It’s time to shine light on a dark corner of New Hampshire’s State House, where climate disinformation is used to thwart legislation toward a cleaner economy. It’s time to end counterproductive debates over long-settled science so that the Granite State can get to work becoming part of the climate solution, instead of settling for last place in New England.
According to Texas Tech University climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe, the best predictor of one’s beliefs on climate is one’s political ideology. Certain legislators in Concord embrace climate myths that match their ideologies yet stray far from scientific consensus. Consider State Representative JD Bernardy’s discussion on how “today’s changes in climate are simply part of the natural cycle” or Representative Jeanine Notter’s suggestion that “climate science is never really settled.” Both serve on the House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee.
Positions like these may sound familiar to readers or viewers of “Merchants of Doubt” by science historian Naomi Oreskes, which highlights how big industries manipulate the public’s understanding of science for their own interests. In the case of climate, Exxon has spent millions of dollars obfuscating its own scientific conclusions about the danger of carbon emissions. Exxon’s tactics, including the use of front groups, were recently divulged by one of its top lobbyists. Exxon is not alone. The Koch Network has contributed for decades, and the oil industry invested $124 million in lobbying to protect its interests in 2022.
Fossil fuel industry contributions help fund groups like the Heartland Institute, Americans for Prosperity, American Legislative Exchange Council, and New Hampshire’s Josiah Bartlett Center, which is closely tied to the Sununu family. These groups espouse the fundamental conservative values of small government, personal responsibility, and freedom which appeal to many people in New Hampshire. But they are also Trojan horses for sciency sounding myths about climate change and climate pollution.
For example, the Heartland Institute runs an annual Climate Conference with fringe scientists and publishes discredited books under the umbrella of a pseudo-scientific group it calls the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). Notter has even offered to share copies of NIPCC booklets to her town’s leaders after participating in Heartland’s conference, her attendance funded by the Institute. By promoting such anti-science propaganda in our State House, legislators are unwittingly serving the interests of out-of-state polluters.
So, how can the growing majority of Granite Staters who understand the reality and urgency of the climate crisis help our state advance beyond this situation? We can start by developing our own playbook to resist climate disinformation. Here are three proven tactics:
- Discuss. Hayhoe argues that the best thing we can do to solve the climate crisis is talk about it, especially with deniers. This works best when bonding over common values. For example, one might share in a private conversation with a denier, “As a fellow parent, I am troubled by the world we are leaving my children. I want them to remember me as someone who was part of the solution.”
- Inoculate. Inoculating against legislators’ disinformation attempts includes warning listeners of misleading strategies and details in advance. For example, one might say in a committee meeting, “Based on prior testimonies, Representative [name] may offer statements that originated from out-of-state fossil-fuel interests, and are meant to create doubt and confuse the matter.”
- Myth-bust. Disinformers often emit streams of misleading information, leaving listeners puzzled into silence. Not every myth is worth busting, but pointing out one or two factual flaws can undermine an entire statement. The Skeptical Science website maintains a list of common climate myths from groups like the Heartland Institute and how to refute them with real science. This tactic is most effective when implemented by someone who is culturally or politically aligned with the disinformer.
But, remember: even the best-executed tactics have their limitations. Disinformers may update their view on a given fact or policy, but are unlikely to reshape their core ideology. Ultimately, the most effective deterrent to climate disinformation is exposing it and keeping it out of New Hampshire’s government, and that is done at the ballot box next November.
If you are concerned about our climate, talk with your local candidates about it before you vote. Then, after they are elected, talk with them about solutions.
Matt Stein lives in North Hampton, N.H. and is CEO of climate analytics company Salient Predictions. John Gage lives in Windham, N.H. and is the N.H. State Coordinator for Citizens’ Climate Lobby.