Hertsgaard confronts the ‘climate cranks’ on Capitol Hill


Author Mark Hertsgaard “went to Capitol Hill on a mission: to confront the climate cranks who still refuse to accept what virtually every major scientific organization in the world, starting with our own National Academy of Sciences, has concluded: man-made climate change is real, happening now and extremely dangerous.”

Hertsgaard, author of Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth, says: “We spoke with a number of leading deniers, most notably Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe had no response when asked why his Republicans are the only major political party in the world that still denies the science behind climate change. Instead, he said his scientists knew better than the overwhelming majority of scientists who say climate change is real and dangerous. Later, a leading public relations official for energy companies told us ‘the science doesn’t matter.’”

In his article “Climate Cranks Gin Up the Right Wing Noise Machine” (Huffington Post, February 21, reposted with the permission of the author) Hertsgaard writes (read full text here):

The right-wing media machine is a large part of the reason why denial of climate change persists in the United States long after the rest of the world has acknowledged the problem. Over the past few days, I’ve gotten a close-up look at how the machine works, because I’ve been its target.

Last Tuesday, February 15, I went to Capitol Hill on a mission: to confront the climate cranks who still refuse to accept what virtually every major scientific organization in the world, starting with our own National Academy of Sciences, has concluded: man-made climate change is real, happening now and extremely dangerous.

I also wanted to highlight a fact I have often marveled at during my twenty years of writing about climate change in books and for leading publications around the world, including Vanity Fair, Time, The Nation and most recently Politico. That fact is: virtually every major political party in the world — except for the Republicans in this country — accepts this mainstream scientific conclusion.

Yet the average American would not know this is the case. Why not? Because discussion about climate change in the U.S. is dominated by how the issue is framed by politicians and the media in Washington. And inside the Beltway, denial of mainstream climate science is regarded as a legitimate opinion rather than as an unfounded oddity. …

So, accompanied by members of the Sierra Club and Generation Hot — the two billion young people around the world who have been condemned to spend the rest of their lives coping with the hottest climate our civilization has ever known — I went to Capitol Hill to call the cranks to account and urge my colleagues in the rest of the media to do a better job of presenting the scientific truth about climate change. …

It didn’t take long for the right-wing media machine to start its attack. …

In “Climate change: GOP Galileo moment” (Politico, February 15, reposted with the permission of the author), Hertsgaard writes (full text here):

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. …

Yet if one judged solely by recent [U.S.] media coverage, one would think that the deniers have a point. In an embarrassing display of political gullibility and scientific illiteracy, news organizations have repeatedly played into the deniers’ hands …

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. …

Earlier posts:

Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth

Draft Republican bill would repeal EPA scientific “Endangerment Finding” on greenhouse gases and prohibit regulation

Sen. Inhofe inquisition seeking ways to criminalize and prosecute 17 leading climate scientists

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6 Responses to Hertsgaard confronts the ‘climate cranks’ on Capitol Hill

  1. bobarl says:

    Senator Inhofe and others like him may really believe climate change is not really happening but if that is the case, he can’t be doing his job. People who vote for someone like this may think he has their best interest in mind but anyone bothering to examine what climatologists are saying may be convinced that he does not because skeptics will suffer like the rest of us. I agree with Hertsgaard when he concludes that people like Inhofe will never admit climate is changing for economic and ideological reasons. Our illustrious Congress seems to have many like Inhofe, primarily Republicans, and that unfortunately means progress we could be make toward reducing greenhouse gas concentrations is not happening.

  2. Mark Anderson says:

    The deniers are mainly right wingers who are funded by big oil, big coal, the auto industry, all who have a vested interest in the status quo. Any policy or that even remotely threatens their cash cow will be fought tooth and nail. They believe the dying paradigm that infinite economic growth is possible because resources are infinite. A lot of the positions they take regarding climate science are eerily reminiscent of the “Jewish Science” from Nazi Germany. I find it rather hypocritical that science is only valid when it suits their positions, interests or pocketbooks. It is as if they are consciously exacerbating the Tragedy of the Commons, because reelection and financial gain are the prime motivation.

  3. Jake says:

    Oh dear, what an unfortunate diatribe from Mr. Hertsgaard. Apart from the fact that he is promoting a new book and therefore his objectivity and the motivations for his trip to Washington are suspect, let us examine a few of his claims.

    First, not every major party in the world believes in AGW.  Right of the top of my head I can name at least four that don’t, the Canadian Progressive Conservative party (centre right in Canada but to the left of your Democrats in some ways), the Australian Liberal Party, the Australian National party and the Australian Family First party, oh and let us not forget a few of the British political parties.  Tiime spent doing research would undoubtedly flesh out the list…

    Second the claim that every major scientific organisation subscribes to the theory of AGW is specious, unless he defines major as only those that believe in the theory…  The National Academy of Sciences is an honorific society and while its members may do research, the Academy itself doesn’t.  Furthermore professional societies that publish opinions are problematic: is the opinion that of the whole society, a majority of the members or the administrative minority?  A professional organization is there to serve all its members, how are the needs of any dissenting members served or expressed when the organization makes public statements?  What are the qualifications of those who issue the statement?  Is the statement based on empirical facts and data or is it merely opinion?  A scientist, or scientific organisation has the right to an opinion, but that doesn’t make the opinion scientific.  There are a large number of scientists and scientific organisations that do not believe in AGW.  They are not all “cranks” or shills of the petroleum industry or coal industry, no more than scientists who research anthropogenic impacts on climate are all commies or nutters or whatever.

    There are honest well intentioned scientists and politicians on both sides of the issue and despite the political rhetoric, the science is NOT settled.

    Third, to suggest that a concensus exists by invoking every major scientific organisation is a double edged sword.  Let us not forget how completely wrong the majority concensus has been over the centuries in the face of new ideas or ones that did not accord which the existing majority beliefs.  Here is a short list of scientists who were denounced by every scientific orgsnisation of their time, but were ultimately proved right: Gallileo, Copernicus, Alexander Gordon, oliver Wendell Holmes, Semmelweis, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, Alfred Wegener, Jenner, Pasteur, the list could go on….  So the track record of the scientific concensus (there is an oxymoron for you) is pretty bad and no recommendation.

    The scientific “truth” about climate change is that the science is still being done.  Yes, the climate may be changing, whether this is natural climate variability or AGW is by no means certain yet.

    Mr. Hertsgaard is correct in one respect, the media needs to do a much better job, there has been a huge amount of disinformation published about climate change.  Mr. Hertsgaard could lead the way with objective articles that correctly provide and examine the facts as opposed to partisan self-promoting polemics.

    • dale says:

      Canadian Progressive Conservative party Has not existed for many years now. The current incarnation is the Conservative Party of Canada and it certainly is not to the left of the US Democratic party. Officially the party accepts that global warming is occurring, but is doing everything in its power not to do anything about it.

      Also observe that one of the first parties in the world that accepted that Humans were causing global warming was the Conservative party in the UK under Thatcher.

  4. Ian Forrester says:

    Jake, I’m afraid that you have got your argument completely backwards. You give a list of 9 scientists and state that they worked against a consensus of “scientific orgsnisation (sic) of their time”. Nothing could be further from the truth. Gallileo and Copernicus were opposed by the Church of the time, not scientists. Scientists may have kept quite because they were frightened of the Church’s influence but they did not agree with the Church’s stance.

    Alexander Gordon, Oliver Wendell Holmes and Ignaz Semmelweis were shunned by the medical establishment, not scientists, because it was obvious that puerperal sepsis was spread by the doctors them selves. That could never happen, so they opposed any suggestion that it was the route. Not very scientific in my view.

    Joseph Goldberger was opposed because his work was socially and politically untenable. How could disease by brought about by poverty?

    I could go on and on but I think my examples show that truth is uncovered by rigorous scientific endeavor and will prevail over the nonsense put out by politically and ideologically driven opponents.

    The climate scientists are the ones doing rigorous science and the AGW deniers are the politically and ideologically driven opponents.

  5. bobarl says:

    There will always be deniers like Jake, people who have beliefs that would never allow them to agree with the obvious-that scientists are overwhelmingly in agreement that our climate is changing and that predictions that were made ten or more years ago are already occurring. If there have been errors made on occasion, many have been found to be incorrect because the predictions turned out to show less change then turned out to be the case. The predictions did not go far enough.
    Climate change denialists are not the only example of people not looking at the facts and sticking to their deep-rooted beliefs. Mark Anderson mentions another regarding how nazi’s justified the holocaust. Another I can think of is people who don’t believe astronauts went to the moon or the belief held by many that Obama is a Muslim and wasn’t born in the United States.
    Too bad for humans and other living things on this beautiful planet that not only people like Jake but also politicians in important places, with the help of monied industrialists are a major reasons why we may not be able to curtail what is coming. I worry for my children and my grand-children.

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