Suppose you're a guy and your girlfriend just broke up with you. Upset, you decide to "get back at her" in the worst way. So, you run around town telling anyone you come in contact with that she is a lesbian, kleptomaniac, sociopath or some other vile lie. Your actions could be referred to as "muddying the water." Your former girlfriend had good standing in your community and now, because of the vicious rumors you are spreading, a lot of people are beginning to doubt her credibility.
While word-of-mouth campaigns certainly can do damage, if you live in a large community, few people will ever get wind of it. In order to widen the scope of your campaign to reach people near and far, you will need money -- lots of money. With sufficient financial resources, you can fund a plethora of creative ways to get your slanderous lies before the public. In time, if you employ a variety of methods, you may be able to convince a significant number of the folks in your community that your former girlfriend is a person not to be trusted.
In a nutshell, this is what many wealthy conservatives are doing in terms of climate change. According to a report on Democracy Now,
While the secretive Donors Trust has given millions to a variety of right-wing causes, denying climate change appears to be its top priority. An analysis by the environmentalist group Greenpeace reveals Donors Trust has funneled more than one-third of its donations — at least $146 million — to more than 100 climate change denial groups over the past decade. In 2010, 12 of these groups received between 30 to 70 percent of their funding from Donors Trust.
You see, addressing climate change will cost many of these financial titans money in the short-term -- money they don't want to spend -- and so, to protect their largess, they are funneling millions of dollars into front groups whose expressed purpose is to muddy the water in terms of the scientific basis of climate change. By making it appear that the science itself is on shaky ground -- it isn't, by the way -- their goal is to block any sort of initiative that might jeopardize "business as usual."
As you may have noticed, this strategy is working to near perfection in the US. While the science community issues one dire warning after another, our elected leaders, government agencies and much of the public ignores them. It seems like we will keep on doing what we keep on doing until -- surprise, surprise -- one day soon we find we can't do it anymore.
Of course, at THAT point, it will be far too late to turn back.