It has become increasingly difficult to understand the motivation behind climate science denialism. The Earth’s climate is changing, mainly in the form of increased temperatures of the oceans and the atmosphere, because of the release of copious amounts of previously trapped Carbon through the burning of fossil fuels. There is no longer a question that this is happening, and every year, the various details that one might like to see worked out regarding the mechanisms or effects of climate change are increasingly known. To state, with a straight face, that the jury is still out or that we can’t separate natural variation from human-caused changes or that the earth has stopped warming for the last decade or any of the other things we constantly hear from climate change denialists is exactly the same thing as standing there with a big sign that reads “I am a moron.” Politicians, who by and large remain ignorant of all sorts of science, have become aware of this over recent years and many now couch their phraseology in cautious terms, if they happen to be running their campaigns, as many are, on the Oil Teat. Even more amazing, principled Libertarians have stopped denying the reality of climate change, taking a different tact to avoid any responsibility or action: Yes, the climate change we’ve been busy denying the reality of for the last 30 years is real, they agree, but it is too late to do anything about it now so let’s just move inland as the sea level rises and buy lighter jackets.
So why is climate change denialism still a thing at all? And it is a thing. There are individuals on the lecture circuit, bloggers and a handful of scientists who continue to peddle what can only be understood as willfully ignorant or evasive, incomplete or cherry picked, or in some cases, just plain dishonest ‘analyses’ or interpretations of data suggesting that climate change is not real or is not human caused if it is real. There is so much of this out there that some of it even gets published now and then. For example, a recent paper in a mid-level general science journal made a very "good" argument that “natural variation” explains about 40% of the putative warming in recent decades on this planet, as opposed to the release of fossil Carbon Dioxide by burning of fuels. Unfortunately, the “good argument” in that paper systematically ignored a rather impressive literature that had already addressed the same issues, found problems with an entire methodological approach and interpretation, leaving the just-published interpretation not only impossible, but actually rather embarrassing to others in the climate science community that someone would still be saying it. (You’ve not heard about this yet, but I guarantee it will be in the news and on the blogs over the next few weeks.) Most times, though, the science-denialism comes from a handful of very active blogs, from those charismatic lecture circuit denizens such as “Lord” Christopher Monckton, and a very large number of commenters and their probable sock puppets who show up at every online newspaper and blog to spew the same exact lines again and again, even though every single remark they make … without exception … has long ago been discredited with science and reason.
It turns out that there is a fairly straightforward explanation for this continued craziness: $500,000,000 dollars.
We’ve known for some time that Big Oil channels money to Big Denialism to support a variety of efforts, including projects to ruin science education in schools, to pay people to show up at demonstrations, to fund “research” that confuses, if not attempts (unsuccessfully) to throw false wrenches in the intricate and vital scientific machine. And now, we learn that some of these connections are more direct than previously thought, and involve much larger sums of money than most had imagined.
According to Steve Conner at The Independent (U.K.),
A secretive funding organisation in the United States that guarantees anonymity for its billionaire donors has emerged as a major operator in the climate “counter movement” to undermine the science of global warming…The Donors Trust, along with its sister group Donors Capital Fund, based in Alexandria, Virginia, is funnelling millions of dollars into the effort to cast doubt on climate change without revealing the identities of its wealthy backers or that they have links to the fossil fuel industry.
Conner documents a link between billionaire Charles Koch and Donors Trust, via another organization called the “Knowledge and Progress Fund,” which is a Koch family run non-profit. This organization gave $1.25 million each in 2007 and 2008 and $2 million in 2012 to Donors, and appears to have made no other donations to anyone or any thing. According to Conner:
The Donors Trust is a “donor advised fund,” meaning that it has special status under the US tax system. People who give money receive generous tax relief and can retain greater anonymity than if they had used their own charitable foundations because, technically, they do not control how Donors spends the cash.
This is a general pattern among Big Oil, but the Koch Brothers seem to have been competing with the more traditional players for the role of Big Daddy to the climate science deniers. During the period from 2005 to 2008, inclusively, ExxonMobil supplied the science denying community with just under 9 million dollars, while the Koch Brothers kicked in something closer to 25 million dollars to the effort to discredit climate science and climate scientists. One of these well-funded efforts is known to most people as “ClimateGate,” a bought and paid for attempt to defame Professor Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University, and climate science in general, by Watergating a large number of emails and cherry picking them to make it appear, falsely, that climate scientists were up to no good. (source)
According to Drexel University sociologist, Robert Brulle:
… approximately $500m has been donated to groups dedicated to casting doubt on the science of climate change, with a large proportion of this money arriving via third party organisations. … “We really have anonymous giving and unaccountable power being exercised here in the creation of the climate counter-movement. There is no attribution, no responsibility for the actions of these foundations to the public.”
So, at this point there seem to be two likely answers to the question, “Why are you a climate science denialist?” One is that you are getting paid to do so. The other is that you really think you know better than the entire scientific community and you are not personally getting any of the payola, even though there is more money going into climate science denial than any political counter movement that has ever existed. In the first instance, that makes you a bad person, in my opinion, because the ramifications of climate change are far more important than the linings of your pockets. In the second instance, you would be some sort of idiot. Ignoring, opposing or defaming the valid science and the real scientists is bad enough; missing out on this rushing torrent of Dollars for Deniers is just plain dumb.
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