Thursday, April 1, 2010

Parrots Flying Out of the Cuckoo's Nest

The billion dollar climate change denial industry, funded by some of the richest corporations and individuals in the world, has a remarkably efficient network of parrots and enablers.

Here's an example:

The author, educator and environmentalist, Bill McKibben, spoke recently about climate change at New Mexico State University.  In a trice, one of the parrots had posted a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper, the Las Cruces Sun News, whose author purported to"rebut" McKibben's key points.

The letter writer asserted, for example, that a single "plot" on the website of the International Arctic Research Center showed "today's Arctic sea ice to be more than any other year except 2003."  We were expected to infer that this not only rebutted McKibben's statement that Arctic ice was melting, but also that the IARC was on the side of the climate change deniers.

Nothing, of course, could be farther from the truth.  First of all the "plot" -- actually a graph supplied by the National Snow and Ice Data Center --  shows that the Arctic Sea Ice Extent for the period Dec. 2009-Feb. 2010 was significantly below the 1979-2000 average.  Moreover, the IARC site also contains reports entitled, "Greenland Ice Sheet Melting Faster than Expected," and "Arctic Meltdown Is a Threat to Humanity."  More recently the IARC has focused on studies of the release into the atmosphere of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times more potent that carbon dioxide.  "The permafrost under the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, long thought to be an impermeable barrier sealing in methane, is perforated and is leaking large amounts of methane into the atmosphere," according to one such study. "Release of even a fraction of the methane stored in the shelf could trigger abrupt climate warming."

The letter-writer disputes McKibben's statement that "the age of easily-extracted fossil fuels is over"  by quoting Ambrose Evans-Pritchard's claim that gas reserves are "rising fast."  Evans-Pritchard is a business journalist in the U.K. where he's known as a vocal opponent of the European Union and evangelist of conspiracy theories, particularly the old right-wing myth that Vince Foster was murdered in a byzantine Clinton Administration intrigue, and that the Oklahoma City bombing was the result of an FBI plot.

The letter writer asserted: "McKibben cited alarm that sea level is rising fast with the Maldives at risk. Sea level is rising merely 7 inches per century.  Swedish scientist Nils Axel Morner made Maldives sea level measurements showing no appreciable sea level rise."

The fact is that sea levels have been rising at a rate of about 3/4 inch per year for the last century.  New, more accurate satellite measurements show a faster rate of rise in recent decades.  Even under the more conservative estimate, the Maldives -- whose highest point  is less than eight feet above present sea level --  would be inundated by an ocean level almost 20 inches higher in the next 25 years.  

As for the Swede, Morner, his opinions are disdained by the science mainstream.  He is a retired professor with ties to industry lobby groups and he endorses  non-scientific beliefs like dowsing.

The letter writer disputes McKIbben's statement that global warming induced by human activity can cause droughts.  He writes that "catastrophic droughts" have occurred in the past -- which of course is true -- but chooses as his authority on drought Dr. Robert  Balling of Arizona State University.  Dr. Balling is part of the billion dollar anti-climate change industry.  He has received $408,000 in research funding from the fossil fuel industry. He also works with the infamous Heartland Institute, funded by the biggest climate science fraud in the world, the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, as well as the far right-wing Scaife Foundation.

Typically, funding from the denial industry supports "research" that begins with a conclusion and asks the scientist to find data to support it.  Rich funding for this conclusion-first, research-later pseudoscience became available when the obscenely profitable extraction industry realized it had to attempt to discredit the climate science of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change after it issued its first global climate assessment in 1990.

Real climate science, by contrast, began a long time ago. As early as 1912, Antarctic explorers recorded observations of unusual veil-type clouds in the polar stratosphere. In 1956, the British Antarctic Survey set up the Halley Bay Observatory on Antarctica in preparation for the International Geophysical Year (IGY) of 1957. In that year, ozone measurements using a Dobson Spectrophotometer began. These measurements provided the first hint of trouble in the ozone layer.  In 1985, a group of scientists observed springtime losses of ozone over Antarctica. In 1986, NASA scientists demonstrated that the ozone hole is a regional-scale Antarctic phenomenon.

Soon, scientists all over the world were examining these phenomena, and modern climate science was born  It asks questions and seeks answers through experiment, technology and logic.  We ignore their answers at our peril.

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