News / USA

Politics Overtaking Science in Global Warming Debate

Public less certain that humans cause climate change

Multimedia

Audio
Rosanne Skirble

Polls in recent years show that fewer Americans believe global warming is a threat or that it is driven by human activities.

That’s despite consensus among scientists that climate change is not only very real, but also that it is caused largely by the burning of fossil fuels in cars, trucks and power plants.

'Merchants of Doubt' explores the gap between what scientists say and what the public believes about global warming.
'Merchants of Doubt' explores the gap between what scientists say and what the public believes about global warming.

University of California history professor Naomi Oreskes explores why so many Americans are mistrustful of science in "Merchants of Doubt," a book she co-authored with science historian Erik Conway.  

The subtitle sums up their thesis: “How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.”  

Changing the narrative

The story begins 50 years ago in the tobacco industry, with the announcement by medical researchers that the tar in cigarettes causes cancer. According to Oreskes, tobacco industry leaders were fearful of the financial harm the news might do to their lucrative products, so they turned to a public relations firm to cloud the issue and change the narrative.  

“The pattern that they put together was to use many statements that any one of them by themselves might have not been untrue," Oreskes says, "and yet, taken together, created a picture that was untrue. It’s really an extremely clever strategy because the strategy is not to say that 'Tobacco is safe.' The strategy is to say that 'We don’t really know for sure.'”

The tobacco industry funded studies and recruited distinguished scientists to lend authority to these doubts. But Oreskes notes that the specialists’ expertise was not public health, but rather in rocket science and weapons.  

“This was part of the strategy that the industry settled on very early in that they would fight science with science, or, as we say in the book, at least with scientists.”  

New threat

The same group of scientists later worked together in a Washington think tank to combat the Soviet threat. When the Cold War was over, Oreskes believes they turned their attention to what they saw as a new threat: radical environmentalism.

“It’s what they think is the exaggeration of environmental issues for political reasons. Because they fear that environmental issues like global warming will be used as an excuse for the expansion of government power, the expansion of regulation, the expansion of government control over the marketplace and therefore a kind of slippery slope to socialism.”

In her book, Oreskes argues the current climate change debate is not about the physical warming of the planet - which is well-documented by scientific evidence - but about politics. This explains, she says, why the U.S. Congress rejected an emissions trading plan which would have capped climate-changing carbon emissions.  

“Because if the science were truly not settled, then it would be logical to say that we’re not really sure. It would be a mistake to spend a lot of money on alternative technologies, a mistake to have intrusive government regulations, a mistake to have a carbon tax, if we don’t really need those things, if this problem isn’t really real anyway.”

Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has said he believes scientists are manipulating global warming data.
Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry has said he believes scientists are manipulating global warming data.

Politicizing the issue

That’s the same line Texas governor and Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry used on a recent campaign stop in New Bedford, New Hampshire. He voiced his opposition to spending what he says would be billions of dollars on emissions reductions programs.

“And I don’t think from my perspective that I want America to be engaged in spending that much money on (what is) still a scientific theory that has not been proven and from my perspective is more and more being put into question,” Perry said.

But the debate over global warming science must be fought on a level playing field, insists Oreskes. Science is not about opinion, she says, it’s about evidence. If a research group claims global-warming is not real or human caused, she says, then they should prove it.  

“The burden should be on them to come up with the evidence to show that. And if journalists would demand evidence, what they would find is these people either have no evidence at all in many cases or the supposed evidence that they have is actually distorted. It’s taken out of context. It’s misrepresented or in some cases they are arguments that were published 20 to 30 years ago that have since been refuted.”

In "Merchants of Doubt," Oreskes writes, “Acid rain, secondhand smoke, the destruction of the stratospheric ozone and global warming are all real problems. The real question is how to address them."

Denying their truth, the author argues, “does not make them go away.”

You May Like

Photogallery Americans Celebrate Thanksgiving With Feasts, Festivities

Holiday traditions include turkey dinners, 'turkey trots,' American-style football and New York parade with giant balloons More

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

With two years left in term, analysts say, president has less to lose by taking conversation on race further More

Video Italian Espresso Expands Into Space

When Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti headed for the ISS, her countrymen worried how she would survive six months drinking only instant coffee More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infectionsi
X
November 28, 2014 3:31 PM
South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video South Africa Sees Male Circumcision as Way to Reduce HIV Infections

South Africa remains plagued by AIDS despite massive government and NGO efforts on prevention and life-sustaining Anti-Retro-Viral programs. But the country has opened up another front to reduce new HIV infections: promoting circumcision. Emilie Iob reports for VOA News from a pioneering circumcision center in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.
Video

Video To Make A Living, Nairobi Street Vendors Face Legal Hurdles, Physical Violence

The Nairobi City Council has been accused of brutality in dealing with hawkers in the Central Business District - in order to stop them from illegally selling their wares on the streets. Lenny Ruvaga has more for VOA News from the Kenyan capital.
Video

Video For Obama, Ferguson Violence is a Personal Issue

Throughout the crisis in Ferguson, Missouri, President Barack Obama has urged calm, restraint and respect for the rule of law. But the events in Ferguson have prompted him to call — more openly than he has before — for profound changes to end the racism and distrust that he believes still exists between whites and blacks in the United States. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Online Magazine Gets Kids Discussing Big Questions

Teen culture in America is often criticized for being superficial. But an online magazine has been encouraging some teenagers to explore deeper issues, and rewarding their efforts. VOA religion reporter Jerome Socolovsky went to this year’s Kidspirit awards ceremony in New York.
Video

Video US Community Kicks Off Thanksgiving With Parade

Thursday is Thanksgiving in the United States, a holiday whose roots go back to the country's earliest days as a British colony. One way Americans celebrate the occasion is with parades. Anush Avetisyan takes us to one such event on the day before Thanksgiving near Washington, where a community's diversity is on display. Joy Wagner narrates
Video

Video Aung San Suu Kyi: Myanmar Opposition to Keep Pushing for Constitutional Change

Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi says she and her supporters will continue pushing to amend a constitutional clause that bars her from running for president next year. VOA's Than Lwin Htun reports from the capital Naypyitaw in this report narrated by Colin Lovett.
Video

Video Mali Attempts to Shut Down Ebola Transmission Chain

Senegal and Nigeria were able to stop small Ebola outbreaks by closely monitoring those who had contact with the sick person and quickly isolating anyone with symptoms. Mali is now scrambling to do the same. VOA’s Anne Look reports from Mali on what the country is doing to shut down the chain of transmission.
Video

Video Ukraine Marks Anniversary of Deadly 1930s Famine

During a commemoration for millions who died of starvation in Ukraine in the early 1930s, President Petro Poroshenko lashed out at Soviet-era totalitarianism for causing the deaths and accused today’s Russian-backed rebels in the east of using similar tactics. VOA’s Daniel Shearf reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Hong Kong Protests at a Crossroads

New public opinion polls in Hong Kong indicate declining support for pro-democracy demonstrations after weeks of street protests. VOA’s Bill Ide in Guangzhou and Pros Laput in Hong Kong spoke with protesters and observers about whether demonstrators have been too aggressive in pushing for change.
Video

Video US Immigration Relief Imminent for Mixed-Status Families

Tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants in the Washington, D.C., area may benefit from a controversial presidential order announced this week. It's not a path to citizenship, as some activists hoped. But it will allow more immigrants who arrived as children or who have citizen children, to avoid deportation and work legally. VOA's Victoria Macchi talks with one young man who benefited from an earlier presidential order, and whose parents may now benefit after years of living in fear.
Video

Video New Skateboard Defies Gravity

A futuristic dream only a couple of decades ago, the hoverboard – a skateboard that floats above the ground - has finally been made possible. While still not ready for mass production, it promises to become a cool mode of transport... at least over some surfaces. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Falling Gas Prices Impact US Oil Extraction

With the price of oil now less than $80 a barrel, motorists throughout the United States are benefiting from gas prices below $3 a gallon. But as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, the decreasing price of petroleum has a downside for the hydraulic fracturing industry in the United States.

All About America

AppleAndroid