We take it for granted that great individuals–Gandhi, Kennedy, Martin Luther King–can have great positive impacts on the world. But we are loath to believe the same thing about negative impacts–unless the individuals are obvious monsters like Hitler or Stalin. But small numbers of people can have large, negative impacts, especially if they are organized, determined, and have access to power. [Page 213]
Do you think the science about global warming and climate change is settled? If you are reading a blog entitled My Green Misadventure I am guessing the answer is apparent and you also wonder why people like James Inhofe are allowed to speak about science. Ever.
The science is settled. Human activities are contributing to changes in the planet’s climate. Scientists may exist who debate that truism but they are in the minority. A minority that is something akin to 99 scientists agreeing that human derived climate change is real versus 1 scientist who does not. Okay, that is not quite right, because it is more like 999 scientists who agree and 1 who is being a pain in the ass.
The question remains as to why the public does not possess this same certainty. I have read no better account as to the way in which the public’s perception of scientific has been perverted by a cadre of crooked scientists than Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway’s Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming. Why this book sat so long on my shelf is a mystery to me because it was one of the single most powerful and relevant books that I have read in a while.
This book chronicles the small group of former scientists—former because their paid dishonesty on the behalf of industry disallows them from being considered scientists forever—headlined by the Freds, Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, sowed doubt and distrust of good science in the name of manna or ideological jihadism. It did not matter if the issue was smoking, secondhand smoke, acid rain, or global warming because there was a network of institutes, corporations, and politicians willing to give them safe harbor in order to promote an erroneous agenda.
I will leave the nitty gritty details to the authors because they do an excellent job of detailing the who, what, why, and when of the issue. Most amazing to me is that these so-called lovers of liberty engaged in tactics that would have been equally at home in the most totalitarian of states:
There is a deep irony here. One of the great heroes of the anti-Communist political right wing–indeed one of the clearest and most reasoned voices against the risks of oppressive government, in general–was George Orwell, whose famous 1984 portrayed a government that manufactured fake histories to support its political program. Orwell coined the term “memory hole” to denote a system that destroyed inconvenient facts, and “Newspeak” for a language designed to constrain thought within politically acceptable bounds.
All of us who were children in the Cold War learned in school how the Soviet Union routinely engaged in historical cleansing, erasing real events and real people from their official histories and even official photographs. The right-wing defenders of American liberty have now done the same. [Page 236]
Please pick this book up and read it until the end. As the effects of human derived climate change hit home every day—drought, flood, wildfires, etc.—it is ever more important that more people understand the forces at work preventing real solutions from being implemented. It is not that the science is unsettled, but rather that we have allowed ourselves to be confused:
Doubt mongering also works because we think science is about facts–cold, hard, definite facts. If someone tells us that things are uncertain, we think that means that the science is muddled. This is a mistake. There are always uncertainties in any live science, because science is a process of discovery. [Page 34]