Holy Agendas, Batman!

The members of the Moral Economy Project have been doing a fair number of radio interviews recently. You can see the complete list of the ones we have archives of here. I haven’t been blogging all of them, but there was one last week that deserves a bit of discussion.

Click here to listen to Rob Johnson of KMPH 840 AM (Modesto, California) interview Geoffrey Garver of the MEP. (The interviews are in alphabetical order, so you’ve got to scroll about a third of the way down the page.) In brief, Johnson doesn’t believe climate change is happening. It’s an interesting interview; the questions are as revealing as the answers.

Johnson’s evidence for the supposed non-existence of climate change appears to come mainly from the Science and Public Policy Institute, which is headed by Robert Ferguson, the former director of the Center for Science and Public Policy, a project of the Frontiers of Freedom Institute, which receives funding from ExxonMobil. Make of that what you will.

Johnson also stated that Britain’s highest court had banned Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” from being shown in schools because it contained scientific errors. Not quite. From a BBC news article about the case: Mr Justice Burton said he had no complaint about Gore’s central thesis that climate change was happening and was being driven by emissions from humans. The ruling was that the film did contain nine errors, and information about which parts didn’t accord with mainstream scientific findings (for instance, Gore’s claim that snowmelt on Kilimanjaro was expressly due to human-caused global warming, which the judge ruled “cannot be established”) should be distributed to teachers along with the film.

(Also from the BBC article: Children’s Minister Kevin Brennan had earlier said: “It is important to be clear that the central arguments put forward in An Inconvenient Truth, that climate change is mainly caused by man-made emissions of greenhouse gases and will have serious adverse consequences, are supported by the vast weight of scientific opinion.”)

So, Johnson doesn’t have his facts together. He’s not necessarily lying about the case deliberately; let’s be charitable and assume he didn’t understand what he was reading. The court did award the complainant two-thirds of his legal costs, so maybe Johnson thought that meant he’d won on getting the film banned too? I don’t know. Regardless, he’s wrong.

Some people say it’s pointless to try to engage with men like Rob Johnson. They say that having these kinds of discussions only fosters the illusion (which ExxonMobil and their ilk would like very much to promote) that there’s actually still some kind of scientific debate going on about whether climate change exists. It’s a reasonable point, but unfortunately, ignoring these people won’t make them go away. I think that even if there’s no chance of convincing the person we’re talking with, there’s a very good chance some of the listening audience will, at the very least, decide to look into the topic further.

Call me an optimist, but I honestly believe that most people are capable of evaluating the legitimacy of a source if they have enough information about it. That’s one of the major advantages of the data-rich society in which we live: all the information is out there to be found. Rob Johnson cited a source he considers credible, and everyone can look at it and decide for themselves what its agenda is. Geoffrey Garver gave some of his sources in turn; George Monbiot is one. Everyone can evaluate that too. (Nelson Mandela and the United Nations have given their opinions already.)

Update: Geoff has also blogged about the interview.

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