The myth of climate change myths

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The Upper Midwest remains in the grip of record-setting heat. Just to our south — Iowa — a flooding disaster is unfolding. In Russia, drought and heat has spawned massive wildfires. There’s flooding in Pakistan. What’s going on here? Is it just the natural cycle, or are we seeing the effects of a changing climate?


The latter, some influential scientists argue. Although it still gets cold in Minnesota for part of the year, it’s a lot more hotter hot now than colder cold “That is exactly what’s happening,” says NASA’s Gavin Schmidt at the Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York. “A lot more warm extremes and less cold extremes.”

And yet, we still can’t move on from arguing whether there (a) is such a thing as climate change and (b) what causes it and how it should be addressed. (Aside: Possible solutions include building smog-eating skyscrapers, apparently)

What’s the problem? A handful of scientists are obscuring scientific truths, according to Naomi Oreskes, a professor of history and science studies at the University of California San Diego.

Here are the key questions-and-answers from today’s Midmorning show.

Q: Why don’t people see it as a matter of concern?

Oreskes: Public opinion is unstable and susceptible to local events. If we did a poll today, most people in Minnesota will say there’s global warming. Take a poll in the winter, and they won’t. But we have been victims of a disinformation campaign.

Q: When you says scientists haven’t done a good job of explaining climate change, why not?

Oreskes: It’s not part of their job card. They don’t see it as part of their job. When scientists have tried to explain the science, or even doing their own work, they’ve been attacked. It’s part of an organized strategy, so scientists have become gun shy.

Q: Like who?

Oreskes: Ben Santer is an amazing scientist; he’s been working on climate change for 30 years. He’s a nice guy and not a crusader. He’s a climate modeler. In the mid-’90s he answered the question “how do we know global warming is caused by greenhouse gasses and not the sun?” He did the work that showed greenhouse gasses were responsible and he wrote it up. Then he became the victim of an organized, conservative attack. It went so far as putting pressuring Congressmen in his district to get him fired from the job.

There’s a mechanism for challenging science. You could have written a paper via peer review. This wasn’t that.

Q: Have you been subject to these kinds of attacks?

Oreskes: I get hate e-mail. One of the reasons we decided to write the book is because of the attacks. In 2004 I analyzed the scientific literature and wanted to know what scientists think about global warming. All the scientists I knew believed in global warming. I discovered there was no disagreement whatsoever among the experts. I published that — it was peer reviewed — and I started getting hate e-mail.

Q:You’ve got highly-regarded scientists on the other side.

Oreskes: Frederick Seitz was an extraordinary scientist who rose to the president of the Academy of American Scientists. He went to work for the tobacco industry and his job was to find distracting research. He had no expertise in climate. Three scientists were involved. They were cold warriors and they feared that any science on global warming or acid rain would lead us on the slippery slope to socialism.

There’s a lot of scientific firepower. Contrast with that, someone like Ben Santer is much younger, basically working in his lab, doesn’t know any senators and is completely blindsided by the attack and doesn’t know how to respond.

Q: Have you heard from these three scientists?

Oreskes: Two of them are dead. I don’t expect to hear from them. I don’t have anything to say about them. They’re too litigious.

Q: What about the e-mails that some say shows an attempt to exaggerate climate change?

Oreskes: These scientists did not hide their e-mails; they were stolen. What you see in them is their frustration. There have been four independent panels who reviewed this and concluded that the scientists did nothing wrong but lose their temper.

Q: How well does the media understand climate change?

Oreskes: Most of the scientists I know are frustrated because they think the media doesn’t know the issue at all. It’s been a big discussion about whether we should call this global warming or climate change. We should call it climate destruction. Various kinds of disruptions are consistent with the predictions of climate science and that hasn’t gotten across.

Q: If the planet is warming, why are we seeing cold winters?

Oreskes: I have no agenda except history. The agenda of science is to understand the natural world. When you put gasses into the atmosphere, you’re trapping heat. That energy has to go somewhere and in the atmosphere it goes into the weather systems. That means we will have more storms.

Q: You say “doubt is crucial to science; it drives science forward”…

Oreskes: The tobacco industry was very clever. Doubting conventional wisdom is part of what drives scientific investigation. But at a certain point when you have mounting evidence, to continue to deny that is corrosive. The tobacco industry did that. They said “I’ve got this one guy here who had a different opinion,” and they amplified that to claim the science wasn’t really settled.

Q: That strategy gets applied to climate change?

Oreskes: Yes. Take the culmination of experts. You find someone who doesn’t agree for whatever reason — maybe, they’re just a grouch. You fund them, give them support, fund them through your think tank, and then you promote their research. There was a fellow in the ’50s who doubted tobacco causing cancer because he worked in the field of asbestos. They sent out all his research.

One of the things the tobacco industry did was track journalists. If they found one who might be favorable — maybe she was a heavy smoker — they’d cultivate that journalist. The saddest story to me is the story of Edward R. Murrow, one of the greatest journalists who ever lived. The tobacco industry convinced him — a heavy smoker — to give equal time on his shows.

Q: Climate scientists have agendas too. They get funding from environmental groups. How does the research get influenced by who pays for it?

Oreskes: The vast majority of funding has come from the U.S. government and most of that has come from the Department of Energy. Scientists do have an agenda: Understanding the natural world.

It’s important to ask who’s funding research. A lot of this work was funded by NASA. But it is true that if a sponsor has a particular result that they want, there’s a key question you have to ask: Does the sponsor just want information, or does the sponsor want a particular result?

The tobacco industry doesn’t want the truth about tobacco. The tobacco industry knows the truth. The tobacco industry wants a particular result. Same with the fossil fuel industry.

Q: Is the world already at a point of no return?

Oreskes: Everyone in the scientific community agrees we’ve gone too far to completely turn it back. Is it all irreversible? I don’t think scientists would say that.

Most scientists think there have been some irreversible changes, and that more will take place. They’re upset because we’ve known this for a long time and we haven’t done anything about it.

It’s impossible to see 2 degree increases in temperature. But we can see the effect. In 1974, a scientist predicted we’d see the effect of global warming on the Arctic first. That has come true.

Q: What’s the most accurate Web site or organization to get peer-reviewed facts?

Orestes: The best site for technical peer-reviewed data is realclimate.org. That comes out of the Goddard Institute. It’s a little technical. If you want something that’s non-technical, the Jet Propulsion Lab has created a site.

Q: Should “both sides” of the story be presented by journalists?

Orested: When you’ve covering scientific issues, journalists should strive for accuracy, rather than balance. In science, the whole notion of both sides doesn’t really make sense.

Picture: Residents embrace, as floodwater from the South Skunk River flood neighborhoods in Colfax, Iowa, Wednesday August 11, 2010. One person was missing after raging floodwaters swept three cars off a road near Des Moines early Wednesday, and college athletes rallied to protect their stadium from the rising water after three nights of torrential rain. (AP Photo/Steve Pope)

  • ACers99 (from old MPR Forum)

    Come now Bob, you can do better than this. Repeating the slanders of an AGW agenda-driven alarmist without first checking things out. For shame!

    I have attended a half-dozen science conferences in the past decade that dealt with AGW theory at least in part. I have been to presentations put on by NASAs Jim Hansen and other prominent modelers. I have also witnessed presentations by the leading skeptics. I began my journey largely believing in AGW theory and emerged a convinced skeptic. I found the skeptics’ arguments and scientific peer-reviewed evidence far more convincing than the Alarmists. The ‘journalist’ in you should have smelled a rat when your source smeared skeptics as being in the pay of oil and tobacco companies. Smearing your opponent is a common tactic used when one cannot win an argument with evidence.

    Instead of repeating the smear, a journalist should seek out evidence of truth. If you take the time to do it, you will find the actual observed evidence clearly lies on the side of the skeptics. AGW theory is largely the province of computer modelers guessing about the how a hugely complex climate works. A far greater number of on-the-ground scientists are skeptics. I wish you would had done your homework before repeating Orestes’ slander.

    A good place to learn about the arguments of the skeptics and the evidence they cite are the Heartland Institute Conferences:

    http://www.heartland.org/events/NewYork09/index.html

    There are four conferences to date and hundreds of scientific presentations one can review. I would start with the following:

    S. Fred Singer – http://www.heartland.org/bin/media/newyork09/video/Tuesday/Fred_Singer.flv

    NIPCC Report summarizing the scientific case against AGW:

    http://www.heartland.org/policybot/results/22835/Nature_Not_Human_Activity_Rules_the_Climate_pdf.html

  • Tyler

    I wish the media would discriminate between “global warming” or “climate change” and *Anthropogenic global warming/climate change*

    It’s one thing to discuss the Earth warming up…it’s another thing entirely to discuss the Earth warming up as a result of human activity. You can get a lot more people to sign on to the former, for example.

  • ACers99

    “Orestes: The best site for technical peer-reviewed data is realclimate.org. That comes out of the Goddard Institute.”

    Real data? From the Goddard Institute??? Hah!!!

    Yes, the Institute headed by fringe alarmist Jim Hansen. Yes the same Jim Hansen that has taken to claiming the sea will rise over 210 feet by the end of the century~! When there is absolutely NO actual observed data that shows ANY evidence of sea rise beyond the baseline 20 cm per century that has existed for nearly a millenium. Not one iota. Look it up.

  • Bob Collins

    The Heartland Institute? That’s pretty well connected to the tobacco industry and generally reconfirms the guest’s point.

  • MR

    Bob, don’t forget the oil industry ties to the Heartland Institute too. Exxon has given them a good chunk of change…

  • ACers99

    Bob, the Heartland Institute is a free market think tank that gets funding from a wide variety of sources. They only hosted these conferences and did not fund any of the science research presented so that is irrelevant. The science stands on its own. There are many presentations by prominent credentialed climate scientists hosted there. If you were to take the time to give them a hearing you would be less inclined to go along with the smear next time.

    The principal theme of your guest was that there were “a handful of scientists are obscuring scientific truths”. Far from it. The community of skeptics now includes many former professional reviewers for the UNs IPCC process. These scientists defected from the prevailing AGW orthodoxy when they saw evidence the theory was not supported by actual observed evidence. Why not have one ot these scientists on Midmorning? Your listeners would learn something instead of getting another helping of alarmist hype. Want some names to choose from? Go here:

    http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Files.View&FileStore_id=83947f5d-d84a-4a84-ad5d-6e2d71db52d9

    Or here: http://www.canada.com/nationalpost/financialpost/story.html?id=3711460e-bd5a-475d-a6be-4db87559d605

  • ACers99

    Orestes: “three scientists – two of whom are now dead”

    I think you owe it to the listeners to get a prominent skeptic heard after letting that belly-slapper go unchallenged. 🙂

  • Ken Paulman

    James Hansen claims sea level will rise 210 feet by the end of the century? Source, please.

  • Ken Paulman

    The Senate Minority report that Acers99 posted was authored by Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe received nearly half a million dollars from the oil and gas industries in the last election cycle.

  • ACers99

    Some prominent scientists quoted in Inhofe’s report below, None of the statements of these scientists was authored by Inhofe nor were they paid for by oil/gas companies no matter what you believe Ken.

    “The quantity of CO2 we produce is insignificant in terms of the natural circulation

    between air, water and soil… I am doing a detailed assessment of the UN IPCC reports

    and the Summaries for Policy Makers, identifying the way in which the Summaries have distorted the science.” – South Afican Nuclear Physicist and Chemical Engineer Dr. Philip Lloyd, a UN IPCC co-coordinating lead author who has authored over 150 refereed publications.

    “I am convinced that the current alarm over carbon dioxide is mistaken…Fears about man-made global warming are unwarranted and are not based on good science.” – Physicist Dr. Will Happer, Professor at the Department of Physics at Princeton University and Former Director of Energy Research at the Department of Energy, who has published over 200 scientific papers, and is a fellow of the American Physical Society, The American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the National Academy of Sciences.

    “Gore prompted me to start delving into the science again and I quickly found myself

    solidly in the skeptic camp…Climate models can at best be useful for explaining climate changes after the fact.” – Meteorologist Hajo Smit of Holland, who reversed his belief in man-made warming to become a skeptic, is a former member of the Dutch UN IPCC

    committee.

    “They have been so successful with their message of greenhouse doom that, should one of them prove tomorrow that it is nonsense, the discovery would have to be suppressed for the sake of the overall reputation of science,” – Atmospheric Physicist Dr. Garth W. Paltridge, an Emeritus Professor from University of Tasmania. Paltridge was a Chief Research Scientist with the CSIRO Division of Atmospheric Research before taking positions in 1990 as Director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Ocean Studies at the University of Tasmania.

    “It is time for a reality check,” in testimony to Natural Resources Committee in the U.S. Congress on April 17, 2007. “Warming is not a big deal and is not a bad thing. The oceans and coastal zones have been far warmer and colder than is projected in the present scenarios of climate change. In the oceans, major climate warming and cooling is a fact of life, whether it is over a few years as in an El Niño or over decades as in the Pacific Decadal Oscillation or the North Atlantic Oscillation. Currents, temperatures, salinity, and biology changes rapidly to the new state in months or a couple years. These changes far exceed those expected with global warming and occur much faster. The one degree F. rise since about 1860, indeed since the year 1000, has brought the global average temperature from 56.5 to 57.5 degrees. This is at the level of noise in this rapidly changing system. I would much rather have the present warm climate, and even further warming, than the next ice age that will bring temperatures much colder than even today. The NOAA PaleoClimate Program shows us that when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, the earth was much warmer, the CO2 levels were 2 to 4 times higher, and coral reefs were much more expansive. The earth was so productive then that we are still using the oil, coal, and gas it generated.” “No one knows whether the Earth is going to keep warming, or since reaching a peak in 1998, we are at the start of a cooling cycle that will last several decades or more.” – Ocean researcher Dr. John T. Everett, a former National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) senior manager and UN IPCC lead author and reviewer, who led work on five impact analyses for the IPCC including Fisheries, Polar Regions, Oceans and Coastal Zones. Everett, who is also project manager for the UN Atlas of the Oceans, received an award while at NOAA for “accomplishments in assessing the impacts of climate change on global oceans and fisheries.”

    Hundreds more follow – the above is but a small sample.

  • ACers99

    My source for Hansen’s claim of 70m in sea level rise was his presentation on April 13, 2008 at this conference hosted by the Science Museum of Minnesota – which I attended:

    http://www.willstegerfoundation.org/index.php/summer-institute/summer-institute-2008

    Heard him say with my own two ears. I was amazed there was no challenge to this claim afterward.

  • bsimon

    ACers99 wants to believe:

    “”No one knows whether the Earth is going to keep warming, or since reaching a peak in 1998, we are at the start of a cooling cycle that will last several decades or more.” – Ocean researcher Dr. John T. Everett”

    Problem being, of course, that we did not reach a peak in 1998 & instead the warming is still going on – the current year being the hottest man has yet recorded.

    As a sidebar that neither proves nor disproves Anthropogenic warming, but does support the warming observations, MN Post has an interesting article up (by Steve Berg) on how the blowdown area in the BWCA is hosting species associated with the savannah regions south and west, not the coniferous forests of the area and to the north and east. i.e. climate change is changing the bwca ecology, as less hardy species can now, apparently, survive in that region.

  • MR

    It’s been fascinating and scary to watch as bark beetle has ravaged western forests, notably in areas that it has never been able to overwinter before (like the Flagstaff area). But now the winters aren’t as harsh, so they can remain and turn the forests to drying tinder.

  • Ken Paulman

    My point, Acers99, is that your skepticism seems to be rather selective. You dismiss Oreskes’ five years of research as “slanders” from an “agenda-driven alarmist,” and the decades of modeling and predictions of climate scientists (which are frequently proving to be correct) as “guesswork.” That’s all fine and good, it’s your right to be skeptical.

    But when it comes to questions raised by geologists in a report assembled by a senator with heavy ties to the industries who have the most to lose from carbon regulation, where is that skepticism?

    Why would you take the word of an oceanographer or a chemical engineer over a climatologist on matters of climate? I presume you wouldn’t take your car to the butcher to get the transmission serviced.

  • ACers99

    A short-term temperature peak WAS reached in 1998, we have observed cooling since. That cooincided with the change of the terminology from “Global Warming Crisis” to the “Climate Change Crisis”. A stream of hundreds of millions of government dollars fueled by a “Crisis” mentality is a very powerful thing.

  • Ken Paulman

    “Global warming peaked in 1998” is another myth.

  • ACers99

    “It’s been a big discussion about whether we should call this global warming or climate change. We should call it climate destruction.” – Oreskes

    This is a ridiculous statement from a scientific standpoint – that went entirely unchallenged. There is no “climate destruction”. Who said this? A“professor of history and science studies”? On what authority? MPR put this person of extremely dubious pedigree on a news program from all those that were available to choose from. It is not I who should justify my views in a mere comment forum here but rather the guest placed on the original radio program as having some presumed authority in the matter being discussed.

  • stpaulite

    My issue with those who think global warming/climate change is that folks are so obsessed with Gore and the like(who only very recently came on the scene, folks have been talking about this for at least 15 years, and even longer for others) and finding obscure pieces of evidence, you can’t see the forest from the trees.

    Fine. Global warming/climate change is a hoax. Great. Do you feel better now? Does that change the FACT that when you burn things you have pollution? That when we pollute there are all kinds of consequences? Lung cancer is on the rise, asthma is on the rise. Pollution is not a good thing.

    There are many reasons to be good stewards of our environment and by being concerned about pollution and addressing it, voila we’ve addressed climate change too.

    When you breath the air and drink water, would you like chemicals with that? Or do you prefer clean & safe air and water?

    Being good stewards of our land and water and environment is something we should be doing, but we are so caught up in mistrust and conspiracies, we are too busy arguing over the name and whether it’s a myth to just take care of our most important resource, our world.

  • ACers99

    Ken, I value the viewpoints of intellectually curious independent minded scientists and climatologists who do not have a financial motive in the outcome of their work. Like: Fred Singer PhD, William Gray PhD, Timothy Ball PhD, and Antonio Zichichi PhD.

    Before using the heavy hand of government force to halt population growth and set human living standards back a hundred years or more one better have an utterly unimpeachable case for doing so. The onus for proof lies NOT with the skeptics. And nothing less will be needed if you believe the alarmists predictions (

  • ACers99

    “There are many reasons to be good stewards of our environment and by being concerned about pollution and addressing it, voila we’ve addressed climate change too. When you breath the air and drink water, would you like chemicals with that? Or do you prefer clean & safe air and water?” – stpaulite

    We may agree these are far more important concerns than fake “climate change”. Pollution, especially heavy metals and radioactivity should be the regulatory priority, not CO2. Nuclear proliferation is a far more real global problem than AGW. But when so much attention, energy and money are directed to address the non-problem, real problems get short shrift. Why not spend hundreds of millions on science to defeat MSRAs instead of fake warming concerns? Spend that money instead of developing disease resistant crops that can save the lives of millions in the third world? How about not burning their food crops for eco-friendly fuels and instead prioritize feeding their populations? All of these things involve costs and benefits. The Third World would be the real losers in a global eco-regime. Their access to electricity, food, and basic sanitation would be sacrificed so First World populations can feel better about halting non-existent climate change. Where is the morality in this?

  • Ken Paulman

    The 1970s “global cooling consensus” that ACes99 cites above is yet another myth, as is the vast conspiracy theory that he seems to be gearing up to roll out for us. I’m not going to expend any energy on the latter.

    In fact, rather than wait for them to come one at a time, here’s a handy guide to the most common climate change myths with links to articles explaining why they’re wrong (it’s also available as an iPhone app, just in time for those Thanksgiving arguments with Uncle Roy).

  • ACers99

    What “consensus” did I cite? None. You once again are putting works into my mouth. Hansens first models DID model a cooling thesis from CO2. THAT IS FACT but it is hard to find online because he has cleansed the accessible public record of it and the work was done back when paper ruled the roost.

    Ken, there is no “consensus” in science. That denies the very nature of scientific inquiry itself. If you had an education in science as I have you would know that. There is such a thing as “accepted theory”, but that is not to be confused with consensus. The objective of genuine scientific inquiry is to replace an “accepted theory” with one that better explains measurable observable phenomena in a manner that can be replicated by peer challenge. There is no other standard that matters.

    The key here is “measured and observable phenomena” as represented by dispassionately collected data. The data of the last ten years fails to validate the models and the theories behind them. Tweaking the computer models yearly to try to keep up with measurements as is routinely done is decidedly NOT science. That is more commonly called CYA.

    Those riding the AGW bandwagon will not let their gravy train be derailed without a fight. So many careers ended, departmental funds lost… et al. So the propaganda from the Goddard Center and elsewhere continues for the time being. But the handwriting is on the proverbial wall and heads will eventually roll when a full Congressional investigation into the US funds that have been wasted ensues. Most likely beginning in mid-2011.

  • ACers99

    Oh Kewl~! AN iPhone app so I can show the hottie at the bar how rad a guy I am~! Yeaaaah Thats real Science Man!

  • ACers99

    From my personal experience with Jim Hansen, I believe he is disingenuous and entirely aware of the outrageousness of his claims. Let me explain. Following his outrageous claim of 70m of sea level rise by the end of the century, that he made at the Science Museum in April of 2008, I had the chance to challenge him at the social event following his talk. I challenged his assertion that the melting of the Greenland ice cap would lead to a 70m sea rise because the temperature record of the Medieval Warm Period showed temps much higher than those experienced today. No evidence exists that the seas were any higher then than they are today. Specifically the cities of the Hanseatic League were founded during this warm period and if the seas were higher due to warming at that time, they would now be located far above sea level and away from the shores, which they are not. Hansen’s reply? He smiled slyly and said “oh that was just a local variation” and then walked away. For Ken and your ilk I guess this must be fine science and utterly unimpeachable. I was utterly disgusted that a Science institution I supported for many years was hosting this fraud and using him to indoctrinate school teachers to further indoctrinate our children. My financial support of the Science Museum ended that evening.

  • Ken Paulman

    Follow the link I posted earlier, and you’ll find more information on the “Medieval Warm Period” myth (#55) and the “There is no consensus” myth (#77).

  • ACers99

    Medieval Warm Period a Myth? This phenomenon has been a well established fact documented by hard archaeological and geological evidence for a long time. If you had a science background you would not say this. So were the archaeological sites in Greenland that have been uncovered of verdant farms and vineyards planted by oil company pranksters a thousand years ago? Ever wonder how Greenland got its name from the VIkings? When they settled it during the Medieval Warm Period, much of its ice cap was gone, and the climate was warm enough for agriculture. And the seas were no higher than today, in fact they were a couple of meters lower – even with the Greenland ice gone. This is well documented by solid evidence.

  • ACers99

    Bob, so Orestes attacks against Dr Seitz and the other two skeptics she claimed on the air are shills for industry interests still OK? Just asking.

    Why not give Fred Singer a similar amount of time on midmorning to make a case in his defense against Orestes’ claims. It would be very illuminating – not merely fair.

    Another good contributor would be Dr. TImothy Ball. He has been the target of death threats for being a scientific AGW skeptic. Orestes claims of conspiracy pale when compared to what happened to him and others of his mindset.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1545134/Scientists-threatened-for-climate-denial.html