Climate Change

Behave like our house is on fire… because it is

A 2021 study 1 published online by Cambridge University Press aimed to learn about “experts” promoting the claim that human impact on Earth’s climate is either non-existent or insignificant.

Researchers examined multi-signatory documents opposed to the scientific consensus and judged the climate change contrarians. They concluded:

Collectively, our findings show that the majority of those who signed documents that reject AGW [anthropogenic global warming] are not climate experts. As a result, these individuals lack the authority to render an opinion regarding climate change science…

97 per cent do not meet expert criteria and are also involved with organizations and industries who make up the climate change countermovement.

Researchers found ideological views contributed to conclusions reached by contrarians. The study warned:

Politics impedes action against climate change, providing a cover used by conservative leaders to subvert climate mitigation policies. Climate change contrarians play a critical role in perpetuating this cover by keeping the debate about climate change alive in the political and public arenas — even though it is settled in the scientific realm...

Such efforts are just one way conservative think tanks, advocacy groups, trade associations and conservative foundations, with strong links to sympathetic media outlets and conservative politicians work to subvert the mainstream climate consensus…

...while only a small number of expert scientists reject climate change consensus, there is a much more complex web of individuals and organizations that make up, and work to promote, contrarian efforts that use these expert and non-expert rejections to bolster their claims.

Other points made by the writers:

  • A total of 93 per cent of the climate change contrarians on the list were male.
  • 87 per cent of individuals on the list (for which data were available) were born prior to 1957, making most contrarians sixty-five years of age or older.
  • Almost none of the individuals who signed the documents have a degree directly related to climate science. In fact, less than 1 per cent of the individuals in the sample have a degree deemed relevant to climate science.
  • A total of 82 per cent of all individuals in our dataset, including 100 per cent of individuals deemed climate experts, have affiliations with industries and/or organizations involved in the climate change counter-movement (CCCM). Of the 82 per cent, we found:

(1) 69 per cent have affiliation(s) with conservative think tanks, conservative religious groups, and/or organized causes dedicated to the rejection of the climate consensus;

(2) 11 per cent have affiliation(s) with both think tanks/groups/causes and CCCM-related industries (for example, fossil fuel, mining, and utility companies); 

(3) another 2 per cent have affiliation(s) just with CCCM-related industries.

  • Individuals in the sample also represent a variety of other areas, many of which magnify contrarian efforts. The overlap of government, industry, conservative groups, and proponents of the free market…
  • …most anti-consensus papers remain widely available. Contrarian books are often not subject to peer review and are widely accessible; yet, both papers and books are regularly cited despite being refuted by much of the scientific community.
  • Others, including scientists with non-climate backgrounds, individuals who work in media, and politicians, support contrarian efforts. Together, this group can magnify arguments that reject the climate change consensus and, as a result, keep the debate on the climate consensus alive.
  • Neoliberalism emerged as a driving force to oppose government oversight and regulation.
  • Conservative foundations, think tanks, and leaders mobilized to challenge the legitimacy of climate change problems and thus undercut the need for government action to deal with them.
  • Corporate foundations (for example, ExxonMobil and Koch), in particular, continuously use free-market ideology to work against the mainstream climate consensus
  • Organizations organize marketing campaigns that focus on the production of academic publications that present research biased toward the neoliberal agenda.
  • Financial support, provided both directly to researchers and to institutions via think tanks, also flow to academics pushing research slanted toward neoliberal ideas.
  • Funding to universities in exchange for substantial say in curricula and hiring practices, such as in the case of Koch, is another way in which these organizations seek to influence.
  • Policy makers use these experts’ and non-experts’ publications and official positions to justify inaction and confuse the public when it comes to climate change.
  • Academic consensus on climate change must compete with a well-crafted machine meant to confuse science and sway the political rhetoric in its favor.

The paper concludes by quoting Greta Thunberg, at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 2019:

I want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.

1 Young, L., & Fitz, E. (2021). Who are the 3 Per Cent? The Connections Among Climate Change Contrarians. British Journal of Political Science, 1-20.

Categories: Climate Change

9 replies »

  1. Send to every politician.
    This needs to be on mainstream media.
    The “silent” majority need to get angry.


  2. Not to be outdone, British Columbia boasts a world-class contrarian with regard to climate change and other matters.

    Michael Mann, in his recent book “The New Climate War” calls BC’s Patrick Moore a “denier for hire”, and writes “Moore is perhaps most famous for saying that the Monsanto-produced weed killer glysophate was safe enough that ‘you can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you.’ When presented with a cup of it during a live interview, he refused to drink it and stormed off the set.”

    George Monbiot is no fan of Mr. Moore either:

    “So what do you do if your brand is turning toxic? You hire the Canadian public relations consultant Patrick Moore. Moore runs a company based in Vancouver called Greenspirit Strategies, which has developed ‘sustainability messaging’ for logging, mining, lead-smelting, nuclear, biotech, fish-farming and plastics companies. He is a clever rhetorician, skilled at turning an argument round. He is seen by some environmentalists as the most brazen of the spin doctors they face.”

    I recall an example closer to home. Rafe Mair once took a two-week vacation from his radio show, and his producer Shiral Tobin was left to fill in while he was away. One morning she opened up and announced that she was going to be naughty. Rafe had left specific instruction that Patrick Moore was under no circumstance to be invited on as a guest. Rafe was fed up with Moore’s arguments in favour of open-net fish farming, a practice Rafe loathed. She had booked Moore anyway.

    Ms. Tobin, a very skilled producer and capable on-air host, quickly discovered why Rafe had banned him, and the accuracy of the last two sentences of the Monbiot quote above. Moore took over the interview and ranted his spin for virtually the entire block while she got in the very occasional, “but…,but…”. The lesson she learned that morning wasn’t about fish farming.

    It was about the dangers of contrarianism.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Oh, our house is on fire, but the politicians want to win elections and elections are based on jobs and economy for the next election cycle.

    Thus the politicians act a s shills for corporations and unions to get the jobs and to hell with everything else.

    I hate to be repetitive but ………..

    Currently the province and metro Vancouver is building a $2.8 billion, 5.8 km (will be $3.5 billion in the end) subway on route with nowhere near the the ridership to sustain it. Subways do not attract ridership.


    The the Expo line is being extended 16 km to Langley, with a budgeted cost of $3.95 billion, which is currently $1 billion under funded. The total cost may increase past $4.5 billion, due to the swampy nature of the Serpentine Valley, meaning that the Expo Line extension may cost $4.5 billion or more. As there is no more money, this project is effectively stalled.

    If we take the budged money $2.8 billion and $3.95 billion (a total of $6.75 billion), we could instead build a $1.3 billion, 130 km Vancouver to Chilliwack train service, using the former BC Electric route servicing scores of destinations; spend $1.5 billion to rehab 230 km of the E&N to provide a modern regional railway connecting Victoria to Nanaimo/Courteny and Port Alberni; and build a $1.5 billion European style tramway connecting BCIT yo UBC and Stanley Park and still have $2.85 billion left over to improve transit in the rest of the province.

    But no, it is SkyTrain, simply because the patent holders for the proprietary railway, Bombardier Inc. and SNC Lavalin made it so.

    Now Alstom owns the damn thing and from what I hear, TransLink is lobbying hard to keep them from abandoning the proprietary railway altogether.

    Our house is on fire but photo-ops in a subway or by a pylon is far more important than building a viable alternative to the car.


    • It would be beyond fiscal sanity to rebuild any part of the E&N Railbed north of Duncan. We don’t have the population, and a more efficient route would have to be designed and built in order to make rail travel worthwhile.
      Turn the railbed from Courtenay to Duncan to a trail. It would be good for tourism.


      • Dennis, actually there is the population to support a rail service on the island and now in the day of $2.00 a litre for gas, more so than ever.

        What has not been brought to the debate is modern railway infrastructure like Hydrogen powered trains and light articulated EMU’s, designed for the present track geometry.

        What we have here is a “rails to Trail’s group not being quite honest about rail.

        Our house is on fire and one of the most powerful tools in attracting the motorist from the car, is a train/tram (rail) is being reduced to a trail?


      • It would be better for the enviornment if the railway were rebuilt. As to not having the population, guess you don’t look at the inland highway much. My house over looks it and the amount of traffic is considerable, especially large container trucks. They run 24/7. Having a train would take them off the road NOW.

        The population on Vancouver Island is growing and growing fast. The number of people who commute from the Comox Valley to Nanaimo and from Nanaimo to Victoria each day is considerable. It may come as a surprise, but there are traffic jams at the lights on the Inland Highway.

        Right now land is still available and not as expensive as it will be in the future. It would be better all round if that railway were rebuilt in the next few years. Once upon a time, I was a kid and they built the highway from Vancouver to Hope, two lanes each way. Many didn’t think it was necessary. Today it looks like Kingsway in rush hour.

        You don’t always build when its too late, if you’re going to have an effecient and effective transportation system, you build in advance. You grow into it.

        When I moved to Richmond in 1953 there wasn’t much there but farm land. Today its wall to wall buildings and the bridges are jammed. When we were kids people went on vacation where today people live and commute to work in Vancouver. Traffic jams every where. That is what Vancouver Island will look like with in 20 yrs. Eighty percent of private land on Vancouver Island is held by one company. They’ve logged it, so the next thing will be they’ll sell it for vacation homes and new town centers. Have a look at Langford. Apartment buildings are going up hand over fist in Nanaimo and the Comox Valley. We need a railway on Vancouver Island from Victoria to at least Campbell River.


        • Thank you.

          Actually the rail debate for the E&N have not articulated the case very well as they get bogged down with high speed rail or even the hyperloop.

          Politicians love “rails to trails” because it is cheap and photo-op ready at election time.

          As the NDP forced through the island highway and continue the heavy subsidies for truck carrying freight in the province any thought of reducing truck use on our highways is gone.

          The Lytton fire fiasco , where everyone blamed the train and still do, despite Transport Canada’s investigation found no basis to the claim.

          Commercial trucks cause far more environmental problems than many think and continuing huge subsidies for truckers so they can carry freight by train is like throw gas on our house that is on fire.

          The well choreographed environmentalists tend to ignore much simpler solutions for for more controversial and media attention getting issues.

          Dramatic change must take place in the country but with our small population, we must think smart, which as recent events have shown we do not.

          Profit is the name of the game, until the world becomes a cinder.


  4. There are a small number of IPCC scientists mulling over the idea of going on strike. Their reasoning is, if after 26 climate summits, the pols still haven’t grasped the perilous urgency that looms over humanity and most other life on Earth, what is the point of toiling for another year to generate new reports that will make a small splash and then be flushed down the Memory Hole in a week or less?

    I recently had an email exchange with Camilo Mora who runs a climate lab at U. Hawaii. Almost a decade ago his group analyzed a mountain of research papers and concluded that, in the first half of this decade, Earth would begin to experience a new climate paradigm they named “climate departure.” Post-departure, normal temperature variations experienced during the Holocene would end. Every year post-departure would be hotter than the hottest year pre-departure. Some parts of Central America and the Caribbean could become only seasonally habitable.

    Departure would begin in equatorial/tropical regions around 2023. It would gradually spread poleward reaching Vancouver around 2047. We can expect a climate something like Los Angeles by mid-century.

    After the summer and fall that we endured last year it’s difficult to dismiss this theory. We’ll know soon enough.


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