Quick Take: America Has Been Duped on Climate Change

“Future generations will look back on our tepid response to global climate disruption and wonder why we did not act sooner and more aggressively. Climate change will adversely impact present and future generations, as well as all species on Earth. Our moral obligation to protect life requires us to act.” – Environmental sociologist Robert Brulle, PhD

Even after the 2015 Paris Climate Conference in December, which resulted in a historic climate agreement, Robert Brulle, PhD, a professor in Drexel’s College of Arts and Sciences and an expert on public opinion on climate change, believes we are still on track for dangerous levels of change in our climate (Brulle attended the summit and recently shared his thoughts about the agreement with NPR’s Radio Times).

So why haven’t we acted sooner or more aggressively? Brulle believes that one answer can be found in what he calls “the split over the veracity of climate science.”

In a piece this week on the Washington Post’s “In Theory” blog as part of a series on climate change, Brulle makes the case that fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil have distorted Americans’ understanding of climate change. He believes that these companies should be held responsible for spreading misinformation about climate science, which has delayed essential efforts to address climate change.

Citing his previous research, which examined the “dark money” behind the climate change countermovement, Brulle lambasts the coordinated efforts of conservative foundations and fossil fuel corporations to promote climate doubt. His study, published in Climactic Change in 2013, marked the first peer-reviewed, comprehensive analysis ever conducted of the sources of funding that maintain the denial effort. The study was covered by the Guardian, Washington Post, and Scientific American, among many others.

“Amplified by conservative media, this campaign of disinformation and omission has significantly altered the nature of the public debate and led to political polarization around the issue, making meaningful legislative action nearly impossible,” said Brulle.

Brulle argues that the fossil fuel industry’s role in distorting discourse on the urgent topic of climate change has compromised the moral integrity of the public sphere.

“If vested economic interests and public relations firms can systematically alter the national debate in favor of their own interests and against those of society as a whole, then the notion of democracy and civic morality is undermined,” he said.

Brulle calls upon Congress to investigate this issue fully, just as they investigated the efforts of the tobacco industry.

“Only then,” he said, “can we restore trust and legitimacy to American governance and fulfill our moral duty to aggressively address climate change.”

Brulle’s current research involves examining the funding behind the environmentalists’ side of the climate change debate. He will then compare the whole funding flow to the entire range of organizations on both sides of the debate.

His most recent book, “Climate Change and Society: Sociological Perspectives,” co-edited with environmental sociologist Riley Dunlap, was released from Oxford University Press in Sept. 2014. The book makes a case for engaging more social scientists in the climate conversation.

Members of the news media who are interested in speaking with Brulle should contact Alex McKechnie at ahm62@drexel.edu or 215.895.2705.