Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Climate Change and Conspiracy Theories

Yesterday Grist disseminated the graphic at right to mock assertions that anthropogenic climate change is just a hoax. Who calls climate change a hoax? Republican politicians do.
  • James Inhofe, currently the ranking Republican member (and former chair) of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, had this to say in 2003: "With all of the hysteria, all of the fear, all of the phony science, could it be that man-made global warming is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people? It sure sounds like it." This was not an off-hand or out-of-context remark, as he continues to stand by his statement and has written a recent book with the same title to promote his conspiracy theory.
  • Rick Santorum, a Republican presidential candidate and former Senator, also believes that anthropogenic climate change is a hoax: "“I for one never bought the hoax. I for one understand just from science that there are one hundred factors that influence the climate. To suggest that one minor factor of which man’s contribution is a minor factor in the minor factor is the determining ingredient in the sauce that affects the entire global warming and cooling is just absurd on its face." 
  • Ron Paul, another Republican presidential candidate with a loyal following, has also endorsed the conspiracy theory view: "You know, the greatest hoax I think that has been around in many, many years if not hundreds of years has been this hoax on the environment and global warming."
  • Rick Perry, Republican governor of Texas and former presidential candidate, on climate change: “I do believe that the issue of global warming has been politicized.... I think there are a substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data so that they will have dollars rolling into their projects."
These aren't just obscure crackpots with websites; this is the current Republican mainstream. It's not hard to find many more like them, either among politicians or among the conservative punditry. It is unfortunate and a little scary that people who reject climate science have such influence over one of our two major parties. When such people hold positions of power, it has negative ramifications not only for climate research and regulation of greenhouse gas emissions, but also for energy policy and wildlife conservation.

At the same time, it is not at all surprising that many opponents of reducing greenhouse gas emissions have turned towards a conspiracy theory to support their cause. When almost all climate scientists have concluded that the earth is warming due to man-made greenhouse gas emissions, people who want to reject that conclusion have two possible explanations. Either (a) most of the experts in the field don't know what they're talking about, or (b) the experts are covering up the truth with the help of NGOs, government agencies, and even some corporations. Option (a) is easily refuted and has the problem of asserting that non-experts and pundits know more than the experts. Option (b) is a conspiracy theory, and not even a particularly believable one.