Friday, November 25, 2016

Trump or NASA – Who’s Really Politicizing Climate Science?

Polarization of perceived consensus among Republicans and Democrats. [Credit: Dunlap et al. (2016)] Click to Enlarge.
Climate research conducted at NASA had been “heavily politicized”, said Robert Walker, a senior adviser to US President-elect Donald Trump.

This has led him to recommend stripping funding for climate research at NASA.

Walker’s claim comes with a great deal of irony.  Over the past few decades, climate science has indeed become heavily politicized.  But it is ideological partisans cut from the same cloth as Walker who engineered such a polarized situation.

Believe it or not, climate change used to be a bipartisan issue.  In 1988, Republican George H.W. Bush pledged to “fight the greenhouse effect with the White House effect”.

Since those idealistic days when conservatives and liberals marched hand-in-hand towards a safer climate future, the level of public discourse has deteriorated.

Surveys of the US public over the past few decades show Democrats and Republicans growing further apart in their attitudes and beliefs about climate change.

For example, when asked whether most scientists agree on global warming, perceived consensus among Democrats has steadily increased over the last two decades.  In contrast, perceived consensus among Republicans has been in stasis at around 50%.

How is it that party affiliation has become such a strong driver of people’s views about scientific topics?

In the early 1990s conservative think-tanks sprang to life on this issue.  These are organizations promoting conservative ideals such as unregulated free markets and limited government.

Their goal was to delay government regulation of polluting industries such as fossil fuel companies.  Their main tactic was to cast doubt on climate science.

Using a constant stream of books, newspaper editorials and media appearances, they generated a glut of misinformation about climate science and scientists.

The conservative think-tanks were assisted by corporate funding from the fossil fuel industry – a partnership that Naomi Oreskes poetically describes as an “unholy alliance”.

Over the past few decades, conservative organizations that receive corporate funding have grown much more prolific in publishing polarizing misinformation compared to groups that didn’t receive corporate funding.

Read more at Trump or NASA – Who’s Really Politicizing Climate Science?

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