Bart Sibrel is a moon landing denier who was once punched in the face by a man who landed on the moon. After cornering Buzz Aldrin with a camera crew in 2002, Sibrel demanded Aldrin swear on the Bible that he had walked on the moon and then accused him of being a coward, a liar and a thief. At this point Aldrin, who was in his 70s, landed a solid right. The response from the public was a shrug and grin as it was hard not to sympathize with Aldrin. Sibrel is now a filmmaker who also writes for “Brother Bart’s Conspiracy Corner.”
James Inhofe is a climate denier who authored The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Theory Threatens Your Future. He has compared the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to a Soviet style trial, the Environmental Protection Agency to the Gestapo and asked for criminal investigations of prominent climate scientists. When pressed by a reporter on who was leading the international climate change conspiracy, Inhofe pointed to liberal elites and more specifically, Barbra Streisand. Senator James Inhofe is now the chair of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
Inhofe’s considerable authority is one of many indicators that climate deniers are the most powerful conspiracy theorists in America. You may be able to pull up JFK or a 9/11 Truther documentary on Netflix, but Oliver Stone has never been asked to oversee the Secret Service, and a 9/11 Truther has yet to be appointed head of homeland security.
The Jade Helm 15 conspiracy theorists may have been able to convince Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to shoot his political career in the foot by indulging their paranoia, but their influence pales in comparison to climate deniers. Climate change deniers not only dominate both chambers of Congress, but numerous statehouses, the Republican Party, Fox News and much of AM radio. Following their party’s dominance of the 2014 election, 49 Republican Senators voted against an amendment stating that “climate change is real and human activity significantly contributes to climate change.”
Fossil fuel dollars have helped make climate deniers the best-funded conspiracy theorists in America. The Koch brothers’ network alone is going to spend $900 million in the 2016 election cycle, which is about as much as either party will spend on their own. Much of this money will go to climate deniers. If the petroleum-profiting Koch brothers and their $900 million wanted a carbon tax, we would likely have a carbon tax. If they wanted a congressional investigation into Area 51, New Mexico would likely play host to a new batch of very high-powered UFO enthusiasts.
Money is only part of the story. There is also the growing conviction that more government equals less freedom. This is problematic for anyone who wants to do anything significant about climate change as the math requires more than bringing your own bag to the grocery store. Cap and trade policies, carbon taxes or other government policies that demand systematic changes will need to happen if we want to maintain anything close to the climate we have now.
If government is the problem, how do you accept an issue like climate change where not only is government regulation necessary, but multinational agreements and regulations are required? The answer is you probably don’t. This is especially true when the same people pushing for environment regulations are not on your political team.
Whether it is to protect your profit margins, your political ideology, or both, the goal of powerful climate deniers is the same: to block government regulations. In order to do this successfully, though, you have to deal with the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists are convinced that our greenhouse gases emissions really are altering the planet’s temperatures.
Climate deniers have responded to scientific consensus by pretending there is no consensus, by arguing that climate scientists have somehow all done the math wrong, and also by accusing climate scientists of conspiring to commit fraud.
What could drive scientists to fabricate reports and push alarmist rhetoric? The two motives most commonly cited appear to be the corrupting effect of research dollars or a big government socialist agenda. As Rush Limbaugh put it, “The Left Relentlessly Pushes Climate Hoax in All-Out Assault on Capitalism.”
Powerful climate deniers have responded to this perceived assault on freedom with vigor. They have hacked into climate scientists’ emails and released them on the web, consistently cherry picked and distorted data to dispute their work, hounded scientists who work for public universities with FOIA requests, and attempted to damage the careers of prominent scientists by hurling false accusations of fraud in places such as the Wall Street Journal Op-ed page and the floor of the United States Senate.
Climate deniers have also worked to establish their own experts. The “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” or NIPCC was created in response to the “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” or IPCC. The difference is that the NIPCC is closely aligned with the conservative think tank the Heartland Institute, which put up billboards in Chicago comparing climate change advocates to the Unabomber. The IPCC (aka the Nobel Prize Winners) works with the United Nations and is made up of the world’s preeminent climate scientists.
It is tough to know which science attackers spread false information because they are true believers and which lie for money. Either way, their attacks have hit home in America’s sharply divided media landscape. The support of conservative media outlets and evenhanded paralysis of mainstream media is compounded by the fact that this issue is split so clearly down party lines.
There is a great irony to climate deniers: the more power they achieve, the shorter their political lifespan will ultimately be. Climate deniers may be the most powerful conspiracy theorists in American history, but they are also the only ones who are guaranteed to have their theory proven right or wrong. Climate denial doesn’t hinge on classified documents being released or new witnesses coming forward.
Climate denial hinges on whether the 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide humans emit into the atmosphere each year will actually trap heat (or at least enough to be problematic). The laws of physics are going to definitively answer this question. Unfortunately, the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere just doesn’t care about talking points, electoral votes, or my cute and innocent kids. CO2 and the other greenhouse gases we emit each day are just going to go on trapping heat with ruthless indifference.
The more successful climate deniers are in blocking legislation aimed at reducing carbon emissions, the sooner their theory will be cast aside. Moon landing deniers can go on disputing NASA claims for as long as they want, and short of someone forcibly landing them on the moon next to the American flag, their conspiracy theory will remain intact. Climate denial has no such indefinite future.
At our current emissions pace, by 2050 New York City summers will make Manhattan feel a lot like Alabama while a foot and half of sea level rise will begin gobbling up neighborhoods. This is just the beginning. Climate change also brings more floods, more refugees, more forest fires, more droughts, more mosquitoes and thus more disease. It also means less fresh water and less food, which together will generate more conflict.
The best hope for the long-term prospects of the climate denial theory is for voters to deprive deniers of credibility before the weather does. Our window to act on climate change is closing and if we continue at our current pace, being a climate denier will soon be a little bit like being a smog denier in Beijing.
However, if we start putting our energy behind the innovation, policies, new technologies and cultural changes necessary to protect our planet, there is no telling what is possible. The prospects of unmitigated climate change are dire, but it is important not to underestimate the problem-solving abilities of human beings, and Americans in particular. After all, we did land on the fucking moon.
Mark Mesle: Sweaty Soldier