Facts are facts.
Cigarettes cause lung cancer. Coal-fired power plants cause acid rain. Fossil fuel emissions cause global warming.
There's scientific consensus on the causes of lung cancer, acid rain, and global warming. Unfortunately, there also has been, and still is, a systematic effort to spread lies about these serious problems.
Merchants of Doubt might be one of the most important books of the year. Exhaustively researched and documented, it explains how over the past several decades mercenary scientists have partnered with tobacco companies and chemical corporations to help them convince the public that their products are safe – even when solid science proves otherwise.
These businesses had a goal: to sell cigarettes and chemicals such as DDT. These businesses had a problem: scientists said their products were bad for people. These businesses found a solution: hire scientists to step outside the objective, peer-reviewed scientific academies and spread junk science and misinformation, manufacturing and selling doubt.
...Today, a number of scientists have figured out how to sell doubt in the public consciousness and make money and a reputation in doing so. “Merchants of Doubt” shows how many of these same scientists are still working today on the Grand Poobah of science issues: global warming.
Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tell the story of a number of scientists and organizations that they say have established themselves in this practice, but three in particular steal the show – er, charade: Bill Nierenberg, Fred Seitz, and Fred Singer. Oreskes and Conway contend that each of these scientists developed extensive political networks they then used to begin some of the greatest misinformation campaigns in American scientific history.
Today I listened to a podcast interview of Oreskes on Point of Inquiry. It was simultaneously fascinating and disturbing.
I learned that fear drives many global warming deniers. It's the same fear that impelled Cold War warriors to see Communism as a much bigger threat than it really was, and to trample civil liberties in their efforts to root out nasty Reds who supposedly were undermining the United States from within.
Amazingly, Oreskes said that rabid anti-science "merchants of doubt" still believe in the Watermelon Theory of modern environmentalists: green without, red within.
Corporate greed of fossil fuel companies is one driver of global warming lies. An irrational fear of government intrusion into people's lives is another driver. If human-caused global warming is a serious problem -- and science tells us that it IS -- then something needs to be done about it.
Oreskes said that even though pollution trading mechanisms based on the free market worked with acid rain, and carbon trading would work equally well with global warming, fear of big government leads global warming deniers to spread lies, apparently figuring that their supposedly virtuous libertarian ends justify sleazy untruthful means.
The good news is that the American public is seeing through the lies: 75 percent of Americans favor regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant; 60 percent support a revenue-neutral carbon tax.
A new national survey confirms strong public support for funding renewable energy research, regulating carbon pollution, and signing a global treaty to slash emissions. The study, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication, found a remarkable 75% of Americans support “regulating carbon dioxide (the primary greenhouse gas) as a pollutant.”
The survey’s results are counter to widely held assumptions among the media and politicians, but consistent with recent polling. The poll found:
- 63 percent of Americans support “signing an international treaty that requires the United States to cut its emissions of carbon dioxide 90 percent by the year 2050“!
- By a margin of 3 to 1 — 61 percent to 20 percent — Americans say they would be more likely to vote for a political candidate who supports a “revenue neutral” tax shift, increasing taxes on fossil fuels, and reducing the federal income tax by an equal amount.
- 61 percent said they support holding the fossil fuel industry responsible for “hidden costs we pay for citizens who get sick from polluted air and water, military costs to maintain access to foreign oil, and the environmental costs of spills and accidents.”
- By 3 to 1 — 58 percent to 17 percent — Americans say “protecting the environment … improves economic growth and provides new jobs” vs those who say it “reduces economic growth and costs jobs.”
- Asked “When there is a conflict between environmental protection and economic growth, which do you think is more important?” an amazing 62 percent supported “protecting the environment, even if it reduces economic growth” vs. 38 percent who backed “Economic growth, even if it leads to environmental problems.”
More good news: Obama reportedly is going to make climate change a presidential campaign issue. Given that a clear majority of Americans want this country to take strong action to combat human-caused global warming, that's a smart political move.
Part of the challenge over these past three years has been that people’s number-one priority is finding a job and paying the mortgage and dealing with high gas prices. In that environment, it’s been easy for the other side to pour millions of dollars into a campaign to debunk climate-change science.
I suspect that over the next six months, this is going to be a debate that will become part of the campaign, and I will be very clear in voicing my belief that we’re going to have to take further steps to deal with climate change in a serious way.
That there’s a way to do it that is entirely compatible with strong economic growth and job creation – that taking steps, for example, to retrofit buildings all across America with existing technologies will reduce our power usage by 15 or 20 percent. That’s an achievable goal, and we should be getting started now.