The Delegitimisation of Climate Change

Although scientists are frequently challenged by people with contrarian opinions, the social, political, and economic interests of others have the capacity to influence scientists and make them vulnerable to spurious, and even falsified, argumentation. This is explicitly seen in the discussion of the issue of climate change. The pluralistic naivety of some and the power of those with vested interests influence scientists to claim positions that they wouldn’t otherwise take. The scientific consensus that climate change is indeed taking place has long been scientifically proven and can be broadly defined as the increase in the earth’s temperature as a result of human activity, particularly from increased levels of greenhouse gas emissions. Notwithstanding this reality, misinformation about this issue spread through social media, an obstinate political ideology, and the pursuit of self-interest by big companies, all contribute to a culture in which denial of climate change is both validated and encouraged.

The recent development and popularity of social media have allowed the spread of, and access to, information to vastly increase, including information relating to skepticism over the validity of climate science. Both encouraged and influenced, the deniability of climate change is now frequently streamed via the media and the internet. These contrarian opinions are most commonly expressed through social media by influential individuals on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as the news and blogs. The internet allows anyone to feed ‘each other’s feelings of persecution by a corrupt elite’ (McKee & Diethelm, 2010).  Social media has revolutionised the availability of news and likewise its harnessing ability to reach a significant number of people at a rapid rate through the push of a button. Thus, it is through these mediums that individuals are easily persuaded to believe in the deniability of climate science. For example, the 45th President of the United States Donald Trump who has about forty-five million followers on Twitter regularly makes statements about what he believes is the hoax of climate change, despite the scientific evidence, in Tweets and posts on other social media sites. He simplifies and discredits the idea by questioning the believability of climate change when the weather coincides with the season. He also censures and belittles former US President Obama for focusing on developing preventative means to mitigate climate change.

This vulnerability to pseudo- or even anti-science is due not simply to the media itself alone, but more specifically to the range of misinformation it enables. Humans are naturally inquisitive and unafraid of exploring, or reconsidering, theories that have preexisting scientific evidence. By observing consistencies of statements or opinions expressed in social settings, including social media, people accordingly develop adaptive beliefs. People are thoroughly intrigued by facts, however, more often than not, facts can be misinterpreted and misrepresented when set in a different context or cast under a new light. This, in turn, allows for the birth of conspiracy theories. For example, pro-science blogger Deep Climate has shown evidence concerning the denial of climate change in the US Congress which effectively led to the removal of a peer-reviewed article relating to climate change (Lewandowsky et al. 2013). Time and time again, scientific evidence and theories are misrepresented after the scrutiny of others to the point where the integrity of the initial study is questioned. Scientists then, as a result, lose academic and intellectual integrity. Blogs discussing scientific evidence of climate science reach up to 700,000 viewers monthly (Lewandowsky et al. 2013). The combination of a fast-paced peripatetic society and the accessibility to wide-spread information is consequently a powerful and potentially harmful threat to the credibility of science.

The misrepresentation of climate science is facilitated through the political views and ideologies of those individuals and political parties in power, despite the discredited claims they make. Accordingly, such widespread influence can alter public opinion and understanding on a range of issues, including those issues based on science.  The USA has a wide political reach which can influence the credibility of climate science. There is no doubt that individuals or groups in power will have an effect on the beliefs of the overall population. Most opinions held by people are instilled by people in power, thus various political interests may lead to the misrepresentation of climate science. This, in turn, can enhance judgment that is not in the interest of science or the greater good. It is not uncommon in this case that political parties or governments seek to garner support from their existing political followers to maintain power. During the term of the 43rd President George W. Bush and his administration, individuals in power purposefully restricted important information from being reported about the link of climate change to one of five deadliest hurricanes in US history, Katrina, in 2005.  Bush’s reasons for falsifying scientific evidence of human-induced global warming was to maintain a political stance on the pollution control of power plants operating within the US, and not be questioned on the credibility of his decisions involving regulations of the power industry. On the topic of the United States and the acquisition of government backing, there are notably vast contrarian opinions of the legitimacy of climate science between the left and the right wings.

This has reached a culmination ion the persona of Donald Trump who represents the core principles of the Republican Party. Donald Trump is highly active in social media and openly, and frequently, disputes climate research findings. More than half of Republicans believe that scientists who make claims purporting to climate change do so only to advance their careers (Pew Research Centre, 2016). Such ideologies cast doubt and mistrust over science itself and thus the validity of any scientific information presented and evidence to support various claims, including those related to climate change. Further evidence of the partisan differences of opinion on this issue of climate change appears in the fact that while 70 percent of liberal Democrats believe that climate science research is legitimized the majority of the time, a mere 15 percent of conservative Republicans do (Pew Research Centre, 2016). As a result of this, conservative leaders support and encourage the delegitimisation of climate change among their followers in order to unaligned them from climate science. This is despite the scientific evidence of the causes and actuality of climate change. This conservative and Republican war on science is fueled by the want to defund and deny research-based documents that make any link between environmental harm and the human impact of industrial production (Mooney, 2006, 2012). Conservatives provide and support funding to scientists working in production research whose purpose is to produce marketable products that yield profits and economic growth, as opposed to supporting impact research such as climate science (McCright, 2013).

Along with misinformation channeled through social media with the full support and guidance of those in political power, big businesses additionally support the culture of climate change denial. It is in the interests of the business elite to maintain the status quo of the economy by convincing the public that the effects of greenhouse gas emissions deriving from businesses such as the tobacco industry, motor vehicle industry, and power companies, do not contribute to any kind of environmental harm. Complex policy initiatives such as carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes have been enforced on such industries to reduce the scale and impact of the release of toxic emissions into the earth’s atmosphere. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for companies to maneuver their way around paying any such taxes or covering the cost of research and the development of alternative energy sources by falsifying tests of emissions. For example, in 2015, it was revealed that Volkswagen had been leaking approximately one million tons of pollution into the environment every year due to rigging emissions testing for 11 million cars. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tested multiple models that had been fitted with a device designed under testing conditions to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxides, known as the Type EA 189 engines. Due to testing practices in Europe, it was discovered that every nine out of ten new diesel vehicles were breaching EU limits after it was revealed that cars are driven in a significantly different way in a laboratory as opposed to being driven in a street. There were discrepancies of up to seven times the legal limit. As a result of motor vehicle companies not wanting to invest heavily in research and the development of more fuel-efficient vehicles, developing alternative products such as hybrid and electric vehicles have been introduced by law.

In conclusion, political leaders, organisations, and firms support the delegitimisation of climate science. Such deniers are entertained by the ideology that socialists, communists and various members of a ‘global elite’ have purposefully induced global warming as the biggest scam in history (Sussman, 2010). Moreover, the recent advent of social media continues to act as a means of spreading such misinformation. Consequently, scientists are increasingly finding themselves charged with falsifying evidence on the legitimacy and validity of climate change, and are shamed into denying any truth about it. The scientific consensus of climate change and its causes is that there is a multitude of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions that lead directly to increases in global temperature, and it is not, therefore, in any individual’s power to question such a well-proven scientific truth. This is because to deny such an important fact shows an abundance of naivety and irresponsibility, and plays into the hands of those individuals and organisations in positions of power which stand to gain from this denial.  From all social, political and economic influences, it is unquestionable that there are a consistent misrepresentation and skepticism, thus there will always be contrarian opinions on such scientific matters.

References

Dunlap, R., & Jacques, P.J. (2013). Climate change denial books and conservative think tanks: Exploring the connection. American Behavioral Scientist, 57, 699-731.

Leviston, Z., Leitch, A., Greenhill, M., Leonard, R., & Walker, I. (2011). Australians’ views of climate change. Social & Economic Sciences Program, CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.

Lewandowsky, S., Oberauer, K., & Gignac, G.E. (2013). NASA faked the moon landing—Therefore, (climate) science Is a hoax: An anatomy of the motivated rejection of science. Psychological Science, 24,622-633

McCright, A. M., Charters, M., Dentzman, K. and Dietz, T. (2016). Examining the effectiveness of climate change frames in the face of a climate change denial counter-frame. Topics in Cognitive Science, 8, 76–97

Pew Research Center, (2016). The Politics of Climate.

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