If the experts agree on the existence and causes of climate change, why do some public opinion polls find that only about half or less than half of the American public is convinced that emissions from human activities bear responsibility?1,2
A small but vocal group has aggressively spread misinformation about the science, aiming to cast doubt on well-established findings and conclusions. Their goal is to create confusion and uncertainty, thereby preventing meaningful action to remedy the problem. The same strategy was used cynically for decades by the tobacco industry after research showed that cigarettes caused cancer. In fact, some of the same individuals who have spoken out against climate science also claimed that cigarettes were safe. The term “denialism”3 has been coined to describe them.
Response to the survey question "Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?" (Doran 2009)General public data come from a 2008 Gallup poll.
Many of the deniers share some traits:
- Many have little or no expertise in climate science. While some have some science background, their training often is unrelated to climate science and they have not published “peer-reviewed” scientific work in climate or atmospheric science.
- Many receive funding for their efforts from industries with a financial interest in ignoring climate change. Oil companies, coal-burning electric utilities, and other companies that make their profits from burning fossil fuels have funded denier organizations and scientists, just as tobacco companies funded people who claimed that second-hand smoke was safe.
A famous tobacco industry document from the late 1960s said, "Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the 'body of fact' that exists in the minds of the general public."4 It is a strategy that has worked, at least for awhile, in the past, and it is being repeated today.
Academic research shows that one significant factor that leads to misunderstanding about climate change is a “deliberate and organized effort to misdirect the public discussion and distort the public’s understanding...This literature has revealed a great deal about the nature of efforts to deny and/or distort climate science. It clearly shows that a number of conservative think tanks, trade associations, and advocacy organizations are the key organizational components of a well-organized climate change counter-movement.”5
There is a significant amount of funding used to perpetuate myths about climate change. Dr. Robert Brulle analyzed IRS data on philanthropic foundation funding between 2003 and 2010 to identify organizations involved in circulating denier arguments. The results show that that there are over 90 climate change counter-movement organizations with an annual income of just over $900 million, and over $60 million in identified foundational support.5 Because of the serious impacts of climate change, the delay and obfuscation tactics of the deniers are particularly concerning, which is why we present some responses to the denier arguments on this website.
Total Foundation Funding Distribution – 2003 to 2010 from U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Organizations. Source: Institutionalizing Delay.
Total Foundation Recipient Funding Distribution – 2003 to 2010 from U.S. Climate Change Countermovement Organizations. Source: Institutionalizing Delay.
1: Gallup. In U.S., Concerns about Global Warming Stable at Lower Levels. March 14, 2011.
2: Pika, Cara and Meredith Harr. American Climate Attitudes. May, 2011.
3: For more information on denialism, see Diethelm and McKee (2009). Denialism: what is it and how should scientists respond? European Journal of Public Health. 19(1): p. 2-4.
4: Brown and Williamson Tobacco Company. “Smoking and Health Proposal.” 1969. p. 4.
5: Brulle, Robert. Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations. January, 2013.