A perversidade do negacionismo recai em jurar que se está dizendo o contrário do que de fato se diz. Nesta novilíngua, negacionismo veste o sapatênis do antialarmismo. Chega a ser tedioso, posto que mofado, o argumento de Leandro Narloch nesta Folha na terça (10). Mofado pois —como relata Michael Mann em “The New Climate War”— não passa da mesma retórica negacionista 2.0.
Em essência, Narloch defende que há atividades nocivas ao clima que devem ser “celebradas e difundidas” por nos tornar “menos vulneráveis à natureza”. Narloch está cientificamente errado. E o faz subscrevendo a uma das formas mais nefárias de negacionismo: mascara-o, vendendo soluções que não só não são capazes de mitigar e adaptar as sociedades à crise climática como possuem o efeito adverso. Implode-se a Amazônia para salvá-la, eis o argumento.
Esses e outros discursos negacionistas já tinham sido mapeados na revista Global Sustaintability, de Cambridge, em julho de 2020: não são novos. Em vez de mexer em tabus do século 21, vendem-se inverdades como se ciência fosse. Narloch erra no conceito de vulnerabilidade: dos incêndios florestais na Califórnia às inundações na Alemanha, não estamos protegidos contra a natureza porque nela estamos inseridos. Ignora, ademais, a vasta literatura do Painel do Clima sobre vulnerabilidade.
Narloch desconsidera o conceito da ciência climática de “feedback loops”: a crise climática aciona uma série de gatilhos de dimensão incalculável, uma reação de cadeia nunca vista. Destruir o clima não nos protegerá do clima, porque é a ausência de uma mudança drástica energética que tem aprofundado a crise climática. É ineficiente o investir no contrário.
Se o relatório do Painel do Clima acendeu o sinal vermelho, não é com desinformação que o jornalismo contribuirá ao tema. Pluralismo é um rio onde as ideias se movem dentro das margens da verdade e da ciência. Não reclamem quando o rio secar, implodindo as margens que o jornalismo deveria ter protegido.
A study published in Nature Climate Change recently found that, in early April, daily global carbon dioxide emissions decreased by 17 percent compared to the 2019 mean levels. Because of shelter-in-place rules and businesses being closed, people have been driving and flying less, leading to lower emissions.
Shortly after emissions started dropping in March, the climate community was careful to apply nuance to the emissions reduction discussion: Less carbon dioxide emissions, while good, should not be celebrated when caused by a global pandemic. In other words, while this time may show us the extent that people can come together in action, the ends don’t justify the means — the means here being a global financial crisis and hundreds of thousands of people dead. As climate scientist Carl-Friedrich Schleussner said in Carbon Brief, “The narrative that the economic catastrophe caused by the coronavirus is ‘good’ for the climate is dangerously misleading and could undermine support for climate action.”
Though the climate community quickly dismissed this narrative, the right wing latched onto the idea that progressives were celebrating COVID-19 for its environmental benefits. Quickly, commentators on the right asserted that the world as it is under the pandemic is the world that climate advocates want under policies like the Green New Deal. The British libertarian web magazine Spiked wrote that “Covid-19 is a frightening dress rehearsal of the climate agenda.” Spiked is, incidentally, funded by the Koch foundation. Meanwhile, figures like Alex Epstein, who wrote a book entitled The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels and whose organization Center for Industrial Progress has ties to the coal industry, have said that the recession caused by the pandemic is a preview of the Green New Deal.
This argument is incorrect in many ways, the least of which being that the temporary emissions reduction isn’t nearly enough: The UN has said that emissions need to drop by 7.5 percent each year. That drop needs to be permanent.
“[Right-wingers] are grasping at straws. And they’re actually trying to spin a couple pieces of straw into silk,” says Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. “I don’t see anybody in the climate community actually making that argument” that coronavirus is a good thing.
Yet for climate deniers and delayers, a straw man argument is often enough. “It’s totally in character with the entire [denier] community to make shit up and try to pin it on their opponents,” says Leiserowitz. They just need to sow enough confusion that their benefactors — usually the fossil fuel industry — can thrive under deregulation and the status quo.
Commentators on the right asserted that the world as it is under the pandemic is the world that climate advocates want under policies like the Green New Deal.
So, while these are unprecedented times, this line of attack on the climate community already has a long history. Linking the global pandemic with an imaginary environmental agenda is just part of a quiet but consistent decades-long strategy to attack climate policy. This particular argument strives to equate any climate action with suffering — or, as the reactionary right might put it, a loss of “freedom” or “liberty.”
This narrative has taken many forms over the years; the idea that climate regulation kills jobs was a prominent one for several decades. Now, as the progressive left and climate action have gained ideological ground, the right has had to adapt and warp its arguments accordingly. The new argument, it seems, is that climate regulation kills not just jobs but the entire economy, as conservative pundits and politicians argued in early 2019 when the Green New Deal became popularized.
The irony is that many climate policies are built to be as non-disruptive as possible. “The kinds of changes that we’re going to make in our lives — some of them, we’re not even going to notice,” says Leiserowitz. Light switches will still work, people will still be free to roam outside, meat will still be available to eat; in many ways, without the most oppressive effects of climate change, life will be better.
But deniers take advantage of the fact that climate communicators haven’t quite articulated the vast amounts of life-improving changes that climate action will bring and fill in the gaps with conspiratorial scare tactics.
“The thing that intrigued us [at DeSmogBlog] about the overlap between COVID misinformation and climate denial is that we couldn’t have one without the other,” says Brendan DeMelle, executive director of DeSmogBlog. DeSmogBlog has been documenting the overlap between those who deny or downplay the effects the coronavirus and known climate deniers. The overlap is vast, with climate denialist figures such as Alex Jones and Charlie Kirk and organizations such as the Heartland Institute, The Daily Caller, The Federalist and PragerU participating in various COVID-19 denial tactics.
“This echo chamber [on the right] is rapidly spreading misinformation through The Daily Caller and through all kinds of outlets that wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for this strategy of undermining public trust in science and government leadership,” says DeMelle. Part of the efficacy of the radical right’s propaganda is that it politicizes and smears institutional authorities like scientists and journalists in order to push its counterfactual agenda.
One effective way to combat the narrative that environmentalists want to destroy freedom and liberty is “to paint the positive and inspiring picture of transitioning from polluting energy sources to clean energy,” says John Cook, a climate and cognitive science researcher at George Mason University, over email to Truthout.
After all, mitigating the climate crisis, living free of harmful air that chokes out entire communities, leaving behind the fear that rising sea levels will displace entire countries and casting off our dread of what an entirely new category of hurricane will bring — that would be true freedom.
A report released by the office of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) distorts the goals and purposes of National Science Foundation-funded (NSF) research in an effort to paint the agency as wasteful, scientists say.
Coburn released “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope” May 26, raising “serious questions regarding the agency’s management and priorities,” according to Coburn’s office. But scientists whose research is targeted in the report say Coburn has oversimplified or otherwise misrepresented their work. [Infographic: Science Spending in the Federal Budget ]
“Good Lord!” Texas A&M psychologist Gerianne Alexander, whose work on hormones and infant development appears in the report, wrote in an email to LiveScience. “The summary of the funded research is very inaccurate.”
This isn’t the first time politicians have taken aim at the NSF in the name of deficit reduction. In December 2010, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Neb.) called for citizens to review NSF grants and highlighted a few projects he viewed as wasteful, including research meant to evaluate productivity.
NSF’s entire budget of approximately $7 billion represents about one-half of 1 percent of the projected 2011 federal deficit.
Funding and review
The new report acknowledges that NSF has funded research leading to innovations ranging from the Internet to bar codes. NSF also runs a rigorous evaluation process when choosing to fund grants. Each year, the agency receives more than 45,000 competitive proposals, NSF spokesperson Maria Zacharias told LiveScience in December. NSF funds about 11,500 of those, Zacharias said.
However, according to a review by Coburn’s staff, the senator is unconvinced that NSF is making the right decisions.
“It is not the intent of this report to suggest that there is no utility associated with these research efforts,” the report reads. “The overarching question to ask, however, is simple. Are these projects the best possible use of our tax dollars, particularly in our current fiscal crisis?”
Science out of context
Scientists say Coburn’s office fails to put their research into context, often choosing silly-sounding projects to characterize entire research programs.
Alexander’s work, for example, is characterized as a $480,000 experiment meant to discover “if boys like trucks and girls like dolls.” According to the report, scientists could have saved their time by “talking to any new parent.”
In fact, Alexander said, the research project is more complicated.
“The grant supports research asking whether the postnatal surge in testosterone levels in early infancy contributes to the development of human behavior,” she said. “This is not a trivial issue.” [Read: The Truth About Genderless Babies ]
That’s because some preliminary evidence suggests that disruptions in hormones like testosterone can alter behavior, Alexander said, potentially contributing to the development of disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
Toy choice is a way to measure sex differences in behavior, because babies tend to choose stereotyped boy-girl toys early on, Alexander said. She and her team measure infant hormone levels and look for effects on behavior, activity levels, temperament and verbal development.
Likewise, a much-ballyhooed project that put shrimp on a treadmill was part of research intended to find out how marine animals will cope with increased environmental stress.
Coburn focused much of the report on social science research. But the report also questions several robotics projects, including a robot that can fold laundry. The report mocks the research, noting that it takes the robot 25 minutes to fold a single towel.
In fact, the $1.5 million NSF grant went not to teach robots how to do slow-motion laundry, but to learn how to make robots that can interact with complex objects, said lead researcher Pieter Abbeel of UC Berkeley. The towel-folding, which came six months into a four-year project, was an ideal challenge, Abbeel said, because folding a soft, deformable towel is very different from the pick-up-this-bolt, screw-in-this-screw tasks that current robots can perform.
“Towel-folding is just a first, small step toward a new generation of robotic devices that could, for example, significantly increase the independence of elderly and sick people, protect our soldiers in combat, improve the delivery of government services and a host of other applications that would revolutionize our day-to-day lives,” Abbeel wrote in an email to LiveScience.
Overseeing basic science
“It’s legitimate to ask what kind of scientific research is important and what isn’t,” said John Hibbing, a professor of political science whose research on the genetics of political leaningsappeared in Coburn’s report. However, Hibbing expressed doubt that Coburn’s nonscientific review process could meet that goal.
“I sympathize with the desire to identify things that are silly and not useful,” Hibbing told LiveScience. “But I’m not sure he’s identified a really practical strategy to distinguish between the two.”