Climate Change Denial and the Media - Banishment of Science Reality

Skepticism and Critical Thinking

The general rules of skepticism are explained in “How to Assess Evidence Beyond your Expertise”  and also how scientific consensus works, with reference to climate science (It is recommended to listen to the 12 minute radio podcast before reading this article).

Skepticism Vs. Denial

Climate “skeptics”, and much of the media, have conveniently ignored the rules governing skepticism as discussed in the podcast. Like science, true skepticism is rigidly anchored to a foundation of “critical thinking” principles.

These "skeptics" are not the first to exploit skepticism and flout its principles. The tobacco and asbestos lobbies are two other blatant examples but there are many more that have hijacked the term “skeptic” and use it as a facade to hide behind. Climate "Skeptics" have been assisted either by a culpable media or the media’s pursuit of “balance“ before accurate and adequate reporting of the science. 

Brief Overview

Public awareness and the so-called “debate” on human-induced climate change now spans more than three decades, with the informed scientific debate running much longer. Scientists and researchers from multiple disciplines have now reached a facts-based consensus, but the public and political discourse goes relentlessly on.

What became patently clear from the outset was this would not be a public debate about climate science, but an ideological and vested interests debate. Climate science was challenging the global energy generation status quo and the monolithic power of the fossil fuel industry that has ruled the world for 150 years but is now revealing its global climate disruption powers.

This could only become a titanic struggle and the climate denialists and misinformers, knowingly or otherwise, are the frontline troops for the fossil fuel industry. The “carbon war” makes the war against tobacco smoking pale by comparison.

The media debate really warmed up in 1990, when BBC TV produced the two-hour documentary After the Warming, which presented the then known evidence on global warming and human’s causal link. An immediate response came from its commercial competitor, TV Channel 4, who aired The Greenhouse Conspiracy.

The film An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, and its maker Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, which received the usual ridicule from the fake skeptics and predictable sections of the media industry.  

The Great Global Warming Swindle, also made by Channel 4, was broadcast at the same time as the release of the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report. This thoroughly debunked the sun is the cause film featured many of the same “skeptical scientists” who appeared in The Greenhouse Conspiracy. All the compelling scientific evidence gathered over the intervening 17 years hadn’t shifted the rusted-on skeptics from their “nothing will convince me” stance.

There have been trillions of words wrtten and spoken about this heated and critical subject so you can fill in the rest with your own recollections.

Denial and Tactics

The fake skeptics deploy many tactics; one example being that whenever major climate conferences are held, or peer-reviewed scientific papers and climate data released, this coincides with copious amounts of contradicting opinion designed to perpetuate doubt and stifle action. They even hold their own conferences, like those by the right-wing libertarian American Heartland Institute.

Another tactic is to attack climate scientists directly. There is the old perennial favourite that they are the high priests of a religious cult called “environmentalism”. But the most malicious and concerted attack conveniently happened just before the Copenhagen Climate Conference in 2008. Climate scientist’s private emails were illegally hacked and their contents distorted and misquoted.  Another batch from the same hacked emails emerged just before the recent Durban Climate Conference.

Fake skeptics and the media dubbed this Climategate and “The Greatest Scandal in Modern Science”, but eight independent investigations eventually put sanity back where it belonged.

The media hounded the so-called “Climategate conspirators” but virtually fell silent when the scientists were exonerated. But fake skeptic and sections of the media still persist with their conspiracy theories. The media would better spend its time investigating “Hackergate”; there’s where the web of deception lies.

Then there’s the tactic of imbedding contrary perception in the public mind. We never stop hearing that the climate scientists are in it for the research grant money, when it’s actually the fossil fuel industry that's in it for payday big-time;  to the tune of trillions of dollars. And then there is the subject of this article; they claim that the media is not giving the vastly outnumbered (97% consensus) contrarian “scientists” a fair hearing and demand balanced coverage, when the fact is we never stop hearing from them through organs of the media.

In a way, the few who still genuinely reject the fundamental science behind global warming are only pawns in this global power play.

Marketing Doubt

Doubt is the prime tactic used by the climate denial PR machine, but exaggeration and extreme rhetoric is employed too, as exposed in the book Merchants of Doubt. The immense power and reach of the mass media has been the vehicle used to plant the seeds of doubt and make them flourish.

The media’s role is detailed in the book The Inquisition of Climate Science written by James Powell, who was an adviser to Presidents Ronald Reagan and George Bush senior.  Quote from the book:

“Right-wing media like the Wall Street Journal and Fox News are guilty, but so are the Washington Post and the New York Times. The two decades long success of the industry of denial could not have happened without the complicity of the media”

It was written from an American perspective, but it applies equally to the mass media globally; such as Britain’s Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail and Australia’s Sun Herald and The Australian, as well as large sections of the TV and radio mass media.

It’s the “irresponsible” media where the problem lies. You don’t have to dig very deep to expose the connections between economic and political self-serving climate denialism and substantive sections of the mass media. Front groups are used as the linkage, but it’s not the intention here to delve into these connections, but to show the consequences of their complicity. Books already referenced and other sources comprehensively investigate the connections.  

Manufacturing Confusion

The populist media thrives on controversy and conspiracy theories, so the denialists and misinformers are ploughing fertile ground.  Tabloid newspapers and radio shock jocks, and even the general media, go forth and spread the denialist’s misinformation - scientific facts are irrelevant to them.

Media hacks or opportunists like Rush Limaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, Christopher Booker, James Delingpole, Alan Jones, and Andrew Bolt, to name some, are more than eager to spread the myths and deception being peddled by the likes of Christopher Monckton, Nigel Lawson, Fred Singer, Ian Plimer, Bob Carter  - and others. The “responsible” media must strenuously exercise its public responsibility and bring these myth spreaders under the piercing interrogation light now radiating from a blazing mountain of peer-reviewed literature and physical evidence.

Many prominent climate “skeptics” are serial denialists - from cigarettes to asbestos, and more. The responsible media should bring these denierholics to account - Libertarian "Think Tanks" are full of them.

The Ice Goeth

Fake skeptics manufacture myths at will, but these myths soon fall apart when the scientific blowtorch is applied – Skeptical Science is continually occupied with this task. But the transparency of these myopic myths shows the depth of desperation to deceive and delay.

One of the things they are desperate to pretend is a mirage is what’s happening to the planet’s ice  and, in particular, what’s happening in the Arctic. Just consider the following as a typical example of how blinded they are to reality:

The Arctic sea ice continues to melt at an alarming rate and the obvious trend is beyond any doubt. It plunged to a record summer low in 2007 of 4.13 million sq. kilometres. The whole of the last decade was below the average 1972-2008 trend line, with the last three years, 2008, 2009 and 2010 being almost as low as 2007. Last year (2011) set a new minimum ice area record.

But even more alarming is the record plunge in the sea ice’s volume, from 16.8 thousand cubic kilometers 32 years ago to 4.3 thousand cubic kilometers last Arctic summer. 2010 had by far the steepest decline in ice volume, and 2011 was even lower.  Climate models had predicted this level of ice loss would not be reached till around 2040, so scientists are working hard to explain the 30 year difference.

But US media celebrity "weather" forecaster and Fox News contributor, Joe Bastardi, looked into his crystal ball in late 2010 and stated:

“My forecast for next year (2011) is for sea ice to melt only to levels we saw back in 2005, or 06 (5.5 million sq. kilometers)...The ice is coming back”.

Christopher Monckton is on the public record as saying:

“So we’re not looking at a long-term systematic loss of ice in the Arctic”

Despite the bleeding obvious, he has only recently been forced to modify this myth - not by the media but by a private citizen.

Exploiting Fatal Flaws

Over the past three decades, what has changed are the projections from the peer-reviewed science and each new IPCC report that has progressively worsened as the data and evidence has worsened. But the denialists and misinformers, and their media allies, exploit flaws in human behaviour.

Their myths capitalise on the human weaknesses of complacency and desensitization to non-immediate threats because humans have a short attention span. The public readily forget the sheer magnitude of the consequences of even a few degrees rise in global temperatures. 

Debate Ends - Reality Starts

Climate denialist mythology has no basis in fact, but it is used to continually smear the science and the scientists.  Fake skeptics are prepared to say anything to defend their untenable position when compared to what the science shows are the facts behind the changing global climate.

For three decades, aided and abetted by the mass media, political and economic interests and ideologies have overridden the established science. But what’s becoming ever-more certain is; in a further three decades time we will not be debating climate change – we will be in the middle of it.

Posted by Brian Purdue on Thursday, 12 January, 2012

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