I am interested in your thoughts on the term “climate cranks.” Of course,I like any phrase that uses a figure of speech, alliteration in this case. But I tend to think “cranks” is too mild. Cranks don’t have a multimillion dollar fossil-fuel-funded campaign behind them. Some cranks may seek to block efforts to preserve a livable climate, but only hard-core pro-pollution anti-science deniers and disinformers can achieve that immoral goal.
Will it take the Republican Party as long to accept modern science as it took the Roman Catholic Church? The church waited 359 years to admit Galileo was right “” the earth does move around the sun. Not until 1992 did the Vatican officially withdraw its condemnation of the man Albert Einstein called the father of modern science.
Today, even children know that the earth revolves around the sun. But that idea was heresy to the 17th-century church. When Galileo would not abandon his views, the Inquisition put him on trial in 1633. He was forced to recant under penalty of death, then lived under house arrest for the rest of his life.
Now the House Republican majority is launching its own attack on Galileo’s scientific descendants. Rejecting mainstream climate science became a GOP litmus test during the 2010 midterm elections. Republican leaders then floated the idea of putting mainstream climate science on trial in congressional hearings.
This week, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), the chairman of the House Energy Committee, introduced legislation that would “repeal” the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific determination that greenhouse gases threaten human health and welfare.
After Galileo reluctantly recanted, legend has it that he muttered, “Eppure, si muove.” In other words “” censorship and repression could not change physical fact: The earth moves around the sun, whether the church agreed or not.
This is true today: Modern science has conclusively demonstrated that human activities are dangerously overheating the planet “” notwithstanding Republicans’ desire to repeal that conclusion.
Republicans are the only major political party in the world that rejects this mainstream climate science. The right-of-center parties controlling governments in Britain, Germany and France, for example, not only embrace mainstream climate science, they support far more aggressive climate policies than anything advocated by Republicans “” or Democrats “” in Washington.
U.S. news coverage usually refers to climate deniers as skeptics. That is misleading. Skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method. But an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts. These deniers are largely impervious to facts “” at least facts that contradict their worldview.
When virtually every major scientific organization in the world, including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and its counterparts in 18 other industrial countries, has affirmed that man-made climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank would continue to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.
What, are all these organizations and the thousands of scientists associated with them part of a vast conspiracy? Are they all lying careerists or incompetent buffoons? That is the only logical conclusion to draw from the Republicans’ continuing insistence that climate science is bogus. Despite having no more scientific credibility than the Flat Earth Society, the climate cranks have held our nation’s climate policy hostage for decades. One reason the United States has done so little to reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the past 20 years is that our government has listened as much to these climate cranks as to real scientists.
As a result, our planet is now locked into at least 50 more years of rising temperatures and the climate effects they unleash “” longer droughts, stronger storms, harsher heat waves, rising sea levels. The young people of Generation Hot””the two billion people born worldwide since NASA scientist James Hansen put the world on notice in 1988 that global warming had begun””are fated to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest climate in civilization’s history.
Yet if one judged solely by recent media coverage, one would think deniers have a point. In an embarrassing display of scientific illiteracy and political gullibility, news organizations have repeatedly played into the deniers’ hands: Implicitly endorsing their unfounded accusations of fraud against scientists whose emails were stolen, by portraying a single error in a thousand-page Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report as reason to question all of mainstream climate science.
Then the media largely abandoned the climate story over the past 12 months, even as mainstream scientists were turning out one landmark study after another, clarifying the extreme peril.
There is no point trying to change the climate cranks’ minds. For economic as well as ideological reasons, they will no more acknowledge the truth of man-made global warming than the 17th-century Vatican would concede that the Bible was not literally true.
The rest of us, however, can change how we relate to the cranks.
As Republicans seek to repeal climate science, it is past time for the chattering class in Washington to stop giving them a pass. Climate cranks should instead be called to account for the terrible damages they have set in motion and prevented from further sabotaging our nation’s response to this crisis.
We cannot wait 359 years to believe in science.
– Mark Hertsgaard is the author of six books including, most recently, “HOT: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth.”
And here’s a related piece by Peter Rothberg, the Nation magazine’s Associate Publisher for Special Projects, “Calling out the climate cranks“:
For years, climate “skeptics” have denied the near-unanimous scientific consensus around global warming in an effort to delay action.
But, they’re not really “skeptics”"”they’re cranks and hacks, and it’s time to unmask those who are holding our nation’s climate policy hostage.
The Nation is partnering in a new initiative, galvanized by the magazine’s environmental correspondent and my friend Mark Hertsgaard, to name and shame the climate cranks sabotaging our nation’s response to climate change. The coalition includes the Sierra Club, 350.org, Kids vs. Global Warming, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network and Grist.
On Tuesday, February 15, Mark (author of the new book HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth) and supporters will head to Capitol Hill, the Fox TV bureau, the Chamber of Commerce and other hotbeds of climate denial. The goal? Put the climate cranks on the spot and make them explain””on camera and in front of kids””why they have condemned the young people of “Generation Hot” (as Mark calls them), to spending the rest of their lives coping with the hottest climate in human history.
As Mark explained in a recent Nation excerpt of his book:
“On the ground in Washington I will be joined by local young people””activist members of Generation Hot. Our plan is to confront the climate cranks face to face, on camera, and call them to account for the dangers they have set in motion. We will highlight the ludicrousness of their antiscientific views, which alone should discredit them from further influence over US climate policies. And we will show how our nation could still change course””for example, if the federal government were to use its vast purchasing power to kick-start a green energy revolution that would create jobs and prosperity across the land. We welcome your help and constructive suggestions for how to achieve these goals and invite you to join us.”
Learn more about the campaign by watching this short video:
Here’s How You Can Help:
Visit the Facebook page for Generation Hot. Post your suggestions for which cranks to target, what questions to ask and how to use this action to transform the climate conversation in this country.