Year 4, Month 10, Day 21: They’ll Drive You Crazy, They’ll Drive You Insane

USA Today runs a good column from Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, explicitly drawing a link between tobacco denialists and climate denialists:

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

Why is anyone still paying attention?

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Once again it has reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90% versus the 95% in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen. But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

So I pulled something out of the files and shuffled things around, and sent it in. October 11:

As long as corporations can reap substantial profits at the expense of ordinary citizens, there’ll always be lucrative job openings for professional liars. So it’s unsurprising that many of the individuals and organizations busily disseminating misinformation about climate change did the same thing years ago for cigarette manufacturers.

But there is a far more significant analogy just below the surface: the psychology of addiction.

Every smoker has lots of excuses. “I’ll cut down,” “it helps me relax,” “my aunt smokes and she’s 99,” “I’m too busy to quit.” These phrases are oddly similar to the fossil-fuel industry’s rhetoric against meaningful policies addressing climate change. Consumer culture is hooked on oil and coal, and this addiction is destroying our planet’s health. The misleading rationalizations of industry-paid denialists arguing against the threats of global climate change are eerily similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the warnings of his oncologist.

Warren Senders

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