Over the past few decades, the fossil fuel industry has subjected the American public to a well-funded, well-orchestrated disinformation campaign about the reality and severity of human-caused climate change. The purpose of this web of denial has been to confuse the public and decision-makers in order to delay climate action and thereby protect fossil fuel business interests and defend libertarian, free-market conservative ideologies. The fossil fuel industry’s denial and delay tactics come straight out of Big Tobacco’s playbook.
As a result, the American public have been denied the right to be accurately informed about climate change, just as they were denied the right to be informed about the risks of smoking by the tobacco industry. While fossil fuel companies attacked the science and called on politicians to “reset the alarm,” climate-catalyzed damages worsened, including increased storm intensities, droughts, forest damage and wildfires, all at substantial loss of life and cost to the American people.
Climate disinformation has had many negative effects. It reduces public understanding of climate change, lowers support for climate action4, cancels out accurate information, polarizes the public along political lines, and reinforces climate silence–the lack of public dialogue and private conversation about climate change. Climate deniers directly impact the scientific community–and, in turn, its ability to serve the public good–by forcing climate scientists to respond to bad-faith demands and arguably causing a chilling effect pressuring scientists to underplay scientific results.
Strategies proposed to counter climate disinformation include political mechanisms, financial transparency, legal strategies, and inoculation of the public. Inoculation involves explaining how and why climate deniers mislead, in order to neutralize the influence of their disinformation.
Attacking the scientific consensus on climate change
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, a scientific consensus emerged that human-caused climate change — which had long been predicted — was now underway. Since that time, a number of studies have found over 90% agreement among climate scientists on human-caused global warming, with multiple studies converging on 97 per cent consensus.
The emergence of a shared consensus among thousands of independent scientists all around the globe through independent lines of evidence is a clear and strong signal of robust scientific knowledge. Climate scientists are as sure that burning fossil fuels causes global warming as public health scientists are sure that smoking tobacco causes cancer.