But in the U.S., unlike much of the rest of the world, a hardcore band of true believers live in a cooler, happier, parallel universe. Global warming, they say, isn’t a big deal. Or it’s a hoax. Or it’s a good thing. The legion of climate scientists who say we’re in the midst of extreme, harmful, and potentially irreversible impacts are just in it for the money. (And the fossil fuel companies who bankroll some of this line of thinking apparently aren’t.)
Which brings us to Hiroo Onoda. Chances are you’ve never heard of him, but Lieutenant Onoda could be something of a patron saint of the diehard global warming deniers. The Imperial Japanese Army intelligence officer manned his post in the Philippine jungle until 1974 -- twenty-nine years after the rest of the world ended World War II. He outlasted two colleagues, killed in gun battles in 1954 and 1972 respectively, and didn’t come out of the jungle until a retired Japanese superior officer went in and ordered him out. Onoda, who had been declared legally dead in Japan fifteen years earlier, is said to have wept when he got the bad news that the war ended in 1945.
So, in the spirit of Hiroo Onoda, here’s a quick salute to four of the leading lights in the fight to keep the eternal flame of climate denial burning.
1. New Hope Environmental Services, whose web page promises “advocacy science” on behalf of a list of corporate clients it’s unwilling to identify. NHES’s principal, Pat Michaels, is an affable, articulate climatologist whose perch at Washington’s libertarian Cato Institute makes him easily accessible to the world of TV punditry. Michaels edits the World Climate Report, a periodical often critical of mainstream global warming science. The publication is bankrolled by the Western Fuels Association, a coal industry trade group.
In 2006, a group of coal-dependent western electric utilities stopped barely short of conducting a telethon for Michaels’ “advocacy science.” The Intermountain Rural Electric Association sent an impassioned pitch to its fellow coal consumers, and sent $100,000 to Michaels “to support the scientific community that is willing to stand up to the climate alarmists.”
2. While Michaels keeps the science flame burning (and emitting), Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe works the legislative side of the street. Inhofe, who easily won re-election in November, has called global warming a hoax, and broadly implied that NASA climate scientist James Hansen was on the take.
3. The Oregon Institute of Science & Medicine isn’t one of those ivory-tower think tanks. In fact, it’s run by a father-son team in a barn near Cave Junction, Oregon. Its oft-cited Petition Project is the Magna Carta of climate denial. Originally launched, and immediately discredited, in 1998, the OISM Petition has risen from the dead like the corpse in the bathtub at the end of a Stephen King flick.
Originally a manifesto claiming the signatures of 17,000 “scientists” firmly opposed to the notion of global warming, Art and Noah Robinson’s project took in the names of just about anyone with a science degree -- in at least a few cases, fictional people with science degrees: Drs. Pierce, Burns, Hunnicutt, Potter, Houlihan, and O’Reilly signed up to deny the existence of global warming. So did Dr. Geri Halliwell. If you’re keeping score, that’s most of the cast of the M*A*S*H and “Ginger Spice” from the Spice Girls.
The National Academy of Sciences, learning that OISM had published the petition on a cheap knockoff of NAS letterhead, offered an unusually stern rebuke. None of which phased the Robinsons, who also market nuclear war survival kits from the OISM site. They published an updated list of 31,000 scientists, including veterinarians, engineers, and plastic surgeons whose work has apparently revealed the folly of global warming. Through it all, the OISM petition has been unskeptically embraced by talk shows, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Senator Inhofe, and countless blogs.
4. Frank Luntz, the veteran GOP consultant, helped write the battle plan for global warming deniers in a planning memo that was eventually leaked to the Environmental Working Group in 2003. Luntz argued that a debate stalemate is a victory for global warming deniers: “Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views will change accordingly … You need to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
And those are just four of the heavy hitters. According to a 2008 Gallup poll, 58% of Americans do not believe global warming will be a big deal in their lifetimes, and 11% of us don’t think it exists at all. These guys are a part of the reason why.
If Lt. Onoda isn’t enough inspiration for you, there’s always Jimmy Stewart’s cheerful report to his psychiatrist in the movie Harvey:I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it.” But in this case, the deniers will follow the Frank Luntz playbook, and instead of winning out over reality, will try to stall climate change action. We get to live with the results.
Peter Dykstra, the former executive producer of CNN's Science, Tech and Weather Unit is currently a Public Policy Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. He writes three columns for MNN: Media Mayhem on Mondays, Political Habitat on Wednesdays, and Green States on Fridays. (Yes, he writes a lot.)