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June 2012, Week 2

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The Planet Wreckers:

Climate-Change Deniers Are On the Ropes, but So Is the
Planet

By Bill McKibben
TomDispatch | News Analysis
June 4, 2012

http://www.tomdispatch.com/archive/175549/

It's been a tough few weeks for the forces of climate-
change denial.

First came the giant billboard with Unabomber Ted
Kacynzki's face plastered across it: "I Still Believe
in Global Warming. Do You?" Sponsored by the Heartland
Institute, the nerve-center of climate-change denial,
it was supposed to draw attention to the fact that "the
most prominent advocates of global warming aren't
scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen."
Instead it drew attention to the fact that these guys
had over-reached, and with predictable consequences.

A hard-hitting campaign from a new group called
Forecast the Facts persuaded many of the corporations
backing Heartland to withdraw $825,000 in funding; an
entire wing of the Institute, devoted to helping the
insurance industry, calved off to form its own
nonprofit. Normally friendly politicians like Wisconsin
Republican Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner announced that
they would boycott the group's annual conference unless
the billboard campaign was ended.

Which it was, before the billboards with Charles Manson
and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled, but not before
the damage was done: Sensenbrenner spoke at last
month's conclave, but attendance was way down at the
annual gathering, and Heartland leaders announced that
there were no plans for another of the yearly fests.
Heartland's head, Joe Bast, complained that his side
had been subjected to the most "uncivil name-calling
and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate
alarmists," which was both a little rich -- after all,
he was the guy with the mass-murderer billboards -- but
also a little pathetic. A whimper had replaced the
characteristically confident snarl of the American
right.

That pugnaciousness may return: Mr. Bast said last week
that he was finding new corporate sponsors, that he was
building a new small-donor base that was "Greenpeace-
proof," and that in any event the billboard had been a
fine idea anyway because it had "generated more than $5
million in earned media so far." (That's a bit like
saying that for a successful White House bid John
Edwards should have had more mistresses and babies
because look at all the publicity!) Whatever the final
outcome, it's worth noting that, in a larger sense,
Bast is correct: this tiny collection of deniers has
actually been incredibly effective over the past years.

The best of them -- and that would be Marc Morano,
proprietor of the website Climate Depot, and Anthony
Watts, of the website Watts Up With That -- have fought
with remarkable tenacity to stall and delay the
inevitable recognition that we're in serious trouble.
They've never had much to work with. Only one even
remotely serious scientist remains in the denialist
camp. That's MIT's Richard Lindzen, who has been
arguing for years that while global warming is real it
won't be as severe as almost all his colleagues
believe. But as a long article in the New York Times
detailed last month, the credibility of that sole
dissenter is basically shot. Even the peer reviewers he
approved for his last paper told the National Academy
of Sciences that it didn't merit publication. (It ended
up in a "little-known Korean journal.")

Deprived of actual publishing scientists to work with,
they've relied on a small troupe of vaudeville
performers, featuring them endlessly on their websites.
Lord Christopher Monckton, for instance, an English
peer (who has been officially warned by the House of
Lords to stop saying he's a member) began his speech at
Heartland's annual conference by boasting that he had
"no scientific qualification" to challenge the science
of climate change.

He's proved the truth of that claim many times,
beginning in his pre-climate-change career when he
explained to readers of the American Spectator that
"there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen
the entire population regularly and to quarantine all
carriers of the disease for life." His personal
contribution to the genre of climate-change mass-
murderer analogies has been to explain that a group of
young climate-change activists who tried to take over a
stage where he was speaking were "Hitler Youth."

Or consider Lubos Motl, a Czech theoretical physicist
who has never published on climate change but
nonetheless keeps up a steady stream of web assaults on
scientists he calls "fringe kibitzers who want to
become universal dictators" who should "be thinking how
to undo your inexcusable behavior so that you will
spend as little time in prison as possible." On the
crazed killer front, Motl said that, while he supported
many of Norwegian gunman Anders Breivik's ideas, it was
hard to justify gunning down all those children --
still, it did demonstrate that "right-wing people...
may even be more efficient while killing -- and the
probable reason is that Breivik may have a higher IQ
than your garden variety left-wing or Islamic
terrorist."

If your urge is to laugh at this kind of clown show,
the joke's on you -- because it's worked. I mean, James
Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has emerged
victorious in every Senate fight on climate change,
cites Motl regularly; Monckton has testified four times
before the U.S. Congress.

Morano, one of the most skilled political operatives of
the age -- he "broke the story" that became the
Swiftboat attack on John Kerry -- plays rough: he
regularly publishes the email addresses of those he
pillories, for instance, so his readers can pile on the
abuse. But he plays smart, too. He's a favorite of Fox
News and of Rush Limbaugh, and he and his colleagues
have used those platforms to make it anathema for any
Republican politician to publicly express a belief in
the reality of climate change.

Take Newt Gingrich, for instance. Only four years ago
he was willing to sit on a love seat with Nancy Pelosi
and film a commercial for a campaign headed by Al Gore.
In it he explained that he agreed with the California
Congresswoman and then-Speaker of the House that the
time had come for action on climate. This fall, hounded
by Morano, he was forced to recant again and again. His
dalliance with the truth about carbon dioxide hurt him
more among the Republican faithful than any other
single "failing." Even Mitt Romney, who as governor of
Massachusetts actually took some action on global
warming, has now been reduced to claiming that
scientists may tell us "in fifty years" if we have
anything to fear.

In other words, a small cadre of fervent climate-change
deniers took control of the Republican party on the
issue. This, in turn, has meant control of Congress,
and since the president can't sign a treaty by himself,
it's effectively meant stifling any significant
international progress on global warming. Put another
way, the various right wing billionaires and energy
companies who have bankrolled this stuff have gotten
their money's worth many times over.

One reason the denialists' campaign has been so
successful, of course, is that they've also managed to
intimidate the other side. There aren't many senators
who rise with the passion or frequency of James Inhofe
but to warn of the dangers of ignoring what's really
happening on our embattled planet.

It's a striking barometer of intimidation that Barack
Obama, who has a clear enough understanding of climate
change and its dangers, has barely mentioned the
subject for four years. He did show a little leg to his
liberal base in Rolling Stone earlier this spring by
hinting that climate change could become a campaign
issue. Last week, however, he passed on his best chance
to make good on that promise when he gave a long speech
on energy at an Iowa wind turbine factory without even
mentioning global warming. Because the GOP has been so
unreasonable, the President clearly feels he can take
the environmental vote by staying silent, which means
the odds that he'll do anything dramatic in the next
four years grow steadily smaller.

On the brighter side, not everyone has been
intimidated. In fact, a spirited counter-movement has
arisen in recent years. The very same weekend that
Heartland tried to put the Unabomber's face on global
warming, 350.org conducted thousands of rallies around
the globe to show who climate change really affects. In
a year of mobilization, we also managed to block -- at
least temporarily -- the Keystone pipeline that would
have brought the dirtiest of dirty energy, tar-sands
oil, from the Canadian province of Alberta to the Gulf
Coast. In the meantime, our Canadian allies are
fighting hard to block a similar pipeline that would
bring those tar sands to the Pacific for export.

Similarly, in just the last few weeks, hundreds of
thousands have signed on to demand an end to fossil-
fuel subsidies. And new polling data already show more
Americans worried about our changing climate, because
they've noticed the freakish weather of the last few
years and drawn the obvious conclusion.

But damn, it's a hard fight, up against a ton of money
and a ton of inertia. Eventually, climate denial will
"lose," because physics and chemistry are not
intimidated even by Lord Monckton. But timing is
everything -- if he and his ilk, a crew of certified
planet wreckers, delay action past the point where it
can do much good, they'll be able to claim one of the
epic victories in political history -- one that will
last for geological epochs.
__________________

Bill McKibben is Schumann Distinguished Scholar at
Middlebury College, founder of 350.org, and a
TomDispatch regular. His most recent book, just out in
paperback, is "Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New
Planet."

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