Last month, there were some documents leaked from the Heartland Institute which detailed plans to undermine the teaching of Global Warming in the nation’s public schools. The Heartland Institute is a well-funded nonprofit whose mission is “to discover, develop and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” Among other initiatives, Heartland is well known for partnering with Philip Morris in the 1990s to attempt to cast doubt upon scientific findings on the effects of secondhand smoke.
Most people are familiar with the term “Global Warming Conspiracy” purporting that the notion of human activity or greenhouse gas emissions having an effect on the climate is a hoax. In reality, the Heartland case is just one example of the fact that the most profitable industry in the world is doing its best to protect its revenue steam. Some might call that a “conspiracy.”
I know many of you disagree, but if you consider yourself to have an open mind, please read on.
Consider the following FACTS:
- There is no debate that the climate is warming, regardless of the causes; average global temperatures for EACH of the past five decades (the longest period of comprehensive, accurate data) have been the hottest on record.
- According to all published polls of more than 1,000 scientists or climatologists, the percentage who agree that human activity is a contributing factor to warming falls between 82 percent and 98 percent depending on the survey, with the lower end including experts who are employed or otherwise funded by the fossil fuel industry. These statistics were culled from numerous sources, but a good summary may be found on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_controversy.
- There is also virtually no debate amongst scientists of what horrific changes will occur on our planet if the climate continues to warm, regardless of the causes.
- The future profitability of the fossil fuel industry is highly dependent on their ability to extract the remaining trillions of dollars worth of carbon-based fuels from the Earth, and consumers’ willingness to purchase and burn them.
Therefore, if you are one of the approximately 40% of Americans who believe that human activity or greenhouse gas production do not have an effect on the climate, by definition you have a contrarian viewpoint. As with any contrarian viewpoint, if you want to sound intelligent, you have to clearly articulate some good reasons. Here are a few reasons I often hear which are not valid:
- “The climate is always changing, there have been warm spells, ice ages etc. It’s all just part of the natural cycle.” REALITY: That is indeed true, but the vast majority of scientists agree that increases in greenhouses gasses, primarily CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels, also have a significant impact. One thing is certain: human activity is the only factor we can control.
- “What about 'Climategate,' the 2009 discovery of scientists’ emails detailing how they manipulated climate data and actively suppressed their critics?” REALITY: Despite all of the press by Fox news among others, eight committees investigated the allegations and published reports, and found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct.
- “I read an article in a major newspaper that made a strong case against global warming.” REALITY: Climate science is very complicated, with discoveries ongoing. Per fact (2) there is a small percentage of experts who have a contrarian viewpoint, and of course they publish their findings and opinions along with the majority. Also consider the power of the fossil fuel lobby, and that changes necessary to address global warming would cause some short-term pain. Therefore as with all complicated issues, in order to have a balanced view one must consider numerous sources of information, and understand the potential bias of that information. Wikipedia is once again a great source for a summary of the “denial campaign:” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Climate_change_denial
- “Al Gore is a hypocrite living in a big house.” REALITY: What you think of Al Gore has absolutely nothing to do with the science. Regarding his 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth: The information presented has been challenged not only by scientists but also in the High Court of England and Wales which concluded “the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate” and allowed the film to be used in the public school’s curriculum.
- “It’s been a cold winter - so much for global warming!” I haven’t heard that one this year, but regardless…REALITY: Climate101: weather and climate are two different things, loosely related. Climate for the purpose of climate change discussion refers to average global temperatures over long periods of time, while weather is the local micro. Refer to fact (1). A statement such as this instantly proves the speaker has no understanding of climate science.
- “I believe science/technology or a higher power will solve this problem.” REALITY: I hope that’s true too, but I’m not going to hang my hat on it. In my opinion, science/technology will find an ultimate resolution, but it may not come soon enough. In the meantime, WE can extend the window for resolution by embracing alternative energy and conservation, as well as education on environmental responsibility.
There are a lot of bad reasons why a significantly smaller percentage of Americans believe in human contribution to global warming, as compared to the percentage of scientists. One of those reasons is the fossil fuel lobby in collaboration with groups such as Heartland. They are serving some tasty Kool Aid…are you drinking it?
In my next column I will address what YOU can do about it. I look forward to your comments.
“The greatest threat to our planet is the belief that someone else will save it.”