Author of ‘Merchants of Doubt’ speaks of climate change

Zak Kinkaid

The Portage Community Rights Group hosted Naomi Oreskes, the author of “Merchants of Doubt,” at the Kiva on Thursday night. Oreskes spoke about climate change and conservation.

Oreskes received her Ph.D in the Graduate Special Program in Geological Research and History of Science at Stanford in 1990.

Before the event even started, Ann Ward, an audience member and fan of Oreskes’ book, said that a community should be aware of the topics presented.

“This lecture is going to be great because it is going to touch on the media coverage and companies with the doubt that has been planted about climate change,” Ward said. “It’s really important the following generation becomes aware of this serious problem.”

The lecture attracted leaders of student organizations around campus. Jaynell Nicholson, the president of the Kent’s Scientista chapter, a national non-profit organization that advocates for the empowering of women in STEM: Science, Technology, Engineering and Math education fields was in attendance.

Oreskes’ lecture touched on how climate change has been recognized in the world of science for a long time starting with research done by John Tyndall, who established carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas in the 1850s and its potential to warm the climate. She also covered how G.S. Callender realized that the carbon dioxide levels were rising and that the temperature might be, too.  

Oreskes said it was finally measured in 1958 by Charles Keeling showing the rise of carbon dioxide. Keeling and Roger Revelle led a report that the rising CO2 will cause temperature changes. This report was so widely accepted by scientists that the New York Times ran a front page story on it in 1988.

However, Oreskes said a group of scientists, including Fred Seitz and Fred Singer, were leading a campaign of doubt against the new reports of climate change and that, “ideology drove these people not money.”

“It wasn’t an argument about the science or the facts or data, but rather government regulation in the marketplace.” Oreskes said, “These scientists were dedicated to defending from communism and government regulation and asserted that environmentalists were linked with socialism.”

Oreskes linked the connection of environmentalists trying to take away freedom from the American people even in current politics when Donald Trump recently said, “Climate change is a hoax created for and by the Chinese.”

Oreskes offered three reasons of how this happened. First, as a response to the stagnant economic situation, which then lead to Reagan trying to reopen up the economy with deregulation. Second, the cold war had ended bringing about a thought process of capitalism being freedom and that the freer the market the freer the people. Finally, the evidence of acid rain, the hole in the Earth’s ozone layer and climate change were asking for regulation as a solution and the scientific evidence met conservatism.

“The “Merchants of Doubt” denied the problems, not because of the science, but because of the characteristics behind them,” Oreskes said.

She also mentioned that fighting against climate change is economically expensive.

“The thing is that all of these things being fought against (climate change and tobacco regulation) were market failures,” Oreskes said. “Lord Nicholas Stern, the World Bank chief economist, calculated the externalities cost of carbon to be trillions of dollars.”

To get through the denial of climate change, Oreskes said that it is important to recognize there are false scientific reports out there. There is a long history of private sector claims of government regulations that are exaggerated and lastly, people should focus on solutions that already work, like solar thermal systems.

Nicholson, a junior conservation biology major, said Oreskes inspired her during the lecture.

“I think she was very inspiring. I love how relatable her talk was and her book,” Nicholson said. “I have read some short passages of it and, as a conservation biology major, I think it is very important to have speakers come and talk like this.”

Paul Billig, a junior physics major, said he was pleased to hear about the debate of climate change.

“I was very impressed she went right for the throat with the argument (of climate change), she didn’t dance around the doubt but addressed it directly and the best way to put it is that her argument transcended the politics and got down to the plain and simple science,” Billig said. “(She) said let’s at least agree on that and then decide what to do. Her solutions were impressive i had personally never realized the payoff would be so great.”

Zak Kinkaid is the continuing studies and distance education reporter for The Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].