“Science is my passion, politics is my duty,” explained Thomas Jefferson, the nation’s first Secretary of State.
In sharp contrast is ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson, the man President-elect Donald Trump has picked to be the newest Secretary of State. Tillerson has worked his entire life for a company that dedicated itself to suppressing climate science and spreading disinformation about the gravest threat Americans, and indeed all of human civilization, faces today.
For nearly two decades — including the entire time Jefferson was vice president and president — he was also president of the nation’s oldest scientific society, which was founded by the great American scientist Ben Franklin.
America was created during the Age of Reason, so it’s no surprise many founding fathers had a passion for science. Historian Gary Wills called the Declaration of Independence a “scientific paper.”
Fast-forward to today and both the incoming president and vice president, along with roughly the entire cabinet, are active deniers of the most well-established science.
But accurate climate science has arguably never been more important than it is now. For it is that science (and the 2015 Paris climate deal resulting from it) that represent our last, best chance to save America from permanent megadrought and other catastrophic impacts, like sea level rise, that are irreversible for 1,000 years.
The Trump team appears to be dedicated to policies that would create a hundred Syrias and intractable refugee problems here and around the world.
Thus far, the media seem utterly paralyzed by how to confront this wave of disinformation, however, failing to communicate clearly to the public that this is not just some abstract “war on science,” this is a war on your children’s future, a war on human civilization.
Rather than calling it out as misleading or false, major media outlets have been reinforcing the disinformation spread by Trump and those associated with his transition in their headlines — headlines that are inevitably read by far more people than the actual story.
The overwhelming majority of climate scientists — over 97 percent — understand that humans are the primary cause of climate change. Every other major country agrees with the science, which is why they agreed unanimously with us last December to keep ratcheting down carbon pollution to avoid civilization-destroying impacts.
— John McQuaid (@johnmcquaid) December 11, 2016
Those facts aren’t reflected in the headlines, however. CNN, for instance, ran a “repeat the lie” headline, “Trump: ‘Nobody really knows’ if climate change is real,” on Monday. Then on Wednesday they ran another: “Trump aide Anthony Scaramucci: Scientific community gets ‘a lot of things wrong’.”
In this article, we learn Scaramucci is “not a scientist” but he knows climate scientists are wrong about the climate. How? “There was overwhelming science that the earth was flat,” he said. “We get a lot of things wrong in the scientific community.”
In fact, it was early scientists — and the rigorous methods they developed — that debunked such myths. Modern scientists, using even more advanced methods of observation and analysis, have been beacons lighting the way for the world to eradicate so many childhood diseases and understand the dire consequences of unrestricted carbon pollution. Heck, Scaramucci himself said several months ago, “The science of climate change is pretty much irrefutable at this point.”
But now we live in a world of fake news, with a president-elect whose statements and world view have no relationship whatsoever to the facts or scientific reality.
The New York Times was itself suckered by Trump’s hypnotic lies after interviewing him recently. Their story opened, “President-elect Donald J. Trump on Tuesday tempered some of his most extreme campaign promises… pledging to have an open mind about climate change.”
Literally the only reason the Times uses that phrase is that Trump said he has an “open mind” on climate six times. Everything else he said was alarming anti-scientific gibberish, as many pointed out.
If the media doesn’t stop printing things that aren’t true, they are no different than fake news sites. It is no longer tenable — if it ever was — for the Washington Post to run nonsense headlines that haven’t been fact-checked, like “Trump’s climate plan might not be so bad after all,” from long-debunked purveyors of misinformation like Bjorn Lomborg.
It is no longer tenable for USA Today to keep running “opposing view” opinion pieces based on widely debunked misinformation alongside their “Our view” opinion pieces based on actual climate science. But they’ve already done it three times since September.
Finally, those platforms that consistently push misinformation and attacks on climate scientists must be called out as the “fake news” sites that they are. A good example is the Wall Street Journal editorial page.
A June study by Climate Nexus found that “an analysis of 20 years of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages on climate shows a consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat.”
Consider one recent Journal opinion piece, where Prof. Roger Pielke Jr. portrayed himself as a victim of an attack on academic freedom when he was fired by Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight. The reverse is true.
Pielke wrote an article for Silver based on analysis long criticized by scientists. We and others published critical comments from top scientists. “This is the same old wrong Roger,” Dr. Kevin Trenberth told us. “He is demonstrably wrong and misleads,” Prof. Michael Mann said. A third scientist called Pielke’s piece “surprisingly sloppy.” A fourth called his conclusions “ludicrous.”
Pielke’s op-ed claims he was “attacked by thought police in journalism,” which includes Foreign Policy, the London Guardian, Mashable, Slate, The New Republic, and the New York Times. In fact, he omitted the key detail behind his firing: He sent intimidating emails to Trenberth and Mann, as HuffPost reported. Trenberth said Pielke “was very accusatory and threatened me if I did not respond.” Mann called it a “thinly veiled” threat of legal action. Silver told HuffPost he apologized to Trenberth and Mann for the emails.
For a quarter century, climate scientists have been ignored and even attacked, putting the fate of our children — and the next 50 generations — on a knife’s edge.
The stakes in the renewed war on science are existential and irreversible. So it’s time the media picked the side of facts — and not lies.