The A.P. Slams U.S. Deniers in 2,000-Word Essay: “The American ‘Allergy’ to Global Warming: Why?”

An Associated Press journalist draws on decades of climate reporting to offer a retrospective and analysis on global warming and the undying urge to deny.

The headline on the 1975 report was bold: “Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” And this article that coined the term may have marked the last time a mention of “global warming” didn’t set off an instant outcry of angry denial.In the paper, Columbia University geoscientist Wally Broecker calculated how much carbon dioxide would accumulate in the atmosphere in the coming 35 years, and how temperatures consequently would rise. His numbers have proven almost dead-on correct. Meanwhile, other powerful evidence poured in over those decades, showing the “greenhouse effect” is real and is happening. And yet resistance to the idea among many in the U.S. appears to have hardened.

What’s going on?

The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows,” concludes economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton.

He and others who track what they call “denialism” find that its nature is changing in America, last redoubt of climate naysayers. It has taken on a more partisan, ideological tone. Polls find a widening Republican-Democrat gap on climate. Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry even accuses climate scientists of lying for money. Global warming looms as a debatable question in yet another U.S. election campaign.

The A.P. has published journalist Charles Hanley’s nearly 2000-word essay on U.S. climate denial, “The American ‘allergy’ to global warming: Why?

The piece is an excellent edition to a growing group that includes, WashPost stunner: “The GOP’s climate-change denial may be its most harmful delusion” and National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.”

Here is more:

The basic physics of anthropogenic — manmade — global warming has been clear for more than a century, since researchers proved that carbon dioxide traps heat. Others later showed CO2 was building up in the atmosphere from the burning of coal, oil and other fossil fuels. Weather stations then filled in the rest: Temperatures were rising.“As a physicist, putting CO2 into the air is good enough for me. It’s the physics that convinces me,” said veteran Cambridge University researcher Liz Morris. But she said work must go on to refine climate data and computer climate models, “to convince the deeply reluctant organizers of this world.”

The reluctance to rein in carbon emissions revealed itself early on.

In the 1980s, as scientists studied Greenland’s buried ice for clues to past climate, upgraded their computer models peering into the future, and improved global temperature analyses, the fossil-fuel industries were mobilizing for a campaign to question the science.

By 1988, NASA climatologist James Hansen could appear before a U.S. Senate committee and warn that global warming had begun, a dramatic announcement later confirmed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a new, U.N.-sponsored network of hundreds of international scientists.

But when Hansen was called back to testify in 1989, the White House of President George H.W. Bush edited this government scientist’s remarks to water down his conclusions, and Hansen declined to appear.

That was the year U.S. oil and coal interests formed the Global Climate Coalition to combat efforts to shift economies away from their products. Britain’s Royal Society and other researchers later determined that oil giant Exxon disbursed millions of dollars annually to think tanks and a handful of supposed experts to sow doubt about the facts.

In 1997, two years after the IPCC declared the “balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate,” the world’s nations gathered in Kyoto, Japan, to try to do something about it. The naysayers were there as well.

“The statement that we’ll have continued warming with an increase in CO2 is opinion, not fact,” oil executive William F. O’Keefe of the Global Climate Coalition insisted to reporters in Kyoto.

The late Bert Bolin, then IPCC chief, despaired.

“I’m not really surprised at the political reaction,” the Swedish climatologist told The Associated Press. “I am surprised at the way some of the scientific findings have been rejected in an unscientific manner.”

In fact, a document emerged years later showing that the industry coalition’s own scientific team had quietly advised it that the basic science of global warming was indisputable.

See “Scientists advising fossil fuel funded anti-climate group concluded in 1995: The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of GHGs such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied

Kyoto’s final agreement called for limited rollbacks in greenhouse emissions. The United States didn’t even join in that. And by 2000, the CO2 built up in the atmosphere to 369 parts per million — just 4 ppm less than Broecker predicted — compared with 280 ppm before the industrial revolution.

Global temperatures rose as well, by 0.6 degrees C (1.1 degrees F) in the 20th century. And the mercury just kept rising. The decade 2000-2009 was the warmest on record, and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record.

Costal threat prediction

Satellite and other monitoring, meanwhile, found nights were warming faster than days, and winters more than summers, and the upper atmosphere was cooling while the lower atmosphere warmed — all clear signals greenhouse warming was at work, not some other factor.

The impact has been widespread.

An authoritative study this August reported that hundreds of species are retreating toward the poles, egrets showing up in southern England, American robins in Eskimo villages. Some, such as polar bears, have nowhere to go. Eventual large-scale extinctions are feared.

The heat is cutting into wheat yields, nurturing beetles that are destroying northern forests, attracting malarial mosquitoes to higher altitudes.

From the Rockies to the Himalayas, glaciers are shrinking, sending ever more water into the world’s seas. Because of accelerated melt in Greenland and elsewhere, the eight-nation Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program projects ocean levels will rise 90 to 160 centimeters (35 to 63 inches) by 2100, threatening coastlines everywhere.

“We are scared, really and truly,” diplomat Laurence Edwards, from the Pacific’s Marshall Islands, told the AP before the 1997 Kyoto meeting.

Today in these low-lying islands, rising seas have washed away shoreline graveyards, saltwater has invaded wells, and islanders seek aid to build a seawall to shield their capital.

The oceans are turning more acidic, too, from absorbing excess carbon dioxide. Acidifying seas will harm plankton, shellfish and other marine life up the food chain. Biologists fear the world’s coral reefs, home to much ocean life and already damaged from warmer waters, will largely disappear in this century.

Arctic ice cap

The greatest fears may focus on “feedbacks” in the Arctic, warming twice as fast as the rest of the world.

The Arctic Ocean’s summer ice cap has shrunk by half and is expected to essentially vanish by 2030 or 2040, the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center reported Sept. 15. Ashore, meanwhile, the Arctic tundra’s permafrost is thawing and releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

These changes will feed on themselves: Released methane leads to warmer skies, which will release more methane. Ice-free Arctic waters absorb more of the sun’s heat than do reflective ice and snow, and so melt will beget melt. The frozen Arctic is a controller of Northern Hemisphere climate; an unfrozen one could upend age-old weather patterns across continents.

Science questioned

In the face of years of scientific findings and growing impacts, the doubters persist. They ignore long-term trends and seize on insignificant year-to-year blips in data to claim all is well. They focus on minor mistakes in thousands of pages of peer-reviewed studies to claim all is wrong. And they carom from one explanation to another for today’s warming Earth: jet contrails, sunspots, cosmic rays, natural cycles.

“Ninety-eight percent of the world’s climate scientists say it’s for real, and yet you still have deniers,” observed former U.S. Rep. Sherwood Boehlert, a New York Republican who chaired the House’s science committee.

Christiana Figueres, Costa Rican head of the U.N.’s post-Kyoto climate negotiations, finds it “very, very perplexing, this apparent allergy that there is in the United States. Why?”

The Australian scholar Hamilton sought to explain why in his 2010 book, “Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change.”

See “Clive Hamilton Video: Manufacturing a scientific scandal.”

In an interview, he said he found a “transformation” from the 1990s and its industry-financed campaign, to an America where climate denial “has now become a marker of cultural identity in the ‘angry’ parts of the United States.”

“Climate denial has been incorporated in the broader movement of right-wing populism,” he said, a movement that has “a visceral loathing of environmentalism.”

An in-depth study of a decade of Gallup polling finds statistical backing for that analysis.

On the question of whether they believed the effects of global warming were already happening, the percentage of self-identified Republicans or conservatives answering “yes” plummeted from almost 50 percent in 2007-2008 to 30 percent or less in 2010, while liberals and Democrats remained at 70 percent or more, according to the study in this spring’s Sociological Quarterly.

A Pew Research Center poll last October found a similar left-right gap.

The drop-off coincided with the election of Democrat Barack Obama as president and the Democratic effort in Congress, ultimately futile, to impose government caps on industrial greenhouse emissions.

Boehlert, the veteran GOP congressman, noted that “high-profile people with an ‘R’ after their name, like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, are saying it’s all fiction. Pooh-poohing the science of climate change feeds into their basic narrative that all government is bad.”

A political split

The quarterly study’s authors, Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State University and Riley E. Dunlap of Oklahoma State, suggested climate had joined abortion and other explosive, intractable issues as a mainstay of a hardening left-right gap.

“The culture wars have thus taken on a new dimension,” they wrote.

Al Gore, for one, remains upbeat. The former vice president and Nobel Prize-winning climate campaigner says “ferocity” in defense of false beliefs often increases “as the evidence proving them false builds.”

In an AP interview, he pointed to tipping points in recent history — the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of U.S. racial segregation — when the potential for change built slowly in the background, until a critical mass was reached.

“This is building toward a point where the falsehoods of climate denial will be unacceptable as a basis for policy much longer,” Gore said. “As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, ‘How long? Not long.’ ”

Even Wally Broecker’s jest — that deniers could blame God — may not be an option for long.

Last May the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, arm of an institution that once persecuted Galileo for his scientific findings, pronounced on manmade global warming: It’s happening.

Said the pope’s scientific advisers, “We must protect the habitat that sustains us.”

See “Vatican on climate: Pray for science“:  The cost of action “pales in comparison to the price the world will pay if we fail to act now.”


24 Responses to The A.P. Slams U.S. Deniers in 2,000-Word Essay: “The American ‘Allergy’ to Global Warming: Why?”

  1. Roger Blanchard says:

    Below is something I wrote concerning denialism. The story is true:

    When I was younger my brother-in-law would adamantly tell me that there was no scientific evidence connecting smoking to lung cancer. He was a chain smoker whose life revolved around smoking. Today there are many people whose lives revolve around consuming huge quantities of fossil fuels that deny the science of global warming.

    My brother-in-law died about 10 years ago from lung cancer. No surprise there. Deniers of global warming think that denying the science will make global warming go away. That will not be the case.

  2. dick smith says:

    After reading Orestes/Conway’s “Merchants of Doubt” I understood–for the first time really–why conservatives denied the science. It was more than just the corrupting influence of corporate money (although that’s certainly a factor). I had underestimated the extent to which their quasi-religious faith in free markets to fix problems has taken primacy over every other value. Compromising on free-market faith has become almost as hard as compromising on abortion.

    But, here’s what I still don’t really understand? Why has the MSM failed us so badly on GW/climate change? What is it about the journalism profession and the media industry that has led to such dismal results for long–after so much effort? Has anyone documented that some parts of the MSM consistently do a better job–print, mags, cable, networks, and if so, why?

    Any suggested reading?

  3. cervantes says:

    And, right on cue, the deniers start to flood the comments to the AP article . . . Like moths to a flame.

  4. cervantes says:

    They have an ideology of “balance,” instead of an ideology of “truth.” It’s much easier to just write a he-said/she-said story, by taking dictation from advocates or “experts” on both sides, than it is to actually educate yourself about an issue. And, the right wing has a very highly developed noise machine that screams “liberal bias” whenever reporters state a truth that happens to conflict with conservative ideology. Reporters are scared to death of being called liberals because it is career death. Remember that the media are owned by giant corporations and run by obscenely wealthy executives. The only real journalistic ethic they have is class interest.

  5. SecularAnimist says:

    The “left-right gap” clearly demonstrates that what is called “conservatism” in America today is no longer a political ideology — it is a corporate-sponsored, Madison Avenue-scripted, focus-group-tested, media-created cross between an entertainment demographic and a cult.

    Its thoroughly brainwashed victims have no real “ideology” or “principles” except (1) hatred of “liberals” and (2)slavish adherence to whatever line of corporate propaganda is spoon-fed to them by the so-called “right wing” media on any given day. And as the global warming crisis escalates, and the solutions (alternative energy) gain ground, they are being “spoon-fed” AGW denial and attacks on renewable energy with a snow shovel.

    There is no conceivable “ideological” reason to reject the overwhelming scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming. “Conservatives” reject that evidence simply because ExxonMobil and Koch Industries pay stooges like Rush Limbaugh, George Will and Rick Perry to tell them to do so. And they obey. End of story.

  6. Russell says:

    As a point of departure for caricature of the Climate Wars, Bosch beats Munch cold, or warm as the case may be :

  7. Joan Savage says:

    One can guess your pronunciation when your voice recognition program puts down “excellent edition” where others might have typed “excellent addition.”

  8. dick smith says:

    Orestes/Conway “Merchants of Doubt” helped me understand–for the first time really– just how strong the primacy of conservatives’ quasi-religious faith in free markets is, and how strongly it filters their ability to accept the science of GW.

    What I still don’t understand is how the MSM has failed us for so long in the face of so much effort and information? Really, what is it that has prevented the MSM industry or the journalism profession from seeking and speaking the truth on GW? What historical parallels are there to their failure on GW? Do some segments of the MSM get consistently higher marks–and if so, why?

    Any suggested reading/sources?

  9. dick smith says:

    Sorry for the second similar post. I thought the first one (at #2) got dropped in transmission.

  10. cervantes says:

    You’ve seen my reply to your first post, but check out Eric Alterman. “What Liberal Media?: The Truth About Bias and the News”

  11. Bob Savage says:

    Another point on the MSM. It is a commercial enterprise, so it seeks to find a market and deliver what that market wants. Older, affluent people are the key demographic for news shows, and they tend to be Republicans, thus the MSM tries to deliver them news that is easily sold into that market-niche.

    Young people and the working poor tend to not watch as much news, thus they are not a valued demographic for “journalists” in the MSM (AKA infotainment industry). Notice, however, that media aimed at the young takes a different stance on climate change. Simply put, when the MSM thinks there is a buck in it, they will beat the drum loudly, but they have crunched the numbers, and decided that they will make more money by kowtowing to the deniers.

  12. Joan Savage says:

    Naomi Oreskes (co-author of Merchants of Doubt) pointed out that Americans who don’t question the science are still attracted to the message of denial in some ways. It’s worth hearing her own words so I won’t encapsulate. Her comments are at the end of the videotaped interview posted by CP on September 20.

  13. dick smith says:

    I’m familiar with the arguments (and tend to agree) but I don’t understand, e.g., why we haven’t heard from an aspiring Edward R. Murrow (McCarthy) or a Walter Cronkite (Vietnam is lost) on the GW issue.

    Is there any scholarly or in-depth-media-insider analysis that sorts out the threads you raise–and applies it the GW issue?

  14. Dean says:

    Regarding the media, the deniers don’t need to win this debate, they just need to keep the doubt alive, so they have a lower threshold for success.

    But I think that for all we blame the MSM, I think that the ideology of the right wingers is not the media’s fault that much, nor is there anything the MSM could do about it. You don’t have to look far to find other issues where their ideology leads them to deny fact. It’s just that with AGW, that ideology mixes with corporate motivation to create a powerful force.

    And unlike smoking, where each new generation starts afresh with a chance to avoid smoking, we are now approaching the tipping points and later generations will not have the same chance we have.

  15. Gagar says:

    Great paper. Great comments on manufacturing consent, except mentionning renewable energy as the savior. Thinking renewable energy is just forgetting that global warming is not the only consequence of pollution. We most probably need renewable, but we definitely must slow down, by one order of magnitude. Thanks.

  16. Tim says:

    There is a synergy that perhaps you haven’t fully taken account of. The same free-market religion has also enabled virtually complete corporate ownership of the MSM. Rupert Murdoch thrives in a society in which profit is the prime measure of the worth of almost everything. The right-wing media relentlessly promotes that value and the rest of media practices it by providing infotainment rather than information and analysis.

  17. Robert says:

    Everyone here should take a minute or two to add a comment to that site to counter the denialists’ false claims. I did. It’s my tiny attempt to do something useful with what I learn from sites like Climate Progress. If all of the people that comment on these sites gave quick responses to denailist calims aroung the Internet, it might make a difference in the appearance of how the arguments are going.

  18. Sasparilla says:

    Great article, hats off to the AP for running that – wow.

    I don’t have to feel like we’re under siege for a few moments…

    I hope Mr. Gore (as noted in the article) is right and we won’t have to wait much longer before the tipping point to action is finally reached – but the deniers (Koch’s in particular) have fashioned quite a barrier to action (virtually the entire Republican party at this point and its hard to get around that).

  19. Will Koroluk says:

    It would be interesting to know how many of AP’s member papers ran the piece. I’m sure AP has kept track. Has anyone called AP New York to ask?

  20. Chris Winter says:

    I believe Eric Pooley’s “How much would you pay to save the planet?” will shed some light.

  21. dick smith says:

    I just gave it a quick look. Very good stuff. Thanks.

  22. Stephane says:

    Why americans deny global climate change? That’s easy to answer for me : from my professional point of view, America, as a culture, value Freedom above almost everything… As a result, anything that threaten their freedom, their “american way of life”, is to be destroyed, denied any capacity to actually limit their freedom… A quick example : all legal regulations or limitations…
    As a result, liberty is valued above respect… As consequence the US feel free to do as they want with everyone and everything outside…
    As climate change threaten their liberty to earn money, to live as they feel…

  23. BillD says:

    I was really happy to see this AP article in my Sunday newspaper.

    The current National Geographic, which came in the mail two days ago, has a very interesting and scary article about the PETM era, caused by a fast release of CO2, which dominated the earth’s climate for a short geological blip (50,000 years). It was a time of no ice, swamps in the arctic and rapid evolution in mammals.

  24. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    You should read (if you haven’t already) Chomsky and Herman’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’. There’s a DVD, too. The media is more concentrated in ownership these days, more rigidly Rightwing in ideology, and more beholden to other sources of capitalist power (none in history greater than fossil fuels)than in the past. The situation is identical in Australia, Canada and, to a lesser extent, in the UK. In the rest of the world there is disbelief at this willful imbecility and rejection of rationality, and it is undermining US global hegemony. Still there’s always military force left. The US under Obama, the Great Betrayer, or Perry, will sabotage every international climate treaty, until the rest of the world gets down to the business of sdolving the problem itself, whereupon the US Empire will finally crumble. This, of course, will be immensely beneficial for US citizens as well.