Fake news: the post-truth era

COLUMN

The truth is we have always been drenched with propaganda from the main media.

Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini set a trend by seizing personal control of Italy’s media in 1925. The new propaganda regime was so successful most had no inkling press freedom was no more.

Now in the 21st century we live in a propaganda world where the lines between truths and falsehoods are very oblique. Brave whistle-blowers, honest journalists and others are persecuted for exposing the truth.

Wealthy corporations and billionaires own 90 percent of the massive news media in the USA. Worldwide, prosperous news corporations are swallowing up smaller outlets.

The constant bombardment of trivialities and falsified information is very effective at turning minds not well conditioned to separate fact from the fiction.

Last year’s Brexit and America’s recent election are great examples of how emotion — not reason — motivates people. So convinced by Donald Trump’s untruths, if his worshippers heard their hero could walk on water, they would believe it, I’m sure.

American polls show only 48 percent of adults believe present climate change is due to human activity. They also elected an anti-science billionaire with the catch cry “global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China”.

Donald Trump has appointed a transition team of like-thinking billionaires to help him boost the fossil fuel industry and scrap the country’s climate change commitments.

French Chemist Fourier explained the greenhouse effect in 1816 and he produced his famous comprehensive report in 1824. John Tyndall, TC Chamberlin and Svante Arrhenius continued the research. By the end of 19th century undeniable physical principles of the greenhouse effect were well established.

During the 20th century scientist Guy Callendar compiled remarkably accurate charts from measurements of rising temperatures. He correlated these with the increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2 levels. His work covered the 50-year period between 1888 and 1938.

Other scientists of last century include Charles David Keeling, J Murray Mitchell Jr, James Hansen and Michael E Mann. Now we have the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

What were early warnings of climate change? From Professor Tyndall’s research in 1882: “Hydrogen, marsh gas, and ethylene produce a very high degree of absorbing and radiating heat . . . From this we may conclude that the increasing pollution of the atmosphere will have a marked influence on the climate of the world.”

Newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, and York Daily all wrote articles about what rising carbon dioxide levels would do the climate. The New York Times, May 1953: “The amount of carbon dioxide in the air will double by the year 2080 and raise the temperature an average of at least 4 percent. The burning of about two billion tons of coal and oil a year keeps the average ground temperature somewhat higher than it would otherwise be.”

Add these snippets to my earlier mention of the Popular Mechanics article “Remarkable Weather of 1911” and New Zealand’s Rodney Times article “Coal consumption affecting climate”, both by Francis Molena and published in 1912.

These past warnings were inconvenient to pursue then. Their confirmation are the inconvenient truths of today. What I have here is not propaganda.Two hundred years of knowledge and warnings should be time enough.

It’s time to get cracking don’t you reckon? Humanity’s future is at stake.

The truth is we have always been drenched with propaganda from the main media.

Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini set a trend by seizing personal control of Italy’s media in 1925. The new propaganda regime was so successful most had no inkling press freedom was no more.

Now in the 21st century we live in a propaganda world where the lines between truths and falsehoods are very oblique. Brave whistle-blowers, honest journalists and others are persecuted for exposing the truth.

Wealthy corporations and billionaires own 90 percent of the massive news media in the USA. Worldwide, prosperous news corporations are swallowing up smaller outlets.

The constant bombardment of trivialities and falsified information is very effective at turning minds not well conditioned to separate fact from the fiction.

Last year’s Brexit and America’s recent election are great examples of how emotion — not reason — motivates people. So convinced by Donald Trump’s untruths, if his worshippers heard their hero could walk on water, they would believe it, I’m sure.

American polls show only 48 percent of adults believe present climate change is due to human activity. They also elected an anti-science billionaire with the catch cry “global warming is a hoax perpetrated by China”.

Donald Trump has appointed a transition team of like-thinking billionaires to help him boost the fossil fuel industry and scrap the country’s climate change commitments.

French Chemist Fourier explained the greenhouse effect in 1816 and he produced his famous comprehensive report in 1824. John Tyndall, TC Chamberlin and Svante Arrhenius continued the research. By the end of 19th century undeniable physical principles of the greenhouse effect were well established.

During the 20th century scientist Guy Callendar compiled remarkably accurate charts from measurements of rising temperatures. He correlated these with the increasing concentration of atmospheric CO2 levels. His work covered the 50-year period between 1888 and 1938.

Other scientists of last century include Charles David Keeling, J Murray Mitchell Jr, James Hansen and Michael E Mann. Now we have the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

What were early warnings of climate change? From Professor Tyndall’s research in 1882: “Hydrogen, marsh gas, and ethylene produce a very high degree of absorbing and radiating heat . . . From this we may conclude that the increasing pollution of the atmosphere will have a marked influence on the climate of the world.”

Newspapers including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Kansas City Star, and York Daily all wrote articles about what rising carbon dioxide levels would do the climate. The New York Times, May 1953: “The amount of carbon dioxide in the air will double by the year 2080 and raise the temperature an average of at least 4 percent. The burning of about two billion tons of coal and oil a year keeps the average ground temperature somewhat higher than it would otherwise be.”

Add these snippets to my earlier mention of the Popular Mechanics article “Remarkable Weather of 1911” and New Zealand’s Rodney Times article “Coal consumption affecting climate”, both by Francis Molena and published in 1912.

These past warnings were inconvenient to pursue then. Their confirmation are the inconvenient truths of today. What I have here is not propaganda.Two hundred years of knowledge and warnings should be time enough.

It’s time to get cracking don’t you reckon? Humanity’s future is at stake.

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Wayne George Elmsly - 2 months ago
I think understanding of what is happening with Donald Trump will not be helped by the findings of climate science. Sadly, the findings of economic science, political science and psychological science are more likely to be helpful. In particular, the scientific findings about people with severe, multiple personality disorders seem to be worthwhile following up. Economics is often referred to as the dismal science. I have trouble believing that politics is a science, but some people think it is. Trump has been able to present so-called economics and political rantings in a way which was very popular with some voters. How good his policies will work out is yet to be seen. In fact, what exactly his policies are is not clear. The main policy statement appears to be, "I am wonderful."

Bob hughes - 2 months ago
Wayne Elmsly makes good points on other sciences, economic, political and psychological. Also his words on the scientific findings about people with severe, multiple personality disorders, Donald Trump will be America's first 'anti-science president'. The Trump administration has already begun an attack on science. I say science is the one true source of reality. Once established, I fear the consequences of Trump's administration for world societies and the environment will be profound.

winston moreton - 2 months ago
We have to wait and see how Mr Trump performs. Already he has shifted ground (not prosecuting Mrs C) and some of his own appointees appear to be giving him counter-intelligence, on for example Russia and its influence on the outcome of the US election. Our own PM is hopeful all is not lost with TPP.

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