188.8.131.52 Climate Change Deniers
Climate change deniers argue that global warming was not caused by man-made carbon emissions, despite all the evidence to the contrary
As noted earlier (3.5.7), the link between industrialisation and global warming has been proved beyond legitimate doubt. Nonetheless, terms such as ‘climate change hoax’ continue to be used for political purposes; fossil fuel companies have an interest in opposing action to reduce climate change; and several techniques have been used to perpetuate denial.
Political polarisation is one of the problems (184.108.40.206). The tribalism in American politics took a turn for the worse during the 2016 presidential election, and climate change was a wedge issue – as can be seen from the election manifestos:
● The Republican Platform 2016 referred to “the illusion of an environmental crisis” (p.21). Section 4 was entitled America’s Natural Resources: Agriculture, Energy, and the Environment, which opened with the claim that “We are the party of America’s growers, producers…” and noted the “millions of jobs” that are associated with them. It asserted its opposition to renewable energy targets, carbon taxes, federal involvement and American participation in international programmes to control climate change.
● The 2016 Democratic Platform, in complete contrast, included a section entitled Combat Climate Change, Build A Clean Energy Economy, And Secure Environmental Justice. It asserted that “[c]limate change is an urgent threat and a defining challenge of our time” and pledged to “take bold steps to slash carbon pollution and protect clean air at home, [and] lead the fight against climate change around the world”.
These two platforms reflect the parties’ contrasting ideologies:
● Republican policy showed elements of individualism (6.2.2) and of authoritarian populism (220.127.116.11), presenting itself as offering strong leadership unconstrained by any political or moral obligation to work with other countries. Its policy of delegating environmental measures to individual States is consistent with its advocacy of a small central government and a ‘laissez-faire’ approach (18.104.22.168). This would result in intense pressure to ignore carbon emissions targets where there is coal-mining, whilst other areas might be more adversely affected by climate change.
● The Democratic policy was collectivist (6.2.3) and progressive (6.2.5) – but that was less appealing to many discontented voters, who instinctively distrusted the political establishment and the advice of scientific experts. The party paid insufficient attention to the people whose lives were adversely affected by regulations that were intended to achieve collective benefit. The need to take action to soften the impact of rapid social change is discussed later (6.7.8).
There are also climate change deniers who are using fear of immigration to attract support. As reported by the Guardian, “The wrapping of ecological disaster with fears of rampant immigration is a narrative that has flourished in far-right fringe movements in Europe and the US”. The fears of migration due to water shortages are well founded, as described earlier (22.214.171.124), but it is completely illogical to imply that stopping immigration helps to combat climate change.
Fossil fuel companies have an obvious interest in sowing doubt about the role of carbon emissions. Their tactics were revealed in another Guardian report, The forgotten oil ads that told us climate change was nothing:
“The fossil fuel industry has perpetrated a multi-decade, multibillion dollar disinformation, propaganda and lobbying campaign to delay climate action by confusing the public and policymakers about the climate crisis and its solutions. This has involved a remarkable array of advertisements – with headlines ranging from “Lies they tell our children” to “Oil pumps life” – seeking to convince the public that the climate crisis is not real, not human-made, not serious and not solvable. The campaign continues to this day.” [18 November 2021]
Some false claims were rebutted by the BBC Reality Check team. The technique used by the climate change deniers was to draw attention to a particle of truth whilst ignoring the larger picture that contradicted it. The claims made were:
● The “past century’s temperature changes are just part of the Earth’s natural cycle, rather than the result of human behaviour”. The earth does have a natural cycle, but that is totally swamped by the man-made impact.
● “Global warming is good …global warming will make parts of the earth more habitable, and …cold kills more people than heat does”. This claim ignores the dangers to the millions of people who will be displaced by climate change.
● “Climate change action will make people poorer …fossil fuels have been essential to driving economic growth. So limiting their use, the argument goes, will inevitably stunt this growth and increase the cost of living, hurting the poorest.” The poorest people on the planet, though, are those who are most likely to be displaced by climate change.
● “Renewable energy is dangerously unreliable”. Whilst the power available from wind turbines does fluctuate, this is a known situation and can be managed with appropriate electricity grid design and storage capacity.
These false claims are peddled on social media and by Fox News. A Public Citizen analysis found that 86% of climate segments that aired on Fox News in 2018 included claims dismissing or casting doubt on the global threat. This misinformation campaign has been effective: the Economist reported in July 2021 that A third of Americans deny human-caused climate change exists.
This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books. An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/6753.htm.