theory exploring the differences. Google it if you are interested.

    However while I personally often struggle with how conservatives respond to issues, its not entirely a bad thing to be cautious about change or to want to hold onto what one has earned, and imho its more a problem when these values start to be taken to absurd and illogical extremes. And one could say the same for the liberal world view, although it has to be said that without embracing change we would be in a sad state I think.

    I think its probably also not good to demonise conservatives, because they will just become entrenched in their views, and ditto liberals.

    The other issue is science suggests although conservative and liberal leanings have some sort of genetic basis through evolution, they are not black and white, and exist a little more on a continuum and they are also not rigidly fixed values. People do change their outlooks and theres evidence for this, although they may never change completely.

    So my take away is we should not be too pessimistic, and I think more people could be persuaded to aspire to values like altruism for example. Its also important that liberals understand other points of view, although that does not mean accepting all decisions that conservatives or whomever make.

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  23. nigelj: "I think its probably also not good to demonise conservatives, because they will just become entrenched in their views, and ditto liberals."

    I wonder, can you explain why the extreme right (which has morphed into the Republican Party) has been so successfull with their over-the-top explicit demonizing of Democrats using transparent lies and emotionalism. (ever listen to FOX news, or heartland radio talk programs?)

    The entire climate science denial campaign is based on misrepresenting people's scientific work, and demonizing scientists.  There is not one leading climate science communicator who hasn't suffered juvenil attacks on their character.

    Riddle me this: Why are we (the children of the intellectual revolution) so impotent against that?  

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  24. citizenschallenge: You wrote:

    The entire climate science denial campaign is based on misrepresenting people's scientific work, and demonizing scientists. There is not one leading climate science communicator who hasn't suffered juvenil attacks on their character.

    Riddle me this: Why are we (the children of the intellectual revolution) so impotent against that?

     "We" do not have the money and power that "they" have. The unequal distribution of wealth throughout the world could very well lead to the destruction of civilization as we know it. 

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