US

Tue, 2012-07-03 05:46Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

New Study: Climate Deniers Are Emoting--Especially the Conspiracy Theorists

Anyone paying attention these last few years will have noticed that global warming denial simply isn’t a rational phenomenon. And it’s not just that if there were any reason involved, then denial it would have decreased in prevalence—rather than increased—as climate science grew more firm and certain over the past two decades.

No: It’s much more than that. It’s that so many climate deniers are, let’s face it, angry. Try talking about the issue on the radio sometime. Get ready for them to call in, ready to argue with you.

Now there’s new scientific evidence documenting this emotional aspect of climate denial. In a new paper in Risk Analysis designed to tap into the “affective” component of the climate issue, Yale’s Nicholas Smith and Anthony Leiserowitz report on four separate studies of the public’s emotional associations related to climate change, conducted from 2002 to 2010.

In the surveys, people were asked about the first “word,” “thought,” “image,” or “phrase” that popped into mind in association with global warming. It was the analysis of these rapid fire responses that showed a steep increase in emotional climate denial. As Smith and Leiserowitz put it:

Several significant trends in Americans’ associations with “global warming” over time were identified. Perhaps most notable was the large increase in the proportion of naysayer images (e.g., “hoax”). The proportion of naysayer images rose from less than 10% in 2002 to over 20% of total responses in 2010.

And even as such denier associations increased, associations involving climate impacts like melting ice and sea level rise declined over the same period (though associations related to “disasters” also increased somewhat).  

Fascinatingly, the study also looks more closely at the various associations made by the deniers.

Wed, 2012-06-27 12:10Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

A Court's Scientific Smackdown: The D.C. Circuit Trashes Science Deniers on Global Warming and the EPA

Tomorrow, we may see a court—the highest in the land–flout precedent for partisan ends in its ruling on President Obama’s signature health care law.

However, in the meantime, we can rejoice that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit understands how to weigh complicated science-policy issues without partisanship or bias.

The D.C. Circuit recently came down with a long expected ruling on an industry and state attorneys general challenge to the EPA’s Endangerment Finding, as well as a number of other actions regarding greenhouse gas regulations. These representatives of red states (including Ken Cuccinelli) and affected corporations argued that EPA was in the wrong to determine that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare, and thus must be regulated. Rather, they argued, EPA had come up with an arbitrary and capricious reading of climate science—and was set to unleash an onerous regulatory regime on this misguided basis.

To put it simply, for this charge to be true, all the experts on global warming would have to be wrong. Because that’s precisely who EPA relied on—including the IPCC, the U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the National Academy of Sciences.

What the D.C. Circuit opinion does, basically, is to show that EPA is absolutely right to trust the experts, and to ignore the deniers, in deciding what the science of global warming says. That makes the D.C. Circuit opinion a resounding defense of science and its relevance to policy—in many ways on a par with other such legal classics, like Judge Jones’ decision in the Dover evolution trial.

Perhaps most quotable is the court’s devastating retort to the idea that EPA shouldn’t be relying on expert scientific assessments to make its judgment about whether humans are causing global warming:

Tue, 2012-06-19 07:04Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Normalcy of Hypocrisy: From Clean Energy to Health Care, Conservatives Flip Flop in Support of the Team

One striking feature of the liberal psyche is how it is simultaneously outraged by hypocrisy on the conservative side of the aisle—and yet also morbidly fascinated by it.

Just this morning, reading, I came across the following examples:

1.      Ezra Klein’s much discussed New Yorker article, on how Republicans came to oppose the healthcare individual mandate that was, you know, their own idea for 20 years. I find Klein a bit wishy-washy overall, because he uses a political psychology analysis (which is generally good) but fails to acknowledge its full implications: Republicans engage in team-oriented groupthink more strongly than Democrats. This is the finding of Klein’s own key source, moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt, who stresses that in-group loyalty is stronger on political the right. Still, Klein's is a good article overall for factually capturing the flip-flop.

2.      In the same Ezra Klein piece, we find the following additional examples of conservative hypocrisy, or flip-flopping: “In 2007, both Newt Gingrich and John McCain wanted a cap-and-trade program in order to reduce carbon emissions. Today, neither they nor any other leading Republicans support cap-and-trade.” And: “In 2008, the Bush Administration proposed, pushed, and signed the Economic Stimulus Act, a deficit-financed tax cut designed to boost the flagging economy. Today, few Republicans admit that a deficit-financed stimulus can work. Indeed, with the exception of raising taxes on the rich, virtually every major policy currently associated with the Obama Administration was, within the past decade, a Republican idea in good standing.”

3.      At Climate Progress, there’s a recent piece on Republican hypocrisy in opposing innovative clean energy companies and supporting fossil fuel subsidies. Wait, aren’t these guys supposed to be in favor of the free market? Doh…

Wed, 2012-06-13 10:19Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The New ExxonMobil: Has the Tiger Changed Its Stripes?

For a decade, now, I’ve been a reporter on climate science. And one of my earliest stories was a Mother Jones cover, exposing ExxonMobil’s funding of think tanks that support climate denialism. The piece was actually nominated for a National Magazine Award. It got around.

With this article and others, I contributed a great deal to a narrative that others, notably Greenpeace and this blog, were also forging: Climate science was under attack by corporate interests; leading the charge was ExxonMobil.

As it turns out, if anything that story now appears more accurate than we knew at the time. But there’s a crucial caveat to it—it may not be so accurate any longer, due to changes at the top of the company.

How do we know this? Simple: We read New Yorker writer and Pulitzer Prize winning investigative reporter Steve Coll’s new book Private Empire: ExxonMobil and American Power. I just reviewed this lengthy work in the journal Democracy. You can read the full review here, but I want to summarize the key salient points regarding climate change (the book covers much more than that) below.

Throughout the First Half of the 2000s, ExxonMobil Was Perhaps Even Worse than We Knew.

Mon, 2012-06-11 07:52Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Mann Handled: A Decade Ago, Conservatives Attacked a Scientist—And Created a Leader

This is a review of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines, by Michael Mann.

I first became familiar with the name Michael Mann in the year 2003. I was working on what would become my book The Republican War on Science, and had learned of two related events: The controversy over the Soon and Baliunas paper in Climate Research, purporting to refute Mann and his colleagues’ famous 1998 “hockey stick” study; and a congressional hearing convened by Senator James Inhofe, at which Mann testified. Inhofe tried to wheel out the Soon and Baliunas work as if they’d dealt some sort of killer blow against climate science. In fact, just before the hearing, several editors of Climate Research had resigned over the paper.

I went on to stand up for Mann, and his work, in Republican War. Little did I know, at the time, that he himself would become the leading defender of his scientific field against political attacks.

Recently, Mann came out with a new book about his travails entitled The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches From the Front Lines, detailing his decade long battle against political attacks and misrepresentations. The response has been all too predictable. For months, conservatives have been giving it one star reviews on Amazon.com, some of which suggest that they probably haven’t read it.

What is most fascinating to me is that the science the right is attacking Mann over—principally, the 1998 hockey stick study and its 1999 extension, as prominently exhibited in 2001 by the IPCC—is relatively old news. Indeed, and as Mann himself explains in the book, “attacks against the hockey stick…were not really about the work itself.” That work has been supported by other researchers—there is now a veritable “hockey team,” Mann notes—and anyways, the case for human caused global warming never depended on the validity of the hockey stick alone. It was always just one part of a far broader body of evidence.

Thus, conservatives who fixated on Mann, and continue to do so, tell us through their own actions that this is not really about scientific inquiry at all. If it was, then they’d be doing something quite different from giving Mann one star Amazon reviews.

Tue, 2012-06-05 07:11Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Polarizing Poles: Yet Another Study Shows That More Knowledgeable Conservatives Are *Worse* on Global Warming

Bloggers and commentators have been talking a lot lately about a recent study, by Dan Kahan and colleagues in Nature Climate Change, capturing what I call the “smart idiot” effect: Conservatives who are more educated, or have a higher degree of scientific literacy, are more strongly in denial (or less worried) about global warming.

In this post, I want to underscore the robustness of this finding, by showing that it has also turned up in a study just out in the journal Polar Geography.

The paper (citation below; abstract here; author’s draft here) is by Lawrence Hamilton and his colleagues at the University of New Hampshire. In it, the researchers examine a wealth of survey data about people’s knowledge of (and concern about) global warming in the polar regions—data collected by the General Social Survey in 2006 and 2010. Then, they cross-reference these results with measurements of general scientific literacy and political ideology…and, well, that’s when the smart idiots show up to be counted. As we’ll see.

First, though, some background.

Polar warming is, as Laurel Whitney recently explained here, an extremely big deal. This isn’t just about what happens to the polar bears. The growing potential for exploitation of oil and gas in the Arctic, made accessible by ongoing sea ice and permafrost melting, adds a new variable to the global energy economy and also further amps up our potential carbon dioxide contributions to the atmosphere.

Perhaps even more important, however, is the risk–if global warming advances far enough—of destabilizing the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets.

Wed, 2012-05-30 10:16Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Big Waffle? New Report Exposes Corporations That Try to Split the Difference on Global Warming

We hear a lot about the Koch brothers. And before them, we heard a lot about ExxonMobil.

In other words, we all know the names of the corporations, and the corporate leaders, who have sought to undermine public understanding about global warming—for instance, by supporting think tanks that misrepresent the science and, in some cases, literally launch attacks against top scientists.

But you don’t hear as much about the companies that kinda waffle on the issue. That maybe give a little money to conservative think tanks, but also support lots of environmental groups. That donate to politicians on both sides of the climate battle, and sometimes take apparently contradictory stances on the issue: either on the science, or on what we ought to do about it.

A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, though, appears to catch some of them in the act.

The UCS sought to analyze the influence of corporate America on the debate over climate science and climate policy. So it sampled a large group of S&P 500 companies that involved themselves in two major climate policy events of the past few years: Either they commented on the EPA’s 2009 endangerment finding on greenhouse gas emissions (pro or con), or they donated to the 2010 battle over Proposition 23 in California (either for or against the ballot proposition).

This yielded a sample of 28 S&P companies, including many expected names—ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Valero—but also some surprises (Nike). Then, UCS drilled down further by examining a host of other actions bearing on climate change that these companies have taken.

Tue, 2012-05-29 05:45Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

A Top Scientist Ignores the Science of Why People Deny Science

In the world of evolutionary science, you don’t get much more prominent than Richard Leakey (pictured here). An anthropologist and conservationist, he’s the son of the archaeologist couple Louis and Mary Leakey, famed for their human origins research in Africa. Richard Leakey is credited with multiple major discoveries, including his team’s unearthing of Turkana Boy, a 1.5 million year old fossil skeleton thought to be either an example of Homo erectus or of Homo ergaster.

None of this, however, necessarily means that Leakey is an expert in the communication of science, or on why people deny science in key areas. In fact, recent remarks by this distinguished researcher show just how far we still have to go before even some scientists accept the growing body of research on the subject of…why people deny science.

According to a recent AP story, Leakey predicted that within the next 15 to 30 years, scientific research will advance so much that there will be no more doubters of evolution. At this point, Leakey reportedly said, the evidence will be so vast that “even the skeptics can accept it.”

Leakey went on to forecast that in such a world, we’ll be better at using science to solve our problems: “If you get to the stage where you can persuade people on the evidence, that it's solid, that we are all African, that color is superficial, that stages of development of culture are all interactive, then I think we have a chance of a world that will respond better to global challenges.”

It’s a stirring vision, and kind of reminds you of John Lennon’s Imagine. But I’m nonetheless floored to find that in this day and age, a scientist as prominent as Leakey can sound so optimistic about being able to “persuade people on the evidence.” For with such remarks–and of course, this is assuming that the AP is quoting him accurately–Leakey seems to ignore everything we actually know about why people reject facts and reason.

Wed, 2012-05-23 09:42Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

The Meaning of Tropical Storm Alberto--and a 2012 Hurricane Rap Session

Uh oh. Hurricane season has started early.

On Saturday (the 19th), when Tropical Storm Alberto spun up off the Carolina coast, forecaster Brennan of the National Hurricane Center had this to say:

ALBERTO IS EARLIEST-FORMING TROPICAL STORM IN THE ATLANTIC BASIN SINCE ANA IN 2003.  THIS IS ALSO THE FIRST TIME THAT A TROPICAL STORM HAS FORMED BEFORE THE OFFICIAL START OF THE HURRICANE SEASON IN BOTH THE ATLANTIC AND EAST PACIFIC BASINS.

2003 was a busy season; and following on the record heat of March, a strong hurricane season wouldn’t be so very surprising. Or would it?

The truth is that heat isn’t the only thing that influences hurricanes, and this year, the pre-season hurricane forecasts are sort of all over the place. Some are predicting an above-average season, some a below average season; it all seems to centrally depend on whether or not El Nino kicks in. This global weather pattern tends to suppress hurricanes in the Atlantic, though it can be rocket fuel for them in the Pacific.

The current El Nino forecast, from NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, says we’re in what are called “ENSO neutral” conditions and those are expected to persist through summer. After that, it’s fifty-fifty whether we’ve got El Nino or a continuance of neutral conditions.

So far, NOAA has not yet released its much anticipated May 2012 Atlantic hurricane forecast, which hopefully will make more sense of this and other variables. I’d expect that any day now.

Mon, 2012-05-21 11:12Chris Mooney
Chris Mooney's picture

Will Climate Denial, Like, Ever End?

This week, as the Heartland Institute commences its annual conference, the organization is clearly back on its heels. Funders, experts, and even some staff are bailing, reports The Guardian. Apparently pushed into defensive mode by Peter Gleick and his attempt to expose its funding, the Institute struck back with its ill-advised “you guys are kinda like madmen and murderers” billboard campaign—and, as they say, the rest is history.

Or is it?

If Heartland didn’t exist, wouldn’t some other organization simply take its place? And won't Heartland itself weather this storm? After all, new funders, like the Heritage Foundation and the Illinois Coal Association, have sprung to the institute’s defense. (Whatever else you might say about conservatives, they know how to support the team.)

I think the only conclusion that one can reach is that while Heartland might be flailing right now, climate denial itself is far, far from over.

Let’s think about this in perspective, and start with the good news.

Pages

Subscribe to US