Myths, Misconceptions and Mindless Misinformation About Global Warming

Global warming has been the subject of an absolutely phenomenal amount of propaganda, distortion, misinformation, disinformation, balderdash, poppycock, baloney, drivel and other crap. In fact, with the exception of health care, there’s probably no subject that has inspired more lunacy in the past… well, two years or so. Here are the more common inane and insane utterances that you probably have heard, are hearing, and will continue to hear:

1. “Global warming is a politically motivated liberal hoax.

Actually, the cult of denial about global warming is a politically motivated hoax. Scientists simply studied and reported the facts; but they stepped on some toes in the process. Because the conclusion that carbon emissions contribute heavily to the problem carries with it the recommendation that polluters need to clean up their act. And those polluters have some very powerful allies in Washington and in the media. Thus the intense and well-financed campaign to shoot the messengers and create the impression that there is still a debate going on about the reality of global warming. Sorry to break the news, but the debate ended long ago.

2. “But the evidence is inconclusive.”

Read my lips. If you inherit a million dollars, that means you’re richer. If you gain ten pounds, that means you’re heavier. If the Giants score more runs than the Rangers, the Giants win. If temperatures rise, that means it’s getting warmer. What’s the least bit ambiguous about any of that?

And there is no doubt that temperatures are rising, and have been for some time. Since at least 1880, when reliable measurements began to be taken, temperatures have risen in every decade except 1930-39 and 1970-79. During those two decades, they remained essentially level. But the rest of the time, they climbed steadily.  And the first decade of the Twenty-First Century was the warmest decade on record. Furthermore, this is the first time in the past 650,000 years that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached its current level. And high CO2 levels are always followed by warmer temperatures.

3. “But scientists disagree over the evidence.”

It’s practically impossible anymore to find a competent scientist who disputes the evidence and who is not on the payroll of oil companies or affiliated with a right-wing think tank.

4. “But scientists can’t be trusted.

So from whom would you like to obtain your information about science? Politicians? Pundits? Televangelists? If you’re going to reject the work of scientists, then stop driving your car, taking medication, eating food you don’t grow and develop yourself, watching television, and wearing clothes. And while you’re at it, turn off the damn Internet!

Scientists in fact are extremely efficient at policing themselves, with a system of checks and balances that would be the envy of many governments. Yes, there are occasional instances of scientific fraud. And it’s almost always scientists who detect them. On the other hand, Fox “News” has no accountability whatsoever; they know they can say absolutely anything and some people will believe it.

5. “But those leaked emails prove that scientists fudged data.”

Those leaked emails prove that leaked emails need context; and that whenever they can’t find a scandal, the media will invent one. There was absolutely nothing in those emails that negate any of the research on global warming, much less indicate deliberate manipulation of data. (See Fact Check’s analysis.) But if you’re going to talk about leaked memos, maybe you should look at this one in which Fox instructs its talking heads to deliberately cover up the evidence. Or this report, which shows that the Bush administration did likewise.

6. “But it wasn’t long ago that most scientists believed in global cooling.”

Nope. Sorry. This is another myth tirelessly circulated by the media and other right-wing establishments.  Despite the fact that climate science was still in its infancy and despite the fact that there had indeed been a temporary cooling trend, most scientists of the 1970s still believed the earth was getting warmer. The “theory” of global cooling was never embraced by the scientific community.

7. “But scientists often change their minds”

That’s one way of looking at it. Science, unlike anti-science and other forms of dogma, is a living, evolving thing.  Scientists are in the business of uncovering facts; so if they “change their minds”, it’s a sign they’re doing their job.

Again, it’s a question of expertise. Chances are if you were on trial with your life at stake, you’d want to be represented by someone who’d spent years studying and practicing law rather than a hairdresser who’s never changed her mind on legal matters. And if you needed brain surgery, you’d probably want it performed by a medical expert rather than a plumber. So why would you want to rely for answers about science on someone whose sole expertise lies in manipulating public opinion?

8. “But skepticism is healthy.”

It certainly is, and scientists aren’t suggesting otherwise; science is built on skepticism.  But who is more deserving of your own skepticism: thousands of the world’s most brilliant and dedicated researchers including several Nobel laureates – or media hacks with perhaps one basic college science course under their belts and a fiercely ideological agenda to push?

9. “But we still have a lot of snow and cold weather.”

This is perhaps the silliest statement of all, so naturally it gets repeated quite a bit. Every time there  is a snow flurry, you can count on someone saying, “well, so much for global warming”, and you can count on someone like Sean Hannity saying something like, “I wish Al Gore would explain where all this snow is coming from”. In fact, Al Gore has done just that; and as always he was met with hoots of derision from demagogues like Hannity. And as always, since he was simply relaying what scientists say, he was right and they were wrong.

Folks, folks. There is a difference between climate and weather. Weather is what’s falling from the sky right now, or over a period of days, or weeks, or even months. But climate is the normal weather for a given area based on a much longer period of weather cycles. Global warming refers to climate, not weather, and just because climate is warming doesn’t mean that all cold weather will suddenly disappear. In fact (write this down) warmer climate can actually cause cooler weather. Really. Ask a scientist to explain it to you. And maybe to Sean Hannity as well.

10. “But Al Gore rides around in big jets and lives in a big house that uses a lot of energy.”

I take it back. This is surely the silliest of them all. So naturally it gets an incredible amount of mileage. Do a search for “Al Gore” and “energy” or “ecology” or some such and you’re guaranteed to get a gazillion stories about his “hypocrisy” and/or “elitism”. But a fair and honest evaluation of his habits is much, much more difficult to find. So what? Do you really want to sacrifice the future of the entire planet in order to make the point that one person is unqualified for sainthood? If so, then please, please PLEASE take a closer look at Mr. Gore’s  “carbon footprint”.

11. “But human activity can’t possibly have an effect on atmospheric conditions.”

Never been to Los Angeles in the summer, eh?

12. “But God will take care of it.”

As Hercules said to the man whose wagon was stuck in the mud, “the gods help only those who help themselves.”

13, “But there’s nothing we can do about it, anyway.” 14.”But it would be too expensive.”

The “expensive” objection is not even a legitimate argument, since all the money in the world isn’t much good if we don’t survive to use it; and the costs (financial and otherwise) of ignoring the problem will be astronomical. But it’s also wrong.  First of all, practicing sound ecology opens up new sources of revenue, such as alternative sources of energy.  Second of all, there are many simple steps that could be taken to have a dramatic impact.

A few years ago, one study concluded that simple conservation measures could reduce energy consumption by 47% (memo to Glenn Beck: that’s  nearly half) and of course carbon emissions would also be greatly reduced. Shortly thereafter Dick Cheney, who was in charge of the nation’s energy policy (An oil tycoon deciding energy policy??? See anything wrong with this picture?) decreed that conservation would play no role in his administration’s energy policy.   Presidents Ford and Carter, however,  implemented more stringent automobile standards which, if left in place, would not only have greatly reduced pollution, but might have totally eliminated the need for foreign oil. And then along came Ronald Reagan.

Speaking of politicians (if we really must) we can’t help noting that among the current crop of congressional Republicans, 53% of those in the House and a jaw-dropping 74% in the Senate claim to know more about climate science than scientists do. Surely it would make a significant difference, and cost nothing to boot, if the American public simply stopped electing characters like these.

IN SUMMARY: Global warming is real. Climategate isn’t. (We’re not sure about Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.) Al Gore didn’t invent global warming, nor did he claim to. It may not be too late to avert disaster. But we probably won’t anyway. In a war between scientists and loonies, the loonies will probably win. Because they have a powerful propaganda machine that no scientist could ever invent.


Advertisements

Chaos in Japan, Cognitive Dissonance in America

“And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power – the cleanest, safest energy source there is. Except for solar, which is just a pipe dream”.        —Homer Simpson

Earthquake. Tsunami. Radiation. Japan was certainly struck with its share of disasters this month. And as a result, the U.S. was struck by a huge wave of hot air. Not produced by nature or technology, but by the media, as the pro-nuke punditocracy raced to assure us that things like this don’t really happen, and even if they do there’s no sense in getting alarmed because there’s no way radiation would harm the Japanese people, and even if it does it couldn’t happen here, so we should forget the dangers and go full speed ahead with nuclear plants, just because, and if you question that then you must be tree-hugging  librul moonbeam jockey or something.

I heard people point out that the only ones who were questioning the advisability of nuclear power at this time were the ones who’ve always done so. To which one can only respond: “Well. duh.”  But it was the others, the ones who believe that expediency and profit trump all else, who have been dominating the “debate” in the media. (For the kind of informed, intelligent debate on nuclear energy that you probably won’t see on TV, go to TED Talks.)

To some, it seems distasteful that the topic should come up at all. There is a pervasive attitude about radiation hazard that is somewhat like the Victorian mindset about sex: everybody knows it exists but acknowledging it is deemed an impropriety. I heard an RRR (Rabidly Right-wing Relative), apparently reciting a Fox talking point, say, “Well look, we have hundreds of people killed by the earthquake and the tsunami, but some people are obsessed with radiation, which hasn’t killed anybody.”

Even though I was all too aware that the opinions of RRR’s are infallible even when they’re secondhand, I felt compelled to point out a couple of key differences here.

First, earthquakes and tsunamis are more or less instantaneous; and in this case they’re already past tense and we’re just dealing with the aftermath. Radiation, on the other hand, may not makes its effects known for years, even decades. (Care to ask the Japanese about this?) To say that the radiation hasn’t killed anyone is to make an extremely premature call.

Second, nobody knows how to prevent an earthquake or tsunami. Nuclear disasters, on the other hand, are one hundred percent preventable.

The question of whether they should be prevented with certainty (by eliminating nuclear power)- in other words, the question of how the risks stack up against the benefits, is open to debate. But the very existence of risk itself is not. Everybody knows it’s real. Well, everybody except this person maybe. Even the interviewer, fellow Fox funhouse fanatic Bill O’Reilly, is taken aback by this one.

With the exception, however, of this one sad individual who clearly is making yet another desperate attempt to draw attention to herself, we all  are more or less aware of the danger. We just prefer to look the other way. Because that’s what the punditocracy says we should do.

And in that regard, it’s very hard to come up with a more apt quote than this, from former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill: “If you set aside Three Mile Island and Chernobyl, the safety record of nuclear is really very good.”

Oh.

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?

Authentic Discourse, Even If We Have To Fake It

Premiere Mouthpiece

If you’ve spent a lot of time listening to radio talk shows (in which case you might want to consider getting a life), then you’ve almost certainly noticed that callers to such programs who mimic the viewpoints expressed by the host almost invariably are poised and articulate, while those who demur sound as if they were tutored in English and forensics by George W. Bush. The hosts themselves like to credit this to the “fact” that ideological fanatics (of their stripe only) are highly intelligent and informed, while dissenters are yokels and yahoos. But as you may have noticed, the hosts themselves don’t bear out this assertion with their own kooky babblings.

The actual explanation is that such programs have call screeners who are highly selective in whom they allow on the air. Although sometimes, an articulate and intelligent dissenter will somehow slip through the cracks.

But now it seems there is an additional explanation. Inspired, perhaps, by George Orwell, or George W. Bush (whose administration planted phony journalists to lob softball questions to him at media conferences), and drawing on a long history of ideological TV talk shows hiring wildly supportive audience members, these programs have been recruiting actors to call in and impersonate John Q.Public on the air.

As reported in the Columbia Journalism Review, Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates (among others) Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, has been offering its clients a service called Premiere On Call, which provides them with scripted callers to make their fans sound really with it. Note that this is peddled as a way to offer a more “authentic” broadcast. Since this scheme came to light, the service apparently has gone underground, but as of this writing you can still fill out a request to audition for them.

So hey, if you have any voice talent, why not go on the air and call the president a socialist/Nazi/commie/terrorist/atheist/Muslim/Martian. Somebody’s gonna do it, so it might as well be you, and you might as well make some bucks on it.