I give a lot of talks on climate change and what we should do about it. Invariably, at the end, some smug white haired guy in his sixties raises his hand and says something like this: “I’m a smart guy (Phd, engineer, whatever—he lays out the credentials) and I’m a critical thinker. (of course!) and in my research on climate, I’ve come across a lot of controversy on the science. I don’t think we’re even close to resolution on this.”
This comment is, of course, incredibly intellectually lazy, because the scientific community has rarely had such comprehensive understanding of an issue. It’s not a matter of consensus, it’s that scientists all over the world, speaking different languages, using different methodologies, and under different ideologies, are all finding the same thing–climate change is happening and is human caused.
What’s so annoying about Mr. “I’m a free thinker” is that if he really were a critical free thinker, he’d ponder for just a second the question of why, with all this good science, he’s still on the fence. And if he researched that just a little bit, he’d find out that ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel interests have spend tens of millions of dollars over several decades supporting scientific disinformation on climate, with the express goal of putting doubt into the minds of Americans, with the intent of protecting profits from carbon regulation.
This isn’t a conspiracy theory: ExxonMobil’s CEO recently renounced the practice. (Mostly—see here for details.) And the whole scam was even further, and perhaps penultimately, exposed by Andy Revkin in the New York Times. Revkin points out that the industry ignored its own scientists! But the damage is done—the most successful and destructive marketing campaign in the history of the world—using the same tactics, and some of the same people as the tobacco industry—has led to an American population that is actually less concerned about climate change as a human caused problem now than a few years ago.
In my world, we say: “these people are dying off.” Or “they’re so clueless, forget about them.” But these guys are coming through the windows at me every day, and they seem pretty damn healthy! Last week, our CEO handed me two climate denier CDs guests had given him (both have been widely, spectacularly debunked). Regardless, things seem to be getting worse, not better. This is a catastrophe, but one with a significant opportunity attached.
Mr. Skeptic, the most arrogant, damaging, useless and intellectually lazy branch of humanity living today, could use his particular personality and worldview to become a productive, hopeful, helpful, and constructive member of society by turning his self-lauded critical thinking skills to the question of exactly why he’s a doubter.