|The World Affairs Council|
- Peter Dykstra: Doubling down on doubt
- Doubt over climate science is a product with an in...
- John Abraham: Ocean cycles have slowed the warming...
- Long-term data shows extensive loss of Arctic sea ...
- What’s in a name: Willie Soon and the public perce...
- Bjorn Lomborg unmasked as cog in Climate Denial Ma...
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Thursday, March 5, 2015
With its roots in the tobacco industry, climate science denial talking points can be seen as manufactured doubt
by Graham Readfearn, "Planet Oz," The Guardian, March 4, 2015
It’s a product that you can find in newspaper columns and TV talk shows and in conversations over drinks, at barbecues, in taxi rides and in political speeches.
You can find this product in bookstores, on sponsored speaking tours, in the letters pages of local newspapers and even at United Nations climate change talks.
This product is doubt – doubt about the causes and impacts of climate change, the impartiality of climate scientists, the world’s temperature records, the height of the oceans and basic atmospheric physics.
There’s doubt too about the “agenda” of policy makers and government environment agencies and a continued attempt to politicise climate science as “leftist.”
There’s also doubt over the role renewable energy might play now and in the future.
Yet where it matters most, in the leading scientific journals in the world, any doubt that burning fossil fuels is causing the planet to heat up is almost nowhere to be seen.
In the last couple of weeks, we’ve been given yet another glimpse into the global climate science denial industry and the machinery that produces all of this doubt.
For those playing catch-up, the story revolves around Dr Willie Soon, who is a long-serving climate science denialist and worker bee for numerous conservative think tanks over the past 15 years.
Documents obtained from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, where Soon has a part-time research position, have raised questions over the rules around conflict of interest and funding disclosures in the journals where Soon has published his work.
As The Chronicle of Higher Education has explained, The Smithsonian doesn’t actually pay Soon a wage and he has no association with the world-renowned Harvard University, despite the name of his institution suggesting there might be one.
Soon chases money himself and in the last decade practically all of it has come either from the fossil fuel industry or conservative groups. The Smithsonian is now carrying out a review, after it also emerged that it had agreed to a clause preventing the institution from revealing the identity of at least one donor.
Now three US Senators have asked 100 fossil fuel groups, conservative “free market” think tanks and conservative aligned funding groups for information about climate change research and scientists they might have been involved with.
Soon claims the sun is the main driver of the world’s climate, but he also downplays concerns over rising sea levels and the health impacts of mercury from burning coal.
Scientists have long criticised Soon’s work as flawed. Dr Gavin Schmidt, the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, has described Soon’s work as “singularly poor” and “almost pointless.”
The Denial Machine
For more than 15 years Soon has been a key part of the globe-spanning industry producing doubt about the science of climate change.
There are four main cogs that make up the machinery as I see it – conservative “free market” think tanks, public relations groups, fossil fuel organisations and ideologically aligned media.
Occasionally over the years, the hood on the climate denial machine has been lifted to reveal its hidden workings.
As I wrote for The Guardian last week, in 1998 a leaked American Petroleum Institute memo detailed how a dozen fossil fuel lobbyists, think tank associates and PR professionals had come together for a mass scale misinformation project on climate science.
The memo claimed that “victory” would be achieved when “uncertainties” (read: doubt) became part of the conventional wisdom among the public.
As detailed in my piece, many of the same individuals continue to work in the climate science doubt production industry while defending fossil fuels.
But this wasn’t the first or the last time that internal documents have shown how the fossil fuel industry and ideologues work together to produce doubt on climate science.
In 1991, for example, a group of coal utilities devised an advertising and public relations campaign that would also recruit scientists to “reposition global warming as theory (not fact).”
In 2000, influential US Republican pollster Frank Luntz produced a memo for the energy industry and anyone else challenging the science of climate change. Luntz wrote:
Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.
Luntz also proposed that Republicans should stop using the phrase “global warming” and replace it with “climate change” because this was “less frightening.”
In 2006, the Intermountain Rural Electric Association – a group that distributes coal-generated electricity – produced a "fact" sheet for their members to pass around to employees who should then pass them on to their friends and family.
The materials claimed climate change was mainly caused by changes in the output of the sun, changes in the earth’s orbit and by plate tectonics.
Despite every major science academy in the world disagreeing with them, the pamphlet claimed the role of carbon dioxide was minor. The "fact" sheet said:
Trendy global warming theory suffers the great conceit that human activity has a significant impact on climate change.
Another infamous effort was the Oregon petition – a supposed survey of US science graduates claiming 17,000 “scientists” (later building to 33,000) who claimed there was “no convincing evidence” that carbon dioxide was a problem for the world’s climate (most of the signatories had graduated in completely unrelated disciplines).
As I wrote last year, despite the petition being one of the feeblest factoids in the climate science denial songbook, it didn’t stop Dick Warburton, a government-appointed reviewer of Australian renewables policy, from citing it as supposed evidence of a split among scientists over the causes of climate change.
The 1998 petition came with an attached manuscript, co-authored by Willie Soon, which claimed that “predictions of harmful climatic effects” from increasing carbon dioxide levels were “in error.”
The manuscript was produced in a format almost identical to that used by the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, leading the National Academy of Sciences to issue a statement saying it had nothing to do with the petition, and that the manuscript “was not published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences or in any other peer-reviewed journal.”
The actual tobacco playbook
The campaign to sow doubt and discredit science to maintain industry profits was one honed by the tobacco industry during its fight against the science linking its products with cancer.
In the book Merchants of Doubt (released as a film this week) authors Naomi Oreskes (an actual Harvard professor) and Erik Conway explain that some of the same individuals and think tanks who had worked with the tobacco industry had moved on to climate science denial.
Documents obtained by US lawsuits against the tobacco industry in the 1990s and 2000s are now housed in the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library.
Among the many thousands of documents, is Bad Science: A Resource Book – described in Merchants of Doubt as a “how-to handbook for fact fighters.”
Produced by the tobacco industry to help any industry fight any legislation that responded to scientific findings, this was a representation of big tobacco’s playbook in written form.
The book provided sound bites and ready-made talking points to arm any industry fighting regulation. Among the talking points the book suggested should be pushed home were:
Too often, science is manipulated to fulfill a political agenda.Government agencies, too often, betray the public trust by violating principles of good science in a desire to achieve a political goal.Public policy decisions that are based on bad science impose enormous economic costs on all aspects of society.
Among the newspaper cuttings provided as back up were newspaper columns, several of which took climate science denialists viewpoints, with self-explanatory titles.
There was “Warming Theories need a Warning Label,” “Earth Summit Will Shackle the Planet, Not Save It,” and “Great Hoax On Asbestos Finally Ends.”
At the time of the Oregon petition, Willie Soon was affiliated to the George C. Marshall Institute, one of the earliest US free market think tanks to take up climate science denial with the help of fossil fuel funding.
This week, another free market think tank, the Heartland Institute, issued a statement on behalf of Soon, who claimed his funding had never influenced his work and that he had always disclosed his financial backers when asked.
Of course, Heartland continues to defend the tobacco industry in its online “Smoker’s Lounge” and claims the public health community’s “campaign to demonize smokers” is based on “junk science.”
There is a network of these think tanks across the world, and they play a key role in producing doubt as part of what should be seen as a public relations effort that serves the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry
For example, the US has the Competitive Enterprise Institute, The George C. Marshall Institute, the Heartland Institute, and the Campaign for A Constructive Tomorrow.
The UK has the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a group that declines to disclose its funders but has been backed by wealthy conservatives.
Australia has its own cogs in the climate science denial machine.
As well as the sympathetic Rupert Murdoch-owned press and the fossil fuel industry, there is the influential free market “think tank” the Institute of Public Affairs.
The IPA is another group to push climate science denial while also defending the tobacco industry (the Sydney Morning Herald reported in 2012 that British American Tobacco was a financial supporter of the institute).
Last year, the IPA encouraged supporters to take advantage of a tax concession to help fund a climate book with chapters written by a familiar line-up of climate science denialists – one of which was Dr Soon.
In February, the IPA ran a short speaking tour promoting its book Climate Change: The Facts (it was suggested to me that moving the semicolon in the book’s title one word to the left would better describe the contents).
Doubt is their product
In a famous 1969 tobacco industry memo, one executive wrote:
Doubt is our product since it is the best means of competing with the “body of fact” that exists in the mind of the general public. It is also the means of establishing a controversy. Within the business we recognize that a controversy exists. However, with the general public the consensus is that cigarettes are in some way harmful to the health. If we are successful in establishing a controversy at the public level, then there is an opportunity to put across the real facts about smoking and health. Doubt is also the limit of our “product.”
What’s clear – and has been clear for well over a decade – is that the climate science denial industry is largely an extension of a program developed in the 1960s by big tobacco.
Much of its product, liberally spread, is a public relations exercise. The fact that this is not regularly acknowledged is possibly also a result of the production of doubt.
You’ll probably be able to sample some of that product in the comment section of this post. Enjoy.
John Abraham: Ocean cycles have slowed the warming of global surface temperatures, but only temporarily
by John Abraham, "Climate Consensus - The 97%," The Guardian, March 5, 2015
A paper published last week in Science casts more light on oceans and how they may have contributed to a false sense of security about what we face in the future. The paper, coauthored by Byron Steinman, Michael Mann, and Sonya Miller, approached the problem in a new way that connected real-world observations with state-of-the-art climate models. What the authors find casts severe doubt on other work which had oversold the role of natural climate’s ability to halt global warming for the next 15 years. Instead, by correcting others’ errors, the new paper shows that things may be worse than we thought.
First, some definitions. The authors of this paper, in particular Michael Mann, are well known in the scientific community for researching various natural climate processes that recur periodically. These processes are often called oscillations, and they are key components of short-term climatic fluctuations. The two oscillations focused on in this paper are the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation (AMO) and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO).
The AMO is a cyclical variation in North Atlantic temperatures that lasts for 50–70 years. On the other hand, the PDO can actually be thought of as a short (a 16–20-year process) and a longer (50–70-year) process. Currently, the oceans are characterized by a slightly positive AMO and a more negative PDO. A recent publication discusses the role of the PDO and the continued warming of the plant, readers can go there for a basic description.
The authors focus attention on the longer of the two PDO processes (a 50–70-year process), and they ask whether the current status of the oceans can explain what we are observing at the Earth’s surface. What they find is interesting. These oscillations are “found to explain a large proportion of internal variability in Northern Hemisphere mean temperature.” The authors also show that other researchers who have incorrectly defined natural variability using simple linear detrending have been mistaken.
In fact, recently published work on the climatic “stadium wave,” which is a highly speculative interconnection of climatic waves that reportedly travels around the globe, is likely not correct. According to this new paper, their analysis “reveals any putative correlation between the AMO and the PMO (the longer part of the PDO) and arguments of a stadium wave climate signal to be an artifact of the linear detrending approach.”
Some recent work, including publications of the “stadium wave” advocates, have argued that large parts of the changes we’ve observed in temperatures are attributed to these oscillations. The new research shows that “the methods used in these studies tend to inflate and distort the estimated internal variability owing to an incorrect partition of internal and forced variability.”
Here is what Dr. Michael Mann had to say:
Our work reinforces the notion that there is no pause in human-caused global warming. If anything, we’ve been lulled into a false complacency by the fact that internal oscillations in the climate system temporarily masked some of that warming. That may come back to bite us as these oscillations swing back in the other direction and add to global warming in the decades ahead.
The study’s lead author, Byron Steinman told me:
There is inherent randomness in the climate system and a negative trend in these random oscillations is apparently the reason for the recent slowdown in surface temperature increase. When this trend reverses, warming will accelerate and this likely will impose substantial burdens on human society.
So in the end, what does this all mean? Well first, as I’ve written here before, there has been no pause of global warming. The real story of global warming is told in the continual and non-stop warming of the oceans. The whole story of the so-called “pause” is related to a slowdown in temperature increases in the lower part of the atmosphere. But this “pause,” as shown by the current research, is merely a result of natural climatic variations that move heat around in the Earth’s climate. These variations have likely suppressed temperature changes in the atmosphere, moved heat deeper into the oceans, and lulled us into a false sense of security that our current climate will continue indefinitely. We should not be so pacified.
by Hannah Hickey, UW Today, March 3, 2015
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
by Stephen Mulkey, EnvironmentalCentury.net, March 4, 2015