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December 22, 2008
‘Debunking’ From Global Warming Deniers
If you’ve followed climate politics over the two decades,
you’ll have noticed a pattern among skeptics. First, new evidence is
unearthed “debunking” global warming, which rattles around the
right-wing echo chamber uncritically until it attains a level of noise
that far outweighs its actual legitimacy.
The latest is a new
report issued by the office of Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe, who once
called global warming the “greatest hoax” ever perpetrated on mankind.
Inhofe is what passes as the leading light of the global warming skeptic
movement, a former head of the Senate committee on the environment who
once called a science fiction writer to testify before Congress. The
author, of course, had just penned a book in which global warming was in
reality a worldwide conspiracy concocted by environmentalists and
bureaucrats to seize control.
Inhofe’s report offers
the names of 650 scientists skeptical of global warming, a list to
challenge the idea that a scientific consensus supports global warming.
Naturally, this has picked up a great deal of traction among skeptics,
who predictably are now waving it around as though it’s important.
Such challenges are
nothing new. The predecessor to Inhofe’s new report was the notorious
Oregon Petition, which alleged to have been signed by tens of thousands
of scientists opposed to global warming. In reality, the Oregon Petition
was signed in the late 1990s in opposition to the Kyoto Protocol. In
addition, most of the signatories weren’t actual scientists. Many were
engineers, some didn’t hold advanced degrees, and several were outright
forgeries. If all the signatures were authentic, one of the Spice Girls
is a skeptic.
As with the Oregon
Petition, some of the Inhofe 650 aren’t actually scientists. Several of
them are engineers, some are meteorologists and some are retirees who
haven’t been involved in leading-edge research for years. The list also
includes a considerable number of economists, who aren’t really
scientists and certainly have no special insights into how climate
The point of the report –
like the Oregon Petition – isn’t to make an argument, but to confuse
people. The latest report is just the latest in a cycle where old, tired
talking points are dusted off, modernized and hurled out to be swatted
down by evidence. They are raised not to promote genuine public
discourse, but to stall action.
In the past, that has
been successful. Media outlets, who regarded climate change at first as
a typical “he said/she said” disagreement over evidence, were slow to
grasp that they were being played. The machinery of government was
controlled by a Republican Party whose hostility toward science has
become more pronounced this decade.
There are signs that the
appeal of this strategy is quickly eroding. The media has shifted its
coverage away from the he said/she said debate and toward what’s to be
done about a problem everyone knows exists. Most importantly is that the
Obama Administration – through its picks to important energy and
environmental posts – plans to make good on its promises to craft sound
Most notable is the
contrast in selections to run the Department of Energy. Obama has
selected a Nobel laureate physicist who believes in marrying climate and
energy policy, and who runs a laboratory involved in advanced research
in solar energy. President Bush’s first appointment to the spot was
Spencer Abraham, a former senator from Michigan notable for two bills he
introduced during his six-year tenure to abolish the Department of
This is bad news for
skeptics. The world is changing around them, and they’re being
marginalized in a conversation over which they exercised influence
beyond the scope of what they had to genuinely offer. The
president-elect says it’s time to move things forward, while they
continue to fight like it’s 1999.
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