Failed Deception: A Brief History of Climate Change Denial
Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe has made a name for himself as a leading climate-change denier. If he's not throwing a snowball on the Senate floor to demonstrate his belief that global warming is not happening, he's putting forth "reports" claiming that more than a 1000 scientists support his belief. In many respects, he and his former assistant, Marc Morano have become the voice of denial on this matter.
Don't be fooled. Despite all the theatrics Senator Inhofe has brought to this issue, his attempt to expose anthropogenic global warming (AGW) as a hoax -- perpetuated by climate scientists -- can't compare with the raw data collected and other hard evidence that support this harrowing situation.
Unfortunately, Inhofe is not alone. Others have attempted to turn science fact into fiction. And the list of attempts keeps growing. Climategate, the Oregon Petition, and US Minority Report are among the debates,"revelations", and findings released by climate-change deniers over the years. While many of these documents and claims can be debunked, there are so many proliferating the media. And, as a result, the populous that pays attention to it are buying into the arguments.
There’s no doubt an official investigation into AGW is needed. However, it’s not the scientists who need to be investigated, it’s the chief accusers. Many of these individuals and groups have used nefarious tactics, lies and distortion to sway public opinion on an important topic. And they’ve vilified the people who have had little stakes in what has become a political and ideological war.
The concept that human activity is causing environmental damage – in particular, changes to the climate – has been known for nearly a century. The evidence for it has been mounting for more than 40 years. Data collected from around world has suggested that the average temperature per year has risen since the data were first collected.
On top of that, very noticeable physical changes – those that even non-scientists have reported –have become apparent. Things such as seasonal flowers blooming earlier than expected; the reduction or retreat of glaciers in places far from the polar caps; reports of erratic and violent weather patterns; and the acidification of ocean waters beyond normal levels have raised alarms for this dire situation
Many denial groups have formed think tanks to search for ways to persuade public opinion against the belief in AGW. Their tactics are to bombard the media – including the Internet – with information geared to create doubt about the scientific evidence.
Scientists, policy makers, and advocacy groups have pushed for regulations – and in many cases elimination - of dangerous chemicals, fossil fuel emissions and other greenhouse gases that are believed to be responsible for AGW.
However - while the facts speak for themselves -there are those who are actively fighting any proposed laws to curb the use of these products. And, many of the tactics used have been absurd, dishonest, and possibly criminal.
Many denial groups have formed think tanks to search for ways to persuade public opinion against the belief in AGW. Their tactics are to bombard the media – including the Internet – with information geared to create doubt about the scientific evidence. The most popular tactic is to attack scientific consensus.
To date, more than 97 percent of all climate scientists around the world agree that human activity is affecting the rate of global warming. Also, scientific organizations with members outside of climate study have sided with them.
Still, the denialists ignore such facts and come up with their own. Many claim there are increasing numbers of scientists who disagree that global warming is either (1) man-made or (2) happening, at all.
While there are numerous reports from denial groups floating around the Internet, the harshest claims come from two reports and one conspiracy: The Oregon Petition, the “U.S. Senate Minority Report” (better known as “1000 International Scientists Dissent over Man-Made Global Warming Claims"), and Climategate. These deserve more scrutiny, for they shed some light on the deceptive history they are part of.
The Oregon Petition
Between 1999 and 2001 (and circulated again in late 2007 and early 2008) a curious petition made its round. Oregon Petition Project – also known as the Oregon Petition - purported to have nearly 31,000 signatures from “scientists” who disputed AGW. It was organized by the impressively named Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine(OISM), a non-profit organization headed by known global warming denialist, Author Robinson.
The petition was later debunked. It turned out that most of the “scientists” weren’t exactly scientists. The reply card (with a survey) was given to anyone who had an undergraduate degree in science. Also, a handful of real scientists who did sign it fell into three categories:
* They were retired,
* not involved in climate science, or
* were already associated with OISM.
Although debunked years ago, the petition is still circulated, and an active website from OISM still lists those that have signed it, as well as offering a copy of the new version of the petition.
U.S. Senate Minority Report
Written by conservative writer Marc Morano and presented by Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe, this report has been revised numerous times since 2007. Each year, new names are added to a list purported to be of those who disagree with the concept of man-made global warming claims.
This list is impressive. There are a few Nobel Laureates on it. However, a closer examination reveals a few glaring problems. Some of the scientists on the list have either changed their position or simply disagreed with Kyoto Protocol (which was enough for them to be entered on the list). Many of them have asked to have their names removed from the list (which Morano has refused to do). Also, some “scientists” were not scientists such as the weatherman Chris Allen (who was made famous by a particular YouTube video). Allen claimed in his blog that only God could create climate change; therefore, according to him, AGW had to be a hoax.
Other signatories had membership in think tanks created by conservative groups and energy technology companies. Another segment of scientists had little or no background in climate or atmospheric science.
Another tactic of the deniers can be considered criminal. Case in point is Climategate. This scandal is often referred to as the “smoking gun” among climate-change deniers. According to this group, e-mails exchanged between scientists at the Climate Research Unit of the United Kingdom’s University of East Anglia, Penn State University and other campuses and facilities showed evidence of a cover-up to alter data to favor AGW.
When first reported in 2009, Climategate appeared to be damaging. Several conservative-leaning newspapers, libertarian blogs, and climate-change denial websites announced that the scandal finally exposed the “lie.”
In many respect it did. Soon after the scandal broke, questions surfaced on how the e-mails were leaked and what exactly was exchanged in the e-mails. It turns out that the e-mails were hacked by an unknown source, and then released onto a conservative blog.
When published, the e-mails were often edited or had some (not all) of its information posted to suggest wrongdoing on the part of the scientists.
Eventually, university officials, an Associated Press reporter, a committee within the British Parliament, and several independent investigators investigated the entire collection of e-mails.
1. The scientists involved in the matter were frustrated by constant requests for data from global warming skeptics.
2. Constant harassment from a London financial trader who claimed to have found "fakery" in a 1990 research paper by Climate Research Unit head Phil Jones.
3.The scientists had doubts about the quality of the several “climate denial” reports, including one that was partly funded by the American Petroleum Institute.
4. Calls to avoid or ban publishing in a journal that published papers from known climate-change deniers such as Steve McIntyre.
Other findings revealed that the so-called scientific cover-up on the matter were unsubstantiated and were usually misinterpreted. One case, pointed out by FactCheck.Org, stated that denialists interpreted a phrase “hiding the decline” as referring to a decline in actual temperatures, despite a lack of evidence in the text to suggest this.
Climategate, the Oregon Petition, and the U.S. Senate Minority Report are merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to distortion of facts. However, these issues -- which can easily be debunked -- are being interpreted by too many people that believe them at face value.
As a result, the scientists who did their work are finding themselves under fire, while the real culprits – the numerous climate change deniers and organizations – use the media to spread their hoax to an unsuspecting audience.
This has to change.
Update 2016: CO2 and Questionable Websites
Since the republication of this article, several tactics have come to light. Some of these tactics came from denialists that had responded on one of three articles published on this topic.
One tactic is something I named "CO2 is good for trees!" At least two denialists (one on Twitter and another in the comment section of another article) brought this up. It felt like a last-gasp talking point to argue against those that believe that AGW is happening. It also appears to be based on a misunderstanding of real science. It is true that trees take in CO2; however, it doesn't clean up other toxins or chemicals that pollute the air. Also, it's an argument that can be contradictory; it leads one to believe that more trees and plants need to be planted and that one should be more concerned about the environmental damage caused by the destruction of rain forests around the world. It should also be noted that the reduction of the rain forest through tactics that involved massive controlled fires in the region has contributed to the current climate change crisis.
Another tactic involves popular websites using questionable blogs. Investor's Business Daily is a site usually featured in Yahoo News. As the name suggest, they are a business-oriented website and tend to be right-leaning in their approach. Lately, they've been publishing articles disputing the science presented by government agencies such as NASA, NOAA, and the United Nation's IPCC. The problem, however, is that this fairly mainstream site borrows heavily on questionable and misleading blogs such as Real Science to support their editorial arguments.
Real Science appears to be glossy and professional website that's appears to be dealing with science. But, looks are deceiving. The blog is dedicated is a climate change denial site. While the blog may contain swell looking graphs and charts, much of the articles are thinly veiled rants against "liberals and scientists" who have "ulterior motives" to push the climate change "hoax."
© 2015 Dean Traylor