The campaign to mislead the public about the scientific consensus on climate change

At the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, John Cook writes: Since the late 1980s, governments and policy makers have worked to develop policy to mitigate climate change. At the same time, opponents have worked to delay and prevent climate action—not just by attacking policy solutions, but also by attacking climate science. A key focus in this decades-long campaign has been to cast doubt on the scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming.

Why attack the consensus? In recent years, social scientists have started to put the pieces together. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change in 2011, replicated by a 2013 study published in the journal Climatic Change, found that public perceptions about scientific agreement are linked to support for policy to mitigate climate change. When people think that scientists are still debating about what’s causing climate change, they’re less likely to support climate action.

Social scientists were not the first to come to this realization. Political consultant Frank Luntz advised Republicans in the 2000 presidential election to cast doubt on the consensus, arguing “should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly.” More than a decade before social scientists observed the link between perceived consensus and support for climate policy, opponents of climate action understood this link and implemented communication strategies designed to erode public support for climate policy.

In fact, attacks on the consensus date back to the early 1990s. In 1991, the Western Fuels Association spent more than $500,000 on a campaign to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).” More recently, an analysis of conservative columns published from 2007 to 2010 found that the most repeated climate myth was “there is no scientific consensus.” [Continue reading…]

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