Who Are The Real Fear Mongers?

This week, this blog has been visited by some  fossil-fuel lovin’, pro-pollution and anti-science folks who accuse the scientists sounding the alarm about our rapidly warmly planet of “fear-mongering”.  It really is amusing, but for the fact that there are so many of these folks, often funded by those with deep pockets and a vested stake in the fossil fuel industry (see “Manufactured Ignorance” in the American Scientist, and more links below) accusing other people of doing what they, indeed, do at every opportunity. As Naomi Oreskes and Eric Conway’s book Merchants of Doubt  points out,  one of the key patterns of the anti-climate science folks is to accuse other people of doing what they do – they misrepresent the scientific evidence, they take data out of context,  they attack the reputations of distinguished scientists, and then they accuse everyone else of doing exactly what they have done.

These funded folks flood the public commentary of any article related to climate science with their anti-science nonsense, and then expect to be given equal time on blogs as well.  If not, they cry foul.  Although they represent a position that is not held by virtually any working climate scientist or any working public health official, they have very successfully pressured the mainstream media into presenting this issue inaccurately as if there are two equal and balanced sides.  These people learned their skills during the tobacco industry’s campaign against the science linking health effects to smoking, and they are honing them in the anti-climate science push.

However, as I make clear in my comment policy, this blog is not a place to debate the science of a warming atmosphere and a global increase in temperatures.  That science is settled.  As I point out, the urgency of the situation commands an “all hands on deck” response, not bickering about the size of the iceberg that has just hit our Titanic as we sink, taking our children and grandchildren’s future with us.  For clarity, I am reposting part of my comment policy here:

In keeping with the critical urgency of this situation, comments that argue that climate change is not happening, that CO2 is good for us, that Al Gore isn’t a scientist (we all know this!!), that as a meteorologist/geologist/etc. you know better than the IPCC and every National Academy of Science, humans are too insignificant to cause climate change, and so on, will be deleted without comment. If you are high on the credibility spectrum – that is, you are a publishing scientist – and you are quoting from a legitimate peer-reviewed source, and you have something to say about the science of climate change, then your comments will be posted. Referencing other blogs DOES NOT count!

Lest I be accused of conspiracy, let me say now that yes, I definitely AM part of a conspiracy. A conspiracy to keep planet earth habitable for humanity. I’m part of a conspiracy to sign a survival, NOT a suicide pact. I would LOVE for climate change to be just a theory. I would love to eat, play, and love without the ever-present knowledge that we are all about to step over a precipice from which we can never return.

As far as credibility spectrum goes, Roger, anybody with an economics degree (I have a brother with one) doesn’t have any, unless it is economics that they are commenting on.  And even then, a bachelor’s degree in economics is a pretty generic kind of thing to boast about – now if you had a Ph.D. in economics, your credibility on statements concerning economics would greatly increase, but not your comments on climate science.  As for generic ranters who make statements like “I am making sure everyone I speak to knows about the Cap & Trade Tax Scam that is going to be FORCED on us IF they vote for NDP, Liberal or Green”, well, clearly, that’s not fear-mongering at all! LOL.

And, for the record, Missy, I agree that Cap-and-Trade isn’t going to stop carbon pollution.  It is going to be used by industry to line their own pockets, not benefit the planet.  What we need is a fee and dividend system that places a fee on carbon where it is first produced, and then distributes that fee evenly among a province’s or nation’s citizens. As Joe Robertson explains in Building a Green Economy: The Economics of Pricing Carbon and the Transition to Clean, Renewable Fuels:

Putting a price on carbon creates a contextual incentive for diversification and innovation in the energy economy. When Germany shifted its tax-base from income to energy, it spurred a decade of aggressive public and private investment in renewable resources. In just four years, it became the world leader in clean energy export, taking 70% of the world market just eight years after the initial policy shift.

German firms are driving investments of €400 billion in the Desertec solar project in North Africa, part of a plan to connect two continents via multi-gigawatt undersea transmission cables and advanced smart-grid technology. The project will revolutionize the energy sector in Europe and Africa, creating wealth for businesses and communities large and small. Morocco, for instance, plans to use its desert and mountain terrain, as well as its wind-intensive coastal areas, to generate enough renewable energy to become an export leader for the European market. This model can be duplicated in mountainous, desert-rich and coastal states across the U.S.

But as for taking these folks seriously, one doesn’t have to read “Climate Cover-up” or “Merchants Of Doubt” to find out about how vested interests are trying to skew the public debate on climate change and other issues that threaten people on the right of the political spectrum.  Early on in our federal election campaign, some ads started showing up on Craig’s list – I snapped a photo of one before it disappeared 24 hours later.  It’s difficult to read, but here’s what it says:

Writers needed to post right-wing comments to social media and news outlets.

We are a social media company working for a political organization, hired to balance the left-wing of the major media outlets by supplying a team of writers who will post to newspaper comments, media forums, Facebook pages, etc.

Your writing must be strong, right-wing, and use the supplied talking points without being bogged down in too much detail. You are creating an on-line persona with a consistent tone. Ideally you can find or construct facts and statistics to stir controversy. Where suited humour is welcome.

You are a news junky who is able to log on to news forums and Facebook pages several times a day. You are able to write comments tailored to new topics while repeating key talking points.

So, it’s clear that we can’t take these folks – and their mock outrage at the suppression of dissent – too seriously, as they and their friends are in the process of undermining the very foundation of free speech and democracy by being paid lackeys to an amoral industry. They are trying to manufacture doubt on scientific fact, and conjure up fear of non-polluting and renewable clean energy. The truth will win out in the end – but will it be too late for our children and grandchildren to be able to avoid global climate instability and all its implications?  As Paul Hawken says in Blessed Unrest, there is a huge, unprecedented global movement for democracy and human rights gathering steam right now, a planetary immune response to the threats to the earth and her children. This quote from Mahatma Ghandi seems appropriate to end with:

Truth is by nature self-evident, as soon as you remove the cobwebs of ignorance that surround it, it shines clear.

More links:

Manufactured Ignorance

How The War On Science Works – And How To Respond

An Interview with author Naomi Oreskes, on Merchants of Doubt

Dr. Fred Singer, Grand-Daddy of Deniers, Delivers Shoddy Lecture Based On Bad Science

Today’s guest blogger is Danny Richter. Danny is a Ph.D candidate at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California at San Diego.  His research is centered on diatoms, a type of phytoplankton, and the role they play in the global cycling of elements important for marine life and the climate. In addition to his studies, Danny enjoys guiding occasional backpack, kayak, and canoe trips for the campus outdoor program.

As expected, Dr. Fred Singer’s recent talk at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, CA was very well-attended by climate scientists.Also as expected, he made a case that modern climate change is due to natural causes, and not man’s activities. He did not deny the climate is changing, and he even conceded that both anthropogenic and natural forces probably play a role, but he argued that natural causes are far more important.

Unexpectedly (at least by me), his presentation was unbelievably shoddy. While he deftly wielded lofty terms and discussed complicated situations with the fluency of one who has spent a lifetime in the realm of physics, close computation, and complexity, this was very obviously a front. The facade was toppled by the simplest of questions, such as what acronyms stand for, where the data were taken, and why he chose to omit other data. He could answer none of these questions.

Dr. Singer hates models. A lot. He makes no secret about this. Yet, for someone who so publicly hates models, you would expect him to present a lot of data. He did not. He rested his case on a paltry 7 data sets. Of these, he himself pointed out that 3 disagreed with his argument, and despite the fact that the data were published at a later date, he dismissed them for reasons that were quite opaque. Thus his entire argument for debunking anthropogenic climate change rested on 4 data sets.

Why only 4 data sets? Balloons are released from hundreds of sites around the world. Yet, when asked where these balloons were released from, he could not provide an answer. This is significant, because you would expect different results from weather balloons released, say, over land or over the ocean. Supposedly, these balloon data represented tropical data, as his argument focused on temperature anomalies in the tropics. Yet when asked specifically where they came from, he waffled about most data coming from North America and Europe. Both are decidedly un-tropical.

These 4 data sets represented a time slice from 1979 to 1997.  As he stated, weather balloon records go back to 1958. He even stated that the records agree well with satellite data over the period we’ve had satellites measuring these things (1979). Yet, when pressed, he gave no explanation for why, if the agreement is good, he did not include the weather balloon data from the beginning of the record.

Other gross errors included mis-labelled (and unlabeled) axes and comparisons of cherry-picked plots representing different time scales. First, if you’re going to try convince anybody of anything, you need to show that you’re competent. Undergraduates doing research get lampooned all the time for not labeling axes. Even for them that’s unforgivable. For an Emeritus Professor to do that is inconceivable. Second, if he’s not grossly negligent, then he’s outright lying. To say two plots are comparable when they’re not is lying, plain and simple.

In conclusion, while a high-schooler would have struggled to give a talk with the complex ideas he presented, if he had succeeded in giving this talk, that high-schooler would still have gotten a bad grade for the presentation. The fundamentals of scientific integrity were completely absent. He claimed to debunk the conclusions from the entirety of the 1,000+ page IPCC fourth assessment report with 4 measly data sets. On top of that, he didn’t even know where those data sets come from, nor could he explain cherry-picking the time-span they covered.

In a way, this was reassuring. As the grand-daddy of anthropogenic climate change deniers, if he puts together such a shoddy talk, it speaks volumes about all climate change deniers. On the other hand, that such a poor performer has been able, arguably single-handedly, to delay action on climate change in the United States for at least 3 decades is demoralizing. Where were the scientists then? Why didn’t they write pieces like this to call him out as the fraud he is earlier? Why am I, who wasn’t even born when he began denying the science (even though I have been alive for 9 years longer than the 1979-1997 period of data he based his conclusions on), still needing to call him out?

As a climate scientist, Dr. Fred Singer is a fraud. He built his admittedly good scientific reputation upon satellites and physics. He should have stuck with that. His climate change talk would not have passed muster for a professor, for a post-doc, for a graduate student, for an undergraduate, or even a high-school student. It is unfortunate that science has no equivalent to a lawyer’s bar exam, or a physician’s medical license. His would have been yanked long ago. Perhaps then, with the official stigma of a quack attached to his name, policy makers would have been quicker to recognize his unethical and just plain bad science for the snake oil it is.

Thanks to Lauren, Anais, Taylor, and Sandy for checking this to make sure I accurately recounted the details of the presentation.

More links:

Dr. Singer has ties to the U.S tobacco lobby. For example, the 1994 report “Science, Economics, and Environmental Policy: A Critical Examination” lists him on the report’s advisory board (click on the title to go to the report). The report condemns the EPA’s attempts to regulate exposure to second-hand smoke and rejects the science showing tobacco’s harmful effects (sound familiar?).

Also, the “Heartland Institute” (featured in the photo above) is one of Mr. Singer’s supporters in his fight against addressing climate change.  For more on this organization’s dubious record of promoting a junk science, pro-pollution agenda, and its alliance with the tobacco industry and the fossil fuel industry, go to Sourcewatch.org.

“Maybe the Truth is, Without A Healthy Environment, There Is No Economy”

From My Green Conscience blog, a fabulous visual essay review of the book “Climate Wars” by Eric Pooley. As My Green Conscience states:

Franke James merges science, art and storytelling to inspire people to take action and “do the hardest thing first” for the planet. Franke uses her skills as an artist, photographer and writer to create visual essays on environmental and social issues. She is the author of two award-winning books, Bothered By My Green Conscience and Dear Office-Politics, the game everyone plays.

Here are a few of the vivid and evocative images from Ms. James’ essay:

Go to “Ending the Climate Wars” to view/read the full essay.

More links:

The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and The Fight to Save The Earth, by Eric Pooley, Deputy Editor of Bloomberg Businessweek.


Christopher Monckton Attempts Rebuttal of John Abraham’s Devastating Critique

It seems that Christopher Monckton’s supporters are spreading the word that Monckton has put together a slide show that responds to the one compiled by Professor John Abraham, A Scientist Replies to Christopher Monckton. I received this comment in my inbox this morning, in response to my May 28th posting Climate Change Denier Christopher Monckton’s Fabrications Eviscerated by University of Minnesota Professor . The comment, from somebody calling themselves “a friend” says “Please refer to the following for more information on this subject” and then provides a link to the Science and Public Policy website where Monckton has posted his response to John Abraham (it is also posted on Watt’s Up With That, where it is curiously titled “Abraham Climbs Down“). It should be noted that Science And Public Policy Institute is a global warming skeptics group – read more about its connections to the corporate-funded group The Frontiers of Freedom Institute on SourceWatch.com.

The initial response of The Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley was to threaten Mr. Abraham with being “hauled up before whatever academic panel his Bible College [for the record, Abraham teaches at the Catholic University of St. Thomas], can muster, to answer disciplinary charges of wilful academic dishonesty amounting to gross professional misconduct unbecoming a member of his profession.” For Monckton to question the credentials and honesty of his critics is the height of irony – he has a history of claiming dubious credentials and making questionable statements. To learn more, see Monckton Tries to Incite Academic Hearing Against Author of Devastating Science-Based Evisceration of His Fabrications or Professor Abraham’s original slide show.

If you take the time to view Professor Abraham’s slide show, you will see that he maintains a professional and respectful tone throughout. It is clear that it isn’t a personal attack on Monckton as a person. Rather Abraham, as a scientist, is responding to the scientific assertions that Monckton makes in his public presentations on climate change, or more accurately his presentations that try to prove that there are no human-caused changes in the climate occurring. What comes through, over and over, in Professor Abraham’s presentation, is that the assertions that Monckton makes do not meet the widely accepted standards of science. For example, in his response to Monckton’s criticism of his critique, Professor Abraham asserted:

You suggested that your temperature graphs referencing your own organization were properly cited. I disagree. It is the obligation of a scientist to show the original source of data, your work did not meet this standard. Citing your own organization is, in my view, improper, particularly since your organization was not involved in obtaining the data.

In contrast, Monckton’s response to Professor Abraham has been vitriolic and very personal. Besides calling the University of St. Thomas a “bible college” he said “at least we are spared his face —he looks like an overcooked prawn.” Monckton, it seems,  makes a habit of threatening the livelihoods of uncooperative academics – see The Monckton Files – More Threats for more on this. Just yesterday, on the anti-climate science blog Watt’s Up With That, Monckton appealed to readers to contact the President of St. Thomas University [at least he’s stopped calling it a bible college] to ask him to take down Abraham’s talk from the University’s servers, and instigate a disciplinary inquiry. What is Monckton so afraid of, I wonder? What is it about having his claims exposed to scientific analysis that makes him so alarmed? Dr. Abraham’s debunking of Monckton’s rubbish is firmly grounded in science. No wonder Monckton is so threatened by it.

If you’d like to show Professor Abraham support in the face on Monckton’s attempts to intimidate him,  go to Hot Topic and leave your name on a comment on the post Support John Abraham. Gareth Renowden will ensure these messages of support get to Abraham’s employers.

More links:

Hate-speech Promoter Lord Monckton Tries to Censor John Abraham

Monckton exposes his rebuttal: So much blather; so little substance

Monckton Tries to Censor John Abraham

Support John Abraham against Monckton’s bullying