By Jeffrey Sachs
www.guardian.co.uk, Friday 19 February 2010 12.47 GMT
In the weeks before and after the Copenhagen climate change conference last December, the science of climate change came under harsh attack by critics who contend that climate scientists have deliberately suppressed evidence — and that the science itself is severely flawed. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the global group of experts charged with assessing the state of climate science, has been accused of bias.
The global public is disconcerted by these attacks. If experts cannot agree that there is a climate crisis, why should governments spend billions of dollars to address it?
The fact is that the critics — who are few in number but aggressive in their attacks — are deploying tactics that they have honed for more than 25 years. During their long campaign, they have greatly exaggerated scientific disagreements in order to stop action on climate change, with special interests like Exxon Mobil footing the bill.
Many books have recently documented the games played by the climate-change deniers. Merchants of Doubt, a new book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway set for release in mid-2010, will be an authoritative account of their misbehaviour. The authors show that the same group of mischief-makers, given a platform by the free-market ideologues of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, has consistently tried to confuse the public and discredit the scientists whose insights are helping to save the world from unintended environmental harm.
Today's campaigners against action on climate change are in many cases backed by the same lobbies, individuals, and organisations that sided with the tobacco industry to discredit the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Later, they fought the scientific evidence that sulphur oxides from coal-fired power plants were causing "acid rain." Then, when it was discovered that certain chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere, the same groups launched a nasty campaign to discredit that science, too.
Later still, the group defended the tobacco giants against charges that second-hand smoke causes cancer and other diseases. And then, starting mainly in the 1980s, this same group took on the battle against climate change.
What is amazing is that, although these attacks on science have been wrong for 30 years, they still sow doubts about established facts. The truth is that there is big money backing the climate-change deniers, whether it is companies that don't want to pay the extra costs of regulation, or free-market ideologues opposed to any government controls. …
Sunday, February 21, 2010
We must not be distracted from science's urgent message: we are fuelling dangerous changes in Earth's climate