Professional skeptics, who have made a sport out of distorting the science and slandering scientists working in the area, have been sustained and supported by a number of right-wing think-tanks such as the Heartland Institute, Atlas Economic Research Foundation, International Policy Network, Competitive Enterprise Institute, Public Affairs Institute and a host of other neoliberals think tanks around the world.

These right-wing warriors have had little trouble recruiting scientists to the cause, drawing on those who are ideologically driven.  For the scientists, there is the opportunity to make a killing on the Conservative speakers’ circuit, while at the same time racking up sales of books that peddle quasi-scientific twaddle.  Often, these scientists have little background in climate science, nor have they conducted research in the area.  Provided they are bona fide scientists, their expertise or discipline is largely irrelevant; the main reason that they are supported is that they are unapologetic skeptics, able to be articulate in front of the TV cameras while caring little for backing their claims with sound science.  To be fair, there are some genuine scientists among them willing to question the research, and there is nothing wrong with that, but the vast majority out there are professional skeptics.

Putting together this worldwide campaign costs money, and corporations have been willing to put substantial funds into the pockets of think-tanks on the condition that their identity is kept secret. In this way they can be seen not entering a controversial political debate, while at the same time making sure that their interests are being pursued.

In the latest revelation, Blogspot has blown the whistle on the Heartland Institute, an influential right-wing think-tank based in Chicago.  From leaked internal documents we learn that large corporations are active in funding campaigns to cast doubt on climate science.  The documents identify the Koch brothers, billionaires who have made their fortune in the oil industry, as well as an anonymous donor who kicked in $8,602,267 between 2007 and 2011.  In 2008, the mystery donor added $3.3million to the kitty and has pledged an addition one million for “climate change projects” during 2012.  “2012 Climate Strategy,” another leaked document, states, “Other contributions will be pursued for this [climate] work, especially from corporations whose interests are threatened by climate policies.”

It is not often that we get a hold of documents that provide an insight into what has been going on behind closed doors. In an earlier example, in 1998, Exxon funded a range of skeptic groups. In a much earlier leak, Exxon and a number of think-tanks put together the Global Climate Science Communications Plan, which recommended that “independent scientists” be recruited and trained to front the media, but be independent in name only.  As the plan explains, the job of these scientists was “to maximize the impact of scientific view consistent with ours.”  This was not a search for scientific truth but the manufacture of a truth built around the needs of the oil companies. The Plan signalled that “Victory will be achieved when … average citizens ‘understand’ (recognize) uncertainties in climate science; [and] recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom’.”

Sadly, professional skeptics are not engaged in an honest debate about the science but in pursuing an ideological war against what it sees as an attack on the capitalism. It goes even further than that. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the neoliberal think-tanks struggled to find a new villain to replace the “red menace.”  Climate change was a godsend by providing them with a new target: the “green menace.”

We can get some idea of the extent of this campaign from a study published in the February 2012 edition of Environmental Politics. Reviewing the environmental skepticism literature from the past 30 years, it found that more than 92% of the skeptical authors were in some way affiliated to conservative think-tanks, non-profit research and advocacy organizations that promote core conservative ideals.

Climate change scientists, sadly, are out of their league as when they are interviewed by the media they present the evidence with all the careful qualifications that come with good science. Against them are the professional skeptics who have few scruples about simplifying and distorting the science, since their objective is not to get at the truth but to overturn what they deem as dangerous left-wing ideology.  For climate scientists, these attacks are bewildering because the vast majority have little or no interest in politics or pushing any particular beliefs.

1 Comment for this entry

  • Nick says:

    I am sure the IPA is also well funded by corporations trying to spread misstruths on the merits of climate change- they are probably not even ideologically driven, simply concerned with maximising profits and avoiding perceived costly changes associated with taking action on climate change.

    The IPA is an effective organisation appearing on all forms of media preaching their ideological views on capitalism and government intervention. There is not a non-ideologically driven think tank as effective- the Grattan Institute does some good work but it does not cut through like the IPA seems to- Is it the lack of funding for these groups to seriously challenge these cashed up neo-conservative types, or is the will just not there to take them on in the field?

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