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This is part of my LIS 101 lecture series.  I will teach the information/media literacy component of a 12-hour superclass on global warming.  I will teach research skills and  provide cultural, scientific, historical, and political background in order to help college freshmen understand our current course of inaction.  If you are interested, please look at the other diaries in this series.  

By and large the comments and suggestions of Kossaks much smarter than I have been extremely informative and helpful.  I thank you on behalf of my students.  Please keep the suggestions coming!

A Brief Look at Typical Arguments Against Anthropogenic Global Warming

According to Dunlap and McCright’s Challenging Global Warming as a Social Problem: An Analysis of the Conservative Movement's Counter-Claims the conservative movement and its think tanks play a large role in "denying the reality and significance of anthropogenic global warming.”  Shortly after James Hansen’s 1988 testimony to Congress that the science was fairly certain and that we needed to start taking action to prevent the worst effects of manmade climate change, the campaign to undermine the science began.  The denial machine is a sophisticated, pro-business, politically active, and well-funded network of thinktanks, lobbyists,  editorialists, and bloggers.  We’ll talk more later in the semester about how they are connected and how they get their message out.  But for now we are going to talk about the specific kinds of arguments that they make.  

The first time we really started hearing about global warming on the news or in mainstream publications was in 1989.  I was about to graduate from highschool.  The reason it made its way into the mainstream was because a NASA scientist named James Hansen had appeared before Congress to tell them about global warming.  Specifically, that the evidence was quite convincing that humanity was driving it via its means of energy production and industry.  There was an explosion of coverage about the idea between 89 and 90, and the coverage by and large sought the opinions and judgments of practicing scientists.  As time went on, global warming dropped out of the popular press for the most part, but when it DID appear, there was an increased likelihood that the coverage would not be focused on scientists but on politicians, economists, or think tank spokespeople.  According to the Dunlap and McCright:

As the proponents of global warming theory eventually lost media dominance, the "skeptics" and politicians critical of the scientific evidence gained more visibility in the media (Lichter and Lichter 1992, p. 3; McComas and Shanahan 1999, p. 48; Wilkins 1993, p. 78). The prevalence of the "dueling scientists scenario," the tendency of most science-related news articles to cite scientists with opposing views, probably contributed to this shift in news coverage of global warming. Many researchers assert that the rising skepticism also reflected the entry of political sources, especially members of the Bush administration, into the media debate (Lichter and Lichter, p. 3; McComas and Shanahan, p. 51; Nissani 1999, p. 36; Trumbo 1995, p. 26; Ungar 1992, p. 494). Media attention eventually began to decrease after 1990 to levels lower than the peak coverage in 1989, but higher than the level prior to 1988 (Ungar, p. 493; Williams and Frey 1997, p. 298).
So what were these non-scientists and skeptical scientists saying?  This handy chart taken from the McCright and Dunlap article summarizes the core arguments that climate change skeptics make:

The evidentiary basis of global warming is weak and even wrong.
The scientific evidence for global warming is highly uncertain.
Mainstream climate research is "junk" science.
The IPCC intentionally altered its reports to create a "scientific consensus" on global warming.
Global warming is merely a myth or scare tactic produced and perpetuated by environmentalists and bureaucrats.
Global warming is merely a political tool of the Clinton Administration.

Global warming would be beneficial if it were to occur.
Global warming would improve our quality of life.
Global warming would improve our health.
Global warming would improve our agriculture.

Global warming policies would do more harm than good.
Proposed action would harm the national economy.
Proposed action would weaken national security
Proposed action would threaten national sovereignty
Proposed action would actually harm the environment.  

Science writer Christie Aschwanden further noted what climate scientist Sean Carroll called the “denialist playbook.”  Carroll pointed out that the arguments against global warming mostly follow the same basic pattern:

1.  Doubt the Science
(i.e.: It is warming on Mars too!)

2.  Question the scientists’ motives and interests
(ie: Those scientists have to say that global warming is happening so they can keep getting grant money!)

3.  Magnify legitimate, normal disagreements among scientists and cite gadflies as authorities.  
(i.e.:  Publishing leaked drafts passed between scientists before a final report is peer-reviewed and published, and making claims based on unfinished work.  See also, using S. Fred Singer as a source.)

4. Exaggerate potential harms.
(i.e.:  If these scientists have their way, we will all be living in caves again!)

5.  Appeal to personal freedom.
(i.e.:  Who is the government to tell me what kind of light bulbs to use? OR We’re Americans! We don’t do things because the UN tells us to!)

6.  Show that accepting the science would represent the repudiation of a key philosophy.
(These scientists just want a government nanny state that tells us what to do.)

It is interesting to note how closely this playbook adheres to the blueprints provided by various think tanks, lobbyists, and political strategists.  According to Rick Piltz’s The Denial Machine, in which he discusses the 1st Bush administration’s propensity to listen to political advisers and lobbyists before scientists:

In so doing, the administration became part of what I later termed the
global warming denial machine. Outside of government, political operatives working for policy groups and 'think tanks', funded by corporate sponsors, most notably ExxonMobil, the largest US oil company, sought to undermine the essential conclusions reached by the leading climate scientists. Making use of a small number of 'contrarian' scientists whose views they found convenient, they succeeded in elevating their views in the political arena, in the media, and with public opinion, far out of proportion to their standing in the science community.
Piltz later outlines one of the specific planks of global warming denialism and its origin:
In 1998, a 'Global Climate Science Communication Action Plan' developed at the American Petroleum Institute (the leading trade association and lobbying arm of the US oil industry) by industry representatives and political operatives with advocacy groups, laid out a media relations campaign in which contrarian scientists would be recruited, trained, and deployed to promote an air of scientific uncertainty about global warming. 'Victory will be achieved when average citizens "understand" (recognise) uncertainties in climate science,' the plan concluded. Thus, a method pioneered decades earlier by the tobacco industry was to be applied to fighting the battle against climate change regulatory policy. It wasn't necessary for them to 'win' the debate about the reality of anthropogenic global warming; rather, it was necessary only to create the appearance of a deeply divided science community, thus helping to dissipate the will to action among political leaders and the public. When the Bush-Cheney administration came to power in 2001, this campaign was able to move directly into the White House.
Though this playbook was established over 20 years ago, the arguments against taking action on global warming still take this shape.  When you read articles that claim global warming is not happening or is not driven by humankind, check for the kinds of arguments made above.  I am willing to bet you will find them.

Originally posted to NearlySomebody on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 11:00 AM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Change SOS, Holy $h*tters, and Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The current tactics involve data cherry picks (7+ / 0-)

    Seems that people have mainly decided to give up on debating the physics and have moved on to misinterpreting and inventing trends in data to mean whatever they want it to mean; invoking anecdotal evidence they claim revokes global warming theory; looking at irrelevant, anachronistic, or otherwise outdated reports; or ignoring conclusions of scientific literature to select data that fits the story.

    Take for instance the "no global warming in 15 or 16 years (or since 1997)" schtick. It's been going on since at least 2005. It originates and re-emerges time and time again whenever HADCRUT is updated, Phil Jones of the MetOffice, is forced to answer straw men, or some other new piece of data comes out. These are not conclusions drawn from actual reports or studies, but their own interpretations of the data, and unscientific ones at that. The "global warming stopped in 1998" bit is inconvenienced, however, by several facts, not the least of which include the fact that 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2010 were all hotter than 1998, and that the extraordinary El Niño during which 1998 made records during the time have been repeatedly matched or exceeded during unremarkable ENSO years, and even La Niñas.

    They have to argue the physics or they have nothing.

    "Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell." ~Edward Abbey ////\\\\ "To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships." ~W.E.B. DuBois

    by rovertheoctopus on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 11:19:05 AM PDT

    •  Actually, no: They can make irrational emotional (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      John Crapper, EricS, radarlady, JanG

      arguments, ad hominem attacks on the scientists, false accusations about the motives of CC proponents, and peddle outright lies without touching the science, and still win. And, because of the MSM's and most Americans utter lack of scientific literacy, and because the "liberal" (cough) media and even many Democrats are terrified of being targeted by the oil and gas industry, even those who might embrace CC are silent on a comparatively no-win political issue.

      Don't make the mistake of assuming that just because we value facts, science, and truth, that the majority of Americans operate that way or are exposed to such things enough to understand the difference. SO the sooner liberal CC/GW advocates start playing to people's emotions (including promoting the security implications of CC), the better.

      "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

      by Kombema on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 01:31:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Promoting how life will be better for (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Eikyu Saha, radarlady, Kombema

        individuals is they accept and address climate change is the key.  For our security, health, economy, and quality of life.  Gloom and doom is a non-starter for getting people accepting and involved.

        If we really want to straighten out all this crap we really need to think about shit - Holy Shit.

        by John Crapper on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 06:59:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's both: Cherries and Slime (6+ / 0-)

        I'm also convinced that a major factor is simply that the Right has been taught to hate the Left, so whatever the left seems to embrace, the Right will find a reason to resent.  The Left claims there are better human values than either economic utilitarianism or religious fundamentalism, and because of that they think they are better than everyone else.  Every time they look at a Gooper, they signal "you are not worthy," and the Goopers have let it go to their heads like swarms of flies between their ears.

        Another factor is that acknowledgment of AGW might harm the short-term bottom lines of big money execs at Exxon, Shell, etc.  They need a reason to deny it, so any reason will do.    

        The cherry-picking and the emotion-laden slime bombs are just backup for when the Goopers and the execs are pressed for 'reasons.' They are not 'reasons' at all -- just ad hoc garbage.   Simple resentment is the more basic tool.  

        •  Yeah, good point. Tho the defense institutions (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Eikyu Saha

          embrace CC, so it's not just the libruls. We can play on their reverence for the MIC and frame it all as security risk. Might at least peal off some of the more rational among them.

          "Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob." -- Franklin D. Roosevelt

          by Kombema on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 10:47:06 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  But they ALSO cherry pick (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        cherry-picking climate data:  

  •  Anthropogenic solutions? I would focus on where (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    John Crapper

    there is a consensus about pragmatic solutions that us anthros can realistically accomplish.

    "Mais n'enculons pas des mouches." (Let's not split hairs) Ian Fleming, Casino Royal.

    by Kvetchnrelease on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 11:25:26 AM PDT

  •  Merchants of Doubt by Oreskes & Conway... (9+ / 0-)

    Full title:
    Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming

    lays out the corporate backed PR campaigns in detail:  

    "Merchants of Doubt should finally put to rest the question of whether the science of climate change is settled. It is, and we ignore this message at our peril."-Elizabeth Kolbert

    There's no such thing as a free market!

    by Albanius on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 11:25:35 AM PDT

  •  can you add italics/bold to the title formatting? (0+ / 0-)

    It would help a bunch in making your opening easy to scan and discern.

  •  Who is "climate scientist Sean Carroll?" (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    LookingUp, Albanius

    Is he related to either the biologist or the physicist by that name?

    here is some help

  •  Great videos on this issue (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

    by liberalconservative on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 05:09:39 PM PDT

  •  Another great video on this (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    "Attempting to debate with a person who has abandoned reason is like giving medicine to the dead." - Thomas Paine

    by liberalconservative on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 05:48:08 PM PDT

  •  Good overview (6+ / 0-)

    However, you actually don't discern their arguments as much as their tactics and points. The denialists operate in the manner described above, and they rely upon "balance" in journalism to do so. This balance is a trap that is well known.
    1. Complain that only "one side" is getting covered.
    2. Place a paid denialist from the Manhattan Institute or API on a show against a science reporter.

    Balance, of course, is nonsense. Journalists have a duty to represent all relevant points of view, not all points of view. There is no "other side" on global warming. To have actual balance, they would need academics who deny against academics who know, etc.

    As for what their argument actually is, there are two:
    1. Petroleum makes money and is too important to constrain. "Technology" will always respond, by magic, due to the market's power, to meet any challenges. Therefore, it is heresy and absurdity to cost capital simply because there are environmental harms.
    2. God or Gaia won't let it happen. Fundamentalists who happen to represent petro-dollar states have a tendency to believe that the Almighty will not allow global warming to be true. Atheist petro-dollar speakers like to point at the complexity of systems to say that it must be big enough to offset.

    These arguments are stupid or bizarre, which is why their proponents never speak plainly.

    Everyone's innocent of some crime.

    by The Geogre on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 07:33:13 PM PDT

    •  an excellent point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre, Albanius

      I cover balance v objectivity in mass media at a later point in the semester.  
      I will work to tie those two concepts together better.

    •  For the oiligarchs planning to extract Arctic oil (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      The Geogre

      as the ice melts, their hidden answer is that they will be rich enough to thrive in the overheated climate.

      For the fundy fossil fools, their faith trumps science, but if the planet does overheat, the floods and firestorms will just be signs of the End Times.

      There's no such thing as a free market!

      by Albanius on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 10:28:05 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  However, for the merely disinformed (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        NearlySomebody, The Geogre

        the analysis in this excellent diary can help us open their eyes.  

        There's no such thing as a free market!

        by Albanius on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 10:37:13 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Sure (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I wasn't complaining. Whenever I comment, it's usually because I like a diary, and I'm trying to say, "Yes, and. . ." rather than "No, because." I tipped and recommended the diary.

          I thought, in addition to unmasking their rhetorical tactics, specifying the positive positions put forth by the various deniers would be useful. They tend to be far, far more incredible than that we're doomed to global rioting, disease, population squeezes, and relocations.

          Everyone's innocent of some crime.

          by The Geogre on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 10:06:16 AM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  I throw it back in Fundy Faces and ask WWJD, or (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        The Geogre

        What would Jesus ask you to do? Does God want them to trash the planet instead of exercising sound judgement? Do they want to ruin the planet in order to force Jesus to come back to fix it, and will he be happy with them for it? Just because God can miraculously fix the problem, does that mean it's his will to do so?

        And even if God promised that HE would never flood the planet again as a punishment, does that mean that he wouldn't allow us to do it to ourselves? God gave us Ten Commandments, but as far as I know he doesn't actively prevent anyone from breaking them and suffering the consequences.

        -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

        by JPax on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 01:51:51 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  99 one line responses to climate denial (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Albanius, EricS, NearlySomebody

    By Joe Romm:

    ClimateProgress resource

    I find this list invaluable.

    We can safely abandon the doctrine of the eighties, namely that the rich were not working because they had too little money, the poor because they had too much. JK Galbraith, 1991

    by Urban Owl on Wed Jul 24, 2013 at 08:43:20 PM PDT

  •  Slightly off topic (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    NearlySomebody, JPax
    The first time we really started hearing about global warming on the news or in mainstream publications was in 1989.
    Sidestepping the definition of "mainstream publications," the first time I ever heard of global warming was in the late sixties or maybe early seventies in MAD magazine.  The article was something like "The most boring . . . . " and Global Warming received the prize for "the most boring global catastrophe."

    Sometimes I think that if we read MAD and THE ONION and their ilk more often, we'd all be better informed.

    None of this makes a bit of difference if they don't count your vote.

    by Toddlerbob on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:57:56 AM PDT

    •  I know I'm better informed by The Daily Show and (0+ / 0-)

      The Colbert Report than by the news channels with their purported "24-hour news cycle".

      BS. They don't air news 24-hours a day. it's mostly commentary, and it's repeated of earlier shows, and it's focused on merely a few popular stories instead of comprehensive reporting that includes a breadth of stories and information in depth. I wish Headline News went back to being Headlines News where they gave you the world in 30 minutes, every 30 minutes.

      -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

      by JPax on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 01:56:54 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  Outstanding. I have seen almost all (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    your denialist strategies on the Yahoo boards. I wonder how many of the yahoos that post there know that this is a methodically driven agenda.

    "You can die for Freedom, you just can't exercise it"

    by shmuelman on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:44:26 AM PDT

  •  I took a tilt (3+ / 0-)

    At this in one of my own diaries. One of the problems with calamities is that most people would really rather not deal with it. I described this as an "if-then" problem.

    I think it’s an, “if this, then that,” problem. If anthropogenic climate change is real, then the disturbing implications are that we’d have to, as a species, make sweeping and unpleasant changes of our global lifestyles. The most dislocation would be experienced by those in the industrialized nations, Americans most acutely. Developing nations are also swiftly adopting fossil intensive economies. If the peoples and governments of the world took on the tasks of significant carbon emission reductions, it would require our entire species to change literally how we go about just about everything.
    In other words,  if people got past their scientific illiteracy and political obedience, and accepted the overwhelming scientific evidence of AGM, they'd have to accept all the implications, consequences and difficult choices that go with it. And most people just don't want to go there.

    Climate Change is So Hard

    What th' heck do I know, I work for a living...

    by SamuraiArtGuy on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:55:52 AM PDT

    •  They make it seem harder than it is... (0+ / 0-)

      There are ways to keep a lot of our lifestyle, depending on how you define it. If it means having a big screen TV at home, having a home in the suburbs, a job in the city and being able to vacation on the beach a couple times a year then we can do that.

      If it means commuting in our own gas-powered cars because we like to hear it growl in order to make us feel manly, instead of taking mass transit or an electric vehicle, then maybe not.

      -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

      by JPax on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:38:51 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  political tribalism (0+ / 0-)

    Most of the people who say they don’t “believe” in global warming are motivated by ideological tribalism. It goes like this: Climate change is an environmental issue. Most environmentalists are liberals. Therefore, if I’m against liberals I will reflexively oppose whatever the environmentalists are for.

    This creates some severe mental conflicts. You have people don’t believe climate change exists but do believe climate change is a hoax, scam or what have you. Yet, to believe it’s a hoax you have to believe there is a global conspiracy among thousands of scientists as well as governments all over the earth. As global conspiracies go, that tops the Bilderbergs, Trilateral Commission and every other ‘secret rulers of the world’ theory.

    So yeah, the entire public discourse around this issue, not to mention the policy response, has been completely hijacked by crackpots.

    Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. - Groucho Marx

    by Joe Bob on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 01:21:21 PM PDT

  •  Detroit River petroleum coke pile site (0+ / 0-)

    Just got word of this from Denny Larsen of
    Global Community Monitor:

    Petcoke storage on Detroit River ends

    What this article does not answer is whether freighter/barge loading operations on the shoreline
    site will continue or not with some kind of conveyor system and storage elsewhere.....

    Marathon already does a lot of marine loading onto barges in the Rouge River.  The pet coke generated at the
    Marathon Detroit Refinery will continue to be generated and the real question is exactly how it will be dispatched for shipment.

    I also just received a note from the Detroit Riverkeeper that more than one shipping site is involved in the area and that the portrayal of all of the sites going is probably not correct by the article.

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