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Opinion

Stop climate deniers from winning the information war

The media too often gives a voice to global warming 'sceptics', harming the fight against dangerous climate change.

Last Modified: 18 Jun 2013 19:38
Nick Fillmore

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and social activist. His work at the CBC over more than 30 years included the broadcast of several investigative documentaries. He was a member of the editorial board of THIS magazine and was a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists.
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As global temperatures warm, the Arctic ice cap has shrunk to the smallest size ever recorded [EPA]

The global warming deniers are at it again, getting articles published in newspapers in Canada and the US that claim, among other things, that there is no proof that global warming is caused by human activity.

The mainstream media, particularly the business media, carelessly carries interviews and publishes opinion articles by the small percentage of scientists who deny climate change. Some contributors make the bizarre claim that large emissions of carbon dioxide are beneficial to the planet.

"No Need to Panic About Global Warming", was the headline of an opinion article that appeared on May 19 in The Wall Street Journal, the business newspaper most trusted by the North American business community.

"Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to 'decarbonise' the world's economy," said the opinion piece. 

The most telling point about the article was that the group publishing it could get only 16 scientists and academics from around the world to sign it.

The Journal's irresponsible publication of the piece no doubt further sets back the environmental movement's efforts to convince the public that global warming must be taken seriously. The paper is very important because it has a circulation of 2.1 million copies (including online paid subscriptions) in the US alone.

The same week The Calgary Herald, Western Canada's most influential paper, was "taken in" by a well-known climate change denial manipulator, Benny Peiser of the UK, who told the paper that his Global Warming Policy Foundation is non-partisan. "All the climate models that predicted catastrophic warming of the planet were a gross exaggeration," he told the Herald, claiming that "for the past 16 years, temperatures have not spiked but remained stable".

While the comments were unfounded and totally ridiculous, the Herald devoted an entire page to Peiser's claims.

Analysis of hundreds of research studies clearly shows that the number of research papers rejecting anthropogenic global warming is 'a miniscule proportion of the published research'.

Peiser also said that Europe was being destroyed financially because politicians had demanded that the public commit to outrageously expensive clean energy programmes. Most European economists agree that the continent's problems occurred instead because of a collapse in financial markets.

Peiser was brought to Calgary by the Frontier Centre for Public Policy, a western Canadian neo-liberal lobby organisation that attacks renewable energy projects so that non-renewable energy sources, such as Canada's tar sands, will appear to be necessary.

The denial articles, which are carried by just about all North American mainstream news organisations, and on hundreds of sites on the internet, send the false message to the corporate community that "the jury is still out" on global warming. Hearing this, business concludes it is okay for them to continue with projects that damage the environment.

The truth is that analysis of hundreds of research studies clearly shows that the number of research papers rejecting anthropogenic global warming is "a miniscule proportion of the published research". An overwhelming percentage of the researchers taking part - 97 percent - endorse the scientific consensus on global warming caused by humans.

Despite this scientific evidence, the environmental movement is losing the battle with the climate change deniers. Only 32 percent of Canadians and 33 percent of Americans believe that human activity is solely responsible for global warming.

One reason why many people do not "get" global warming is because the non-renewable energy industry funds several phoney groups that circulate propaganda to confuse the public about the issue. Millions of dollars have been donated to anti-climate groups such as the UK's Global Warming Policy Foundation and Canada's Frontier Centre for Public Policy.

The world's environment is now in a disastrous state - climate change kills more than 400,000 people a year, according to a 2012 report, and costs the world economy an estimated $1.2tn a year.

Media and public interest groups in North America must do much more to rid media of the false information about the climate. Media companies need to start caring about the information they carry, and the environmental movement must become better organised and embrace the internet to fight the problem.

Media corporations need to shed their pro-corporate bias and develop a new sense of public responsibility, refusing to carry the denial message. Editors and journalists should have access to a directory that has detailed information on those involved in the global warming denial industry.  

Public interest and environmental groups could play an important role by launching a massive information campaign aimed at convincing the business community in both countries that they have much to lose if they do not support the pro-environment movement.

Unfortunately, we may not see truly effective action on climate change until we win the information war, and until many more business executives become convinced that the earth's changes are hurting both business and society.

Nick Fillmore is a Toronto-based freelance journalist and social activist. His work at the CBC over more than 30 years included the broadcast of several investigative documentaries, some concerning key environmental issues. He was a member of the editorial board of THIS magazine and was a founder of the Canadian Association of Journalists. He blogs at nickfillmore.blogspot.com. Feedback is welcome at fillmore0274@rogers.com.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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