“How had a small band of non-scientists managed to so quickly and thoroughly pursuade the nation’s leaders to reject an ever more coherent and definitive body of scientific evidence?” asks Popular Science magazine, in “The Battle Over Climate Science.” This solid and detailed article looks at Sen. James Inhofe, Myron Ebell, Steve Milloy, the Heartland Institute, and online global warming denialist aggression. Michael Mann is front and center, talking about the much-needed pushback from the climate science community. Ben Santer, Katherine Hayhoe, and others are quoted. We talked with the reporter about how climate change denialism in Washington politics leads to attacks on climate-related research and program budgets and federal agencies shying away from describing their budget requests in terms of climate change.
The Battle Over Climate Science – Climate scientists routinely face death threats, hate mail, nuisance lawsuits and political attacks. How much worse can it get? By Tom Clynes, Popular Science, posted 06.21.2012
It’s a long piece. Two extracts:
For the many scientists who consider themselves both political conservatives and supporters of the consensus position on anthropogenic climate change, ideology and party affiliation provide little shelter from attacks and harassment. Katharine Hayhoe is an atmospheric scientist at Texas Tech University, a political conservative and an evangelical Christian. In 2007, Terry Maple, the co-author of Newt Gingrich’s forthcoming book on environmental entrepreneurship, asked her to write a chapter reviewing the scientific facts surrounding climate change. For most of his political career, Gingrich championed the virtues of science, but last year, while campaigning in the Republican presidential primaries, he dropped Hayhoe’s chapter after Rush Limbaugh discovered her contribution and ridiculed her as a “climate babe.”
“Nice to hear that Gingrich is tossing my climate chapter in the trash,” Hayhoe tweeted on hearing the news. “100+ unpaid hours I could’ve spent playing w[ith] my baby . . .” The day after Hayhoe’s tweet, the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a conservative think tank, announced that it had filed a FOIA request with Texas Tech University “relating to collaboration on a book, using public time and resources.” The ATI’s paperwork referred to Hayhoe as a “climate activist.”
“I can delete the death threats and the e-mail I got calling me a ‘Nazi bitch whore climatebecile,’ ” Hayhoe says, “but responding to nuisance lawsuits and investigations takes up enormous amounts of time that could be better spent teaching, mentoring, researching, doing my job.” …
“When I get an e-mail that mentions my child and a guillotine,” Hayhoe says, “I sometimes want to pull a blanket over my head. The intent of all this is to discourage scientists. As a woman and a mother, I have to say that sometimes it does achieve its goal. There are many times when I wonder if it’s worth it.”
With scientists reluctant to speak out (and drowned out when they do), skeptics have had more room to attack climate-research programs. Last year, Republicans in the House of Representatives made a unanimous decision to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that greenhouse-gas pollution threatens public health. Texas representative Ralph Hall, the chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, along with 10 of his Republican colleagues, also called for budget cuts and program terminations that directly targeted climate-science research, efforts to curb emissions, and preparations for climate-change impact at the National Science Foundation, the EPA and the Department of Energy.
Although many of the cuts were undone in the Senate, funding for climate-related programs at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration did not fare as well. After launching an investigation into NOAA’s attempts to reorganize its climate services into a single unit, Hall successfully pushed through legislation to cut the agency’s climate-research funding by 20 percent, forcing it to cancel research grants.
“Now government agencies and researchers are doing anything to keep the word ‘climate’ out of their budgets and proposals,” we told the reporter. “And this at a time when all agencies need to be thinking about how the nation will be affected by climate change and factor it into their planning.”
Just as in the rest of the country, belief in human-caused climate change in Oklahoma has been rising with the thermometer—according to Krosnick, a large majority of Inhofe’s constituents now believe that anthropogenic global warming is real. I ask Inhofe if he’s noticed any climate changes in his home state, such as last summer’s unprecedented heat and severe drought, withering crops, wild fires and dramatically expanded tornado season. “There’s not been any warming,” he snaps. “And there’s actually been a little bit of cooling. It’s all documented. Look at the Dust Bowl. Back then it was a lot hotter. Matter of fact, now they say the hottest time was actually during that time—1934, I guess.”
Actually, last summer’s average temperature of 86.9˚ was the highest ever recorded in Oklahoma. And last spring’s drought, when hundreds of farmers abandoned livestock they could no longer manage to feed or water, was the worst since 1921.
Many of the scientists I’ve spoken with say that no single act of harassment or intimidation has stung more than Inhofe’s “list of 17,” the call for the congressional investigation of prominent climate scientists. Mann, I tell Inhofe, said it “smacked of modern-day McCarthyism.”
“I’m not the guy that called for investigations, I don’t think,” Inhofe says. He quickly glances at his communications director, Matt Dempsey. “Did I ever call for investigations?” I study Inhofe’s face for a clue as to whether he’s joking—he brags about the episode in his book. It’s clear that he is not. Dempsey nods at his boss. “Okay,” Inhofe says. “Maybe right after Climate Gate, I said they need to be investigated.”
The room is nearly empty when I ask Inhofe, finally, if he could imagine the possibility, however remote, that science could provide any amount or type of evidence that could convince him that human-caused climate change could be real. The senator darts an impatient look at his watch, and his handlers rise. It’s clear that the interview is coming to an end. “When people like you ask that question,” Inhofe says, “I can tell you believe it.”
And a last word from Mike Mann:
Scientists are starting to fight back…. “We have a responsibility to the scientific community to not allow those looking to discredit us to be successful,” Mann says. “What they’re going to see is that they’ve awakened a sleeping bear. We will counterpunch.”