Science of Climate Change Denial: Wilful Ignorance vs Economic Self Interest

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As the popular saying goes, “a lie that is repeated enough eventually becomes the truth“. This quote is most often attributed to Joseph Goebbels, the Propaganda Minister of the National Socialist German Worker’s Party or the Nazi Party. Whether the validity of the attribution is true, this observation demonstrates the tendency of the masses to believe whole heartedly in postulations that involve them emotionally, regardless of scientific evidence.

The Scientific Consensus

At this point in time, the consensus among scientists points to the fact that we are indeed affecting the planet’s temperature through man made carbon emission. The exponential industrialization the civilizations of the world have experienced over the last century have also exponentially increased the amount of carbon dioxide that we release onto the atmosphere.

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

According to the latest United Nations backed Assessment Report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “most of the observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic (resulting from human activity) greenhouse gas concentrations”. The delicate nature of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere can influence Earth’s climate due to the “greenhouse effect”.

The greenhouse effect is a process by which thermal radiation from a planetary surface is absorbed by atmospheric greenhouse gases, and is re-radiated in all directions. Since part of this re-radiation is back towards the surface and the lower atmosphere, it results in an elevation of the average surface temperature above what it would be in the absence of the gases. This in turn leads to positive feedback loops of the melting polar ice caps and thawing-out of the permafrost to perpetuate the already increasing carbon dioxide levels.

CO2 is produced by fossil fuel (oil,coal and gas) burning and other activities such as cement production and tropical deforestation. Measurements of CO2 from the Mauna Loa observatory show that concentrations have increased from about 313ppm (parts per million) in 1960 to about 389 ppm in 2010. It reached the 400ppm milestone on May 9, 2013.

Willful Ignorance vs Economic Self Interest

To some segment of the population, the idea of man made climate change is utterly preposterous.  This small but loud minority are the first to condemn any environmental regulation proposal citing various pseudo-scientific research and of course going with that “good ole’ gut feeling”.

If we take a step back and examine the majority of the scientific research that the climate change denier’s cite, we find that most of them are authored and produced by special interest groups that benefit directly from more lax environmental regulation.

Irrefutably, one of the champions of climate change denial are the Koch brothers. Charles and David Koch are the majority shareholders of the Koch Industries, a massive conglomerate ranked as the second largest, privately owned company in America. The brothers whose individual net worth is $40 billion each, built their fortune in fossil fuels and industrial chemicals.

It might come as no surprise then that the Koch brothers allocate a considerable portion of their enormous income to funding a political campaign against every kind of environmental or other regulation that might get in the way of their often lucrative profits. In fact the Koch brothers have used their money and influence to create an extensive network of think tanks, foundations, lobbyists and tame politicians to push their agenda.

10300798_764582836920438_5986114371444755666_nAs it stands currently, the Koch brothers are firmly at the center of the Republican power base with their far reaching money and influence being responsible for the lobbying of the far right political rhetoric.

The list of right wing and free market groups they have used their vast fortune to support is many but it includes the Cato Institute which Charles cofounded in 1977, the American Enterprise Institute, the George C Marshall Institute, the Reason Foundation, the Heritage Foundation, the Manhattan Institute and Americans for Prosperity, founded by David Koch himself and which spent $40million for the 2010 Congressional elections alone. Also, one of their front groups, Americans for Progress have played a critical role in instigating the funding for the Tea Party movement.

It is almost morbidly fascinating how the Koch brothers have managed to persuade the people that are most harmed by their agenda that, in fact, it is actually beneficial to them. Now that is a propaganda that even Joseph Goebbels would be proud of.

Conclusion

When asked about global warming and ardent climate change denial stance taken by the many in the position of power, the renowned astro-physicist Neil DeGrase Tyson said “Everyone is entitled to a personal opinion, but those in a position of power have a responsibility to rely on something more than faith.

The fact of the matter is that climate change is real and it is happening. Unless we curb our reliance on fossil fuels significantly over the next few decades, the likelihood of catastrophic event is all but guaranteed.

So what can we do?

We must explore and proliferate all form of sustainable method of harvesting energy, whether that be nuclear, solar, wind or geothermal. I believe that each source has its place in the energy matrix of tomorrow.

So are we completely screwed? 

At the moment, the prospects seem bleak but I believe in the ingenuity and science of human ebings. As H.G Wells said in his iconic novel published in 1914, World Set Free; “The history of mankind is the history of the attainment of external power. Man is the tool-using, fire-making animal. . . . Always down a lengthening record, save for a set-back ever and again, he is doing more.

Sources:

http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/co2_data_mlo.html

http://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg1/ar4-wg1-chapter7.pdf

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