by Frank Batavick
What if you were to receive a diagnosis from nine doctors, some of them from the finest hospitals in the country? They all say your symptoms and medical tests establish that you suffer from a severe narrowing of the heart’s aortic valve, a condition that is fatal if not remediated immediately by surgery. Then a tenth doctor tells you that the tests are inconclusive and he thinks you are suffering from a psychosomatic illness. In other words, it’s all in your head. Who would you believe and what measures would you take?
Let’s further suppose that everyone from the Pope to the Secretary of State to the U.S. Director of National Intelligence to the Commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet takes an unsolicited interest in your condition and advises you to have an aortic valve replacement. The only exceptions are two TV talk show hosts who call the diagnosis a hoax and claim that there is no scientific basis for the test results. Would these TV personalities convince you to change your course of action? That’s what I thought.
Now let’s move from doctors and cancer to scientists and climate change. In 2013, researchers conducted an analysis of almost 12,000 peer-reviewed scientific abstracts published internationally from 1991–2011 and focusing on “global climate change” or “global warming.” Among those abstracts taking a position on what’s called anthropogenic global warming, or climate change caused by humans, an astounding “97.1% endorsed the consensus position” that it exists.
And what do some of our “movers and shakers” think about this? Pope Francis issued an encyclical on climate change and ecology this year and addressed the U.N. on this topic when he visited the U.S. in September. John Kerry, George Shultz, Robert Gates, Leon Panetta, Chuck Hagel and Janet Napolitano- all household names when it comes to national security- consider climate change to be an existential threat. Admiral Samuel Locklear, Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, believes that unrest resulting from rising seas and changing climate “will cripple the security environment, probably more likely than the other scenarios we all often talk about.’’
And how do our talk show hosts respond? When told that a vast majority of scientists believed in man-made climate change, Sean Hannity affirmed, “I don't care what your liberal friends say... It means nothing to me. I think global warming is a hoax, there's nothing you're going to say here today that's going to convince me otherwise." Bill O’Reilly opined that it is "easier to believe in a benevolent God, the baby Jesus, than it is in some kind of theory about global warming."
So there you have it. Disbelief in climate change flies in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and the opinions of trusted government officials because… well, just because. But according to Pew Research’s 2014 study on climate change, these naysayers add up to 35% of all Americans, and their ranks have grown in the last decade. Why is that?
Well, it doesn’t help that some of our key legislators have chosen to stick their heads in the sand. John Boehner stated, “I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change…. every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.” Mitch McConnell believes, “For everybody who thinks it's warming, I can find somebody who thinks it isn't.” and "Each side has their scientists, and they can all go in and argue."
Of course, if you dig deeply enough you find that the fossil fuel industry has influenced this debate through campaign contributions to some of the leading skeptics. The profits of big oil and coal are threatened by efforts to combat the carbon emissions that cause global warming. A 2013 Drexel University study established that 140 foundations funneled $558 million in untraceable, “dark” money to nearly one hundred climate denial organizations from 2003 to 2010. From there it went to campaign kitties and to fund bogus studies and advertising.
More fuel for climate change denial is provided by the media which have established a false equivalency between the two sides. For every scientist proclaiming the dangers of global warming, TV shows seem compelled to schedule a denier to appear “fair.”
I found it interesting that last winter newspapers touted the achievements of three local high school graduates selected to work with NASA on its Cloud-Aerosol Transport System or CATS. It is designed to improve the accuracy of models used to gauge climate change. What do all of you deniers among us make of this? Are these gifted students pitiful victims of a hoax? I think not. You are.
Frank Batavick is a graduate of Gloucester Catholic (‘63) and La Salle University ('67) with over 40 years of experience as a television writer/producer/director for public TV and media companies in IN and NJ. He has also served as adjunct faculty and visiting professor in Communications at colleges and universities in NY and MD. Frank now lives in MD with his wife Dori (GCHS, ‘63), where he is the vice chair of the Historical Society of Carroll County’s board of trustees, editor of the Carroll History Journal, and a weekly columnist and occasional feature writer for the Carroll County Times. His column appears on Mondays.