What is Global Warming Conspiracy Theory?

Global warming is the gradual warming of the earth’s surface and atmosphere, which scientists in the International Panel for Climate Change, an organization overseen by the United Nations, have agreed is occuring and is primarily caused by human activity since the 19th century.[1] During global warming, certain greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere, such as carbon dioxide and methane, absorb and reflect the sun’s radiation onto the earth’s surface as heat. This process is known as the greenhouse effect. Scientific documentation shows that earth’s atmospheric temperature and the rate of greenhouse gas absorption has gradually increased since the 19th century.”Human activity” includes burning of fossil fuels, which has turned many politicians into climate change skeptics as the IPCC’s reports began to influence policy decisions and some public figures to develop conspiracy theories explaining the true cause of global warming. 

This module focuses on the general conspiracy theory that international government is responsible for manipulating or fabricating climate change research as a way to further control people’s lives. To gain an understanding of the specific arguments that global warming conspiracy theorists make, the following sections will present three figures that perpetuate the theory: S. Fred Singer, Nick Griffin and Alan Caruba. Their arguments encourage the idea that world leaders are manipulating climate change data in order to serve their own political interests and take away the public’s access to energy.

Dr. S. Fred Singer

singer
Singer uses scientific language and academic credibility to perpetuate global warming conspiracy.

Dr. S. Fred Singer founded the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP), which is a non-governmental program that rejects the IPCC’s research.[2] Singer earned his B.E.E. in Electrical Engineering at Ohio State University and his A.M. and Ph.D. in Physics at Princeton University. 

Singer published his own findings against climate change in “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate.” First, Singer acknowledges the truth that global warming is occurring, but states that the cause is nature, not human activity. In his report, Singer suggests that the “computer models” and “surface data” collected by the IPCC are unreliable because it is likely that they provided false data.[3] However, this raises the question: if the IPCC’s results are false, why hasn’t scientific review corrected them? The IPCC’s reports on climate change are an international scientific endeavor with reviews from scientists all over the world. When readers reach Singer’s evidence for why nature is primarily causing global warming instead of human activity, all of his evidence supports claims that just circle back to the fact that “computer models” that the IPCC produce false information. In these instances, Singer employs ambiguity in the term “computer models” and lacks sufficient evidence needed to discount global warming.

Another important part of Singer’s report is the appearance of some logical gaps in his brief history on the IPCC. For example, he mentions government-funded, expensive hotel visits that IPCC scientists took as a way to undermine their research’s conclusions. This evidence is an ad hominem logical fallacy, which attacks the person making a case (the IPCC) rather than the case itself.[4] Singer also falsely undermines the IPCC’s research by claiming that it was “produced by an inner core of scientists, and the SPMs are revised and agreed to, line-by-line, by representatives of member governments.”[5] However, he does not include a citation after this claim, leaving readers questioning who these inner scientists are and what their motivations are.

Singer’s organization, the SEPP, is funded by companies Exxon, Shell, Unocal, ARCO and the Heartland Institute, which may reflect certain motivations behind Singer’s report.[6] Exxon, Shell, Unocal and ARCO are all oil companies that have a vested interest in Singer’s scientific report because it scholarly language is usually associated with credibility and may influence policy decisions on energy regulation. The Heartland Institute conducts research to support policy decisions for the U.S. Congress and published Singer’s report  likely for similar reasons as the oil businesses.[7] Although the SEPP states on their website that they do not receive industry or government funding, sources like Exxonsecrets.org and The Conservative Transparency project have shown the contrary.[8] These funding sources may influence the SEPP and Singer’s perspectives against the IPCC’s conclusions on global warming. It’s important to note here that this module does not intend to attack institutions like The Heartland Institute for their ideologies, but rather for the idea that they encourage conspiracy theories to gain ground.

Nick Griffin

griffin
Griffin, British politician, has made public comments that directly call global warming a hoax and government conspiracy.

The next advocate of global warming conspiracy theory is Nick Griffin, former chairman of the British National Party and member of the European Parliament.[9] Griffin studied history and law at Downing College, Cambridge, and served as a member of the EP from 1999 to when the BNP expelled him in 2014 for causing tense division among politicians.

Griffin has made statements that claim global warming is a government-run conspiracy, or “hoax,” through multiple public media channels. Taken from an interview with a BBC Radio 5 Live Breakfast program, Griffin said, “I believe… global warming is essentially a hoax. It is being exploited by the liberal elite as a means of taxing and controlling us and the real crisis is peak oil. We’re running out of proper, real energy.”[10] In this statement, it’s clear that Griffin’s belief in global warming conspiracy theory is motivated by his political views, which in this case do not justify his thinking. Rather than using scientific evidence to support his claim that global warming is a false scientific theory, Griffin appeals to emotion, another logical fallacy.[11] Griffin attempts to scare listeners by falsely claiming that they are being controlled by a covert authority. As a result, he demonizes liberal politicians and elite members of society to produce an in versus out group effect between his listeners and climate change policy advocates. This “us versus them” mentality has been used in many propaganda campaigns and conspiracy theories because it make viewers feel united against a common enemy or toward a specific goal.[12] However, similar to Singer, Griffin raises questions that he does not answer, such as, why can’t he provide more specific information about this conspiracy?

This interview indicates that Griffin’s argument against global warming’s validity may stem more from political motivations than desire for scientific truth. As leader of the BNP, a conservative British political party, Griffin might be interested in helping conservative energy policy rather than seeking scientific truth. He does not focus on the IPCC’s reports or the scientific validity of global warming and instead makes the global warming conversation about politics. 

Alan Caruba

caruba
Caruba’s personal blog, “Warning Signs,” fabricates the government’s role in climate change research.

Last, Alan Caruba perpetuates global warming conspiracy theory in his online blogs and published books. His commentaries on global warming have been circulated by several online news and opinion websites and published in his book “Right Answers: Separating Fact from Fantasy” and a personal blog that he updates regularly called “Warning Signs.” Caruba is also a follower of The Heartland Institute, the policy research institute that published Dr. S. Fred Singer’s report, “Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate.”

In one of his posts on his blog “Warning Signs,” Caruba writes that President Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress are spreading lies about global warming in order to control people’s access to energy and policy decisions.[13] While it is true that President Obama and some members of Congress have supported politically liberal and energy-regulating policy, this does not necessarily mean that global warming is not a legitimate scientific concept. In another post, Caruba mentions a letter that the Union of Concerned Scientists (USC) wrote to the President that thanks him to his commitment to helping “climate change.”[14] Caruba argues that people cannot accept the concept climate change if it is not fully explained in this context. This argument falls into the personal incredulity logical fallacy since it implies that readers’ lack of understanding or unawareness of the term “climate change” means that the concept is false.[15] Readers can access the IPCC’s reports and reviews on the IPCC to understand what climate change is. However, Caruba’s post suggests that he is either unaware or dismissive of the scientific research put into global warming.

At the end of the same post, Caruba claims that President Obama supports climate change policy groups like the USC because he wants to bankrupt America and “deny it the production of the energy it needs as the weather gets colder.” Caruba’s statement makes a false claim that the President has some secret plan to bankrupt the entire country. It also raises a question that Caruba does not answer: if the President is behind this conspiracy to ruin the national economy, why hasn’t Congress (made of politicians both against and in favor of energy regulation policy) stopped him and what specific evidence can Caruba give for the President’s plan? This statement also demonizes President Obama as a malicious leader that disregards the nation’s well-being rather than focusing on the greater good of citizens. Like Griffin’s demonization of a liberal elite part of society, Caruba portrays the President and climate change policy-makers as “other” and self-serving, in contrast to the selfless, dedicated ideal expected in U.S. politicians.[16] 

Caruba’s arguments against global warming’s truth and climate change policy’s validity may reflect his political perspective more than his desire for scientific truth. The blog warning signs reflects global warming’s controversial presence in American politics and the divide between people with contrasting political perspectives.  

Conclusion

cartoon
Editorial illustration by J.F. Defreitas that depicts the various information channels that project their perspectives on scientific research, such as findings on climate change.

By the end of this module, readers can have a better understanding of why conspiracy theories have formed due to global warming’s controversial presence in politics. Although scientists of climate change aim to produce accurate, unbiased data, their research may be misrepresented or misunderstood by public figures because of motivations to shape the outcome of public policy. In order to distinguish global warming conspiracy from conservative arguments about energy, audiences should pay attention to sources’ backgrounds, including their sources of funding, past works and any discernable personal motivations for saying what they say. Global warming conspiracy theorists attempt to make their voices heard by incorporating flawed logic and rhetoric into their arguments that may be difficult to notice as people are flooded with so much information on a daily basis. When bombarded with so much information from the media, personal research and conversation, it’s important for people to take a step back now and then and assess the validity of the evidence people use to support their claims. Not only for recognizing conspiracy theory, but in making sense of any person’s argument.

References

[1] Bradford, A. (2014). What is Global Warming? Live Science. Retrieved from http://www.livescience.com/37003-global-warming.html.

[2] DeSmog. (2016). S. Fred Singer. DeSmog: Clearing the PR Pollution that Surrounds Climate Science. Retrieved from http://www.desmogblog.com/s-fred-singer.

[3] Singer, S. F. (2008). Nature, Not Human Activity, Rules the Climate. Science and Environmental Policy Project. Retrieved from http://www.sepp.org/science_papers/NIPCC_final.pdf.

[4] Richardson, J., A. Smith, S. Meaden, and Flip Creative. (2016). Thou Shalt Not Commit Logical Fallacies. Your Logical Fallacy Is. Retrieved from https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/.

[5] Singer, 2008.

[6] DeSmog. (2016). Science and Environmental Policy Project. DeSmog: Clearing the PR Pollution that Surrounds Climate Science. Retrieved from http://www.desmogblog.com/science-and-environmental-policy-project.

[7] DeSmog. (2016). The Heartland Institute. DeSmog: Clearing the PR Pollution that Surrounds Climate Science. Retrieved from http://www.desmogblog.com/heartland-institute.

[8] DeSmog. (2016). Science and Environmental Policy Project. DeSmog: Clearing the PR Pollution that Surrounds Climate Science. Retrieved from http://www.desmogblog.com/science-and-environmental-policy-project.

[9] Wigmore, T. (2016). What Killed the BNP? New Statesman. Retrieved from http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/staggers/2016/01/what-killed-bnp.

[10] Hickman, L. (2009). ‘Global warming is hoax’: the world according to Nick Griffin. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/blog/2009/jun/09/climate-change-oil.

[11] Richardson, 2016.

[12] Pratkanis, A. and E. Aronson. (1991). Emotional Appeals. In Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion (pp. 161-78). New York: WH Freeman and Company.

[13] Caruba, A. (2015, June 10). Skeptics Gather in D.C. Warning Signs. Retrieved from http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/.

[14] Caruba, A. (2014, January 6). Obama’s “Climate Change” Lies. Warning Signs. Retrieved from http://factsnotfantasy.blogspot.com/.

[15] Richardson, 2016.

[16] Pratkanis, A. and E. Aronson, 1991.

 

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