Nearly 200 scientific organizations and national academies of science acknowledge the climate is changing, that humans are responsible and that some form of action should be taken to address the risks to people and the planet, by NASA’s count.
The executive summary of the National Climate Assessment released in late 2017 by the Trump administration states: “For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation.” Despite this reality, why do good people reject the scientific reality of human-caused climate change and ignore the need to address it?
A look at history provides some answers. Over 40 years ago, the tobacco industry employed a method to refute clear evidence linking smoking to cancer. A tobacco industry memo stated: “Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the ‘body of fact’ that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy.”
What followed was a disinformation campaign by the merchants of doubt, a loose-knit group of people with extensive political connections, to purposefully mislead the American public and delay government action.
That same technique is being used today. Merchants of doubt intentionally create controversy about anthropogenic climate change using fake experts and logical fallacies, cherry-picking evidence, setting impossible expectations of climate models and spreading conspiracy theories.
Fake experts are trotted out in a specific field yet have zero scientific credentials. Christopher Monckton, for example, is a British consultant, policy adviser, writer and columnist. He doesn’t have any formal training in science and doesn’t have any published peer-reviewed scientific work but is one of the most cited and widely published anthropogenic climate change contrarians.
Straw-man arguments ignore strong evidence, focus on weak evidence and ignore complexity. Temperature variations from year to year and place to place are used to undermine anthropogenic global warming. However, the record-setting cold on March 3 in the Twin Cities doesn’t disprove it any more than eating a meal disproves that global hunger has been eradicated.
Climate scientists look at long-term global temperature trends — 30 years or more. However, merchants of doubt will cherry-pick data from shorter time periods to claim that there hasn’t been any global warming. Their fictional story gets picked up by pundits, politicians and our neighbors as proof that global warming is a hoax. The reality is since the 1920s, you can choose any 30-year span and show global temperature trends with significant warming, according to the federal assessment.
The claim that climate models have not been able to precisely predict global temperatures sets an impossible expectation. Data scientists will tell you that no model is perfect. The question is whether a model tells you more information than you would have had otherwise. If it does, that model is skillful. The first climate models are over 50 years old and were very skilled, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel wrote in a 2017 Forbes article.
Modern climate models are now skillful in predicting regional climate patterns. Gavin Schmidt, a climate modeler at NASA, gave a TED talk in 2014 entitled “The Emergent Patterns of Climate Change.” Take time to view it. He closes his 12-minute presentation with the following: “The models are skillful, but what we do with the information from those models is totally up to you.”
The U.S. economy faces significant risks from unabated climate change. Every year of inaction serves to broaden and deepen those risks. From an economist point of view, anthropogenic climate change is a fat-tailed risk with a probability of ending in economic catastrophe.
Businesses around the world and politicians across the spectrum realize the need for government policies to address the ever increasing economic risks. Merchants of doubt would like you to believe that any policy response is too expensive and serves as a way for the government to control your life.
The irony with this argument is thick. If we do nothing, economic damages from anthropogenic climate change are likely to cost the U.S. more than any other country but India, according to a 2018 peer-reviewed study in the journal Nature Climate Change. Additionally, the government might be forced to take draconian action at extreme taxpayer cost to protect Americans and our economy.
Twenty-seven Nobel laureate economists, four former Federal Reserve Chairs, 15 former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers, two former secretaries of the U.S. Department of Treasury and over 3,500 economists, including 38 from the University of Minnesota, have united behind carbon taxes and public dividends as the bipartisan economic framework for America in response to the economic and environmental risks of anthropogenic climate change, according to the online list at econstatement.org.
This framework is good for people and the economy. It’s bipartisan and revenue neutral. It unleashes a flurry of American innovation, creates jobs and forces the rest of the world to follow our lead.
We have a stark choice to make: Fall for the merchants’ propaganda or support Republican and Democrat officials in Washington, D.C., as they work together to pass the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividends Act into law.