Misinformation Is Winning – Doubt In Climate Change Climbing

Climate change-related disasters have been rising for decades; yearly temperatures are rising in a nearly consistent pattern; extreme weather events are costing economies across the globe hundreds of billions of dollars.  Despite the mounting evidence that climate change is both real and a major threat to our security, more people are buying into the idea that climate change is a myth.

A new poll from Yale University and George Mason shows that the percentage of Americans who don’t believe in climate change rose 7% in 2013 to 23% of the entire population.  While 63% of the general public believes that climate change is occurring, only 47% believe that human activities are to blame.  The poll also revealed that less than 50% of Americans believe that climate change will affect their lives, but 65% say that it could harm future generations. 

This shift in public opinion in 2013 happened during another record-breaking temperature year, with 2013 being the seventh warmest year on record. 

All of the evidence points to the fact that climate change is real and that human beings are making it worse.  Scientists agree that it is happening, and the physical evidence is all around us, so the big question is: why is the number of climate change deniers increasing?

The answer is that the misinformation machine has kicked into high gear, and 2013 saw a massive increase in the amount of climate change denial being given a microphone throughout various forms of media.

In the blog world, noted climate change denier and industry-funded lawyer Marc Morano made the claim that 2013 saw a decrease in the number of extreme weather events such as tornadoes, hurricanes, and droughts, as evidence that climate change isn’t happening.  However, while 2013 did see a drop in these events, their overall occurrence has increased dramatically over the last 4 decades, making Morano’s “small picture” view of the problem grossly inaccurate.

But Morano is small potatoes compared to the larger misinformation campaign taking place.

Media Matters compiled a report earlier this month detailing the lackluster coverage of climate change in 2013, even after a major U.N. report and a presidential speech on the need to address the growing threat. 

According to their report, mentions of climate change increased slightly in 2013 (but still remained below the highest point of coverage achieved during 2009), but the majority of the coverage was skewed to the denial side. 

Rather than bringing on scientists to discuss the issue, networks like Fox, ABC and CBS relied instead on Republican politicians and pundits to tell the story, which was often no different than the dirty energy industry’s talking points on the subject. 

Altogether, the three major networks — ABC, CBS, and NBC — aired a total of one hour and 52 minutes worth of programming related to climate change during their evening news programs in 2013. 

The Guardian compared the media’s coverage (or lack thereof) on climate change to the way the media handled the run-up to the Iraq War.  In both instances, says The Guardian, the media failed to do their job and fact check the talking points from both industry and government, and led the public to believe that the problem was much worse (or less severe in the case of climate change) than reality would have us believe.

2014 isn’t off to a much better start, either.  The polar vortex and ensuing massive winter storms have given the deniers plenty of “evidence” to say that climate change is a hoax, ignoring the fact that climate change helped pave the way for the vortex. There's even a term for this trend, snow-trolling.

As extreme weather events increase and global temperatures continue to rise, so will the attacks on climate science. 

The problem is not necessarily the denial industry, but a public that is so unwilling to accept the truth that they will buy into any piece of “good” news, even if all evidence points to the contrary.

Image credit – Union of Concerned Scientists.