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“If the glove won’t fit …” Deniers advocates vs skeptical scientists

February 25th, 2010 · No Comments

Bill McKibben‘s LATimes OPED today makes a searing, and truthful, analogy. The title gives it away

The O.J. tactic
Climate change skeptics sound like Simpson’s lawyers: If the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.

Yes, those who are fighting so mightedly to confuse the public about the state of climate scientists are like OJ Simpson’s lawyers. They are seeking delay and inaction via confusion and misdirection on technicalities, trying to overshadow the overwhelming evidence that convicts their clients (such as coal-fired electricity plants …)

Even though the scientific community is increasingly solid in the evidence and analysis showing human impacts on the climate and even though “all 15 of the warmest years on record have come in the last two decades”

because of a recent onslaught of attacks on the science of climate change, fewer Americans now believe humans are warming the planet than did just a few years ago.

The doubters of climate science have launched an enormously clever — and effective — campaign, and it’s worth trying to understand how they’ve done it. The best analogy is perhaps the O.J. Simpson trial.

The “dream team” of lawyers assembled for Simpson’s defense had a problem: The evidence against their client was formidable. … So Johnnie Cochran, … decided to attack the process, arguing that it put Simpson’s guilt in doubt — and doubt, of course, was all they needed. Hence, those days of cross-examination about exactly how Dennis Fung had transported blood samples and which racial slurs LAPD Det. Mark Fuhrman had used.

In his closing arguments, Cochran compared Fuhrman to Adolf Hitler and called him “a genocidal racist, a perjurer, America’s worst nightmare and the personification of evil.” His only real audience was the jury, many of whom had good reason to dislike the Los Angeles Police Department, but the team managed to instill considerable doubt in lots of Americans tuning in on TV as well. That’s what happens when you spend week after week dwelling on the cracks in a case, no matter how small they may be. They made convincing mountains from the molehills they had to work with.

Yes, even the guiltiest client can get off when they have near unlimited resources and a band of advocates willing to throw decency, ethics, and truthfulness out the window to ‘defend their client’.  While OJ’s acquittal might have been a travesty in terms of real justice, it is hard to say that it fundamentally damaged the fabric of society or America’s (and Americans’) security. That is not the case with the bands of global warming deniers, enabled by a gullible media ever-too-ready to play “he says, she says” games in a “faux and balanced” approach to reporting where ‘all sides’ are treated equally, no matter the truthfulness of discussion and solidity of arguments on both sides.

As McKibben notes, the very body of evidence substantiating the science, “beyond any reasonable doubt,” creates the very opening for the Johnny Cochran-like anti-science syndrome sufferers to confuse the public discussion and hinder support for public action.

The IPCC has been disparaged, in most every major traditional media outlet in the United States and in many other countries (like the United Kingdom), for errors in its reports. Yes, perhaps “half a dozen errors” amid 1000s of pages of reports, none of which threatened any of the reports’ conclusions.

And, well, the articulate nature of those willing to forgo fact and truthfulness in the fight to distort the discussion enables seizing hold of events to confuse a public which is, politely, not incredibly science literate.  Thus, screaming about DC snow storms while Vancouver (and many other parts of the world) are setting record hot spells, is as if they were stating “if the winter glove won’t fit, you must acquit.”  Just like the OJ trial, as Bill writes, “These are the things that stick in people’s heads.”

The self-proclaimed skeptics are “playing on our deep-seated resistance to change”. Dealing intelligently with climate change, moving toward an Energy Smart future, provides great promise but it will require change and action on our part. Far easier to make a joke about snowfall and go back to watching TV.

With all due respect to Bill, there is something seriously wrong in this discussion:

In the long run, the climate-deniers will be a footnote to history. But by delaying action, they will have helped prevent us from taking the steps we need to take while there’s still time.

The second sentence is true. The consequences from climate disruption are already and will be far worse because of the climate deniers’ strenuous efforts to derail actions to deal with our fossil foolish addictions. If we are able to avoid utterly catastrophic climate change, it will certainly be despite deniers’ efforts to foster a superhighway toward disaster. But, as to ‘footnote’ … we have already had species disappear from the planet. There will be more extinctions. We already have had serious impacts on human civilization. There will be more damage to come. Their impact on the damage that humanity and the planetary ecosystem has and will suffer from Global Warming already merits far more than a footnote …

NOTE: A longer version of Bill’s piece is here.

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Tags: climate change · climate delayers · environmental · Global Warming · global warming deniers · political symbols