Today, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) took to the Senate floor to give what was billed as a "major speech" on climate change. (Full transcript here.)
Inhofe is, of course, famous for being one of the Last True Skeptics, resolutely resistant to the idea that global warming is real, much less dangerous. It is, he says, the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He’s an implacable foe of any energy legislation that doesn’t begin and end with drilling. (His latest gambit was an attempt to punish California for its recent climate legislation.)
He’s also, as it happens, a budding media critic. His office at the Senate Environment Committee has taken to publicly attacking journalists who fail to demonstrate sufficient balance (a mix of truth and falsehood) and objectivity (refusal to distinguish between them).
Now, some might find nefarious motives for Inhofe’s skepticism, and no doubt his indebtedness to the oil and gas industry plays some role, but veteran Inhofe-watchers realize that on this issue, he is a True Believer. Whether that is more or less scary than simple corruption I leave to the reader.
What’s remarkable about this particular speech is its windy, compendious breadth. Inhofe comes off like nothing so much as an assiduous right-wing blogger who’s spent hours in his Cheeto-scattered basement combing the net for every rumor, half-truth, and slander he can find, collecting them all into some half-ass database of delusion.
It’s a bravura performance, though one can’t help wonder when Oklahomans’ more pressing concerns are being addressed.
I don’t have the time or energy to refute every piece of disinformation, but here are some highlights, so you’ll know what to look for the next time you discuss the subject with a conservative skeptic:
- The "Hockey Stick"
The so-called hockey stick study, by a team of researchers led by Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, showed a recent spike in global temperatures. The study has become a conservative bete noire, a white whale that righties have pursued all the way up to congressional hearings. According to Inhofe and other skeptics, the congressional investigation discovered that the hockey stick is worthless and thus that the entire edifice of climate science has fallen. The congressional investigation did not, in fact, find that. They found small errors in Mann’s statistical methods, but the main finding was that the basic results of the study — the recent spike in global temperature — are basically sound and have since been confirmed by numerous other studies using a variety of methods. The hockey stick is a conservative obsession, but it’s ultimately a sideshow. For more, see RealClimate here and here.
- The 60 Canadian scientists
Inhofe is not alone in making much of the fact that 60 Canadian scientists wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to reject the global warming consensus. The letter was a vapid collection of myths; among those 60 scientists were long-time skeptics, known liars, and at least one guy who was tricked into signing. A few weeks later, 90 scientists — who unlike the original 60 were Canadian and active in climate research — wrote a letter of their own, denouncing the first. The moral: in a world with tens of thousands of PhDs, you can find at least 60 to sign anything.
- Computer models aren’t real science
Yes they are. Furthermore, there’s plenty of empirical field data supporting the basic conclusions of climate science. More here from RealClimate (written by, you know, real scientists).
- Peiser refuted Oreskes; there is no consensus
Back in 2004, Naomi Oreskes did a survey of peer-reviewed climate science and discovered that there was not a single piece questioning the basic climate change consensus. This confirmed what everyone knew already, which is that the consensus is broad, deep, and stronger every day, despite the absurdly high profile of a few media-beloved skeptics. Later, social scientist Benny Peiser claimed to have refuted Oreskes’ results by altering her search terms. Peiser’s work has since been completely discredited, and he has admitted to major errors. But that doesn’t stop this zombie claim from marching on in right-wing circles (as though Oreskes’ paper were the sole evidence of consensus).
- Kyoto would cost too much and wouldn’t work
Estimates of the cost of complying with Kyoto vary wildly. But there’s reason to believe it would be considerably less cataclysmic than Inhofe’s crowd claims. In an influential piece in the Washington Post, U. Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein claims it would cost roughly as much as the Iraq War. Gregg Easterbrook argues that virtually every attempt to control pollution has been met with predictions of economic doom from all the same people, and all have ended up much cheaper and easier than anticipated. As for the fact that Kyoto doesn’t do enough … isn’t the logical conclusion that we should do more?
- Scientists used to predict a "coming ice age"
In the 70s, they were predicting an ice age — now they’re predicting warming! Those scientists and their kooky hype. Only, that never happened. A few media reports hyped the possible ice age, but scientists never did. Climate science has been developing, as science is wont to do. Early on, there was some question about which "forcings" would be dominant, the ones that cool us off (e.g., pollution blocking sunlight) or the ones that warm us. Because scientists, unlike senators, cannot find all the information they need in their own rear ends, it took a while to settle the issue. But now it’s settled — the warming forcings have it, by a mile.
And, as a bonus, here are a few rhetorical tricks (as opposed to factual errors) to watch out for:
- Use the words alarmism, hysteria, and hype at least once a sentence, more if possible.
- Instead of attributing claims about climate science to scientists — the ones who originally made them — attribute them to "the media" or "Al Gore" (this one’s especially helpful when bashing An Inconvenient Truth, which Inhofe does at self-parodic length). After all, saying that the majority of scientists are flat wrong kinda makes you sound … crazy. But everybody loves bashing Al Gore and the media!
- Equate political involvement with financial involvement. Climate skeptics, almost to a man, receive funding from fossil fuel industries. But scientists concerned about global warming, like the legendary James Hansen, support political candidates that promise to do something about it. Bias here, bias there, same thing, right?
And so on.
Read the speech to find out why NYT reporter Andy Revkin’s science book for children is an insidious plot to indoctrinate our youth, why international global warming treaties are the first step toward U.N.-led global government, and why U.S. involvement in Iraq has been "nothing short of a miracle." Oh, wait, different speech.