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Climate Change: 200 Years of Denial

Climate Change: 200 Years of Denial


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By Luciano Andrés Valencia

Therefore, it is not surprising that the first debate on the subject took place early in the late 18th century. Thomas Jefferson, who participated as representative of the State of Virginia in the Declaration of Independence of the United States (1776) and later was the 3rd president of the country between 1801 and 1809, published in 1799, while serving as vice president, a book titled Notes on the State of Virginia. There he published the results of the climatic measurements that he had been carrying out since the year of the Declaration of Independence, recording all kinds of weather phenomena and anomalies. Thus he came to the conclusion that “there is a noticeable change in the climate. Winters are much more moderate. Snows are less frequent and less abundant. They are often not found below the mountains for more than a day or two, and very rarely a week. Elders tell me that the land used to be covered in snow about three months a year and rivers that rarely freeze in winter almost never freeze now. This change has produced fluctuations between hot and cold, in the spring of this year, which is fatal for the fruits ”(1).

From the newly created Connecticut Academy of Arts and Sciences, journalistic editor and textbook writer Noah Webster responded to Vice President Jefferson that his measurements were not valid because of the dubious accuracy of the thermometers, having been taken by a single person in specific places, and for relying on popular beliefs. He agreed that clearing forests to farmland had produced a windier microclimate, but the fact that less snow accumulated on cleared land did not mean that less snow was falling than the national average.

Webster denied that human action was causing climate change, and his speech eventually prevailed for 150 years. In 1904, the Swede Svante Arrhenius predicted climate change as a consequence of the concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, but attributed beneficial consequences to it, since it would create a more uniform planetary climate and stimulate plant growth and the production of foods. In 1938, the British Guy Steward Callender disagreed with Arrhenius's optimism, but did not find an echo in the scientific community convinced that the great mass of water that occupies two thirds of the planet would act as a regulatory system due to its absorbing capacity for CO2 (2).

In 1958 the American Charles David Keeling installed a meteorological station on Mount Mauna Loa (Hawaii) to monitor the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere. That year the levels were around 316 particles per million (ppm), above the 280 registered at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. This meant that from the end of the 18th century to the middle of the 20th century, the planet's temperature had increased by an average of 0.5º, which represented serious consequences for some regions.

Starting in the 1970s, the problem of Climate Change began to be debated in different forums. In 1977 the American Roger Revelle headed a panel at the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, which found that 40% of the CO2 produced by human action remains in the atmosphere. Two thirds of this CO2 is the result of the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil), while one third comes from cutting down forests. The forecast was grim: if global warming continued, the increase in temperature would cause the glaciers to melt, causing flooding and rising sea levels. In 1988 the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environment Program created the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

But as soon as the problem of Climate Change began to be debated in the scientific community and international forums, a whole “industry of denial” emerged interested in positioning this issue as a theory rather than as a fact. Oil, automotive, metallurgical corporations and public service companies - which are mainly responsible for the increase in temperature we are experiencing - created pressure groups such as the Global Climate Coalition and the Council for Environmental Information, which quickly hired scientists and specialists in public relations to convince journalists, governments and the general public that the risks of climate change are too inaccurate to justify regulatory policies on greenhouse gases. Annually these companies spend billions of dollars in denial campaigns of Climate Change and Global Warming. They are reminiscent of those adopted by the tobacco lobby after scientific studies began to be published that proved that smoking caused cancer. In fact, we can see a great similarity between the language used by Phillip Morris and the climate lobby, labeling as "junk science" those who disseminate results different from theirs to those who qualify as "solid science". A report published by The Guardian points out that “these organizations have a coherent line on climate change: that science is contradictory, scientists are divided, environmentalists are charlatans, liars or crazy, and if governments will take measures to avoid global warming. They would be endangering the world economy for no good reason ”(3). The strategies used by these groups vary from using a selection of truthful data - such as the cooling of the troposphere - to generalize them to the entire phenomenon, to the dissemination of false or outdated data. In 2005 an investigation revealed that the British oil company Exxon Mobil financed a group of researchers to produce reports that minimize the effects of Climate Change. Among the recipients would be the British scientific organization Scientific Alliance and the American George C. Marshall Institute. Both published in January of that year a report that downplayed Climate Change (4). This company is one of the companies that currently invests more money in denial campaigns.

Other major donors are brothers Charles and David Koch, owners of Koch Industries, which are active in the oil, paper and chemical business in more than 60 countries. This company has several complaints in the United States for oil spills and discharge of cancerous chemicals into rivers. In 2010 Greenpeace published a report in which it proved that this company had donated $ 24,888,282 to organizations such as American for Prosperity, Fraser Institute, Independence Institute, American for Tax Reform or the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies, which oppose the recognition of the climate change, progressive tax reforms or the universalization of public health (5). In 2013, Professor Robert Brulle, from Drexel University, published research in which he identifies a very well organized denial movement that is supported by 118 entities and has a budget of $ 1 billion. Donors include Exxon, along with other “non-profit” corporations and entities linked to conservative causes such as the foundations of the Republican Party and the Tea Party of the United States (6).

In April 2007 the United States Supreme Court reprimanded the George W. Bush administration for failing to regulate greenhouse gases, two months after Vice President Dick Cheney declared that "conflicting views remain about the magnitude of the human contribution to the problem (of climate change) ”. The connections between the then vice president with the energy lobby that includes Exxon, Conoco, British Petroleum and Shell, among others, are known. These have influenced the United States to systematically reject the Kyoto Protocol, approved in 1997, to limit CO2 emissions into the atmosphere. The same corporations - along with industries from another sector such as Germany's Bayer and Basf - are those that finance the campaigns of US politicians from both major parties (the Democrat and the Republican) who deny climate change.

But in addition to the energy sector, there are other industries interested in denying climate change due to the economic benefits it would bring. Policyholders could increase their profits with the increase in socio-natural disasters that are going to increase in the coming years. Construction companies would benefit from building disaster-adapted houses with energy-saving systems. Increasingly frequent droughts in vast areas of the planet would be a boon for water companies that obtain the concession to transfer an increasingly scarce resource, while large agricultural companies (Monsanto, Cargill, DuPont, Syngenta) could sell crops transgenic resistant to temperature changes and new pests. There are also business groups that speculate on the disappearance of species, such as the ivory hoarders who wait for the extinction of the elephants to raise the price of the product. These companies even use arguments from the left or progressivism, such as that they want to prevent poor countries from using fossil fuels while competing with developed ones, that they want to obtain illicit profits through carbon taxes, or that it is another a way to trigger a "mass hysteria" to justify repressive policies or social control. (7). However, we must not fall into the trap, since those who spread these arguments are not interested in defending human rights, individual freedoms or social justice, but the profits of exploiting and polluting capitalist companies.


It seems that the denial campaign has been reaping good results. In 2010, numerous sociological studies were published showing that the percentage of people who deny Climate Change in Western countries has increased in recent years. According to a survey conducted by Yale University, the number of deniers in the United States doubled in two years to 20%. In Great Britain, that same year, 78% of respondents answered affirmatively to the question "Do you think the climate is changing?" compared to 15% who responded negatively, while in 2005 the figures had been 91 and 4% respectively. When faced with a similar question in Germany, the country of an important environmental movement, only 66% answered affirmatively compared to 33% who denied it (8).

But while lobbyists continue to deny, the rest of the world suffers the effects of climate change. In 2003, the World Bank, whom no one can accuse of environmentalist or progressive sympathies, recognized that 150,000 people died annually as a result of the climate crisis. Since then, that number has increased as a result of the multiplication of climatic disasters: Hurricane Katrina that hit New Orleans in 2005, the forest fires in Australia and Bolivia in 2010, the flood in Burma that same year, the drought in Somalia. killed 100,000 people in 2011, the various floods that occurred in Argentina between 2007 and 2013, and the recent Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines that in December 2013 caused the death of 10,000 people, are an example of the consequences we are experiencing .

The victims of this brutal crime of capitalism against the planet are mostly poor, and the survivors are left in a situation of want and helplessness that quickly turns them into marginalized or desperate labor that is easily exploitable.

On May 9, 2013, the figure of 400 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere was exceeded and, in the words of Renán Vega Cantor, humanity “takes a leap into the unknown, to a point of no return” (9). The little media coverage of this news shows the power that the deniers have in the mainstream media. At the same time, capitalism continues to encourage the production and consumption of fictitious “needs” created for profit, the exploitation of minerals and fossil fuels with increasingly polluting techniques (open pit mining, hydrofracturing or fracking, use of cyanide, exploitations on the seabed), forest clearing, meat consumption, and intensive agriculture with pesticides and GMOs. Ultimately, the denial of climate change aims to save the capitalist system that produced it. Unlike what some environmental movements, environmentalists or followers of Al Gore maintain, it is not possible to think of a “green capitalism”. The permanent profit motive of the system necessarily leads to the depredation of ecosystems, and respect for the cycles of nature would generate an increase in profits that the bourgeoisie is not willing to tolerate. As capitalism is the culprit of Climate Change, the loss of biodiversity and the depletion of common goods, the solution to environmental problems will not come from within.

The current fight against climate change and global warming necessarily implies undertaking a class struggle against the exploitative capitalist system of human beings and nature. Only through a new system based on solidarity and equality will we be able to carry out the conversion towards clean and renewable energy sources, a form of production that respects natural cycles, and a lifestyle that is not based on profit and excessive consumerism.

Notes: (1) Sanz, Javier; "In 1799 the first debate on Climate Change took place", in: Histories of History, www.historiasdelahistoria.com, October 23, 2011. (2) Delgado Castillo, Rolando and Perez Marchena, Rafaela; "Global warming and its consequences have been debated in the scientific community since the end of the 19th century", at: www.galeon.com/cienbas. (3) Monbiot. George; "The denial industry", in: The Guardian, September 19, 2006. (4) Mehler; "Exxon for scientists to downplay Climate Change", in: Rebelión, www.rebelion.org, February 1, 2005. (5) The Greenpeace report can be consulted; Koch Industries: the dark financing of climate denialism, at: http://www.greenpeace.org/espana/Global/espana/report/cambio_climatico/10042 1-2.pdf. (6) Valencia Restrepo, Darío; "Climate Change: evidence and denial", in: El Mundo, www.elmundo.com, December 27, 2013. (7) It is enough to put in the search engine "climate change fraud" to find hundreds of these arguments. (8) Heras Hernández, Fransisco; “Denialists, refractory and inconsistent. The difficult challenge of recognizing Climate Change ”, in: EcoPortal, https://www.ecoportal.net, March 21, 2012. (9) Vega Cantor, Renan; "The worst news of 2013: carbon levels exceed 400 ppm and humanity's leap into the unknown", in: Rebelion, www.rebelion.org, January 9, 2014.


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