New Book Examines Efforts To Discredit Evidence Of Global Warming
Monday, June 7, 2010
The vast majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and has been for some time. So why do millions of Americans still doubt the evidence of global climate change? We speak to Naomi Oreskes about her new book "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming."
TOM FUDGE (Host): I’m Tom Fudge. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. Most Americans believe global warming is going on, and human use of fossil fuels is causing it but a sizable minority still do not believe we’re causing global warming. And some members of the press continue to treat the question of what’s led to global warming as a controversial issue. We see this despite the fact that scientists who study the climate are virtually unanimous in their belief that human activities are making the earth warmer. Naomi Oreskes is co-author of a book called “Merchants of Doubt.” She says the continuing controversy is largely due to a concerted effort—call it a conspiracy, if you like—to discredit climate research to cast doubt on the conclusions of that research, and that’s why her book is called “Merchants of Doubt.” Naomi Oreskes is a professor of History and Social Studies (sic) and Provost of the Sixth College at UC San Diego. She joins me today in-studio. And, Naomi, thank you very much for coming in.
Naomi Oreskes(Author/Provost, Sixth College, University of California San Diego): Thank you for having me on the show.
FUDGE: Listeners, if you’re interested in the subject of global warming and public perceptions about it, we’d like to hear your perceptions so give us a call if you have a question or comment. 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Naomi, the vast majority of climate scientists agree that global warming is happening and humans are causing it, so why – in your opinion, why do a large percentage of Americans still think there’s scientific disagreement on this?
ORESKES: Well, this is what the book is all about and what we say in the book is that the reason why we’re confused is because people have, in fact, been trying to confuse us. So in the book, we document – we wouldn’t call it a conspiracy, we’re not alleging that anyone did anything illegal but there’s been a very persistent and organized campaign stretching back for several decades to challenge the scientific evidence not just of global warming but also of the ozone hole, acid rain, and the harms of tobacco.
FUDGE: And who are these merchants of doubt…
ORESKES: Well, the story…
FUDGE: …your book talks about?
ORESKES: Yeah, the story begins right here in San Diego. It’s a kind of a homegrown story. It begins with a group of physicists who were very active in cold war weapons and rocketry programs who came together originally to defend Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative, what most of us know as Star Wars. And they worked to challenge – A very large number of scientists had rejected the Star Wars concept as technologically infeasible, very, very expensive and politically destabilizing. But they disagreed with that majority view and they came together to challenge that view and to promote an alternative view instead. And then from there, they evolved into taking on a number of other issues as well.
FUDGE: And what was – and so Star Wars was the original motivation behind the George Marshall Institute?
FUDGE: I don’t know if you’ve told us what the George Marshall Institute has – is.
ORESKES: No, no, not yet. So these three physicists who we study in the book, William Nierenberg, who was here in San Diego, Frederick Seitz, who was a former president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and Robert Jastrow, a very distinguished astrophysicist, joined forces to create a think tank in Washington, D.C. which they called the George C. Marshall Institute. And, yes, they came together originally to defend Star Wars.
FUDGE: But then they moved on to other issues.
ORESKES: Exactly. So that’s where the story gets very interesting. So there’s two parts of what happened. So Frederick Seitz already had a very interesting job even at that time. He had retired from his work as a physicist and in 1979 had gone to work for the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. For R.J. Reynolds, he ran a biomedical research program where he dispensed $45 million in funds to scientists who were willing to do research that might cast doubt on the harms of tobacco.
FUDGE: Okay, and when did global warming come into the picture?
ORESKES: Right, so then this is the curious part of the story. So Seitz has been working to defend tobacco. Seitz, Nierenberg and Jastrow have been working together to defend Star Wars, but then the cold war ends. So this is all taking place in the early to mid-1980s. But around 1989 is when the cold war began to come to an end. 1990-91, the Soviet Union disintegrates, and so you might have thought that these men, who by this point were fairly elderly, that they would have retired and you might have thought that they would have been happy because, of course, the west won the cold war and they had, in fact, achieved their life’s ambition, which was to protect the United States from the Soviet threat. But instead, it was as if they needed to find a new enemy, and they found that enemy in environmentalists who they often perceived as, or they spoke of, as watermelons, green on the outside and red on the inside.
FUDGE: Red on the inside. My guest is Naomi Oreskes, professor of History and social – and Science Studies, I said Social Studies before, Science Studies at UC San Diego. She’s co-author of a book called “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming." If you would like to join this conversation about global warming and public perceptions of it, why we feel the way we do, why the public is still divided on the question of whether humans cause global warming, call us at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. You know, earlier, Naomi, you said that you don’t really think of this as a conspiracy but I have to admit reading a little bit of your book and knowing a little bit about it, it really kind of feels like a conspiracy that the George Marshall Institute, members of this institute, got together and said, okay, what are we going to do? How are we going to discredit the research that proves this inconvenient truth?
ORESKES: Well, you have a point. And in the book, we like to let the readers draw their own conclusion about that. But, you know, conspiracy, of course, is a very uncomfortable word for most people, so we don’t use that term. And, as I said, we’re not alleging that anything criminal was done but, certainly, you’re right that there was a network of people involved, that they cooperated repeatedly over – we see the same people using the same strategies over and over again so there’s a pattern, and we thought the pattern was pretty compelling. And we do show that it is traced back to origins in the tobacco industry and, of course, the tobacco industry was found guilty of criminal conspiracy to defraud the consumer by denying the evidence of the harms of tobacco.
FUDGE: And what does the tobacco industry – what does that have in common with Star Wars? What does Star Wars have in common with global warming? I mean, why did these scientists look at global warming and say environmentalists are green on the outside and red on the inside?
ORESKES: Right. Well, exactly. That’s exactly the question that we wanted to answer because on the face of it, it seems pretty peculiar. I mean, why would distinguished scientists defend tobacco? And what is the connection between tobacco and acid rain or the ozone hole? And the answer is regulation. The answer is government regulation. The consistent theme that occurs over and over and over again in these stories is the fear of government regulation, the fear of encroachment of the government on personal liberties and freedom. And, of course, what we say in the book is we believe in personal liberty and freedom, too, but we don’t think it was appropriate to take that concern and then to camouflage it as a scientific debate and undermine legitimate science.
FUDGE: William Nierenberg, let’s talk about him a little bit. He is – has San Diego roots. In fact, he was the leader of the Scripps Institution for Oceanography (sic), right?
ORESKES: Yes, exactly. And that’s actually how we came to write this book in the first place. So I was writing a book on the history of oceanography, working with documents here in San Diego at the archives of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and my co-author, Erik Conway, writing a book on history of atmospheric sciences, and Bill Nierenberg had played an important role in promoting the use of satellites for oceanographic research. So Erik and I independently stumbled across this trove of documents about activities that Bill Nierenberg became involved with towards the end of his scientific career and that was how we found this story of this – these rather remarkable activities.
FUDGE: Nierenberg was a physicist?
ORESKES: Correct. He was a nuclear physicist and so was – Robert Jastrow was an astrophysicist and Frederick Seitz was also a nuclear physicist.
FUDGE: Well, it’s interesting that a physicist would be running Scripps Institution but maybe that’s another story. Do you…
ORESKES: Well, it is and it isn’t. It’s part of the whole cold war story because, of course, Scripps played a large role in anti-nuclear defenses during the cold war and that was kind of the connection. That was why Bill Nierenberg was also an advocate of the Star Wars program.
FUDGE: Well, that’s very interesting. So it almost seems as if there’s been a shift in culture at the Scripps Institution, one that went from perhaps a pro-military, conservative viewpoint to one that, well, by a lot of people would be considered more politically liberal.
ORESKES: Yeah, of course the scientists wouldn’t view it that way. They would just view it that they were studying the natural world and that the motivations may have shifted but the desire to understand the ocean never really changed. But of course one of the things that did happen is that as scientists began to work on global warming and climate change and to understand what was really happening and to understand the serious threat that global warming could potentially, you know – the threat that it posed, scientists, in a way, got pushed into a kind of liberal position as the right wing in the United States rejected the science. And so it’s not that the scientists themselves were environmentalists because the vast majority of climate scientists were not, in fact, environmentalists when they began working on this problem. But they really kind of got pushed into that position by the rejection of the scientific evidence, again, by people who wanted to prevent government regulation to protect the environment.
FUDGE: Now the political culture of science is sort of an interesting subject and we’ll talk about that more a little bit later but, first, let me take a call. We’ve got Jack on the line from La Costa. Jack, go ahead.
JACK (Caller, La Costa): You know, this is really a wonderful conversation and thank you very much for the work you’ve done. I have two or three ongoing debates back and forth with friends through e-mails on this, and what’s just occurred to me is how there is a certain left-right polarity on this. And the people on the right are wanting to debunk it and at this obtuse defense of the industries that are the polluters. And I’m more in the environmental stripe of the equation and I just look at, you know, we’re pumping this stuff into the atmosphere. It’s not naturally occurring in the way that we are doing it. And if it is creating a toxic – a more toxic environment, well, let’s do something about it whether it’s heating up the planet or not. And – But I really enjoy your work, and I’ll take your comments off the air. But thank you.
FUDGE: Thanks very much, Jack. Naomi, anything to say to that?
ORESKES: Well, I just want to say thank you for the kind words, and, yes, the issue has become incredibly polarized politically, which we think our book helps to explain why. And so we hope that people who are confused about the issue or people who are skeptical and may be – don’t – aren’t necessarily convinced will read the book in order to understand why the debate became so politicized and that it is, in fact, possible to accept the science and still have an honest and healthy debate about what to do about global warming because honest people can disagree about what the right solution is but, in my view, honest people cannot disagree that there’s a scientific consensus about the reality.
FUDGE: Naomi Oreskes is professor of History and Science Studies at UC San Diego. She’s co-author of the book “Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming." If you want to give us a call on this, call us at 1-888-895-5727. What is the value of doubt and who discovered this business of casting doubt and invented it as a strategy?
ORESKES: Thanks. That’s a great question. And, of course, we always like to really be careful and distinguish. We’re not saying that doubt is a bad thing. In fact, doubt is essential for science because a certain kind of healthy skepticism is what drives scientific inquiry in the first place. But it’s that natural doubt, that natural skepticism that has been exploited here, and that’s what’s, in a way, so upsetting about this story, is taking something that’s important for science—healthy skepticism—but turning it on its head. And, of course, that strategy was invented by the tobacco industry. So in the first chapter of the book, we document the historical evidence of how the tobacco industry decided, and we actually describe a specific meeting that we have the records from where chief executives from major tobacco companies across the United States gathered at the Plaza Hotel in New York City, met with a public relations firm, and made a conscious decision to fight the scientific evidence of the harms of tobacco and to do it through this doubt-mongering strategy.
FUDGE: And they got actual scientists to sign on.
ORESKES: Exactly. And this was crucial because the industry realized that if they said that tobacco was fine, the American people aren’t that stupid, right? That we would all get it. We would understand that the tobacco industry was self-interested and of course they would protect their product. But if scientists would say, well, we’re not really sure about this, that would have much more credibility and so that was the key strategy, which then was carried over into these other campaigns.
FUDGE: I’m struck by the fact that so many of these people who are trying to cast doubt on global warming were physicists and they were kind of the wrong kind of scientists. I mean, is that one thing to look for…
FUDGE: …when you’re trying to decide whether a scientist should be believed?
ORESKES: Exactly. One of the things we argue at the end of the book is that we need to have a more nuanced and critical or crucial or skeptical view of expertise. So if a physicist claims to be an expert about cancer, you know, your alarm bells should go off. You should say, well, wait a second, why is this guy, a physicist, talking about cancer? And so similarly, I’m a historian of science, we’re telling a historical story here, but if you ask me about the Gulf oil spill, I will not answer that question.
FUDGE: You said that these scientists and these doubt-mongers were taking advantage of the fact that people are naturally skeptical. But they were taking advantage of another fact, I think, because global warming really is an inconvenient truth, isn’t it?
ORESKES: Yes. Yes, absolutely.
FUDGE: Isn’t it?
ORESKES: And we talk about that in the book, too, that in all these cases, not just global warming but acid rain, the ozone hole, the harms of DDT—we also have a chapter on DDT—these were all uncomfortable truths. They were all discomfiting because in every case it showed that economic activity, industrial activity, buying the goods and services that we all want to have to live good lives, that there were consequences. There were what economists call negative externalities, that is to say costs that were not borne by the person who bought the product—like if you bought hairspray that damaged the ozone hole—but costs that were experienced somewhere else, some place external to the marketplace. And that, again, is a key issue because all of us do use these products, all of us do benefit from the use of energy, and so it is upsetting to realize that there’s a problem here and that we have to figure out some kind of solution.
FUDGE: And it may be a little bit encouraged – encouraging to hear somebody say, look…
FUDGE: …it’s not really going on. Keep driving your cars. I mean…
ORESKES: Exactly. Don’t worry. We all want to be comforted. I mean, I’m a mama, you know, and when my children were little, they always wanted me to say don’t worry, it will all be fine. And I think all of us have a piece of that inside us. So if one person comes along and says, oh, my gosh, we have a really serious problem here and this is not going to be trivial to fix, and someone else says, oh, well, you know, the science really isn’t settled, we don’t really know, many of us would much rather prefer that the second option were correct and so we’re going to be much more receptive to that message.
FUDGE: Let’s go to Mike in Oceanside. Mike, go ahead. You’re on with Naomi Oreskes. Let’s see, I guess we lost Mike so we’re going to hear from Riko in Pacific Beach. Riko, go ahead. Okay, well, Riko is gone, too. But if you, the listener, would like to give us a call, we will probably put you on the air. Call us at 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Let’s talk a – before we – We’re coming up on a break pretty soon but let’s start talking about the issue of the media and how the media has covered this. Just a general question, I mean, how well has media done covering global warming?
ORESKES: Not well at all, and this is a key part of the story. Part of the reason that this strategy was so effective was because the doubt mongers were able to make use of the media. And the tendency in the media to want to present, quote, both sides of an issue, to have a good debate, a debate that’s interesting, this has led the media to give far more airtime and far more space in magazines and newspapers than these views, in our opinion, would really have warranted. And so in many cases you had, well, like the Star Wars cases, the original and most obvious one. So in the case of Star Wars, 6500 physicists signed a petition to boycott the Star Wars program. Jastrow, Nierenberg and Seitz, the three of them, called and wrote letters to newspapers and radio stations demanding equal time for their views. So you had 6500 to 3, and yet those were often presented in the media as if they were roughly equal positions. Moreover, they didn’t just demand equal time, when they didn’t get it they threatened to sue under the Fairness Doctrine so many – There’s a particular incident we describe in the book involving Public Television where many television stations became intimidated, they obviously did not want to be sued, and so they either gave them equal time or they simply didn’t cover the issue at all.
FUDGE: And as a journalist, I’ve kind of wondered about this subject because to me it’s a matter of deciding what’s a genuine controversy, what’s – and there are lots of subjects that are genuine controversies where you have opposing sides, both of which deserve your attention. It sounds like you’re saying that global warming is not a – the cause of global warming is not a genuine controversy.
ORESKES: Right. The cause of global warming is not a genuine scientific controversy and it has not been for a long time. Scientists had a consensus about the reality that global warming would occur already in the 1970s and by the early to mid-1990s there was a consensus that it was, in fact, occurring and that you could show evidence that demonstrated that it was mainly caused by human activities. So this has not been a scientific controversy for a long, long time.
FUDGE: For how long?
ORESKES: Well, since the mid-1990s. And in fact…
FUDGE: I think the mid-1990s…
ORESKES: …many people have forgotten, you know, it’s also important to point out it’s not – even though this debate has become very partisan, in our book we explain very clearly that it’s not simply a Republican versus Democratic sort of issue because many people have forgotten that our first President Bush signed the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change and pledged to take action against global warming, and that was in 1992. And we’ve looked at the documents from the first Bush White House and it’s quite clear that our first President Bush accepted the scientific evidence of global warming.
FUDGE: You quote, toward the beginning of your book, I think maybe right at the beginning of your book, you quote a former president, Lyndon Johnson.
ORESKES: Yes. And I had a lot of fun with that because when I speak on this, I sometimes put the quote up and I ask the audience to tell me who was it who said that this generation was changing the composition of the atmosphere through burning of fossil fuels? And usually people guess Al Gore or if it’s here in San Diego they might guess Roger Revelle, but the correct answer is Lyndon Johnson in 1965. So this problem has been known about and understood for decades and we actually have gone backwards in the last 15 to 20 years and we would argue, in large part, because of these doubt-mongering campaigns.
FUDGE: And you’re listening to These Days. I’m Tom Fudge, filling in for Maureen Cavanaugh, and my guest is Naomi Oreskes, the co-author of a book called “Merchants of Doubt.” And stay with us. We’re going to take a break but when we return, we’ll continue the conversation. And we have a number of people on the line who want to get on the air. We’ll try to take some of your calls at 888-895-KPBS.
FUDGE: Coming up in the next hour of These Days, we’ll talk about the dangers of June as high school graduation season leads to more underage drinking and more alcohol related collisions. Also, we’ll examine the way the body reacts to common intoxicants like alcohol, tobacco and marijuana. That’s coming up in the next hour of These Days. My guest this hour is Naomi Oreskes, professor of History and Science Studies at UCSD. She is the author of a book called “Merchants of Doubt,” and Naomi will be discussing and signing copies of “Merchants of Doubt” tonight at 7:30 at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla, and also tomorrow night at 5:30 at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park. Tonight, 7:30 at Warwick’s, if you want to check that out. And if you want to give us a call, the number is 888-895-KPBS. Let’s take a couple of calls. J.P. is calling from La Jolla. Go ahead.
J.P. (Caller, La Jolla): Hi, and thanks for having me. I just wanted to – I don’t think there’s any doubt that global warming has been going on. I mean, we’ve got an ice age, what, 13,000 years ago, another little one not long ago, so that’s not a question. There’s a – You know, obviously we know that CO2 is contributing to warming and start putting more CO2 in the air. I think the question now is really what can we do about it and where do we go from here? And I think cap and trade is just wrong and we – it should be done at the consumer level. Put the taxes on the oil usage, base them on their externalities. I think that’s a good thing. But, understand, that, you know, we are going to need this energy and I think there’s a lot of local things we can do to conserve energy but you cannot have a local solution to the CO2 problem and calling CO2 a pollutant like acid rain or some of these other things that do have a local effect and that cap and trade can work on at a local level, I think it’s a really wrong approach and understand, too, that a cap and trade system or anything that makes oil consumption more expensive is going to increase the likelihood that we’ll have more nuclear fusion plants which, I think, you know, a lot of nu – a lot of people that call themselves environmentalists (audio dropout)…
FUDGE: Right, well, nuclear – It sounds like we may have lost our caller. J.P., thanks very much for calling up. You made a lot of good points. The nuclear power question, I don’t know if you want to go there, Naomi.
ORESKES: Yeah, well…
FUDGE: Do you want to?
ORESKES: That was a great comment because there was so much in it. So let me see if I can just respond to a few of the things. You said a lot of very important things. So, first of all, I agree 100%, it’s really important to distinguish between what the science tells us and the policy response. But one of the things that we talk about in our book is how the doubt-mongers deliberately tried to confuse that because they knew that if people thought the science was uncertain then they would think it was too soon to take action. So it’s really important to separate those two things. Whether the best thing is to have a cap and trade system or a carbon tax, that is a different book and maybe I’ll write it once this one is all finished and read by lots of people. But I would like to point out it is very interesting that back in the early eighties there were discussions of carbon taxes in the first Bush administration and many of Bush’s advisors, his council of economic advisors, opposed it because of the general perception that carbon taxes, well, all taxes were opposed by most American people and so the whole concept of cap and trade was really developed to be a politically more acceptable alternative to taxes. So it’s just, to me, a little ironic now that people are turning against cap and trade because it was supposed to be more politically palatable. I think the key thing, though, as you point out, is we have to make oil consumption more expensive and we have to offer people alternatives.
FUDGE: You know, there’s an old story about Albert Einstein and this may be apocryphal but the story…
ORESKES: They usually are.
FUDGE: They usually are but the story, which I think is interesting, is Albert Einstein was having a political discussion with a friend and Einstein was saying, well, we should do this about this, and this about this, and the guy, who obviously knew Einstein was very famous and had a big reputation said, well, if you’re so smart, why don’t you run for president and you can make the changes. At which time Einstein laughed and said, ah, politics is a lot more complicated than physics.
ORESKES: Yes, I think that’s actually true.
FUDGE: That is actually a true story.
ORESKES: Yeah, yeah.
FUDGE: Well, it’s interesting in this discussion because I guess just because scientists are able to tell us that fossil fuels are causing global warning, they can’t tell us how to solve the problem.
ORESKES: Correct. I mean, social scientists may give us some advice but natural scientists who have studied climate change, no, correct. The important thing, though again, is to say people do need to understand that the science is clear and settled in order to understand that it is time to move forward on policy action.
FUDGE: Let’s go to Mike in Oceanside. Mike, go ahead.
MIKE (Caller, Oceanside): Yeah, I’m a retired satellite systems engineer. I worked for 36 years at on satellite systems. And I remember a course I took in graduate school called Infrared Engineering and I learned there that carbon dioxide molecules do, in fact, absorb infrared and they emit infrared, and so they will be deflected and that’s just science. And then it comes down to how many are there and does it matter if there’s 250 parts per million, which is where it was before we discovered coal and started burning fossil fuel. We’re at 390 parts per million now, and they say that 350 is safe. And we’re going to go to some much larger number. And then it’s just geometry, how big are these molecules and what is their density, and you can do those calculations and you can see it is not insignificant. In other words, the fact that we’re going from 250 parts per million and we’re at 390 parts per million is harmful. And also when we burn a gallon of gasoline, there’s 20 pounds of carbon dioxide emitted and so the – you know, you can compute exactly what the hydrocarbons we’re burning in a year all over the world and what that does, and so it’s just simple math and it comes down to carbon dioxide molecules, and there’s really no question about that. But my other comment is that your next book needs to be on how the myth is being perpetrated that we can all drive electric cars in California. So we can just keep building freeways and we can go to electric cars fast enough and we can get our electricity from renewables fast enough and actually, if you run through the math—I’m a systems engineer and these are the kinds of questions that we – that I always dealt with, and I’m still working as a systems engineer as a volunteer on this very problem. We are going to have to drive less, and SANDAG board of directors, they are all in denial about global warming. They don’t want to hear that we’re – of any change whatsoever. They intend to move forward, expand our freeway system as if global warming had nothing to do with it and so on…
MIKE: …and so forth. And people…
FUDGE: …well, you know, Mike, lots of great points you’re making. We were talking earlier about what constitutes a genuine controversy and Naomi Oreskes’s saying, well, the fact that fossil fuels are causing global warming, that’s not a genuine controversy. But maybe one controversy is the question of whether technology will actually solve our problem or whether we’re going to have to make dramatic changes to our lifestyles to actually affect global warming, and that sort of sounds like where you’re going, Mike.
MIKE: Well, the type of technology would surprise people. The technology is that we need to price driving per mile and do it comprehensively and with good technology. And there’s a company called Skymeter, it’s a Canadian company, that’s going to do the Netherlands. By 2016, they’re going to go – they’re going to actually do away with their gasoline tax. A gasoline tax is a very old-fashioned way to go, and we need to go to full cost pricing. So we need to stop being socialists when it comes to driving our cars, and the other key issue is parking our cars. And there’s good technology so, yes, technology is part of the answer but it’s not what people think. It’s…
FUDGE: Yeah, but you’re saying technology is not going to change the fact that we’re going to have to change the way we live in order to affect this problem.
MIKE: Right. No, we have to drive less but we’re going to have to figure out how to do that in a politically acceptable way and the best way is to unbundle the cost of parking. In other words, it is already increasing our rents, reducing our wages, increasing our cost of everything. I mean, parking just is expensive. And it’s no one’s fault, it’s just economics. Land costs money, structures cost money. And so the cost is there and what we need to do is show what that cost is. We need to unbundle that cost, which means make it visible, and then people can choose whether they want to pay that cost or not or save that money.
FUDGE: Well, Mike, maybe you should’ve become an economist.
MIKE: Well, it’s a – the economic…
FUDGE: It’s a joke.
MIKE: …aspects to this problem…
FUDGE: Right, right.
MIKE: You know, it’s politically and economically – it goes into those realms for sure, and that’s how I’m working with SANDAG but it’s very tough because at SANDAG a member of the public gets three minutes, end of story. And they talk while you’re talking and so on and so forth, and it’s very hard. I have had some success at SANDAG but, you know, just to ment – the very most basic points like smart growth needs to be – Smart needs to be defined as VMT reducing, in other words Vehicle Miles Traveled reducing, and do away with ‘smart’ because if you look in the dictionary, it’s high IQ. It’s got nothing to do with how a development is built but it needs to be Smart and it needs to be VMT reducing and then it’s quantifiable and you can hold them accountable.
FUDGE: Okay, well, Mike, thanks very much. Lots of wonderful comments but I do want to get back to our guest, Naomi. Naomi, what can you say?
ORESKES: Yeah, again, lots of great material there and more than I can respond to. But I want to just pick up on two things you said that I think are really important. I think one of the key points that you raise is that business as usual is not going to work. And, you know, you talked about the number of parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and a lot of people hear 390 parts per million, that doesn’t sound like a lot of CO2 but the key thing is that because of the powerful impact of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere, even though it doesn’t sound like very much, as you say, it really is. The other important point is that we’ve heard a lot of talk about doubling of carbon dioxide but, of course, that’s just an arbitrary figure that scientists use for their calculations. If we don’t take steps to limit the production of greenhouse gases, we’re going to go to way beyond doubling, we’re going to go to tripling or quadrupling or beyond. And then we start looking at some very, very serious scenarios for what can happen to the climate system and sea level rise. So I think your point is exactly right. Business is not going to – business as usual is not going to work, and we need to have a serious discussion about what these other technological alternatives are.
FUDGE: Let’s squeeze in one more call. We’re almost out of time but Brian is in Del Mar. Let’s go to him. Brian, go ahead.
BRIAN (Caller, Del Mar): Hi. Yeah, everyone, I have a quick question. When these things arise as they do from time to time, I always wonder what are the consequences? Let me give you an example. If I’m in a crowded theater and I yell fire, I’m in a lot of trouble. What if I’m in that crowded theater, I run the theater, and there is a fire and I flash on the screen ‘everyone remain calm, there is no problem?’ Are there no consequences for these people who, very generously, we would call disingenuous?
BRIAN: Aren’t there any consequences to this?
FUDGE: Well, sadly, we do have a right to free speech in this country. I mean, I know you can’t shout fire in a crowded theater but, Naomi, you can say that global warming is nonsense.
ORESKES: Well, that’s right, and this is why the public – this is why we hope everyone will read our book. And we do feel the same way as you do. There’s this sort of really troubling aspect of this story that these people spread a lot of misinformation and, seemingly, with no consequences. Obviously now with our book, there are at least some consequences to their reputation, and some of the attacks we’ve gotten have been from friends and family of some of the people we’ve written about. But it is a very serious problem and, again, that’s where we think people need to be educated consumers of information. We all need to ask who are these people who are claiming to be experts? Why is a physicist talking about tobacco and DDT? And, as we said, the media have to be a lot more critical about whether or not, you know, the whole two sides model might make sense when you’re having a political debate and you might bring on a Democrat and a Republican because we live in a two-party system but for science and scientific issues that kind of model just doesn’t make sense.
FUDGE: Well, before we’re done let me ask you one more question. When did the United States develop what seems to be a bit of an anti-science attitude. I sometimes wonder about this. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s part of the countercultural, you know, movement of the sixties where we just started to distrust the establishment a lot more than before. When did you see this coming into reality?
ORESKES: Yeah, well, as a historian, of course, you know, we tend to always go back a long way and historians often say, well, it’s never really changed, it’s always been like this. And certainly if you look at the entire history of the United States, there is a way in which American democracy has a long history of being anti-elite and there were big debates in the 19th century about the role of science in the United States and there was a lot of anti-science sentiment even in the 19th century. And, of course, famously in the early 20th century surrounding the Scopes trial…
ORESKES: …and debates about evolution, which we’re still having today. So I don’t think what’s going on today is entirely unique in the history of the United States but I do think it’s gotten much worse in the last 10, 20, 30 years. Some of it is what you describe, a kind of general anti-establishment attitude that has affected not just scientists but all experts, a kind of a plague on all your houses. And that’s a real problem for us because we do need experts, and we talk about this at the end of the book. When it comes to issues of science, medicine, engineering, technology, we have to rely on experts. We can’t do our own science. And so some degree of trust in experts is going to have to be part of the story, and so that’s where, again, we have to ask who are these experts, and which experts are the ones that we should be trusting?
FUDGE: Naomi Oreskes is a professor of History and Science Studies at UC San Diego, and she is co-author of the book "Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming." And, once again, she’ll be signing copies of her books, if you want to meet her, tonight, 7:30 at Warwick’s bookstore in La Jolla. If you’d like to hear this segment again or make a comment about something you’ve heard on These Days, go to KPBS.org/thesedays. Naomi Oreskes, thank you very much.
ORESKES: Thank you, Tom.
FUDGE: And thanks for listening. And stay tuned as the next hour of These Days comes your way.