Amazongate: Deniers’ Latest Strawman

As you’ve no doubt noticed, the climate deniers have been in full-on attack mode the past few months and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been one of their favorite targets. In some cases, like “Glaciergate,” there actually were some minor mistakes made by the IPCC that were readily copped to and corrected.

More often, though, deniers’ big “gotcha” moments are in the mold of “Climategate:” an issue being blown out of proportion by the climate denial machine in order to score cheap political points — because they certainly can’t attack the climate science head-on.

Currently threatening to become the strawman du jour is “Amazongate.”

Now, I’m willing to bet most of you still haven’t even heard of Amazongate, so I’m not sure it’s wise to go through the whole sordid tale and help spread the meme, doing the deniers’ job of spreading misinformation in the process. So perhaps I’ll skip the play by play, which would require me to reproduce the twisted denier logic, at least in part. If you’re really interested, there’s a good breakdown of the story and how the deniers have attempted to mangle it into fitting their purposes here.

I would just say that, as Treehugger noted last week, what we’re really looking at with Amazongate is more a case of sloppy press release writing than sloppy science. So even though the recent debacles have highlighted the need for scientists to communicate their findings to the public more effectively, this is perhaps a good time to note that there’s a lot of work left to be done on that front.

I will also say that the whole Amazongate flap was kicked up when, just a couple weeks ago, a new study was released that contradicted an earlier study’s conclusions about the effects on the Amazon of a severe drought that occurred there in 2005. There is very real concern that changes in average rainfall in the Amazon could deeply impact the rainforest, so much so that large swaths could turn into savannah. So this 2005 drought has become a bit of a case study in how the Amazon will be affected by the decreased rainfall that is forecast should we fail to avert runaway climate change.

This should go without saying, but here’s the thing that most people seem to miss: Scientific progress is always made via ever-refined hypotheses. One researcher reports a discovery, and then others evaluate their data and conclusions, perform their own research, and come to their own conclusions. These conflicting hypotheses are discussed and debated and refined until there is consensus — assuming there ever is consensus. There are always a variety of viewpoints in scientific communities. The value of the IPCC is that it reviews many papers and reports to find consensus and describes uncertainties and conflicts where they exist.

We’ve written about all this before, of course, but I thought it was worth repeating.

And here’s something else to keep in mind when you hear these attacks by the climate denial industry: They have to set up these strawmen because they can’t take down the science. The deniers long ago realized that there was enough consensus in the scientific community about the mechanisms and drivers of man-made climate change that they couldn’t attack it directly.

But public opinion, now that can sure as hell be manipulated. All the deniers have to do to win (where “winning” is defined as delaying climate action), they realized, is sew doubt and confusion in the climate debate. Doubt is the only weapon they have.

Photo credit: srqpix

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