Monthly Archives: April 2012

While everyone else worries about the weather, Heartland are still fighting DenialGate

With a year of unprecedented natural disasters, a slew of temperature records broken in the US in March, drought in East Anglia, floods in the Philippines, and the weather apparently getting weirder by the minute, public opinion on climate change seems finally to be swinging in favour of the science, particularly in the US.

It’s about time, too, if you’ve been following the faux debate.  The basic science has been settled for a long time:

  • carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas because of its ability to absorb some wavelengths of infra-red radiation
  • human activity is pumping huge quantities of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly as a result of burning fossil fuels
  • the chemical fingerprint (the isotope) of the added CO2 confirms that it originates from fossil fuel
  • the global mean temperature record shows an unprecedented rise over the last few decades, which is in lockstep with the increased CO2.

(If you want to learn the basics and understand why denier arguments are usually scientifically wrong, you can’t do better than http://www.skepticalscience.com , which covers the science, new research, and new denier arguments, and is perhaps the best overview of climate science available on the web.)

The details are still being thrashed out.  Better resolution in models and clever approaches to data analysis mean that it is becoming possible to attribute abnormal weather patterns to global warming.  ‘Missing’ heat in the earth’s energy budget (excess heat energy which wasn’t showing up in the surface temperature records –  Trenberth’s Travesty, for anyone who followed all the ClimateGate nonsense) can now be measured, in the ocean as expected, thanks to the deployment of the Argo float system.  Better model resolution means that regional predictions are becoming more accurate, which means that adaptation strategies with some chance of success can be planned.

We have enough to worry about dealing with the sleeping giant we’ve woken.  We shouldn’t have to deal with the ridiculous and ethically bankrupt actions of professional science deniers and oil-funded “think-tanks” trying to prevent emissions controls and energy policy changes, so that their fossil fuel clients can continue to drill unhindered.

Let me unequivocal about my opinion of these people: I think they are the scum of the earth, and given the slew of climate-related fatalities we’ve already had, it’s long past time to call them out on their lack of ethics.  If we are lucky enough to have history books a couple of hundred years from now, they’ll be on the same pages as Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot.  (And they’ll also be listed as bankrupts; I predict that the class action suits over climate change will make the tobacco settlements look like pocket change.  Bring it on.)   The fifty-six thousand people who died in the 2010 Russian heatwave are just the start.  There is no way of knowing how many of these people might have survived if mitigation actions had started in time and not been hindered by the paid deniers.   But there is no doubt; these guys have blood on their hands, and treating them as honest skeptics involved in a genuine debate is no longer defensible.

They’ve tried to cast doubt on the science, and when the scientific method has proved them wrong, they’ve resorted to vicious smearing of climate scientists.  They’ve lobbied, they’ve produced fake alternatives to the IPCC, they’ve spread propaganda about a supposed hoax (the climate scam, apparently, involves such unlikely bedfellows as BHP Billiton, GreenPeace, Munich Re and the US Department of Defense, all of whom are conspiring to institute a world government run by climate scientists…).  They’ve used Freedom of Information requests, lawsuits and official enquiries to harass and threaten some of the best scientists on the planet, many of whom routinely receive hate mail and death threats. 

They know very well that they don’t need to refute the science on any level which is meaningful to the numerate or scientifically literate.  All they have to do is spread enough manure to make the mass of people (who can’t follow the literature for themselves) believe that there is a debate, when there isn’t one. 

And all of this for money, in the short term, while the earth’s climate, our habitat, is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, changing and putting our fragile civilisation at risk.  Do they have another planet that the rest of us don’t know about?

So if you ask me, they’re also mad.  Bonkers.  Living in an alternate reality.  Going onto some of the denier blogs like WUWT today is completely surreal, and I try to stay off them, because it is hard to credit that there are still people trying to pretend that climate change isn’t happening.

And some of them have been caught.  We blogged about the DenialGate affair here: climate scientist Peter Gleick admitted to having followed up on an apparent whistle-blowing email and deceived the Heartland Institute into releasing internal documents to him, which he then published.  It showed them up as what they are: liars for hire.  DeSmogBlog covered the episode in detail, including the sheer, belly-laugh-inducing hypocrisy of Heartland’s sanctimonious attitude given the malevolent glee with which they savaged the scientists involved in ClimateGate. 

One of the outcomes was that corporations who had been funding Heartland rightly started distancing themselves and pulling funding.  Forecast the Facts, an advocacy organisation, set up a petition to General Motors which garnered 20 000 signatures and resulted in GM pulling their Heartland funding as well.

You would think Heartland would have enough political savvy to realise that their game is up, but no.  They’ve started a website called FakeGate (dot) org which is attempting to keep up some momentum about the whole affair, while attacking Gleick quite viciously.  (So far I haven’t seen a single comment on any of the pages, so this doesn’t seem like a very successful project).  The latest entry was a sanctimonious rant about the Forecast the Facts petition.  You can read the response from Forecast the Facts here.  (I immediately signed the petition in support, although it’s already been successful.)

The FakeGate rant is hilarious: Bast (the president of Heartland) huffs and puffs self-righteously about how dreadfully Gleick has behaved (again), accuses Forecast the Facts of being a front group and having fudged their petition signatures, and then tries to deny Heartland’s denial of climate change while suggesting that they are a serious scientific think-tank which has single-handedly refuted the IPCC.  (If only there was a way to make money out of people who think they’ve refuted the IPCC.  Maybe I should start a competition, in the tradition of James Randi, and charge an entry fee.)

This is a real gem:

“Heartland has made important contributions to the scientific debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. We have worked with Anthony Watts to expose gross errors in the surface-based temperature data the government relies on to “prove” that global warming is occurring. Watts’ work convinced the government to change the way it tracks temperature data.”

Yeah, right.  Watts, funded and promoted by Heartland, has certainly spewed a vast amount of nonsense about the temperature record, and for a while he actually convinced a lot of people (including himself) that the Urban Heat Island effect had contaminated the temperature record.  In fact his supposedly pristine rural stations, which were supposed to show that the average temperature wasn’t rising and was contaminated by urban island data, introduced a slight warming bias to the data.

Watts, regarded as some sort of demi-god by the denier community, has no scientific qualifications, and no research or publishing record.  He managed to get himself onto the author list of precisely one paper (Fall et al 2011) as a result of his Surface Stations project.  Unfortunately it didn’t produce the results he wanted.  That, Mr Watts, is one of the perils of doing science, as opposed to spouting propaganda.

As a result of all the hype about the temperature record, another big study, partially funded by the Koch brothers, and led by skeptic physicist Dr Richard Muller, known as the Berkely Earth Surface Temperature study, was run last year.  Watts dramatically claimed that he would accept the results even if they proved him wrong.  They proved him wrong and confirmed what climate scientists had been saying from Mann’s 1998 paper on:  The world is warming.  Get over it and start doing something about it.

Watts, being a denier, nevertheless refused to accept the results, promises notwithstanding, and still continues to flog this particular dead horse.  And his worshippers continue to genuflect in the comments section of his blog, while the rest of us gawp in astonishment on our increasingly rare visits.  How can people be this stupid and stubborn in public?  Don’t they get embarrassed?

The paper produced an outcry in the denial-o-sphere because Muller had (wisely) recanted his skeptical position.  It produced barely a ripple in the climate science arena, because there isn’t much value in redoing work which has already been confirmed several times.

And this is what Heartland are pushing as their “contribution to the scientific debate”.   They’ve certainly produced enough hot air to cause global warming pretty much unassisted, but very little else.

Their reaction to the DenialGate leak has been telling: a pompous, blustering barrage of threats, accusations and cease and desist letters, but as far as anyone can make out, not a single actual lawsuit.  I would not be the first person to suspect they have absolutely no desire to have more of their internal affairs made public in the legal discovery process, as would happen if they actually sued someone for defamation.  With all their bluster and arrogance, they are basically hoist with their own dishonest petard.  

Their FakeGate site has, unbelievably, a page with contact details of bloggers or site owners who have posted their documents or referred to them, which they call the Fakegate Gang, and they ask their supporters to write to them as follows:

Please contact them – by commenting on the posts, emailing the bloggers or webmasters, even picking up the phone or writing a letter – to insist that they (1) remove those documents from their sites; (2) remove from their sites all posts that refer or relate in any manner to those documents; (3) remove from their Web sites any and all quotations from those documents; (4) publish retractions on their Web sites of prior postings; and (5) remove all such documents from their servers.

I think this is really funny.  I thought about writing to them to ask if I could be on the list, as it would be good advertising for Gamadoelas.  But they don’t seem to be getting any traffic.

When dealing with climate deniers, Lord Acton’s quote is apposite:

“There are two things which cannot be attacked in front: ignorance and narrow-mindedness. They can only be shaken by the simple development of the contrary qualities. They will not bear discussion.”

There is no longer a case for genuine scientific skepticism about climate science; the defining characteristic of a true skeptic is that they will change their minds if the evidence demands it.  It’s time we stopped giving deniers the time of day, much less allowing them to impact policy on something as vital as climate change.

Eradicating Ecocide: a planetary movement run by women

You can sign the Eradicating Ecocide letter from women to world leaders here.

Demented bunnyhuggers again, you may be thinking.

Right.

On a planet which is rapidly heading toward climate catastrophe, we continue to pour toxic emissions into the atmosphere, poison the ground, ignore the best science on the greenhouse effect (that’s when we’re not actually spewing the nonsense generated by a well-orchestrated denial campaign), and generally carry on as if there’s no tomorrow, a state of affairs (no tomorrow) which is becoming increasingly likely.

In South Africa, we have the world’s largest single point emitter of greenhouse gases (the Sasol plant at Secunda), we live in a country which is predicted to experience approximately double the temperature rise the rest of the world will experience, we are already running into electricity and water quality and supply problems, and what are we doing about it?  Braai-ing. And if Shell has their way, fracking too.  If you’ve got a bit of clean groundwater left in a fragile eco-system, just poison it now, then you won’t have to worry about it in the future.

This is insanity.  Obtaining World Bank loans to build more coal plants was insanity.  Not investing heavily in renewables is insanity.  Not standing our ground and demanding that the big industrial nations curb greenhouse emissions is insanity.  Not thoroughly investigating fast breeder reactor technology is insanity.  Providing cheap power to huge industrial customers while poor South Africans cannot afford the ever-rising cost domestic tariffs is insanity. Even considering risking fracking the Karoo (and releasing methane, one of the most potent greenhouse gases around) is insanity.  Buying the twaddle spouted by climate deniers while the science and the weather are telling us something very different is insanity.  Pretending that this will create jobs is insanity.  What it does is outsources those jobs to big companies, and often other countries, lines the pockets of fatcat politicians, and destroys the quality of life for communities unlucky enough to live near big polluters.

Do you know how to spell insanity?  There are a few alternative spellings.  G-r-e-e-d.  A-p-a-t-h-y.  D-e-n-i-a-l.   How do you spell it?