The focus of the Climate Club dinner held in April was a discussion with scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO) about the challenges they face dealing with aggressive attacks on their work on climate change. The organizer of the event, John Lormon, noted that “The science community is generally not organized or culturally equipped to respond to politically motivated attacks on their findings. If these attacks are successful in challenging the credibility of the science, they can be used to establish claims that can negatively impact California’s economy and jobs”.
Those in attendance were of diverse backgrounds, but by the end of the evening I sensed a common denominator of extreme frustrated concern. What we learned from SIO Professors Richard Somerville, Ray Weiss, Ralph Keeling and Andrew Dickson was made doubly disturbing by their personal testimony. It is one thing to discuss climate change denial in the abstract. It is another to hear the stories of deceit and distortion directed at the life’s work of serious scientists whose only motivation is to “do science” honestly and objectively. This is not a story of competing theories, but rather one in which established science is ignored or misrepresented. The complexity and scope of climate change denial is of enormous magnitude. As the evening ended I was saddened with the sense that none of us saw a clear path of response. The following month Naomi Oreskes and Eric M. Conway published a book which beams light on the path.
Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming will, I guarantee, make you angry. Oreskes and Conway pinpoint the scientists-for-hire, think tanks and foundations which thread from one denial campaign to another beginning with the tobacco industry’s multiple decade stall on the linkage between smoking and cancer. The stage is filled with many of the same players who challenged the science behind acid rain, ozone depletion and now global warming. What is amazing is that denial-for-hire has become a robust industry. Huge funding from the tobacco industry, oil and others hides behind the artifice of educational foundations and even attorney-client privilege. Some big-name national commentators have set up “foundations” so that they can receive funding from special interest groups and maintain deniability that they are not journalists for hire.
Go to Amazon. Buy the book. If you already own it, buy copies to give to your smart friends. Thought leaders everywhere need to know this story. You can make a difference.
Naomi Oreskes is a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. There have been many reviews written about this important book. Here’s one by Jesse Kornbluth.