Yet when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative–See! The global warming story is falling apart!–to be reinforced by the media. It doesn’t matter that their alternative theories are based on demonstrably false claims, as they are with all the leading “thinkers” in this movement. Look at the Australian geologist Ian Plimer, whose denialism is built on the claim that volcanoes produce more CO2 than humans, even though the US Geological Survey has shown they produce 130 times less. Or Sunday Telegraph columnist Christopher Booker, who says the Arctic sea ice can’t be retreating because each year it comes back a little… in winter.
That is the problem we face in clearly communicating the science. If climate scientists make just one mistake (even one that means that the effects of climate change will be worse), it is taken as proof that global warming is a sham.
Deniers, on the other hand, present a stream of demonstrable false, even contradictory claims, and yet the get a pass in the media. Not only that they continue to repeated falsehoods long after they have been refuted. They have zero accountability for the claims they make, and the media not only gives them a pass, but presents their contradictory talking points them as a genuine alternative ‘in the debate”.
To give these contrarians equal time or space in public discourse on climate change out of a sense of need for journalistic “balance” is as indefensible as, say, granting the Flat Earth Society an equal say with NASA in the design of a new space satellite. It’s plainly inappropriate. But it stubbornly persists nonetheless.
This false balance is not only reprehensible, it represents a serious impediment in our ability to create effective policy to deal with real problems in areas where there are vested special interests opposed to such policy. The question is how do we overcome it?