In the US, climate change has always faced an uphill battle. It was even been the butt of several jokes during the Republican National Convention due to the lack of support and belief that human activity is warming the planet. However, an article from Inside Climate News has reported that unlike elsewhere in the world where climate scientists are listened to, in the US they face ‘organized harassment’ including torrents of freedom of information requests, hate mail, and even death threats from skeptics. Meanwhile their global counterparts are able to work without fear.
Speaking to Katherine Bagley of Inside Climate News, Jochem Marotzke, managing director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology in Hamburg, said there is “no systematic attempt by a political camp” to target climate scientists in Germany. “I get the odd critical email from a skeptic, but would not classify anything as personally aggressive,” said Marotzke. “Very different from the US. scene. I feel for my American colleagues and what they’ve had to deal with.”
The theory was backed up by Tim Lenton, an earth system scientist who specializes in climate tipping points at the University of Exeter. “British scientists aren’t immune to attacks,” he added. “But it is a very different level than compared to what is happening in the US.”
One of the significant events in the US relationship with climate change was ‘Climategate’, when in 2009 hacked emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit had a significant impact” on public opinion. US skeptics immediately used the emails to say that climate scientists were “overstating the human influence on global warming” and as a result, nearly 13% of on-the-fence Americans said the whole event reduced their trust in climate science and in scientists.
But in the years since, evidence from the US Military, US Forestry Commission, NASA, The American Meteorological Society and assorted independent studies has strengthened the evidence that human activity is causing the planet to warm. A recent global poll from 2011 found that only 48% of Americans believe climate change is occurring from either human activity or a mix of human and natural causes — the lowest among developed countries.
In comparison, 83% of people in Asia, 72% in Canada, 69% in Europe and 65% in Latin America believe that climate change is scientific fact. It also doesn’t help that in the US, skeptics have been bolstered by the rise of the Tea Party movement, whose members are dubious about science in general, let alone climate change.
As such, climate scientists have faced campaigns led by conservative groups that are often bankrolled by fossil fuel industries who seek to sow confusion on the climate issue and undermine support for carbon regulations.
Unsurprisingly, polls have shown that belief in climate change in the US matches party and ideological lines. Among those who said they were “alarmed” or “concerned” about global warming, more than two-thirds identified themselves as Democrat, Independent, or moderate or liberal. In contrast, less than 15% of Republicans or conservatives described themselves as alarmed or concerned.
However, foreign climate scientists have resolved themselves to the fact that the US is simply a very different country for others in the developed world. In the US, religion and ideology, for better or worse, play a bigger role in US politics than they do in other countries. “This inevitably means things are more about belief than about evidence in the U.S.,” said Lenton of the University of Exeter.
This still doesn’t justify the ‘attacks’ on scientists, something which Alan Leshner, chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest scientific society, said is “very disconcerting”. Last year, the AAAS released a statement saying: “We live in a society where ideologies trump our willingness to hear what science says, and in a country where free speech is so widely valued, people are being attacked.”
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