Politics, not science, is the root of the global warming debate, Dr. Naomi Oreskes argued Thursday afternoon. When it comes to the science, she said, there is no debate.
Oreskes demonstrated throughout her lecture there has been a scientific consensus about the validity of global warming dating back to the 1900s. The sole scientific debate that has existed in any point of time was over the effects of global warming and when it would occur – both of these debates have since been settled in the scientific community.
According to her lecture, in the 1900s, it was discovered that continual burning of coal would raise the average temperature of the globe 1.5 to 4.5 degrees Celsius. Work done in the 1950s proved that despite water vapor in the atmosphere, increased levels of carbon dioxide would still affect average temperatures. By the 1960s and 70s, advances in computers allowed scientist to model climate change, further solidifying the scientific consensus about global warming.
Finally, in 1988, James Hanses brought evidence to the table that global warming was not part of the future, but part of the present, and the scientific community agreed, Oreskas said. With the consensus of the validity of global warming came a scientific consensus that humans were the cause.
“These claims about climate control are not merely ‘skeptical.’ They are the scientific equivalent of saying Belgium invaded Germany,” Oreskes said.
The roots of global warming lie in politics, Oreskes said. Roots that can be traced back to the Cold War and tobacco. Three physicists seeking to defend the Strategic Defensive Initiative, commonly know as “Star Wars,” brought their argument not to scientific journals, but to popular media, grabbing the public’s attention with articles such as “America Five Years Left,” said Oreskes.
This new tactic was combined with “doubt-mongering,” a method practiced by the tobacco industry, said Oreskes. Tobacco companies used “doubt-mongering” to raise doubt about scientific fact about the heath risks of tobacco and cigarettes. They did this by having a scientist state that the science stating that tobacco was a health risk was flawed, the use of a scientist generated believable doubt that would be seen as credible by the public, and more importantly, Oreskes said, the press.
The combination of these two methods proved useful in discrediting the scientific facts of global warming, Oreskes explained. Climate change became a target for those no longer with an enemy due to the end of the Cold War, said Oreskes. The combination of “doubt-mongering” and addressing the public in the popular media raised doubt in the non-scientific community about the validity of global warming. The science of global warming became an enemy to politics, and all opponents needed to do was raise doubt in the public.
“That’s the evil genus of this strategy, because if there’s a debate, they’ve won,” Oreskes said.
Furthermore, Oreskes discussed how scientists backing the facts of global warming have been labeled environmental extremists, communists, socialists, and generally being against the free market. Saying the she had been called a Stalinist after publishing an article about the scientific consensus on global warming. Oreskas discussed the incorrectness of these labels, stating they come simply from fear of anything that makes a free market less “free.” However, “environmental damage is…the Achilles Heel of the free market,” she admitted.
Kaley Kruger, a 3rd-semester pre-teaching major, called Oreskes an incredible speaker. “I really liked how she brought up the different realms of politics and science.”
Haley Garbus, a 1st-semester psychology major agreed, saying, “I thought it was very interesting how much politics affect people’s views on anything scientific.”
Oreskes ended by debunking some of the myths that still exist about global warming, stating global warming has not stopped, global warming is not caused by the sun and the affects of carbon dioxide are not swamped by water vapor in the atmosphere.
The event ended with a book signing of Oreskes and Erik Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt, which explores the issues presented in Oreskes lecture in more detail.