Thursday, January 25, 2007

Climate McCarthyism: Activists Trying to Shut Down Climate Debate, Skeptics Say

Climate change skeptics - and journalists who report on them - have become the target of a campaign aimed at stifling legitimate debate at a time when Congress is planning an aggressive new environmental push. This is the assessment of environmental scientists and free market advocates who see a concerted effort to silence and de-fund think tanks that publish material challenging "prevailing global warming orthodoxy." Leftist activists masquerading as scientists are promoting false notions of "consensus" in an effort to back calls for mandatory caps on CO2 and other "greenhouse gas" emissions, they argue.

Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) said "rational and open" discussion of climate change science that includes dissenting voices is in danger of being short-circuited, at the expense of sound science and free speech. Kueter told Cybercast News Service the assault on groups like the GMI amounted to "censorship." He said the notion of scientific consensus on global warming masked "real disputes that exist in the science over the quality of data."

Bonner Cohen, author of "The Green Wave: Environmentalism and Its Consequences" said in an interview with Cybercast News Service that the censorship campaign hinges on two key components - a call for congressional oversight leading effectively to "show trials" aimed at discrediting global warming skeptics and an assault on press freedom.

At issue is a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) earlier this month accusing ExxonMobil-funded "contrarian scientists" and "ideological advocacy groups" of a "disinformation campaign" aimed at deceiving and "confusing" the public about the connection between human activity and climate change. It also criticized media organizations for quoting scientists who the USC views as being out of step with mainstream opinion. The author of the report, Seth Shulman, is a journalist and the author of a book entitled "Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration."

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a key target of the UCS report, characterizes the UCS as a "hardcore left-wing activist" organization with a long history of advocacy (see related article).

Repeated efforts to get Schulman or other UCS officials to respond to the issues raised in this report were unsuccessful, but UCS President Kevin Knobloch spoke to reporters during a conference call Friday on the "state of the environment." "ExxonMobil's campaign to inject uncertainty into climate science has done some harm, giving members of Congress and business leaders reason not to act," Knobloch said. "Our report shows ExxonMobil waged a campaign to undercut climate science by borrowing the tactics - almost the entire playbook - of big tobacco."

Recently, ExxonMobil announced it had stopped funding the CEI, and Knobloch said the decision indicated that the global warming debate had arrived at "an important moment." But ExxonMobil spokesman Mark Boudreaux told Cybercast News Service the decision to stop funding was made in the fall of 2005. In a press release the oil company also called the UCS report "deeply offensive and wrong."

As previously reported the UCS report named 43 advocacy groups it accused of taking part in the alleged "disinformation campaign." Among those most prominently mentioned apart from the CEI and GMI were the Independent Institute and the Heartland Institute, singled out for what the UCS terms "information laundering" aimed at distorting scientific findings in the mind of Americans. The report also named the Media Research Center (MRC), parent company of the Cybercast News Service.

Keuter and Ebell are among those named who have strongly denied that they accept donations that come with "strings attached." "We are not influenced by our funders to reach specific outcomes or to validate specific conclusions. We review information we are analyzing for content and quality," Keuter said.

Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies said he backed the UCS allegations. "There has been a very deliberate public relations and media campaign designed with an eye toward influencing the policy arena with misinformation," Davies told Cybercast News Service. "It mischaracterizes what we believe to be a consensus on the science."


In his conference call, Knobloch said "the science of global warming is very clear." Policymakers must take action now to "adopt a strong mandatory cap on U.S. emissions of heat trapping gases." The UCS report took aim at "climate contrarians" affiliated with the Independent Institute such as Fred Singer, David Legates and Frederick Seitz, accusing them of bucking the scientific consensus.

But Ebell said the notion of consensus was a "game" political activists use to discredit skeptics who raise legitimate questions. Ebell argued that the weight of scientific evidence has in fact shifted against "alarmist projections" that envisage potential catastrophe.

Singer, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, told Cybercast News Service that proponents of global warming models that see a significant correlation between human activity and rising temperatures are "afraid they might lose the debate" because their data is unlikely to withstand scrutiny. "The facts and the data are pretty convincing now," he said. "Any warming taking place is largely due to natural variability, not human activity. The way we can tell is by comparing the pattern of warming with what greenhouse warming models predict. They don't agree."

Although he describes himself as a "believer in the greenhouse effect," Singer said the fundamental question centers around the role of human activity. "The human influence is small," he asserted. "Not zero - but small compared to natural effects." Singer's findings are the subject of a new book entitled "Hot Talk, Cold Science," published by the Independent Institute.

Cohen also took issue with the UCS's invoking of "consensus." "Science does not run by consensus," he said, adding that the organization was simply trying to "shut off debate."

Kueter said he welcomes an open exchange of ideas but remains dubious about the intentions of those on the other side of the dispute. He was particularly troubled by a recommendation in the UCS report for "congressional oversight" of the alleged "disinformation campaign." "It smacks to me of McCarthyism and big-brotherism and is completely antithetical to the scientific process and the American political philosophy of free speech," Kueter said. "The Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace are openly opposed to a free exchange of views," said Dan Gainor, the Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Business & Media Institute, a division of the MRC. "Just like the Weather Channel's Heidi Cullen, they are embracing censorship and tyranny over intellectual freedom," he added. "No journalist should be deceived by this heavy-handed attempt at closing off the debate."

"Tell me where I'm wrong on the issues," said Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation, another organization named in the UCS report. "What's really going on here is the skeptical arguments have merit and they are resonating with American people," Lieberman said. As a result, "there's a frustration on the part of alarmists who have not been able to scare the American people."

Jay Gulledge, a senior research fellow with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is among those who assert that there is an "overarching general consensus" on global warming. Even so, Gulledge told Cybercast News Service the notion of a corporate conspiracy was far-fetched. "You can't just make a blanket argument that ExxonMobil dollars equals disinformation - that's a logical fallacy," he said. Instead, Gulledge argued that problems arose when scientific conclusions that have been vetted through "peer reviewed channels" are being challenged by skeptics.

Cohen counters that the so-called "peer review process" is too narrowly focused, because it does not allow for input from geologists who are better positioned to gauge the question of global warming than climatologists.

The controversy has heated up at a time when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to create a new select committee on global warming. Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) this month reintroduced their Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, which proposes emission reductions across all major sectors of the U.S. economy.


Climate scientists feeling the heat

As public debate deals in absolutes, some experts fear predictions 'have created a monster'

Scientists long have issued the warnings: The modern world's appetite for cars, air conditioning and cheap, fossil-fuel energy spews billions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, unnaturally warming the world. Yet, it took the dramatic images of a hurricane overtaking New Orleans and searing heat last summer to finally trigger widespread public concern on the issue of global warming.

Climate scientists might be expected to bask in the spotlight after their decades of toil. The general public now cares about greenhouse gases, and with a new Democratic-led Congress, federal action on climate change may be at hand. Problem is, global warming may not have caused Hurricane Katrina, and last summer's heat waves were equaled and, in many cases, surpassed by heat in the 1930s.

In their efforts to capture the public's attention, then, have climate scientists oversold global warming? It's probably not a majority view, but a few climate scientists are beginning to question whether some dire predictions push the science too far. "Some of us are wondering if we have created a monster," says Kevin Vranes, a climate scientist at the University of Colorado. Vranes, who is not considered a global warming skeptic by his peers, came to this conclusion after attending an American Geophysical Union meeting last month. Vranes says he detected "tension" among scientists, notably because projections of the future climate carry uncertainties - a point that hasn't been fully communicated to the public.

The science of climate change often is expressed publicly in unambiguous terms. For example, last summer, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, told the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce: "I think we understand the mechanisms of CO2 and climate better than we do of what causes lung cancer. ... In fact, it is fair to say that global warming may be the most carefully and fully studied scientific topic in human history."

Vranes says, "When I hear things like that, I go crazy." Nearly all climate scientists believe the Earth is warming and that human activity, by increasing the level of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, has contributed significantly to the warming. But within the broad consensus are myriad questions about the details. How much of the recent warming has been caused by humans? Is the upswing in Atlantic hurricane activity due to global warming or natural variability? Are Antarctica's ice sheets at risk for melting in the near future?

To the public and policymakers, these details matter. It's one thing to worry about summer temperatures becoming a few degrees warmer. It's quite another if ice melting from Greenland and Antarctica raises the sea level by 3 feet in the next century, enough to cover much of Galveston Island at high tide.

Models aren't infallible

Scientists have substantial evidence to support the view that humans are warming the planet - as carbon dioxide levels rise, glaciers melt and global temperatures rise. Yet, for predicting the future climate, scientists must rely upon sophisticated - but not perfect - computer models. "The public generally underappreciates that climate models are not meant for reducing our uncertainty about future climate, which they really cannot, but rather they are for increasing our confidence that we understand the climate system in general," says Michael Bauer, a climate modeler at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in New York.

Gerald North, professor of atmospheric sciences at Texas A&M University, dismisses the notion of widespread tension among climate scientists on the course of the public debate. But he acknowledges that considerable uncertainty exists with key events such as the melting of Antarctica, which contains enough ice to raise sea levels by 200 feet. "We honestly don't know that much about the big ice sheets," North says. "We don't have great equations that cover glacial movements. But let's say there's just a 10 percent chance of significant melting in the next century. That would be catastrophic, and it's worth protecting ourselves from that risk."

Much of the public debate, however, has dealt in absolutes. The poster for Al Gore's global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth, depicts a hurricane blowing out of a smokestack. Katrina's devastation is a major theme in the film.

Judith Curry, an atmospheric scientist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has published several research papers arguing that a link between a warmer climate and hurricane activity exists, but she admits uncertainty remains. Like North, Curry says she doubts there is undue tension among climate scientists but says Vranes could be sensing a scientific community reaction to some of the more alarmist claims in the public debate. For years, Curry says, the public debate on climate change has been dominated by skeptics, such as Richard Lindzen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and strong advocates such as NASA's James Hansen, who calls global warming a ticking "time bomb" and talks about the potential inundation of all global coastlines within a few centuries.

That may be changing, Curry says. As the public has become more aware of global warming, more scientists have been brought into the debate. These scientists are closer to Hansen's side, she says, but reflect a more moderate view. "I think the rank-and-file are becoming more outspoken, and you're hearing a broader spectrum of ideas," Curry says.

Young and old tension

Other climate scientists, however, say there may be some tension as described by Vranes. One of them, Jeffrey Shaman, an assistant professor of atmospheric sciences at Oregon State University, says that unease exists primarily between younger researchers and older, more established scientists. Shaman says some junior scientists may feel uncomfortable when they see older scientists making claims about the future climate, but he's not sure how widespread that sentiment may be. This kind of tension always has existed in academia, he adds, a system in which senior scientists hold some sway over the grants and research interests of graduate students and junior faculty members. The question, he says, is whether it's any worse in climate science.

And if it is worse? Would junior scientists feel compelled to mute their findings, out of concern for their careers, if the research contradicts the climate change consensus? "I can understand how a scientist without tenure can feel the community pressures," says environmental scientist Roger Pielke Jr., a colleague of Vranes' at the University of Colorado. Pielke says he has felt pressure from his peers: A prominent scientist angrily accused him of being a skeptic, and a scientific journal editor asked him to "dampen" the message of a peer-reviewed paper to derail skeptics and business interests. "The case for action on climate science, both for energy policy and adaptation, is overwhelming," Pielke says. "But if we oversell the science, our credibility is at stake."



Global warming comes and goes in 1,500 year cycles which may have more to do with cosmic rays than fossil fuel emissions, according to a new book. If the genuine warming now being seen is caused by human emissions of carbon dioxide, it would have started earlier, according to the book by two veteran American climate sceptics, Fred Singer and Dennis Avery.

Mr Avery, who was in London yesterday, said: "If this were a CO2 driven warming it should have started in 1940 and risen strongly from there. In fact warming started in 1850 and rose sharply until 1940 then decreased for 35 years." Mr Avery believes that only half the warming that has happened since 1940 - 0.2 degrees according to his measurements - can be ascribed to man made emissions. The rest he says is natural variability. "If you factor in the warming from the cyclical trends, it is not very frightening," he said.

The authors of Unstoppable Global Warming - Every 1,500 Years, say that history, ice core studies and stalagmites all agree on a natural cycle at roughly that interval that is superimposed on the longer, stronger ice ages and interglacial phases. They point as evidence of this natural cycle to the "Climate Optimum" - a period of warmer and wetter weather than the present Earth's climate, which took place 9,000 years ago to 5,000 years ago, and a cooling event 2,600 years ago.

During the Roman warming period from 200 BC to around AD 600 North Africa and the Sahara were wetter and supported crops. In more recent times they point to the Medieval warming of 900 to 1300, when Eric the Red's descendants colonised Greenland and the Little Ice Age of 1300 to 1850 which saw the Norse dairy farmers on Greenland grow short from malnutrition and eventually die out.

Mr Avery, a former US agriculture official whose celebrated earlier book was Saving the Planet with Pesticides and Plastic: The Environmental Triumph of High Yield Farming, suggests that the natural cycle of warming and cooling may come from variations in cosmic rays which have been linked to cloud formation.

This theory was validated in a recent paper in a Royal Society journal by scientists from the Danish National Space Centre who showed that sub-atomic particles - cosmic rays from exploding stars - play a major role in making clouds. During the past century cosmic rays became scarcer as vigorous activity by the sun forced them away. So there was less cloud cover to reflect away sunlight and a warmer world, according to the Danish scientists.

The book's authors say the 60 per cent reduction in fossil fuel emissions demanded from First World countries by international scientists working for the UN Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) would deliver a "crippling blow" to the world economy that could be avoided without damaging the planet.

Dr Richard Betts of the Meteorological Office's Hadley Centre for Climate Change said: "The key argument among sceptics has moved away from denying that there is man-made climate change to saying that it is weaker than mainstream science has suggested. "It is very well understood that greenhouse gases do cause radiative forcing. The work on cosmic rays is still quite speculative. The forthcoming report by IPCC next month will be the most reviewed document in the history of science. It is the IPCC process to review all the literature with an open mind. Many sceptics are involved in the process. "It is good to have the debate. It makes sure that the rest of us are certain about what we are doing."



Even where they are trying very hard

Visit the temples that grace the hills of Kyoto, Japan's ancient capital, and it's not hard to see why the city seems like the perfect birthplace for the global-warming pact that was named for it. At the end of my trip last November, I toured the grounds of Nanzenji, a Buddhist complex that sprawls through the wooded slopes to the east of the city, and watched red and gold leaves fall upon a rock garden, where they were swept up by monks. Kyoto's temples show how humans can live in nature and actually add to it, not just take from it.

Then I caught a cab back to the city center. The moment we left the temple, we struck gridlock on Kyoto's narrow streets. As we crawled toward the train station, I had ample time to look at the garish neon signs that seemed to sprout from every rooftop, transforming the scenery even as they spent energy. It was a reminder that while Kyoto embodies the aspirations of that famous protocol, it is still a modern city, with all the energy, cars and carbon that implies.

So it is with all of Japan. The world's second largest economy is undeniably its most efficient wealthy energy user, burning barely more than half as much oil per capita as the U.S. does and producing half as much carbon per person. What's more, it's not just energy hogs like the U.S. that Japan puts to shame; it even beats stridently green countries like Germany. But while Japan takes its Kyoto Protocol commitments seriously, it's still likely to fall far short of those goals.

Across the country, carbon emissions have actually grown more than 8% since 1990, a pattern reflected in Kyoto itself, where the number of cars increased from 1.3 million in 1990 to 2 million in 2002. The nation as a whole will need to slash emissions about 14% to achieve its targets. Which raises the obvious question: If ultra-efficient Japan can't wean itself from the carbon habit, what hope does the rest of the world have?

In an island country that has always had too many people on too little land, conservation has long been a part of life. The shoguns of the Edo era saved Japan's rapidly dwindling forests--and perhaps the country itself--through strict logging regulations. Although less likely than their samurai forebears to enforce conservation with decapitation, Japan's modern leaders do take a frugal approach to energy. Since 1973, Japan has nearly tripled its industrial output while holding energy consumption in the manufacturing sector roughly flat. Household appliances have increased in size while using less energy, thanks to a government program called Top Runner that constantly raises efficiency standards, making Japanese homes twice as efficient as their American counterparts.

Mindful of Kyoto, the government has lately shifted the focus to cutting greenhouse gases. That gave birth to the Cool Biz policy in 2005, under which offices save energy by keeping summer temperatures at a stifling 82.4oF (28oC). To beat the heat, salarymen are told to doff their black suits in favor of light colors and open collars. The result made the Prime Minister occasionally look as if he were addressing parliament from a beach in Waikiki, but at least Cool Biz had more style than a similar Japanese idea from the 1970s: the short-sleeved business suit. Sartorial concerns aside, Cool Biz saved about 79,000 tons of carbon dioxide in 2005.

But is that nearly enough? Cool Biz, Top Runner, even the hybrid taxi I took home from the office last night are all great ideas, but none of them can yet keep up with Japan's ballooning growth. Air conditioners and refrigerators may have grown more efficient, but there are simply more of them than ever, along with energy-demanding items that didn't exist in 1990, such as flat-panel TVs and DVD recorders. As more and more Japanese stay single and live by themselves, they're not just a disappointment to parents who want to see them wed; they're also jacking up carbon emissions by increasing the overall number of households.

Such changes are happening all over the world, frustrating the best efforts on climate change. Japan shows that to meet even the modest goals of Kyoto, "we might need to do something as extreme as 'no-car day' or 'no-air-conditioning day' once a week," says Koichi Iwama, an economics professor at Wako University who specializes in energy policy. Selling such ideas won't take the kind of miracle you'd pray for in a Kyoto temple, but it won't be easy either.



Many people would like to be kind to others so Leftists exploit that with their nonsense about equality. Most people want a clean, green environment so Greenies exploit that by inventing all sorts of far-fetched threats to the environment. But for both, the real motive is generally to promote themselves as wiser and better than everyone else, truth regardless.

Global warming has taken the place of Communism as an absurdity that "liberals" will defend to the death regardless of the evidence showing its folly. Evidence never has mattered to real Leftists

Comments? Email me here. My Home Pages are here or here or here. For times when is playing up, there are mirrors of this site here and here.


No comments: