Guest Columnist Juliana Merullo: No room for climate denial

  • Close-up of a climate change installation at the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Sunday, Oct. 31, 2021. AP

Published: 1/3/2022 4:36:46 PM
Modified: 1/3/2022 4:36:06 PM

When considering what kind of news and information we expect from our newspapers, I would hope we can agree that certain basic facts need not be disputed in every article.

In his recent opinion piece, “Another viewpoint on climate change,” Bob Couch laments the fact that only “one side” of the subject of climate change has been presented, stripping readers of the supposed controversy surrounding the issue. Unfortunately, I strongly disagree with Mr. Couch, and in writing this column, I hope to strip him of the opportunity to lay out false statements under the guise of a healthy debate on what is in fact a closed case.

As social scientists Bob Brulle and Riley Dunlap have shown in their study on the matter, opinion columnists have become a prominent voice in the climate denial machine, able to spew misinformation without journalistic integrity or peer review. Mr. Couch has fallen into this trap, as any amount of research into his sources easily demonstrates.

He begins by citing a “Robert L. Stott,” an atmospheric scientist, who in fact doesn’t exist. The quote Mr. Couch used is instead attributed to Philip Stott, a biogeographer from England who teaches in the University of London’s school of Oriental and African Studies, and who has never published a paper on climate change. He does, to his credit, sit on the board of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, which despite its name, is nonetheless a prominent UK climate change denial think tank, with its own problematic history.

Although it claims to be an “educational charity,” it was forced to create an offshoot, the “Global Warming Policy Forum,” now “NetZero Watch,” as it was found to be promoting political, rather than educational, information. An investigation by the Guardian into the GWPF’s finances found that they refuse to disclose who is funding their operations, which should make us question the reliability of their reports.

Furthermore, a group of 70 scientists recently penned a letter to a charity watchdog asking that the GWPF be stripped of their charity designation because of their role in spreading and creating climate misinformation.

Beyond just Stott, Mr. Couch also puts false faith in Dr. Steven Koonin’s recent book, “Unsettled,” which has itself been criticized for gross manipulation of the facts on climate change. Koonin served as the chief scientist for fossil fuel giant BP between 2004-2009, but his climate skepticism didn’t end there. Like much of “Unsettled,” Koonin’s research pulls from the IPCC report from 2013-14. The newest report, released this August, has unequivocally strengthened previous findings that humans cause climate change, and are responsible for the rise in extreme weather events, now calling this “an established fact.”

In his column, Mr. Couch covers a variety of Koonin’s findings, and says that the IPCC is too full of scientific jargon to be understandable. Actually, all that was needed was a simple word search to disprove all of Mr. Couch’s arguments of climate skepticism. For example, Couch denies that the frequency and intensity of heat waves, hurricanes, and forest fires are a result of human caused global warming: in reality, the report states there is “high confidence” that both heat waves and rainfall from hurricanes can be attributed to anthropogenic (human caused) climate change (Technical Summary, pg 49, ch. 8 pg. 56); the last five years (obviously not included in the 2014 report) have been by far the hottest on record; and CO2 emissions based forest fires were higher than average in 2020 (TS Chapter 6, pg 75).

It’s true that the IPCC is full of scientific jargon: that’s because it’s a comprehensive analysis written by scientists who devote their lives to poring over climate change research, unlike most of us. However, that isn’t to say that we can simply cast aside the results and ignore what is now not just scientific consensus, but physical evidence happening both at home and across the country every day.

As for the media’s coverage of this issue: it’s true that there should be some room for debate around climate change, yet these discussions should be about proposed solutions, not whether or not it’s anthropogenic. Local media certainly has a role to play in this, and I, similarly to Mr. Couch, am encouraged by the Gazette’s new efforts to explore how climate change is affecting our community.

This problem is very real, it is very dangerous, and it is not only a problem for future generations, but ours as well. Misinformation is not a solution.

Juliana Merullo, Brown University Class of 2024, is a Willismburg resident.

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