‘Skeptical Environmentalists’ and the Passion for Junk Science

How the ‘science’ behind ‘skeptical environmentalists’ denial of global warming can be traced to a typo, the rantings of an architect, and the conspiracy theories of Lyndon Larouche.

I‘ve written before about our propensity and desire to be seduced by false comforts. We really want to believe what we really want to believe. And, damn it, if the facts don’t fit with our existing frames, beliefs and worldviews, well then change them, or ignore them, or find some that do.

Nowhere is this all too human tendency more evident than in deniers of crisis. We would rather bury our heads in the sand than believe a catastrophe is imminent. Every time a tyrant has plunged his people into horrific oppression or a megalomaniac has launched a brutal war against his neighbours in the quest of global dominion, thousands of normally bright, responsible people have shrugged it off as an exaggeration, an overstatement, a misrepresentation. “No one could ever treat their people as badly as some allege Stalin is doing”; “No one has anything to fear from Joe McCarthy unless they’re done something illegal.” “It’s just a correction, the market will bounce back by 1930”, We were tacitly complicit in the atrocities of Nazi Germany, Rwanda, and now in Darfur because we just didn’t, and don’t, want to know how bad it is. It’s upsetting, it’s overwhelming, and it doesn’t jibe with our parochial, rosy view of human nature. For every chance to avert catastrophe with prompt and decisive action, there have been armies of deniers, “do-nothing” advocates, tellers of Chicken Little stories, working furiously to thwart action, usually successfully.

One of the latest examples of this phenomenon has been the denial of global warming and the rise of so-called ‘skeptical environmentalists’ (not actually environmentalists at all, but shills for corporatist mega-polluters, dupes and paid lackeys for others with a vested interest in sweeping environmental problems under the rug). There is a huge and organized effort underway to try to play into our desire to be seduced by false comforts on the environment. It is well bankrolled and very successful. And the media play along witlessly: Far be it for them to report on an issue the public apparently doesn’t want to hear about.

In a recent article in the Guardian entitled Junk Science, George Monbiot shows exactly how it works. Please read this article in its entirety. Here’s the punchline:

It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the worldís most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals. You must, if you are David Bellamy, embrace instead the claims of an eccentric former architect, which are based on what appears to be a non-existent data set. And you must do all this while calling yourself a scientist.

The dupes in this case include UK botanist David Bellamy (influential president of the Conservation Foundation, the Wildlife Trusts, Plantlife International and the British Naturalistsí Association), as well as New Scientist magazine and the Washington Post. The ‘sources’ of the data allegedly counter-indicating global warming include a huckster architect self-promoting a book on a new ice age, and wacko conspiracy theorist, hate-monger and US wingnut presidential candidate Lyndon Larouche. Once a few ‘respectable’ dupes have been set up, the corporatist spin machine goes into overdrive, citing and reciting them, until the virus has spread so far that attempts to attack it are fruitless.

The neocon Bush administration has purged itself of responsible scientists and replaced them with deniers, an essential prerequisite to maintaining ‘plausible deniability’. A recent survey by UCS indicates that new corporatist bosses in environment branches of US government are ordering employees to falsify and suppress reports and ignore regulations to sustain this deniability. This is nothing more than cynical exploitation of the public’s desire not to know.

And meanwhile, corporatist mega-polluters like the huge Koch Industries (the second largest private corporation in the US) use puppet think-tanks, lobbying and huge campaign donations to get their massive environmental crimes settled out of court without criminal charges, and to get the environmental laws they routinely violate overturned, or at least unenforced. These crimes involve hundreds of cases of poisoning of our water and our air with tons of carcinogens and toxins, and the subversion of laws and justice that would put these criminals behind bars where they belong.

Never heard of Koch? That’s OK, you don’t want to know. And corporatist shills (you don’t want to know who’s behind them, and they won’t tell you who they are) will tell you that it’s all right, these chemicals aren’t really bad for you, and they have just the junk science to support their claims. Don’t you feel better now?

Cartoon by Tom Toles in the Washington Post

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4 Responses to ‘Skeptical Environmentalists’ and the Passion for Junk Science

  1. Emile says:

    Just as a side note, that frog thing is not true – frogs *do* jump out of water if it’s heated slowly ^-^

  2. Nice try. I love the way you set up counterarguments as being irrational. “If you don’t agree with my point of view you are defective because you’re like the frog in a slow cooking pot.” Sorry Dave. Won’t wash. There are well meaning, even as equally well meaning people as you, that don’t buy the science (notice I din’t say “science”) behind global warming.Given we are slated to spend Billions of Dollars in Canada to buy Credits that may not do anything for us, we better make sure. Let aloneIf you want to have a debate about global warming, or any other topic for that matter, then have a debate about facts or waht you believe to be facts.Conspiracy theories do not become you. You have far to much intellegence for that. I know, I see it every day.John

  3. lugon says:

    a flu pandemic in nature.com

  4. There may well be well-meaning people who don’t `buy’ global warming science, but they are ill-informed, usually by the same process that is so well described here.Actual scientists — not crackpot economists, not oil industry or mining industry consultants, but actual scientists — who look at the evidence are convinced. Any bright layperson who goes through the (say) IPCC summary of the science to date pretty much has to be convinced. And what’s the usual argument provided by the denialists? Why, all the evidence and agreement is just evidence of a conspiracy, of course, where the Scientific Estabilishment is oppressing the hardworking people who know the truth! Which just shows such people have no idea how science works; you *make* a name for yourself by proving old ideas wrong; there’s no incentive at all to buy into a consipiracy.Of course, the other approach is to use the approach the evolution deniers use; fund a couple crackpots, then repeatedly hype the crackpot results to pretend that there is a real controversy. But there isn’t. Not in evolution, not in anthropogenic global warming. In both cases, the only real questions are the implications.

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