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Climate Denial

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According to a recent report from Inside Climate News, scientists hired by Exxon had concluded in the 1970s and '80s that continuing to burn great quantities of fossil fuels would likely produce "catastrophic events" that could endanger humanity. Therefore, said these scientists, Exxon should begin a transition away from fossil fuels to renewable resources. But in the late '80s, the executives began using money to deny that burning fossil fuels is dangerous. In light of this history, it is interesting to look at some of the main claims of the climate-denial campaign -- claims that have been primarily supported by ExxonMobil, even though Exxon scientists knew them to be false by 1980. Below is an excerpt from the chapter on "Climate Denial" in David Ray Griffin, Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity Press, 2015):

The denialist-disinformation campaign has generated many claims. The Skeptical Science website about denialist claims has provided (as of July 2014) 176 such claims, beginning with the most popular ones. A dozen of these are briefly discussed here.

1. The Lack of Consensus: Over 30,000 scientists signed the Petition Project.

However, the Petition Project supported by Frederick Seitz was, as shown above, about as far removed from a scientific sampling as could be imagined. By contrast, Naomi Oreskes in 2004, carrying out a scientific test, looked at all the papers regarding "climate change" she had found in refereed journals between 1994 and 2003. Asking how many of these 928 articles argued against the consensus (IPCC) position, she found the number to be "zero." She concluded that "there is a scientific consensus on the reality of anthropogenic climate change." This conclusion has been confirmed by later studies:

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A 2009 study found that, when asked whether "human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures," 97.5% of climatologists who actively publish research on climate change responded "yes."

A 2010 survey of 1,372 climate researchers showed that "97-98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC [anthropogenic climate change] outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change."

In 2012, James Powell updated Oreskes' 2004 paper. Considering only peer-reviewed articles between 1991 and 2012, he looked at all the articles in the Web of Science with keywords of "global warming" or "global climate change." Having located 13,950 articles, he found that "24 of the 13,950 articles, 0.17 percent or 1 in 581, clearly reject global warming or endorse a cause other than CO2 emissions for observed warming." In short, 99.8 percent of the scientists who have published peer-reviewed articles say that CO2-caused global warming is real.

2. Climate Change Reflects Natural Variability: Climate has changed naturally in the past, long before coal-fired power plants, so there is no reason to think humans have caused the current global warming.

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However, although it is true that climate has changed in the past due to various natural forces, climate always reacts to whatever forces it to change at the time, and humans are now the dominant force. In fact, the climate changes over the past 60 years can be explained by no natural processes, only by human-caused increases in greenhouse gases.

3. The Climate Has Not Changed since 1988: From 1998 to 2005, the temperature did not increase, even though an increasing amount of CO2 was pumped into the atmosphere.

However, 2005 was hotter than 1998, and 2010 was as hot as 2005. More important are the trends: During the 30 years from 1980 to 2010, the global temperature rose continually, in spite of yearly ups and downs.

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David Ray Griffin is emeritus professor of philosophy of religion at Claremont School of Theology and Claremont Graduate University. He has written 30 books. His most recent book is Unprecedented: Can Civilization Survive the CO2 Crisis? (Clarity (more...)

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