Naomi Oreskes – Neoliberalism and the Denial of Global Warming

April 23, 2012

This week at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a conference convened entitled “Science Writing in the Age of Denial.” The keynote speaker was a former Point of Inquiry guest and a very popular one—Naomi Oreskes, co-author of the influential book Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming.

Point of Inquiry
caught up with Dr. Oreskes at the conference and interviewed her about her lecture there, entitled “Neoliberalism and the Denial of Global Warming.”

Naomi Oreskes
is professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. Her 2010 book Merchants of Doubt, written with Eric Conway, described how a small group of scientists sought to undermine a large body of research on issues like global warming, the health risks of smoking, and ozone depletion. She is the author of the famed 2004 essay for the journal Science entitled “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change,” which was cited in the Academy Award winning film An Inconvenient Truth.

This is point of inquiry from Monday, April 20 3rd, 2012. Welcome to Point of inquiry. 

I’m Chris Mooney point of inquiry is the radio show and the podcast of the Center for Inquiry, a think tank advancing reason, science and secular values in public affairs and at the grassroots. So as it happens, I’m here in Madison, Wisconsin, today at a conference called Science Writing in the Age of Denial. 

The keynote speaker is a former point of inquiry guest and a popular one. Naomi Oreskes. And I’ve asked her back on roughly two years later to check in on her and what what she’s been up to. Let me tell you a little bit more about Naomi. She’s a professor of history and science studies at the University of California, San Diego. She began her career as an exploration geologist, but took a turn towards history of science and studies, the establishment of scientific consensus and the role and character of scientific dissent. And her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt How a handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, which was written with Erik Conway, has been a really big success. And that’s we talked about last time. And we’re going to go a little further this time around. So, Naomi, welcome back to Point of Inquiry. 

Thanks, Chris. Nice to be back. It is great to have you. So we had you two years ago to talk about the book. It’s fair to say that the book went on to be a big success. 

Yeah, the book’s done very well. And we’ve just had a French edition, just came out two weeks ago, and we now have Japanese, Korean and Chinese editions and we’re negotiating hopefully to get German and Czech editions. 

So do they call that Ludd denial? No, they match on the commercial and the. Awesome. That’s awesome. So what have you what have you learned from the reception? What has been the predominant response? 

Well, of course, it’s been mixed, as you can imagine. I’d say there’s been sort of a few different responses. One response has been from scientists who feel a huge sense of relief because they feel that they now understand better what was previously sort of flummoxing, perplexing. So many scientists really didn’t understand the character of what they were up against. And so many scientists thought that this was about scientific illiteracy, poor education, people just not understanding. And so they thought the remedy was better scientific communication. And I think part of what we point out in our book and in our work is that better scientific communication is a good idea. Definitely a worthwhile thing. But it’s not really what’s at stake in this debate. 

Well, I want to talk more about what is at stake in the last interview, and I’ll ask you about that. But in last interview, I think we went through the substance of the book and a lot of detail. We talked about the doubt mongering strategies pioneered by the tobacco industry, how they were applied, how a small group of scientists carried them into global warming. I want to go in a different direction because you just gave this fascinating talk here and you called it neo liberalism and the night of global warming, which I think is going to be your answer ultimately. But let’s let’s go back and then let’s get to that. Let’s take the trajectory intellectually. And so as a historian, one of the things you emphasize, which is really amazing on of people know this, is that global warming, the science is over 100 years old. It’s as old as evolution in some ways. Right. People don’t appreciate that. Share that with us. 

Exactly. Well, the parallel with evolution is a really interesting one because it is literally as old as evolution. I mean, we think about Darwin, the Origin of Species, 1859. It was the 1860 60s that John Tindell established that carbon dioxide was a greenhouse gas. And so this is another major reaction. I get to the book from ordinary people who often when I speak or if they read the book, they say, I had no idea the science was that old. And that’s actually a really important thing, because old science is good science. Old science is established science. Old science isn’t a fad. Old science isn’t just an environmental. 

The latest environmental hysteria. Old science is science that has proved the test of time. That has stood up to a variety of different kinds of tests. And so a big message of our work is that this is old science. Scientists have known since the turn of the century that burning fossil fuels puts carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which changes the heat balance of the atmosphere. More heat is trapped in the atmosphere and therefore they have known for more than a century that it was highly likely that if you burn carbon dioxide, it would change the climate. What scientists didn’t know one hundred years ago was whether that would actually happen. I mean, something can be likely and still not happen. Something can be possible. But maybe there are other mitigating factors. So today, what we know is that not only is it likely, but in fact it has happened. And we’ve known that for a pretty long time now to not 100 years. But I think it’s safe to say that we’ve known for 20 years that climate change was underway and we’ve known for about 20 years that there is a significant human driver to that kind of change. 

Great. Now, you say that, you know, it was really scientifically established. In particular, you talk about 1979. There was a National Academy of Sciences study, the Chani study, and they they estimated how much warming we could get that the climate sensitivity is called. So it took active work to undo this. 

And you tie this active work to the organization of denial in general. You said in your talk, I hope I’m quoting your right, you said something emerged in the second half of the 20th century, organized rejection of science. And I guess my question is, isn’t that sort of just a technology, though, in the sense that, you know, people now? And, you know, the PR industry, they had more means the Spanish Inquisition didn’t have this and it was messing with Galileo. In a sense, it’s the same it’s the same motives, right? 

Well, that’s an interesting thought. I hadn’t actually thought about that that way. That’s good. Journalists hardly ever asked me something I haven’t thought about before, so. Well done. Well done, Chris. Yes. So, I mean, you might be right. Certainly we we know from history of science. And we do say this in the book. 

I mean, the important thing about science is that whenever you dislodge people’s accepted worldviews, there’s always the potential to trigger opposition. And as you point out correctly, Spanish Inquisition, Galileo, you know all of the opposition to Darwin. This is not a new story. Right. So in some sense, this is an old story in history of science. So in our book, what we claim is new is sort of that the degree of organization. But you may well be right that it’s also invoking a whole set of technologies, including the PR industry, the ad, the modern advertising industry, commercials. Right. We know that one of the things that denial movement did was to buy airtime, to do market research, to have focus groups. 

I mean, they were very systematic and in some ways even scientific about the organization of denial. And then, of course, as we know, the Internet has also played a role in the wildfire like spread of denials, claims all over the blogosphere. 

Fair enough. See that? Yeah, I think that that is that is kind of important. I mean, even the the megacorporation, too, right. So would you say that the people who who started to deny global warming in this way were a miracle? You got a shockingly small group. And interestingly, they were one time cold warriors. This is in the book to be really emphasized in the talk. So in in some sense, they were channeling wartime fear, us versus them, us versus the Soviet Union. And they channeled it into defending Ronald Reagan on Star Wars. Tell me more about what the emotions of this this group of men in the context of what looked like a conflagration that we were going to be, you know, in in mortal war with someone? 

Well, the primary anxiety is the primary anxiety of the Cold War. The primary emotion is anxiety, and it’s the anxiety of the Cold War and anxiety. The coworkers appear to be enormous anxiety, enormous angst. I teach a class called atomic age, atomic angst. 

And so this is something that through my work in the history of Cold War science, I’ve always been very familiar with. And of course, it’s a anxiety that is partly legitimate because we’re looking at a world stockpiled with weapons of mass destruction. And we know in the Cold War that the Soviets have the capacity to launch missiles that could wipe out all the major American cities in 18 minutes. So that’s a really genuine anxiety. But we also know that that anxiety spread in a lot of strange ways into all kinds of corners where it didn’t really belong. 

And in a sense, our story is this, that second part, it’s about the anxiety spreading. So and this was a really important part of the study for us was to explain this, because in a way, our story was it began as a mystery. It began as this strange mystery of why brilliant prominent scientists would create common cause with the tobacco industry to attack science about acid rain and the ozone hole. This is, in a way, on the face of it, pretty peculiar. And you couldn’t claim that these people didn’t understand the science. Frederick Seitz was the president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. So it’s not even remotely possible that he doesn’t understand climate science. So that was the mystery we wanted to understand. And the answer we found really was in this idea of Cold War anxiety, which was really a driving motivation throughout their lives and all of the work they did during the Cold War, the idea of containing the Soviet threat and being prepared defensively prepared. But then you see it at the end of the Cold War spilling over into these other areas and it spills over into this realm of environmental protection, environmental and health, public health protection. And the reason, as we explain in the book, has to do with an ideological focus on the question of intrusive government, the idea that regulation is a sort of expansion of government tentacles into every aspect of our lives. And then in some ways, it’s kind of Soviet artistic, right? It’s like just as the Soviet government tells you where you can live and where you can work and what you should think and whether or not you can practice religion. There’s this fear that regulation has a similar kind of cry. So they become highly antiregulatory. And this then becomes a driver to attack the science related to any topic that could require government regulation. 

So this raises some fascinating issues. We’ve talked about them on the show before. It’s a confusion, actually, that a lot of people seem to have. On the one hand, if I could throw out some terms, you have you have the right you know, has this authoritarian streak in the sense of like it’s religiously conservative. 

It’s also against them. You know, those secular liberals can ruin society. On the other hand, it has a libertarian streak, which is leave me alone. And people posit authoritarianism and libertarianism as opposites. But when you’ve got cold warriors who are defining an us and them battle against the Soviets, that’s kind of authoritarian, then is then their response is government, leave me alone. That’s libertarian. And the Tea Party is both also. So, I mean, what’s going on with that? 

Right. It’s a very complicated mix. Eric, I Eric Conway, I spent a lot of time trying to decide what the right terminology was for this. And there is a libertarian streak because some of this is about. Leave me alone. Don’t tell me if I can smoke cigarets. But it’s not strictly libertarian because these people do support strong government in the area of the military. They’re certainly perfectly happy for the government to pay for their scientific careers. So it’s not strictly libertarian. So we decided on the term free market fundamentalist. That’s a term that George Soros developed because it’s really about markets. It’s about defending the free market as the basic component of the capitalist system. And that is very closely tied to the Cold War because it’s really about viewing the world in terms of a dichotomy, a kind of Manichean competition between capitalism and communism. So if you ask yourself what is the key feature that makes capitalism capitalist? It’s the free market. And so a lot of things get interpreted through the filter of this free market fundamentalism. And its fundamentalist, though, because it has a kind of quasi religious component, because it’s kind of impervious to empirical evidence for the limits of markets or the problem of market failure. 

So and then in some way, in this scheme, the bad guys become scientists or environmental scientists and environmentalists, particularly environmental scientists and environmentalists. How why did that seem plausible to them that these folks were essentially the next communists? Because that’s basically what you’re saying. Why did that seem on its face reasonable? Because to me, it doesn’t. 

Right, exactly. And to me it didn’t either. So part of the project, the book was understanding that. So, as you say, this is exactly how they think. They they think environmentalists are watermelons, green on the outside and red on the inside. 

So it’s plausible in two ways. One is that it fits into a whole ideology of reds under the bed. The idea that there are these hidden communists lurking around, maybe they’re in Hollywood, they’re infiltrating the State Department and they’re infiltrating science. And the place that they infiltrate science is environmental science, because that’s the place where there is a challenge, a kind of implicit challenge to the free market, because we see that burning coal produces acid rain, burning oil, gas and coal produces global warming. Using hairspray damages the stratospheric ozone layer. So there are these market based activities that are doing damage. So science through scientific research, environmental science is raising the issue of market failure. And so rather. So I might say as a rational person. Well, then let’s look at these market failures and let’s look at what potential remedies we have for the market failure. 

And many reasonable people, in fact, do say this publicly in the 1990s surrounding acid rain. But they don’t do that. Instead, they say, well, we don’t believe the science and they challenge the science. And one of the things that was very clear to us as we were doing the work, and I think especially of Bill Nierenberg on this one, because I knew Bill Nierenberg personally, I don’t think that Bill thought that there was no scientific evidence of acid rain. 

In fact, we know that he did understand in his papers it’s very clear that he understands. But what he thought was that it was exaggerated, that liberals and environmentalists and people who were socialist or socialist leaning were exaggerating the threat in order to justify government control of the marketplace. So it is a reds under the bed kind of mentality. And so he becomes dismissive of the scientific evidence even when it’s collected by people he knows, even when it’s collected by people that he hired at his own institution. And that’s where it begins to become pathological. Right. You’ve hired someone. You know their credibility, you know their credentials. Otherwise, why would you have hired them at a leading scientific research institution? But then you don’t believe the results because it challenges your own worldview. 

So then, I mean, the acid rain battle was prior to the fall of the Berlin Berlin Wall. Most of it, anyway. I mean, it overlaps. Yeah. Overlap. So, I mean, were were environmental scientists being actually actively called or suggested that they were disloyal to the country? I mean, was that already happening in the Reagan administration? 

Well, not initially, but it’s starting to happen. And what happens? The acid rain debate is really, really interesting. And it was the chapter, the book I spent the most time on, and it was actually the last chapter to get finished. It was the chapter which Erik started climbing. Say, Naomi, you need to finish that chapter. Right, because it’s in a way where so many these issues really come to the fore. So initially, you know, nobody thinks that the scientists working on acid rain are communists. But yet you begin to see this opposition in the late 1980s, right around the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall. 

And you see the Reagan administration well, doctoring. This is what we show in the book. The Reagan administration asks Bill Nierenberg to change the acid rain peer review panel report after has been finished after the. Scientist have signed off. Bill Nierenberg changes the executive summary and he does it with direction from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. So this is a absolutely clear example of political interference in the scientific process. And Bill Nierenberg is party to it. So it starts by kind of undermining the strength and the scientific conclusions in this peer review report. But then it kind of goes downhill from there. And then by the end of the Reagan period, we do begin to see these accusations starting to emerge about, you know, the watermelons. And here’s the really ironic thing about acid rain. So if people only read one chapter in the book, I actually would like them to read the acid rain chapter, not the global warming chapter, because we all know the global warming story more or less when George H.W. Bush becomes president. He works with his own Council of Economic Advisors to answer this question, well, how could we solve this problem without intrusive government interference? And the answer is emissions trading and emissions trading is put forward as a market based mechanism that basically will address the environmental concerns, but also address the concerns about excessive government intervention. And so it’s a compromise. And the thing is, it works. It works to control acid rain. And this is a message that if there are any Republicans are conservatives out there listening that I really would like to get across. We have a market based mechanism. It’s been tried and it works. And the people in the Midwest of the United States did not find themselves living under a communist dictatorship. 

Well, was it also I mean, were some of the environmental scientists also the same people who had basically been involved in the fight over strategic missile defense? 

I mean, was it wasn’t the same people at most them a completely different if you read this chapter and people like Gene Likens and Nowy Johnson, these were chemists, geochemist, soil scientists, hydrologist, forest ecologists. These people had had nothing to do with nuclear winter or nuclear weapons, completely independent science. But they become the targets of this attack because of this issue of regulation. 

And so one of your talk, actually, you know, you talk about neo liberalism and the denial of global warming. It’s one of those words. 

Tell us why you used it and what the heck it means when neo liberalism confuses a lot of people. A lot people don’t know what it is. And actually, we didn’t use it in the book because we thought it was confusing. But since the book has come out, every comment I’ve been talking about it a lot more because we’ve come to feel that it actually is really important to understand. So neo liberalism is a kind of broad term that’s used by economists and academics to talk about a set of ideological principles that have really come to the fore in the last 30 years, which focus on the virtues of deregulation and releasing the so-called magic of the marketplace. And it’s called neo liberalism because it invokes that classic neo liberal values of Adam Smith and John Locke and David Hume and people like that who were concerned about protecting the rights of the individual against the possibility of tyrannical and oppressive government. But, of course, you have to remember everything about Adam Smith. He’s writing in a time of monarchy. 

He’s running a time when the dominant governments of the European nation states were kings who often had been highly tyrannical and oppressive. He wasn’t writing the context of a modern industrial democracy or parliamentary democracy. So the social context is entirely different. But these people invoke those classic liberal values, which I think many of us would agree with. 

Most of us do agree we don’t want to live under a tyrannical or fascistic government, but they bring it back to the fore in the context of the free market. So really drawing on Adam Smith and the idea of the invisible hand of the marketplace. And so it becomes an argument for deregulation, minimizing government involvement in the marketplace. 

Well, the argument in favor of it, you know, if you go back to 1970s and 80s, you could see why in that particular historical context, a lot of regulations had been put in place to end the Great Depression during the 1950s and 60s and into the 70s to address the failures of capitalism, the Great Depression, and also to address the hazards of industrial civilization that had really become evident in the 50s and 60s. And there was an argument made in the 70s that maybe some of those regulations went a bit too far. And that’s an argument we could talk about. You know, there might have been something to it in some areas and there was a big move to deregulate some markets like the airline industry, trucking, railroads, and a lot of that deregulation may well have been a good thing. I’m not an expert on the deregulation of telecommunications, for example, but then it spills over. 

Right. It spills over. And like a lot of ideas that maybe have a kernel of truth, it gets taken too far and it gets taken as interpreted at least by some people as saying that environmental regulation is a bad idea, that it will be worse, that the cure will be worse than the disease. And you see this being invoked a lot cynically by the tobacco industry for obvious reasons, but also, I think less cynically by some individuals who for whom the whole idea of protecting. Visual freedom. Well, a lot of us want to protect individual freedom. That’s not a strange idea. And of course, it taps into a deep seated strain in American culture, which is the strain that says the government that governs best is a government that governs least. We’ve all heard that line that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. One of the interesting things in our story is that some of the defenders of SDI site, you know, cite that part of the preamble. Right. So that they see themselves as being engaged in this almost sort of Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, you know, eternal vigilance, defending liberty. 

You know, the blessings of liberty for the next future generations. So I think I think they really internalize those values, but then they couple them to some claims that really, really can’t be supported empirically. So, again, it’s like a lot of ideological programs. There’s a part of it that makes sense. But then there’s a way in which the ideology begins to blind people, to the realities of the world that she live in. 

Do these folks I appreciate your explanation and it makes a lot of sense, but it makes me really not like the term neo liberal now. Do these folks call themselves that? I mean, because it seems to me that precisely because the original, quote, liberals were fighting back against monarchies, essentially they’re much more parallel to people who want to open up a Soviet country to the free market than they are to people in a democratic society who want to do away with all regulate. Does that make that make sense? And so actually, I think that calling them the liberals is really kind of missing something about the way left and right work. 

Well, I think that’s true. But you have to remember, this language comes out of the economics profession. So in economics, these people are viewed as neo liberals because they invoke the liberal economic philosophy of Adam Smith. So it’s in that kind of intellectual historical context. But I agree that the term is it’s a tricky one. It is confusing. You’re absolutely right. I mean, the most adamant, Neal, liberals in the present day political scene are some of the leaders of the former Iron Curtain bloc, like Mr. Clough’s, the president, the Czech Republic, who honestly, if you read what he says, he’s almost like a textbook example of the kind of arguments that we discuss in the book. So, not surprisingly, he’s attacked our work. Right. Because these people from these former communist bloc countries really, really, really want to embrace a very aggressive free market philosophy. And they want to just throw out. They want to cast off anything that has any taint of the Soviet Union, including, in their minds, environmental protection. 

But that, of course, is the classic mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There was a lot that was bad about the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t mean that reasonable regulation in a liberal democracy isn’t also a good thing. 

So it is your argument then, ultimately that when you have this group of cold warriors who are thinking in the way that we’ve talked about and then they go on to attack the science of global warming, and you gave in your talk a great, you know, list of four false scientific claims. You said that they’re they’re as wrong as saying that Belgium invaded Germany in Horwitt two rather than Germany. But you say that’s a great soundbite. And so I’m stealing it from you. But are you saying that essentially the the the reason they were able to reason so poorly was because the emotion driving them was fear? Would you get would you. 

Yes, absolutely right. And also the emotion driving their audience. Right. That it taps into the audience’s fear and anxiety about intrusive government. And because that is such a longstanding cultural trope in the United States, as well as our cultural embrace of the idea of individualism. Right. 

Most of us, the United States, including liberals or the left or whatever you want to call that side of the political. I mean, we all believe in individualism, that we’re all individual right individuals and is a very, very strong cultural strand in American culture. And we might argue a good strand. 

So these arguments tap into those deeply held values and beliefs. 

So whether and I whether or not it’s invoking fear and anxiety, it is invoking things we care about. And I think that helps to explain why these arguments have had such resonance across a pretty wide range of American culture, even among people who, you know, would not necessarily call themselves neo liberals or even conservatives. 

Let me push us a little farther. Let me ask a question that some medium controversial, but we have lots of evidence that the people who deny global warming the most are like your characters in the story, conservative, white and male. And then you throw fear in the mix. I mean, how much can we focus on some of those other descriptors? 

Well, I think it’s legitimate to raise them because, again, because we have events about it. If we didn’t have good empirical evidence, then I would say, no, that’s just you’re just you know, it’s a red flag, the book. But because we actually have events and my own personal experience we’ve talked about this fits with this. When I give talks and people challenge me, it’s almost invariably white men when I’m on the radio is my global warming. 

The phones always light up and it’s definitely always man. 

Yeah, I know, which is really interesting. And women often come up to me quietly later and thank me for my work. So, look, I think there’s a pretty simple explanation about this kind of changes a very complicated issue on a level way. And I don’t mean scientifically complicated. I think we’ve actually exaggerated the scientific complications there, there. But I don’t think there are so horrendous. But it’s very socially and culturally and politically, economically complicated. And one of the complications, though, or I should let me rephrase that. One of things that’s not so complicated about it is that it is a challenge, the status quo. It tells us that there is a problem with the way we live and the way we organize our economy and exactly what that problem is. We could argue about that. We could argue about whether it’s because we personally use too much oil and gas because we have this highly consumptive lifestyle, or could be because we could argue our economy doesn’t get taken into account the external costs. But there is a problem. So people who are happy with the status quo, people for whom the status quo works well, I think will be more likely to resist the conclusion that there’s a problem with it. And so it’s not exactly surprising them that white men, typically older white men, as you say, conservative older white men, are much more likely to resist this claim than women, minorities. I mean, there are a lot of us living in American culture who have lots of reasons to think that the status quo is not perfect. 

And so for us, which includes all women, in my opinion, it’s not so difficult to say. Well, yeah, there could be a few changes here. Our society is not perfect. 

As a historian, let me ask you a question aimed at a historian. It’s very hard to answer and I fully acknowledge that. But I think it’s fascinating at the counterfactual. Did the denial of global warming have to occur? Because it seems to me it didn’t happen as much in other countries necessarily. And, you know, the more I think about the emotional reasoning. I mean, essentially, you can you can whip people up to think that something is the enemy, but they could just as well apply it to something else. You know, I mean, they don’t have infinite energy to get fired up. And, you know, CFC is was dealt with much more easily without as much to do. And it’s the same kind of issue. So did it have to get it infused with these emotions? Were is that impossible to answer? 

Well, of course, on some deep level, it’s impossible to answer. And many historians don’t like that counterfactuals. But actually, I do, because I think in a way, all of history in a way is an implicit counterfactual question. Implicitly, we’re telling stories of history because we have an idea that it didn’t have to be this way. It could have been different if different people some coincidences, historians like talk about contingencies. You know, sometimes they’re just some bad luck pieces or good luck pieces that come into the story. So I think it’s not that hard to imagine it having been different. And there’s two ways I think about that. One, as you already said, is the cultural context. So this whole story, we tell a few people criticized the book for being U.S. centric. Well, of course, it’s U.S. centric. This is an American problem, right, in Europe. Not only have all the European nations sign on to Kyoto, they’ve actually met the Kyoto targets. So this whole denial thing. I mean, you know, there’s little pockets of resistance in Europe. I mean, I’m not naive about some of the difficulties in Europe. But by and large, people in Europe accept the science, except there’s a need for action and are working towards making that action happen, including some interesting and innovative things like green banking and stuff. 

This is an American story. And it is an American story in part because of the. 

Individualism and some of the cultural tropes we’ve talked about, because in the United States, we have a more aggressive free market philosophy than say you find Sweden or Switzerland or even Germany. Right. I mean, in Europe, calling someone a socialist is not by itself a problem. Right. We have socialist candidates running for president in France. And the man who was going to be the socialist candidate was also the head of the IMF. Right. Or a major leader in the IMF. So, I mean, socialism and capitalism go together in Europe and interesting and complicated ways. So it’s really social democracy. 

So it didn’t happen in most other countries. So that proved that it didn’t have to happen. But did it have to happen, the IDE states? Well, of course, you know, again, very complicated question, but I think you mentioned the CFC question. I think that’s a really good counterexample. On the one hand, CFC is was a much simpler problem. So you could argue that it’s not a good analogy because it was so much simpler. But there’s a way in which it is a good analogy and that has to do with the behavior of the corporate sector. So when the evidence began to develop about the harms of CFC and we talk about this in our book and the ozone chapter, initially the reaction of the industrial committee was to resist the science. 

And there was a period of Organa Eyes resistance. But then the industry backed off and they backed off, really because of the leadership of one company, which was the Dupont Corporation. And Dupont is an extremely interesting corporation because they have a long history of diversification and their whole corporate strategy, which is really, really well studied by David Hounshell some years ago and a wonderful, thick academic book on the history of corporate research at Dupont in which he talks about how Dupont had actually got into trouble in the 19th century, was threatened with prosecution under the Sherman Antitrust Act because they had a monopoly on black powder. 

And in response to that, Dupont created the Dupont Research Laboratory and developed this diversity, diversified strategy of using science and technology to develop lots of different products, which ultimately included nylon and see Off-Season. All kinds of good stuff. 

Right. So when they were faced with the ozone problem, Dupont, in a way, it looked to its own history and said, we can diversify. We don’t have to hang our hat on CFD. And they took the advice of their own scientists and they found substitutes and they supported the Montreal Protocol. Now, of course, they are a different corporation than mostly oil and gas companies. But that is a model, right? One could have imagined a different situation where leading oil companies said at one point it looked like some of them were going to do this. So we don’t have to hang our hat on petroleum. We could begin. We make a lot of money. We have big cash reserves. We could begin investing some of our gigantic profits in serious development of solar, wind, biomass, other alternatives. And there is, of course, some investment in the private sector going on in these areas, but not nearly as much as one might have hoped. So one could imagine a different strategy where the corporate sector began to diversify into other energy resources, but instead, what the major oil companies did was to follow the tobacco example, which was to defend their product to the death. In the case of tobacco, literally, and and not really diversify a serious way, although there was some diversification, tobacco, but not a lot, but rather to attack the science and claim that the science was unsettled. 

And to some extent and what we’ll wrap up here, because we’ve covered a lot of ground, but to some extent that itself has changed. Right? I mean, now even Exxon Mobil is not really the global warming denier anymore. So it took time. It took too much time. But I’m not sure they really they really doing this anymore. 

Well, it’s not really clear. At one point, they said they weren’t going to fund the Marshall Institute anymore than Bob Grantham at the Royal Society showed that they actually still were. Now, evidently, they have finally stopped. Which is good, but it’s not really enough. I mean, it’s not enough to just stop doing harm. I think what Exxon Mobil and the leaders of the other oil and gas companies need to do is they need to stand up in public and say, we accept the science. We are a science based industry. We rely on scientists to find oil and gas and to to refine it and to do all of the things that we do. And we accept that science and we’re going to now use science and technology to move us into the 21st century. 

You know, I always say coal is a 19th century fuel oil and gas are 20th century fuel. We’re now in the 21st century. I mean, I’d like to see business leaders really be leaders and lead us into a 21st century of a whole new set of fuels that aren’t based on carbon. 

Well, I think let’s listen there, because that’s a great note to end on, and that is certainly hopefully where we’re going. Naomi Oreskes, it’s great to have you on point of inquiry again and to really cover the intellectual history behind this incredible denial that we’re dealing with. Thanks so much. It’s fun to be with you again. I want to thank you for listening to this episode of Point of Inquiry to join the discussion about today’s show, you can visit point of inquiry dot org. You can also send questions and comments to feedback at point of inquiry dot org. You can find us on Twitter at point of inquiry and on Facebook at slash point of inquiry. The views expressed on board Macquarie aren’t necessarily the views of the Center for Inquiry, nor of its affiliated organizations. 

Of Inquiry is produced by Adam, Isaac and amrs New York, and our music is composed by Emmy Award winning Michael Wailin. 

Today’s intro featured Debbie Goddard. I’m your host Chris Mooney. 

Chris Mooney