Like others who have studied the science behind global warming, I have been frustrated by persistent charges that the science hasn’t been settled. As a bona-fide skeptic (for several years I was even an active member of the local chapter of the Skeptics Society), I have investigated these charges and found them to be either based on a misunderstanding of how science works, or clear misinterpretations (or misrepresentations) of the data.
In his new book Heat: How to Stop the Planet from Burning, environmentalist George Monbiot spends a whole chapter exploring the roots of what he calls “The Denial Industry.” Monbiot makes a chilling case that there are a small number of people, bankrolled by the tobacco and oil industries and aided by an indolent world press, who have systematically sown most of the seeds of doubt about global warming. According to Monbiot, tobacco giant Phillip Morris attacked global warming (and several other controversial theories) in an attempt to discredit the EPA’s research on the hazards of second-hand smoke. The company set up a number of fake public interest groups (prominent among them, TASSC) to give the appearance of credibility to their claims. ExxonMobil and other members of the oil industry expanded on their tactics, and successfully utilized influence with the Bush Administration to quash any related regulations.
There is a significant amount of evidence on the Internet to at the very least casts doubt on the veracity of many of the deniers of global warming. The scientific enterprise welcomes disagreement and vigorously examines any all claims for empirical validity. Its debate – which has converged through this process on the most likely explanation -- should not be poisoned by lies (typically of omission) and gross distortions in the public sphere.