There are those who claim global warming is a conspiracy. Maybe you are one of them.
Conspiracies do sometimes happen. Public figures are not always honest, ethical people, so suspecting a conspiracy is hardly crazy. But sometimes fire alarms go off by themselves, with no fire, and yet we do not routinely ignore our smoke detectors. After all, this time it might not be a false alarm.
So, let’s go investigate; IS climate change a mere conspiracy?
The Three-legged Stool
For a crime to happen, three conditions must first be satisfied: the crime must be possible; someone must have a motive; and someone must be willing to commit the act.
Impossible crimes, such as shrinking the moon in order to steal it, as in Despicable Me, obviously don’t occur. For a more down-to-Earth example, homeless pickpockets seldom pull off massive Ponzi schemes a la Bernie Madoff, because investment banking requires both membership in a certain social class and at least minimum start-up funds, and that is true whether the banker is crooked or not. For a would-be criminal with no money to start with, large-scale fraud is nearly as impossible as shrinking the moon.
And even if a crime is possible, if there is no reason for anyone to bother or no one despicable enough to try, the deed won’t be done.
Like a three-legged stool, a crime cannot stand if any one of its three parts is missing.
The First Leg of the Stool: Are There Despicable Climate Advocates?
Yes, there are probably some morally bankrupt climate scientists, though I’ve never heard of any, personally. But, on the whole, scientists are pretty honest about their work. They have to be. All science is based on accuracy and honesty, so scientists police each other pretty carefully.
Real scientists neither offer nor expect unquestioning trust. To be taken seriously as a scientist you absolutely must publish your work in a peer-reviewed journal. Peer-review means that other scientists, working anonymously so they cannot be influenced, look over your work and decide if it should be published. Scientific papers always include methods, results, and a discussion–that means, a detailed set of instructions so that anyone who wants to can repeat the study to see if they get the same results, the researchers’ own results, and the conclusions they drew from those results. If someone tries to publish conclusions unsupported by their data, the reviewers will notice and refuse to publish the piece. Anyone who fabricates their data will probably be caught and their career will be over.
Do some scientists falsify their results anyway? Yes, but it’s rare. The difference between the occasional crooked researcher and a global conspiracy to invent global warming is the difference between the occasional professor having an affair with a student and an international sex trafficking rink preying on graduate students. The former is reprehensible while the latter is laughable.
This leg of the stool is not, strictly speaking, missing, but it is very wobbly given the extremely low chance of enough people risking their careers in such a way.
The Second Leg of the Stool: Is It Even Possible to Fake Climate Change?
No, it isn’t.
This might surprise some readers, because of course it is possible to tell lies to large populations of people. Whole governments have done it. It’s also possible to suppress scientific research, at least temporarily.
However, the bigger a lie is, the more people lying and being lied to, the harder it is to keep going, because it only takes one person to reveal the truth and ruin the whole thing. And if climate change were a hoax, it would have to be a lie of unprecedented size. Thousands and thousands of climate scientists–if all researchers whose work relates to climate change are included, we could be talking about at least a million people–would all have to simultaneously have gone over to the dark side and stayed there for decades on end without the whole thing falling apart. Because, as noted, scientists check up on each other–and, just as it is career suicide to lie, it is career Miracle Grow to find credible results that fly in the face of what everybody else think is true. If the hoax only involved a few people, other scientists would have spotted the discrepancy and rushed to publish.
Something like 97% of climate scientists to say they believe in climate change means that either climate change is real or close to a million people, plus all their assistants, fieldworkers, office managers, and close friends and family have all been involved in a highly organized plot to fabricate huge bodies of data, and they have kept up the charade, without serious dissent for at least fifty years (before that, climate change was suspected,but not being researched by many people).
Where our Deep Throat? Where is Chelsey Manning? Where is Edward Snowden? Tens of thousands of people in hundreds of countries around the world plot to deceive on a scale no government agency has ever attempted and NOBODY blows the whistle?
The Normandy invasion wasn’t this well organized!
I should note that the periodic claims of climate deniers that one or another “top scientist” has confessed are not reliable. Anyone can call anyone else a “top scientist,” it isn’t an objectively definable position. And anyone can “confess” to anything they want. If climate change were a hoax and one of the perpetrators were really caught, he or she would be fired and might even go to jail. The jig would be up and the hoax would die–unless society as a whole were also in on it.
This leg is pretty well missing.
The Third Leg: Does Anyone Have a Motive?
So, even if this sort of massive conspiracy were possible, would anyone bother? Why would anyone risk a career in such a way?
The motive isn’t prestige, because, as noted, a scientist who could credibly disprove global warming would gain far more prestige by doing so than by remaining loyal to the conspiracy. And it would not simply be fear of reprisal from other conspirators-–because what would motivate the other conspirators? They couldn’t all have no motive besides fearing each other.
Some might suggest money, but the reality is there is very little money in environmentalism. Most environmentalists spend half their time trying to raise just enough money to keep going. People who are lucky and good at fundraising can cover their expenses and even make a decent living. Occasionally, someone comes up with a workable green business plan or produces a very successful book or documentary on the subject and makes more than a decent living, but that’s rare.
And even when environmentalists do make money, it’s important to realize that nobody actually makes money from environmentalism as such.
They make money by fundraising, entrepreneurship, writing, teaching, or some other such skill applied to environmentalism. It’s not like making money by selling coal, where the coal itself is worth money.
Anyone who can build a wind farm can build a coal plant or a toy factory or a soft-drink bottling company. Anyone who can reach the New York Times Best Seller list with a book about climate change can get there with a book about something else. Anyone capable of a successful career in academia as a climate scientist can do so as some other kind of expert.
If you wanted to make money, would you create an international conspiracy in order to invent global warming so that you could invent a brand-new field of enterprise where most people who get involved just barely get by anyway?
Frankly, if you’re smart enough to pull off a conspiracy on the kind of scale faking global warming would require, you’re also smart enough to realize it isn’t likely to pay well. You’d go do something else instead, like forging Da Vincis or rigging the stock market. Top-notch international charlatans do not work simply for the thrill of bothering people.
One More Caveat
In all this, I’ve been assuming that the conspirators, if any, are mostly climate scientists.
But what if the conspirators aren’t the scientists themselves, but rather the media or the government? In point of fact, at least in America, both mainstream media and the Federal government are substantially less serious about climate change than most scientists are. Many scientists are busy tearing their hair out trying to figure out how to get the government or the media to take the science even a little bit seriously.
Looks like the simplest, most believable explanation is that climate change is real