Climate Science Watch attended a Capitol Hill briefing April 16 on the “Climategate” e-mails, a denialist-friendly event intended for media and Congressional staffers. The briefing was hosted by the Heritage Foundation and the Cooler Heads Coalition, an anti-regulatory-minded group formed to “dispel the myths of global warming by exposing flawed economic, scientific and risk analysis.” Speakers Pat Michaels and Joseph D’Aleo found it easy to spoon-feed misinformation to this audience without being held accountable.
The briefing was well-attended, but most audience members appeared to be young Hill staffers (who can usually be counted on to go for a free lunch), and the presenters certainly didn’t face tough questions. Denialist darling Marc Morano, of http://www.climatedepot.com, offered up a softball about whether climate science could ever regain its credibility. Guess what the answer was?
The speakers dismissed the independent investigations that have vindicated the scientists involved as “whitewash,” and pushed ahead with their gripes about data mishandling, alleged exclusion of skeptical viewpoints from journals, and last but not least, the grand scientific conspiracy to convince the public that potentially catastrophic global warming is possible under a business as usual scenario.
Pat Michaels of the Cato Institute and retired meteorologist Joseph D’Aleo, director of ICECAP, presented their criticisms of the surface temperature record and renewed allegations that the scientists involved in the CRU e-mails had massaged, destroyed, or withheld data and conspired to silence skeptics and bar them from the peer-review literature.
Michaels tends to use a lot of visuals in his presentations, which he explains breezily under the expectation that no one will question his myopic misrepresentation of the state of climate science, climate scientists, and those who speak out about the threat we face. For his part, D’Aleo presented a graph plotting the dropout of ground temperature stations against the warming trend, implying that the former was a contributing factor to the latter. This kind of nonsensical correlation was repeated throughout as Michaels and D’Aleo made a great show of “chipping away” at the overwhelming consensus behind the science of anthropogenic global warming, buoyed by laughter and nods of appreciation from the audience. When you’re preaching to the choir, it’s a lot easier to spoon-feed misinformation without being held accountable.
High-profile climate change contrarians like Michaels and D’Aleo, having failed to gain traction in the mainstream scientific community, found an audience in anti-regulatory politics. By relentlessly politicizing the science, and playing fast and loose with how they portray the evidence of climate science, they make themselves useful to like-minded politicians and their corporate contributors who are uncomfortable with the policy implications posed by the possibility of catastrophic global warming.
During the past few years, the environmental community largely concluded that the science behind climate change was an accepted fact, and shifting their attentions to clean energy and green jobs. Yet as the possibility of serious climate change legislation and EPA regulation of greenhouse gases grew stronger, denialist coalitions sprang back into aggressive action, and briefings like this one are just one of the results.
It has become more important than ever for scientists, their allies, and public officials to speak out in no uncertain terms about the risks we face under a business as usual scenario. As best expressed in a recent Nature editorial: “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.”
Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones also covered the event:
Information on the Cooler Heads Coalition.
And a perspective on denialist messaging tactics from Sheril Kirshenbaum
A few links to “Climategate” investigations and setting the record straight:
Climate Science Watch: :House of Commons panel: Reputations of Phil Jones, CRU, climate science and data remain intact”
Climate Progress: “Penn State inquiry finds no evidence for allegations against Michael Mann”
Climate Science Watch: “Some sources on the controversy over the hacked files from the UK Climatic Research Unit”
Climate Science Watch: “Setting the record straight on stolen e-mail: Nature, AAAS, AMS, Union of Concerned Scientists”