Cato Ad

The ad questioning scientific consensus on climate change.

Cato Institute

The libertarian Cato Institute spent serious free-market cash on its full-page ad questioning climate change on Monday, placing it in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Chicago Tribune. The NYT ad alone cost more than $150,000, according to the CBC.

Designed to grab the attention of policymakers, voters, and, no doubt, the blog ‘o sphere, Cato’s message included:

  • A quote from President Obama from last November: “Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear.”
  • A headline: “With all due respect Mr. President, that is not true.”
  • Four footnoted sentences arguing why alarm regarding climate change is overstated.
  • The names and titles of more than 100 signees.

Reactions were swift and pointed. One of the clearest critiques comes from Politifact, a watchdog project of the St. Petersburg Times:

The problem with the assertion in the Cato statement is that it is impossible to make meaningful conclusions about climate trends based on looking at a 10-year window, said Richard Heim, a meteorologist at the NOAA National Climatic Data Center Climate Monitoring Branch.

People tend to think of global warming as a steady trend upward, Heim said, but that’s not how it works. If you were to look at long-term trends, like a century, it looks more like steps. Temperatures will rise for a few years, then level off or even go down a little bit, then go back up. That’s why you’ve got to look at temperatures over many decades, he said.

And if you look at the trends over the last 100 years, Heim said, “the overall linear trend shows clear, unequivocal, unmistakable warming over that period.”
Take a look for yourself at the NOAA graph of 100 years of global temperatures.

For more extensive debunkery, one could do worse than studying with three Rs — Revkin, Romm, and RealClimate.

RealClimate takes a thorough look at the research papers cited in the ad’s footnotes. It finds none of the papers actually support the statements attributed to them:

This is a classic red-herring: Ignore the facts you don’t dispute, pick some others that are ambiguous and imply that, because they are subject to some debate, we therefore know nothing.

Joe Romm continues along the same lines. The New York Times’ Andy Revkin corresponds with a Cato spokesperson about collecting signees for the ad, concluding:

And while it’s easy to fill 100 “name here” slots on an ad questioning climate clarity, my guess is it’d be hard to find more than a handful of scientists working on the intertwined climate and energy challenges who would say that fossil-fueled business as usual is the best approach to getting humanity through its 21st-century growth spurt in great shape.

And a few more responses of note: