"When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards - some sort of climate Nuremberg." -David Roberts, Gristmill, Grist Magazine, September 19, 2006
So said Grist Magazine staff writer David Roberts of those who question looming global warming doom. They are war criminals and should be tried and prosecuted the same way as Nazi Germany leaders.1 In his words, global warming doubters "have blood on their hands" and are "morally if not legally, criminals."2
Less abrasive were the recent remarks of British Energy Minister Malcolm Wicks who, after announcing to a gathering of environment ministers that "humankind is in a race for life against global warming,"3 called doubters "the equivalent of the Flat Earth Society."
And so goes the nature of the debate on the complex issue of global climate change-not so complex for those who know without question that humans are destroying planet Earth. The debate is now over, according to the world's top science experts Al Gore and Britain's environmental minister.4 Those who question if that's a fact are no longer simply nay-sayers or skeptics. They are flat-earthers, "known liars,"5 and war criminals.
Worse than the name-calling, environmentalists, the media, and even scientists are attempting to stifle other scientists with differing opinions on climate change. Last fall, staff members of the Sierra Club in Charlotte, North Carolina blasted the museum Discovery Place for bringing in Richard Lindzen, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences at MIT, to speak on the uncertainties of global warming.
The Charlotte Observer showed similar disdain for differing points of view. The paper devoted a mere 252 words to Dr. Lindzen's two-hour lecture.6 Yet the paper's editorial, which scolded the museum for playing "partisan politics," ran 426 words.7
Interestingly, the Charlotte Observer did end up running some, albeit unplanned, text the following day. Turns out the editorial's claim-and premise-that the forum was "sponsored by a politician with an anti-global warming agenda" who influences the museum's budget was inaccurate. The "clarification" said that the event was actually sponsored by the Charlotte Area Science Network and the science society Sigma Xi, and that the noted politician's foundation "didn't sponsor the museum forum."8 Oops.
Intolerance for opposing views could also describe James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies, when he failed to show up at a House Government Reform Committee's hearing on global warming last July. By his own admission, Hansen "would have gotten out of his sickbed to testify to Congress... if they were ready to deal responsibly with the matter. But obviously they are still in denial, inviting contrarians to 'balance' the science of global warming."9
The "contrarian" Hansen referred to, Dr. John Christy, is director of the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama and a panelist on the National Academy of Science's report on temperature reconstructions. His testimony covered research he has conducted on the effect that land use and urbanization have on temperature change, and the observed "shortcomings" of climate models to reflect these effects.10
This un-classy display of intolerance was topped last September when Dr. Hansen reported to the Denver Post that "Some of this noise won't stop until some of these scientists are dead."11
Could there be truth to John Stuart Mill's line from On Liberty: "if any opinion is compelled to silence, that opinion may, for aught we can certainly know, be true"?
The field of science is all about inquiry. Intolerance for questioning or even engaging in debate suggests a fear that a theory or hypothesis is not up to the test. Without challenging theories, we accept as doctrine that the Earth is flat, or that the sun revolves around the Earth - or that, as Al Gore tells us, "the survival of our civilization is at stake."
Climate change is an immensely complex issue. While there is agreement among scientists that warming is occurring and human activity may be partly responsible, how much warming and how much of it is from anthropogenic causes is widely disputed.12
For one thing, scientists are learning that global climate change is nothing new. The Earth has experienced global climate swings far more extreme than what we are experiencing now, long before man began releasing greenhouse gases - in fact, long before man existed.
As the Washington Post reports on an article in Geology, new research shows that 120 million years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, ocean surface temperatures varied as much as 11 degrees Fahrenheit. Scientists from Indiana University Bloomington and the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research made the discovery studying ancient rocks from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Extreme temperature changes were previously known from data on rocks below the Atlantic Ocean, but this was the first study on the Pacific during the same period, showing the magnitude of climate change.13
Commenting on the impact the new findings have on today's issue, lead researcher Simon Brassell says: "One of the key challenges for us is trying to predict climate change. If there are big inherent fluctuations in the system, as paleoclimate studies are showing, it could make determining Earth's climatic future even harder than it is. We're learning our climate, throughout time, has been a wild beast."14
The study is just one example of the growing importance of paleoclimatology - the study of climate activity from ancient fossils - in understanding today's climate change. Key to the debate is whether naturally-created carbon dioxide played a dominant role in affecting climate change or whether natural variations like sea currents, cosmic rays, and sun activity contributed largely.
According to an article in the New York Times, "The discoveries [in paleoclimatology] have stirred a little-known dispute that, if resolved, could have major implications... One side foresees a looming crisis of planetary heating; the other, temperature increases that would be more nuisance than catastrophe."15
But we don't hear much about it from global warming pundits because there's little consensus. The New York Times: "The Phanerozoic dispute, fought mainly in scholarly journals and scientific meetings, has occurred in isolation from the public debate on global warming. Al Gore in 'An Inconvenient Truth' makes no mention of it."
But then, shouldn't the New York Times be silenced - or even tried in a war crimes tribunal - for its "noise" on the global warming debate?
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Dana Joel Gattuso is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research in Washington, D.C. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 David Roberts, "The Denial Industry," Gristmill, Grist Magazine, September 19, 2006, at http://gristmill.grist.org/print/2006/9/19/11408/1106?show_comments=no.
2 David Roberts, "Attacked by Inhofe, Finally," Gristmill, Grist Magazine, October 11, 2006, at http://gristmill.grist.org/print/2006/10/11/141253/34?show_comments=no.
3 Catherine Bremer, "Get Ready for Freak Weather, World's Polluters Told," Reuters, UK, October 5, 2006.
4 See Richard S. Lindzen, "Don't Believe the Hype," Wall Street Journal, Opinion Journal, editorial page, July 2, 2006; and The Associated Press, "British Government Says Scientific Debate on Global Warming 'Now Closed,' Action Needed," October 29, 2006.
5 "Known liars" is the phrase used by Grist Magazine David Roberts in describing some of the 60 Canadian scientists who signed a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister urging him to look further into the science of global warming. See David Roberts, "Inhofe's Speech and Right-wing Global Warming Myths," Gristmill, Grist Magazine, September 25, 2006, at http://gristmill.grist.org/story/2006/9/25/17124/9789.
6 Bruce Henderson, "Discovery Place: Skeptic Warns of Climate 'Alarmism,' Scientist Expects Carbon Dioxide To Warm Globe, But Sees Uncertainties," Charlotte Observer, October 11, 2006.
7 "Global Warming Hot Seat: Visit by Climate Change Skeptic Has Political Overtones," Editorial, Charlotte Observer, October 13, 2006.
8 "Clarification," Charlotte Observer, October 14, 2006.
9 Darren Samuelsohn, "Congress 'Still in Denial' on Global Warming, NASA's Hansen Says," Environment & Energy Daily, E&E Publishing, LLC, Washington, D.C., July 21, 2006.
10 See Testimony of John R. Christy, U.S. House Committee on Government Reform, July 20, 2006, at http://reform.house.gov/UploadedFiles/UA%20-%20Christy%20Testimony.pdf.
11 Mark Jaffe, "Global Warming?" Denver Post, September 24, 2006.
12 Nathan Lerner, "The Truth According to Gore," Honolulu Weekly, June 7, 2006.
13 Christopher Lee, "Climate Change Is Nothing New," Washington Post, October 16, 2006.
14 Hindu Times, "Climate Changes Occurred During Dinosaurs' Era Too," September 25, 2006. Also, see Christopher Lee, "Climate Change Is Nothing New," Washington Post, October 16, 2005.
15 William J. Broad, "In Ancient Fossils, Seeds of New Debate on Warming," The New York Times, November 7, 2006.
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