"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Monday, January 14, 2008

20 Years of Miseducation on Global Warming

From MeteorBlades at Daily Kos:
In the hot summer of 1988 - while Americans prepared to decide whether Vice President George H.W. Bush or the "Atari Democrat" – Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis – would replace Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office, James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, testified at a congressional hearing that he was convinced the earth’s atmosphere was warming up, that the warming was caused by human activity, and that severe shocks would result. A three-scenario graph accompanying his testimony sent a clarion warning.

The smears and propaganda began almost immediately from contrarians such as Patrick Michaels and a snake-oil salesman named S. Fred Singer. Eventually, it became known that both men (and others) were part of a well-financed campaign on the part of fossil-fuel companies to persuade Americans (and politicians) that global warming was a hoax and that Hansen and other scientists sounding the alarm were fools or worse.

The hearings in June 1988 weren’t the first time Hansen had said trouble was brewing. Nor were they the first time other scientists had publicly spoken of the potential crises warming might cause. But 1988 demarcated two periods. Before then, the science of climate change was tentative and the political opposition was mostly directly toward keeping data from being gathered in the first place, much less analyzed. Afterward, with the science ever more sure and cohesive, a cabal of petro-industrialists paid aggressive liars to attack the science and, sometimes, the scientists. Chief among those in the crosshairs were Hansen and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the research organization set up in that same watershed year by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Environment Program.

With the express purpose of casting "doubt on the theory of global warming," front groups with misleading names such as the Global Climate Coalition, the Global Climate Information Project, and the Cooler Heads Project (as well as the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Consumer Coalition) spread fabrications while their corporate sponsors paid tens of millions of dollars for public relations campaigns, advertising, and contributions to Democratic and Republican politicians.

These slick propagandists were immensely successful. In the ‘90s, President Bill Clinton – under assault by retrograde ideologues over a wide range of issues – chose to invest only a smidgen of his political capital to deal with a crisis many in the chattering classes still claimed was bogus. Throughout the ‘00s, the propagandists’ comrades-in-avarice have directly controlled the federal machinery, censoring, distorting, threatening and dragging their feet. The professional deniers’ favorite targets, from the IPCC to Hansen to Al Gore, have been repeatedly vindicated. Global warming has become the worst nightmare of the deniers and delayers: a household word.

Yet their two-decade-long assault on science and sound policy continues its negative impacts. Key world leaders, even including Mister Bush, say they understand that global warming is a crisis. But their acknowledgement hasn't been transformed into a passionate commitment for what matters: bold action.

Scientific interest in climate change goes back nearly two centuries, but the politics of global warming are only 50 years old. . . .

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