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Pro-Trump climate denialism from a Berkeley academic

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Today’s post is based on an opinion piece from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, “Climate Change Has Run Its Course,” by a guy I’ve never heard of, Steven F. Hayward. I don’t know his politics, but to judge from his content, he’s either a rightwing apologist, a shill for the oil-and-coal industry, or both.

Hayward’s main point is that “climate change is over.” By this, he says, he means that “climate change is no longer a pre-eminent policy issue.” In language profoundly insulting to the millions of educated politicians and scientists who are concerned with climate change, Hayward says, in Trumpian snark, “All that remains is boilerplate rhetoric from the political class, frivolous nuisance lawsuits, and bureaucratic mandates on behalf of special interest renewable-energy rent seekers.”

Pretty snide, eh?

But that’s not all. Hayward goes on to accuse “the left” of “politicizing the issue” and turning climate change into “a political creed for committed believers.” Then he puts on his pompous hat and pontificates, “Causes that live by politics, die by politics.”

 Those of us who are non-scientists have followed the debate over climate change/global warming with difficulty in the 12 years since Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” documentary. I think most Americans want to be fair before coming to conclusions; at least, I do. I’m aware that “the left” has its pet causes. But so does “the right,” and just because I’m a social liberal doesn’t mean I robotically side with “the left” on everything.

But in my perusal of the news, it’s seems to me that the vast majority of scientists agree that climate change is real, and that its primary cause is the burning of fossil fuels, which makes it man-made. I’m struck, too, by how so many foreign leaders agree that man-made climate change is the gravest issue the world faces. Those are two very compelling reasons that persuade me that climate change is an authentic issue we have to deal with. It seems to me, also, that the politicians who are most opposed to researching climate change, and the role that oil and coal have, are Republicans who receive large amounts of campaign contributions from the oil and coal industries.

It’s fair to debate the issue. Nothing wrong with that: it’s the American way. If you don’t believe that the climate is changing, then present your facts to prove your case. If you accept that the climate is changing, but has nothing to do with the burning of oil and coal, then show us your facts. But don’t, please don’t, reduce the debate to the sloganeering and insulting that Donald Trump has introduced into our political discourse. There’s no reason to talk about “political creeds” or “boilerplate rhetoric.”

Or is there? I got this far in writing this post when it occurred to me to Google Steven Hayward and find out more about who he is. Here are some things I found

  • He wrote a book called “An Inconvenient Truth—or Convenient Fiction,” which shows his point of view.
  • He’s a director of a group called the Donors Capital fund, which gives “hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to numerous groups questioning mainstream climate science.”
  • He’s a senior fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, which is “heavily funded by oil billionaires Koch Industries and Richard Mellon Scaife.”
  • He told the arch-conservative Weekly Standard that “The real ‘deniers’ [are] environmentalists [who are] becoming increasingly shrill and extreme,” and called them ‘coercive utopians detached from reality.”

 How are we to explain such nasty, vindictive smearing from a man who is supposed to be an academic? Hayward himself seems to know that he stepped over the line with his attack. On his twitter feed, when he posted a link to the op-ed piece, he wrote, “Hoo boy, this is going to get me in trouble.”

Well, yes, it will, and I hope it does. Because Hayward has succumbed to the same degrading rhetoric of his leader, Trump, in attacking good, decent people who happen to believe that man-made climate change is a threat to the planet. Like Trump, Hayward seems motivated more by anger and resentment than by a clear, cool analysis of truth. As for climate change no longer being “a pre-eminent policy issue,” it suspect it still is–and when we elect a Democratic Congress we’ll see more action. Hayward, by the way, teaches at U.C. Berkeley, and I think he is going to have a very hard time in the faculty lounge when he runs into his colleagues who are insulted and shocked by him. He might consider transferring to Trump University.

 

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “He might consider transferring to Trump University.”
    That made my day!

  2. Bob Rossi, thanks!

  3. He is no mere academic but a well-paid shill and right-wing hack.

    https://www.desmogblog.com/steven-f-hayward
    https://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Steven_F._Hayward
    https://exxonsecrets.org/html/personfactsheet.php?id=46
    https://www.nrdc.org/experts/pete-altman/who-are-these-guys-yet-more-polluter-funded-front-groups-hit-climate-scene
    https://www.mediamatters.org/blog/2012/11/28/meet-the-climate-denial-machine/191545

    It’s not an accident that his background remains hidden.

    https://static1.squarespace.com/static/534ec657e4b03c887dde2641/t/575f6ehaywdd20c647ff95c170a0/1465872094069/FINAL_CN_WSJ_white_paper-0613.pdf

    “An analysis of 20 years of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages on climate shows a consistent pattern that overwhelmingly ignores the science, champions doubt and denial of both the science and effectiveness of action, and leaves readers misinformed about the consensus of science and of the risks of the threat. […]

    “Similarly, when the opinion page publishes op-eds by Steve Hayward of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), they failed to disclose his AEI affiliation in three of four op-eds. AEI is funded by the fossil fuel industry (and the tobacco industry) with major donations from the Kochs and ExxonMobil. Also undisclosed is the fact that Hayward is Treasurer for the Donors Capital Fund, one of a pair of groups described by The Guardian as “a secretive funding route to channel nearly $120m (£77m) to more than 100 groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change.” According to researcher Robert Brulle, Donors Capital Fund and its sister group Donors Trust are responsible for “about one-quarter of the funding of the climate countermovement.” “

  4. Dear Benjamin Steele, thanks for this new information. Clearly the guy is a hack. But then, what else would you expect from a republican?

  5. In case you’re interested, I wrote a long blog post ripping apart Hayward’s recent WSJ opinion piece.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/06/08/berkeley-scholar-doesnt-admit-he-is-a-corporate-shill/

  6. brent dykes says:

    You are calling him names while complaining that he is calling you names. Why didn’t you address his points about nuclear energy and connecting social causes to global warming.

  7. I’m not against nuclear energy; I don’t have a dog in that race. As for “connecting social causes to global warming,” so what? Both sides connect social causes to their policies. Global warming is connected with issues of poverty and inequality, but the Right doesn’t care about poverty or inequality, so of course they have to smear liberals.

  8. Bob Henry says:

    With Steve’s indulgent permission (as not everyone subscribes to The Journal, and their articles are protected by a “paywall”), let me reproduce in whole this recent “op-ed” piece.

    “Skepticism Beats Snopes as an Antidote to Fake News”
    Wall Street Journal – “Opinion” section, June 9-10, 2019, Page A13
    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/skepticism-beats-snopes-as-an-antidote-to-fake-news-1528497662

    By Amar Bhidé
    [A professor of business at Tufts University, is the author of “A Call for Judgment: Sensible Finance for a Dynamic Economy” (Oxford, 2010).]

    Sophisticated netizens swear by the myth-busting of Snopes, a website that has debunked many an urban legend. But Snopes — or any other enterprise established only to check facts — can’t stop the epidemic of fake news allegedly pervading social and traditional media.

    When customer reviews of sellers first appeared on eBay , scholars quickly lauded — and backed with rigorous, fact-based research — the benefits of independent evaluation. But it didn’t take long for scammers to produce fake reviews. Sellers learned to pay not-so-independent reviewers to post glowing evaluations of their products and viciously bad-mouth the competition.

    E-commerce sites fought back: Amazon ranks reviewers and labels feedback provided by “verified buyers.” But that simply leads to an arms race in competitive fakery. Sellers offer high-rated reviewers free goods or pay reviewers to make “verified” purchases. Dubious evaluations have also now shed their grammatical hilarity, although some tipoffs continue to amuse aficionados of the genre. Starting a review with “I am a student” is one telltale.

    Some kinds of reviews are harder to fake. Real users who post reviews of Airbnb accommodations are easily identified — although even here, guests have an incentive to puff up the ratings of their hosts, because the hosts also rate their guests.

    Still, it’s questionable whether even real customers provide more-trustworthy certifications of quality than producers or merchants do. Yes, sellers want to persuade you to buy, but those with hard-won reputations also have an incentive to make claims they can more or less justify.

    Similarly with news. When oligopolistic producers ruled, they provided reliability to the extent their readers wanted it. At one end supermarket tabloids published stories and grainy pictures of extraterrestrial landings and improbable celebrity shenanigans. At the other end were publications like the New Yorker and — surprisingly to me — Inc. magazine. They catered to different subscribers, ranging from literary lefties to conservative small-business owners. What they covered (and how) naturally reflected the interest of their readers. In my experience, both magazines checked the accuracy of the articles they published with more rigor and ferocity than prestigious scholarly journals do.

    Technology made this model hard to sustain. Google and Facebook sucked away the advertising that supported news reporting—and the fact checking. More competition for fewer readers and advertisers tempted traditionally staid news outlets toward tabloid sensationalism and fantasy, albeit in a more political and (usually) less salacious vein. And what is now called “fact checking” is a competitive gotcha effort, not an exercise in controlling the reliability of a news organization’s own product.

    Technology has also brought into the fray ideological amateurs who have no reporting costs — or reputations to worry about. Anyone with a mobile phone — that is to say, anyone — can tweet or post on Facebook and with modestly more effort hold forth on a blog. Cameras in mobile phones give everyone the capabilities of photojournalists and documentarians.

    Even amateurs who don’t expect payment often hope for attention, swelling a race to the bottom in sensationalism. And while mobile phones have made photography and videography cheap and easy, software has enabled the doctoring of images. Faking still pictures is already within nearly anyone’s reach; doing the same with movies will soon be as well. Citizen-reporters, those whose political convictions self-justify their means, thus add to the inaccuracies of professional journalism. And while some freelancers may expose media falsehoods rather than produce their own, how are we to know which ones? Independent policing of the news has a natural appeal, but it raises the question posed in Juvenal’s Satires: Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? “Who will guard the guards themselves?”

    Snopes’s myth busting can’t stop fantasy masquerading as fact either. It’s a for-profit business whose complete reliance on advertising exposes it to the same forces that stoke fakery: Survival requires more web traffic than debunking true urban legends can easily attract. And according to critics, Snopes is biased to the left.

    Even worse would be a Snopes-like entity publicly owned and operated like NPR, to say nothing of laws against fake news. Especially in America, one man’s falsehood is another’s free speech. Periodic changes in political power should remind all sides that whatever the room for falsehood it may sustain, the First Amendment is vital to protecting all our other freedoms.

    Someday, perhaps, attention-seeking social-media posts will naturally peter out, as CB radio chatter and scurrilous pamphleteering once did. Or media entrepreneurs may figure out better ways to profit from accurate reporting, although the historical record suggests that the expectation that truth will dominate public discourse has little basis in reality.

    Instead, as always, we should treat skepticism as a vital civic virtue. Rather than obsess about ferreting out falsehoods and punishing liars, we can avoid much harm by asking: What if widely reported facts are wrong? Better to acknowledge how little we know than to persist in believing what just ain’t so.

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