What do the tobacco industry and climate change have in common? A lot, actually.
According to a new documentary based off Dr. Naomi Oreskes' book of the same name, "Merchants of Doubt," when the tobacco industry saw the negative health effects from smoking, they hired people for oodles of money to essentially play expert scientists and cast doubt on tobacco's harm. These days we know the truth, but for decades the general public didn't. And now, it turns out, many of the same people hired by the tobacco industries are working for climate change deniers and using the same techniques.
“Merchants of Doubt” shows the lengths climate change deniers will go to in order to skew and hide information about climate change, including going after the scientists themselves by hacking their emails, putting personal or untrue information about them online, or giving out their contacts. Climate scientists regularly receive hate mail, professional attacks, and even death threats just for doing their job.
To learn more about the difficulties climate scientists face, MTV News spoke with Dr. Oreskes; Dr. Michael Mann, a climate scientist and author of “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars;" and Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist who starred in the eco-documentary, “Years of Living Dangerously,” with Ian Somerhalder.
The scientists were all in agreement that the attacks come in waves, but in the documentary, Dr. Hayhoe says she has received 200 or more pieces of hate mail a day.
The Life of a Climate Scientist
“A lot of the hate mail I get say things like, ‘The problem with the world today is that you women are out there studying science. You should be in the kitchen where you belong and then we wouldn’t have these problems,’" Dr. Hayhoe said. "Or, ‘You’re the high priestess of Al Gore, trying to spread his political ideology around the world.’”
Dr. Hayhoe is an Evangelical Christian, and sometimes she gets attacked for that. “I speak out very clearly on the fact that if we’re Christians, we should care about [climate change]. I get a fair amount of, ‘You’re worshipping the earth rather than God, and if you repent from your evil sins, there’s a chance you may be saved.’”
She said that other scientists she knows have had dead animals put on their porch to frighten them, but that has never happened to her.
“I’ve had my life threatened,” Dr. Mann said. “I’ve had my family’s lives threatened. I’ve been subjected to organized efforts to try to get me fired from my position at Penn State. I’ve had videos that were made and posted on the internet that were intended to ridicule me and embarrass me. All of this is connected in one way or another to fossil fuel interests or folks like the Koch brothers, who put tens of millions of dollars into this vilification campaign, a campaign to vilify climate scientists so they’ll be discredited in the public mindset. It’s a cynical way of trying to shoot the messenger when you don’t like the message.”
Dr. Mann has even had his emails hacked. “There was the so-called Climategate scandal, which involved criminal theft of scientists’ emails [including mine] and then an effort to find words and phrases that could be cherry-picked from emails and used to try to make it sound as if scientists were doing something inappropriate. There have been, I think, nine investigations in the U.S. and U.K. into the matter. All those investigations show there was no impropriety on the part of the scientists whose emails had been stolen."
While the scientists were publicly humiliated and attacked from this hacking, the perpetrators were never caught.
Strange as it might sound, Dr. Oreskes told MTV News she had received hate mail that said she shouldn’t believe in science.
Of course, that’s part of the issue here: You can’t believe in science — science just is.
“So often it feels like the argument focuses on the facts,” said Dr. Hayhoe. “Is climate change real? Are humans responsible? But that’s not the real issue. That’s a smoke screen for what the problem is. The real problem is people disagree over the solutions. In fact, Senator [James] Inhofe, who’s one of the most vocal opponents on The Hill, even said in an interview with Rachel Maddow, ‘I thought it [climate change] must be true, until I found out what it cost.’”
How To Take Action
Just in time for Earth Day, the scientists told MTV News how we can help support their efforts.
Dr. Oreskes said that when the media interviews denialists, it gives the false impression there is actually a scientific debate about the reality of climate change. "Every time an editor tells a journalist, ‘Well, go and get a quote from the other side,’ it feeds the doubt,” she explained.
“If anyone has a chance to ask anybody a question in this new round of elections coming up, one of the best questions to ask is not ‘Do you believe in climate change?'” said Dr. Hayhoe. “Climate change is based on facts, not beliefs. Ask people who are running, ‘What is your free market solution to climate change?’”
“When you see this sort of propaganda on your television screens and in your newspaper, make it known that this is unacceptable,” said Dr. Mann. “Try your best to inform your fellow citizens about the nature of this problem. And vote in elections so we get policymakers who are going to represent our interests, rather than the short-term financial interests of a few major invested interests. It is so crucial that younger folks vote, because this is about their future.”
“The main thing now is not feeling disempowered,” said Dr. Oreskes. “It’s easy to get depressed, partly because of what’s going on with Washington, D.C., partly because the fossil fuel industry is probably the richest, most powerful in the history of mankind. It’s important to know that solutions do exist, the technology to fix this problem does exist. It is important for people to have a sense of urgency, because the time is now.”