CC writes: “Why do you think the scientific community has been self-serving? Please offer some examples.”
EM responds: “… if you think that all climate lobbyists are doing what they do only in order to “save the planet”, you are being extremely naïve in your world view. When there is money to be made, as with any issue, it becomes highly publicized. This is my biggest critique of the the entire AGW debate. It’s truly a travesty that our two-party system turned this issue into a political one instead of a humanitarian one. Climate sciences would benefit greatly if AGW was viewed outside of the political spectrum.
Now I’m getting the impression EM doesn’t know his subject near as much as he might think. Talking about money involved, come on, no-one is bigger than the oil companies. Why does EM ignore all that?
The “politicization” of “climate science” was a deliberate self-serving decision with roots deep into the Republican Party. Scott Church has done a nice job of pulling together some of the history, it is a bit dated, but that doesn’t make it less accurate. Now with these avarice-blinded oligarchs taking over the reigns of our US government this might interest more people than it has in the past.
Overview - Climate Change Astroturf Fronts
The phrase astroturf was originally coined by Senator Lloyd Benson to denote large scale political lobbying efforts funded by industry and/or well-funded special interests that are deliberately designed to give the appearance of being “grassroots” movements (hence, the reference to an artificial grass product). It can be (and often is) practiced by any special interest, especially those with deep pockets. But in recent years the practice has been dominated by Far-Right special interests. Nowhere is this more apparent than with global warming.
There is almost universal acceptance in the scientific community that global average temperature has been rising at historically unprecedented rates for the last century, and that this is very likely due to human activity. There is also consensus that this increase will severely impact the biosphere during the coming century. A wealth of data from a wide range of atmospheric, geophysical, and biological science fields supports these conclusions.
Though there is disagreement as to the nature and extent of the impacts we can expect, and how best to respond to them, few published scientists dispute the overall picture. Furthermore, this consensus is ultimately non-partisan.
Those who recognize the scope of problem span a diverse spectrum of religious and political backgrounds, moderate conservative to liberal. But a great deal of ideologically motivated criticism has been directed at global warming science and scientists in recent years from a small, but very significant minority that is virtually dominated by industry and Far-Right special interests.
Typically, advocacy groups representing these interests employ a small number of highly paid consultants on a contract basis, nearly all of whom are drawn from the same pool of 8 to 10 scientists who are well known for their contrarian views. With very few exceptions, the climate change "research" of these skeptics has been done outside of the scientific peer-review process, and what little has not, has failed to stand the test of time or significantly alter any generally accepted conclusions.
Most of the claims made by skeptics are based on highly selective presentations of existing datasets and attempts to inflate the known uncertainties in climate change math models. Satellite measurements of lower tropospheric temperatures from the mid 90's are a particularly popular subject. At the time, uncorrected datasets from those satellites indicated tropospheric cooling. More recent datasets have been corrected for a number of noise sources and secondary atmospheric effects.
Though many issues with these datasets remain, they now indicate warming within the constraints of the remaining uncertainties. Furthermore, recent research has also revealed much about the dynamics of the troposphere, stratosphere and surface level heat transport (particularly in oceanic regions) and shown that the surface and lower atmosphere need not, and should not, be expected to behave in a similar manner as previously assumed. These results are more or less consistent with the predictions of current climate change models. Not surprisingly, these facts are either carefully avoided by skeptics or dismissed out of hand.
Global warming astroturfing represents a variety of agendas for which funding has come almost exclusively from the fossil fuel, coal fired power, and extraction industries, various far-right foundations (e.g. Scaife and Olin), and the Unification Church (Rev. Sun Myung Moon). To a lesser extent, conspiracy theory groups like the John Birch Society and the Lyndon LaRouche political movement have also been involved. Basically, this covers just about everyone who is heavily invested in pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and free market based value systems. These interests stand to bear the brunt of global warming mitigation costs so it is not surprising that their views ultimately have little to do with science.
The Religious Right has also been involved. Fundamentalist Christian theologies and ultra-conservative worldviews largely overlap, particularly in the realms of free-market values and nationalism. Given the rigid nature of these theologies, many evangelicals consider their faith inseparable from virtually all Far-Right values (most Christians do not share these views, and for that matter neither do most evangelicals). As such, many within the Religious Right community view all environmental science, including that supporting global warming, as a threat to their faith that must be opposed at all costs.
Examples abound. Among the more notable are;
• The Greening Earth Society: Founded in the late 80’s by Western Fuels - a coal fired power lobby representing numerous corporations—to promote the claim that increasing greenhouse gases are good for the earth. They are best known for a widely distributed “documentary” called “The Greening of Planet Earth” in which it was claimed that global warming was going to turn the earth into a lush paradise of plant life and crop yields. Virtually all of the content at their web site (www.greeningearthsociety.org) and in their publications has been prepared by two or three skeptic consultants (Most notably Sherwood Idso and Patrick Michaels) and relies on science that has been carefully edited to give the appearance of support for their thesis. Western Fuels and the GES share office space and pretty much overlap in their board of directors, making them all but synonymous with each other.
• The Science & Environmental Policy Project (SEPP): Founded in the early 90’s by S. Fred Singer with seed capital and office space provided by the Unification Church (the “Moonies”). Today SEPP’s funding has come mainly from the fossil fuel industry and various Far-Right foundations including the Bradley, Smith Richardson, and Forbes foundations. The SEPP, which according to its web site advocates a "no-regrets policy of energy efficiency and market-based conservation", has been one of the more vociferous skeptic fronts. They have been active in numerous political lobbying efforts and public relations campaigns aimed at discrediting global warming, the link between CFC’s and ozone depletion, and even lung cancer and second-hand smoke (Singer has also consulted for the tobacco industry). Singer was also the driving force behind the 1995 and 1997 Leipzig Declarations opposing the global warming scientific consensus and the Kyoto Protocol. SEPP claimed that 140 “climate scientists” had signed at least one of them. There were numerous problems with the credentials of many signatories. At least one independent investigation was only able to verify 20 as having any valid climate science background.
• The Global Climate Coalition (GCC): Founded in 1989 by 46 corporations and trade associations representing a number of industries, but mainly auto manufacturers and fossil fuels. They have been involved in numerous well-funded lobbying efforts, multi-million dollar advertising campaigns targeting mainstream global warming science, and several flawed economic studies on the cost of global warming mitigation. In the face of ever mounting evidence they began to unravel in the late 90’s when several members left the coalition (most notably British Petroleum, Daimler Chrysler, Texaco, and General Motors). Today they are defunct.
• The Information Council on the Environment (ICE): Founded in 1991 the National Coal Association, Western Fuels, and Edison Electric—all coal or coal-fired power lobbies. They are best known for a public disinformation campaign that made use of four prominent skeptic consultants (Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling, S. Fred Singer, and Sherwood Idso), a public relations firm (William Bracy Inc.), and a polling firm (Cambridge Reports). According to internal Cambridge Reports memos the goal of the campaign was to “reposition global warming as theory rather than fact”. Based on the research summarized in these memos print and broadcast advertising spots were then targeted specifically at "young, low-income women" and "older, less-educated men from large families who are not typically active information seekers”. Emphasis was placed on districts which rely on coal-fired power and heat, and nationally syndicated conservative talk shows that are frequented by these sectors (e.g. Rush Limbaugh). Special emphasis was to be placed on those districts that had a Representative on the Energy Committee of the House of Representatives. The program became embroiled in scandal and was disbanded shortly after its inception when the memos just cited were made public by a trade journal representing the energy industry itself (Energy Daily), and the National Journal, the Arizona Republic, and the New York Times. All the original ICE benefactors and consultants have since gone back to the drawing board and crafted other such efforts. Today they are a lot more careful about covering their tracks!
Astroturf fronts have stridently denied that mainstream scientific consensus supports global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which represents mainstream views one of their favorite targets. Whereas the IPCC represents over 2000 scientists, virtually all of which are published contributors in fields relevant to climate science and global warming mitigation, astroturf fronts have relied exclusively on a handful of consultants (one to two dozen at most). Of these, the lion’s share of the actual “science” consulting has been restricted to the following;
• S. Fred Singer: A professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and of “Humane Studies” at George Mason University. He is best known for founding the SEPP discussed above but has been widely recruited, and funded, by the fossil fuels, coal, auto, and tobacco industries.
• Patrick Michaels: Also a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia, He has published some climate science research, but nearly all of it has since been discredited. He is best known for his ubiquitous op-ed pieces in Far-Right forums and his book “The Satanic Gases” co-authored with Robert Balling. He has a history of deliberately editing data in his consulting work. In at least one case he was caught falsifying data during Congressional testimony. He’s also come under fire recently for claiming to be the Virginia State Climatologist—a claim he continues to make even though the State of Virginia disputes it.
• Robert Balling: Director of the Office of Climatology at Arizona State University. Also known primarily for his advocacy efforts rather than any published climate science. His most noted works are his books “The Heated Debate: greenhouse predictions vs. climate reality” (published under the auspices of the Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy, a California-based Far-Right think tank), and “The Satanic Gases”, which he co-authored with Patrick Michaels.
• Sallie Baliunas: An astrophysicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, she is one of the most widely contracted, and cited of contrarian industry consultants. She is best known for her belief that solar activity (particularly sunspots) drives global warming. She co-authored at least 3 papers that have been embroiled in scandal for publishing work riddled with errors and omissions under questionable peer-review standards. Among these was the paper that accompanied the OISM Petition, which also drew charges ofplagiarism and a sharp denunciation from the National Academy of Sciences.
• Sherwood Idso: Another astrophysicist with Harvard-Smithsonian with a track record similar to Baliunas’. He too co-authored the same scandal-ridden papers associated with Baliunas and has also been a ubiquitous figure in Far-Right circles. (Craig Idso, it’s a family affair)
• Richard Lindzen: Sloan professor of atmospheric sciences at M.I.T., Lindzen is best known for his attempts to demonstrate the existence of negative climate feedback mechanisms that will neutralize the impacts of global warming. His most recent and credible such effort was published in 2001 and has come to be known as the “Iris Hypothesis”. While theoretically viable it has run into a number of observational difficulties and is not widely accepted. Lindzen has also received some notoriety of late because the main character in Michael Crichton’s book “State of Fear” appears to be based on him. The novel, which is about a sinister plot by “radical environmental terrorists” to make global warming “seem” real by altering global weather, was actually a thinly veiled attempt at pseudoscientific and political commentary.
• John Christy: Director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH) and the Alabama State Climatologist. He is best known for his pioneering work with Roy Spencer on the use of satellite-based remote sensing to measure lower temperature trends that have been a key component of climate change studies. He was also a lead author of portions of the IPCC Year 1995 and 2001 Reports summarizing the current state of climate change science. Christy has acknowledged that human activity has impacted climate, but he believes the impact will be minimal.
• Roy Spencer: A principle research scientist at the University of Alabama in Huntsville (UAH), and formerly Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. A colleague of John Christy, Spencer is also known for pioneering work in remote sensing of troposphere temperature trends. He is a regular contributor to Tech Central Station where he is a member of their Science Roundtable.
Of these, only the last three have made important contributions to climate science, and only Christy and Spencer have not accepted cash for their contributions (Lindzen, who authored a widely cited 1992 commentary accusing mainstream scientists and environmentalists of being influenced by cash, acknowledged in 1995 that he receives $2500 a day plus expenses from industry for his consulting time).
For over a decade Christy and Spencer’s work on lower troposphere temperatures, which documented much lower trends than those predicted by state-of-the-art climate models, provided the only truly serious challenge to the mainstream consensus on global warming—and the most frequently cited argument, even though other researchers did not confirm their findings.
All of this changed in 2005 when it was discovered that the UAH trends had resulted from a math error, which when corrected eliminated the conflict with climate models and other upper-air research, and the only viable weapon in the skeptic arsenal.—1—-
Of the remaining names, none has published any viable climate science, and to the best of my knowledge neither has any other industry consultant. Baliunas has published in her own field, including some work on sunspots (vis a’ vis her claim of solar activity and climate) and Soon has on historical solar trends affecting climate. However, none of this work has had any real impact on current knowledge of global warming.
Apart from Spencer and Christy’s troposphere temperature work, no skeptic research has ever demonstrated any problems with the mainstream global warming consensus as represented by the 2000+ published body of the IPCC, and when that argument dissolved so did the only promising criticism the skeptic community ever possessed.
Astroturfing has also proven valuable to the Religious Right, who has been able to sweeten anti-environmental agendas with the appearance of divine sanction. As usual, much of the funding base for their efforts originates with polluting industries and Far-Right foundations.
While many of these are decidedly secular they recognize the practical value in aligning themselves with fundamentalists—even if in appearance only. The best example of “faith-based” anti-environmental astroturf in recent history is the Michigan based Acton Institute and its spin-off, the Interfaith Council for Environmental Stewardship (ICES).
Acton and ICES are best known for the year 2000 Cornwall Declaration on Environmental Stewardship which was created largely as a response to the more Biblically based and broadly recognized Evangelical Declaration for the Care of Creation.
Acton, whose stated mission is “to promote a free and virtuous society characterized by individual liberty and sustained by religious principles” produces literature, lecture series’ and community outreach in a number of public policy areas. Their stated environmental policy is to promote “an approach to the earth and its resources that attends both to the demands of human freedom and flourishing and to the Biblical call for human beings to exercise caring ‘dominion’ over creation”.
Likewise, ICES describes its mission as “serving humanity and ecology through faith and reason” by affirming that “The 20th Century brought unprecedented improvement in human health, nutrition, life expectancy, and environmental quality… None of this would be possible, were it not for the religious, economic, and scientific traditions which are now under assault.”
The key to all this lies in the terms “freedom and flourishing”, “dominion”, and “traditions which are now under assault”, all of which have been carefully repositioned via some very creative Biblical exegesis to mean unrestrained profiteering and consumption. Acton and ICES go to great pains to present an image of being ecumenical and committed to “caring” for creation, but their list of advisors and benefactors reads like a war roster for the Religious Right, and their published books and monographs are little more than a warmed-over rehash of standard Far-Right pseudoscience and pitches for the blessings of unrestrained capitalism.
As of this writing, the Q&A section of the ICES web site (www.stewards.net) even cites the OISM Petition and the Leipzig Declarations as proof that there is no scientific consensus on global warming—nearly a decade after both were scientifically and professionally discredited! In the end, Acton, ICES, and the Cornwall Declaration are simply an attempt by the Far-Right to impose Biblical sanction on profiteering and consumption.
With the evidence for global warming growing stronger, almost on a daily basis, and the steady erosion of skeptic arguments, climate change astroturfing is becoming an increasingly difficult sell and what programs are still under way are becoming more desperate, and shrill.
A textbook example of the underhanded and ill-informed tactics skeptic front groups often resort to received national attention in 1998 when a tiny Oregon based ultra-conservative advocacy group claimed to have proof of a scientific “consensus” that global warming was a “liberal myth.” In April of that year a Right-Wing front called the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine joined forces with the Marshall Institute and Frederick Seitz (a past president of the National Academy of Sciences) and circulated a petition to thousands of scientists, engineers, and weather forecasting professionals nationwide.
The original mailing contained an unpublished scientific paper by Arthur Robinson and his son Zachary of the OISM and William Soon and Sallie Baliunas of the Marshall Institute (hereafter referred to as RRSB), a copy of a December 1997 Wall Street Journal editorial entitled "Science Has Spoken - Global Warming is a Myth", and a petition the reader was to sign which called for the elimination of the Kyoto Protocol for international greenhouse gas reductions and opposition to all global warming mitigation efforts.
by Scott Church
Global Warming & Climate Change Myths
Here is a summary of global warming and climate change myths, sorted by recent popularity vs what science says. Click the response for a more detailed response. You can also view them sorted by taxonomy, by popularity, in a print-friendly version, with short URLs or with fixed numbers you can use for permanent references.