The denial industry

Last week, Newsweek ran a cover story on the global warming denial industry, which, astonishingly enough, began with the premise that overwhelming scientific consensus on the issue is not subject to false “balance”.

Sen. Barbara Boxer had been chair of the Senate’s Environment Committee for less than a month when the verdict landed last February. “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” concluded a report by 600 scientists from governments, academia, green groups and businesses in 40 countries. Worse, there was now at least a 90 percent likelihood that the release of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels is causing longer droughts, more flood-causing downpours and worse heat waves, way up from earlier studies. Those who doubt the reality of human-caused climate change have spent decades disputing that. But Boxer figured that with “the overwhelming science out there, the deniers’ days were numbered.” As she left a meeting with the head of the international climate panel, however, a staffer had some news for her. A conservative think tank long funded by ExxonMobil, she told Boxer, had offered scientists $10,000 to write articles undercutting the new report and the computer-based climate models it is based on. “I realized,” says Boxer, “there was a movement behind this that just wasn’t giving up.”

(Last week’s most recent example was the glitch in some NASA data, a “gotcha” moment for the glib mouthpieces of denial, to which there was, predictably, less than meets the eye.)

It’s really just a matter of motive. If we ever get serious about addressing greenhouse emissions, it will cut into the profits of various industries, in some cases substantially. Hence, industry has a clear, straightforward motive to argue that global warming is not much of a problem. But — and this is the problem for the naysayers — those who acknowledge the reality of global warming would seem only to be motivated by (a) science and (b) concern for the future of the planet. Hard to demonize that, which is why you’ll constantly hear various talk-radio blowhards ascribing somewhat vaguer, and less plausible motives to the rationalists, i.e., they just want power. Glenn Beck, for instance, compares Al Gore to Adolf Hitler. Occam’s razor should slice through such nonsense like a knife through butter that’s been left out on the table in the middle of another record heat wave. But the well-funded denial industry continues to approach the debate like O.J. Simpson theatrically struggling to pull on an allegedly tight glove in front of a gullible jury, and too many people seem incapable of asking the most basic question: who has the most reason to lie?