A climate denial cacophony

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Thomas Jefferson argued that Democracy requires an educated, informed electorate. As humanity faces critical issues demanding an intelligent informed response, this has never been truer. Equally true is the proverb ascribed to Mark Twain that "a lie can be halfway around the world before the truth pulls on its boots." Deception is enhanced if the lie is repeated often enough. Since campaigns of lies and disinformation can thwart democracy, it is worth analyzing the claims of four commentators appearing last December on the critical issue of climate change.

Though these commentators are neither climate scientists nor even scientists, it is difficult to imagine that they do not have access to the same evidence available to the rest of us. Instead, they simply ignore the evidence and the conclusions it suggests while promoting lies that are consistent with their own preconceived conclusions. This speaks volumes about their interest in genuine debate and the achievement of resolution on critical issues.

Sean Hannity initiated the campaign by proclaiming "Global warming is a crock," "It's been proven a lie. And it's a huge cover-up." Hannity then claimed 2009 "is the ninth coldest year on record that we have chronicled."

Sarah Palin continued by writing: "While we recognize the occurrence of these natural, cyclical environmental trends, we can't say with assurance that man's activities cause weather changes." Rush Limbaugh then added: "When I talk to people who believe in this global warming crap ... it's fake science. They may have educations and degrees that say they are scientists, but they're not. They're political hacks and leftists."

Then, after accepting that "In September of 2007, there was a 25 percent reduction in the usual minimum [Arctic] ice cover," Glenn Beck assured us that "In the two years since, nearly all of the ice has returned."

Anyone paying attention to these comments might think there is doubt about the evidence upon which we base our understanding that climate change (global warming) is happening. Unfortunately for democracy and these commentators, if we check the evidence we find the claims of all four individuals should at best be characterized as misinformation, at worst as outright lies.

Apparently Hannity was expecting the last month of 2009 to be very cold since, even when he made his claim (on Dec. 1), the data already showed the year was among the warmest. When the data were analyzed by NASA, 2009 was one of the two warmest years on record.

Sarah Palin mistakenly confused short-term weather patterns with long-term climate trends. Interestingly, Palin did not indicate to what trends she was referring. This is probably because a review of the natural, cyclical trends that indeed influence our climate reveals a combination that should be leading toward northern hemispheric -- if not global -- cooling.

The typical Limbaugh comment is pure hyperbole -- but his assertion that global warming claims result from a conspiracy among leftist hack scientists is worth a response. A 2009 study of practicing climate scientists revealed 97 percent agreed with the IPCC conclusion that global warming is happening, and the probability is high that human activities are contributing. Among national and international scientific societies and academies of science that have developed statements on climate change, not one disagrees with the IPCC judgment. Finally, the editor of one of the most prestigious scientific journals (Science) indicated that from 2000 to 2008, not one manuscript was submitted that indicated disagreement with the IPCC position. Given how often scientists disagree on professional issues, the unanimity that is evident among scientists is astounding. If the climate change consensus is a result of a conspiracy of leftists and hacks, it must be the mother of all conspiracies.

Beck's assertion that the Arctic ice cap has recovered during the last two summers is simply false. According to the evidence, September 2007 sea ice was 39 percent below the long-term average, the 2008 minimum was 33 percent below and 2009 was 24 percent below. There is no recovery.

Though they hyped reports from the illegal break-in of the University of East Anglia Climate Research Unit that they claimed were so incriminating, we have heard little from them about the recently reported university and parliamentary investigations that totally exonerated the climate researchers of any wrongdoing.

After scientists demonstrated the addictive capacity and devastating health impacts of nicotine in 1994, seven tobacco company chief executives denied the evidence and swore under oath that nicotine was not addictive. This campaign of disinformation echoes back to 1994.

If these commentators were to acknowledge that as entertainers and comedians they just make evidence up, we would be in a better position to discuss what the evidence really is, what it suggests and how we should respond both to it and to them.

Alan Journet of Cape Girardeau is soon to retire from Southeast Missouri State University where he has served for many years as professor of biology and environmental science.

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