PBS Frontline Explores the Coalition of Climate Change Denial in ‘Climate of Doubt’

by: Blaine Skrainka

October 24, 2012

After letting it sink in over the last 24 hours or so, the idea that the presidential debate moderators and candidates themselves would over the course of four rounds of discourse fail to mention the words climate change or global warming has only become more confounding.

Climate of Doubt PBS Frontline WILD mag world

Towards the end of my recap of the bungled and missed opportunities to address arguably the most pressing crisis that we face, I pointed out a piece of reporting from Politico, who tell us that according to FEC filings, the political action committees of ExxonMobil and Koch Industries had in just the last month both spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to influence federal and state elections. My contention was that these transnational corporations — worth billions of dollars many times over — are simply making a business investment. A strategy to ward off onerous environmental regulations potentially imposed by government agencies has always included a denial of the science of climate change in the first place.

In a new episode of PBS Frontline, “Climate of Doubt,” John Hockenberry (also host of WNYC’s national news radio show, “The Takeaway”) explores the motivations and incentives behind this coalition of climate change denialists. To little surprise, it becomes clear that those sowing the seeds of doubt are largely the same Tea Party crowd that favors unfettered free markets and sees President Obama as essentially un-American.

During the 2008 election season, climate change was still an issue at the forefront of public-political conversation. It was only two years after the premiere of Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and just months after the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change declared that global warming was “unequivocal.” Major political players — including Republicans like Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and then-presidential candidate John McCain — acknowledged the threat  and called for action.

Today the public dialogue has fallen silent; the media feels pressured to give equal voice to the denialist camp despite their resounding lack of evidence; and our political leaders either find it risky to broach the subject, or worse, are championing the cries that the science of global warming is nothing more than political fraud.

What could have changed the trajectory of the conversation so drastically in just the last four years, under a Democrat president, and while other industrialized nations move forward with action? Especially when 98 percent of climate scientists say that global warming is real and mostly cause by humans?

That is the question at the heart of “Climate of Doubt.” The documentarian attends a climate denial conference organized by conservative think tanks and funded by energy companies. Notably in attendance: Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.) who happens to be the Vice Chairman of the House Science committee (!!!). Hockenberry also revisits the impacts of the uproar over the so-called Climategate (nine subsequent investigations found that there was no tampering of data); the personal attacks on the credibility of climate scientists and advocates; and how these sorts of techniques ultimately tanked the Waxman-Markey bill (“cap-and-trade”) and shifted an entire national conversation.

Watch Climate of Doubt on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.


Watch the full episode here.

Related: Climate Change? What Climate Change?


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