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Whitehouse’s Call for a Climate Inquisition Undermines Scientific Research

December 10, 2020

Climate Change Weekly #381

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) is hostile to open debate over climate science and policy. Sadly, he’s far from being the only one. Many progressive Democrats, and their lapdogs in the mainstream media, have long been calling for a climate inquisition: prosecution, fines, imprisonment, and reeducation camps for economists, scientists, and political analysts whose research has led them to question whether humans are causing a climate catastrophe or that big government must impose harsh restrictions on the public in order to prevent it.

Whitehouse first broached the possibility of suppressing the speech of and possibly prosecuting climate dissenters as far back as 2015 in a Washington Post article. His home state’s largest paper, the Providence Journal, called the senator to the carpet for this threat, writing,

A civil proceeding by the government, as well as a criminal one, is a form of prosecution. While we strongly believe humans are contributing to climate change, it is our position that disagreements about policy issues and scientific theories should not be turned into grounds for investigations by government officials into supposed fraud, because that undermines the First Amendment and has a chilling effect on free speech. We believe, with the founders who listed this essential freedom first in the Bill of Rights, that open discussion and disagreements are healthy, allowing people to learn, grow and embrace or reject new ideas, as well as to safely challenge the misconduct of government officials and other forms of injustice.

Whitehouse should be especially sensitive to concerns that his actions as a senator would endanger free speech and open debate: when he became a senator, he swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States, which includes the First Amendment ensuring, among other things, the rights of free speech and association and the right to dispute government policies. In addition, the state Whitehouse represents was founded by dissenters—people fleeing neighboring states (colonies at the time) where their religious and political views were being suppressed through the force of law.

In his quest for the title of Grand Climate Inquisitor, Whitehouse is evidently willing to ignore history and the nation’s charter. As my friend and colleague Paul Driessen has noted, Whitehouse recently said if Democrats win Georgia’s two contested U.S. Senate seats, allowing them to take over leadership of the Senate, it “would enable him and his colleagues to launch investigations, haul climate realists before committees (for star-chamber show trials), and even employ grand juries and criminal prosecutions—to intimidate, silence and punish climate crisis nonbelievers.”

As I mentioned earlier, Whitehouse is by no means alone in his authoritarian quest to squelch debate over the causes and consequences of climate change and possible policy responses to it. Obama administration Attorney General Loretta Lynch testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2016 that the Department of Justice had discussed pursuing legal action against companies, research institutes, and scientists who debate whether humans are causing catastrophic climate change.

Before that, Robert Kennedy Jr. called for trying climate realists as war criminals, a proposal TV personality Bill Nye said was worth considering. Nye said, “As a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen. … So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they're pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this. … That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

Nye long ago became nothing more than a closeminded political hack, a man who gives science a bad name despite being a self-proclaimed “science guy.”

Media talking heads all too often decry the First Amendment’s acknowledgment of an inherent freedom of speech, while cloaking themselves in its protections of press freedom when it comes to expressing their own opinions or protecting sources. Social networking platforms such as Facebook, Google, and YouTube often censor speech or positions, including the view that humans may not be causing dangerous climate change, that their founders or advertisers don’t like, despite claiming under law they are neutral platforms for the free exchange of ideas. This is troubling and should lead people to question the value of continuing to listen to or use such media outlets or social media platforms. Even worse, though, is when people in political authority, people with guns and prisons backing them up, call for suppressing scientific or political speech. That should spark outrage in Americans of all political and social persuasions.

For more than 200 years, the First Amendment has protected the right of individuals and groups to speak freely on issues of public importance, including global climate change, even if politically connected renewable power interests, influential environmentalist funders, members of Congress, and even the president of the United States disagree with them.

In addition, cases brought against climate skeptics should be quickly thrown out of court, because the truth is an absolute defense against claims of fraud. It is impossible for Whitehouse and his fellow politically powerful bullies to show skeptical scientists and researchers are lying when they say the human impact on climate is unclear and evidence of harm is lacking, because the matter is still part of an ongoing, lively debate.

The German climate science site No Tricks Zone has documented thousands of peer-reviewed academic articles published since 2014 disputing claims made by climate change alarmists. These papers show nature plays a significant role in climate change, increasing amounts of carbon dioxide are improving plant growth, and, contrary to climate model projections, weather extremes are not getting worse because of climate change. These articles make clear, individually and collectively, the debate over the causes and consequences of climate change is not closed.

A 2016 survey of members of the American Meteorological Society (AMS) found 67 percent of its members believe humans are responsible for more than half of climate change. This survey was conducted after Whitehouse first began to push for climate prosecutions and while Lynch was dreaming up plans for Justice Department action against those expressing skepticism about the extent and effects of human-caused climate change. Are we to believe the 33 percent of AMS members who disagree humans are primarily responsible for climate change are committing fraud?

For centuries, educated people believed illnesses were caused by an imbalance of “humors” (fluids) in the body, the world was flat, and the Earth was the center of the universe. Those people were wrong; they were not frauds.

Everyone who currently disputes humans are causing dangerous climate change could be completely wrong and may be shown to be so as more evidence comes in. Similarly, those who believe fossil fuel use is causing a climate apocalypse could be wrong. But being wrong on a scientific matter does not constitute fraud. Debate is the scientific method in action.

By raising the specter of prosecution, Whitehouse and his ilk are trying, as Nye approvingly recognized, forcibly to silence those who disagree with them on climate matters. This vile effort  undermines free speech and open enquiry, the very underpinnings of successful democracies and the scientific method.

When government can dictate which questions are open or closed—in either the political sphere or the scientific realm—the gulags cannot be far behind.

—     H. Sterling Burnett

SOURCES: Manhattan Contrarian; Townhall; Climate Realism; YouTube; Reason; Providence Journal; American Meteorological Society


IN THIS ISSUE …

AMAZONIAN RAINFORESTS RESILIENT TO DECREASED MOISTURE … NEW EXTRAPLANETARY INFLUENCE ON CLIMATE DISCOVERED … UNREALISTIC IPCC EMISSION SCENARIOS PRODUCE UNREALISTIC IMPACT PROJECTIONS


AMAZONIAN RAINFORESTS RESILIENT TO DECREASED MOISTURE

A new study published in Science Advances finds, contrary to climate model projections, Amazonian forests use water more efficiently and photosynthesis increases as atmospheric moisture declines.

Trees, like other plants, remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during photosynthesis, storing it in their limbs, roots, and trunks. Research shows as atmospheric carbon dioxide levels increase, plants, including trees, use water more efficiently, losing less moisture from their leaves through transpiration. Rainforests such as the Amazon store more carbon in their biomass than any other ecosystem except the world’s oceans.

In the Science Advances study, an international team of researchers from Columbia University, the Laboratory of Climate and Environmental Sciences in France, the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory examined the wettest regions of the Amazonian rainforest and found these forests increase photosynthesis rates in response to drier air, which is contrary to what climate models predict.

The researchers used observational remote-sensing data from satellites in place of the model projections to determine how sensitive Amazonian forests are to declines in atmospheric moisture—how the wettest parts of the Amazon respond to drier conditions.

“To our knowledge, this is the first basin-wide study to demonstrate how—contrary to what models are showing—photosynthesis is in fact increasing in some of the very wet regions of the Amazon rainforest during limited water stress,” study coauthor Pierre Gentine said in a press release from Columbia. “This increase is linked to atmospheric dryness in addition to radiation and can be largely explained by changes in the photosynthetic capacity of the canopy. As the trees become stressed, they generate more efficient leaves that can more than compensate for water stress.”

The authors conclude, “Our study highlights the importance of reframing how we represent the response of ecosystem photosynthesis to atmospheric dryness in very wet regions, to accurately quantify the land carbon sink.”

If carbon dioxide levels drive climate change, and if models can’t accurately account for how much carbon dioxide is being stored in the world’s forests, modelers are missing a key factor in their projections of future atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

SOURCES: Columbia; Science Advances


NEW EXTRAPLANETARY INFLUENCE ON CLIMATE DISCOVERED

Recent research published in Geophysical Research Letters from a team of physicists, astronomers, and climate scientists from the University of Naples, the Associazione Astronomica Euganea, and the University of Padua finds significant evidence of a cyclical interplanetary effect on the Earth’s climate. In particular, the researchers connect climate oscillations to a multidecadal oscillation of the cloud system that evidence indicates is probably driven by Jupiter’s orbit.

One of the most prominent, well-recognized climate oscillations is a 60 year cycle shown in myriad geophysical records including, but not limited to, temperature reconstructions, aurora sights, Indian rainfalls, and ocean climatic records. The researchers write,

These oscillations might emerge from the internal variability of the climate system, but increasing evidence also points toward a solar or astronomical origin. … We find that the orbital eccentricity of Jupiter presents a strong 60‐year oscillation that is well correlated with several climatic records and with the 60‐year oscillation found in long meteorite fall records since the 7th century. Since meteorite falls are the most macroscopic aspect of infalling space dust, we conclude that the interplanetary dust should modulate the formation of the clouds [affecting the earth’s albedo] and, thus, drive climate changes.

If this research is correct, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should incorporate the interplanetary impact of changes in cosmic dust on cloud formation stemming from Jupiter’s eccentric orbit as a forcing mechanism on the Earth’s climate shifts, to improve our understanding of the causes of climate change and any projections for the future.

SOURCE: Geophysical Research Letters


UNREALISTIC IPCC EMISSION SCENARIOS PRODUCE UNREALISTIC IMPACT PROJECTIONS

New research published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Research Letters from scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the University of British Columbia shows the emission scenarios IPCC has used in its global assessments are grossly overstated and result in wildly exaggerated projections of the expected impacts from purported anthropogenic warming.

The researchers compared projections from the IPCC’s most recent comprehensive assessment report (2014), and the data being used to prepare its forthcoming report, with country-level GDP measurements and fossil-fuel carbon dioxide emissions from 2005 through 2017. The researchers found that even before the global pandemic, slower-than-projected GDP growth and falling coal use resulted in significantly and consistently lower global emissions than the IPCC had estimated.

The best data indicate the gap between actual economic growth and emissions and the IPCC’s model results and scenarios is likely to increase unless the IPCC changes its assumptions and methodology. Accordingly, the research team concluded, the IPCC’s high-emissions scenarios should not be used as the baseline in its global climate assessments. The assessments are intended to project what greenhouse gas emissions and concentrations are likely be if no steps are taken to mitigate emission growth.

“If we’re making policy based on anticipating future possibilities, then we should be using the most realistic scenarios possible,” said Matt Burgess, lead author on the study and a fellow at the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) at Colorado University-Boulder, EurekAlert! reports. “We’ll have better policies as a result.”

SOURCES: Environmental Research Letters; EurekAlert!

Author
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.
hsburnett@heartland.org
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