cite as: F. Bi. 2008. Towards a genealogy of climate conspiracy theories. Intl. J. Inact., 1:37–42.
Note: The climate conspiracy theory genealogy is updated from time to time.
Check the end of this blog post to find the latest version!
Thanks for the link, where you call me a crank and a conspiracy theorist. You’ve got me there 😉
Anyway, I’ve been curious about how the global warming theory `became’ a conspiracy in the first place. “How, and when, did people start getting the idea that global warming was a `leftist plot’?” I wondered. To cut the long story short, I dug around a bit, and found that the so-called “global warming conspiracy” isn’t just a single conspiracy theory, but an entire family of conspiracy theories, all pretty incompatible — and incomprehensible1.
Once upon a time
In the good old days, men were men, women were women, and the US was in a Cold War against the USSR. Somehow, the idea that environmentalists were Communist sympathizers was born — I still don’t know when exactly that was, but in any case in 1962, some wag decided to label Rachel Carson, who fought against abuse of the insecticide DDT, as a Communist sympathizer [Smy97].
From there, it’s not that far of a stretch to postulate that some environmentalists may actually be Soviet agents, and that environmentalism is in fact a means to spread Soviet dominion. Which was exactly what another wag did in 1990:
[…] French intelligence discovered in 1985 that Greenpeace was making plans to agitate the natives in Polynesia against French control of the area, a strategic region of the Pacific in which the Soviets were already sponsoring revolutionary movements. Could the Greenpeace campaign against North Atlantic nations have similar goals?
Coincidentally, Bob Jastrow — generally recognized as one of the Founding Fathers of climate inactivism — was meanwhile having trouble getting support from scientists for Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defence initiative; indeed, the scientists were launching a boycott against it. Jastrow responded by accusing the unsupportive scientists of being Soviet stooges [OC08].
Lindzen’s conspiracy factory
Things started getting interesting in the 1990s, when scientists started to really really worry about global warming [OC08]. Our hero during this time is Richard Lindzen, who in 1992 proposed an early climate conspiracy theory — that the US Senate was being packed with environmentalists, and this Senate, under the nefarious leadership of Al Gore, started to control the purse strings of climate scientists to coerce them into getting the `right’ conclusions:
[…] in the summer of 1988 Lester Lave, a professor of economics at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote to me about being dismissed from a Senate hearing for suggesting that the issue of global warming was scientifically controversial. I assured him that the issue was not only controversial but also unlikely. In the winter of 1989 Reginald Newell, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, lost National Science Foundation funding for data analyses that were failing to show net warming over the past century. Reviewers suggested that his results were dangerous to humanity.
In 1996, Lindzen decided that climatologists weren’t really coerced, but instead they were incentivized to produce the `right’ scientific results [Lin96]. For bonus points, Lindzen also tried to make his point by comparing climate science to… eugenics:
[…] the interaction of science, advocacy and politics in both the global warming and eugenics cases share a number of characterisics: […]
Scientists flattered by public attention and deferent to ‘political will’ and popular assessment of virtue.
Significant numbers of scientists eager to produce the science demanded by the ‘public.’
By 2006, Lindzen had changed his ideas on the nature of the conspiracy again. This time, rather than being incentivized or coerced by bad guys, the climatologists are the bad guys — they purposely spread alarmism in order to scare politicians and the public:
After all, who puts money into science — whether for AIDS, or space, or climate — where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today.
And in the meantime (2003), we have Pielke’s theory which argues that climatologists on both sides of the debate have a stake in prolonging the debate in order to get more funding.
So, that’s already quite a good number of conspiracy theories… but that’s not all. On 5 Apr this year, Nigel Lawson wrote,
With the collapse of Marxism and, to all intents and purposes, of other forms of socialism too, those who dislike capitalism and its foremost exemplar, the United States, with equal passion, have been obliged to find a new creed.
For many of them, green is the new red.
Hmm. So environmentalism, instead of being a means towards achieving a worldwide Marxist dictatorship, is now a new doctrine to replace Marxism.
And on 5 May, we get Heartland Institute’s defence of its “Heartland 500” list, which combines Ellison’s theory, Lindzen’s 2006 theory, and possibly Jastrow’s theory, into a powerful mixed breed of bogus:
DeSmogBlog, a Web site created to attack conservative and free-market nonprofit organizations, targeted The Heartland Institute in late April 2008, […]
Many of the complaining scientists have crossed the line between scientific research and policy advocacy. They lend their credibility to politicians and advocacy groups who call for higher taxes and more government regulations to “save the world” from catastrophic warming … and not coincidentally, to fund more climate research.
And no, that’s still not all. We’ve not even touched on the theories that go “Al Gore invented global warming”, the now-forgotten “Chapter 8 conspiracy” [Lah99], and more. Truly, climate conspiracy theories are a fruitful field of study…
- I guess I’d sort of known that all along, though at the conscious level, I’d always spoken of it as if it’s one single conspiracy theory. Anyway, it was also at this time I came across Pielke’s theory.
- A note of caution: The relationships (arrows) shown in the diagram are based mainly on my subjective judgement of the similarity between theories. Don’t read too much into them.
- [Lah99] M. Lahsen. 1999. The detection and attribution of conspiracies: The controversy over Chapter 8. In G. E. Marcus ed., Paranoia Within Reason: A Casebook on Conspiracy as Explanation, Chapter 5, pp. 111–136.
- [Lin96] R. S. Lindzen. 1996. Science and politics: Global warming and eugenics. In R. Hahn ed., Risks, Costs, and Lives Saved, Chapter 5, pp. 85–103.
- [OC08] N. Oreskes and E. Conway. 2008. Challenging knowledge: How climate science became a victim of the Cold War. Technical Report 01/08, Centre for Philosophy of Natural and Social Science Contingency and Dissent in Science.
- [Smy97] R. B. Smythe. 1997. The historical roots of NEPA. In R. Clark and L. W. Canter ed., Environmental Policy and NEPA: Past, Present, and Future, Chapter 1, pp. 3–14.
There are now quite a lot of updates cluttering up this blog post (uh-oh…), so I thought I’d classify them. Here goes:
- Updates to the genealogy:
- 2008-05-17: There’s more! Further results in climate conspiracy genealogy.
- 2008-06-17: The plot thickens: Gorbachev, triglossia, and Bavaria…
- 2008-07-30: Mark Hoofnagle of Denialism has linked to this piece! Also, Motl’s “groupthink” theory has been added to the genealogy, along with Rancourt’s theory from a left-anarchist viewpoint. And last but not least, I propose to send an open letter to climate inactivists.
- 2008-09-17: Added Tom Harris’s and Peter Morgan’s conspiracy theories.
- 2008-09-26: Lindzen has come up with the Mother of All Climate Conspiracies.
- 2008-10-30: 3 new conspiracy theories from Alexander Cockburn, Michael Fox, and Vincent Gray.
- 2009-02-01: More conspiracy theories — from Tim Curtin, Jennifer Marohasy, and “Mickey”.
- 2009-06-06: 4 new conspiracy theories! One from Bressler, one from Lomborg, and two from Monckton.
- For the narcissistic egomaniac in me:
- 2008-06-30: I discuss a nice radio segment by Matthew Dentith on climate conspiracy theories.
- 2008-07-16: This genealogy is now on DeSmogBlog (thanks Littlemore)! Inactivist commenters Gary, Ray, and Paul G are trying to pretend that the conspiracy theories don’t exist, even as they actively promote them…
- 2008-07-18: This little blog post has attracted the attention of Prof. Mano Singham at Case University.
- Other news on conspiracy theories:
- 2008-06-22: If climate conspiracy theories came from the ‘greenism is crypto-communism’ meme, then where did that meme come from? It seems that it emerged from the debate over nuclear energy in the 1950s, though I’m still not very sure. Furthermore, it’d seem that the 1962 ‘Carson has communist sympathies’ letter was merely an inchoate form of the meme; full-blown environmentalist opposition to nuclear energy didn’t begin until the mid-1960s.
- 2008-06-27: Owen McShane says that “a group” is “recommending” that Hansen be “prosecuted for conspiracy with Al Gore”. Time for crickets.
- 2008-07-13: A climate conspiracy theory from the fringe of the fringe.
- 2008-08-02: Coleman, Monckton, and McShane have been threatening to sue Gore and Hansen for “conspiracy”… but none of them have followed up on the threats. Sign the “Sue Us” Petition and get them to bring it on!
- 2008-08-29: The secret history of El Reg’s Arctic ice kerfuffle!