James (“Snowball”) Inhofe’s Climate Change Hoax Hoax
James Inhofe, Chair of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee, disproved the possibility of global warming, at least to his own satisfaction, by bring a snowball into the Senate chamber. But how is he to explain the fact that the vast majority of university researchers throughout the world who are qualified to assess this issue (between 90 and 98 percent, depending on the survey) disagree with him? Simple: the idea of human-induced climate change, he has concluded, is nothing but a sinister plot by a group of corrupt or misguided scientists. He has even written a book to this effect, entitled The Great Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. Since the fate of the planet lies at least partially in Senator Inhofe’s hands, it seems fair to ask some questions about this incisive explanation: How would such a conspiracy get started? How would it spread? Who would support it, and how would it be maintained?
How would a conspiracy get started?
Assume there are a group of perverse or evil persons who wanted to initiate a hoax that human-induced climate change is occurring, when there is no reliable evidence to support the claim. If they were not faculty members in a university, or researchers in a recognized government facility, no one in such a position would pay any attention. If they were, however, they would be immediately risking their reputations and their careers. In 1989, two well-known scientists, Stanley Pons and Martin Fleischmann, reported that they had achieved “cold fusion,” that is, a reaction of the sort that powers the sun but takes place at room temperature. When their findings could not be confirmed, they became subject to withering criticism and ultimately felt that they had to resign from their university positions.
Once started, how would the conspiracy spread?
Let us suppose that there were a small group of scientists who were willing to take such a risk in order to perpetuate this hoax. Why would other scientists go along? What incentive would they have? Climate change runs counter to the self-interest of many American corporations and entrepreneurs, which explains a good deal of the opposition. But these same corporations and entrepreneurs are major contributors to American universities. Why would scientists tell lies that endanger their support? Why would the department chairs and university administrators who review their work go along with such deception and risk the financial welfare of their institutions? More basically, is it really plausible that the vast majority of people who had undergone long and arduous training to achieve their positions would be willing to betray the basic norms of their field and the original reason why they entered it.
Who could support a conspiracy of this size?
Could some sinister malefactor (a Fascist or a Communist or an atheist – take your pick) finance the conspiracy? To begin with, there are about 11,000 atmospheric scientists in the U.S., with an average annual salary of about $89,000 a year. There are probably an equal number of earth scientists and geologists who are qualified to assess climate change research. To convince them to tell lies that contradict their personal views and endanger their careers, one would assume they would each need to be given a bribe or similar inducement that was commensurate with their salaries. The cost would be about two billion dollars a year, and since the purported climate change conspiracy has now continued unabated for at least two decades, that adds up to 40 billion dollars. But of course, this is just the beginning. The Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was endorsed by science academies in Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Caribbean, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Italy, Malaysia, New Zealand, Sweden and the UK. So how many individual scientists does that add up to, and how much would it cost to bribe them into misstating the facts?
How would the conspiracy be maintained?
Even if you manage to organize a conspiracy, it needs to be maintained. Any time a member of the conspiracy believes it can gain more advantage from defecting than continuing to participate, it will do so, bringing with it juicy secrets that will establish its legitimacy and garner widespread attention. The only way to prevent this is with strict hierarchical controls and heavy punishments for defections. But neither exists in the scientific community. Someone with a conspiratorial frame of mind might assert that it does with respect to government scientists in the U.S., but party control of the government changes regularly, and the scientists are scattered among more than a dozen separate agencies. The majority of American scientists, moreover, work in universities; some of these are funded by their states (red as well as blue), but many are private, that is, independent institutions with their own boards and their own policies. To be sure, they receive government money, but they could anticipate lavish private funding if they defected with tales of government oppression to recount. And all this diversity exists within the United States alone. The IPCC report was endorsed by scientists from over 16 nations, representing a range of cultures, political ideologies and economic systems.
But there is a hoax, after all
Senator Inhofe is certainly correct, however; there is a hoax being perpetrated about climate change. It is the claim that the scientific consensus about climate change is a hoax. That hoax, moreover, is easy to explain. It would be started by the energy companies who fear stringent regulation once the reality of human-induced climate change is recognized. It would be spread by politicians like Senator Inhofe who depend on these companies to finance their electoral campaigns. It would be maintained by recruiting a tiny number of malleable scientists, most lacking standard credentials, who are willing to risk their reputations for the sake of notoriety. And it would be supported by those energy companies, who certainly have sufficient resources to fund some rogue scientists, with plenty of money left over for irresponsible politicians.