Saturday, March 01, 2008

A meeting of the Flat Earth Society? Or simply Broadway bombast?

Flat Earth Firsters? Just when you think the science of global warming is pretty much settled, with even big companies saying something ought to be done about it, here comes the voice of opposition! A meeting, starting Sunday in New York, the “2008 International Conference on Climate Change” – subtitled “Global Warming is Not a Crisis!”

The meeting is under the aegis of the Heartland Society, a corporate-funded outfit that, among other things, funnels “free-enterprise” baloney to malleable state lawmakers. The folks attending this meeting are often referred to as “global warming deniers.”

It’s like a gathering of the Flat Earth Society. Or – since this meeting literally is taking place on Broadway -- it recalls the great Preston Jones play, “The Last Meeting of the Knights of the White Magnolia,” which did run briefly on Broadway.

Although the sponsors reportedly contend the energy industries are not footing the bill for this celebration of hot air, many of the speakers are known to be on the polluter dole. (Note the wonderful articles below by AP’s Seth Borenstein on keynoter Pat Michaels, and by now-retired Cox News Service’s Jeff Nesmith on several of the other conference speakers, Willie Soon and Craig Idso.)

Heartland makes much of the fact that this meeting has dozens of co-sponsors – as if to suggest that doubt about global warming is both widespread and international in nature. But when you examine the list (and, frankly, we spent only a brief time digging), it’s easy to find numerous co-sponsors with known past financial associations to companies such as Exxon Mobil. (For example, Center for Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change, Frontiers of Freedom Institute, National Center for Policy Analysis, Pacific Research Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, the Congress of Racial Equality. And, of course, the Heartland Institute itself.)

Some of the “international” co-sponsors also receive money that may have started flowing at the corporate level. For instance, the Cathay Institute, which receives money from the Cato Institute, which has received money from Exxon Mobil. And how about the Alternate Solutions Institute of Pakistan [an obscure outfit in Pakistan is a sponsor?] and the Instituto de Libre Empresa of Peru, which receive money from the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, which has received money from – you guessed it, Exxon Mobil, as well as other corporations and corporate-funded foundations.

No, you could not make this up. We are waiting to see if they attack Galileo also.

[Here are the stories I mentioned above:]

Utilities giving big bucks to global warming skeptic

By SETH BORENSTEIN27 July 2006WASHINGTON (AP) - Coal-burning utilities are passing the hat for one of the few remaining scientists skeptical of the global warming harm caused by industries that burn fossil fuels.
Pat Michaels -- Virginia's state climatologist, a University of Virginia professor and senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute -- told Western business leaders last year that he was running out of money for his analyses of other scientists' global warming research. So last week, a Colorado utility organized a collection campaign to help him out, raising at least $150,000 in donations and pledges.
The Intermountain Rural Electric Association of Sedalia, Colo., gave Michaels $100,000 and started the fund-raising drive, said Stanley Lewandowski, IREA's general manager. He said one company planned to give $50,000 and a third plans to give Michaels money next year.
"We cannot allow the discussion to be monopolized by the alarmists," Lewandowski wrote in a July 17 letter to 50 other utilities. He also called on other electric cooperatives to launch a counterattack on "alarmist" scientists and specifically Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth."
Michaels and Lewandowski are open about the money and see no problem with it. Some top scientists and environmental advocates call it a clear conflict of interest. Others view it as the type of lobbying that goes along with many divisive issues.
"These people are just spitting into the wind," said John Holdren, president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. "The fact is that the drumbeat of science and people's perspectives are in line that the climate is changing."
Frank O'Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a Washington advocacy group, said: "This is a classic case of industry buying science to back up its anti-environmental agenda."
Donald Kennedy, an environmental scientist who is former president of Stanford University and current editor-in-chief of the peer-reviewed journal Science, said skeptics such as Michaels are lobbyists more than researchers.
"I don't think it's unethical any more than most lobbying is unethical," he said. He said donations to skeptics amounts to "trying to get a political message across."
Michaels is best known for his newspaper opinion columns and books, including "Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians and the Media." However, he also writes research articles published in scientific journals.
In 1998, Michaels blasted NASA scientist James Hansen, accusing the godfather of global warming science of being way off on his key 1988 prediction of warming over the next 10 years. But Hansen and other scientists said Michaels misrepresented the facts by cherry-picking the worst (and least likely) of three possible outcomes Hansen presented to Congress. The temperature rise that Hansen said was most likely to happen back then was actually slightly lower than what has occurred.
Michaels has been quoted by major newspapers more than 150 times in the past two years, according to a Lexis-Nexis database search. He and Lewandowski told The Associated Press that their side of global warming isn't getting out and that the donations resulted from a speech Michaels gave to the Western Business Roundtable last fall. Michaels said the money will help pay his staff.
Holdren, a Harvard environmental science and technology professor, said skeptics such as Michaels "have had attention all out of proportion to the merits of their arguments."
"Last I heard, anybody can ask a scientific question," said Michaels, who holds a Ph.D. in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "It is a very spirited discussion that requires technical response and expertise."
Other scientific fields, such as medicine, are more careful about potential conflicts of interests than the energy, environmental and chemical fields, where it doesn't raise much of an eyebrow, said Penn State University bioethicist Arthur Caplan.
Earlier this month, the Journal of the American Medical Association announced a crackdown on researchers who do not disclose drug company ties related to their research. Yet days later, the journal's editor said she had been misled because the authors of a new study had not revealed industry money they got that posed a conflict.
Three top climate scientists said they don't accept money from private groups. The same goes for the Web site, which has long criticized Michaels. "We don't get any money; we do this in our free time," said contributor Stefan Rahmstorf, an ocean physics scientist at Potsdam University in Germany.
Lewandowski, who said he believes global warming is real just not as big a problem as scientists claim, acknowledged this is a special interest issue. He said the bigger concern is his 130,000 customers, who want to keep rates low, so coal-dependent utilities need to prevent any taxes or programs that penalize fossil fuel use. He said his effort is more aimed at stopping carbon dioxide emission taxes and limits from Congress, something he believes won't happen during the Bush administration.
Energy industry touts dubious climate study Effort attacks belief in global warming

JEFF NESMITHCox Washington Bureau 1 June 2003The Atlanta Journal - ConstitutionCopyright (c) 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, All Rights Reserved
Washington --- Nonprofit organizations with ties to energy interests are promoting a controversial climate study as proof that prevailing views of global warming are wrong.
The scientists who authored the new study contend that the global warming of recent decades is not without precedent during the past 1,000 years, as other scientists have claimed. In fact, they say the Earth was even warmer during what is known as the ''medieval warm period'' between 900 and 1300 A.D.
The paper has touched off a worldwide storm of e-mail among climate scientists, some of whom have proposed organizing a research boycott of two journals that published the study.
The links among authors of the new study, the nonprofit groups and the energy interests illustrate a three-way intersection of money, science and policy. Energy interests underwrote the study and help finance the groups that are promoting it.
The study also illustrates a strategy adopted by some energy companies in the late 1980s to attack the credibility of climate science, said John Topping, president of the Climate Institute.
''They saw early on that what they had to do was keep the science at issue,'' said Topping, a former Republican congressional staffer who founded the institute in 1986.
By relying on the news media's inclination to include both sides of a story, the industries were able to create the impression that scientists were deeply divided over climate change, Topping said.
''It was all very shrewdly done,'' he added.
The Climate Institute takes the position that climate change threatens the global environment and promotes international cooperation on the issue. Less than 1 percent of its funding has come from oil industry sources, Topping said, with the rest coming from foundations.
To measure long-term climate patterns, scientists rely on ''proxy'' indicators, such as the content of air bubbles trapped centuries ago under ice packs in Greenland and Antarctica, the chemical makeup of ancient ocean sediments, and the relative widths of old tree rings.
These natural records have been used to portray a global climate that has been largely stable until the late 1980s, when temperatures started rising sharply.
A millennium of these temperature records presents what has been called a ''hockey stick'' graph, depicting centuries with little relative change, then a sharp and sudden rise during the past two decades.
Most climate scientists think the rise results from the atmospheric buildup of heat-trapping ''greenhouse gases,'' especially carbon dioxide released by the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and petroleum.
Industry-backed groups claim the new study challenges the validity of this view by presenting evidence of global warming at a time when fossil fuels were not being burned in appreciable quantities.
The new study, ''Reconstructing Climatic and Environmental Changes of the Past 1,000 Years: A Reappraisal,'' was published several weeks ago in a British scientific journal, Energy and Environment.
The authors contend in the 65-page paper that their reanalysis of data from more than 200 previous climate studies provides evidence of global temperature shifts that are more dramatic than the current one, including during the ''medieval warm period.''
The research was underwritten by the American Petroleum Institute, the trade association of the world's biggest oil companies.
Two of the five authors are scientists who have been linked to the coal industry and have received support from the ExxonMobil Foundation.
Two others, who are affiliated with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, also have the title of ''senior scientists'' with a Washington-based organization supported by conservative foundations and ExxonMobil Corp.
The organization, the George T. Marshall Institute, is headed by William O'Keefe, a former executive of the American Petroleum Institute.
O'Keefe also was at one time the president of the Global Climate Coalition, a now-defunct organization created by oil and coal interests to lobby against U.S. participation in climate treaties, such as the Kyoto Protocol.
''Statements made about the warming trend of the 20th century and the 1990s do not withstand close scrutiny,'' O'Keefe declared at a recent luncheon held in the Dirksen Senate Office Building here.
The purpose of the luncheon was for Willie Soon, a physicist and astronomer with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center, to present a summary of the new research.
Promotion of the scientists' arguments began with a news release issued by the public affairs office of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center shortly after the paper was published. Headlined ''20th Century Climate Not So Hot,'' the release declared that the scientists had ''determined'' that the current warming trend is neither the hottest nor the most dramatic change in the past 1,000 years.
Didn't publish release
Major news organizations failed to publish the news release. However, it was picked up by the Discovery Channel Online, which declared that the 20th century may have been ''just another bump in the climate road.''
The Discovery Channel Online article was immediately copied and distributed by the staff of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, headed by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), an outspoken skeptic about climate change.
The committee also circulated a statement by the Competitive Enterprise Institute declaring that ''the hockey stick theory has effectively been dismantled'' and ''the margin of error is so large that nearly any temperature trend could be drawn to fit within it.''
The principal target of the paper by Soon and his co-authors was Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, whose landmark compilation of thousands of ''proxy'' indicators led to the conclusion that the last two decades have been unusually warm and to the first depiction of the ''hockey stick'' graph.
Mann said last week that the Soon study does not even attempt to reconstruct global average temperatures but simply highlights anecdotal evidence of isolated warming trends.
In a statement issued jointly with environmental scientist Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University, Mann said that when all of these indicators are compiled and averaged, the ''medieval warming period'' fits within the long-range global trend. He said this was done not only in his study but also in nearly a dozen that have followed it.
Soon acknowledged during a question period at the Senate luncheon that his research does not provide such a comprehensive picture of the Earth's temperature record. He questioned whether that is even possible, and said he did not see how Mann and the others could ''calibrate'' the various proxy records for comparison.
''Then he needs to educate himself on several decades of very careful, painstaking research,'' Mann snapped.
The energy industry provides significant funding for groups that employ some of the authors or promote their new study.
Soon's four co-authors were Sallie Baliunas, also from the Harvard-Smithsonian center; Sherwood Idso and his son, Craig Idso, both of Tempe, Ariz., who are the past president and the current president of an organization called the Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change; and David R. Legates, a climate researcher at the University of Delaware.
The Idsos, who have previously been linked to Western coal interests, do not reveal the sources of financial support for their center, which on its Web site presents summaries of scientific studies purporting to raise questions about prevailing climate change theories.
The center had a budget of nearly $400,000 in 2001, the most recent year for which nonprofit statements to the Internal Revenue Service are available.
It operates from a post office box and offices in the homes of Craig and Sherwood Idso and a second son of Sherwood Idso, Keith Idso.
Identities of the four donors who provided the organization's $397,000 contributions in 2001 are blanked out of the Internal Revenue Service filing, and Sherwood Idso declined to name them.
''We generally do not say anything about our funding,'' he said. ''The feeling is that what we produce there should be evaluated on its own merit, not where any funding comes from.''
Records filed with the IRS by ExxonMobil Foundation show that it provided a grant of $15,000 to the Arizona center in 2000. These records and others show that ExxonMobil Foundation and ExxonMobil Corp. also have contributed $160,000 to the George T. Marshall Institute in the past three years and more than $900,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
In a telephone interview, Soon declined to say how much he is paid to serve as a ''senior scientist'' with the George T. Marshall Institute. Both he and Baliunas have that title.
The institute was organized in the 1980s and is chaired by Robert Jastrow, a retired scientist from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration who was an early and vocal supporter of former President Reagan's ''Star Wars'' missile defense initiative. Photo A scientist examines an ice core from a glacier in Antarctica. Ice cores contain tiny trapped bubbles that can tell researchers about atmospheric conditions thousands of years ago./ University of Nevada Photo The studies by Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, which used ancient tree rings and other data, were attacked in the latest study./ University of Virginia


Anonymous said...

As usual in this one sided debate, the sources of funding for the promoters of global warming are ignored and ad hominem attacks are used to denigrate highly reputable and well qualified scientists in their field. What about James Hansen's funding by Big Beanz and the considerable rake-in from carbon offset scams by Al Gore.

There is ample historical evidence that the Mediaeval Warm Period was at least as warm if not warmer than current temperatures and that the 20th century is not unique.

Mann's statistical work was taken apart by the Wegman report, which you significantly fail to mention.

The Idso's provide an excellent resource on CO2 and tough if actual temperatures don't agree with the modelling predictions. I have, as an individual, contributed to the Idso's and I have no contact with any energy group.

Mr Obvious said...

OK so your intentions are pure, and anyone who disagrees is ...

Try this on for size. And feel free to try it with whatever you think the base numbers are.

I am going to base this calculation on the following assumptions, for the sake of argument:

1) a 100 ppm increase in CO2 in the last hundred years

2) a 20% difference in heat absorption by CO2 as compared to normal air.

3) a 1 degree increase in the last hundred years

4) that man is somehow responsible for all of the 100 ppm increase.

5) that wind plays no part

6) that O2 levels need not be considered

the formula) 100 ppm * 20% * 1 degree

the result) 20 millionths of 1 degree of global warming can be attributed to "Man Made" CO2.