Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Climate Change Conspiracy Theory

In response to the local conservative columnist revealing that he is a conspiracy theorist, a theorist who believes that climate change is an international conspiracy to usurp the sovereignty of the United States, is this great column running in today's Idaho State Journal:


For those of us who are non-scientists, it is difficult to assess the controversy over global warming. Most of us lack the necessary background knowledge about the science of climatology. Most of us do not understand the mathematical techniques that are used to analyze the relevant data and lack any real grasp of the computer modeling methods that are used to generate climate predictions. Consequently, most of us are largely unable to form trustworthy independent judgments about the scientific studies upon which the conclusions of climate scientists are based.

Our natural recourse, in this situation, is to rely upon the honesty of the scientific community, and the accuracy of journalistic reports which summarize scientific research for the general public. It is therefore disturbing to discover that the recent publication of hacked emails from a prominent climate research laboratory has led some to assert that the climate scientists have been lying to us.

Is there any merit to this assertion? New Scientist, a respected British science publication, says, in its current issue, that “the charge that the emails are proof of a climate change swindle is ludicrous… there is no evidence in the hundreds of emails that data is being systematically falsified or dishonestly manipulated in refereed journals.” The emails do, it appears, reveal that the scientists in the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia are passionate about their work, competitive in their search for the truth, and perhaps excessively irritated by those who deny the validity of their findings. But there is absolutely no evidence that they have, in the words of a local columnist, “falsified data.”

And even if this one group of researchers has deceived us, there have been thousands of scientific studies over the past decade disclosing the evidence for global warming, from scientists all over the world. Are the global warming deniers asking us to believe that those studies, too, are false? Are we to dismiss the reports that the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps are rapidly shrinking? That polar bears are starving because the sea ice on which they hunt is disappearing? That the sea level is rising? That increased ocean temperatures and acidity are destroying coral reefs? That tropical diseases are migrating into the temperate zones?

What could plausibly compel someone to argue that the scientific consensus regarding global warming is mistaken? Well, self-interest, for one. Global warming is obviously not just an academic issue, and it’s rather likely that the coal lobby’s disbelief in global warming is motivated, in part, by the economic consequences it foresees if measures are taken to reduce the production of carbon dioxide. Political bias is another. The political Right has traditionally advocated the unrestrained exploitation of natural resources by industry, and opposed environmentalists. Greenhouse gas emission control is seen by the Right as simply another ploy of environmental extremists.

And then there are the paranoid fantasies of the conspiracy theorists. According to this line of thought (if it can be dignified by that phrase), global warming is a fiction fabricated by shadowy evil-doers and designed to frighten nations into submitting themselves to the dictates of a new trans-national government. In other words, lurking behind the innocent-looking façade of scientific research is an international conspiracy to restrict the sovereignty of the United States, impoverish its people, and take away their liberty. The scientists are not just dupes in this nefarious plot, they are “accomplices.”

We have heard all this before. It is simply a new twist on an old lie. It is a continuation of the debunked “World Government” and “New World Order” scares concocted by the ultra-right beginning in the nineteen-sixties. And before that there were the Illuminati, the Tri-lateral Commission, the Freemasons and, of course, the Jews.

This sort of hysteria over the prospect that the United States might enter into binding agreements with other nations to limit greenhouse gas production is more than just absurd; it threatens to derail international efforts to cope with global warming, and, by doing so, insure that we all will suffer the ecological and social havoc that climate change seems sure to produce.
This column has been reprinted here with permission of the author. In addition to this column, the Idaho State Journal editorial board offered an opinion titled "U.S. needs to do more than just talk about global warming."

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