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December 22, 2008

Another Phony ‘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 patterns work.


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 climate policy.


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 Energy.


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.


© 2008 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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