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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 06/18/2009

The Sureness of Global Warming Skeptics

By Steve Tracton

* New (6/25/09): Heartland Responds to Climate Commentary *
* Related Story: Think Tank Reverses Course on Climate Lobbying *

Global Warming: Was it ever really a crisis?

So read the banner hanging in front of the 250 or so, including myself, attending the Third International Conference on Climate Change. Sponsored by the Heartland Institute and held June 3 in Washington, D.C., the conference had the stated goal of "calling attention to widespread dissent to the asserted 'consensus' on the causes, consequences, and proper responses to climate change." The meeting was a follow-up to the Heartland-sponsored Second International Conference on Climate Change, held this past March in New York City and which CWG's Andrew Freedman blogged about previously.

The answer to the question on the banner -- based on the sure-sounding words of congressmen and other speakers and panelists, and an abundance of one-sided background literature and multimedia products -- was an unequivocal "No." Yet we should all know that when dealing with weather and climate, the only thing certain is uncertainty.

Keep reading for the highlights (lowlights) of the Heartland conference...

To my eyes and ears, support for the global warming skeptic's point of view -- and the implicit and sometimes explicit denunciation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- was unanimous and expressed without reservation by the conference's speakers, panel members and attendees.

While there undoubtedly are some questionable aspects relating to the process and science of the IPCC, which publishes regular assessments of climate change science based mainly on peer-reviewed literature, to say the least the same is true for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The NIPCC is "an international panel of nongovernment scientists and scholars who have come together to understand the causes and consequences of climate change," according to a Web site advertising NIPCC's 2009 report, "Climate Change Reconsidered," published by the Heartland Institute and officially released and distributed at the conference. The screaming message of this 880-page tome can be summarized by a single, oft repeated statement, "nature not human activities are the main cause climate change" and "hence any efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases are not only hugely expensive and ineffective but completely pointless."

The IPCC consensus explicitly acknowledges less than total unanimity by concluding that current and prospective global warming is "very likely" (defined as at least a 90% chance) mostly caused by human activities (emissions of greenhouse gases). The IPCC reports also conclude warming will very likely continue, posing risks to society and the environment. The NIPCC's bottom line -- expressed time and time again during the conference and in meeting background materials -- is complete dismissal of any possibility that the IPCC consensus is or ultimately will be proven true.

Perhaps the most succinct expression of this mantra at the Heartland conference was from MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, a longtime skeptic and keynote speaker, when he said: "we eventually will win against anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming, simply because we are right, and they are wrong."

What most surprised and amazed me about the conference was the level of self-righteousness, sarcasm, derogatory humor, and vitriol of the participants. That's not to say these descriptors never apply to other climate-related meetings open to the public. In my personal experience, however, that's not been the case to the extent and degree witnessed here. Some lowlights...

* Fred Singer, director of the Science and Environmental Policy Project and a major contributor and editor of the NIPCC report, said that the debate about global warming and the political effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions "is about money and power" and "is not about the science."

* To the "money and power" statement by Singer, someone from the audience yelled, "and slavery." Whatever that meant, it received loud applause. Someone else shouted, "and religion," to which Singer added that IPCC scientists want to be viewed as saviors, which again was followed by applause and audible guffaws.

* Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma warned in his keynote address that the threat of catastrophic global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and that pending legislation for reducing emission of greenhouse gases aims at fixing a problem that doesn't exist.

* Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.), another of Congress's most outspoken skeptics of human-induced global warming, argued that the global warming debate has been stifled with "case-closed and phony claims of consensus." Not acknowledged was the unqualified nature of "we are right and they are wrong" claims made by Lindzen and others on the skeptics' side.

* Rohrabacher also asserted that the specter of anthropogenic climate change was to stampede the public and elected officials to accept the "biggest power grab in history" based on "false science" (loud applause). He did acknowledge he was not a scientist and, for example, he knew only that there are "protons, electrons, muons and morons."

* Willie Soon, a leading proponent of the theory that solar effects and cosmic rays, not CO2, is the primary driver of climate change, riddled his talk with sarcastic remarks, such as saying that IPCC models reflect nothing more than "garbage in gospel out." The irony that much of what was being presented could be described in the same terms seemed to escape notice amidst audience laughter.

* Rohrabacher's lack of qualifications to speak on climate issues was apparent from his comments on melting of the Arctic polar ice cap. According to Rohrabacher, since the polar ice caps have melted on Mars and Jupiter, melting of the Earth's ice cap must be a natural, solar-induced phenomenon, unless the Martians are driving around in SUVs. There was no audience reaction except for one individual pointing out that Jupiter is a gaseous planet without possibility of ever having an ice cap.

* Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which is weighing the merits of legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions, argued that the bills under consideration are by-and-large tax bills. He and others expressed reasonable concerns about the legislation and about the U.S. signing on to an international climate agreement, to be considered at December's international climate meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. But Sensenbrenner's statements then devolved into wondering whether supporters of carbon dioxide restrictions would also introduce legislation levying a "cow fart tax" (cow's emit methane, another greenhouse gas, into the air when they pass gas). Sensenbrenner's talk ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

* Recognized at the conference were a dozen or so students who, it was announced to the accompaniment of loud applause, would be going to Copenhagen to protest at the December climate meeting.

It's been said that the trouble with having an open mind is that people will insist on trying to put things in it. Whatever the merits of any of the science, science policy, or political arguments made at the conference were completely lost in the entrenched self-righteous attitude of many presenters and attendees and the failure to entertain or discuss alternative points of view.

The meeting was not about an open search for truth, but a choir preaching to excite and equip a vanguard of skeptics to oppose "alarmist junk science" of the IPCC and any climate change policies.

Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying "the real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes." The Heartland Institute, whose stated mission includes promoting "deregulation in areas where ... markets do a better job than government bureaucracies" clearly falls in the latter category. In the interest of opposing regulatory action to address climate change, Heartland would probably be predisposed to tout the scientific information that best suits that purpose. From its perspective, the stronger the case that global warming is not a crisis, more likely the better. So it cherry picks the scientists and science that best supports this case.

But science is not about molding the facts to make a case and present a single answer. Rather, it is about the search for the truth, grappling with uncertainty, and presenting a range of possibilities. Scientists are supposed to be skeptical that any given answer is the right one. So it is quite ironic that Heartland's climate "skeptics" are so sure. But I'd say it only figures, considering the title and subject matter (battle cry) of the concluding keynote talk at Heartland's meeting: "Rationality Renounced, Prosperity Purloined, Freedom Forfeited, Democracy Destroyed, America Annihilated? No way Jose!"

Give me a break!

By Steve Tracton  | June 18, 2009; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Tracton  
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Comments

Science does have answers, its just that the global warming one is wrong. Wrong with a capital "W", simply wrong.

Posted by: gorak | June 18, 2009 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Although this snapshot puts skeptics in a rather bad light, you might have mentioned the abuse and the damage to their careers that many have historically suffered due to holding the unpopular position that the science isn't settled.

Why you think a conference titled with a question is overly dogmatic is open to interpretation. But it's hard to believe that you've been following this debate closely if you actually think that the skeptic side has been more self-righteous or even humorless, for that matter.

I, for one, have been called an anti-science fanatic and much worse, despite the fact that I believe global warming exists and should be addressed, for the heinous crime of questioning the potential severity of the issue. The vitriol some have used to characterise me is pretty astonishing--and I'm not even a player in this game, just a commenter.

Posted by: thomaswfuller | June 18, 2009 10:55 AM | Report abuse

One pertinent statistic has me currently in Al Gore's corner on the GW issue...the fact that we simply HAVE NOT had a really snowy winter here since 2003.

In addition, I've noticed that winters around here keep getting milder. I have seen vey few days with a high temperature below freezing in recent winters. This contrasts with the period 1975-1992 during which we could count on having several days each winter with highs in the mid-twenties and wind chills below zero. Nowdays a "cold wave" here in the mid-Atlantic region refers to daytime highs around 35 or so...not long-john weather by any stretch of the imagination.

In fairness to global-warming skeptics, our milder climate of recent years may just be connected to cycles on the Sun, and not to any man-made factors. In fact as the Sun ages, natural global warming may be expected. Over the course of Earth's history, mean climates have been considerably milder than the Ice Age climates of the Pleistocene/Holocene epochs. The dinosaurs of the Mesozoic Era enjoyed a milder climate though some recent research suggests they did so insulated by a feathery coat similar to that of their avian first cousins. Back in the Carboniferous Paleozoic hawk-sized dragonflies flew above an earth populated with football-sized cockroaches in lush forests of giant clubmosses, horsetails and seed-fern relatives of today's conifers. The climate was warmer, but the huge size of the insects may well have been due to an atmospheric oxygen concentration higher than today's 20%. The "tracheal" respiratory system of insects and some related arthropods operates more efficiently at higher oxygen concentrations, allowing for larger bug size, but the same higher oxygen concentration could have also been responsible for the end of the Carboniferous in a general conflagration, as combustion proceeds more efficiently at higher oxygen concentrations--anyone who has seen a glowing splint thrust into a test tube of pure oxygen can see what happens.

Posted by: Bombo47jea | June 18, 2009 1:17 PM | Report abuse

Jupiter did experience some warming along with us, but indeed it lacks terrestrial climate features.

Posted by: gorak | June 18, 2009 2:00 PM | Report abuse

While I'm not sure exactly where I stand on the anthropogenic global warming, I do find it ironic that the tone of this article was very self-righteous and presented little or no scientific evidence - exactly what he is accusing the other side of doing!

Posted by: weatherreader | June 18, 2009 3:26 PM | Report abuse

WaPo is "Shocked, Shocked":
Lobbying is being committed in the climate casino!

Posted by: CapitalClimate | June 18, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

I took photos at this conference rather than notes - see my slideshow here: http://www.tripodgirl.com/2009_2/skeptics_conference.php - but it's my understanding that video recordings of all presentations will eventually be available on the Heartland.org website.

I look forward to the chance to re-listen to some of those presentations, since I remember things rather differently than this writer. Dr. Soon did, in fact, make the "garbage in and gospel out" comment but I remember the remainder of his presentation as being rather focused on his material.

From my perspective, there were too many politicians making speeches at this event. But that is perhaps understandable given that the conference was hurriedly organized in order to provide a forum for concerns regarding the cap-and-trade legislation currently before Congress.

My memory is that, while the scientists themselves occasionally expressed frustration over the inability to get a fair hearing from those who hold different views, they generally were appropriately careful and restrained in their language.

Uncertainty about all sorts of climate issues was, I thought, a rather prominent theme in their remarks. They are, after all, attempting to counter the fiction that there's only one view amongst reputable scientists regarding climate change - a fiction that gets repeated virtually every day in the media.

Posted by: TripodGirl | June 18, 2009 4:31 PM | Report abuse

The most interesting things I could take away from your column on the skeptics conference were items that should be (but never will be) applied to the panic mongers on the other side of the issue:

"What most surprised and amazed me about the conference was the level of self-righteousness, sarcasm, derogatory humor, and vitriol of the participants."

You're preaching to the wrong side of the issue, especially when you toss in the line:

"the real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes."

That is a perfect description of the folks pushing the scare. And, you will never get a more self-righteous, "certain" group on the planet. You'd think they belonged to a religious sect of some sort.

Here are some quotes from the leader of the unhinged/fringe on the warming side of the debate - yes, James Hansen of NASA. You know the "scientist", who lately seems to spend more time in Europe participating in political rallies and protests than participating in anything scientific. Here's a great quote from 'ol Jim:

"The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”

Interesting. People who are losing debates on fact have a tendency for hyperbole and love to make Nazi comparisons. Heck, look at what they call skeptics these days. That's right, "deniers." Coincidence? I think not. It's a blatant and direct association with Holocaust deniers. You can't beat the warming faction when it comes to arrogance and ad hominems. Heck, Hanson wants to put energy execs on trial for crimes against humanity. If you want to get a taste of the "fringe and unhinged", you're really barking up the wrong tree.

Yeah, I'll bet you heard some serious vitriol from that group of skeptics. They've been hearing "the debate is over" since about 1994 and been demeaned for years. Funny thing though - the debate never occured. They are very angry about that and are merely fighting fire with fire...and thankfully they are fighting junk science with actual science.

Posted by: warmhoax | June 18, 2009 7:26 PM | Report abuse

Testing, testing. I keep trying to post here, and I get no error, but it never shows up. It's rather long, so let's see if this one appears?

Posted by: B2O2 | June 18, 2009 9:17 PM | Report abuse

warmhoax,
"So's your mother" is an argument that only works on the elementary school playground.

Posted by: CapitalClimate | June 18, 2009 10:30 PM | Report abuse

@B2O2

There is a character limit for comments. I'm not sure exactly what it is, but recommend breaking your comment into two pieces. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Posted by: Jason-CapitalWeatherGang | June 18, 2009 11:09 PM | Report abuse

Point taken CapitalClimate.

Although...hmmm, my Mom does believe in anthropegenic global warming. The difference being that she's an intelligent person not driven by dogma - In all likelyhood I'll be able to sway her with data and facts.

I think you missed my point. One side has been pushing for debate for years while the other ignores and shuns that challenge (which flies in the face of scientific discovery) and merely tosses ad hominems at those that have the nerve to challenge their tenuous theory. I think the skeptics reached a breaking point about 5 years ago. Many of these skeptics WERE even in the IPCC, but left because of the politics trying to push this sham (Reiter, CDC, Landsea, NOAA, Lindzen, MIT, et al).

Away from the "scientific" arena, it's gotten even more absurd with the pseudo religious warming faction - even an art appraiser in Boston refused to go to Richard Lindzen's house to appraise a rug that was burned because of his research and position on global warming. People are completely nuts (and for the record, that IS NOT directed at you or any member of your family). Best....warmhoax

Posted by: warmhoax | June 19, 2009 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Slide 4 of the following PDF illustrates the sureness of climate skeptics nicely:

http://www.agci.org/dB/PPTs/04S1_SSchneider_0312.pdf

In 1994, Morgan & Keith did an expert eliciation of a number of scientists. I believe that Richard Lindzen was on the panel. While the experts were only identified by number, it seems quite probable that Lindzen was Expert #5: completely certain about a low climate sensitivity. Every other expert has large bounds.

(the negative values included in some estimates are likely a function of the theory at the time that a CO2-triggered collapse of the thermohaline circulation could lead to an ice age, a theory that has mostly been marginalized since then)

Posted by: marcusmarcus | June 19, 2009 10:35 AM | Report abuse

@TripodGirl: I took copious notes and am totally confident that recordings - if not edited - will support each of my remarks. And, there were some statements about uncertainty about, for example, the influence of clouds and solar effects. However, these uncertainties are completely ignored in Heartland's absolutist bottom line - we are right and everyone else is wrong.

@marcusmarcus: I also believe Lindzen was Expert #5. This is a perfect example of what I referred to in reply to TripodGirl. Even Lindzen acknowledges there is uncertainty in the influence of clouds on climate change, especially so back in the 90's when the slide you reference was produced. Yet, he was totally confident then about limited climate sensitivity as he is now.

Posted by: SteveT-CapitalWeatherGang | June 19, 2009 11:08 AM | Report abuse

The NIPCC report has addressed every piece of "evidence" claimed in the IPCC report and paraded by AGW people.

Now all the AGW people have to do is address the evidence in the NIPCC report. Should be simple if they are right, so they should get to it.

But I expect all we will see is personal attacks and appeals to authority and claims of apocalyptic effects from their postulated AGW. That has been all they have had for the past year or two.

Posted by: mckyj57 | June 19, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

Deltoid blog has the lastest antics from one of the Heartland gang's favorite keynoters. Anyone volunteering to prove his DDT assertion?

Posted by: CapitalClimate | June 22, 2009 12:48 AM | Report abuse

Steve's entire blog posting offers a valuable insight into the delusional mindset of the hardcore alarmists. What I find most amusing is Steve's extended whining about how we only presented one side of the issue.

Was Steve asleep or did he merely have his head buried in the sand when I stated from the microphone that we had invited Al Gore, James Hansen, Gavin Schmidt, Michael Mann, etc., to give presentations? Had they accepted our invitations, the conference would have had a very robust mix of alarmists vs. realists. But, as is almost always the case, the alarmists look for the nearest chair to hide under when there is a chance they may have to answer critical questions from an informed panel of peers.

If you were disappointed, Steve, that alarmists weren't filling slots on the panels, you have only your alarmist friends to blame.

James M. Taylor
Senior Fellow, Environment Policy
The Heartland Institute
taylor@heartland.org

Posted by: taylorjm1 | June 24, 2009 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Fred Singer, is right Mr. Freeman. This is all about money and power.

The money will be the "unprecedented" amounts of wealth leaving the US and other developed nations under leftist green schemes and/or goals such as "contraction and convergence."

The power will be the control of all of the world economies. If you control carbon, you control the economy.

Posted by: SoCal_Mark | June 25, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

Scientific organization or pro-pollution propaganda machine? Let's see:
"delusional mindset"
"hardcore alarmists"
"extended whining"
"buried in the sand"
"alarmists vs. realists"
"alarmist" repeated 3 more times
Yup, Mr. Taylor, you've just proven Dr. Tracton's point.
When are you going to have a DDT-eating contest with the Discount Viscount?

Posted by: CapitalClimate | June 25, 2009 12:14 PM | Report abuse

I have listened to a doubter. Unfortunately doubters do a terrible job of making their case and those that had doubted warming are retreating and admitting it but saying it is not man made. I believe that weather is too complex to say we understand it. Yes we are putting a lot of CO2 in the atmosphere but it is still a minor greenhouse gas compared to water vapor. I believe that the climate "Models" simply assume the warming is CO2 caused which is man-caused. Those who believe in man-made warming use a flawed argument like: Sally is gaining weight. Sally's fingernails have increased in size therefore her fingernails are responsible for her weight gain. I have not found the science showing the net effect of CO2 on the atmosphere.

Posted by: Eriemaster | June 25, 2009 1:35 PM | Report abuse

I've gone to a lot of academic conferences in my life, & I've never seen cheering crowds or political speeches. I suppose all climatology conferences feature such things, but somehow I doubt it. So I think Tracton is onto something.

In our culture, scientific knowledge is so persuasive that when it weighs in, it's all but impossible to refute it as a justification for any policy or political action. For those who oppose AGW on ideological, religious, or political grounds, the only arrow in their bow is to embrace pseudo science. What's fascinating is how little they're succeeding. Maybe they should go to church with the Creationists.

Posted by: davidpancost | June 25, 2009 4:23 PM | Report abuse

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