When science historians Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway published their 2010 book "Merchants of Doubt," they exposed how a small network of hired pundits and scientists delayed legislative action on issues ranging from tobacco to flame retardants to climate change for decades.
Five years later, a film based on the book is in theaters—and is as relevant as ever.
A small group of industry-funded scientists and commentators continue to sow doubt about the science of climate change in Congress and in the media. The oil and gas industry has poured millions of dollars into the communications strategy in an effort to continue America's reliance on fossil fuels and protect its billions in profits. Last month, the release of public documents showed that scientist Wei-Hock (Willie) Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics had accepted fossil fuel funds for publishing papers arguing that the sun is driving modern climate change, not mounting greenhouse gases. He also failed to disclose the funding in academic journals' conflict of interest statements.
ICN reporters Lisa Song and Zahra Hirji contributed to this story.
In the months before the debut of the new documentary film "Merchants of Doubt," long-time climate denialist Fred Singer contacted more than two dozen bloggers, public relations specialists and scientists asking for help in derailing the documentary’s release.
"Can I sue for damages?” Singer asked in an email last October. "Can we get an injunction against the documentary?"
Singer is one of the "merchants of doubt" identified in the documentary, as are a number of other recipients of his email. The documentary, released nationwide last week, exposes the small network of hired pundits and scientists helping to sow doubt about climate science and delay legislative action on global warming in the United States.
Singer's email became public earlier this week when it was leaked to journalists.
Many of those copied on the email thread, such as Singer and communications specialist Steven Milloy, have financial ties to the tobacco, chemical, and oil and gas industries and have worked to defend them since the 1990s. Others seem relatively new to the denialist camp, such as climate scientist Judith Curry. All, however, have been vocal before Congress, on broadcast news or on the Internet in arguing that human activity is not the primarily driver of climate change.
Florida, the most vulnerable state in the country to climate change, faces a key election this November that could have significant ramifications for its ability to cope with the challenge of rising seas and intensifying coastal storms.
If incumbent Tea Party-aligned Rick Scott is reelected governor, it is expected to mean four more years of inaction on global warming. His likely opponent, Democrat Charlie Crist, a former governor of Florida, is committed to aggressive climate action. Environmental groups, scientists and policy experts say that if Crist or another climate hawk wins, it would give the state at least a shot at staving off the worst effects of global warming.
"It is critically important that the governor of Florida take action on climate change," said Frank Jackalone, senior organizing manager of the Florida chapter of the Sierra Club. "Even if the [average] forecasts for sea level rise come true, much of the state will be in trouble, areas will be wiped out and communities evacuated."
Florida is widely seen as America's ground zero for global warming because the majority of its population and economy is concentrated along low-elevation oceanfront.
Three years ago, Franke James was a little-known artist who found herself blacklisted by the Canadian government for making art that lambasted the rapidly expanding tar sands. Infuriated and emboldened by the censure, James churned out a slew of pieces criticizing the government, published a book and in the process became one of Canada's most outspoken environmental activists.
Now, the Toronto resident is embarking on a new mission. She wants to raise awareness in the United States about what she believes are Prime Minister Stephen Harper's continuing undemocratic tactics to squash opposition to his oil agenda.
In doing so, she hopes to help persuade the Obama administration to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. The contentious project would carry 830,000 barrels a day of tar sands crude from Alberta to Texas and open a gateway for the flow of the dirtier grade of oil to export markets abroad. A decision is expected next year.
Conservative groups at the forefront of global warming skepticism are doubling down on trying to discredit the next big report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In recent weeks, they've been cranking out a stream of op-eds, blogs and reports to sow doubt in the public's mind before the report is published, with no end in sight.
"The goal is to inform the public, scientific community and media that the upcoming IPCC report doesn't have all the science to make informed judgments," said Jim Lakely, a spokesman for the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Chicago that has been spearheading the efforts.
Heartland gained notoriety last year after running a billboard campaign comparing climate change believers to "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, which caused several corporate donors to withdraw support for the group.
The fifth assessment by the IPCC, the world's leading scientific advisory body on global warming, is expected to conclude with at least 95 percent certainty that human activities have caused most of earth's temperature rise since 1950, and will continue to do so in the future. That's up from a confidence level of 90 percent in 2007, the year the last assessment came out. The IPCC, which consists of thousands of scientists and reviewers from more than 100 countries, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore. Governments often use its periodic reviews of climate risks to set targets for reducing carbon emissions and other policies.
A funny video that calls on the World Meteorological Organization to name hurricanes after climate deniers in Congress has struck a chord, or a nerve, with people around the world—going viral in the two weeks since it was first posted on YouTube.
"We are knocking at the door of 2 million views of the video in around one week—more than we could have hoped or expected for," Daniel Kessler, media campaigner for 350.org Action Fund, the climate activist group behind the viral video, said last week.
But the video has done more than generate views and cause a laugh. It has sparked over ten thousand comments on YouTube and other social sites debating the scientific evidence about climate threats and the merits of poking fun at climate science doubters—with slightly more than half favoring the video.
In recent years, U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva has seen his district in southern Arizona ravaged by wildfires, heat and drought. Dozens lost their lives and thousands were forced to evacuate their homes. Agricultural production has slowed and water supplies are shrinking.
Which is why Grijalva, a six-term Democrat, set out to make climate change a top priority.
He helped create the Southwest Climate Science Center at the University of Arizona and is part of the Safe Climate Caucus, a group of House members committed to raising the profile of global warming. In May, he organized a letter to Pres. Obama signed by 30 members of Congress urging the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline because of climate concerns.
"I've lived in my part of Arizona my whole life," Grijalva, 65, said in an interview. "I've never seen conditions like the ones we've had the last few years. Watching my constituents deal with the effects of climate change—the droughts, the record temperatures, the fires—how could I not make it a priority?"
In the district next door to Grijalva's, however, the message being conveyed is far different.
As America's debate about global warming became politicized over the past half-decade, the controversy entered a new battleground: the nation's classrooms.
From coast to coast, school boards, teachers and parents became embroiled in disputes over whether or how to teach students about climate change. At the same time, dozens of "academic freedom bills" were filed in state legislatures mandating that equal time be given to teaching the belief that climate science isn't settled. And conservative organizations poured millions of dollars into developing educational materials and curricula to teach climate skepticism as a valid scientific proposition.
Standing front and center in the fight against these efforts is the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based non-profit group that helps to keep politics, religion and ideology out of science classrooms. Leading the group's 4,500 members—which include scientists, teachers, clergy and citizens—is Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and author of the 2005 book Evolution vs. Creationism.
New national science standards that make the teaching of global warming part of the public school curriculum are slated to be released this month, potentially ending an era in which climate skepticism has been allowed to seep into the nation's classrooms.
The Next Generation Science Standards were developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the nonprofit Achieve and more than two dozen states. The latest draft recommends that educators teach the evidence for man-made climate change starting as early as elementary school and incorporate it into all science classes, ranging from earth science to chemistry. By eighth grade, students should understand that "human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (global warming)," the standards say.
They're "revolutionary," said Mark McCaffrey, programs and policy director of the National Center for Science Education (NCSE), a nonprofit that defends evolution and climate education and opposes the teaching of religious views as science.
The 26 states that helped write the standards are expected to adopt them. Another 15 or so have indicated they may accept them—meaning climate change instruction could make its way into classrooms in 40-plus states.
This was the year climate change vanished from the political agenda—and then suddenly reappeared, after Hurricane Sandy shook the country.
It was just a few years ago that Pres. Obama flew to Copenhagen to rescue faltering climate treaty talks amid bipartisan calls for global warming action. But in 2012, there wasn't a single Congressional proposal or hearing on climate legislation. Neither was there mention of climate change on the presidential campaign trail, or in the debates for the first time in decades.
In the rare instances that climate change surfaced in national discussions, politicians were fixated on the one aspect of warming scientists aren't debating: whether it's occurring.
Republican-affiliated climate researchers told InsideClimate News that attempts to educate their party leaders on the science were rebuffed. Meanwhile, many U.S. scientists fended off attacks of global warming skeptics, while Canadian scientists had to deal with budget cuts and muzzling by the government.
Amid the silence and skepticism, the Earth sent its own message.