PA13A-1986: When the circus comes to town: Countering campus presentations on climate denial
Authors: Jeffrey Corbin
Author Institutions: Biological Sciences, Union College, Schenectady, NY, USA
A key element of the corporate and conservative campaign to discredit climate science has been public presentations by high-profile climate change deniers who offer “the real view”ù of climate science. While such speakers often intend to muddy the waters with respect to climate science, they can also serve as an initiative to highlight the widely accepted facts of climate change and the nature of scientific consensus on the topic. Our experience, based on a visit by Christopher Monckton to Union College, is that the attention and publicity surrounding such events can have a positive impact by raising the profile of climate science and engaging a wider audience than would otherwise be possible. The principle lesson from our experience is that our students are some of the most effective counters to such presentations by climate change deniers. Students at Union College worked with faculty to organize sophisticated presentations and forums to present a coherent message about the science of climate change. They engaged with Monckton during his presentation and in a follow-up forum, used social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit to communicate with one another and with their peers, and displayed highly sophisticated critical thinking skills. Above all, they had the passion and energy to organize, to engage with a high-profile speaker, and to rebut arguments that misrepresented the state of climate science. While we had effectively used social media tools to organize and communicate within our own communities, we were subject to a well-organized campaign that used those same tools to discredit our efforts. Links to coverage of the event in our campus newspaper were shared worldwide via Twitter and Facebook, and we were flooded with messages from people with no campus connection. The event was also featured, along with derogatory descriptions of organizers, at the website Wattsupwiththat and a contribution by Monckton to the Financial Post. We would have been far better prepared for post-event publicity if we had anticipated that social media tools can effectively nationalize discussions that take place even at small colleges. Even with that knowledge, however, the balance of power in carrying on a debate in the public sphere seems strongly weighted toward the network of climate deniers. I co-authored an EOS Forum paper that described our experiences at Union College and at nearby Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. The number of blog or Twitter references to EOS pales in comparison to those linking to a reply authored by Monckton and posted online. At this point, communication of climate science seems at a distinct disadvantage compared to communication of climate denial. This is not to say that we should yield the floor to those who attempt to discredit our research and contradict what we teach in our classes – doing so risks giving the impression that scientific literacy and public awareness of climate change are of little importance to us. Instead, when we engage climate science deniers, we make clear that we believe much is at stake.