Climate deniers are obviously incredibly influential … obviously?

The most surprising claim in the Guardian article “There are genuine climate alarmists, but they’re not in the same league as deniers” is that the deniers are influential. But before we go into that, let’s start with the first paragraph of that article (my emphasis):

Those who debunk climate change misinformation often face a dilemma. We’re flooded with such a constant deluge of climate myths, where should we focus our efforts? Climate misinformation is propagated via congressional climate hearings, conservative media outlets, denial blogs, and even from some genuine climate alarmists.

Reading this, one could get the impression that those poor debunkers are seriously in the disadvantage here. They are tasked with the herculean effort of debunking such a deluge of climate misinformation propagated via congress hearing, conservative media and blogs, needing to chose very carefully what to debunk.

Poor sods.

He ramps it up a bit further down in the article (my emphasis):

Climate deniers are obviously incredibly influential. Despite their lack of supporting evidence or facts, not only do 28% of Americans continue to believe that global warming is natural and 14% that it’s not even happening, but deniers also dictate Republican Party policy. Republican policymakers constantly invite deniers to testify in congressional hearings, including many of those featured on the Skeptical Science misinformers page.

Deniers are incredibly influential?!?!

It is an interesting paragraph though. It seems that their issue is the American people do not believe the anthropogenic nature of global warming and again there is that example of those congressional hearings. It seems to be a very important way of propagating misinformation. That doesn’t make much sense.

I remember another article written a couple years ago by the same author in the same newspaper. It had the catchy title Global warming deniers are an endangered species, in which is claimed that denial doesn’t pay off anymore and that oil companies as well as the Republicans backed away from denial in the run-up to the Paris Conference. What changed in those three years that those “deniers” went from getting on the endangered species list back then to being “incredibly influential” now, taking part in shaping the beliefs of almost half the American population?

But then, Republicans inviting “deniers” to testify in those hearings is not something new. The Republicans have a majority in congress since 2010. I first blogged about such hearings in April 2015 and had several posts on hearings in that same year. If those hearings are so influencing now, why was their influence neglected in the run-up of the Paris Conference? Or was this just pep-talk in the run-up of the Paris Conference and should not be considered an accurate description of reality? Okay, I understand that some things are different now, like for example an (unexpected) change in the White House and this can have an influence on policies, but, as far as I know, these Congressional hearing are not exactly crowd pleasers. If it comes to influencing the public, then there probably will be better ways than Congressional hearings?

I am not particularly impressed with the other ways of those “deniers” to propagate their misinformation (conservative media outlets and blogs). Just as the Congressional hearing, these are not exactly the tools that I would expect in order to reach a larger audience.

I understand that the Americans have some mainstream conservative outlets (unlike some other countries, like the country that I live in), Fox and the WSJ come to mind. But isn’t he forgetting that, even in the USA, the vast majority of the major media outlets are left wing and therefor by definition not conservative? The same seems to be valid for example for education. That is not just a minor detail. When it comes to the mainstream, it is Dana’s side that is dominating, yet he seems to suggest that the (smaller) conservative media outlets play an important role in the failure to convince those 42%.

Blogs can certainly be influential, but I know from my own experience that it is very difficult to be influenced by those blogs. When I was a believer, I often was directed to skeptical blogs and even when I read what was written, I just dismissed it as not relevant or not significant or wrong. It is difficult to accept something that is not in line with your belief. I heard from my peers and from the major media outlets (in my country 100% left wing) that those “deniers” just had it wrong and they shouldn’t be believed. So I dismissed them, I didn’t listen to what they had to say, let alone that I would evaluate what their arguments were.

What these three have in common is that they all preach to the choir. If you are not part of the choir, then that preaching will not be listened to.

Been there, done that.

So, I don’t really believe for one moment that those congressional hearings, conservative media outlets and “denial” blogs are making much of a difference. If that is all the “deniers” have, then that is really pathetic.

Those “genuine climate alarmists” are a different story. Again, if my experience is something to go by, these were a major incentive in becoming skeptical. My journey started when I was checking some botched alarmist predictions. By doing so, I discovered a whole web of things that didn’t add up, framing, misunderstandings, vague definitions,… and that led me where I am now. Yet, it seems to be the only of the four that they don’t want to debunk…

Something that also caught my eye in that quote is that deniers are “obviously” incredibly influential. Initially, I was not sure where that “obviously” came from. There is nothing in the previous paragraph that seems to be related to it. There is only the discussion about whether skepticalscience should debunk alarmists and the (unconvincing) solution of renaming a page on their website (which is the subject of previous post).

I also don’t think that this “obviously” has something to do with the very first paragraph, the one containing that list of how misinformation is being propagated. If that would be the case, then that would mean that he considers those congressional hearings, conservative media outlets and blogs as very influential, which doesn’t make much sense. It is the consensus side that has the most influence on the public.

I think this “obviously” is much easier to understand and it has nothing to do with the previous paragraphs. The skepticalscience team (from which Dana is a member) is viewing the relation consensus vs “deniers” as the many (the consensus side) against the few (the “denier” side). As in the 97% versus the 3%. Or the majority that supports climate action against those on the endangered species list that resist action. Now suppose that someone truly believes that the opposition is only a tiny minority and combine this with the fact that a large part of the public does not believe the anthropogenic nature of global warming (attributed to this same group), then, of course, this tiny group of deniers obviously must be incredibly influential


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