I’m interested in finding out how and why climate change action became a partisan issue. As Stephen Schneider says in his new book, there’s a reason that “conservation” sounds so much like “conservatism”.

The fiscal conservative school of thought is to save money for a rainy day, and to minimize spending so the economy is more sustainable in the long run – so why does this only apply to money? Money, after all, is only a representation of wealth, which – more often than not – ends up representing resources and ecosystem services, which depend on a stable climate. Conservatism, at least in our society, also tends to be more aggressive to national security threats such as terrorism. Why is climate change exempt yet again? Is it somehow any less threatening?

It seems dubious that climate change action really conflicts with conservative ideologies. How and why did it begin to be framed this way? At some point along the line, conservative media and politicians began to repeat it, to the point where it became accepted as the “party line” of the ideology, and citizens who were conservative on most other issues accepted this addition to the party line automatically.

This is why I would ideally prefer a direct democracy, as it allows citizens to vote directly on each issue, rather than just choose the party that hits the most of their requirements. We can’t just categorize people by ideology and assume that all of their opinions will fit neatly into one box. (Or three boxes at once – several flagged comments accused me of being “a Communist and a socialist and a Marxist” – is it even possible to be all three of those things at once? Don’t they have some inherent contradictions?)

I’ve stated before that my opinions on policy tend to be more social, but I’m beginning to wonder more and more how much this reflects my character and how much reflects my age. In world issues class, everyone took the Political Compass quiz, and plotted their results anonymously on a single graph so we could look at the class as a whole. Virtually everyone was in the bottom left quadrant – social libertarian. I was somewhere in the middle of those dots. Unless my class was a hotbed of radicals, it seems that ideology tends to correspond to age. Maybe it’s not because I’m a social libertarian. Maybe it’s just part of being seventeen, and as I grow older, I’ll remain somewhere near the centre of my society’s political spectrum, wherever it may fall.

Right now, at least, my opinions regarding many matters of policy fall to the left on Canada’s political spectrum. However, I view my work on climate change communication to be very separate to ideology. It began as a bid for a secure future for my generation, which is looking less and less likely. However, as the anti-action campaigns began to attack scientists and the scientific process, rather than (or in addition to) the theories and statistics themselves, I have begun to defend the nature of science, specificially climate science, instead.

I think I have the mind of a scientist, and I really want to be a scientist. Not to be a doctor/dentist/pharmacist, which is often the automatic course for high school students who are good at science and math, but to be a researcher and conduct studies and publish in journals and discover things. I feel more and more sure about this as I get older. I think this deep connection to the scientific process has given me some elements of conservatism. I am quite conservative about the process of peer-review, resist change to its structure, and hold tightly to fundamental discoveries in the field of climate science, rather than blowing off Arrhenius just because of something written in Energy & Environment.

I am not writing this blog, or pushing for climate change action and communication, for any ideology or party or political belief. I am defending both science and the future, two parties that get very little say in the political system. I am defending the mountain of evidence that many seem willing to discount entirely.  I am defending the millions of unborn citizens who have the right to a world just as good, if not better, than the one we have today.

This post has become a ramble I didn’t expect to go on – it’s late, after all, and I’m a teenager who needs her sleep. So I’ll bring it back to the beginning. Are there any recommendations as to which sources I should look at for research into how and why this became a partisan issue? Books, US politics backgrounders, Spencer Weart posts? I’d appreciate your input.


Climate Cover-Up

I’m fairly new to the issue of climate change, and even newer to the politics surrounding it. I’ve spent the past two years reading about climate change causes, impacts, projections, myths, media blunders, and public misconceptions.

I knew that vested interests, such as the fossil fuel industry and political lobby groups, had played a part in the widespread public confusion. However, I naively assumed that they had simply taken advantage of said confusion – that the public was already unsure, so the vested interests decided to jump in and prolong it.

How wrong I was. How very, very wrong I was, as Jim Hoggan and Richard Littlemore proved to me in their new book, Climate Cover-Up.

Example after example, and story after story, showed that vested interests didn’t just take advantage of public confusion surrounding climate change. They created it. They deliberately constructed the so-called “debate” in an effort to – what? Earn more money? Fight socialism?

Take the Information Council on the Environment, one of the first climate change lobby groups. They were established in 1991, right after governments first started to respond to climate change – Thatcher, Bush Sr, and Mulroney all made promises to reduce emissions. The ICE flat-out stated that their objective was “to reposition global warming as a theory (not fact)” and “to supply alternative facts to support the suggestion that global warming will be good”.

The American Petroleum Institute was even more blatant. A leaked email contains a list of objectives for their PR campaigns:

Victory Will Be Achieved When

-Average citizens “understand” (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the “conventional wisdom”

-Media “understands” (recognizes) uncertainties in climate science

-Media coverage reflects balance on climate science and recognition of the validity of viewpoints that challenge the current “conventional wisdom”

-Industry senior leadership understands uncertainties in climate science, making them stronger ambassadors to those who shape climate policy

-Those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.

Everything that we’ve been bemoaning for years now. Misplaced public doubt, artificial balance in the media, Bush and Harper’s ties to the oil industry. It didn’t just happen by accident.

The email goes on to discuss strategies to achieve these objectives, including plans to produce and distribute “a steady stream of op-ed columns and letters to the editor” doubting climate change. So all those skeptical editorials in the popular press might not be written by journalists that have been taken for a ride. They might actually be by people with ties to lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute.

You could look at Frank Luntz’s plans to capitalize on uncertainty. Or the American Enterprise Institute’s offer of $10 000 to any scientist who wrote a critique of the IPCC. Or how The Great Global Warming Swindle, a documentary oft-cited by YouTubers, creatively took statements from its interviewees out of context.

Climate Cover-Up made me so angry. I remember not being able to fall asleep the night I finished it. Then telling everyone I could about it. I had been immersed in the issue of climate change for two years, and yet I had failed to grasp the scope of vested interests’ influence on the public.

Many of our readers, who have been following this issue for years, are probably familiar with the stories and examples in the book. There isn’t anything in it that will be new to everyone.

But that wasn’t the book’s purpose, and climate scientists aren’t the book’s audience. Rather, Climate Cover-Up is aimed at those just becoming interested in climate change politics. It’s aimed at people who are unaware of the near-constant misinformation thrown at them, who are new to the immense power of money and industry over science and truth, who wouldn’t think to check the citations of editorials. It’s aimed at people like I was, two years ago.

I must also note that Climate Cover-Up is substantially easier to read than most books about climate change. The prose is witty and easy to follow. It doesn’t talk about science. It feels nothing like a textbook.

I’d like everyone in the world to read this book. But truthfully, I’d rather that it hadn’t needed to be written at all.

By Your Own Logic

The typical conservative holds opinions on issues such as health care, government economics, and international relations that I may or may not agree with, but I respect as their own political beliefs.

Except one. Since when did rejecting the science of climate change become a trademark of the typical conservative? Why is science – and not just the implications of the science, the actual analysing of the graphs – such a political subject?

Think about it. Science is designed to remove political biases and follow an approved method so that repeating the same process will produce the same result. If it doesn’t, the hypothesis is proved erroneous or incomplete.

So why should political opinions influence the honest interpretation of a physical event? As Greg Craven says in his video Why There is Still Debate,

Now, you probably don’t find it surprising that more Democrats than Republicans believe in global warming, and ordinarily I wouldn’t either. But I’d been steeping myself in this question of how do you go about deciding what to believe about what’s going on with the physical world, and this split along political party lines about a physical reality just sort of blew me away. Why the heck should political belief influence one’s assessment of what is physical reality? I just got this ridiculous picture in my head of a Democrat and a Republican standing and looking out the same window—the Democrat saying “Gee, it’s pouring rain out there,” and the Republican saying “No, it’s a sunny blue day.”

The truth lies in confirmation bias. As we explain in the post Science, it is scientifically immoral – but very possible, especially with the Internet – to start with a conclusion that seems politically or socially acceptable and then build a scientific argument around it. To eliminate personal bias, scientists always start with evidence, and then choose a conclusion which seems logical.

Liberals tend to be okay with the idea of fighting climate change, because they don’t really mind regulation, and believe that the government should spend money to help as many people as possible. Preventing future natural disasters and food and water shortages seems like a good way to help people.

Conservatives, however, tend to be very opposed to regulation. Climate change is inconvenient for all of us, but especially for those on the right, as fixing the problem seems to require action that sharply contradicts their ideological beliefs.

The solution to this dilemma, of course, seems to be to decide not to believe in the problem so they won’t have to face the solutions.

Many conservatives take this quite lightly, and don’t think about the issue very much. The people whose views they support also claim that humans are not causing climate change. It seems convenient. So they accept it.

But some of the more hardcore skeptics of anthropogenic climate change make quite an amazing effort to create scientific arguments which support the conclusion they like. As Michael Tobis explains on his blog Only in it for the Gold,

The denialists are now trumpeting a very silly argument that El Nino (a quasiperiodic oscillation with energy in the 2-10 year band) is dominating secular trends in global temperature by an argument that I summarized in seven steps recently.

I would like to start the day with a shorter summary:

1) El Nino dominates interannual variability.
2) Frantic armwaving, accompanied by sciencey-looking charts and graphs.
3) Therefore, warming is predominantly due to El Nino.
4) Therefore, very not the IPCC.

Of course conclusion 4 will resonate with the Not the IPCC crowd. It is the conclusion they want, er, I mean, the conclusion that their serious thought has led them to in the past, right?

The trouble is, their argument goes like this

1) The sun is the source of atmospheric energy
2) Frantic armwaving, accompanied by sciencey-looking charts and graphs.
3) Therefore, warming is predominantly due to solar changes.
4) Therefore, very not the IPCC.

As we explained on the post All Over the Map, skeptics can’t seem to agree on a consistent explanation for why humans aren’t causing the Earth to warm. In fact, each of them seems to have a different theory. They all contradict each other, but they all support the same ultimate conclusion (“very not the IPCC”) so they all endorse each other.

Does this not show blatant confirmation bias?

So I’ll make it easy for the conservatives who refuse to accept the problem of climate change because they don’t like the solutions.

Firstly, they seem to oppose action on climate change because they don’t want to be subjected to economic costs and government regulations unless it’s absolutely necessary. They don’t want to take that chance.

(I’m leaving out the part about how action on climate change could actually help the economy and jumpstart some new industries, as well as how, if we had carbon-free energy, regulation wouldn’t be necessary. Let’s not overcomplicate things here.)

However, how would the government act in the times of a crisis, such as a natural disaster or an invasion? Would they be sure to be democratic and preserve everyone’s civil liberties? Or might they compromise these for the sake of natural security? Might they ration food? Impose a curfew? Call in the army to restrain any looters? Make quick decisions without a formal vote?

How did events such as Hurricane Katrina, World War II, or 9-11 affect people’s freedoms? What can we learn from history here? There’s nothing like a disaster to bring out the draconian side of any government.

Also recall how disasters can impact the global economy. For example, Hurricane Katrina affected the transport of oil and caused the first-ever gas prices above $1/L here in Canada. We can be pretty sure that the economy won’t handle disasters well.

Even the most die-hard conservative skeptics have to admit that they might be wrong. There might be a chance, however small it seems to them, that global warming is worth fighting. And this only covers costs for the economy and civil liberties. It doesn’t go into food security, water security, disease, refugees, continuous sea level rise, droughts and floods, or prolonged heat waves.

I would argue that the economic costs and government regulations that would be necessary for even a mid-range climate change scenario would be much worse than those from mitigating the problem and reducing our emissions. This hypothesis has been quantified in the Stern Review, which suggests that action on climate change would cost about 1% of GDP, while the consequences of inaction would cost about 20% of GDP.

And that’s only GDP. Let’s not forget that not everything in our world can be measured in dollar value. What does the life of a person cost? What is the monetary value of the oceans?

So conservatives don’t want to take action on climate change because they don’t want to run the risk of economic harm or a draconian government.

However, if they accept that they might be wrong, a picture appears of much more economic harm and a much more draconian government.

Isn’t it a better bet to take action, and avoid the much greater damage to civil liberties and the economy, rather than clinging to a strategy that will only be beneficial if all the scientific organizations in the world are totally wrong?

A Story Worth Hearing

I found a great article on one of the blogs I read a few days ago. It was the first time I’d heard of the story, and it made me so mad that I knew I had to share it on ClimateSight. But this article was so well-written that I doubted I could come up with anything better.

In a nutshell… old paper that didn’t pass through the peer-review process of the EPA contained all sorts of climate-denial “evidence” which has been proven wrong countless times. The peer-review panel wasn’t trying to suppress contradictory evidence – in fact, publishing contradictory evidence would be great for the journal and the advancement of science – the paper was just utter nonsense!

But the Republicans threw a fit when they discovered that a paper questioning anthropogenic climate change was deliberately suppressed so the EPA could begin a communist takeover….or something like that. They want a criminal investigation. As David from Through a Green Lens writes,

“The irony is that these people watched calmly as the Bush-Cheney Administration suppressed global warming science.  Now, the party that supposedly promotes “fiscal responsibility” would like to spend millions of dollars on an investigation into why faulty science was not included in an EPA decision.”

Read the rest of his post here.

PS: A number of you have brought it to my attention that the ever-narrowing nested comments get very hard to read. I went to go check it out (I usually view comments from my WordPress dashboard) and my goodness, one word per line… wonder you were complaining!

I played around with the discussion settings, and I think I’ve fixed it as much as I can. Replies to comments will no longer appear indented below the original comment, but I’ve placed the oldest first, instead of the newest first, so that it makes more chronological sense. Unless there’s multiple discussions going on at once, I think it’s okay.

Let me know what you think, and if you have any more suggestions.