Warming up to a global scientific conspiracy

This comic strip drawn by Joel Pett on December 13, 2009 illustrates the consequences of believing in the global warming "hoax."

This comic strip drawn by Joel Pett on December 13, 2009 illustrates the consequences of believing in the global warming “hoax.”

A popularly known conspiracy meme centers around the claim that global warming due to human activity was invented for the purposes of giving scientists, government leaders, and environmentalists greater political or financial influence. In modern years, global warming has been monitored closely by several scientific committees, and there is consensus from over 90% of scientists that it is caused by human activities that increase greenhouse gases. Evidence for global warming has been recognized by virtually every major national science academy in the world through a letter signed by their representatives, archived on National Academies. Despite overwhelming evidence for human-aided global warming, there are claims for a global scientific conspiracy caused by scientists and environmentalists.

Many writers and even prominent scientists and politicians have made allegations against global warming. Senator Jim Inhofe published a book called “The Greatest Hoax” in which he leads a “charge” to expose the global warming hoax. His writings include a 2003 speech given to the U.S. Senate in which he finds that “alarmists are attempting to enact an agenda of energy suppression that is inconsistent with American values of freedom, prosperity, and environmental progress.” His claims reflect some of the patriotic appeals brought up by Richard Hofstadter (1964) which conspiracy theorists use to bring support for their cause. He notes that “what is at stake is always a conflict bewteen absolute good and absolute evil.” In this case, Senator Inhofe pits American values against the energy suppression agenda, referring to reducing fossil fuel consumption.

Some scientists have come out to reject the global warming theory, blasting the peer-review process in which most of the evidence supporting the theory came from. They reflect a small minority of conspiracy theorists Hofstadter refers to as “renegades,” which have come out against their peers to provide proof of the hoax. Dr. Frederick Seitz, formerly president of the National Academy of Sciences, wrote in The Wall Street Journal about how the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) allegedly removed statements in their report which showed there was no evidence for global warming. In previous years, Seitz was found to financially support scientists who consistently found no evidence linking tobacco to serious medical problems. He is well known as a tobacco industry consultant, which would suggest that he might have received support from anti-global warming groups such as oil companies.

Evidence, while sometimes unsubstantiated, is piled up as proof for the global warming conspiracy and allows for the continued survival of the meme. Forbes op-ed writer Charles Kadlec referred back to an incident coloquially named “Climategate” as evidence for such a conspiracy. This incident involved the hacking of a server from the Climatic Research Unit in November 2009, where thousands of emails and files were leaked to the Internet. Allegations were made stating that CRU manipulated data to support climate change. Eight committees reviewed the allegations and reports and found no evidence of fraud or scientific misconduct. Despite the wide support for global warming by the scientific community, there is still a significant minority of which believes global warming is not happening. Yale University published a report which states that 12% of Americans still do not think global warming is happening.

Ted Goertzel (2011) understood that the skepticism is partly based that “climate science is heavily dependent on complex statistical models based on limited data.” Many people are quick to conclude that the answers to climate change are still unsubstantiated and wait for further proof of its existence. Yet, climate science provides some real answers to questions posed about global warming: that it geniunely exists, and there is a significant possibility for major consequences if current trends persist. Fortunately, current studies by Yale and other surveys suggest that there are fewer people who deny the existence of global warming than before. People are finally warming up to the possibility of climate change; the question remains as to whether governments will act soon enough to solve its problems.

References

Ted Goertzel (2011) “The conspiracy meme,” Skeptical Inquirer, 35(1).

Richard Hofstadter (1964) “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” Harper’s Magazine, November.

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