The far-right media’s problem with climate science

The right-wing media has a huge reality problem. With climate science, it’s especially bad. Just go to Google Scholar and type in “right wing media climate change” and you’ll see that for over twenty years they’ve been drumming a well-oiled anti-regulatory beat. It has had catastrophic impacts on climate actions as Riley Dunlap and Aaron McRight have written. Whether it was George W. Bush or Scott Pruitt, the right has falsely claimed that they’re informed by good science. They’ve been anything but. How do they make such claims? How can we respond?

Climate Feedback provides a perverse example exposing climate denier James Delingpole’s lie. Delingpole is notorious for his distortions, straw men, cherry-picking, name-calling, and special pleading. And he’s done it again. Scientists, though, have responded with Climate Feedback’s help.

In an article for Breitbart, author James Delingpole claims to provide 58 scientific papers published in 2017 that show global warming to be “a myth”. This claim is sourced entirely from a list on a blog called “No Tricks Zone”. Delingpole claims “comfort” in “know[ing] that ‘the science’ is on our side”, but he can only do so by fundamentally misrepresenting the scientists’ research.

Climate Feedback reached out to authors of the scientific studies in the list of 58 papers that Delingpole claims “corroborate, independently and rigorously” his view that “‘man-made global warming’ just isn’t a thing.”

So far, 28 scientists have responded to our request for comment, and all 28 have replied “No” to the question, “Do you agree with the Breitbart article that your study provides evidence against modern climate change caused by human activities?” You can read more about their reactions below.

I encourage you to read the responses so that you too can catch the errors, frame rebuttals, and help us move the conversation in the direction we need it to go.

Here a handful of my thoughts.

  • “Delingpole claims to have disproven human-driven climate change, but he does not engage with how climate change actually works.” That’s a problem. You get the basics wrong, everything else will follow. If you can simply wave a magic wand that makes CO2 or any greenhouse gas not increase temperatures then you can believe anything and live in a fantasy land.
  • Scale issues. For example, you can’t use local anomalies to invalidate global trends. A local fluctuation in England doesn’t invalidate global changes.
  • The climate is changing more rapidly today than it has previously. Some deniers say, “The climate has always changed.” It’s irresponsible to say that there have always been temperature fluctuations to imply that all things are equal because it ignores the speed of changes. A 0.2 degrees C up or down fluctuation in a century with stable CO2 concentrations is radically different from a consistent 1 degree C increase over a century with rising CO2 concentrations. Pace, history, and context matter.
  • Finally, describing the overall change of 1 degree C as “mild” is dangerous. Peter Neff from University of Rochester notes,

Yes, it is a relatively mild adjustment on your home thermostat, increasing the temperature by less than one degree. For Americans, if your home is heated to 65ºF and you increase the temperature by 1ºF, that is equivalent to about a 0.6ºC increase. Heating the amount of air in your home is quite a different matter than heating the entire atmosphere. Just to start, the atmosphere has an approximate mass of 5 x 10^18 kg—that’s 5 quintillion kg or 11 quintillion pounds. In just over 100 years or so, we’ve increased the global air temperature thermostat by a staggering 0.8ºC—and we’re still emitting the greenhouse gases responsible for the warming.

Keep reading. The rebuttals are both necessary and interesting. They all deal with core facts refuting the climate denier myths and warn us about falsehoods. In several cases they also provide explanations that account for Delingpole’s nonsense. They can help us with spoken and written rebuttals (See the Debunking Handbook).

Delinpole’s rhetoric is just one tumor representing a widespread cultural cancer. While the far right calls climate realists “alarmists,” they themselves are the alarmists. They’re so concerned with defending their ideologies that they have become chicken littles clucking away with pseudoscience to warn about socialist-led doom. But the plain facts show that human-caused climate change is a real, clear, present, and escalating threat caused by our growing economy fueled by carbon-intensive energy, food, and industrial systems. Rather than deal with the problems at hand by transforming these systems in ways that are healthy, share broad prosperity, and protect our shared environment, they distract with histrionics, fictitious pseudo-science, astroturf campaigns, and conspiracy theories.

Luckily, we have tools. We can bring clarity and responsibly deal with this garbage.


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