The post Lima preparation for Paris is already underway. While each country and their delegations have their own expectations and responsibilities, it is imperative that the entire global community prepares as well. What better way to spread global awareness and participation than with live music!? Al Gore and pop icon Pharrell Williams have teamed up to announce a global Live Earth concert in June. This concert, with its purpose to demand climate action, will be staged in six cities on all seven continents. Yes, Antarctica will also be participating in this global event. On this day, the entire globe will stand up together for a cause that is affecting all aspects of our shared planet. The ultimate goal of this music festival is to collect 1 billion signatures to encourage world leaders to adopt a new climate agreement in Paris at COP21. There is a lot of pressure for the outcomes in Paris, especially after 2014 was recorded as the Earth’s warmest year on record. A global event like this could be groundbreaking for increasing public action and awareness.
The other day, I was making arrangements for traveling in South America after the COP is over. I was purchasing my plane ticket on Student Universe when I noticed, under a box asking me if I wanted to purchase travel insurance, a box that was labeled “Fly Green: Offset Emissions”. Show above, the box asked me if I was interested in taking 3500 lbs of CO2 out of the air and help with forestry projects in the US and China for the low low price of $24.95.
Airplanes are obviously a source of large emissions, but as someone who loves to travel, I’ve never been able to commit to idea of decreasing my use of airplanes in order to reduce my carbon footprint. I feel that many people probably feel a similar guilt when traveling, but are also unwilling to cut airplanes out of their lives. The ability to donate a little money after purchasing a plane ticket that goes to apparently taking CO2 out of the atmosphere could alleviate that guilt. However, what is the $24.95 actually going to? 3500 lbs of CO2 being taken out of the air how? In theory it seems like such a good idea, trying to offset your carbon emissions from flying through. But is this really just a way to feel less guilty and not actually a practical way to help the environment? Or is this an option we will be seeing more and more off when purchasing plane tickets in the future?
In 1965, our 36th president Lyndon Johnson delivered a special message to Congress. He said “This generation has altered the composition of the atmosphere on a global scale though…a steady increase in carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.” These powerful words portrayed how many have known about this issue for a while now. But what has truly been done about it?
Science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway introduce us to this special message in the beginning of the book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issue from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.” Throughout the book, you can see how environmental issues have been just swept under the rug because of other pressing issues at hand that needed to be tended to. Newsflash! There will ALWAYS be pressing issues that need to be tended to! How much longer will we keep our lovely planet waiting?
Oreskes and Conway also point out that the media is responsible for how information is represented or should I say… misrepresented. Information is put out in an exciting way by journalists, which is not wrong. That captures people and engages them. However, somewhere along the lines of “exciting” the truth gets lost. Scientists depend on journalists to get it right because they honestly do not have time to deal with public relations. When information is tampered with, it is the public who goes and knocks on doubt’s door, enters and remains there until further information is released. Climate change and media have a very difficult relationship.
• Cigarette smoke causes lung cancer.
• Massive sulfur emissions, primarily released from power plants, are causing acid rain.
• The CFCs we put in aerosol cans, air-conditioners, and refrigerators are depleting the ozone layer.
• Humans are causing global warming.
• Voldemort is back.
What do the phrases have in common? No one wants to hear them. No one wants to hear that their activities are harming themselves or the planet. No one wants to hear that the dark lord of the wizarding world is coming to create a pure blood society.
If you believe these facts (save Voldemort’s return), then you feel guilty until you change what you are doing. If you hear even one little whisper that the fact might not really be a fact at all, then you can cling to that whisper and carry on with your life, guilt-free and change-free.
The Freds (Fred Singer and Fred Seitz) knew about this flaw humans have. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway tracked their careers and they’ve been working in the industry of doubt for a while. They started when smoking cigarettes was still advertised as “healthy” and tried their best to keep it that way. The truth eventually won out, but the Freds did slow down the progress.
Undeterred that their previous claims on cigarettes had been proven false, they worked their way through the years to cast doubt on disarmament, acid rain, the ozone hole, secondhand smoke, and then global warming. As long as some scientist could deny that these harms were occurring, politicians and mass media could still claim “debate.”
So why did these two physicists make these claims on issues that were outside of their expertise again and again even after they were proven wrong each time? “Our product/ byproduct harms people” is not a great slogan. This means decrease in revenue and increased government restrictions; this change means money. A lot more money than it takes to fund the Freds and their friends to take your side.
So these Freds, they worked on writing their own reports, slandering other scientists, and talking to politicians. Most recently, they worked to keep the “climate change debate” alive and well. F. Seitz is now dead but F. Singer still writes the occasional opinion piece dismissing global warming. Their business has become something much larger; people in power now realize just how valuable doubt is in slowing, even halting, a response to climate change. More than 97% of scientists believe that humans have caused climate change and our earth is warming. Yet, in 2010, WorldPublicOpinion.org surveyed Americans of voting age and found that almost half (45%) of them think most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring.
Corporations are using media outlets to trick us into believing that climate change is something that the scientific community is unsure about. They present the facts like there are two equal sides, when there aren’t. Presenting two opinions makes sense when debating politics, but it doesn’t transfer well to science. In the scientific world, uncertainty about an issue requires more research, not a debate.
John Oliver has a better way of representing this debate in the media; have a televised debate with 3 climate change skeptics and 97 climate scientists who say humans are the cause of climate change.
So what I’m proposing is change in how the media feeds us, and how we swallow their message. We need to demand the unpleasant truth. It’s not fun. We don’t want to cut emissions and spend money and pass new regulations. We don’t want to acknowledge that Voldemort is back because it’s so much nicer to pretend he isn’t.
But no matter how much we pretend, the climate has changed and it’s getting worse. We put too much carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now we have to collectively toughen up and deal with climate change head on.
Upon googling “Is climate change real?”, I was presented with a whole slew of articles and websites that give a wide range of responses to what seems to be a yes or no question. The first two links, a government website and Wikipedia, agree that climate change is in fact real. However, the third article, from Fox Business, argues that there really is no significant consensus on climate change. So how can we, as readers and Google searchers, distinguish what is true from what is not? Living in an era with a high reliance on the Internet and powerful search engines, such as Google, we have access to massive amounts of information at the touch of a button. But should we believe that all of this information is correct?
In Merchants of Doubt, authors Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway argue that a handful of scientists, with the assistance of the media, have created doubt about many significant scientific findings. Currently, we can all agree that tobacco is linked to cancer and that smoking is bad for your health (after all, it says so right on the cigarette box). However, Oreskes and Conway show that it took years after scientists first discovered tobacco’s harmful effects on health to convince the world of this fact. After the media began reporting these significant findings with catchy slogans like “Cancer by the carton”, the tobacco industry decided to refute these discoveries by hiring their own public relations firm (Oreskes, 22).
The decision to hire a PR firm, in a business sense, was genius. We heavily rely on the media, through the Internet, the TV, the newspaper, to learn about new information. By presenting different facts or showcasing data in a different way, the tobacco industry could easily show the American public a different story about the harms of smoking, just as Steven Tobak does with the data on climate change in Fox Business’ Article mentioned before.
Oreskes and Conway in their book often discuss how science is never exact. It is impossible to ever say for sure, 100% of the time, that a finding or discovery is correct. It is only true until the next discovery proves that it isn’t. This doesn’t mean we should never believe a new scientific discovery. It does however mean, that in a country with freedom of the press, there will always be someone looking to capitalize on that little sliver of doubt that exists in the field of science. Much responsibility falls on us, as we read an article or Google a question, to recognize what is reliable information and to filter out those who just trying to create doubt. It is in no way an easy task, but as climate change becomes an even more pressing matter and there continues to be many powerful naysayers, it’s a very important one.