For climate change deniers, a strategy of distraction, deception, and delay

Over the past decade, climate change science has gotten stronger, and global warming’s effects, once merely a predicted threat, have unmistakably arrived. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Over the past decade or so, it’s become progressively harder to be an out-and-out climate change denier. Why? Two big reasons. The science has gotten stronger, and global warming’s effects, once merely a predicted threat, have unmistakably arrived. People notice the more powerful storms, the deluges that cause violent flooding, the record temperatures, the oppressive and dangerous heat waves, and the longer, more intense fire seasons.

With the consequences of a warming world hard upon us, some ideologues have chosen simply to ignore reality. In Florida, for example, Governor Ron DeSantis has signed legislation nixing any mention of climate change from state law or policy. Which raises this question: Does your average Floridian find it strange that their state is spending hundreds of millions to raise seawalls and roads to prevent flooding that is officially caused by … nothing?

DeSantis’s purposeful political purblindness has won him well-deserved ridicule. But sharp-eyed climate activists have spotted a more subtle approach afoot by denialists: Attempts to sow doubts about the various clean-energy technologies needed to transition to a greener era.

“There is a coordinated effort by the fossil fuel industry and other vested interests, one that is no longer really attacking the science of the climate crisis, but is trying to slowly disintegrate confidence in the technology solutions,” said Joe Curtatone, president of the Northeast Clean Energy Council, a Somerville-based nonprofit pushing to accelerate the transition to clean energy. “That will play to people’s fears and uncertainty and erode belief in our ability to achieve our climate goals. That’s what is really dangerous.”

Curtatone sees a pattern in the false or hyperbolic claims being raised and the opposition stoked about everything from offshore wind farms to electric vehicles to the effort to bring Canadian hydro power to New England. In the last instance, NextEra Energy, a diversified outfit that has spent big on wind and solar but also has gas- and oil-powered facilities and owns the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant, used a series of front groups and shell companies in an attempt to block plans to bring renewable Canadian electricity onto the New England power grid.

It’s a strategy of distraction, deception, and delay, University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann, one of the fathers of the famous hockey stick graph demonstrating that the rise in global temperature closely tracks the era of industrialization, noted by email. In March, investigative reporter Rebecca Burns produced a must-read piece for Sierra, the magazine of the Sierra Club, documenting the way dubious figures and dodgy groups often funded by the fossil fuel industry have worked to spread misinformation about and kindle opposition to clean energy projects and technologies.

Her story begins with prominent climate change denier Marc Morano and associates waging a boat-borne anti-wind-power protest putatively aimed at protecting whales from the supposed danger of offshore wind farms. Scientists say there is no evidence that wind farms are causing whale deaths or strandings.

Similar worries have been kindled that land-based wind turbines are devastating the bird population. Now, those projects do kill birds; one well-regarded conservationist has estimated a wind-turbine toll of at least 1.17 million winged creatures each year. That, however, must be weighed against the benefits of renewable energy and estimates that put the US bird population at more than 7 billion. For perspective, 60 million to 90 million birds are killed each year by automobiles, while an estimated 1.3 billion are slain by cats.

The Northeast Clean Energy Council has decided it will play a role in combatting that kind of misinformation.

“If we don’t attack the falsehood with facts, the lie becomes the truth,” Curtatone said. “That is why NECEC will be launching an effort in the fall to fight misinformation, provide facts, promote the benefits of a clean energy economy, and engage stakeholders in this fight.”

Meanwhile, there are other handy resources for those who want to help correct misinformation and disinformation. Columbia Law School’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law recently issued a report, titled “Rebutting 33 False Claims About Solar, Wind, and Electric Vehicles,” which does just that in a concise and convincing fashion. has an entire section related to climate claims. is chockablock with climate information and rumor refutation.

“The stakes couldn’t be any greater with the upcoming election,” Mann said. “There is no path to addressing the climate crisis, pandemics, or any of the major challenges we face as a civilization, in the absence of a functioning democracy.”

Even if you don’t believe Donald Trump is a threat to democracy — and I do — climate marks a continental divide between President Biden and Trump. Biden has taken important steps to catalyze a societal shift toward clean energy. Trump doesn’t just lack an appetite for that task, he has an avowed aversion to Biden’s programs.

That’s all the more reason for those who care about climate to be ready with the facts whenever misinformation rears its Hydra heads.

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