“Climate change is fake news and a Chinese hoax.” – US President Donald Trump
Unfortunately, it’s not just U.S. President Donald Trump who believes that climate change isn’t ‘real’. This belief is also espoused by 50 percent of Americans, 50 percent of Canadians, 20 percent of Australians and 13 percent of British nationals, according to national polls conducted in 2016 and 2017.
These statistics are alarming, especially when you consider that roughly 97 percent of climate experts agree that global warming is happening, and the climate is changing.
But what can possibly be the reason behind the still huge numbers of people that are skeptical about climate change issues?
Harvard Professor Naomi Oreskes says all of these can be traced back to what has emerged as a heavily-funded global industry of climate change denial. She explains:
“It’s not about the facts, not about the science. Underneath all of these is a fear that capitalism has failed. That new rules and regulations and carbon taxes to fight climate change are somehow an assault on our freedom and liberty — that we’ll become Communists. That’s why environmentalists are called “watermelons,” green on the outside, red on the inside. Hard to believe, but that’s the core of the resistance.”
To understand how the climate change denial machine works and how it is funded, this video produced by Greenpeace about The Koch Brothers and their anti stance, gives you some great context:
The unfortunate thing is, the general public is practically bombarded on a regular basis by this multi million-dollar climate change denial machine. As the video shows, it is well-funded and it is relentless. In order to protect yourself and avoid being a passive recipient, we have compiled the top five techniques climate change deniers use to influence the masses, and provide tips on what you can do to be able to sift through their propaganda:
Technique #1: Frequent use of so-called “experts.”
When you read any claim about climate change, the first thing you should do is check the source. Who is making all these claims on climate change? Is this person an expert? Or is he or she a ‘fake ‘expert.
In school, we’ve been trained to believe in experts who have an authoritative knowledge and have studied their fields of expertise comprehensively. However, in this day and age of the Internet, social media and too many voices and too much data, it can get terribly confusing who to listen to, and what to believe. This is the reason why the Global Warming Petition Project, allegedly signed by 31,000 scientists claiming that there is no scientific evidence supporting the negative effects of global warming, gained ground. It was easily debunked by credible scientists and experts but still managed to hook its nails into unsuspecting victims.
How to counter it:
It is vital that for every claim, you not only check out the source but you also determine the veracity of the claim. A simple Google search can turn up useful results. Alternatively, you can use fact-checking websites such as SkepticalScience.com, Climate Feedback, snopes.com, PolitiFact.com, among others. Or you can take the advice of Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist, who said: “If you want to argue about the conclusions of climate science, you owe it to yourself to understand the science for yourself.” In an article for Forbes, he provided a to-do list that is entirely scientific and verifiable. Check it out for yourself here.
Technique #2: Perfecting the art of cherry-picking.
Climate change deniers are very good at cherry picking or selectively choosing the facts or details that can support their claims.
A usual claim being used to debunk the issue of increasing temperatures is citing the year 1998. Due to El Niño, weather patterns were affected, so that not only was it unusually hot in some areas, but there were also widespread droughts, flooding and other natural disasters which impacted average temperatures. Climate change deniers pick the outlier year of 1998 and the succeeding years to try to convince people that Earth’s temperatures have gone down, so as to strengthen their argument. But what is being left out is crucial to understanding the issue.
Data from the Climate Reality Project shows that “overall average temperatures from 1998 to 2014 rose at nearly the same rate as in the second half of the twentieth century” as can be gleaned from the graph below:
How to counter it:
It’s important not just to listen to an argument, but to actually analyze it for what it’s worth, question the data selection, seek evidence, and look at the broader picture.
Technique #3: Use of faulty arguments.
Long-time businessman and now American President, Donald Trump, highly astute in the subjects of marketing and PR, is very fond of saying that global warming is a hoax. In fact, he tweeted the following:
“Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record-setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!”
Snowing in Texas and Louisiana, record setting freezing temperatures throughout the country and beyond. Global warming is an expensive hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 29, 2014
As well as this: “Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I’m in Los Angeles and it’s freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!”
Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee – I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 6, 2013
Trump’s soundbites are on point. It makes you sit up and take notice. Yes, it might be cold in normally warm places so you might tend to agree with him. But that’s if you don’t know any better. Dr. Marshall Shepherd of the University of Georgia explains the science behind it:
“…our weather is governed by a series of undulations or wave patterns. The “valleys”(troughs) in those waves allow cold, dense air to ooze into the U.S. The “hills” (ridges) in the waves are typically associated with warm conditions. If you search Arctic Amplification on the Internet, there is some evidence that climate change is causing more wavy, high amplitude “valleys” and “hills” in the jet stream pattern. This could be associated with more extreme cold events and more extreme heat/drought events.”
Shepherd offers two other explanations. One is that, if one part of the world is cold, another part will experience warm weather. There is also the study that global warming may actually result in bigger blizzards or snowstorms.
How to counter it:
The problem is that sometimes, it is very difficult for regular people to actually understand the science and sift through the arguments. This is an important arena that climate scientists are trying to address. But as individuals, we have a responsibility to be analytical and discerning.
Technique #4: Reducing climate change warnings to conspiracies or money-making efforts.
In recent times, there has been a lot of claims, by politicians mostly (who, it should be noted, often have suspicious motivations and vested interests), that the issue of climate change is a hoax. More alarmingly, Trump and his aides in the current administration say that it is a money-making effort to promote China and undermine the competitiveness of the United States. In 2016, Trump said:
“Well, I think the climate change is just a very, very expensive form of tax. A lot of people are making a lot of money… And I often joke that this is done for the benefit of China. Obviously, I joke. But this is done for the benefit of China, because China does not do anything to help climate change. They burn everything you could burn; they couldn’t care less. They have very — you know, their standards are nothing. But they — in the meantime, they can undercut us on price. So it’s very hard on our business.”
This kind of rhetoric is scary. It has led to undermining the dangers of climate change and to the U.S. pull-out from the Paris Agreement. What’s more, the policies of the current administration exacerbates the negative impacts of climate change. On 15 March 2018, the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency that serves as the first responder in times of disasters has deleted references to climate change in its strategic planning document. All the while, it has led to the majority of Americans who are skeptical of climate scientists.
How to counter it:
First ask yourself: why is this person saying/doing/writing/behaving this way? Do they have vested interests? What are they trying to achieve? How will they profit from saying/doing/writing/behaving this way? The more questions you ask, and the more research you do, the closer you are to critically evaluating the information, and understanding the truth.
Technique #5: Manipulation through the “keystone domino” strategy.
In late 2017, The Guardian reported on a new strategy of climate change deniers which it referred to as the “keystone domino.” Climate change deniers relentlessly attack and discredit specific issues, with the thinking that if these keystone dominoes fall, then it creates a chain reaction, toppling the entire case for climate change.
The initial point of attack of these climate change deniers was focused on the Arctic sea ice and its impacts on polar bears. The common trend in the deniers blogs to help validate their viewpoint is to reference the work of a zoologist named Susan Crockford, a person who has never conducted any research on polar bears nor published any peer-reviewed studies on the issue. She has been associated with conservative rightwing think-tank the Heartland Institute known for publishing misinformation about climate change.
It pays to be vigilant about strategies such as this. When in doubt, always check the science and the credibility of the source. If the reference is just one person or only one source, then it’s most likely propaganda. Compare this with the tons of research papers that talk about the disappearing Arctic sea ice due to climate change and its resulting impacts on the polar bear populations that depend on it.
Are you aware of other climate denial strategies? Let’s identify them so we can help to counter them. It will take a collective concerted effort to help address the biggest challenge of this century— the looming spectre of the “real, man-made, and dangerous” climate change.
Loved this post? You might also like this one where we interviewed Marine Ecologist and Conservationist, Lee Hankinson.