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  June 10, 2014

The Truth and Consequences of Climate Change Denial

Peter Sinclair discusses how the big tobacco lobby methods are being employed by climate change deniers and the rising sea levels caused by melting glaciers.
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Peter Sinclair is a videographer, creator of two video series on climate change, Climate Denial Crock of the Week, and This is Not Cool, which is a regular feature of Yale Climate Connections. He is media director of the Dark Snow Project, an international team of scientists and communicators, which has taken him with scientists to research areas such as the North Cascades Glaciers and the Greenland Ice Sheet. He lives and works in Midland, MI.

The Real Consequences of Climate Change (In Our Lifetimes)


SHARMINI PERIES, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.

The data is in. That scientists have spoken. The client change is real and linked to the human activity that produces carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, predominantly the burning of fossil fuels. Major views reports such as the U.S. government's National Climate Assessment document says that we are already experiencing the effect of climate change in every region of the country.

With us to discuss the recent science on climate change is Peter Sinclair. Peter Sinclair is a videographer and a regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections. He's the media director of the Dark Snow Project, an international team of researchers and climate communicators.

Welcome to The Real News, Peter.

PETER SINCLAIR, VIDEOGRAPHER, DARK SNOW PROJECT: Thank you, Sharmini. Happy to be here.

PERIES: Peter, your videos have been viewed by tens and thousands of people, even produced on the conservative publication The National Journal. Tell us the series Climate Denial Crock of the Week and the whole agenda of climate change denial industry, which you have compared to big tobacco in one of your videos. First let's have a look at that.


I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

I believe that nicotine is not addictive.

And I too believe that nicotine is not addictive.

Yes, the globe is warming, but is it really all our fault? And is it true that the debate is over?

There is another side to the cigarette controversy.

These scientists are among those who say the debate is by no means over.

--later concluded that nicotine is a reinforcer in the class of nonaddictive chemical compounds such as saccharine and water.

If you pay scientists enough money, they'll find you want them to find.


Climate Denial Crock of the Week--tell us more about that, and also this segment of your clip about the tobacco industry.

SINCLAIR: Sure. I started this video series about six years ago and in frustration with the way scientists were being treated, especially on the internet. And I felt that although scientists, of course, have all the information, they don't always know how to fight back through the media. And I have some media experience, as well as a fair amount of knowledge of the science, so I thought I'd take a crack at it.

So I started making short videos that would knock down these little what I call climate crocks, which are these little nuggets of disinformation that Rush Limbaugh can say in 15 seconds but takes an honest scientist about an hour to disentangle. And there are well over 100 videos in that series now. And I have a new series through Yale Climate Connections, which is called This Is Not Cool. And there's several dozen videos in that series as well. Overall, millions and millions of views so far.

PERIES: Can you briefly tell me what other, you know, extreme right that has been in denial about climate change [sic], where are they at now?

SINCLAIR: They are backpedaling at the present time. If you're watching the media carefully, you're seeing--best example recently is Senator Marco Rubio came out pretty firmly on the side of climate denial about a month ago. And I think he was taken by surprise by the amount of negative media attention that he got as blowback from that. And several other prominent politicians have been finding the same thing in recent weeks. There's been a sea change in public opinion that shows up particularly among independent voters and Democrats who agree that climate change is happening, people have something to do with it, and we need to get started on solutions, as--the problem being that conservative members of Congress and the Senate have yet to decide even if climate change is happening. So they are increasingly out of step.

PERIES: So in this segment we just saw, you're trying to get at comparing what's going on right now in terms of climate denials and the tobacco industry. Explain that more.

SINCLAIR: Well, it's not just a comparison; it's a continuum, because we know from the documents that were released during the tobacco lawsuit trials that many of the same organizations, some of these right-wing think tanks and PR firms--and, in fact, many of these same individuals who have been involved in denial of the harm from tobacco have ported those same techniques over to the distortion of climate science. So it's not just it's sort of like the way it's it was done with tobacco; it is a template that was perfected by the tobacco industry and then ported by the same people to the climate issue.

PERIES: When you say "the same people", what do you mean?

SINCLAIR: Well, groups like the Heartland Institute, Competitive Enterprise Institute, people, scientists, so-called scientists like H. Fred Singer--S. Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz, the late Frederick Seitz. These are people who have been deeply involved in distorting the record of the tobacco industry, and now climate science as well.

PERIES: Peter, one of the things that you do very successfully in your videos is separating the fact from fiction. The real science is extreme enough. Tell us more about that.

SINCLAIR: Well, there's two problems. One is the problem with the people who have been led to believe we don't have an issue with climate change. Most of these people have just simply been misled by either poor media reporting or active disinformation in the media. Then there's also the problem with people who get it that climate is a problem, but they're almost paralyzed by the gravity and the scope of the problem. And so that's the twin barriers that we have to overcome in climate communication and taking action.

PERIES: In one of your recent videos, you look at the rise in sea levels and that melting Antarctic glacier that we've all been seeing in the media, people in many parts of the world, especially in my part of the world, like Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, you know, we are very concerned about that. But even in this part of the world, you know, Cuba would be very concerned about that with this rising sea levels. But why should ordinary people here be concerned about that?

PERIES: Well, I think you're coming from Baltimore, is that correct?


PERIES: I've been to the harbor in Baltimore. I think if anyone can imagine three to six feet of sea level rise at the harbor level in Baltimore and then add on maybe a storm surge of five, ten, or 15 feet on top of that, I think you can see where the problems will begin to arise. And even the most conservative estimates of sea level rise in the last, say, three to five years have been on the order of about a meter in this century. But with the latest research, we can expect that all of those estimates are going to be upgraded and may be upgraded dramatically.

PERIES: Is there any way to stop this from happening? Perhaps we can talk about Jim Hansen's two degrees as a climate goal.

SINCLAIR: Well, two degrees is a worthy goal if we can do it. That's getting to be more and more of a stretch.

In terms of some of the impacts like sea-level rise, we have a certain amount that's locked in, that's in the pipeline, and we can't do a whole lot about. Scientists have taken to speaking recently about our need to manage the unavoidable and avoid the unmanageable in terms of climate change.

PERIES: And do you--we want you to come back and keep us posted on the videos you're doing and what you are uncovering in the messages you want to get out. But for this interview we have limited time, so could you just give us a final wrapup in terms of what you think we should be looking out for and following editorially at The Real News?

SINCLAIR: Well, this current news cycle has been a big focus on sea level rise and the latest findings from Antarctica. Not so well covered was the same group from NASA was also studying the ice sheet in the Arctic, the opposite end of the world, in Greenland, and finding some of the same rather worrisome types of processes ongoing in Greenland that we're concerned about Antarctica. So I'll be going up to Greenland with the Dark Snow team in July and August, and we are looking at some of the more critical processes that could speed that melting along in coming decades. And right now Greenland is the biggest ice sheet contributor to sea level rise. So for our lifetimes, Greenland is the place where we need to--potentially we can understand it better and maybe even think about ways to, as we say, manage it.

PERIES: What are the reasons? Why Greenland?

SINCLAIR: Well, Greenland is an island about three times the size of Texas that is covered with an ice sheet of approximately a mile or two thick. There's about 22 feet of sea level rise potentially there. So even a small amount of melting of that has a big impact globally.

We are concerned with Dark Snow Project some of the processes, like, for instance, soot and black carbon from industrial pollution, and more and more from wildfires that are increasing in the northern hemisphere, depositing on the ice sheet, making it darker. Darker snow absorbs more sunlight and causes the melting to increase. There is a body of research, and it's still cutting edge, but it's--is corroborating this hypothesis.

And we're also looking at, as more melting occurs on the ice sheet surface, there is more growth of microorganisms, which also tend to darken the ice sheet and, again, are what we call a feedback: the darker the ice sheet, the more snow melts and darker yet it becomes and absorbs even more sunlight.

PERIES: Peter, thank you so much for joining us, and we hope you come back very soon.

SINCLAIR: Thank you so much.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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