Four years ago, climate change was hot. Politicians from both parties, pressed by an anxious public, seemed poised to act. But that was then and this is now. Today, public opinion about the climate issue has cooled, and many politicians either ignore the issue or loudly proclaim their skepticism of scientific evidence that human activity is imperiling the planet.
What’s behind this reversal? FRONTLINE correspondent John Hockenberry of Public Radion International's The Takeaway goes inside the organizations that fought the scientific establishment, environmental groups and lawmakers to shift the direction of debate on climate issues and redefined the politics of global warming. Frontline: Climate of Doubt airs Tuesday, October 23 at 9:00 p.m. on KUED. It repeats Wednesday, October 24 at 7:00 p.m. on KUED-World.
In numerous interviews that took him across the country, Hockenberry discovers how climate skeptics mobilized, built their argument, and undermined public acceptance of a global scientific consensus. Tim Phillips, President of Americans for Prosperity, explains how the movement was able to find a voice and gain momentum as the economy failed, “We got up a hot-air balloon, put a banner on the side of it that said, cap-and-trade means higher taxes, lost jobs, less freedom. And we went all over the country doing events and stirring up grassroots anger and frustration, concern.”
Climate of Doubt describes the individuals and groups behind an organized effort to attack science by undermining scientists, and to unseat politicians who say they believe there is current climate change caused by human activity. Andrew Dessler, a climate scientist at Texas A&M, says, “I fully expect that after this program airs I’ll get another FOIA request for all of my emails with you. And you know, I’ll just deal with that. As a climate scientist, I think a lot about the future. It goes with the job. And I want to make sure that in 50 years or 100 years or 200 years, nobody could ever say we didn’t warn them.”
FRONTLINE also investigates the funding that powers the skeptic movement in the name of free market, anti-regulation, small government causes. Hockenberry finds that funding has shifted away from fossil fuel companies to more ideological and less public sources. According to Robert Brulle, a sociologist studying the funding patterns of these groups, “The major funders of the climate counter-movement are ideologically driven foundations that are very much concerned about conservative values and world views.”
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