Yesterday I received a couple of comments relating to the Behind the Swindle post below, one very gratifying and the other claiming that I was following â€˜a well trodden green path, if you canâ€™t attack the science attack the scientistsâ€™.
It was never my attempt to avoid the science and go after the scientist. So, it turns out thereâ€™s a tenuous link between a scientist who is being used to propagate a lie, which was the net effect of the Channel 4 documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle, and Big Oil. So What?
Well, I suppose I was surprised is all, especially as that scientist was being used again by a BBC news organisation, namely Newsnight, without an acknowledgement of the expertâ€™s potential conflict of interest (I realise of course that Newsnight was looking at the idea that maybe there wasnâ€™t a universal acknowledgement right across the scientific community that global warming was the result of human activity â€“ but thatâ€™s a point Iâ€™ll return to later).
This morning, however, when I read the comments I realise I was wrong.
Professor Paul Reiter of the Institut Pasteur in Paris is not a member of The Cooler Heads Coalition. Instead he has just spoken at their 2004 conference â€œThe Impacts of Global Warming: Why the Alarmist View is Wrongâ€Â held on Capitol Hill, in Washington.
So the link is even more tenuous. Or perhaps not. The original connection came from Exxonsecrets.org an invaluable resource when tracking down how people are fronts for other organisations. But another quick look at the Internet revealed that Professors Reiterâ€™s association with Big Oil is old news. Daily Kos, from Jun 26, 2006, reveals all.
â€œMadhav Khandekar, Nils-Axel Morner, & Paul Reiter: They were all invited guest speakers to a congressional & media breifing set up by the Cooler Heads Coalition. And who runs the Cooler Heads Coalition? Guys like Myron Ebell and Marlo Lewis, Jr. They’re also both key figures in the leadership of the Competitive Enterprise Institute(CEI), which is the firm that’s running those TV ads against Al Gore’s documentary. CEI has received over $2 million from ExxonMobil since 1998, including $270,000 in both 2004 and 2005, and a whopping $465,000 in 2003.Â And this website only provides the money trail to ExxonMobil.Â No telling how much other oil companies gave to CEI.Â Khandekar was also a speaker at the APCO news conference in Canada.Â Reiter’s also a Tech Central Station writer.â€
Yesterday I quoted an article by Reiter in which he argues that the current favouring of non-specialist activists must be corrected â€˜by promoting the participation of professional scientists in public debate.
The problem with the Global Warming debate is that inevitably so many non-specialist, non-scientists are throwing their oar in. They have to, because its not just a scientific debate, its also a political one. It requires immediate Government action; it affects how businesses conduct themselves and even how individual citizens live their day-to-day lives.
But for that debate to be informed it requires that the science be authoritive and its assessments to be as definitive as possible so that those responsible for making far reaching decisions can be confident they are doing the right thing. But science cannot declare universal truths. It is at best provisional, based on whatever assessments that can be carried out using the latest knowledge available. Even then it can be contested and indeed for the sake of its veracity it must be. Thatâ€™s how science works.
Reiterâ€™s position on the global warming debate has been stated most succinctly in a recent interview for the International Herald Tribune when he said: â€œI am not a climatologist, nor an expert on sea level or polar ice. But I do know from talking to many scientists in many disciplines that this consensus is a mirage.â€
But Reiter, although going under the banner of a scientist is acting politically. By lending authority to think tanks sponsored by Big Oil and by contributing without a quibble to the controversial Channel 4 documentary heâ€™s suggesting that there is less scientific consensus that in fact actually exists. He is openly playing into the hands of the deniers, those in whose interest it is to counteract the FACT that there is overwhelming scientific evidence that increased carbon emissions due to human activity is responsible for global warming and is causing, amongst other things, the sea level to rise.
Reasic, who comments on the original post, is doing a great job. Last week he had a postÂ which points to a 2004 Science article illustrating what sort of a consensus there is about global warming within the scientific community.
To begin with, the articleâ€™s author Naomi Oreskes, a Professor of History and Science Studies at the University of California, San Diego, lists the scientific organizations that have come to the conclusion that human activity is having a strong negative effect on the environment. These organisations include the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of course, but thereâ€™s many others such as The American Meteorological Society , the American Geophysical Union, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).
Oreskes points out that the drafting of such reports and statements by these organisations may have downplayed any legitimate dissenting opinions that cropped up while the papers in the peer review process were being reviewed. To check if this was the case an analysis of the â€œ928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords “climate change”â€ was conducted.
For the purposes of the study the 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position.
â€œOf all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position. Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.â€
This consensus with its inherent complications, is reinforced by perhaps the most high profile scientific contributors to the Great Global Warming Swindle. Writing in todayâ€™s Independent MIT Professor of Physical Oceanography Carl Wunsch said â€œI believe that climate change is real, a major threat, and almost surely has a major human-induced component.â€
In the article Wunsch castigates Channel 4 for producing a film that was â€˜one-sided, anti-educational, and misleadingâ€™ and clarifies in detail what it is about the current Global Warming debate that he has problems with.
â€œI am on record in a number of places as complaining about the over-dramatisation and unwarranted extrapolation of scientific facts. Thus the notion that the Gulf Stream would or could “shut off” or that with global warming Britain would go into a “new ice age” are either scientifically impossible or so unlikely as to threaten our credibility as a scientific discipline if we proclaim their reality.â€
Like Reiter he argues that science is still working on climate changeâ€¦
â€œThe science of climate change remains incomplete. Some elements are based so firmly on well understood principles, or on such clear observational records, that most scientists would agree that they are almost surely true (adding CO2 to the atmosphere is dangerous; sea level will continue to rise…). Other elements remain more uncertainâ€
However, Wunsch believes that as a scientist there is a civil responsibility to highlight the danger of climate change and, by implication, to avoid behaving in the interest ofÂ particular vested interests.
â€œwe as scientists in our roles as informed citizens believe society should be deeply concerned about their possibility: a Mid-western US megadrought in 100 years; melting of a large part of the Greenland ice sheet, among many other examples.â€
Wunsch illustrates how blatantly his scientific opinion was distorted in the documentary:
â€œIn the part of The Great Climate Change Swindle where I am describing the fact that the ocean tends to expel carbon dioxide where it is warm, and to absorb it where it is cold, my intent was to explain that warming the ocean could be dangerous - because it is such a gigantic reservoir of carbon. By its placement in the film, it appears that I am saying that since carbon dioxide exists in the ocean in such large quantities, human influence must not be very important - diametrically opposite to the point I was making - which is that global warming is both real and threatening.â€
Again, in response to â€˜Mattâ€™, the commenter to the last post, itâ€™s all about the science baby. We have to be critically aware that science canâ€™t provide a irrefutable universal truth. However, it is the responsibility of scientists to recognize â€˜the reality of the threatâ€™. And in a final word (at least from my point of view) to Professor Paul Reiter of the Institut Pasteur, Wunsch argues that â€˜statements of concern do not need to imply that we have all the answersâ€™.
Wunsch at least contested that his point of view was distorted in the Channel 4 program and to highlight the responsibility of scientists regarding the threat of global warming. Reiter has yet to do either.