Lies, Damned Lies, and Lies that Kill Why is there so much doubt about climate science?

Global warming and climate change are occurring because human-made greenhouse gases, mostly from fossil fuels, are trapping heat in the atmosphere. To stop climate change, we need to stop burning fossil fuels (oil, coal, and gas). This is a scientific fact.

So why do 43 per cent of Americans think that we could prevent global warming by not punching holes in the ozone layer with space rockets?

There has been a well-funded campaign over the last several decades to discredit the science of climate change. Apparently, it has worked with some demographics.

The fossil fuels industry, in an effort to protect profits and its global monopoly on the energy supply, has pumped millions of dollars into this misinformation campaign. This money is often funnelled to special interest groups with credible-sounding names like “Friends of Science” who then use the money to produce junk-science studies, fake petitions, and hire non-practising scientists (or sometimes people who just claim to be scientists) to spread their misinformation.

For example, a leaked memo from the American Petroleum Institute clearly outlines their multi-million dollar campaign to undermine America’s participation in the Kyoto Protocol. This involved producing anti-science propaganda claiming that human-made greenhouse gas pollution doesn’t cause climate change, hiring and training public relations goons and other professional schmoozers, and then unleashing their cloud of confusion and ignorance on every school-child, politician, and reporter their deep pockets allowed them access to.

The strategy is not new; this is how the tobacco industry spread doubt about the clear link between smoking and lung cancer for decades. Many of the major players in efforts to discredit climate science are the same people who worked for the tobacco lobby back in the good old days of smoking in hospitals.

And the climate change denial industry is just as despicable as the pro-tobacco lobby. Climate change is killing more than a hundred thousand people a year (just ask the World Health Organization), with most of the dead being children under five. If you think it’s immoral and criminal for an industry to spread lies that keeps society from solving a problem that is causing preventable deaths, then I would agree with you.

These anti-science campaigns have tried to convince people that climate change isn’t happening (wrong), or that climate change is happening but it’s not caused by humans (wrong, again). But some have claimed that climate change is happening, partly due to humans, but that we can’t do anything about it because if we did our economies would crumble and we’d all end up destitute, living in caves, starving for energy in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, and fighting over who gets to eat the neighbour’s dog.

Well that’s not true either. The most robust economic analysis ever conducted on the economic impacts of phasing out fossil fuels shows that if Canada took immediate action on climate change, our GDP would grow by 23 per cent by 2020 compared to 27 per cent if we did nothing (which is what we are doing now). A difference of four percentage points in GDP growth over a decade is hardly a doomsday scenario.

Denying climate science is like saying the earth is flat; it’s just plain wrong. The scientific community – that is the scientists who actually research things like the climate system, ocean currents, atmospheric chemistry, etc. – completely agrees that climate change is being caused by humans.

So how does this massive disinformation campaign get away with what they they’re doing? Why don’t the scientists just smack them and say “we’re right and you’re wrong,”?

First off, scientists aren’t well-trained public relations gurus, they’re, well, scientists. More importantly, there’s a common belief among scientists that no scientific theory can ever be proved. Theories can be corroborated by evidence, and they can be disproved, but they can never be proved.

The corroborating evidence for the theory of human-caused climate change is abundant, and all attempts to disprove it have been in vain.

So no scientists will ever tell you, “we’ve proved climate change,” but no scientist will ever tell you, “we’ve proved gravity,” either.

Even when theories are disproved, it does not mean they are thrown out the window. Often they are replaced with a more robust theory that explains everything its predecessor did, and more.

So when Einstein’s theory of general relativity (a theory of gravity) replaced Newton’s theory of gravity, it didn’t suddenly mean that you could jump out the without breaking your legs. All the implications of Newton’s gravity still held true, but Einstein’s theory was also able to explain phenomena unexplained by Newton’s theory.

Similarly, our scientific understanding of climate change will evolve and grow, and the science of climate change may be very different in the future than it is now. But, just as apples will always fall from trees to the earth, human-made greenhouse gases will always trap heat in the atmosphere and change the climate.


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