Climate Issue Refuses to be Ignored

October 8, 2012

In the run up to last week’s debate, citizen’s groups delivered 160,000 signatures to PBS’s Jim Lehrer, asking that he bring up climate change as an issue for the candidates. PBS said this was the largest number of requests they had ever received of this type.

Of course, as we know, Jim Lehrer, the media, and the candidates continue to ignore the defining issue of the century, beyond Mitt Romney’s enthusiastic affirmation “I like Coal”.

Still,  there it sits, calmly licking its chops.


In a famous psychology experiment, participants watching a video of people passing a basketball around while moving missed a remarkable sight: Midway through the video, someone wearing a gorilla suit strolls through the exercise, pauses to beat his chest, and moves on. The key was that participants were asked to count the number of passes made by players wearing white shirts, and the focus on one activity induced a kind of blindness to the extraordinary visitor.

Would you see the gorilla?
Almost everyone has the intuition that the answer is “yes, of course I would.” How could something so obvious go completely unnoticed? But when we did this experiment at Harvard University several years ago, we found that half of the people who watched the video and counted the passes missed the gorilla.
It was as though the gorilla was invisible.

The Hill:

Climate change has become a sleeper issue in a number of Senate races as Democrats attempt to paint their opponents as extreme, based on their views on the issue.

It’s a largely straightforward peg for an attack that some Democrats hope will appeal to centrist voters that may be swayed if they see the Republican candidate as part of the party’s extreme.

In the Maine and Nebraska Senate races, the independent and Democratic candidates, respectively, have focused in on their opponents’ position, that man has little to no role in climate change, to argue that they are too far outside of the mainstream for voters in their states.
In Maine, independent Senate candidate Angus King recently launched an ad featuring him telling the camera that Republican opponent “Charlie [Summers] … doubts climate change science, favors taxpayer subsidies for big oil, and thinks Washington isn’t broken.”
Summers said at one of the candidates’ debates, which was focused solely on energy and the environment, that he doesn’t believe that climate change is caused primarily by humans, and cited other factors — like volcanic eruptions — that he believes affect the environment. It’s a position that King spokeswoman Crystal Canney said offered a contrast between the two candidates, and one that she believes Maine voters — who live in a state with a strong green energy sector and leans Democratic — will consider in November.
“I think when someone makes a statement that climate change is caused by volcanoes, I think you have to alert the public,” to what they believe, she said.
Summers’ campaign did not respond to requests for comment.

The Hill:

Christiana Figueres, the United Nations’ top climate change official, expressed optimism Monday that skepticism of scientific views on global warming is on the wane in the United States.

Figueres, who is steering U.N. efforts to win a new global climate pact, said that the U.S. president will be forced to confront global warming regardless of who wins in November.

“You see both trends — both understanding that the climate is changing and that it is manmade — both trends are moving in the right direction,” said Figueres, the executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, at a news briefing.

Figueres cited figures from recent University of Texas polling on climate views in noting, “I think in general, skepticism around climate is abating.”

Glenn Macdonald in  the LA Times:

The increasingly powerful evidence of a long-term warming trend is making climate-change denial more difficult to defend. Take “Climategate” — the argument that scientists have based their evidence for global warming on fraudulent science. The Koch Foundation provided funding to physicist Richard Muller of UC Berkeley, a longtime climate-change skeptic, to disprove the widespread consensus on global warming. Instead, his re-analysis showed the exact same warming trend found by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and other scientists.

My take is that we are at a pivotal inflection point in US public awareness of climate change, particularly related to extreme weather.
Last week, I spoke briefly to a sophisticated pollster who specializes in climate issues. He indicated that new data to be released this week show “big changes”.
Stay tuned.

16 Responses to “Climate Issue Refuses to be Ignored”

  1. rayduray Says:

    Re: “My take is that we are at a pivotal inflection point in US public awareness of climate change, particularly related to extreme weather.”

    I wish I could be so sanguine about the state of American consciousness. Yesterday I increased my vocabulary by one word, that being “agnotology” or the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data.

    As I read the popular press regarding Arctic sea ice, the cornbelt drought and other climate related topics, I’m struck by the anti-science vehemence and denialism being expressed by the hoi polloi commenters. From the L.A. Times to Scientific American, I’m stunned by the effectiveness of the Heartland/Monkton/WUWT message coming through loud and clear with what often seems to be the preponderance of the comments.

    The tobacco industry started a willful campaign of disinformation and misinformation in the 1950s regarding the safety of their product and successful stalled significant change in society for half a century.

    I’m afraid that I’m seeing a similar pattern being created by the fossil fuel industry with regards to climate change. Peter, one question you should pose to your pollster friend is to find a baseline on beliefs in this nation regarding climate change. I have read that the preponderance of Americans were uninformed of climate change and its dire implication in the 1990s, but that starting a handful of years ago this ignorance has been replaced with aggressively pedaled disinformation. This is going to be hard to dislodge from the low information consumer mind. Having found an acceptable fairy tale (i.e. climate is nothing to worry about) it is going to be extremely difficult to overcome the pleasure of that lie and move a fearful public to a position where they’d have to agree with the very sorts of people they’ve come to loathe, such as bogeyman Al Gore and “mendaciously self-serving” scientists.

    I have to admit that I’ve come to have a very low regard for the average dim-bulb American who exhibits every desire to seek out comforting fairy tales and avoid hard truths in equal measure. And, of course, there is the politico-religious aspect of this to consider. Right wing evangelical Christians are going to be the very last people who will accept that 1) their religion is a fantasy, 2) American is not justified in its exceptionalism and 3) they should abandon a belief that climate catastrophes are merely part of God’s plan for the Rapture and can be mitigated.

    • uknowispeaksense Says:

      Hi Ray

      You may be interested in this


      • rayduray Says:

        Thanks for the link, Mike.

        To tell you the truth, I hate that sort of article. It was all about quoting two (or more?) sides of a vaguely postulated topic. It was ambiguous. It was inconclusive. It was kind of like a cub reporter finds that she can capture quotes from a bunch of nobodies and string them together into an incoherent series of paragraphs.

        What point was Sara Peach trying to make with that fluff? That there’s plenty of air-heads in America? I already am aware of that fact, sadly enough. Or was she simply feeling compelled to fill out a C.V. with an article at a prestigious forum?

        And what’s up with all the silly Bible quotes? Is Sara Peach unaware that quoting ancient books of Jewish fairy tales is embarrassing, especially in a University (think Enlightenment!) Forum?

        I’ll admit to being an atheist who has lost most of my patience for adult children who refuse to grow up about their ‘teddy-bear-in-sky-God’ fairy tales.

        Any posturing preacher who feels compelled to quote the Bible instantaneously loses all credibility in my assessment. Universally, these sorts are crackpots. You have to admit, that last paragraph is a doozy (Doocy?) of simple-minded silliness.

        • uknowispeaksense Says:

          Don’t get me wrong Ray. I too am an atheist and a rampant one at that (you should see my YouTube channel for confirmation) and also agree the article was poorly written.
          That said, if some of the ultra religious are prepared to accept that climate change is real, man-made and important enough to act on, then how they justify that position, be it through their interpretation of religious text or whatever, is irrelevant. They should be encouraged to spread that message. The threats of climate change should transcend religious differences and writing them off as loonies is counterproductive because we need as many people on side as possible. That article gave me some hope that not all religious people are happy to wait for armageddon.

          • rayduray Says:


            I’m pretty jaded about the “decent Christians”. I started to follow the Evangelical Left about 5 years ago. Bill Moyers interviewed Jim Wallis and I was intrigued by the possibilities.

            Today, I am bored stiff waiting for something substantive to come about from the “decent Christians”. They aren’t getting any traction at all.

            Perhaps you are new to the talking ministries. I’m pretty much out of patience with them. I tried to enlist their help in 2002 when it was clear that Bush and Cheney were lying us into a war with Iraq. When I proposed a street action that was open to the possibilities their Christian pacifism sprang forth and they were completely paralyzed. They remain so to this day.

            I don’t count on the congenitally timid to have courage any longer. That’s a fool’s errand.

            You won’t find the “decent Christians” to be anything other than fair weather allies when it comes to crushing some reality down on the heads of fossil industry rapists.

          • uknowispeaksense Says:

            I get the picture that perhaps religion is more of an issue in the US than here (Oz).

    • Martin Lack Says:

      Mocking those who think overpopulation, sea level rise, climate change, or ecocide are impossible because “because God will not let it happen” is perfectly understandable. However, can you please try and restrain yourself from taking facile swipe at religious belief in general?

      If you can’t, I may be unable to resist taking a facile swipe at your observation that the fossil fuel lobby has copied the modus operandi of the tobbaco industry, by saying something like “Wow, Ray, I am in awe of your insight…”

      • rayduray Says:

        Re: “can you please try and restrain yourself from taking facile swipe at religious belief in general?”

        The short answer is that it is high time that the childishness of religion be dealt with in an adult fashion.

        Religion is a pestilence in America, if you don’t know. We have people dying annually form the snakes they handle as part of religious ceremonies. While idiotic on the face of it, we’re grateful that these fools get the Darwin Award and no prospect for further procreation.

        I could go on about the inanities of our “Elmer Gantry” and Aimee Semple McPherson style frauds posing as religious leaders. How about that Tammy Faye Baker, eh?

        And don’t get me started on the malignancy of the prosperity church cults.

        We even have a Hall of Shame in Wikipedia for these crackpots:

        • Martin Lack Says:

          Wow, Ray, I am in awe of your insight…

          • rayduray Says:

            I’ll assure you Martin, superciliousness is not an attractive trait.

            You’re having a bit of bad series here. Your suggestion to Peter to send a pollster’s work effort to the Telegraph and Monkton struck me as the height of naivete. You do understand that these are propagandists who operate with no shame and care not one whit for the truth, do you not? Or do you harbor some inner childishness that makes you think you can stop liars from dissembling by do-gooder pieties?

          • Martin Lack Says:

            You are way off topic, Ray.

            I was not seriously expecting Peter to act on my request and, having tried and failed to engage such ideologiclally-blinded journalists in rational debate myself, I am in need of no need of lectures from you, thanks.

            Let me know when you track down a sense of humour.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      just to make sure you know, that the comment sections of pubs like Sciam, the LaTimes etc are specifically targeted by denialist trolls, trained in think tank sessions to flood such venues with drivel – in order to elicit precisely the “throw up my hands” response from good people such as yourself.
      there has always been a majority who really want to protect the environment – our job is to keep fighting our way thru the disinfo. We have, more and more each year,- unfortunately,- nature on our side, and we have in the evolving story of renewable energy, economics on our side – but it’s going to be the toughest fight ever, and it won’t end in our lifetimes, although I expect that there are going to be significant positive milestones in the near future.

  2. Martin Lack Says:

    Peter, can you please ask your “sophisticated pollster” to email the results direct to Christopher Booker and James Delingpole (Daily Telegraph), Melanie Phillips (Daily Fail) and Christopher Monckton (Planet Monckton) – so that they cannot ignore them?

    I would love to think that we are past Peak Denial (as well as Peak Oil) but, sadly, I think rumours of its imminent demise have been greatly exaggerated.

    • greenman3610 Says:

      see answer to Ray above

      • Martin Lack Says:

        Thanks Peter. As I said to Ray, I was not seriously expecting you to act on my request. However, I am saddened (but not surprised) by your apparent endorsement of my second paragraph. Nevertheless, I am looking forward to witnessing these “significant positive milestones”

  3. Peter Mizla Says:

    The climate issue will continue to grow in coming elections. As our climate continues to deteriorate so will the the Media be unable to hide the disastrous events and their aftermath. If we continue to add carbon to the atmosphere at this pace- by 2020- a mere 7 years away- we will nearing 410ppm or higher- the chances for heat waves, droughts, and ice free arctic ocean, floods. ‘magically’ disappearing’ are nil. If the media is so manipulated by the special interests, how will they not report the horror mother nature is unleashing?

    In time these worthless politicians will have to begin action- but it will likely be too little too late.

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