The recent report from the United Nations’ Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change is based on the work of the world’s leading environmental scientists. At minimum, 800 climate experts participated in the research leading to the panel’s grim forecast.
I’m trusting readers of conservative persuasion won’t be automatically dissuaded by the words “United Nations” this time and be willing to focus first on “world’s leading environmental scientists” and “800 climate experts” because this is too important for political distractions.
Time magazine summarized the findings on the impact of rising greenhouse gas emissions in five short assessments:
1. We’re already feeling the effects in altered migration patterns, species extinctions, reduced corn and wheat yields, and rising sea levels from increased rate of glacial ice melt and loss of Arctic sea ice.
2. Risk of violence will increase as people vie for dwindling resources, and such increased violence will distract from dealing with increased warming.
3. Global economic output will drop, likely by as much as 2 percent a year as temperatures rise by at least 3.6 degrees Farenheit.
4. The impact on the poor will be greatest as developing countries will suffer most as climate change worsens poverty, resulting in malnutrition, waterborne disease, death — and mass migrations.
5. We can reduce the damage, but how the world responds will ultimately determine just how bad things get.
Even this newest and most alarming report will send the deniers to the Internet for ammunition to refute it, and we’ll likely see a letter or two in the Forum. Ninety-eight percent of the world’s climate scientists have warned for decades that human-caused climate change is the most challenging threat facing the human race. Yet, we’re pretty cavalier about it, and politicians at state and federal levels, instead of leading, are dismissive — the conservative ones anyway.
With 98 percent of the world’s experts in agreement, it’s settled science, yet it’s debated on the airwaves and in print as though it’s not. Why?
Ponder this quote from a 1969 memo: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the minds of the general public.”
It was from a tobacco company executive whose industry had known for years the scientifically proven dangers of smoking. Yet, by contriving to fight scientific fact by merchandising doubt, they were able to delay Federal Drug Administration regulation of tobacco as an addicting drug until 2009.
R.J. Reynolds, for one, wooed respected scientists to provide credibility. Chief among them at the time was Frederick Seitz, a renowned physicist. Others were Fred Singer, Robert Jastrow and Bill Nieremberg, also physicists, and all disgruntled because America hadn’t endorsed Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense “Star Wars” Initiative and had rejected their position that we could indeed “win” a nuclear war. Note, please, that none had expertise in biology or medicine or any other scientific discipline.
Merchandising doubt proved to be remarkably effective. What genius to use as a weapon against science the very characteristic that keeps scientific research fresh on the way to discovery: creative doubt. It was unscrupulous, and in the end honest science wins, but it works and it pays.
The effectiveness of the scheme didn’t go unnoticed and their “expertise” was again called upon to create doubt about acid rain, resulting in costly delays in the protection of our forests, which science had declared essential. Only after fierce battle by “science” against science, funded by chemical manufacturers, were chlorofluorocarbons banned to address ozone depletion. Issues differed but involved the same people, strategies and intentions. They’re at it again with climate change.
The media, unfortunately, made it work. TV/radio news networks abetted the fraud, providing forum for debate on issues already settled and past debate. Newspapers/news magazines, too, provided editorial space because, only because, the contributors had been respected physicists. They never, apparently, questioned that they were no longer practicing scientists. The never, apparently, questioned that their arguments hadn’t been subjected to the test of peer review, a basic scientific procedure.
Never, apparently, considering that these were not experts on the diverse issues to which they turned their attention in their retirement years. Never, apparently, were motives challenged.
That’s changing. Major newspapers, including The L.A. Times, and TV news organizations, including MSNBC, no longer provide a forum for climate change denial.
I highly recommend the book, “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming,” by Oreskes and Conway. It may be one of the most important and impeccably researched books around these days.
Both U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe refer to climate change as unsettled science, parroting the position of most political conservatives. Such people in such positions saying such things simply must stop.
Demonizing science to serve short-term profit or political interests is too dangerous a game.
Jennie Young of Elizabethton is a
retired language arts teacher.