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Yes, humans cause global warming

Marketplace Staff May 4, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: A government study out this week concludes that we — yes, we humans — are responsible for all those greenhouse gas emissions that are heating up the earth. Can’t blame the dog on this one. Writer and commentator Mark Hertsgaard says we should look to ourselves as well for ever denying a link between those gases and global warming.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Denial can get expensive. Just think back to the oil shock of 1973. Despite soaring gas prices, auto executives insisted that American consumers would never drive smaller cars. So, the Japanese got busy and eventually grabbed half of the US market.

Today, it’s denial of global warming that’s threatening US jobs and profits. Toyota and Honda are far ahead in hybrid car sales. And US firms are losing out in other sectors too. Our solar and wind power manufacturers once led the world. Now, we trail the Germans, Danes and even the Spanish.

In February, the EU, not the US, signed a memorandum of understanding with China that could lead to billions of dollars in trade deals for a new generation of carbon-neutral power plants.

Most American business leaders still don’t get what’s hit them. But it’s not entirely their fault.

For 15 years, Exxon Mobil and other companies spent millions to promote scientific uncertainty about global warming. They did it by funding contrarian scientists, lobbyists and PR outfits. Media outlets like the Wall Street Journal did the rest.

The deniers borrowed their tactics, and even their scientists, from the tobacco industry. In the 1980s former National Academy of Sciences president Frederick Seitz directed a $45 million research program for R.J. Reynolds that deliberately ignored the health effects of smoking. Then in the ’90s, Seitz became a leading global warming denier, a stance he says reflected his scientific judgment.

Exxon’s PR campaign ended up hurting not only the environment but other US companies and their global competitiveness.

Foreign firms are now winning the green technology race in large part because their governments, unlike Washington, take global warming seriously.

The US can do the same. But first it must reject the denials peddled by defenders of a status quo that cannot last.

TESS VIGELAND: Mark Herstgaard is the author of an article on the future of global warming in the current issue of Vanity Fair.

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