Decades ago, the tobacco industry claimed that smoking was not correlated to health issues and that nicotine was not an addictive drug. Today, we acknowledge the opposite conclusion and view smoking negatively. It sadly took 50 years to arrive at this decision, simply because of the confusion and doubt that tobacco companies fed to the public.
With the “tobacco is healthy” myth debunked, it seems that industry leaders have latched onto a new topic about which to sew doubt amongst the public—climate change. The 2014 documentary “Merchants of Doubt” based on the book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway seeks to connect the public with the facts behind the climate denial movement.
The film presents that scientists have been aware of climate changes since 1988. Yet 28 years later we are still debating whether or not climate changes are occurring, and if those changes are a result of human activity.
A major claim by climate skeptics is that there is not enough scientific evidence to back up climate change. The reality is that 97% of scientists believe climate change is occurring, and 87% think it is due to human activity. And there is a wealth of supporting scientific research.
But as was observed with the tobacco industry, if you confuse the public they will lose their own opinions. Unfortunately, the disconnect between public opinion and science leaves an opening for critics to sew further doubt, enough to create a skeptic.
The film points out that climate skeptics represent only a small sample of the population, and they have an economic interest in the continuance of climate change. These skeptics frequently are members of organizations that serve as fronts for the oil and coal industry. These organizations operate for profit, not for environmental protection. So climate skeptics prefer to bend the world to their opinions rather than loose revenue by admitting to scientific evidence.
Climate change is often improperly portrayed in the media. In order to present both sides, interviews usually include a climate supporter and a climate skeptic facing head-to-head. The same climate skeptics are featured repeatedly in the media, and climate supporters are usually scientists.
Both people have credentials that without further investigation seem to be important and relevant to the issue, leading the public to believe that both sides have credibility. Seeing both perspectives side-by-side leads the public to be unsure of which to trust more, thus creating public divide.
Only 50% of the American public believes that climate change is occurring and that humans are the cause. The urgent matter is to find ways to overpower the voices of the skeptics to show the other half of the country that climate change is an issue affecting them now.
This road is not easy. As shown in the film, many prominent climate scientists receive death threats because of their work. Protests for environmental justice are often shut down. One scientist was arrested three times during protests. The same occurs today, as with the protests at Standing Rock.
At this moment in history, our lives are being dictated by a select few who want to risk the planet for their own gain. If these merchants of doubt can be exposed for who they really are, and if the public works together to address this global issue, deniers would quickly lose the climate war. And just as the public has been enlightened to the dangerous impacts of smoking, so too can the world understand the dooming impacts of climate change.
Want to learn more about misrepresentation of climate change in the media? Check out this statistically accurate climate debate from Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cjuGCJJUGsg