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Deniers are still mostly duping only GOP voters, but what do you expect from a party that wants to be more like Sarah Palin?

By Joe Romm on February 3, 2009 at 9:54 am

"Deniers are still mostly duping only GOP voters, but what do you expect from a party that wants to be more like Sarah Palin?"

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You can indeed fool some of the people all the time — if those people are conservatives.

Rasmussen Reports made headlines last month reporting that 41% of Americans blame global warming on human activity, down from 46% two years ago. The conservative pollster gleefully noted:

Al Gore’s side may be coming to power in Washington, but they appear to be losing the battle on the idea that humans are to blame for global warming.

It is, however, the details of the poll that are the most telling. In January 2009:

Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats blame global warming on human activity, compared to 21% percent of Republicans. Two-thirds of GOP voters (67%) see long-term planetary trends as the cause versus 23% of Democrats.

This compares to December 2006 result:

Fifty-six percent (56%) of Democrats say human activity is the cause while 51% of Republicans identify long-term planetary trends as the culprit.

That’s right. Slightly more Democrats now understand that humans are the primary cause of global warming, whereas substantially more GOP voters — a full one-sixth — have been duped into thinking long-term planetary trends are the cause.

Why the growing divergence?

First, people naturally tend to believe those who share their political views, and it is primarily conservatives and conservative media outlets who run the disinformation campaign. There is now a “full court press” from deniers, as one reader emailed me.

And who can really be surprised by these findings when a Rasmussen polls from just last week found:

The plurality of GOP voters (43%) say their party has been too moderate over the past eight years, and 55% think it should become more like Alaska Governor Sarah Palin in the future.

Res ipsa loquitur.

I take it as a good sign that Democrats’ understanding of the science has grown a little even in the face of deniers aggressively pushing the “global cooling” lie and the generally lame media coverage of the issue (see NYT’s Revkin is shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat and “Must-read study: “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress“). Progressives’ views are aligned with the science and will inevitably strengthen over time.

But how can GOP voters be moved when they are increasingly distrustful of scientists? As I noted in a September post:

A significant and growing number of Republicans — one in eight as of 2008 — simply don’t believe what they know most scientists believe.

Let me end with the discussion from my post, “The deniers are winning, especially with the GOP,” of a year ago.

BIG LIE

According to the United States Office of Strategic Services, Hitler’s strategy was based on the view:

people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.

In fact, Hitler himself defined the term “Big Lie,” in his autobiography Mein Kempf, as

a lie so “collosal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

I don’t think this useful term should be a banned from public use just because Hitler defined it first. I certainly apologize to anybody who is upset by the analogy — I’m not trying to compare deniers with Nazis — there is no such comparison possible — nor does it apply to all of the people who advocate one of the 6 myths below. No, the “Big Lie” refers mostly to the strategy of the professional class of those who spread disinformation for a living.

I do think the term gets to a fundamental reason why global warming denial is so effective. The science has now become unequivocally clear that the health and well-being of billions of people (and most species) are at grave risk from continued unrestricted human emissions of greenhouse gases (See Hadley Center: Catastrophic 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path and Climate change “largely irreversible for 1000 years,” with permanent Dust Bowls in Southwest and around the globe).

But who could possibly believe that so many credible-sounding people, including major public leaders in the conservative movement, would so strongly argue that

  1. The earth is not warming and/or
  2. Humans are not a major cause of whatever warming is occurring and/or
  3. The problem is not an urgent one because the impacts are distant and tolerable and/or
  4. The solution is painful if not impossible with existing technologies anyway and/or
  5. Adaptation is a better strategy than mitigation and/or
  6. It’s just too damn late!

It is hard to believe — indeed it is almost impossible to believe.

And it has proven almost impossible for the traditional media to deal with (see “Media enable denier spin 2: What if the MSM simply can’t cover humanity’s self-destruction?“)

When I last wrote on this I said “I don’t have any easy answers to offer in this post. Shaming the traditional media doesn’t seem to work because they are mostly shameless — indeed the vast majority of journalists wear it as a badge of honor that they are criticized equally by ‘both sides’.”

There is in fact only one answer. The Obama team must devotes significant effort to undoing the disinformation and muzzling of the past eight years. No single institution drives more of the media coverage and framing of the major national issue than the White House and the executive branch experts on a subject. A 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded:

The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

The Obama team must launch an equally systematic effort to get the truth out. As I wrote (here):

The Obama team needs to spend a considerable amount of time giving public speeches, holding informal meetings with key opinion makers, researching and publicizing major reports on the high cost of inaction and the relatively low cost of solutions.

I will elaborate on what such an effort might entail in a later post. But the Obama team might start by holding a series of press conferences starting in March to re-issue the four global warming impact studies Bush tried to bury in his final days.

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22 Responses to Deniers are still mostly duping only GOP voters, but what do you expect from a party that wants to be more like Sarah Palin?

  1. Ronald says:

    Maybe we need a better way to describe the problem.

    It’s not Global Warming of 0.2 or 0.4 degrees that we should be most worried about, but the 6 degrees Celsius positive feedback Global Warming. Or in the United States, 11 degree Farhenheit positive feedback Global Warming. That is the destroyer of human worlds that is the problem.

    I have asked a few poeple I know what they think about it and out of about 20 people I spoke to, not one could tell me about the 11 degree Farhenheit positive feedbacks or of the costs like the McKinsey report that a needed less carbon burning economy might cost 0.6 to 1.4 percent of GNP to get. One person told me as their wild ass guess that the costs would be 30 percent of GNP.

  2. Wise words. Let also note that there are the tellers of the Big Lie, and there are the receivers of the Big Lie.

    It is easier to forgive those who passively embrace the big lie, impossible to forgive Big Liars who constantly propagate, fund PR campaigns, and pull strings on puppet politicians.

    The Big Lie becomes understandable as a business strategy. Exxon made $45 Billion in profit last year. The Big Lie is crucial to their business – as it is to any carbon energy company. And to stockholders, and spin off businesses, and the automobile industry.

    Bigger problem: now we have to define Big Changes.

  3. Col says:

    Joe,

    A continued thanks for this analysis. It’s truly amazing to think of these stats. I won’t pretend to understand them fully. Some number crunching surely explains things partially (number of Rep. voters, vs swing voters, vs registered voters, etc.). But it still leaves the head shaking.

    I also fully agree with you that a counter-offensive truth out should be done at a minumum.

    That noted, I’m note sure I would focus all efforts on trying to convince people about one’s vision of the nature of the universe. Some beliefs just won’t shake. Especially deeply held stuff like “God just wouldn’t possibly let us wreck the planet”.

    Instead I wonder what you think about just trying to get on with specific initiatives that others can buy into for different reasons. Apparently, for example, today Texas lawmakers FROM BOTH SIDES are endorsing a push for solar in that state.

    Solar Power Turns on Texas Lawmakers of Both Parties
    http://www.ens-newswire.com/ens/feb2009/2009-02-02-093.asp

    Presumably, a lot of these republicans see value in a specific initiative despite their not being convinced in the science.

    Can we not do more of this? Could this be a more fruitful approach even?

  4. Brewster says:

    Joe, I think you left out the most common argument that I have run into as I point out the obvious lies propagated by deniers:

    “It’s such a political issue – both sides are liars. Who can tell what the truth REALLY is? Why spend money when you don’t know?”

    If you don’t believe that there are thousands of Climate Scientists on one side, then the few “Scientists” on the other side sound equally believable.

  5. Wes Rolley says:

    Ah, yes. We determine facts by polling the ignorant.

    Right now, we are about to lose a significant portion of America’s food production as California turns increasingly to desert. Finally, that story is coming to the public, at least in Northern California where Fox affiliated station KTVU (Oakland) ran this last night.

    In a similar series, reporter Cecilia Vega of San Francisco’s KGO-TV, an ABC affiliate, takes much the same tone as they warn us that Warm Weather Comes at a Price.

    While I don’t question the goal of having Obama’s team take to the airways, it seem that we also need pressure on local stations to start telling the whole story. Most do not.. some are beginning to. It is up to us.

    Wes Rolley, CoChair EcoAction Committee, Green Party US

  6. paulm says:

    Whats worse than a denier, a government liar….

    Campaigners question sums behind falling UK emissions
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2009/feb/03/carbon-figures-uk

    The annual controversy over whether the UK’s greenhouse gas emissions are rising or falling began againtoday with the publication of the latest official figures showing a 1.7% decline in 2007.
    ….
    Based on consumption instead of production, and including all travel, a report by Dieter Helm at Oxford University and two other experts calculated that UK emissions rose by 19% between 1990 and 2003.

  7. Peter McEvoy says:

    It’s troubling how much this has to do with online activity. Check out this post on DeSmogBlog:

    http://www.desmogblog.com/2008-stats-global-warming-denial-blogosphere

    Searches for global warming denial have more than DOUBLED in 2008 alone.

    The bottom line: we need to (re)start raising awareness.

  8. Dean says:

    One or two summers like Australia is having now will do more than Obama or anybody else could do to undermine the deniers. Also note that the parts of the US that will be most affected be heat and drought tend to be more conservative areas, like the intermountain west.

  9. Jeff says:

    While scientists on both sides of the issue slug it out in their own way, I, along with thousands of blogsters and commenters, slug it out from the political view.

    The science is not settled, not by a long shot, and it’s hard to tell who’s ahead.

    [JR: Yes, there is a vigorous scientific debate as to whether this will be of the worst catastrophe in the history of humankind by far or merely an unmitigated disaster. I think the former is winning, but it does depend on who you were talking to.]

    The political battle is tipping to the side of the skeptics…they’re winning more converts, so the polls say.

    If the warmers want to gain back lost ground, they should take care not to keep issuing wild alarms to the general public. Warmers enjoy hearing the alarms, but people who don’t (yet) have a dog in the fight grow weary of hearing the same rants, time after time.

    But if warmers must shout the alarm, they should understand that use of “shrill” language is no less annoying than the sound of a fingernail on a chalkboard. That really turns people off. They should also understand that people can sniff out B/S better than a bloodhound. For example, new “Studies” that “suggest” how severely impacted polar bears “might” be to the sounds of nearby oil drilling equipment, serve only to trivialize the warmers’ position. People know that the real message isn’t about polar bears. They know it’s really about using a trumped-up story to justify drilling prohibitions in the ANWR. Even if the research may one day prove to be valid, today it is not valid, at least not in the minds of the general public. Warmers should also know that lies and over-the-top embellishment of the facts will come back to haunt them. For example, people seeing the picture of a forelorn polar bear stranded on an ice floe with a barren seascape behind him as far as the eye can see, who later hear that behind the camera, 50 yards away, was the shoreline, will know that the global warming message is just as bogus.

    Face it, if the use of shrill voices and language, if the use of trumped up reasons, and if the use of deception is necessary for the warmists to enlist public support for their cause, most people (with their finely tuned noses) will smell a rat. The warmers’ viewpoint can only lose credibility.

    [JR: Never met anyone more shrill on this topic than the deniers, since they don't have the facts on their side. I've never heard the polar bear drilling study, so I guess that one didn't make it out into the wider media.]

  10. Mark says:

    The trend between parties is interesting. Some things to note:

    - These sorts of Rasmussen polls always skew right compared to other polls One has to wonder about their integrity when they refer to the scientific consensus as “Al Gore’s side”.

    - Polls on global warming conducted in the winter, particularly in areas of cold weather, are inevitably going to result in more doubt. Rasmussen probably knows this.

    - Environmental concerns in general drop off during bad economic times, and these times are very bad. See the recent Pew Research poll. Folks are worried about keeping their jobs and protecting their dwindling savings. While it’s urgent to start reducing emissions in the short-term, the effects of global warming are gradual and long-term. While this theoretically should be independent of the other question, some folks might be more willingly convinced that there isn’t a problem, and we certainly have propagandists who are taking advantage of such vulnerability.

    - With Bush in office ensuring that no action on global warming would be taken, many Republicans probably were more willing to admit there was a problem. Now out of power, they probably are vulnerable to feeling threatened by the so-called “liberal elites”, and more easily convinced by the Inhofe crowd and the nonsense of the blogosphere. There’s a large market for global warming denial and many are eager to meet that demand.

    - A little redundant here, but I really think cold weather has an effect. Many can’t distinguish between local weather events and global climate. It would be interesting to see how Australians feel about global warming (record heat wave), or Americans from the Rockies on west, who recently saw a very mild January, as compared with Americans east of the Rockies and western Europeans, who have experienced a cold month. Most of the U.S. also experienced a colder than usual December.

  11. The tobacco playbook is being replicated in the global warming debate. It is all laid out in Chris Mooneys new book, The Republican War on Science.

    It is a national disgrace that so many people are incompetent to judge the merits of scientific debates, but they actually applaud defiant ignorance in public figures.

  12. Gail says:

    I don’t believe there is time enough to rely (at least principally) on educating people on the finer points of this complex problem. We are the proverbial child, about to run out in the street after our ball. There is not time to explain the physics of a speeding car, nor the ramifications of impact with the child. What is needed is a swift parental yank on the arm of the child, while scolding, “don’t do that! It is very dangerous!”

    What we need to be repeating over and over and over again, is that WE ARE IN DANGER and that safety lies in x (ie: getting below 350 ppm, cutting emissions 80-90% by 2050, etc.)

    As the call when out to cut carbon 80% by 2050, I was somewhat amazed that it was not debated to any great extent, but rather it became the accepted standard that politicians quite readily signed on to. We need to model this by simply putting out the bottom line critical actions and repeating them over and over and over again.

    In the disaster films, when the meteor is hurtling through space on a collision course with earth, the time for debate comes quickly to a close and the President issues a bold directive for immediate action to save humanity.

    It’s time for President Obama to provide clear and bold leadership to direct all of us to do everything we can (as people were asked to do for the WW11 war effort) and for nations to do all that is necessary to save humanity and life as we know it.

    It is only when our President speaks of the looming disaster in terms of dire emergency, that people will really listen and get it. Right now, there are simply too many other problems that keep the climate change “problem” from standing out as worthy of our all our energies and attention.

  13. paulm says:

    I didn’t know there was an asteroid heading this way also!
    Holy cow were done for for sure now. Does Obama know about this?

  14. “Experts disagree” “we need more studies” “don’t believe the nerds” “real Americans like big cars” — these are the “arguments” against taking action. Deniers can’t win on the merits, so these fouls substitute for rational debate.

  15. jcwinnie says:

    Dear Climate Progressives, I disagree with your suggestion that the GOP necessarily wants to be more like Sarah Palin. (Of course, you could have inside info on which are cross-dressers.)

    OTOH, I do think that those, who put the turtle on the post, do want the Repugnants to be more like SP, because that is the America that they see bending to their will. Delay, denial, deception, prejudice, fear, they will use all of these and other amoral tactics to continue BAUAAAE (Business As Usual And Above All Else). Never mind upgrading science in our schools, let’s teach our children how to be highly paid wardrobe consultants.

    BTW: @Wilmot: Experts disagreeing is a hallmark of a complex issue. I would caution again decrying this objection. The opposite is Groupthink into another Cuban missile crisis, another space shuttle go boom, etc.

  16. John Mashey says:

    Ignore temperature for the moment. Think about water, the history of the Anasazi, and the clear fact that over time, there will be less rainfall in the US Southwest (i.e., change in Hadley cells).

    In another decade or two, it may be time for grateful Oklahomans to rename the State Formerly Known as Oklahoma as The Senator Inhofe Memorial Dustbowl.

    The 1930s Dust Bowl was a local human-made disaster-awaiting-the-next-dryspell. The next one is a more global human-made disaster awaiting the next natural drought, but it looks to last centuries, rather than a decade.

  17. Jeff: Would you like us to leave you here to die in the H2S while we move to Mars to escape? If that is your wish…… But be warned, death by H2S gas is NOT a pleasant way to go. H2S gas becomes H2SO4 in your lungs.

    Global Warming can lead to Hydrogen Sulfide gas coming out of
    the oceans. Hydrogen Sulfide gas will Kill all people. Homo
    Sap will go EXTINCT unless drastic action is taken NOW.

    October 2006 Scientific American

    “EARTH SCIENCE
    Impact from the Deep
    Strangling heat and gases emanating from the earth and sea, not asteroids, most likely caused several ancient mass extinctions. Could the same killer-greenhouse conditions build once again?
    By Peter D. Ward
    downloaded from:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=00037A5D-A938-150E-A93883414B7F0000&sc=I100322

    ………………..Most of the article omitted………………….
    But with atmospheric carbon climbing at an annual rate of 2 ppm and expected to accelerate to 3 ppm, levels could approach 900 ppm by the end of the next century, and conditions that bring about the beginnings of ocean anoxia may be in place. How soon after that could there be a new greenhouse extinction? That is something our society should never find out.”

    Press Release
    Pennsylvania State University
    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    Monday, Nov. 3, 2003
    downloaded from:
    http://www.geosociety.org/meetings/2003/prPennStateKump.htm

    “In the end-Permian, as the levels of atmospheric oxygen fell and the levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide rose, the upper levels of the oceans could have become rich in hydrogen sulfide catastrophically. This would kill most of the oceanic plants and animals. The hydrogen sulfide dispersing in the atmosphere would kill most terrestrial life.”

    http://www.astrobio.net is a NASA web zine. See:

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=672

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=1535

    http://www.astrobio.net/news/article2509.html

    http://astrobio.net/news/modules.php?op=modload&name=News&file=article&sid=2429&mode=thread&order=0&thold=0

    These articles agree with the first 2. They all say 6 degrees C or 1000 parts per million CO2 is the extinction point.

    The global warming is already 1.3 degree Farenheit. 11 degrees Farenheit is about 6 degrees Celsius. The book “Six Degrees” by Mark Lynas agrees. If the global warming is 6 degrees centigrade, we humans go extinct. See:
    http://www.marklynas.org/2007/4/23/six-steps-to-hell-summary-of-six-degrees-as-published-in-the-guardian

    “Under a Green Sky” by Peter D. Ward, Ph.D., 2007. Paleontologist discusses mass extinctions of the past and the one we are doing to ourselves.

    OIL SHALE, TAR SANDS AND COAL MUST BE LEFT IN THE GROUND TO AVOID THE EXTINCTION OF US HUMANS.
    We have to convert to plug-in hybrid cars so that electricity made by low-CO2 methods powers most of our driving. Nuclear power produces the least CO2 of ANY source of electricity.
    32 countries have nuclear power plants. Only 9 have the bomb. The top 4 producers of CO2 all have nuclear power plants, coal fired power plants and nuclear bombs. They are the USA, China, India and Russia. Reducing CO2 production by 90% by 2050 requires drastic action in the USA, China, India and Russia. Coal, oil shale and tar sands must be left untouched in the ground.

    I have no connection to the nuclear power industry.

  18. Mark: Read “The Long Summer” by Brian Fagan and “Collapse” by Jared Diamond. We are not in bad times yet. These are good times because there is still food in the grocery stores. In BAD times, people don’t care about money and don’t go to work if they have jobs because THERE IS NO FOOD. They wander off looking for food that they never find. It has happened to dozens of previous civilizations and it is about to happen to us. When it happens, 1 person in 10000 survives and 99.99% die, mostly of starvation. To stop and prevent it, we have to take drastic action NOW. Economics is a waste of time unless and until the environment is cured. See:
    http://environmentaldefenseblogs.org/climate411/2008/01/14/global_winds/
    and
    http://www.marklynas.org/2007/4/23/six-steps-to-hell-summary-of-six-degrees-as-published-in-the-guardian

  19. johninoregon says:

    I subject myself to a lot of the conservative nonsense on climate change, and it appears that a lot of it comes down to a variaton of the old Groucho Marx line about “Who are you going to believe—me or your own lying eyes?” Conservatives endlessly gloat over the fact that it’s snowing where they are, so Al Gore and those pesky liberals can’t possibly be right about global warming.

    If the Obama administration launches a climate-change awareness campaign, I think it needs to drive home two points above all others: (1.) We’re talking about SCIENCE, not a political disagreement, and (2) the science is about LONG-TERM, GLOBAL climate patterns, not a December cold snap in East Dogpatch.

  20. Lou Grinzo says:

    There are so many layers to this right-wing-concocted garbage lasagna that it’s almost impossible to know where to start. But let me point out one detail: They’re winning the semantics war, yet again.

    The problem is “global warming”. Most climate scientists prefer to call it “climate change”, which is definitely more accurate, but carries a far too mild implication. This is why I’ve changed to calling it “climate chaos” over on The Cost of Energy. I think it’s more accurate than “global warming”, and it conveys more of the uncertainty and seriousness of the situation. As long as we keep calling this unfolding mess by the cuddly name “global warming”, it will be that much easier for the ideologues and financially motivated to convince right-leaners to ignore science. And given the role of public policy in our future regarding energy and environmental issues, that’s a humongous issue.

  21. So 79% of Republicans think they know better than nearly all the climate scientists in the world.

    The dumbing down of America is well underway.

  22. Jeff says:

    Asteroid Miner:

    The links you provided were very interesting. Skeptics have long asserted that the Earth was much warmer in the past, obviously due to natural cycles. If the study regarding the species extinction some 250,000 millions years ago receives wide scientific acceptance, then the future of Earth may once again face such a problem. It happened before. Whatever caused CO2 levels to surpass the cited 1,000 ppm level could happen again. I would not worry about man made CO2, because we will run out of oil long before man made CO2 reaches that level (in about 200 years?). The idea that Mother Nature could inflict this upon us, whether we burn fossil fuels or not, could provide significant challenges to future generations for adaptation.

    The idea that man made CO2 could take us to this point depends on the validity of this hypothesis. Even if were true, the world is supposed to run out of oil in the next 40-50 years. By then the hypothesis will be moot. That is, unless you would ascribe the Al Gore “tipping point” claim. Al Gore can’t wait that long. He’s got too much invested in the “rush to judgement” for the AGW hypothesis.

    Regarding Al Gore, he’s a lucky guy. How many people do you know that will get filthy rich while saving the planet? Well, actually, there’s the top executives at General Electric and many other large corporations, plus who knows how many politicians…but who’s counting?

    Enjoy your trip to Mars.