Monday, November 23, 2015

Why Do So Many Americans Doubt That Global Warming Is Real?

More Than 97% Of Climate Scientists Say It's Real 
And It's Man-Made

"Seldom will you hear such agreement among scientists that we know the answer to something."
Nobel Laureate Henry Pollack

"The Danger Of Science Denial"
TED Talk by Michael Specter

Why do so many Americans doubt that global warming is real? Climate change, Part IV

Dr. Henry Pollack at Oakland University. (Jim Bloch — For The Voice)
The vast majority of scientists, upwards of 97 percent by some calculations, agree that global warming is happening and that it is largely manmade, the result of burning fossil fuels that release heat-trapping gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

A page on the NASA website, for example, lists statements from numerous scientific organizations and panels to the effect that climate change is real and is being propelled by the emissions from humans and their addiction to fossil fuels – the American Chemical Society, American Geophysical Union, American Medical Association, American Meteorological Society, the Geological Society of America and on and on.

According to the fifth assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2014, "there are 19 chances out of 20 that humans are the dominant cause of the warming, at least in the last half of the 20th century," said Dr. Henry Pollack, a retired professor of geophysics from the University of Michigan.

Pollack shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with his coworkers for their contributions to the fourth assessment of IPCC. He gave the morning keynote address at a climate change symposium in mid-October at Oakland University.

"It's a very strong scientific statement," said Pollack. "Seldom will you hear such agreement among scientists that we know the answer to something."

Americans less sure than scientists

Yet American citizens are significantly less sure about global warming than scientists.

According to March 2015 data from the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, fewer than two in three (63 percent) Americans think global warming is happening. About one in five Americans (18 percent) thinks global warming is not happening.

Slightly more than half of Americans (52 percent) think that global warming, assuming it is happening, is mostly human caused.

"Only about one in 10 Americans understands that over 90 percent of climate scientists think human-caused global warming is happening," the report states.

The figures have not changed significantly over the past half decade.

"One of the reasons these numbers have been stable in recent years may be because most Americans are simply not hearing or talking about the issue," said the Yale report. "Our survey finds, for example, that only 40 percent of the American public say they hear about global warming in the media at least once a month and only 19 percent hear about it once a week."

Why the difference?

After Pollack laid out the science of climate change (see Parts I to III of this series), he addressed the issue of why such a large minority of the general public either doesn't believe in climate change or doesn't think people are causing it.

Why the big disparity between scientists and the general U.S. public?

Part of the problem is that it is difficult to think globally.

It's hard to think of the actions we take as individuals – driving to work, turning on a light switch, buying a polyester shirt, eating a hamburger – as causing changes to something as big as Earth, said Pollack.

It's hard to conceive of the vast geography and long time spans involved in climate change, Pollack said. It's hard to tease out the links between human actions and worldwide changes in temperature, rainfall and compositions of the oceans.

"But it's the whole team that counts," said Pollack.


The natural difficulties of imagining the human role in global warming have been exacerbated by an intensive campaign of brainwashing by the oil companies, coal-burning utilities and extractive industries.

"There's been a deluge of misinformation that confuses the issue in the mind of the public," said Pollack.

In other words, it's not just that American's are hearing about climate change too infrequently; when they do hear about it, the message is contaminated.

There is a long history of corporations and their paid scientists of waging public relations wars designed to camouflage the causal roles of their products in specific environmental problems and human health issues, said Pollack.

Agro-chemical companies denied the scientific link between pesticides like DDT and bird, fish and animal deformities. The tobacco industry questioned scientific studies that linked smoking and second hand smoke to lung cancer. The coal industry questioned the link between burning coal and acid rain.

For the past 25 years, the fossil fuel industries and their representatives have been trying to suggest that there is no scientific consensus on global warming.

In his talk, Pollack called them "manufacturers and distributors of uncertainty."

In their book, and the subsequent documentary of the same name, historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway call these operatives "The Merchants of Doubt."

One of the sources of misinformation about climate change has been the George C. Marshall Institute, formed in 1988 by three physicists to defend President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, known popularly as the Star Wars initiative. More than 6,500 physicists had come out against SDI. The goal of the institute was to debate the issue in the mass media, not in scientific journals, and in the process suggest to the American people that scientists were not unified on the issue. When the media did not include their viewpoint, they threatened to sue.

When the Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the Marshall Institute shifted its pet issue from Star Wars to global warming. In letters to the editor and op-ed pieces, the institute fellows followed a strategy of layered disinformation. They argued that there was no proof for global warming and no consensus among scientists about it. They argued that if global warming was real, it was not manmade. They argued that if it was manmade, it was not necessarily bad, and in any case, Americans had the technological savvy capacity to adapt to it. Consequently, there was no need for governmental intervention, which they said would harm or destroy the economy.

It turned out that one of the Marshall Institute's founders, physicist Fred Seitz had led a similar program at R.J. Reynolds, which spent $45 million from 1975 to 1989 to instill "reasonable doubt" in the public's mind about the scientific link between smoking and cancer. Another institute associate, S. Fred Singer, had worked to question the link between coal burning and acid rain in the 1980s and the link between chlorofluorocarbons and the ozone hole in the 1990s.

Oreskes suggests that the scientists at the Marshall Institute were hardcore anti-communists who believed in the sanctity of free market economics unencumbered by the government regulation. But instead of making a political argument for their views, they camouflaged their politics and criticized the science of climate change. They saw fossil fuel as the root of all economic activity and of U.S. strength. In their minds, the U.S had won the Cold War in no small part because of its efficient use of fossil fuels; they would refuse to let it lose the peace as a result of government intervention to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Oreskes pointed out the memo to Republican candidates in 2003 from strategist Frank Luntz, schooling them on how to talk about global warming. First, he said, use the term "climate change" not "global warming."

"Climate change is a lot less frightening than global warming," said Luntz.

In order to win the global warming political debate, Luntz urged candidates to emphasize scientific uncertainty and the lack of consensus among scientists.

"Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly," Luntz wrote.

Acceptance of global warming in 1992

The public's skepticism about climate change represents a significant public relations victory for so-called climate deniers. The deniers contributed to the fracturing of what appeared to be a consensus on global warming in 1992 and to the emergence today of the warring camps, at least in the political realm.

Oreskes argues that the scientific building blocks of global warming began to be put in place almost at the beginning of the warming itself, in the 1850s, when John Tyndall established water vapor and CO2 as greenhouse gases. By the early 20th century, scientists predicted that a doubling of the CO2 in the atmosphere would trigger a global temperature increase of 1.5 to 4.5 Celsius degrees.

In 1957, Roger Revelle told Time magazine that "if the blanket of CO2 produces a temperature increase of only one or two degrees, a chain of secondary effects may come into play. As the air gets warmer, sea water will get warmer, too, and the CO2 dissolved in it will return to the atmosphere ... possibly raising the temperature enough to melt the ice caps of Antarctica and Greenland, which would flood the earth's coastal regions."

By the mid-1960s, a number of top-flight scientific committees had endorsed the concept.

"This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale through … a steady increase in CO2 from the burning of fossil fuels," President Lyndon Johnson told Congress in 1965.

Three key scientific reports in the 1970s saw the problem of global warming as a serious one.

The global warming predictions of the '70s, Oreskes says, are what led to the creation of the IPCC in 1988 in an effort to analyze temperature trends, predict and track the effects of rising greenhouse gases and suggest solutions.

The National Energy Act of 1988 called for the quick reduction in the generation of CO2 to slow the pace of atmospheric warming.

The United States signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and President George H.W. Bush called on Americans to turn the framework into action.

In other words, a general scientific and public consensus about the causes and consequences of global warming seemed to be in place.

Under the assault of organizations like the Marshall Institute, strategists like Luntz, and wave after wave of Republican candidates for national office, funded by the fossil fuel megaliths, that consensus has be fractured.

News organizations contributed to the success of the disinformation campaigns.

"In their efforts to deliver balanced reporting, they often mention 'climate deniers' as if they represented a legitimate scientific view point," said Pollack.

Jim Bloch is a freelance writer. Contact him at

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    Both of the satellite data sets (RSS & UAH v6) show that there has been no global warming in the past 18+ years despite increasing CO2 emissions during this period. If CO2 emissions were a direct and significant cause of global warming, we would have experienced global warming during the 18+ year pause. We did not.
    There is no empirical evidence showing that humans (primarily CO2 emissions) are the primary cause of global warming since the start of the industrial age.
    The earth is estimated to be 4.5 billion years old and the climate has been changing the entire time. The relevant questions are how much global warming is caused by human activities (primarily CO2 emissions) and are the effects good or bad?
    The hypothesis that human caused global warming (AGW) is based on an unproven hypothesis and computers which overemphasize CO2's role in climate change and de-emphasize the role of clouds, solar cycles, ocean cycles and other natural causes of climate change. These computers have been notoriously wrong almost all of the time (when compared to real world data) and have been compared to a sports team that played the entire season without winning a game. Computers that model an imaginary planet and are programmed with guesses of a few of the many variables affecting climate are not data or empirical evidence. Ninety-five percent of the climate models relied upon by the IPCC failed to predict the 18 year and eight month pause and their projections of future temperatures during the last 20 years substantially exceeded the observed temperatures during this period. There is no empirical evidence that CO2 emissions are or ever have been the primary cause of global warming
    The outside atmospheric levels of CO2 are currently around 400 ppm. During the last ice age CO2 levels fell to 180 ppm and plants started to shut down. If CO2 levels had reached 150 ppm or lower, plants would have started to die off and all plant and animal life on the planet could have died. Green houses regularly keep CO2 concentrations at 1000-1200 ppm because the plants grow better. In the past, CO2 levels have been at several thousand parts per million and plants and animals thrived. US submarines try to keep CO2 levels below 8,000 ppm. Federal OSHA standards set CO2 maximums at 5,000 ppm. When you exhale, your breath contains more than 40,000 ppm CO2. The most predominant greenhouse gas is water vapor and increased CO2 levels are greening the planet.
    We are much closer to being CO2 deprived than we are being threatened by too much atmospheric CO2. Plants thrive on more CO2- that is a good thing. CO2 is not a pollutant. It is a weak greenhouse gas that is colorless and odorless which comprises only .04% of the atmosphere (naturally occurring CO2 + CO2 emissions). CO2 emissions were only 3-4% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere. So, CO2 emissions make up only .0012 to 0.0016 % of the atmosphere. That is why blaming global warming on CO2 emissions is like having 'the flea wag the dog'.
    Climate change is natural and has been occurring since the formation of the planet. The 18 year and 8 month pause just proves that the skeptics were right all along-natural causes of climate change are more powerful than the insubstantial effects that human generated CO2 has on the world's climate.
    AGW is about power, politics and greed. Every time the facts change, the Believers move the goal posts . They have at least 66 excuses for the 18+ year pause in global warming and the failure of the computer climate models to predict it. The Believers blame any unusual (but normal) climate event on global warming with no scientific proof. This is often done with a scary picture or one that pulls on the heart strings, and the text of the article will say "could be caused", "is consistent with", or "may be caused by" global warming. This is code for we have no scientific evidence but we want to scare you so we can tax CO2 and promote our political agenda and profit from the AGW industry (which we must perpetuate at all costs).

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