Climate Change Denial

May 1, 2007

Why was The Great Global Warming Swindle so persuasive?

George Marshall @ 11:34 am

Why is our belief in climate change still so fragile that many well meaning people have written to this blog claiming that a polemic propaganda film has changed their view of climate change? Surely this requires some explanation.

The fans of the film would argue that it has been effective because it is true. But truth is not, of itself, persuasive. When we receive new information on a topic we have no idea whether it is true or not. We base our conclusions on how it was presented to us, whether it concurs with what we already know about that topic, how far we trust the person telling us, and how well that information fits inside our world view. We then seek to match our initial conclusions against the conclusions of our peers.

So, although we think we seek truth, the process by which we reach opinions is equally capable of leading us in the wrong direction. It turns out that Swindle was a collection of rather crude distortions in an elegant package. We now know that the data was misrepresented, the charts re-arranged, and the interviews edited in ways that were designed to mislead.

To cite just one example: the graph that purported to show that global temperatures had fallen between 1940 and 1975. Although it bore the label “NASA” it bore no resemblance to any NASA map of 20th century temperatures. The likely source was a graph in a climate skeptic publication which was then further distorted: the axis at the bottom of the graph was extended to make it look up to date, and all the inconvenient wobbles were ironed out. The producer of the programme, Martin Durkin explained that “the original data was very wiggly-lined and we wanted the simplest line we could find.” So the programme took a graph from a propoganda magazine, redrew it to tell the story it wanted and then credited it to a reputable scientific institution”. More…

When Swindle was shown in Australia in July this graph was slightly redrawn and the NASA attribution removed. The programme was still so awful that a devastating critique by four staff of the Australian National Climate Centre concluded that “much of the material presented is either out-of-date, already discredited or of uncertain origin. A number of the graphs and figures used in the documentary are not based on any known or published climate data”.  Link to critique..
 

But I don’t want to go any further into the specific claims of the programme. I want to ask a much more interesting question: why were people persuaded by a programme that they knew contradicted the vast body of reputable scientific opinion. Here are some explanations.

1. It followed a trusted format

Fifty years of public service broadcasting has created a standard science documentary format. Interviews with scientists and animated graphics are intercut with general footage of an issue, sometimes a little montage. The whole thing is held together by the modulated authoritative voice-over of a professional male actor.

We trust this familiar and dull format because we assume that broadcasters and science documentaries do not knowingly lie. Yes we know that they may twist and simplify things a little to tell a good yarn, but we do not expect them to ignore all opposing views or redraw and mislabel graphs. Years of responsible public service broadcasting has giving documentaries a credibility that we would never permit to newspapers columnists, chat shows, or politicians.

One way we assess plausibility is through familiarity so Durkin cleverly mimicked all the ingredients of the classic science documentary format. When we saw that Swindle looked and sounded like the respectable and worthy BBC2 science documentaries we assumed, based on past experience, that it would be carefully researched and the facts checked.

Durkin’s greatest deception was the absence of a visible narrator. According to the conventions of broadcasting, the narrator can be invisible only when the case he is putting is uncontroversial and unpolitical. When a position is politicized the convention requires that we see the person presenting it so that we can understand that it is their point of view and open to challenge. When there is a serious difference of opinion we should see people presenting an opposing point of view.

A typical exercise of these conventions was the Dispatches programme on climate change presented on Channel Four the week before Swindle. The presenter George Monbiot introduced himself at the outset– so we knew that this would be a personal argument. Anyone he challenged was allowed a space to issue a formal refutation. Indeed the programme looked as though it had been edited by lawyers.

Channel Four gave Swindle a free reign hoping to milk the resulting controversy (and knowing that the IPCC would not sue). In so doing it exploited the professionalism of everyone who has created and adhered to the conventions that made Swindle its credibility.

2. It wheeled out experts

We respect the expertise of people with academic titles and positions in leading universities assuming, with good reason, that they know what they are talking about and are bound by a set of principles. That trust has been built through long established precedent and strict professional ethics.

Swindle exploited that trust. It interviewed an array of experts, many with impressive qualification and positions in reputable scientific institutions. But the labels were often deceptive, giving people positions that they had not held for years. The most serious mislabelling was of Fred Singer who was described as “Former Director of the US National Weather Service” when he has never held any such position.

The programme exploited the codes of science communication. Professional scientists are usually extremely cautious, prefacing their statements with dithering caveats such as “it is still too early to draw a firm conclusion but the data suggests that…”. By this measure when professional scientists are highly confident and assertive we assume that what they say is beyond contest.

And the programme avoided any unfortunate confrontations with real scientists and allowing them no space on the programme.

3. It used tried and tested denial arguments

Swindle was the product of a public relations campaign that has been carefully honing its arguments for nearly two decades. During this time many arguments have been tried and discarded. The contrarians (including the old hands like Singer and Michaels who appeared on the programme) used to argue that increased carbon dioxide would be great for the environment. Then they argued that there was no conclusive evidence that temperatures were rising. By 2005 this argument became hard to maintain in the face of a string of record temperatures.

Strangely it is the argument that carbon dioxide does not cause climate change that has survived and prospered. In scientific terms this is a far greater deceit that previous arguments because it denies the basic physics behind the greenhouse effect. It clearly begs the question: what is preventing carbon dioxide, a known greenhouse gas, from retaining heat in the atmosphere? But this is no longer about valid or rational arguments- it is about the arguments that sell.

Even though these arguments have their own evolutionary history, the real inspiration behind Swindle is Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth. Durkin has openly declared his interest in ‘putting the record right’ and producing a mass market film to counters Gore’s arguments. But this is not just Durkin’s interest.

In July 2006 Ross Gelbspan (see last posting) published a leaked internal memo by Stanley Lewandowski, General Manager of the Intermountain Rural Electric Association – a Colorado based electricity generator to the heads of 50 other power utilities. Link….

Lewandowski expressed concern over the success of Gore’s film and stated the IREA’s commitment to “support the scientific community that is willing to stand up against the alarmists and bring a balance to the discussion”. He praises Dr Patrick Michaels, Fred SInger and Richard Lindzen, the key stars of Swindle, and says that the “IREA has decided to contribute $100,000 to Dr Michaels”. In Swindle Michaels aggressively states that he has never received a penny in funding from industry interests. Clearly this is a man whose word can be trusted.

The memo goes on to say that “Koch industries is working with other large corporations, including AEP and the Southern Company, on possibly financing a film that would counteract an Inconvenient Truth”.

Swindle fits neatly into this US strategy to counter Gore’s success. Last month Fred Singer wrote a widely distributed article stating that “Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, has met its match”. Now I cannot claim that Swindle received funding from any US source, but I would be certain that it received substantial advice and support from the US denial networks. I am absolutely confident that they will adopt this film as a core material and will pull out all the stops to ensure that it is shown on US television.

And lo and behold, look at the IREA website and there is a big plug for Swindle saying that it shows that “if the planet is heating up, it isn’t your fault and there’s nothing you can do about it”.

4. The main reason- people want to believe it

It is remarkable that people’s belief in climate change is still so fragile that the firm consensus of the world’s scientific bodies can be challenged by a polemic documentary produced, let us remind ourselves, by the same channel that put out Celebrity Big Brother.

This requires some explanation. It would be entirely possible, assuming that Channel Four has no residual principles at all, to put together a similar documentary on just about any offensive theory: the lack of gas chambers at Auschwitz; the lack of connection between HIV and AIDs; the lower IQ of black people or the disproof of evolution.

It would be easy to find enough ‘proof’, graphs, and attention-seeking academics to fill any documentary. But I don’t think it would persuade anyone. In all these cases we accept the existing opinion even though, in truth, we rarely know enough to be able to defend it.

So ultimately the success of any lie does not depend on how well it is packaged or how many experts are wheeled out but whether people want to believe it, whether it reinforces or validates their world view, or whether it makes them feel better. White supremacists want to believe that other races are less intelligent. Muslim extremists want to believe in an international Jewish conspiracy- which is why every Islamic bookshop in the middle east has copies of the odious 100 year old forgery “the Protocols of the Elders of Zion”.

And many many intelligent people want to believe that climate change is a myth. Maybe they find it too threatening to their world view. Maybe they are scared by the predictions. Maybe they find the solutions too challenging to the lifestyle they believe they have earned.

There is no doubt in my mind that the key reason why Swindle worked was because it spoke to a very powerful hope that climate change doesn’t actually exist. This is a perilous time for belief- after years of ignoring climate change and hoping it will go away British society is on the end of edge of actually taking it seriously.

Among the lies it peddled was the notion that environmentalists and scientists have a vested interest in promoting this problem. In fact we would love it if we were wrong. I know several scientists and green campaigners, myself amongst them, who felt an initial wave of hope watching Swindle that there might really still be some doubt about their work. The first thing that we said to each other the next morning in my office was “please tell me that there was some truth in there”.

Such is the power of our denial. Such is our desire to turn away. The real skeptics are not the ones on the tv screen but the ones in our heads and we will grasp at any lie, however transparent, to keep them alive.

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28 Responses to “Why was The Great Global Warming Swindle so persuasive?”

  1. Dear George and all … I have been writing this up for a book I’m doing, and not having TV, watched the Durkin movie via Google Video. See http://video.google.co.uk/videoplay?docid=2332531355859226455&q=the+great+global+warming+swindle . What was really interesting is that I also found on Google video a lecture critiquing the film by Chris Merchant of Edinburgh Uni. I have just talked to Chris. He says that rather than using the older Google version of this video, better to use the version he’ll be filming this coming Friday where he’s done a lot more work on the data. Check him out, and after Friday, have a look at his video lecture on http://www.geos.ed.ac.uk/homes/chris . The main critique he makes is that Durkin cut off his solar cycle length data in 1980, and after that, the relationship that Durkin claimed radically breaks down. Just how radically is the subject of some number crunching Chris is currently doing in preparation for his lecture on Fri 4th.

    All the best, Alastair.

  2. R J Hill says:

    I do not doubt there is climate change but I do think that the program raised some doubts as to the causes and there seeems to be some science that suggests that it is not all due to CO2. This is heresy to the environmental lobby, wind and nuclear industries and manna to the energy lobby. Earth science has a poor record in dealing with maverick views, for example plate tectonics, because it is hard to test theories by experiment.We should be looking at the science rather than attacking the people or a
    populist tv programme.A detailed critique of the ‘Chilling Sun’ would be a good start.
    Anyway we should be concentrating on mitigation of the effects of global warming, and also reducing reliance on fossil fuels, a good thing in itself.

    [George says: no scientists claims that all global warming is due to carbon dioxide. Clearly there are many factors involved. But the IPCC has looked at this repeatedly and concluded that CO2 is the dominante cause. The "attack" on the contributors is highly relevant, though. One has to be extremely naive to believe people who are being paid by powerful vested interests, ignore all counter arguments and constantly change their story. Wegener (plate techtonics) was a reputable scientist who went to great lengths to collect irrefutable evidence for his theory]

  3. David Rees says:

    Dear George
    Your note is a very interesting and satisfactory rebuttal. I I was very interested to hear your response to Swindle and the at of others and I find that the ultimate effect has been to consolidate further my early support of the proponents of climate change. The truth is a fragile thing and its not only the word of your opposition that should be questioned…that’s why I voiced my reaction to the Swindle in the first place.
    Cheers
    David

  4. Denis Lahaie says:

    Because we want Science to be friendly. There are special interests on both side of the fence, and some of us just trying to understand.

    History will always repeat itself if we don’t learn from it.

    “Humanity delights in what Jacob Bronowski called “selling the corpse of science.” Most people don’t care how the latest technological innovations got here; they just want the goodies, and never mind where they came from.”

    No science is immune to the infection of politics and the corruption of power.

    —Jacob Bronowski

  5. Bill Dowling says:

    You have confirmed my longstanding conviction that people believe what they want to believe. They prefer to live in doubt and uncertainty, because it avoids facing up to a problem they do not want to have to deal with
    People take an awful lot of persuasion to believe something that they do not want to believe, and they will latch onto every tiny weakness and shred of uncertainty in your arguments and evidence that they can find, or that has been presented to them, to try to discredit you.
    i.e. Some people will not be convinced untill the floodwaters of the melting icecaps are lapping over their own doorsteps. Even then a few of them (or more likely others not directly affected, and with a vested intetrest in the denial of the truth) will suggest there is another explanation!

  6. Mark Ritzenhein says:

    This is a very interesting commentary, with implications far beyond GW. It points to basic human nature. We are all born ignorant and uneducated except in the few areas of life where we have experienced something, or learned about a field in a disciplined manner. It should be no surprise that most people cannot comprehend GW or its consequences.
    I examine my own internal state. Emotionally, it is impossible to cope with this concept because it represents mega-death–not just of one’s own self, but also one’s own species and most others (all mammals, all amphibians, all birds?). I must block out these despairing thoughts in order to function in life.
    When I observe beautiful Nature around our cottage, for example, it pains me to think that it all is going to disappear in a flash, to be replaced with something foreign, simplified, and much diminished. It is no surprise to me that most people cannot even begin to contemplate such matters.
    In the US, there has long been a bitter political split. The ugly acrimony from one side has made it impossible to even have a dialogue with the other (I admit my own bias in this matter), and so the average person ends up living in their own little self-confirmed left- or right-wing world. From there,it is very easy for interested parties to propagandize to their uninformed adherents through biased media.
    Further, I still find myself struggling with the complexities of the matter of GW, the minutiae of data I don’t fully understand, and the overcautious manner of disciplined scientists.
    Recently, it has been announced that the Arctic ice cap is melting at three times the rate presumed by the models. Such data does not inspire confidence on either end of the political spectrum. Having traveled all over the world and seen some of these places myself, the loss of great quantities of ice is directly meaningful to me.
    I hear people around me discuss GW in a very superficial manner. They still talk about changing light bulbs, or “one degree won’t make much difference,” or dismiss GW as a liberal plot led by Al Gore (truthfully!). It will take a direct impact for such people to understand the immensity, and even then they don’t always get it. One woman told me of the permanent change in Florida’s summer weather patterns (no more late afternoon thunderstorms every day), and then linked it to GW, then dismissed it as significant. Civility prevented me from arguing the point with her, but she herself noticed the effect and brought it up, unbidden. I was amazed that it had no greater context in her mind.
    Out of 6.5 billion human beings on this planet, does anyone have a guess as to how many have even heard of GW enough to believe it is even under discussion? 500 million? Fewer?

  7. A lot here that is useful, but here’s a challenge. Perhaps ‘Swindled’ and its ilk are now having less effect on popular views than some environmentalists fear. The effect on opinion polls about climate change will be vanshingly small. For those who want to remain in denial it may provide false and temporary comfort, but anecdote, observation and conversation with educated people who are not specialists about climate change suggests to me that most people who are not specialists either see through or cast aside ‘Swindled’ and its ilk quite quickly. People rapidly ‘get’ that this is ‘lies-and-the-lying-liers-who-tell-them’ stuff. TV’s voice of authority is not what it was in the 70s and 80s when the likes of George’s and my generation were growing up.

    I’ll go out on a limb and say that the propaganda-culture battle on this issue has largely been won, and that denial is a dwindling problem. Concern about climate change is becoming quite deeply embedded in the culture in a way Gramsci would be reasonably happy about.

    But the challenges of actually tackling the problem are bigger than ever, and without effective action acceptance, fatalism and ‘bugger-Bangladeshis-and-posterity’ may be the biggest challenges

  8. R J Hill says:

    Thank you for your courteous rebuttal.Having spent forty years as a scientist and technologist in industry and six years as a visiting professor in an Oxbridge engineering department I am not naive as to the lengths that parties will use to defend their interests, particularly when they have deep pockets and ulterior motives. But in my time I have seen many a ‘scientific consensus’ disapear without trace and without demonstrated understanding of the mechanisms involved I would not rate them as more than probable or ,perhaps, very probable but not gospel truth.
    I have had sufficient exposure to computer models of complex fluid mechanics of a scale comparable with climate modelling to treat with caution those that simple fit the model to the data without detailed understanding of the processes involved.I believe most climate models are in this state as cloud formation is not well understood.
    This is why I support the experiments proposed in the ‘Chilling Stars’.I doubt that those Danes are in the pay of the oil industry, and their efforts so far have certainly not advanced their careers.If they are wrong then a red herring is out of the way ;if right we may be able to estimate how much of global warming is out of our control and take steps to cope with the consequences.
    Wegener’s theories were not accepted in his lifetime despite his detailed work.Partly this was because he was not a professional geologist and partly because he could not come up with a plausable mechanism to cause continents to move.He died in 1930 but it was not until the 1960s that as a result of Cold War surveys of the deep oceans an understanding of how they could drift was reached. After bitter arguement within the geological establishment this was finally accepted and is now usually the introduction to most books on geology.Vive the maverick!

  9. Jack Larson says:

    You need to post a more concise response to this film on YouTube. It raised doubts in my mind, and that means it has succeeded. Even though it may have twisted facts, and dubious motives.

  10. janfromthebruce says:

    In #4, you stated the following: “Among the lies it peddled was the notion that environmentalists and scientists have a vested interest in promoting this problem.”

    I have repeatedly noticed, in on-line newspapers forums and comment sections that commenters who deny global warming and climate change repeatedly say that scientists have a vested interested in promoting this problem because they get “grants” for research. This strategical comment lends to the notion that scientists get riches from these grants.

    I think that one way to combat this notion, is to say how much money they actually get, like income. The reason is that their is this inherent belief that they are making oodles of money, and well I just have to laugh.

    As we all well know, if scientists wanted to make “oodles of money” the government or educational institutions grants game is NOT THE WAY TO GO, but working for industry and the corporations are.

    So putting out their the income differences between the two – private vs. public – would sure put this argument to rest.

    It’s concrete and understandable, therefore the public understands who really reaps the money.

    That’s why $10.00 bucks an hour wage is easy to sell to the public. Money talks!

  11. Peter Winters says:

    It is amazing that it seems Channel 4 is looking for government money to prop it up. In the light of this, I certainly don’t want my taxes to pay for Channel 4. Maybe we could start a petition saying that we don’t think that public money should pay for Channel 4 …

    http://business.guardian.co.uk/story/0,,2070292,00.html

  12. Wings says:

    Truly an interesting view,

    Question for you: why no word about the intentions of “An inconvenient truth”, I heard no voice criticizing nor doubting any of what was said/shown in that documentary/propaganda masterpiece and no question was asked by the public, nothing, a childish joke “did they ever fit together?” and there were far more assumptions than facts (if there was any at all).
    Surely a politician needs to be questioned. (And even more a frustrated one…)

    I truly ask myself why you did not unleash your theory on “The Inconvenient Truth”, or maybe that one is very easy to answer…..?

    Don’t get me wrong, I love nature at least as much as most people do and I am on nobodies side, just like to know the truth. I hope you will brighten the world on A.Gore’s award winning Motion Picture with the same energy as you did on the Swindle.

    Hope to you read your reaction soon, and with me many others

  13. Richard Martin says:

    The tale of the science of climate change is a long one, that starts with the maverick theories of Arrhenius (c1896) using Tyndalls research from the 1850′s to predict a 5-6 degree C temperature rise if atmospheric CO2 were to double.

    Like the theories of plate tectonics the science of climate change has been battered backwards and forwards, and has been subject to every kind of criticism and debate. The early modeling in the 40’s and 50’s lacked critical data (from ocean beds and ice cores) and the processing power to make such modeling accurate, and yet scientist still managed to predict significant links between human activity and global temperature rises..

    From the 60’s we have had an every increasing range of detailed data about how the climate behaves with the varying levels of CO2. We have also seen a phenomenal rise in the processing power of computers and so our ability to model the global climate.

    From the ‘70’s we have managed to use such models to predict the impact to our civilization of human induced climate change. The 1971 Stockholm study ‘Study of mans impact on climate’, the 1974 report from the Committee on Climatic Variations, all leading to the 1979 World Climate Conference (Geneva)

    In 1981 a third of American adults had heard of the Greenhouse effect, and two third of American adults thought changes in the weather patterns due to carbon dioxide emissions were serious or very serious.

    So for 25 years the science has been established and for 25 years, with the increase in data and the processing power of our computers, the modeling and predictions have got so very much better.

    For 25 years the public have understood the seriousness of the problem, and for 25 years policy makers have debated what to do.

    So when as scientists, as engineers, as policy makers and as campaigners can we start to ignore the Nay Sayers, who haven’t produced any new arguments in 25 years (or more)

    And when can we start to focus on dealing with the problem?

  14. orpilot says:

    Good article George! I too, find myself perplexed at the denial otherwise intelligent people express on this subject. You’ve done an admirable job at delving into the psychology behind these views and the willingness of the uninformed to fall for those kind of distortions.

    On that note, I would like to direct a comment toward wings in the post above, a pilot as well perhaps? The tone of your post obviously ridicules “An Inconvenient Truth” and it’s conclusions. Which areas of the film do you believe represent the most serious misinformation or propoganda if you like? You didn’t make any specific criticism.

  15. LindaL says:

    Mark Ritzenhein — where does this come from? “Emotionally, it is impossible to cope with this concept because it represents mega-death–not just of one’s own self, but also one’s own species and most others (all mammals, all amphibians, all birds?). I must block out these despairing thoughts in order to function in life.” I have not encountered anything so dire in terms of future predictions, even from proponents of AGW. What kinds of temperatures do you think we are talking about here? Have you not heard of adaptation? I think you need to refocus and get a grip.

    [George writes:The estimates of extinctions arising from a 3 degree temperature rise are over a third of all species. This is at 3 degrees. It is likely to be far higher. Extinctions by mid century will be in the range of 13-37% according to recent research by the University of Leeds http://www.leeds.ac.uk/media/current/extinction.htm. Scientists at University of Arizona argue that mass extinction may well be unavoidable. It is also certainly reasable, if pessimistic, for Mark Ritzenheim to argue that such effects threaten our own existence.

    To find this research took me all 3 seconds to type climate change extinction into google, far less than it took you to write your aggressive e-mail abusing another contributor. This is clear avidence to my mind that people's desire to deny climate change will enable them to ignore evidence (and certainly avoid any attempt to uncover evidence) even when it is under their noses. ]

  16. I hope you are all aware that the notion of GW being down to solar activity is very dubious in itself. There is evidence that earlier climate changes, like the Little Ice Age, connect with the sun’s behaviour, but when it comes to the last 50 years or so there is no clear connection at all. You might check out the evidence that up to 1975 there seemed to be a link between global temperature and the length of the solar cycle (more than sunspot numbers as such) but that has broken down since.
    As for people wanting to believe GW is a swindle, it is a very frightening concept. It threatens all their accustomed habits about ‘good’ weather, relaxation, health, etc.

  17. Graham Dumper says:

    This is a late addition to this piece, and so is unlikely to be picked up.

    I am not a climate scientist, but I am a social scientist, so I will try to keep my observations in the areas of subjects that I have a greater understanding.

    Let me be clear here. I am a complete believer in climate change. There is no doubt in my mind that the vast majority of scientists on this subject are correct and that man’s activity on the planet is causing that change.

    What I am interested in is the grey areas of behaviour change. I think that one of the problems with this great article is that it reduces the behaviour patterns into black and white. But it is not so clear as that, an example being my wife. Like me she is environmentally aware, happily is a member of an organic box scheme, wanted to have a house within walking /cycling distance of work, takes the train whenever she needs to go on business meetings, has installed better insulation, top of the range low energy central heating etc. etc.

    But foreign holidays – she loves ‘em. And despite all the evidence to the contrary – and her general belief and agreement that we should be minimising our carbon footprint – she has a blindspot. She will happily quote denial figures on foreign flights. Because she doesn’t want to give it up. Travel is her passion and addiction. Deep down she knows that she is lying to herself about this aspect. It doesn’t fit in with her generally rational and well considered approach to minimising her impact on the planet. But like any addict (mine’s tobacco for instance – so I know the lies you can tell yourself) she will wriggle and squirm and indulge in all kinds of cognitive dissonance to keep this aspect out of changing the way she lives.

    This is, in my mind the greatest issue. Denial is no longer the major battle. Offering solutions that are more appealing than the present is the problem. The problem is for many people, the green alternative is presented as such a joyless, hair-shirted world, where everything fun is presented as damaging and destructive.

    My submission to the way forward is to say that, everytime that I have seen someone converted to organic food is not through guilt, or concern, or environmental awareness – but taste. When people smile and say ‘yum!’ is when they want to convert. The same goes for everything else. Of course we still need the push of global destruction behind people – but surely we also need some pull too – a vision of a world that is vibrant and exciting and thrilling – or behaviour will never change.

  18. David Foskey says:

    George

    Swindle will be shown on the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s (ABC) channel on July 12. The only review I’ve seen so far is either supportive of its views or satire, but I fear the former. (The review was in The Age which today carried an article by you.)

  19. Graham says:

    Swindle was shown in Australia last week and was followed by a panel discussion that included and IPCC scientist and several skeptics. While the debate was interesing enough, it was the audience who were most fascinating.

    The studio audience of maybe 80 people was infiltrated by a right wing group that managed to ask maybe half of the questions raised. One made some point that was so obscure nobody on the panel could understand the question (something along the lines of “what about carbon 14″ as this apparently discredits all the GW theories) but several others made a more interesting claim. They suggested that the whole environmental movement was really started by a Nazi sympathiser, so all of us who believe this GW stuff are either deliberately or unwittingly promoting a eugenics / population control agenda that is designed to “wipe out Africa”. I looked up their web site and found a further theory, that Inconvenient Truth was really somehow connected to a plot to avoid having to “impeach” Vice President Cheyney.

    I don’t think they won any popular support. Their presence was noted in the local media but not particularly sympathetically. Their web site claimed that they had “turned the debate around” and send shock waves through the Australian community but only one of their comments or questions was actually taken seriously by the moderator or the panel, and that one was a panel member who when asked if he supported world population control said “that’s your comment, not mine”.

    It fits well with your assertion that the facts are almost irrelevant to what people choose to believe.

  20. Tom says:

    i have read lots of reviews saying how the program is all wrong, what parts if any were right?

  21. Andy Mitchell says:

    There’s a foolish notion that people are, on the whole, decent. Rather a strange idea given that time and again (for example WW2 Germany, Ruwanda, Serbia) history shows us that the majority of them will support any atrocity, no matter how extreme, if they think they will gain from it. To deceive even themselves that they are doing nothing wrong they simply construct a fantasy that explains away their guilt. Thus Albert Speer apparently knew nothing of the holocaust despite being a member of Hitler’s inner circle.

    And so, today, those who wish to preserve their rich, polluting lifestyles willingly clutch at the fantasy being offered by the climate change deniers: they do not know that climate change is happening. And when a future generation asks them why they behaved as they did, they will say they were lied to by that same climate change denial lobby, ignoring the fact that those lies could only be effective if they themselves chose to ignore the people on the other side of the debate who spoke the truth.

    Nobody was being ‘persuaded’, they were simply being given the excuse they were already looking for.

  22. Phillip says:

    So Caspar henderson (7) says “I’ll go out on a limb and say that the propaganda-culture battle on this issue has largely been won, and that denial is a dwindling problem.” I think the limb is breaking off. See today’s MORI poll in the Observer.

  23. [...] went further and argued that it worryingly supported ‘climate denial’ writing in his blog: ‘Among the lies it peddled was the notion that environmentalists and scientists have a [...]

  24. Mark Kinsey says:

    Everyone appears to have missed out “change”, as in people don’t like things changing in their lives – unless they choose to change and / or see advantages in live style changes.
    On the subject of CO2, hands up everyone who wants to pay more for their energy supplies. Yep, no one. So if reducing CO2 emissions means equipment lasts longer and is more energy efficient, how many will complain now?
    This is one possible key – getting people to accept longer lasting and cheaper to run products should not be difficult.
    Of course there are many problems (higher cost of better products, road transport, air transport, CO2 clean electricity generation) that will have to be solved.
    Humans will adapt. Even without CO2 restrictions, oil will be become more expensive to pump out of the ground.
    People need to see a bright clear future…

  25. Axel Llizo says:

    George:
    I live in a country specially affected by global warming, if such a thing can be said. Islands on the Caribbean are on the path of most hurricanes. Although I have no evidence to support this, the mean number of hurricanes per year and their mean intensity seem to have increased, specially this last decade, because of the increased mean water temperature. Besides, such a raise of water level as predicted if climate keeps changing would leave most of my country under the sea. Nevertheless, I am one of the people who desperately want to believe in “Swindle”.
    I find your reply very interesting and convincing, but I have some doubts.
    1. As “Swindle” states, H2O is the major greenhouse gas, rather than CO2, but no one seems worried about that. In fact, most of “CO2 clean” energy sources produce mainly H2O; and they are referred as “green technologies”: I am very intrigued about such contradiction.
    2. “Swindle” states that anthropogenic CO2 is not, by far, the main source of this gas. Is that true? If so, why are humans referred as the main cause of the increased CO2 levels?
    But don’t get me wrong: I am not defending Denial. As I said before, I desperately want “Swindle” to be right, because in such a case, things could be naturally reversible, something that I really doubt if we humans are the cause of global warming.
    I hope you can enlighten me.
    Tank you very much.
    Axel Llizo
    PS. My mother language is Spanish, so perhaps this piece of writing will have mistakes and odd phrases. I hope you will forgive them.

  26. MDH says:

    I think that both sides will bend the story for their own aims. In the UK people happily state that any scientist that denies climate change must be in the pockets of big oil – yet the interests of other scientists and the billions invested are never questioned?

    More importantly, the question I am always left with, is why don’t we spend some of this money adapting to the changes the world may bring? I think it would be more cost effective and cost efficient.

  27. Blake says:

    Climate change was initially disputed and even now is difficult to evaluate because it entails deep political and industrial implications and arises from the core process of our civilation’s success. Its obvious that the media made climate change one of the most controversial issues and the general public did not know who to believe, thus, in the contemporary society the public may have a general concensus that climate change is real, but they are hesitant to take any action due to the dispute made by the political and industrial community, in addition to the implications to their daily lives.

  28. Francis Clark says:

    Yes I enjoyed the article although same old same old. The science world seems fixated with their own credibility. If the science stacks up then what’s the fuss. Getting people in the west to agree or not is irrelevant as whatever measures they could take on an individual basis would have no impact on global temperatures. Scientists should be working on steps that the world could take that would have a profound and measurable impact rather than the trivial ideas that individuals should worry about their Carbon footprint.

    The science world should use science to rebut the deniers and not resort to picking holes in their science. That’s argument by finding holes theory and does not convince anyone. Also science is not the number of times you can refer to research, nor to the Royal society of “what what”, nor a numbers game and by making these didactic faux pas only serves to undermine and weaken the scientific case.

    Collective hysteria is a common human trait as is believing that he is the centre of the world. I am seated on the fence at the moment. I hope in a few years to remember this debate and hope I can ask myself,”Whatever happened to global warming?”

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