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Heartland Replies to Media Matters for America on Climate Change

July 13, 2011

On July 7, Media Matters for America posted a lengthy piece by Jocelyn Fong about The Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, which took place in Washington DC the week before.

On July 7, Media Matters for America posted a lengthy piece by Jocelyn Fong about The Heartland Institute’s Sixth International Conference on Climate Change, which took place in Washington DC the week before. Although Media Matters is known for its liberal partisanship and ad hominem attacks, this article is actually a serious attempt to address our arguments and positions. We are surprised and pleased, and are happy to respond in kind.

Fong begins by quoting several speakers seemingly disagreeing with one another about whether global warming is occurring, if it is man-made, and what we ought to do about it. The disagreements were less than Fong wants to suggest, with much of the apparent differences involving context: Over what time period has the warming been said to occur? What percentage of it is due to human activity? Does “doing nothing” mean repealing existing regulations passed in the name of global warming?

But perhaps more to the point, we plead guilty of the crime of having an open debate about the science and economics of climate change. Disagreement, not consensus, has been a theme of all six International Conferences on Climate Change. Our critics accuse of us of featuring only one point of view on the climate change debate, and then also accuse our speakers of disagreeing on fundamental issues. Both claims cannot be true.

Fong quotes some speakers admitting they are not climate scientists. This is also true. Robert Mendelsohn, a professor of economics at Yale, is one of the world’s leading authorities on the cost of emission reductions and the consequences of climate change, but he is not a scientist. Barry Brill is the former Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Energy of New Zealand. James Delingpole, a last-minute addition to the program, is a comedian and columnist for the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, where he helped break the Climategate story.

But this leaves a dozen genuine physical scientists on the program. I regret that this is fewer than we’ve featured at past events – our fourth conference in Chicago had 73 speakers from 23 countries – but we thought a short program and this line-up of speakers would be most appropriate for a Washington DC audience.

Fong quotes me, correctly, as saying “I am absolutely convinced that if you open the hood and look at the science on climate change, you’re going to come away convinced that the science is very sketchy, very uncertain, and as a result it doesn’t justify the kind of public policies that are being advanced.” As I’ve explained elsewhere, liberals have no reason to “look under the hood” because anthropogenic global warming (AGW), if true, justifies their political agenda. They eagerly “believe” in AGW. Those of us who are not liberal examine the underlying science and economics. We “understand” that AGW, if it exists at all, is likely to be very small, perhaps trivial, and cannot be prevented in any case.

Fong then attempts to rebut five statements that appear on the Web site we created for the Sixth International Conference on Climate Change. In each case, I believe her efforts come up short:

1. A petition signed by more than 31,027 American scientists, including 9,021 with Ph.D.s, since 2007 have publicly announced their belief that “there is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the Earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the Earth’s climate.” Fong says the petition dates to 1998, not 2007. She is correct, but according to its sponsor nearly all of the early signatures were methodically re-confirmed in 2007.

Fong complains that many of the scientists do not have degrees in atmospheric science or have not conducted research related to climate change. True, but irrelevant. Climate science is a very young and multi-disciplinary field. Botanists, who understand the carbon cycle and how plants react to CO2 fertilization, have as much or more to say on the subject as physicists. Geologists, who can read the climate history of the planet from rock formations, know more about how the atmosphere actually behaves than do climatologists. Oceanographers arguably understand the real drivers of climate better than anyone. And … my real point … someone who is widely read in all of these fields and who understands the scientific method is more likely to understand the science of climate change than any physicist, botanist, geologist, or oceanographer who is focused only on his or her own discipline, no matter how brilliant or how frequently published that person might be. So it is very relevant indeed that there is a petition signed by more than 31,000 real scientists that rebuts, in the most emphatic and plain language possible, the theory of AGW.

2. A 2003 international survey of climate scientists found substantial disagreement with the statement “climate change is mostly the result of anthropogenic causes.” Fong nitpicks the way we reported the results of this survey … I’m not sure why since it doesn’t affect the point we make, but the methodology is made clear in the report linked above (see Table 2 on page 13.) She points out that a more recent survey by the same authors was conducted in 2008 … and she is right. We should have updated the reference. The 2008 survey even more strongly supports our contention that the scientific debate remains open. Of 54 questions asked about the science, two-thirds show deep disagreement, with half of those areas skewing toward the “skeptic” side. For example, most scientists do not believe atmospheric models can deal with the influence of clouds, precipitation, atmospheric convection, oceanic convection, or turbulence, and most do not believe climate models can model precipitation, sea level rise, extreme weather events, or temperature values for the next 50 years.

3. A 2006 survey of scientists found 41 percent disagreed that the planet’s recent warmth “can be, in large part, attributed to human activity …” Fong complains that the 793 environmental scientists and environmental practitioners who are members of the National Registry of Environmental Professionals (NREP) and responded to the survey aren’t really climate scientists. See Point #1 above.

4. Benny Peiser’s review of 1,117 abstracts of scientific journal articles found only 1 percent explicitly endorse the “consensus view” while 34 reject or cast doubt on that view. According to Peiser: “My analysis also shows that there are almost three times as many abstracts that are sceptical of the notion of anthropogenic climate change than those that explicitly endorse it.” Fong points out that Peiser subsequently backed down from these findings, and it appears even the link we had to it on our Web site is now inactive. Point taken, but the research by Naomi Oreskes that Peiser set out to debunk has been discredited by others, and is certainly disproved by most of the 4,000 source citations that appear in Climate Change Reconsidered, the rebuttal to the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report written by 37 scientists and published by The Heartland Institute in 2009. More about that in a moment.

If Peiser’s work is no longer persuasive, then consider a 2008 piece by medical researcher Dr. Klaus-Martin Schulte, published in Environment & Energy. Schulte used the same database and search terms as Oreskes to examine papers published from 2004 to February 2007. According to the publication’s abstract:

The state of the scientific consensus about climate change was studied by a review of the 539 papers on “global climate change” found on the Web of Science database from January 2004 to mid-February 2007, updating research by Oreskes, who had reported that between 1993 and 2003 none of 928 scientific papers on “global climate change” had rejected the consensus that more than half of the warming of the past 50 years was likely to have been anthropogenic. In the present review, 31 papers (6 percent of the sample) explicitly or implicitly reject the consensus. Though Oreskes said that 75 percent of the papers in her former sample endorsed the consensus, fewer than half now endorse it. Only 7 percent do so explicitly. Only one paper refers to “catastrophic” climate change, but without offering evidence. There appears to be little evidence in the learned journals to justify the climate-change alarm that now harms patients.

(See also this link from Daily Tech titled, “Survey: Less Than Half of all Published Scientists Endorse Global Warming Theory.")

5. Climate Change Reconsidered, with contributions from more than 30 scientists and citations to more than 4,000 peer-reviewed studies, concluded that climate change is not a crisis. Fong dismisses this 880-page report in only three sentences, saying (a) because The Heartland Institute published it, it does not reflect “the mainstream of the scientific community” – this is obviously false since nearly all of the sources referenced in the book are to peer-reviewed journal articles; (b) the lead authors “previously worked with fossil fuel companies,” which is a resort to the ad hominem smear tactic Fong had pretty much avoided up to this point, and in the case of S. Fred Singer is false and libelous; and (c) two blog posts (one by Michael Mann and Gavin Schmidt, I am proud to say) say the book is not to be trusted. Well, if you go here, you’ll find some real scientists who think the book is pretty good.

More importantly, Climate Change Reconsidered is a devastating exposé of the cherry-picking of data, oversights, and errors of the IPCC. It revealed many of the errors that were subsequently reported by journalists around the world. And it did this by citing “mainstream science” over and over again, a massive compendium of scientific research that ought to be compelling to anyone with an open mind. Some 10,000 copies of Climate Change Reconsidered have been distributed to date, despite the alarmist community’s attempt to impose a blackout on reviews, and a second edition is in the works. This book is one reason why informed opinion has shifted decisively away from alarmism and toward realism.

Fong then cites some surveys showing most of the public has seen through the global warming scam and understand that scientists have “serious doubts” about it. Good for her!

Fong then cites “credible surveys” that “show vast majority of climate scientists agree humans are changing the climate.” But the funny thing is, the surveys she cites prove no such thing. She cites the 2008 Bray and von Storch survey, which I’ve already shown to reveal great disagreement on the underlying scientific issues of climate change.

She cites a 2009 survey of “over 2,500 scientists belonging to the American Association for the Advancement of Science,” but apparently she missed the examination of this survey by alarmist Matthew C. Nisbet, at the American University School of Communications, that was published in 2011 under the title Climateshift: Clear Vision for the Next Decade of Public Debate. He found:

Members of AAAS are strongly left-leaning and ideological. More than half self-identify as either liberal or very liberal, only roughly a third as moderate, and just 9 percent as conservative. In comparison, 37 percent of the public identify as conservative, 38 percent as moderate, and just 20 percent as either liberal or very liberal. ...

AAAS members are as ideologically like-minded as evangelical church members and substantially more partisan. Only black church members exhibit a stronger partisan lean than AAAS and only Fox News viewers, Mormon Church members and Tea Party members exhibit a stronger ideological lean.

Nisbet reports that 58% of AAAS members work for universities of governments, and concludes:

Given a strongly ideological and partisan outlook, greater financial security and a deeper trust of government, it is likely very difficult for many scientists and environmentalists to understand why so many Americans have reservations about complex policies such as cap and trade that impose costs on consumers without offering clearly defined benefits.

You think? So … the AAAS survey tells us what liberal Democrats believe about global warming, and that’s about all. See my comments above about why liberals don’t “look under the hood.”

Next, Fong misreports a 2009 survey of “over 3,000 Earth scientists” published by the American Geophysical Union. This study is the source of the notorious claim that “97% of climate scientists believe in anthropogenic global warming,” which is false.

The survey was a 2-minute online survey conducted by a University of Illinois professor and a graduate student that asked, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” Most “skeptics” believe “human activity” – which includes everything from clearing forests to make way for crops to the urban heat islands created by cities – is having some impact on global temperatures. Is it statistically significant? Even I would answer yes to this question. This survey tells us nothing about the real issue about which AGW advocates claim a consensus, that human emissions of greenhouse gases are causing catastrophic climate change.

According to Lawrence Solomon, the two researchers deliberately left out solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists, and astronomers … all scientists likely to be aware of natural causes of climate change. Only scientists employed by governments or universities were chosen to be surveyed, introducing another source of bias. Of the 10,000 or so scientists left, about 3,000 replied. No surprise, 82% of that unrepresentative sample answered yes to the ambiguous question. The authors then looked at a subset of just 77 scientists who participated in the survey and were successful in getting more than half their papers accepted by peer-reviewed climate science journals (i.e., they are members of the alarmist club that controls peer-reviewed journals) and found that 75 of those answered “yes.” 75/77 = 97%.

This may be how sausage is made, but it is not how accurate surveys are conducted. The “97% of climate scientists” claim is garbage. Anyone who cites it ought to be ashamed.

Finally, Fong trots out the old chestnut that “the following scientific bodies have also issued statements …” Think about this for a moment. The leaders of these groups are typically more political than scientific, they rely on government grants for their existence, and they can be depended on to voice the current politically correct views to keep the money flowing. They also do not poll their members before issuing statements, so they cannot claim to speak on behalf of their members. Even with all this in mind, it’s notable that the Polish Academy of Sciences does not endorse the “consensus” claims.

Britain’s Royal Society, France’s National Academy of Sciences, and India’s National Action Plan on Climate Change have all recently expressed skepticism or embraced important parts of the skeptics’ position.

Most importantly, the leaders of the world’s national science academies are expressing the same “cognitive dissonance” as the individual scientists that Bray and von Storch’s surveyed: they say they “believe” in AGW and fear its consequences, but they are skeptical of the scientific claims that must be true to support that belief. The Amsterdam-based InterAcademy Council (IAC), which is made up of the presidents of many of the world’s national science academies, conducted an audit of the IPCC in 2010. It found the IPCC doesn’t properly peer review its reports, the selection of scientists who participate is politicized, the summary for policymakers is the product of negotiation among governments and is not written by scientists, and more. IAC recommends structural reforms to fix IPCC’s flaws before IPCC’s next report, due in 2014.

So the public declarations of national science academies may reflect the broader opinions and fears of politicians and scientists, but it is not an endorsement of the underlying science, and cannot be construed as evidence that the science is sound. The leaders of those very organizations have stated publicly that they do not believe the science is sound.

So … thank you, Ms. Fong, for taking The Heartland Institute’s position on climate change seriously. If you or Media Matters for America want to participate in the debate over climate change, I hope you will consider replying to this post. And then, perhaps, consider looking under the hood yourself, perhaps by reading Climate Change Reconsidered. Maybe then you’ll stop believing Al Gore, the IPCC, and other false oracles of global warming alarmism and come to understand that climate change is not a crisis.

Joseph Bast is president of The Heartland Institute, coeditor of Climate Change Reconsidered (The Heartland Institute, 2009), and publisher of Environment & Climate News.

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Joseph Bast is a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute. He cofounded Heartland in 1984, serving as executive director then as president & CEO until January 2018. His research and writing focuses on climate change and energy policy. @JosephLBast