Newsweek Exposes Tactics of Global Warming Deniers

The upcoming issue of Newsweek exposes global warming deniers, comparing their tactics to question established science to those of the tobacco industry which denied the adverse effects of smoking:

Since the late 1980s, this well-coordinated, well-funded campaign by contrarian scientists, free-market think tanks and industry has created a paralyzing fog of doubt around climate change. Through advertisements, op-eds, lobbying and media attention, greenhouse doubters (they hate being called deniers) argued first that the world is not warming; measurements indicating otherwise are flawed, they said. Then they claimed that any warming is natural, not caused by human activities. Now they contend that the looming warming will be minuscule and harmless. “They patterned what they did after the tobacco industry,” says former senator Tim Wirth, who spearheaded environmental issues as an under secretary of State in the Clinton administration. “Both figured, sow enough doubt, call the science uncertain and in dispute. That’s had a huge impact on both the public and Congress.”

Just last year, polls found that 64 percent of Americans thought there was “a lot” of scientific disagreement on climate change; only one third thought planetary warming was “mainly caused by things people do.” In contrast, majorities in Europe and Japan recognize a broad consensus among climate experts that greenhouse gases—mostly from the burning of coal, oil and natural gas to power the world’s economies—are altering climate. A new NEWSWEEK Poll finds that the influence of the denial machine remains strong. Although the figure is less than in earlier polls, 39 percent of those asked say there is “a lot of disagreement among climate scientists” on the basic question of whether the planet is warming; 42 percent say there is a lot of disagreement that human activities are a major cause of global warming. Only 46 percent say the greenhouse effect is being felt today.

As a result of the undermining of the science, all the recent talk about addressing climate change has produced little in the way of actual action. . . every time the scientific case got stronger, “the American public yawned and bought bigger cars,” Rep. Rush Holt, a New Jersey congressman and physicist, recently wrote in the journal Science; politicians “shrugged, said there is too much doubt among scientists, and did nothing.”

Much more detail is provided in this lengthy article. After Kyoto, the “denial machine” increased their efforts to fight the emerging scientific consensus:

Faced with this emerging consensus, the denial machine hardly blinked. There is too much “scientific uncertainty” to justify curbs on greenhouse emissions, William O’Keefe, then a vice president of the American Petroleum Institute and leader of the Global Climate Coalition, suggested in 1996. Virginia’s Michaels echoed that idea in a 1997 op-ed in The Washington Post, describing “a growing contingent of scientists who are increasingly unhappy with the glib forecasts of gloom and doom.” To reinforce the appearance of uncertainty and disagreement, the denial machine churned out white papers and “studies” (not empirical research, but critiques of others’ work). The Marshall Institute, for instance, issued reports by a Harvard University astrophysicist it supported pointing to satellite data showing “no significant warming” of the atmosphere, contrary to the surface warming. The predicted warming, she wrote, “simply isn’t happening according to the satellite[s].” At the time, there was a legitimate case that satellites were more accurate than ground stations, which might be skewed by the unusual warmth of cities where many are sited.

“There was an extraordinary campaign by the denial machine to find and hire scientists to sow dissent and make it appear that the research community was deeply divided,” says Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. Those recruits blitzed the media. Driven by notions of fairness and objectivity, the press “qualified every mention of human influence on climate change with ‘some scientists believe,’ where the reality is that the vast preponderance of scientific opinion accepts that human-caused [greenhouse] emissions are contributing to warming,” says Reilly, the former EPA chief. “The pursuit of balance has not done justice” to the science. Talk radio goes further, with Rush Limbaugh telling listeners this year that “more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is not likely to significantly contribute to the greenhouse effect. It’s just all part of the hoax.” In the new NEWSWEEK Poll, 42 percent said the press “exaggerates the threat of climate change.”

Now naysayers tried a new tactic: lists and petitions meant to portray science as hopelessly divided. Just before Kyoto, S. Fred Singer released the “Leipzig Declaration on Global Climate Change.” Singer, who fled Nazi-occupied Austria as a boy, had run the U.S. weather-satellite program in the early 1960s. In the Leipzig petition, just over 100 scientists and others, including TV weathermen, said they “cannot subscribe to the politically inspired world view that envisages climate catastrophes.” Unfortunately, few of the Leipzig signers actually did climate research; they just kibitzed about other people’s. Scientific truth is not decided by majority vote, of course (ask Galileo), but the number of researchers whose empirical studies find that the world is warming and that human activity is partly responsible numbered in the thousands even then. The IPCC report issued this year, for instance, was written by more than 800 climate researchers and vetted by 2,500 scientists from 130 nations.

The election of George Bush, accompanied by a sympathetic Republican Congress, made things much easier for denalists:

Every effort to pass climate legislation during the George W. Bush years was stopped in its tracks. When Senators McCain and Joe Lieberman were fishing for votes for their bipartisan effort in 2003, a staff member for Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska explained to her counterpart in Lieberman’s office that Stevens “is aware there is warming in Alaska, but he’s not sure how much it’s caused by human activity or natural cycles,” recalls Tim Profeta, now director of an environmental-policy institute at Duke University. “I was hearing the basic argument of the skeptics—a brilliant strategy to go after the science. And it was working.” Stevens voted against the bill, which failed 43-55. When the bill came up again the next year, “we were contacted by a lot of lobbyists from API and Exxon-Mobil,” says Mark Helmke, the climate aide to GOP Sen. Richard Lugar. “They’d bring up how the science wasn’t certain, how there were a lot of skeptics out there.” It went down to defeat again.

Killing bills in Congress was only one prong of the denial machine’s campaign. It also had to keep public opinion from demanding action on greenhouse emissions, and that meant careful management of what federal scientists and officials wrote and said. “If they presented the science honestly, it would have brought public pressure for action,” says Rick Piltz, who joined the federal Climate Science Program in 1995. By appointing former coal and oil lobbyists to key jobs overseeing climate policy, he found, the administration made sure that didn’t happen. Following the playbook laid out at the 1998 meeting at the American Petroleum Institute, officials made sure that every report and speech cast climate science as dodgy, uncertain, controversial—and therefore no basis for making policy. Ex-oil lobbyist Philip Cooney, working for the White House Council on Environmental Quality, edited a 2002 report on climate science by sprinkling it with phrases such as “lack of understanding” and “considerable uncertainty.” A short section on climate in another report was cut entirely. The White House “directed us to remove all mentions of it,” says Piltz, who resigned in protest. An oil lobbyist faxed Cooney, “You are doing a great job.”

The response to the international climate panel’s latest report, in February, showed that greenhouse doubters have a lot of fight left in them. In addition to offering $10,000 to scientists willing to attack the report, which so angered Boxer, they are emphasizing a new theme. Even if the world is warming now, and even if that warming is due in part to the greenhouse gases emitted by burning fossil fuels, there’s nothing to worry about. As Lindzen wrote in a guest editorial in NEWSWEEK International in April, “There is no compelling evidence that the warming trend we’ve seen will amount to anything close to catastrophe.”

To some extent, greenhouse denial is now running on automatic pilot. “Some members of Congress have completely internalized this,” says Pew’s Roy, and therefore need no coaching from the think tanks and contrarian scientists who for 20 years kept them stoked with arguments. At a hearing last month on the Kyoto treaty, GOP Congressman Dana Rohrabacher asked whether “changes in the Earth’s temperature in the past—all of these glaciers moving back and forth—and the changes that we see now” might be “a natural occurrence.” (Hundreds of studies have ruled that out.) “I think it’s a bit grandiose for us to believe … that [human activities are] going to change some major climate cycle that’s going on.” Inhofe has told allies he will filibuster any climate bill that mandates greenhouse cuts.

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  1. 1
    daveinboca says:

    I see Newsweak’s psychosis proceeds finds an echo here in La-la-land. The lack of evidence that GW is caused by humans is overwhelming, psycho, and no pseudo-scientific fakery you dig up will change that.

    Just came over from a TalkLeft site that claims that Gore won in 2000 & we are all experiencing an illusion since then. Mass Psychosis on the left just keeps on & the MSM has a hard time keeping up with the delusions & hallucinations over there in the fever swamps.

    The NYT took a poll last week and when it came out “counterintuitive” the commissars decided to take another poll, which repeated the first. The stymied Politburo at the NYT decided that they would actually publish the results of the second poll. Fancy that!

    Newsweak presents a total package of delirious nonsense about AGW, and no number of so-called “scientists” fighting for big money from totalitarian-wannabes will change the science. They want to tax the air we breathe, liberal doctrine stripped to the bone.

    Read Richard Feynman in “Cargo Cult Science” to see a Nobel laureate who foresaw frauds and imposters like y’all.

  2. 2
    Ron Chusid says:


    If the evidence against human causes of global warming is “overwhelming” why does virtually every single scientist in the field agree? The psychosis and pseudo-science comes from conservatives who reject the science with absolutely no evidence.

    If Richard Feynman was around it is the anti-science of the right which he would be mocking as frauds and imposters.

    I didn’t see anything at TalkLeft about Gore on quick glance there. Obviously Bush won. However post-election reviews by the newspaper consortium showed that if there was a state wide recount, or if the overvotes had been properly counted, Gore would have won Florida. No wonder the Republicans were so desperate to block a recount. While there was no possible legal remedy, the problems with the butterfly ballots also demonstrated that a majority intented to vote for Gore even if they completed their ballot incorrectly. Not that this means much with George Bush having actually been president since 2001.

    By the way, don’t you have anything better to do with your time than to go from site to site repeating the same right wing talking points which lack any substance or evidence? So you post your talking points, and then they are disputed on blog after blog. That hardly seems to be a very good use of time.

  3. 3
    Tarun K Juyal says:

    I am a regular reader of your article. And I am very impress with your blog upon Global Warming. Now I am also write a blog upon effects and causes of Global Warming. This blog is collection of news & reviews like the study found that global warming since 1985 has been caused neither by an increase in solar radiation nor by a decrease in the flux of galactic cosmic rays. Some researchers had also suggested that the latter might influence global warming because the rays trigger cloud formation.

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