Climate change deniers have media outlets 'everywhere' now
Rachel Oswald
Published: Thursday March 19, 2009

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Despite the success of public awareness efforts on the dangers of climate change by the likes of Al Gore and others, the global warming denial lobby is still going strong, as can be seen by recent polling numbers that show fewer Americans believe climate change is a serious threat.

A poll released last week by Gallup says that while a majority of Americans still believe the seriousness of global warming is “either correctly portrayed in the news or underestimated,” an all-time high of 41 percent of those polled say it is exaggerated.

Peter Dykstra, a climate change columnist for the Mother Nature Network, told RAW STORY that one of the main reasons for this drop in concern can be attributed to the success of climate change deniers in disseminating their message. While they are no more credible now than they were a few years ago, the difference today, says Dykstra, is that they have more friendly media outlets that are willing to broadcast their message.

“[Climate change deniers] have an outlet everywhere,” Dykstra said. “A day doesn’t go by where you don’t hear Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and whoever crying through the national media that [climate change deniers] don’t have a [national news] outlet.”

He added, “People will go to somebody they like and admire and believe in, and bestow upon them in many cases far more credibility than they deserve.”

Since Gallup began tracking domestic sentiment on global warming in 1997, American views that climate change was being underestimated were at their highest in 2001 and 2006 (the year An Inconvenient Truth came out). The poll also saw declines from last year in the number of people who believe the effects of global warming are occurring now, and in the number that believe global warming will pose a “serious threat” in their lifetimes.

By age group, the biggest jump (13 percent) from last March in those who now believe global warming claims are exaggerated was in the 65-and-older demographic. While other age groups also saw an increase, the 18-29 segment had no change at all in the number of those who believe claims are exaggerated.

Picking up on this, Tony Kreindler, media director for climate for the Environmental Defense Fund, told RAW STORY in an e-mail that “if I were a member of Congress, I'd be very interested in the roughly 70 percent of voters between 18 and 29 who think climate change is portrayed correctly or even underestimated by the media.”

Joseph Romm, a former assistant secretary of energy in the Clinton administration and a senior fellow with the Center for American Progress, believes that deniers have been working overtime to convince the American public that climate change isn't a threat.

Reacting to the Gallup poll, Romm wrote on his blog, Climate Progress: "Objectively, in the last two years, the science makes painfully clear that climate risk has grown sharply, far beyond what 99 percent of people I talk to realize. That means if the public has come to the reverse view, it must be due to the messaging and the media and the misinformers."

He attributed the poll's changes to the failures of scientists to impress upon the public the reality of global warming and to the willingness of media-savvy climate change deniers to not hold themselves to the facts when discussing the subject.

Despite overwhelming numbers of the global scientific community who say that climate change is taking place at a rapidly escalating scale and that it can be attributed to man-made global warming, climate change deniers are still going strong in the U.S.

They were recently given a high-profile ally in Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele.

"We are cooling. We are not warming,” said Steele during a recent turn guest-hosting Bill Bennett’s conservative radio show. “The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I use my fingers as quotation marks, is part of the cooling process."

Another powerful voice in the denial camp is Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), ranking member of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, who in a floor speech last Friday capitalized on the Gallup poll findings.

“You should never underestimate the intelligence of the American people. Sadly, that is exactly what the promoters of man-made climate fears have been consistently doing, and the American people have consistently rejected climate alarm,” Inhofe said. “Despite world-wide media frenzy, Americans remain as skeptical of global warming fears as they were in 1989, according to last year's Gallup poll.”

This is the same senator that once called global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetuated on the American people” and in 2006 compared climate change activists to members of Hitler’s Third Reich.

“I’m convinced that the denial lobby is really never going to go away,” Dykstra said. “Beliefs die hard and evidence is no antidote to a firmly-held belief, and when something happens like with the economy, beliefs--no matter how flawed--can gain more traction.”

Kreindler pointed out that the polling measure of people who believe media coverage is exaggerated has been volatile for the last seven years. Given the attention climate change has received in recent times, and especially now as President Obama prepares to enact his clean energy agenda, it’s not surprising that “we’re seeing more volatility as the political debate surrounding U.S. energy policy heats up.”

Gallup noted that with only 34 percent of Americans saying they worry "a great deal" about global warming, “most Americans do not view the issue in the same dire terms as the many prominent leaders advancing global warming as an issue.”

This could pose a challenge to the Obama administration and allies in Congress as they plan to introduce, sometime this spring or summer, cap-and-trade legislation that would regulate carbon dioxide emissions. If the economy is still viewed as being in a tailspin then, the public may not be very supportive of the measure and the national attention it will likely command.

In addition to climate change denial lobbyists, experts also agree that the national recession plays a part in the changing American attitudes towards global warming as the populace concerns itself with worrying about what they view to be more immediate and pressing problems, such as keeping a job and maintaining health care coverage.

Dykstra said he does think the global economic recession will result in serious climate change treaties being pushed back further as badly hurt nations argue that they must address problems in their economies first.

“Several nations, including China, have already pointed to it as a reason to do less and so yes, I’m very concerned about that,” he said.

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