Thursday, April 29, 2021

Creating Doubt and Delay

Have you ever heard that 90-some percent of climatologists or climate scientists agree that climate change is human-caused, and then thought to yourself, I wonder who those outliers are? 

I've figured it sometimes had to do with who was paying for their research, but I held out the possibility that some of it was pure contrarianism. I guess I still do a bit.

But after reading this thread from Ben Franta, I think the money has more to do with it. Franta got a Ph.D. in applied physics and then changed his mind to pursue a second Ph.D. in history of science, working on the history of climate politics and the role of science in policy-making. According to his bio on ClimateOne,

Franta is also an Associate at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, where he earned a PhD in Applied Physics. While at Harvard, he was also a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government.

Here's what he thinks is going on with those contrarians:

Something wildly under-appreciated is that climate is a tightly controlled field. A handful of “climate gurus,” often funded by the oil industry itself, dictate the climate education for many future leaders in elite universities. This promotes intellectual and ideological homogeneity, often in the fossil fuel industry’s favor.

For instance, at Harvard, where I helped to teach the College’s primary climate change course twice, I (and countless other students) were taught that:
  1. Climate change is a “wickedly complex” problem and essentially unsolvable
  2. Solar and wind are incapable of replacing fossil fuels in the foreseeable future
  3. Carbon pricing is the only policy that makes sense — and is unworkable at anything less than a global scale
Moreover, we learned nothing about political obstruction, lobbying or decades of disinformation from the fossil fuel industry. I learned of the politics of climate change from the divestment movement — a group actively opposed and marginalized by many of Harvard’s “climate gurus.”

This sort of consolidation of power in a small number of gurus is improper.

For one, it confuses expertise in one aspect of a field for expertise in all of it. Being an expert in paleo-climate or ground hydrology doesn’t make one an expert in politics or history, or instance. Second, one disciplinary perspective alone cannot solve the problem. When a small number of “climate gurus” are in charge of education (gurus who, again, are often dependent on Big Oil’s approval for funding), students miss out on important ways to understand the climate crisis.

Thankfully this is beginning to change as a greater range of researchers (especially social scientists) move their attention to climate change, not a moment too soon. Still, we should be aware of how climate has been deeply influenced, by individuals and companies, for many years.

I learned a lot from that. In a way it's not surprising (big corporations pay things at the Ivy Leagues! who knew!) but the specifics are still revealing of the mechanisms of how things work.

No comments: