Was Confusion Over Global Warming a Con Job?

ByABC News
March 26, 2006, 6:18 PM

WASHINGTON, March 26, 2006 — -- American attitudes about global warming are shifting, according to a new poll by ABC News, Time magazine and Stanford University -- but it has taken years for the public perception of the problem to catch up with the warnings.

That lack of concern may have been just what big oil wanted.

It's not as if the information hasn't been out there: A new ad by the Environmental Defense Fund warns time is running out to combat climate change, adding, "Our future is up to you."

But Virginia's top climatologist doesn't buy it.

"The American people have just been bludgeoned with climate disaster stories for God knows how long," said the climatologist, Pat Michaels, "and they're just, they've got disaster fatigue."

Michaels is one of a handful of skeptics still downplaying the danger. But they are a tiny minority.

The vast majority of scientists has determined global warming to be a real threat. So why has it taken so long to convince Americans?

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ross Gelbspan blames a 15-year misinformation campaign by the oil and coal industries.

"The point of this campaign was not necessarily to persuade the public that global warming isn't happening," Gelbspan said. "It was to persuade the public that there is this state of confusion."

A 1998 memo by the American Petroleum Institute said, "Victory will be achieved when average citizens recognize uncertainties in climate science."

To redefine global warming as theory -- not fact -- the industry funded research by "friendly" scientists such as Michaels.