I knew exactly what I signed up for when I walked into the small auditorium with the world's leading climate skeptic at the center stage. "Climate change denier" is a difficult label to bear on a liberal college campus. And as one of the many Democrats here at Williams, I was here to feel uncomfortable by the transformation of science by the Washington political machine.
Professor John Christy is a climate scientist from the University of Alabama at Huntsville. He has testified in front of Congress many times in denial of man-made climate change. He mentioned as a side note that he was invited to speak for the Democrats, as if demonstrating that denial of climate change can be a bipartisan conclusion.
"The earth is not as sensitive to climate change as models predict," he claimed after showing PowerPoint slides of steady global temperature since the mid-20thcentury. He indicated that he systematically analyzed the data from satellites and weather balloons, making his evidence more reliable than the countless opposing ones provided by other climate scientists.
Professor Christy seems to conveniently forget that 97 percent of all published papers on climate change agree that global warming is a man-made phenomenon. When I asked him about his opinion on this matter after the talk, he dismissed this particular survey by saying that the authors are not real scientists, implying they have no expertise in climate science.
However, when we step back from this talk and look at the larger political platform that the climate change debate rests on, it is clear that those who deny climate change often do not have the proper credentials to make such claims. Ben Carson, a brain surgeon and a Republican candidate for the presidential election, said global changes in temperature are cyclical and dismissed the climate change debate as irrelevant. Meanwhile, national agencies like NASA (which Professor Christy said was influenced by Obama's political agenda and that we should dismiss its findings), publish data that leave no doubt climate change is man-made.
So why are politicians and a few scientists like John Christy so adamantly denying climate change? One obvious reason lies in the resource that feeds the political machine: money. The Koch brothers, who made billions of dollars from oil refinery business, donated to Republican candidates like Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina. They stated they are willing to spend up to $1 billion on the 2016 election.
Although money usually is the primary factor, the tendency to deny climate change may lie in human psychology. According to a study by Duke University, people evaluate scientific evidence based on the agreeability of its policy implications. If they do not agree with the proposed solutions to a problem (e.g. carbon tax to combat climate change), then they are more likely to deny that the problem exists in the first place to avoid dealing with the undesirable solutions.
So perhaps climate change deniers like Professor Christy are hindered by their opinions on policy to see the issue of climate change with unbiased eyes. As he sarcastically said during the lecture, "Scientists say that if we cut down CO2emissions, or if we stop being an economy, we can stop climate change." He disagrees with cutting down CO2emission and hurting the oil as well as the fossil fuel industries in the process. Thus, the solution to the politicization of climate change may be separating the scientific problem of climate change from the political solution of policymaking. Then we might all finally be on the same page and figure out how to prevent earth from self-destructing.