Sarah Palin, Global Warming Denialism, and Conspiracy Theory

I hesitated before weighing in on the global warming issue, because the specifics of climate science are way beyond my ken–also because I respect science and scientists enough that I prefer to steer clear of sloganeering. I understand that there is an overwhelming consensus among responsible scientists that global warming is both real and anthropogenic, though as with all science, there is considerable debate about the details and significant uncertainty about how things will ultimately play out (though virtually none of the scenarios provide much reason for optimism). Most of the scientists who deny the phenomenon of human-caused climate change have much in common with the astroturf “researchers” who obfuscated the connections between tobacco usage and cancer in decades past; they have been co-opted by one or another deep-pocketed interest, such as the fossil fuel industry, that has a stake in maintaining the status quo–their goal isn’t to explore alternative hypotheses or otherwise seek out the truth but to generate plausible-sounding doubts that propagandists and lobbyists can exploit. Which isn’t to say that some dissenters aren’t sincere–the eminent theoretical physicist Freeman Dyson for example, is cranky, eccentric, and downright heretical, but certainly not corrupt. And it isn’t to deny that Al Gore and some of the other global warming Cassandras sometimes claim to know more about the future than anyone could–see today’s story in the London Times, “Inconvenient Truth for Al Gore as his North Pole Sums Don’t Add Up“–and have economic stakes in the issue themselves. Science is a subtle thing; activists’ and politicians’ rhetoric is anything but.

But if Al Gore is occasionally sententious and smug, the stakes are incredibly high and the best science we have supports him. Denialists like Senator James Inhofe, Ex-Governor Sarah Palin, and syndicated columnist George Will are more often than not downright disingenuous–and they have seized on the CRU e mail scandal as something that it’s manifestly not: the smoking gun that proves that anthropogenic climate change is constructed entirely out of whole cloth, that it’s a fiction, a conspiracy cooked up by the usual CFR One World types to undermine the free enterprise system and subvert American sovereignty.

Here’s Inhofe: “Al Gore has been out there making hundreds of millions of dollars pushing anthropogenic global warming. It’s clear now that we shouldn’t listen to him. He represents the far-left extreme of Hollywood, which calls the shots for the Democratic party. He has an extremist mentality.” Here’s Palin’s op ed in The Washington Post (click here to read the whole thing):

With the publication of damaging e-mails from a climate research center in Britain, the radical environmental movement appears to face a tipping point. The revelation of appalling actions by so-called climate change experts allows the American public to finally understand the concerns so many of us have articulated on this issue. “Climate-gate,” as the e-mails and other documents from the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia have become known, exposes a highly politicized scientific circle — the same circle whose work underlies efforts at the Copenhagen climate change conference. The agenda-driven policies being pushed in Copenhagen won’t change the weather, but they would change our economy for the worse.

The e-mails reveal that leading climate “experts” deliberately destroyed records, manipulated data to “hide the decline” in global temperatures, and tried to silence their critics by preventing them from publishing in peer-reviewed journals. What’s more, the documents show that there was no real consensus even within the CRU crowd. Some scientists had strong doubts about the accuracy of estimates of temperatures from centuries ago, estimates used to back claims that more recent temperatures are rising at an alarming rate.

And here’s Will, also in the Post (click here to read the whole article):

Disclosure of e-mails and documents from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) in Britain — a collaborator with the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — reveals some scientists’ willingness to suppress or massage data and rig the peer-review process and the publication of scholarly work. The CRU materials also reveal paranoia on the part of scientists who believe that in trying to engineer “consensus” and alarm about warming, they are a brave and embattled minority. Actually, never in peacetime history has the government-media-academic complex been in such sustained propagandistic lockstep about any subject.

What the CRU scandal does prove–as anyone who has followed science in the most casual way well knows–is that scientists are not immune to politics, favoritism, and the demands of PR. Click here for the AP’s summary asssessment of the so-called scandal:

As part of the AP review, summaries of the e-mails that raised issues from the potential manipulation of data to intensely personal attacks were sent to seven experts in research ethics, climate science and science policy.

“This is normal science politics, but on the extreme end, though still within bounds,” said Dan Sarewitz, a science policy professor at Arizona State University. “We talk about science as this pure ideal and the scientific method as if it is something out of a cookbook, but research is a social and human activity full of all the failings of society and humans, and this reality gets totally magnified by the high political stakes here.”

In the past three weeks since the e-mails were posted, longtime opponents of mainstream climate science have repeatedly quoted excerpts of about a dozen e-mails. Republican congressmen and former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin have called for either independent investigations, a delay in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulation of greenhouse gases or outright boycotts of the Copenhagen international climate talks. They cited a “culture of corruption” that the e-mails appeared to show.

That is not what the AP found… the end, global warming didn’t go away, according to the vast body of research over the years.

None of the e-mails flagged by the AP and sent to three climate scientists viewed as moderates in the field changed their view that global warming is man-made and a threat. Nor did it alter their support of the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which some of the scientists helped write.

“My overall interpretation of the scientific basis for (man-made) global warming is unaltered by the contents of these e-mails,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration scientist.

Gerald North, a climate scientist at Texas A&M University, headed a National Academy of Sciences study that looked at — and upheld as valid — Mann’s earlier studies that found the 1990s were the hottest years in centuries.

“In my opinion the meaning is much more innocent than might be perceived by others taken out of context. Much of this is overblown,” North said.

Conspiracy theory about the JFK assassination, 9/11, the New World Order, ACORN and the SEIU, or The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion more often than not reflects the psychology of the conspiracist–the need to assign blame, to impose a coherent narrative on the terrifying randomness of catastrophes, to alchemize a personal feeling of impotence and disaffection into focused outrage. It’s unfortunate, it’s disturbing, it’s irrational, but it’s what it is. Climategate is something else altogether. It’s cynical, it’s opportunistic, and it’s horrifyingly dangerous.

Hume’s Ghost put it well (click here to read his entire post):

You’ve got people promoting the interests of the business sector by promoting a conspiracy theory about nefarious forces plotting to rule the world, where scientists have taken the place ususally held by Jews, Illuminati, Masons or some such.

That virtually the entire scientific enterprise at a planetary level is involved in a conspiracy to hoax the planet in order to overthrow capitalism and install planetary totalitarian rule is every bit as absurd as the conspiracy posited in The Protocols of Zion. What’s more, it’s just about as hateful.


12 thoughts on “Sarah Palin, Global Warming Denialism, and Conspiracy Theory

  1. You are missing one very important detail. The fact is that global warming is agreed upon!!! Man made global warming is not!!!!
    That is all the AP told us… don’t pretend like the AP believes man made global warming still exists.

    In any case their conclusion are pretty laughable when you look at the evidence in the emails.

    1. “The 1,073 e-mails examined by the AP show that scientists harbored private doubts, however slight and fleeting, even as they told the world they were certain about climate change. However, the exchanges don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

      Para 2 of the AP piece. You’re entitled to not believe them, but they certainly do believe that man made global warming exists.

  2. Sorry, I didnt look into the whole piece.

    I have done alot of reading though and have most scientific thing I read is that there is no consenus.
    Al gore’s position of CO2 as the enemy has been debunked by his own finding. That is CO2 in the air always laggs behind temperature over history.

    1. “…that there is no consenus.”

      Also worthy of note is Wikipedia’s list of scientific organizations which have issued statements on anthropogenic climate change. Noteworthy for its absence is any organization with a statement arguing against anthropogenic climate change; since 2007 only the American Association of Petroleum Geologists has had a noncommittal statement.

      1. Hume…
        don’t deceive…. the wiki page says climate change…not anthropogenic climate change.

        This guys has done lots of good research. But can’t you tell his biasness while reading through his lists? It would be more credible if he would state that the scientific groups related to government had a vested interest in climate chane.

        Anyway, there just needs to be more debate. There are to many scientist screaming that there is no consensus. The worst part is the people (like climate gate) who just brush them off squelch the opposition. Shouldn’t we have enough information and debate for everyone to understand what is happening and why?

        anyway… here is some help
        someone forgot to tell these guys

        japan, definately doesn’t agree… do they have a oil bias?
        NOAA doesnt agree
        How about Europe?

        How many sources do I need to prove to you that there may be some debate here still?

  3. Timmy: The title of the Wikipedia page doesn’t contain “anthropogenic” but read the scientific statements quoted within it.

    My blog post talks about the Petition Project, under the section on OISM.

    There’s plenty of climate change debate, it’s just not about whether there is global warming or whether human emissions of greenhouse gases are the major forcing.

    1. I thank you too. I enjoyed your posts–and I appreciate the link.

      A lot of people assume that my skeptical stance on conspiracy theory makes me a kneejerk apologist for the government, that I reflexively tar anyone who disputes the CW with the conspiracist label. In fact I approve of questions–that’s what skepticism is about. What makes me suspicious aren’t tough questions but ready-made, tendentious answers that serve a political–and more-often-than-not a rightwing political–point of view. Yesterday an interviewer put me on the spot about so-called Vaccine denialism. I don’t know enough about medicine to answer a lot of the specific questions with any authority, but as with Global Warming, I suspect that some of the impetus for the challenges are political rather than scientific; that the real aim is to undercut social policy rather than to foster truth. Not Bill Maher and Jenny McCarthy, I’m sure, but many of the other alarmist voices in the blogosphere. Not that there aren’t legitimate questions and criticisms that need to be considered and addressed–but many of the loudest are either disingenuous or theological.

  4. Sir,

    Before weighing in on global warming, know that the scientists who do not subscribe to the so-called “consensus” claimed by Al Gore, the press and the IPCC (such as Dr. Freeman Dyson) are very well credentialled and well respected people in their field.

    I do not believe in conspiracy theories either but, based on my assessment of the issue, there is no consensus on the issue of human-induced climate change/global warming.

    Please consider picking up the book “The Deniers” by Lawrence Solomon and, if you would like, please consider talking or communicating with Dr. Robert Balling who has a background in Climatology and is a professor of Geology at Arizona State University.

    Dr. Balling and the scientists featured in “The Deniers” are certainly very informative sources if you want to get a good overview of the dissenters on this issue.

    I also posted a review of “The Deniers” at my blog too.

    I have just bought your book on Cults, Conspriacies and Secret Societies and am looking forward to reading it. 🙂

    Thank you.

  5. Thanks for an interesting post. A couple of commenters have suggested that many reputable scientists dispute the consensus view that human greenhouse emissions are warming the planet, and need to be reduced. My website looks into this question of how many actual scientists working in climate-related fields accept or reject this view.
    My results agree quite well with the survey of AGU members last year by Doran and Kendall-Zimmerman: I find fewer than 3% of qualified researchers dispute the mainstream view. I show links to the scientists’ own web pages and to Google Scholar results on what they’ve published and how widely it has been cited. I have sections specifically addressing Solomon’s “The Deniers” and the TV film “The Great Global Warming Swindle” as well:

    (Try my name above for the link – the web filter wasn’t letting this post through so I’m trying again without the URL in the text?)

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