18 March 2010

Countering Denier-ese? Read Hoggan's Climate Cover-Up

I laughed out loud when I read a comment at Real Climate.org the other day. Steve315 said:
Maybe this is a bit rude, and I'd be the first to admit that I don't know a whole lot about the science, but comment #1 looks sorta nutty to me.  
As in, "Just blather something about peak oil and scenarios and things and yada yada yada and maybe someone will believe it." That's sort of the problem, I think. Amateurs like myself have a hard time distinguishing legitimate science and sciency-sounding words and things.
[F]or those looking to confirm their ignorance and their prejudices that the whole thing is rubbish, then they can look at our first comment and say, "Hell yeah! The peak oil and the thing and the whatever! (burp)"
And I think he's exactly right. The Denial Machine is well oiled — and well heeled. They have spent a lot of money to know exactly what sorts of things to say and how to say them in order to confuse insert-percentage-of-people-here insert-percentage-of-time-here. (You know, focus groups and psychologists and stuff like that.)

James Hoggan's Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming is the antidote. It reads like a mystery novel; I couldn't put it down! I have followed the denial machine fairly well (as a non-scientist trying to understand this issue, I've had to also understand the "tricks" — oops, apparently that's a very bad word these days — of the deniers), but Hoggan's research has got to the bottom of many, many things.

Such as why most of the climate scientists are so quiet about the climate change emergency. Turns out that the deniers have a nasty little habit of lawsuits, both threatening them and going through with them.

My husband, who as you know does have a science background and who does understand the issue, spends 8 to 18 hours every day synthesizing the climate change research. So he actually read the 1000 or so hacked emails of Hackergate, and what he discovered is that the deniers have been extremely nasty to the scientists, with threats and attacks on their character and a constant stream of challenges, which, because the scientists are employed by public institutions, they must respond to. In other words, not only have the professional and amateur deniers caused humanity to lose 15 to almost 20 years of valuable response time, but they've also been wasting the valuable time of climate scientists.

Hoggan is a public relations professional, and he has pegged the tactics, strategies and yes, tricks of these paid deniers — and managed to write about them, with co-author Richard Littlemore, in an eloquent fashion.

Here's someone else who shows us the deniers' tactics through parody. Sussex will be desert before the climate deniers accept reality, by Mark Steel, in The Independent (UK), 16 December 2009:    
It must drive you mad being a climatologist. You spend your life measuring carbon emissions, and monitoring glaciers and studying lumps of moss from Siberia, and then you hear someone on a radio phone-in yelling, "How can they say the world's getting hotter? I mean at night, it's colder than what it was in the day, so it's got colder, not hotter. They must think we're mugs."
Then a series of articles will appear in which it's claimed: "A new study by Professor Zbygnewsk of Cracow proves sea levels have gone back down so everything's fine", before it turns out he's a Professor of Latin dancing, and has a history of solvent abuse.
Or there'll be letters in the Daily Telegraph that go "Dear Sir: May I recall the carefree days when one would enjoy the sport of sailing to Greenland to melt icebergs with a blowtorch. Alas, these days I fear this too would be frowned upon by the climate change fascists. One dreads to think what these paragons of political correctness will try to ban next."
Or, rather than waste time fooling about with analysis, the scientists could read the front page of yesterday's Daily Express, that declared "100 reasons why global warming is natural. No proof that human activity is to blame." And there inside were the reasons, as outlined by Jim McConalogue of the "European Foundation". Number one was, "There is no scientific proof." So the retort to all the studies from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, NASA, the Royal Society, all 928 papers on the matter in the journal Science and every major scientific institution, is: "Yeah, but there's no proof."
You'd expect number two to be: "Because it's all, like, made up and stuff." Then number three would be, "Dur, whatever", and number four, "I've already TOLD you in number ONE." Instead there's number 30: "Global warming is the argument of flat-earthers." How is that relevant, I wonder. Maybe number 42 was: "My brother-in-law says it's getting warmer and you don't want to trust him."
I gave up at around 40 so maybe the rest was genius, but more likely it went on: "58. It's claimed global warming is making some species die out, but there's still loads of rabbits."
The issue that's boosted the disbelievers is the discovery of messages, sent to scientists, encouraging them to tweak their statistics in favour of proving climate change. Which was unhelpful and crazy, but doesn't disprove the sackfuls of evidence that climate change is carbon-related, any more than it would disprove the existence of gravity if it was discovered Isaac Newton had shouted: "We want to prove this theory beyond all doubt so chuck the apple as hard as you can."  
But also, the people who insist this incident proves all the evidence is unreliable, are similar to creationists who pick up on flaws in the detail of Darwin's theories, without necessarily applying equal rigour to their theory, that light was created before the Sun, and Eve didn't notice she was naked until she was persuaded to eat an apple by a talking snake. Because many prominent climate change sceptics seem by coincidence to be in the pay of the energy industry.
So the Heartlands Institute received $676,000 from Exxon Oil, to discredit the idea of climate change. Patrick Michaels, often presented as an expert who disputes the link between carbon emissions and climate change, has received over $100,000 from energy companies to put their case.
So when they inform us they've discovered there's no proof of climate change, and the planet's just going through its natural cycle, it's as meaningless as if a spokesman for Fairy Liquid was introduced by Patrick Moore on The Sky at Night, and said: "The orbit of Neptune seems to confirm that a bottle of Fairy Liquid washes up to 40 per cent more dishes than any other brand."
[I think those of us not living in the UK might miss something in that last paragraph.]
They're not all paid by Exxon. The genius with his 100 top global-warming denying tips seems to be doing it for free. But he is a member of Conservative Right, and that's the clue for the other motive of these people. For them, climate change threatens the free market. How can oil companies make their maximum profits if they have to worry about making the planet fizz into oblivion? It can't be true because it mustn't be true.
So no matter how much evidence there is they'll carry on disputing it. Sussex will be desert and Guernsey will disappear, and they'll tell us: "If sea levels are rising the obvious answer is to build roads over them. After all, it's not the roads that are rising is it?"
"It can't be true because it mustn't be true." That says it all, doesn't it? That explains deniers and their denial. "It can't be true because it mustn't be true." It takes a courageous person to accept that something is true when they don't want it to be.

You can purchase Hoggan and Littlemore's book online or at your local bookstore. Encourage your library to get a copy. We should all be reading it. And learning how to interpret — and respond to — Denier-ese.

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I would appreciate hearing your thoughts or questions on this post or anything else you've read here. What is your take on courage and compassion being an important part of the solution to the climate change emergency?