Rafe Godfrey: Who's really thinking independently on climate? (Opinion)

David Yaussy’s recent op-ed asserted that more “independent thought” is needed on climate change, and that “the mainstream media’s” concerns about it are overblown.

Of course, once people slide their assumptions by you, they’ve got you, so let’s look at the assumptions with which Mr. Yaussy’s writing is laden.

First is the idea that, if one dares to think independently (which is code for “deny the overwhelming scientific evidence for human-caused climate change”), one will naturally come to the same conclusions as did Mr. Yaussy. These conclusions are, for one, that “those who are spreading the alarm aren’t all that concerned about [climate change],” including “officials,” “celebrities,” Al Gore and former President Barack Obama.

Mr. Yaussy, however, purposely avoids mention of the original climate change alarm raisers, the scientists who conduct and review the research. Even a cursory examination of their reports reveals that they are, in fact, quite concerned about it.

Mr. Yaussy obviously fancies himself an expert, and he is — on environmental law. But he’s no closer to being a scientist than you or I. And yet he tries to slide past us the assumption that his “skepticism” is somehow worth more, in the realm of climate science, than the collective efforts of the world’s climate scientists.

Mr. Yaussy facetiously asks, “despite years of [the media] beating the climate change drum, people simply aren’t taking it seriously enough. Why is that?”

He suggests many reasons, but leaves out a pretty obvious one: Maybe because climate denial — rightfully considered pseudoscience — is a huge industry. It’s a very calculated form of propaganda, and has big money from shady sources behind it. The total annual funding for climate denial organizations is nearly $1 billion. From 2002 to 2010, nearly $120 million was donated anonymously to more than 100 climate denial groups. The New York Times reported in 2015 that oil behemoths like ExxonMobil knew of climate change as far back as at least 1981, and yet funded climate change denial groups for years.

So much for independent thinking. Those kids that Mr. Yaussy scornfully derides for “cutting class to protest adult indifference to climate change” are thinking far more independently on the subject than those of his ilk ever have. Perhaps because, unlike him, they don’t have careers that are beholden to fossil fuel interests, and, also unlike him, they don’t have the luxury of knowing they’ll be dead and gone by the time the real consequences of climate change come home to roost.

By far the most offensive assumption of Mr. Yaussy’s piece is the idea that he’s capable of independent thinking on climate change and the media isn’t. Mr. Yaussy’s tagline says he’s “an attorney in the field of energy and environmental law,” which is almost vague enough to not draw attention.

Examining his resume on Spilman.com, however, one can’t help but note a laundry list of clients either directly or indirectly involved in the fossil fuel industry. When Mr. Yaussy writes of “people” having “second thoughts” about “reducing fossil fuels to drive down greenhouse gases,” the “people” he’s really talking about are clients in big oil and manufacturing. Second thoughts? Hell, those groups would’ve had to have first thoughts on cutting fossil fuel use, in order to then have second thoughts.

So, of course, Mr. Yaussy either can’t or won’t think independently on climate change. He’s paid quite handsomely not to. In fact, the mere suggestion that anyone who is basically a very well-paid bodyguard for the fossil fuel industry is going to think independently, and so uncover some new truth on climate change, is so absurd as to almost be funny.

But the media? Well, I agree with Mr. Yaussy on one thing — the media needs to be more careful on the subject. For example, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, in 2014, called on the media to stop using the term “skeptic” to describe climate change deniers. They aptly noted that true skepticism is rooted in scientific inquiry, whilst denial is an a priori rejection of ideas, willfully disregarding or being genuinely ignorant of objective fact.

Even we here at the Gazette-Mail, a Pulitzer-winning newspaper, have to be on our guard. After all, our headline for Mr. Yaussy’s op-ed, “Climate debate lacks independent thought,” has, within it, couched the assumption that there is a debate. In the scientific community, which is the only one that should carry any weight on the subject, there is no debate; the case is closed.

Mr. Yaussy concludes by expressing a mournful longing for journalism’s golden years, when those in my field asked “hard questions ... in an attempt to ferret out the truth.” The fact that Mr. Yaussy, and those like him, desperately want to ignore is that journalists have already done just that.

And just in case Mr. Yaussy somehow missed those truths, here they are, in a nutshell: The overwhelming consensus of scientists — you know, the people who actually do the research and understand it on a deep, technical level — is that climate change is real, and that human activity is the main cause. No less than 97 percent of publishing climate scientists believe that climate change is real, and anthropogenic in nature.

If major, planet-wide changes aren’t implemented, and soon, the consequences will be more dire than any of us can truly imagine.

Rafe Godfrey is a Gazette-Mail copy editor and a master’s student

at Marshall University.

Funerals for Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Abner, James - 1 p.m., Keller Funeral Home, Dunbar.

Black, Thomas - 11 a.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

Bowcott, Doris - 1 p.m., Mt. Union Church, Pliny.

Dolin, Clayton - 2 p.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Harper, Brandon - 1 p.m., Cunningham-Parker-Johnson Funeral Home, Charleston.

Hively, Thomas - 1 p.m., Leonard Johnson Funeral Home, Marmet.

Kirk, William - 8 p.m., Hafer Funeral Home, Elkview.

McDonald, Jeremy - 11 a.m., Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Rollins, Melvin - 1 p.m., Casto Funeral Home, Evans.

Short, Elizabeth - 1:30 p.m., Fidler & Frame Funeral Home, Belle.

Simpkins, Anthony - 1 p.m., McGhee-Handley Funeral Home, Danville.

Stone Jr., Darrell - 2 p.m., Smith Cemetery, Leon.

Thorne, Thomas - 1 p.m., Tyree Funeral Home, Mount Hope.