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Cavorting with Climate Deniers

May 22, 2012|Stephen Markley

Lucky for Chicago, we are home to the Heartland Institute, a right-wing think-tank that expends most of its effort attempting to "debunk" global warming, and this week they held the seventh International Conference on Climate Change, which they acronymize as the ICCC7, as if coming close to the initials of the U.N.'s IPCC will lend the endeavor some credibility.

This is a special climate denialism conference, however, because Heartland has come under intense, withering criticism for its billboard ads comparing people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber, Charles Manson, Osama bin Laden and other not-so-popular dudes. Many in the media and scientific community cried foul over this, but I kind of loved it. If you're going to go ahead and make a totally batshit crazy statement based on lies and obfuscation, you might as well go full-tilt boogie, right?

After scoring my media pass, I'm spending two days listening to speakers and panels, but I admit I'm disappointed that the tired, disingenuous and often untrue arguments being presented are the same old ones that have been kicking around since fossil fuel companies realized they'd be in serious, neck-deep shit if the government ever got it together enough to penalize carbon dioxide emissions.

In other words, I wanted someone to actually stand up and compare me to Teddy Kazsynski.

It's not that any of the arguments put forth need rebuttal. Rock star global warming denier Lord Christopher Monckton of Brenchley trotted out the endlessly debunked claim that there has been no global warming since 1998. There has been no shortage of scientists laughing/ tearing their hair out every time this falsehood gets repeated, yet it still garnered knowing nods and applause from the crowd (Lord Monckton himself received a standing ovation and the old white people, who made up 97% of the audience, took pictures like Bieber had just crashed into the Chicago Hilton's Intercontinental ballroom; you can also find Monckton next to the dictionary definition of "tin god").

Yet as a sociological study, this conference is something that warrants observation. After all, no matter how much evidence overwhelms the denialists, no matter how many rebuttals the scientific community posts, no matter how many studies affirm we are going through man-made, potentially catastrophic climate change, it remains an unfortunate fact that a major American political party has completely stuffed its head up its own ass in regards to the greatest existential threat of our age.

As author Chris Mooney pointed out, as long as a price on carbon remains elusive for policymakers, there will be denialists attempting to protect fossil fuel companies, utilities, and others who get to reap a profit while the world burns.

What has impressed me so far about the Heartland conference, though, is just what a jolly good time these people are having. It's such a self-contained world that at different points all the panelists become moderators and the moderators are later panelists and the speakers sit in the audience and lob all the questions until the panelists become speakers and moderators become panelists once again.

A grand right-wing circle jerk if ever there was one.

This is entirely because the brass it takes to deny what is happening to our climate makes--within certain circles--a minor celebrity out of all of these people.

The argument they proffer is so schizophrenic it's often hard to follow, and speakers, moderators, and panelists often trip over each other in explaining away the overwhelming evidence of anthropogenic climate change. As a corollary to the Markley Doctrine of Global Warming Denialism, here is the denialist argument as best I can summarize after sitting through the festivities:

"Global warming isn't happening, but if it is happening it's a natural cycle, and even if it is happening and it is man-made, well, it will actually help plants grow because that's what plants breathe--CO2, you can look it up--and even if it is happening and it is man-made and it won't be beneficial, well, it won't be that bad and it will cost less to just adapt because spending all that money to stop using fossil fuels will just be too hard, and by the way, alternative energy sources aren't as good as enviros are promising, plus scientists are all alarmists so they can get funding for their studies, and the wind turbine lobby is influencing energy policy (but not coal, oil, natural gas, or nuclear)--either that or there's an international Marxist conspiracy to impose socialist policies and end American capitalism."

Rest assured, I am not exaggerating.

After the end of last night's speakers, I had a drink with the few reporters who'd actually shown up to cover this. As one of them joked, it seems as though the free market has spoken in terms Heartland funding and people who will pay attention to their particular form of tired nonsense. We kind of meandered our way to this consensus of a thought: The best rhetorical argument of the do-nothing-on-climate crowd is that there is enough scientific uncertainty about the effects of climate change that we should wait and see. This is a common (albeit weak) stance. Yet that is not what this crowd or the speakers were about. This was as intensely ideological an event as you could imagine, including Birther sentiments, and clearly and never far from the vein of the now-infamous billboards.

Strangely, as the science becomes beyond dispute that action must be taken, as the small space for this crowd dwindles, the political space for denialism only expands.

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