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of action as possible, and corporate advocates for the fossil-fuel industry,
who of course dread the thought that the world might eventually wean
itself of oil. One might expect such groups—which ultimately represent
some aspect of consumer preference in which we are all implicated—to
put their weight behind denying or dismissing climate change science,
and indeed some of them have already done so. As James Hoggan dem-
onstrates in his book, Climate Cover-Up , starting around 1991, businesses
such as the Western Fuels Association and the National Coal Association
funded a massive public relations campaign to distort the science, mis-
lead the public, and delay the adoption of public policies meant to
address the problem. In a parallel effort, the Exxon corporation created
groups to funnel support to various conservative “think tanks” for simi-
lar purposes. 163 This effort had significant results: one study showed that
over 92 percent of English-language topics expressing skepticism about
climate change between 1972 and 2005 were “published by conserva-
tive think tanks, writen by authors ailiated with those think tanks, or
both.” 164 A good example is the aforementioned topic by Michaels and
Balling, which was published by the Cato Institute, the well-known con-
servative think tank in Washington, D.C. Through these and associated
efforts, national business associations and major fossil-fuel corporations
successfully persuaded mainstream media outlets that there was a cred-
ible debate about climate change, with genuinely accomplished scientists
on “both sides” of the question. 165
In doing so, these groups relied on a sophisticated strategy that they
and others had long used in postwar America. In this instance, as in others,
they relied on the gap between how scientists and the public see uncer-
tainty. Scientists seek out areas where knowledge is not setled in order to
refine and deepen their understanding, whereas the public often confuses
that level of uncertainty with doubt on the basic facts themselves. As the
historians of science Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway show in their
devastating topic, Merchants of Doubt , since World War II conservative
obstructionists have relied on a small number of scientists to exploit this
gap and create the perception of doubt again and again. Climate change is
only one of the most recent instances in a long sequence of public policy
questions in which doctrinaire opponents of action have set aside a solid
scientific consensus in the name of a supposed uncertainty. Over the
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