This week Rush Limbaugh had a young listener – a 13-year old boy named, Alex – call in to discuss his doubts of manmade climate change. Rush, impressed by the young lad’s articulation of his interest and research, gave him an iPad to continue his endeavors – story here. This prompted another media sensation and howls by the left decrying the evils of Limbaugh. One of the more interesting articles stemming from Limbaugh’s commentary this week comes from Kurt Eichenwald over at Vanity Fair. Eichenwald’s piece is entitled The Creeping Danger of Conspiracy Theorists and his point is that some things are very complicated and increasingly we humans are prone to believing in conspiracies. Says Eichenwald
Which brings us to the next absurdity: climate change. Forty-nine percent either believe the college dropouts and billionaires or aren’t sure if they should—that global warming is a hoax. Not simply that scientists are in error . . . but that they have orchestrated the most expensive, wide-ranging, and mind-numbing fraud in the history of the world, just ’cause.
Once again, it’s the PhDs versus college dropouts like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Sure, there are a few scientists—almost never climatologists—who cast aspersions on the idea that all the melting ice and record temperatures in the world might have something to do with the planet getting warmer. But when the vast, vast, vast majority of scientists—including one hired by the Koch brothers, the multi-billionaires with a financial interest in poo-poohing climate change—have concluded not only that the phenomenon is real but that it is being triggered by man-made pollutants, perhaps doubters should set aside their doubts.
But the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world have done a great job convincing Americans that climatologists have entered into this massive, incomprehensible conspiracy to fool the world that there’s a problem. The reason, they say, is that climatologists are doing it for the money, so they can continue to live in their climatologist mansions and drive their climatologist Ferraris. (For the 26 percent who might not get it, that was sarcasm.) Meanwhile, the people who selflessly fight for Americans—the billionaire industrialists and oil-industry magnates—speak only truth because, you know, they have no financial reason to suggest climate change is a fraud. After all, they have dedicated themselves to a modest life so they can advance the truth, residing in their tumble-down, billionaire shacks and driving their billionaire 1994 Chevys.
Eichenwald is as mistaken in his absolutist view that the science is settled in favor of manmade climate change as Rush is in his belief that the evidence is altogether lacking. Eichenwald continues
I’m not belittling the McCarthys, Limbaughs and Hannitys simply to be snide. The reality here is that science is hard. It requires deep and long-term training to understand the reactions in ecosystems or microchips or intestines. If a doctor said you had stomach cancer, would you consult Rush Limbaugh for a second opinion? Of course, that sounds like nonsense, but many Americans have no qualms about listening to political commentators and untrained activists when it comes to even more complex scientific questions. In essence, the greater amount of training it takes to understand something, the more likely, it seems, that Americans will turn to people with shallow knowledge for guidance.
Take vaccines and autism. The entire idea started with a horrific, fraudulent study in a 1998 issue of the Lancet. Click on the link to the abstract, and you’ll notice the large, red word “RETRACTED” across it. The reason is that the study has been deemed a fraud. Not a single legitimate study backs the idea. But the McCarthys of the world march on, true believers who are simply unqualified, frightening Americans into believing their children are safer if they have no protections against deadly disease.
The untrained assault on climate change is the same thing. Consistently, political commentators will say such things as “there’s a blizzard! Global warming is fake!” without any understanding that there is a huge difference between weather and climate.) The greater problem was the phrase “global warming,” because the uninformed didn’t understand that rising climactic temperatures can cause changes in an ecosystem that result in wild swings in weather from both cold and hot. That’s why the phrase is now “climate change.” But folks like Limbaugh don’t get it. He just issued a new proclamation that climate change is fake because there has been stratospheric cooling. This is why you don’t get your science from a radio personality—Limbaugh just offered up the very scenario that the climatologists said would occur: climate change causes stratospheric cooling.
But the Limbaughs and Hannitys of the world have done a great job convincing Americans that climatologists have entered into this massive, incomprehensible conspiracy to fool the world that there’s a problem.
A new poll reveals that 37 percent of Americans believe that climate change is a political hoax. And it’s not just conservatives that are skeptical, but interestingly over 20 percent of liberals also believe it to be a hoax. Rush has long claimed that manmade climate change is a hoax perpetuated by left-wing radicals. As a long-time and loyal Rush listener, this is a topic where he and I disagree and more conservatives need to challenge him. Rush isn’t wrong for questioning the motivations of left-wing idealogues and demagogues who are conveniently using the issue for advancing their own political agenda. Where Rush is wrong, and he himself borders on demagoguery, is his unwillingness to consider the possibility that humans are altering climate, ecosystems and the environment in ways that may not be sustainable longterm. Mind you, Limbaugh and Hannity aren’t wholly to blame for fostering a conspiracy-like environment on climate change; rather, the scientific community and media have largely contributed to the conspiracy through their own lack of credibility, intellectual honesty, and transparency on the topic.
As I’ve lamented previously, the fact that the public is forced to take sides and either be a believer or a denier of manmade climate change is regrettable. And as Roger Scruton has opined, “[J]ust as radical Greens are disposed to exaggerate environmental problems, so conservatives are disposed to belittle them.” Climate change and the underlying science is incredibly complicated, and we will never have unanymity on it. Politics aside, the central question isn’t whether climate change is occurring – it is and always has – but rather whether humans are contributing to it and, if so, how much, and what are the long-term consequences to humans and non-humans alike. While it’s completely appropriate and healthy to be a skeptic, challenging the rigor and accuracy of science and scientific theories, at some point we as society must make decisions based on a weight-of-the-evidence approach. Despite the exaggeration of certain environmentalists and their apocalyptic doom-and-gloom narrative, the growing evidence is that human activity is indeed impacting climate. The appropriate, conservative response is to assess and understand the risks and uncertainty and begin taking action to mitigate and hedge against the range of probable, negative outcomes. This is where good policy-making comes into play.