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Monday, March 7, 2011

House GOP line up the usual disinformers for climate science hearing, John Christy and Roger Pielke Sr., plus a DDT-booster!

by Joseph Romm, Climate Progress, March 7, 2011

Don’t miss the big House hearing Tuesday, March, 8, 10 a.m. EST, “Climate Science and EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations.”  You should be able to watch it here.  I’ll post the again link tomorrow morning.

The witness list is fascinating, so I’ll go through it in some detail:

Dr. John R. Christy
Director, Earth System Science Center
University of Alabama in Huntsville
Christy is one of the nation’s few remaining seriously credentialed disinformers who has arguably been wrong longer than any other serious disinformer and thus deserves our inattention and scorn (see “Should you believe anything John Christy and Roy Spencer say?“ and below). 

As RealClimate wrote:  “We now know, of course, that the satellite data set confirms that the climate is warming, and indeed at very nearly the same rate as indicated by the surface temperature records. Now, there’s nothing wrong with making mistakes when pursuing an innovative observational method, but Spencer and Christy sat by for most of a decade allowing — indeed encouraging — the use of their data set as an icon for global warming skeptics. They committed serial errors in the data analysis, but insisted they were right and models and thermometers were wrong. They did little or nothing to root out possible sources of errors, and left it to others to clean up the mess, as has now been done.”

Christy contributed the chapter “The Global Warming Fiasco” to a 2002 book called Global Warming and Other Eco-Myths, published by Competitive Enterprise Institute, a leading provider of disinformation on global warming that was funded by ExxonMobil.

In the Vermont case on the state’s effort to embrace California’s tailpipe GHG emissions standards, the car companies brought in Christy as an expert witness to rebut Hansen (see here). In one footnote on the sea level rise issue, the judge noted, “it appears that the bulk of scientific opinion opposes Christy’s position.”

Dr. Christopher Field
Director, Department of Global Ecology
Carnegie Institution of Washington
Stanford, CA
Field is the Working Group II Co-Chair for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  I interviewed him here:  “Videos: How we know humans are changing the climate and Why climate change is a clear and present danger“).
Dr. Knute Nadelhoffer
Director, University of Michigan Biological Station
University of Michigan
Dr. Roger Pielke, Sr.
Senior Research Scientist,
Cooperative Institute for Research in
Environmental Sciences
University of Colorado at Boulder
RealClimate eviscerated Pielke, Sr., in an important post, “More bubkes.”  I discussed it at length here “Roger Pielke Sr. also doesn’t understand the science of global warming — or just chooses to willfully misrepresent it.”  Pielke, Sr., loves to cherry-pick climate data over short time spans to make misleading scientific claims about climate.  Climate, of course, is about long-term trends.

Pielke, Sr., actually wrote in 2009 that the scientific observation that Arctic sea reduction is “progressing faster than was expected a few years ago” is NOT TRUE because of data “since 2008.”  One year.  Not kidding (and that was just sea ice extent, not volume, which looks to have kept declining).

Pielke, Sr., continues to take very short term snapshots of just a piece of the global ocean warming data to argue (his emphasis), “upper ocean heat, in terms of its annual average, did not accumulate during the period ~2004 through 2009. This means that global warming halted on this time period. There is no other way to spin this data.”

Skeptical Science eviscerates his disinformation here:  “Pielke Sr and scientific equivocation.“  For the record, the key chart is

Time series of global mean heat storage (0-2000 m).
SkS concludes, “Scientists like Pielke have a responsibility not to put dangerous myths into the hands of those whose interests are very different from that of the majority.”  Sadly, he’s almost certainly going to do just that in his testimony.
Dr. Richard Somerville
Distinguished Professor Emeritus,
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
University of California, San Diego
Somerville is a great scientist and communicator who is well-known to CP readers (see Richard Somerville editorial: How much should the public know about climate science? and  Terrific ABC News story: “Raging Waters In Australia and Brazil Product of Global Warming”).
Dr. Francis W. Zwiers
Director, Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium
University of Victoria
Victoria, British Columbia
Zwiers is co-author of one of the seminal Nature papers that join a growing body of evidence that human emissions fuel extreme weather, flooding that harm humans and the environment.  His paper concluded ““human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events” over much of the NH,” which is either obvious or extremely likely.  Take your pick!
Dr. Donald Roberts
Professor Emeritus,
Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences
Bethesda, MD
NOT the usual suspect.  Roberts is not there to talk about climate science, but to push myths about how great DDT is.  He actually wrote a book on DDT titled, The Excellent Powder.  His 2007 NYT op-ed is here.  Presumably the GOP want him to argue that environmentalists going back to Rachel Carson have said things were bad for us that were actually good for us.

The problem is, DDT almost certainly does harm humans — but it is also true that it may have value in addressing malaria in places where there isn’t DDT resistance.  Roberts, however, pushes the phrasing that you often heard from the old pro-tobacco scientists, “Scientific scrutiny has failed to find conclusive evidence that DDT causes cancer or other health problems in humans.”

Ah, “conclusive.”  This 2003 CDC article, “Nonmalarial Infant Deaths and DDT Use for Malaria Control,” by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences experts.  It finds that “plausible if inconclusive studies associate DDT with more preterm births and shorter duration of lactation, which raise the possibility that DDT does indeed have such toxicity. Assuming that these associations are causal, we estimated the increase in infant deaths that might result from DDT spraying. The estimated increases are of the same order of magnitude as the decreases from effective malaria control.”

A more recent 2011 review paper, “DDT and Malaria Prevention: Addressing the Paradox,” was summarized this way:
The paper reviews recent information on human health effects of DDT exposure, and particularly epidemiological studies. It was noted that, of 22 epidemiological reviewed, 12 showed significant relationships between exposure to DDT (or its metabolite DDE) with conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, blood hormone levels, birth mass, a type of pancreatic cancer, and fertility. The authors also concluded that exposures are often high in areas where DDT is applied in dwellings, and breast milk levels often exceed tolerable daily intakes recommended by agencies such as WHO. 
However, at the same time, the authors noted that malaria control measures, which include the use of DDT, significantly improve community health. As a result, an outright ban on DDT in tropical regions at this time would have greater negative consequences than continuing to use it.
So reducing DDT exposure to Americans looks to have been a very, very good idea for public health.

The smear against Carson repeated endlessly by the right-wing, that she somehow caused millions of malaria deaths, has been widely debunked, see Deltoid (Tim Lambert) here.  Lambert has a whole series on DDT here.  In one piece, “Reaction to Tierney’s bad science,” he takes on Roberts:
Meanwhile, over on his blog, Tierney gets some well deserved criticism in comments. Also in comments Donald Roberts writes some stuff that is just untrue:
Carson claimed that the insecticides evolved from military research.
No, she said (correctly) that organophosphates evolved from military research. She was careful to distinguish them from DDT and other chlorinated hydrocarbons
DDT resistance is not a reason for not using DDT. Resistance is just not as important as Tim Lambert and others want to believe. … DDT has been used successfully in regions where mosquitoes are resistant. The basic relationship is that people are protected from indoor transmission of malaria if DDT is used. If DDT is withdrawn from control programs, people lose protections from devastating diseases, those diseases spread, and people get sick and die.
Now this was a response to my comment:
To give just one example: in Sri Lanka in the 1970s there were hundreds of thousands of cases of malaria because the mosquitoes had evolved resistance to DDT and DDT spraying no longer worked to control malaria. This is something that Rachel Carson warned about in “Silent Spring.” If they had taken her advice sooner and banned the agricultural use of DDT in Sri Lanka in the 60s, many lives might have been saved.
You can read the history of what happened in Sri Lanka here and judge for yourself whether Roberts is correct when he claims that DDT still prevents malaria when the mosquitoes are resistant. The fact is that Sri Lanka was only able to control the malaria epidemic by withdrawing DDT from the control program and replacing it with malathion. According to Roberts, this should have increased malaria rates, but it didn’t — malaria rates went down.
So, again, it was a good idea to reduce Americans’ DDT exposure — and the picture in developing countries is more complicated, but the way it has been portrayed by folks like Roberts is not scientifically nor medically accurate.

The GOP could certainly have found a superior witness, someone who could mislead directly on climate science, rather than DDT.

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