Subject: Corporations versus Climate Science
“Scientists had some sobering news last week about the potential impact of climate change, and it didn’t come from the foot of a shrinking glacier in Alaska or the shores of a tropical resort where the rising ocean is threatening the beachfront bar” No, it came from a forest in North Carolina, where Duke University scientists were discovering some consequences of the increasing C02 in our atmosphere and resultant warming. Poison ivy grows faster and becomes more poisonous with more C02. Ragweed and certain pine trees produce more pollen, and asthma. Japanese beetles live longer. Fire ants and ticks are increasing with warming.
Well, it’s good to be warned, you might say. But these warnings were published in 2006. That is, by 2006 scientists knew that anthropogenic C02 and warming were increasing and were already studying their effects. Prior to 2006 three reports had been published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) offering massive evidence of C02 increasing and the atmosphere warming with manifold negative consequences. Then in 2007 the summative, magisterial 4th IPCC Report was published. And since then hundreds of additional scientific studies and book after book have been published reaffirming the IPCC Reports. For example, to cite some of the books published in 2010 alone: Bill McKibben,. Eaarth: Making Life on a Tough New Planet; Collectif Argos, Climate Refugees; Michael Klare, Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy; Peter D. Ward, The Flooded Earth: Our Future In a World Without Ice Caps.
The big question then is: why do so many people behave as though no change has occurred and they do not have to change their habits? Yes, psychologists cite our blinding ability to look the other way; our tenacious tendency to cling to familiar ways; our deluding compartmentalizing, and all of the familiar games we play with ourselves to avoid bad news. And yes, we resist change even though we know our grandchildren will not admire us a decade from now.
But there is one explanation for our clutching the life-preserver of denial and inaction as we sink, and that is the deliberate, systematic, extraordinarily well-financed disinformation disseminated by corporations to ensure business profit as usual.
In Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes & Erik Conway present the definitive history of corporate use of a few bought scientists to obfuscate and delay urgently needed change. Oil company officials particularly have sowed confusion because they wished to undermine public confidence in scientific studies that would impede their profits and expose their own misbehavior. Take as one example our knowledge of the steady retreat of Arctic sea ice, the melting of Greenland’s massive ice sheets, and the spectacular breakup in 2002 of the Larsen B Ice Shelf in Antarctica, all found in IPCC reports. Well, in 2007, just as the new IPCC report was being released, one of the front groups financed by ExxonMobil offered $10,000 for each pseudo-study disputing the findings of the scientific community about ice and all other evidence of warming. This strategy typifies long practice by the largest polluters to derail the truth.
The result is melting ice, rising, acidic seas, weather extremes, droughts, and forest fires.
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Fountain, Henry. “Climate Change: The View from the Patio.” NYT (Sunday June 4, 2006).
Gore, Al. The Assault on Reason. Penguin, 2007. Chapter 7, “The Carbon Crisis.”
Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway. Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. 2010.
Specter, Michael. Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives. Penguin, 2009.
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