War on science: Climate deniers want to free EPA from all that messy science stuff
Heartland’s conference last week made it clear that there is something of an emerging rift in the fossil fuel world along the denial/denialism line. While some are pushing for science-based tweaks to EPA policy, like how the agency considers (or rather, ignores) dangerous PM2.5 pollution, and for an assault on the Endangerment Finding, others are pushing the denialism envelope by shifting to a non-science framing.
On the traditional denial side, there’s a couple updates to the story on the EPA’s proposed policy to censor science under the guise of transparency, the public comment period for which ends on Thursday. Harvard has submitted a pair of comments taking the policy to task for its many failings, including violating patient privacy.
A second new tidbit is something we have implied before: this doubt-inducing policy is now confirmed to be the product of Steve Milloy, the former tobacco lobbyist who once talked about how this policy would allow tobacco companies to skirt regulations. Milloy claimed at Heartland’s event that he wrote the science portion of the EPA plan, drawing a direct line between the agency that’s supposed to protect the public’s health, and the tobacco industry, which kills some 6 million people every year.
And make no mistake, Milloy said at Heartland that the secret science policy would be “devastating to EPA’s over-regulatory air quality program.”
What Milloy’s employing here is traditional, challenge-the-data, make-people-doubt-science denial.
But Heartland’s keynote speaker, for-profit fossil fuel marketing man Alex Epstein, offered an example of what may be an even more worrying future of denialism. His “I <3 Fossil Fuels” mantra is that we should ignore the climate pollution because fossil fuels make everyone rich and cure poverty. This, obviously, is stupid and wrong, as plenty of others have explained before.
Epstein’s been on our radar since he protested the 2014 People’s Climate March, slowly making his way from the outskirts of denial, to getting a mention at a 2016 Heritage conference. He then proceeded to influence Trump administration rhetoric (and perhaps triggering Perry’s lovely “fossil fuels prevent rape” gaffe), and now giving the keynote speech at Heartland’s conference.
By making it a point to move the debate away from denying the death and destruction caused by burning fossil fuels, Epstein can be seen as building the “new and better truth” of denialism. And he’s not the only one: two new industry ads aired at a coal conference last week, according to Platts’ Taylor Kuykendell, that take the same Epstein-esque approach to energy. The ads revive Peabody Energy’s disgraced and exposed “energy poverty” framing, which falsely claims that fossil fuels are a cure to poverty.
This shift in framing, away from the science and toward a more friendly and banal, platitude-filled idealism is a result of deniers basically having lost the first phase of the science wars, according to. “It’s too late for denial when your customers, the ratepayers, the banks, and regulators already believe climate change is real,” Luke Popovich of the National Mining Association told the industry audience at the coal conference, per Kuykendell’s reporting.
Having lost the game of denial, certain parts of industry are now making a switch to denialism. Those who have been fighting the science fight for years will continue to do so, but people like Epstein recognize that the facts and science aren’t all that important in today’s world of fake news.
Having no need for facts is obviously a position the Trump administration holds dearly–particularly the dearly departed Pruitt, who we recently learned had zero scientific evidence to support his climate denial.
Denial, then, can be seen as censoring the scientific evidence the EPA can use. Denialism, on the other hand, is unabashedly and unapologetically making claims without any evidence at all.
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(Originally appeared at DailyKos. Image by Tom Toles at GoComics.)