Denialists have their heads in the sand

When the science behind Gore’s CO2 “hockey stick” slaps you down, there’s nothing like indulging in old-fashioned denialism.

What is to be done when the world’s leading experts in a field come together in the largest, most extensively peer-reviewed inquiry in the history of science and arrive at a conclusion that is diametrically opposed to your own long-held worldview? Most of us would reevaluate our ideas so they actually mesh with reality. That’s called learning.

But if you are the staunchly “free market,” anti-regulation think tank called the Heartland Institute and the conclusion is that humanity must cooperate to get the world out of a worsening climate crisis … well, then what you do is simply manufacture a conclusion that is more to your liking.

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Make no mistake, this is what the Heartland Institute‘s “International Conference on Climate Change” is all about. Set to begin Sunday in New York, the gathering’s guest list includes the standard roster of “scientist-denialists” — a large group of “experts” who have never published a single peer-reviewed study in their lives, along with a handful of fringe researchers who do (though rarely) publish in the field of climate science. The conference tagline is: “Global Warming: was it ever really a crisis?” and the conclusion is predetermined. “Was it ever a crisis?” … as if it isn’t right now.

By conception, the Heartland gathering seeks to establish itself as an authoritative gathering of genuine experts in climate science. The claim the Heartland Institute makes is pretty simple: “more than 70 of the world’s elite scientists specializing in climate issues” will be there.

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So, Heartland says to the unsuspecting, the experts are all coming to this event, and they all say there is nothing to worry about. That actually makes the whole charade pretty easy to unmask.

We don’t have to examine every particular scientific or pseudo-scientific argument that will be advanced during the conference (that’s been done repeatedly), because the whole thrust of this conference is about who is attending, not what they are saying.

Heartland promises the “world’s elite scientists specializing in climate issues.” Really? Let’s have a quick look at the top-billed attendees as described by conference’s official agenda:

  • American astronaut Dr. Jack Schmitt.
  • William Gray, Colorado State University, leading researcher into tropical weather patterns.
  • Richard Lindzen, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the world’s leading experts in dynamic meteorology, especially planetary waves.
  • Stephen McIntyre, primary author of Climate Audit, a blog devoted to the analysis and discussion of climate data.[…]
  • Arthur Robinson, curator of a global warming petition.
  • Willie Soon, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
  • Roy Spencer, University of Alabama at Huntsville, principal research scientist and team leader on NASA’s Aqua satellite.

Astronaut? I thought we were talking about climate!

But seriously, who are these people and should we rely on their views?

Jack Schmitt indeed has a Ph.D., but his educational training has nothing to do with climate. After earning his doctorate in geology, Schmitt became an astronaut (he walked on the moon) and later a Republican senator from New Mexico; he teaches engineering physics and promotes the acquisition of lunar resources for the private sector as chairman of Interlune Intermars Initiative Inc.

William Gray is a well-respected scientist in the field of hurricane prediction — but that is weather forecasting, not climate science. He actually compared Al Gore’s belief in global warming to Adolf Hitler’s belief that Jews are subhuman.

Steve McIntyre has studied mathematics and economics and spent 30 years in the Canadian mining industry. He is a well-known face in the climate wars as founder of Climate Audit, a blog devoted to criticizing the work of several prominent climate scientists.

Arthur Robinson is the founder of the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a paper-only “institution” with no students and no courses. He himself is a chemist by training; his claim to fame in the realm of climate change skepticism is that he created the “Oregon Petition,” a fraudulent document that pretended to come from the National Academy of Sciences.

Willie Soon is an astrophysicist whose work on solar-based explanations for the current planetary warming is mostly published on the websites of the Marshall Institute, the Fraser Institute and the Science and Public Policy Institute, hardly reputable journals of climate science literature.

These, then, are the “world’s elite scientists specializing in climate issues?” Or so the Heartland Institute hopes to trick you into believing.

I have not yet mentioned Richard Lindzen and Roy Spencer, who, by the way, disagree with Soon, Robinson, Gray and Schmitt. While these two legitimate climate scientists express doubt about the dangers of climate change, they both acknowledge that the world is warming and that it is due to human activity, primarily greenhouse gas emissions. Actually, this puts them at odds with most of their fellow panelists.

Lindzen is a fading star in climate research, as he hitched his wagon to the Iris Hypothesis, a proposed sort of natural thermostat for the earth that would supposedly counter any large, CO2-forced warming. Scientists trying to investigate Lindzen’s theory have reached different conclusions, and Lindzen is no longer very active in publishing peer-reviewed research.

Similarly, Spencer gained notoriety with his analysis of satellite readings of atmospheric temperatures. For some years, this analysis disagreed markedly with what climate models predicted — showing cooling rather than warming in the middle and upper troposphere. However, a few years ago, a series of errors and data problems were uncovered, and his latest work on this topic now shows tropospheric temperatures that are well in agreement with general model expectations — these parts of the atmosphere are indeed warming along with the surface.

Aside from the star billings, who else is attending?

Looking at the listing on Heartland website, we see blogger Anthony Watts, a retired weatherman (meteorology is NOT the same as climatology!). And then there’s Myron Ebell, Marlo Lewis, Fred Smith, Sam Kazman, Steve Milloy, and Chris Horner — all from the extreme free market Competitive Enterprise Institute (the organization that tried to stage a “pro-coal” counter-demonstration early this week in Washington, DC.

Lawrence Solomon, a columnist at the conservative National Post in Canada, is on the list, and British aristocrat-turned-politician-turned-journalist-turned-skeptic Christopher Monckton will be there.

Hardly “the world’s elite scientists specializing in climate issues.” In fact, none of these experts is a trained climate scientist. In the community of actual experts, the consensus is:

  • The earth is rapidly warming (over .6 degrees celsius in the last century)
  • Human activities are the primary cause
  • Warming will continue and accelerate if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated

But in the world of political persuasion, where message trumps reality, the Heartland Institute wants you to just gas up your SUV and not worry about a thing. Like damning with faint praise, far from undermining the scientific consensus, this list illustrates just how strong that consensus really is.

Beck is the principal author of the “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic” series.