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Posted at 01:15 PM ET, 06/18/2009

The Sureness of Global Warming Skeptics

* New (6/25/09): Heartland Responds to Climate Commentary *
* Related Story: Think Tank Reverses Course on Climate Lobbying *

Global Warming: Was it ever really a crisis?

So read the banner hanging in front of the 250 or so, including myself, attending the Third International Conference on Climate Change. Sponsored by the Heartland Institute and held June 3 in Washington, D.C., the conference had the stated goal of "calling attention to widespread dissent to the asserted 'consensus' on the causes, consequences, and proper responses to climate change." The meeting was a follow-up to the Heartland-sponsored Second International Conference on Climate Change, held this past March in New York City and which CWG's Andrew Freedman blogged about previously.

The answer to the question on the banner -- based on the sure-sounding words of congressmen and other speakers and panelists, and an abundance of one-sided background literature and multimedia products -- was an unequivocal "No." Yet we should all know that when dealing with weather and climate, the only thing certain is uncertainty.

Keep reading for the highlights (lowlights) of the Heartland conference...

To my eyes and ears, support for the global warming skeptic's point of view -- and the implicit and sometimes explicit denunciation of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) -- was unanimous and expressed without reservation by the conference's speakers, panel members and attendees.

While there undoubtedly are some questionable aspects relating to the process and science of the IPCC, which publishes regular assessments of climate change science based mainly on peer-reviewed literature, to say the least the same is true for the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The NIPCC is "an international panel of nongovernment scientists and scholars who have come together to understand the causes and consequences of climate change," according to a Web site advertising NIPCC's 2009 report, "Climate Change Reconsidered," published by the Heartland Institute and officially released and distributed at the conference. The screaming message of this 880-page tome can be summarized by a single, oft repeated statement, "nature not human activities are the main cause climate change" and "hence any efforts to control emissions of greenhouse gases are not only hugely expensive and ineffective but completely pointless."

The IPCC consensus explicitly acknowledges less than total unanimity by concluding that current and prospective global warming is "very likely" (defined as at least a 90% chance) mostly caused by human activities (emissions of greenhouse gases). The IPCC reports also conclude warming will very likely continue, posing risks to society and the environment. The NIPCC's bottom line -- expressed time and time again during the conference and in meeting background materials -- is complete dismissal of any possibility that the IPCC consensus is or ultimately will be proven true.

Perhaps the most succinct expression of this mantra at the Heartland conference was from MIT meteorology professor Richard Lindzen, a longtime skeptic and keynote speaker, when he said: "we eventually will win against anthropogenic (human-caused) global warming, simply because we are right, and they are wrong."

What most surprised and amazed me about the conference was the level of self-righteousness, sarcasm, derogatory humor, and vitriol of the participants. That's not to say these descriptors never apply to other climate-related meetings open to the public. In my personal experience, however, that's not been the case to the extent and degree witnessed here. Some lowlights...

* Fred Singer, director of the Science and Environmental Policy Project and a major contributor and editor of the NIPCC report, said that the debate about global warming and the political effort to regulate carbon dioxide emissions "is about money and power" and "is not about the science."

* To the "money and power" statement by Singer, someone from the audience yelled, "and slavery." Whatever that meant, it received loud applause. Someone else shouted, "and religion," to which Singer added that IPCC scientists want to be viewed as saviors, which again was followed by applause and audible guffaws.

* Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma warned in his keynote address that the threat of catastrophic global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and that pending legislation for reducing emission of greenhouse gases aims at fixing a problem that doesn't exist.

* Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.), another of Congress's most outspoken skeptics of human-induced global warming, argued that the global warming debate has been stifled with "case-closed and phony claims of consensus." Not acknowledged was the unqualified nature of "we are right and they are wrong" claims made by Lindzen and others on the skeptics' side.

* Rohrabacher also asserted that the specter of anthropogenic climate change was to stampede the public and elected officials to accept the "biggest power grab in history" based on "false science" (loud applause). He did acknowledge he was not a scientist and, for example, he knew only that there are "protons, electrons, muons and morons."

* Willie Soon, a leading proponent of the theory that solar effects and cosmic rays, not CO2, is the primary driver of climate change, riddled his talk with sarcastic remarks, such as saying that IPCC models reflect nothing more than "garbage in gospel out." The irony that much of what was being presented could be described in the same terms seemed to escape notice amidst audience laughter.

* Rohrabacher's lack of qualifications to speak on climate issues was apparent from his comments on melting of the Arctic polar ice cap. According to Rohrabacher, since the polar ice caps have melted on Mars and Jupiter, melting of the Earth's ice cap must be a natural, solar-induced phenomenon, unless the Martians are driving around in SUVs. There was no audience reaction except for one individual pointing out that Jupiter is a gaseous planet without possibility of ever having an ice cap.

* Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wisc.), ranking member of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, which is weighing the merits of legislation to cap greenhouse gas emissions, argued that the bills under consideration are by-and-large tax bills. He and others expressed reasonable concerns about the legislation and about the U.S. signing on to an international climate agreement, to be considered at December's international climate meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark. But Sensenbrenner's statements then devolved into wondering whether supporters of carbon dioxide restrictions would also introduce legislation levying a "cow fart tax" (cow's emit methane, another greenhouse gas, into the air when they pass gas). Sensenbrenner's talk ended with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

* Recognized at the conference were a dozen or so students who, it was announced to the accompaniment of loud applause, would be going to Copenhagen to protest at the December climate meeting.

It's been said that the trouble with having an open mind is that people will insist on trying to put things in it. Whatever the merits of any of the science, science policy, or political arguments made at the conference were completely lost in the entrenched self-righteous attitude of many presenters and attendees and the failure to entertain or discuss alternative points of view.

The meeting was not about an open search for truth, but a choir preaching to excite and equip a vanguard of skeptics to oppose "alarmist junk science" of the IPCC and any climate change policies.

Henry Kissinger is quoted as saying "the real distinction is between those who adapt their purposes to reality and those who seek to mold reality in the light of their purposes." The Heartland Institute, whose stated mission includes promoting "deregulation in areas where ... markets do a better job than government bureaucracies" clearly falls in the latter category. In the interest of opposing regulatory action to address climate change, Heartland would probably be predisposed to tout the scientific information that best suits that purpose. From its perspective, the stronger the case that global warming is not a crisis, more likely the better. So it cherry picks the scientists and science that best supports this case.

But science is not about molding the facts to make a case and present a single answer. Rather, it is about the search for the truth, grappling with uncertainty, and presenting a range of possibilities. Scientists are supposed to be skeptical that any given answer is the right one. So it is quite ironic that Heartland's climate "skeptics" are so sure. But I'd say it only figures, considering the title and subject matter (battle cry) of the concluding keynote talk at Heartland's meeting: "Rationality Renounced, Prosperity Purloined, Freedom Forfeited, Democracy Destroyed, America Annihilated? No way Jose!"

Give me a break!

By  |  01:15 PM ET, 06/18/2009

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