With Obama’s carbon cap-and-trade legislation now on Washington’s agenda and the upcoming vote in congress — following eight “good years” under Bush’s “climate skeptic” presidency — a well funded wake up call has been issued by an army of vested interests, companies and conservative think tanks. Hiring no fewer than 2340 lobbyists on behalf of some 700 companies, one for every four congressmen, these people hope to water down, or even derail, effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, threatening a Senate filibuster.

These efforts are backed by the pro-carbon emission ideology of the Heartland Institute conference in New York in early March, titled “Global Warming: Was it Ever a Crisis“, linked to 50 or so think tanks who between them received $47 million in funds over the years from Exxon and the Koch and Scaife families, which made their first fortunes in the oil business. A principal think tank is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), with more than 20 of their staff having worked as consultants to the Bush administration. The AEI has received more than $1.6 million from ExxonMobil and is offering scientists cash grants of $10,000 if they were prepared to dispute reports by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC).

The “skeptics” case is being bolstered by the new “Climate Skeptics Handbook” published by Joannenova, provided to every participant in the New York conference, published to the tune of 150,000 copies funded by an anonymous donor. The book repeats long-discarded misconceptions inconsistent with either direct observations of the climate or with the basic laws of physics and chemistry.

Blurring the boundaries with science fiction, climate “skeptics” have included the late Michael Crichton, author of the State of Fear and a friend of George W. Bush. Currently they include luminaries such as Czech president Vaclav Klaus, who regards environmentalism as the new face of communism, stating “I see the biggest threat to freedom, democracy, the market economy and prosperity now in ambitious environmentalism, not in communism.”

The scientific “star” of the Heartland conference was Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist who regards Exxon as “the only principled oil and gas company I know in the US” and whose opinions are cited throughout the ExxonMobil funded groups and conferences organised by the company. Lindzen accuses school teachers asking questions about global warming as being “straight out of Hitlerjugen“. Moving from denial to an attack on the scientific community, Lindzen has stated: “…endorsing global warming just makes their lives easier.”

Oblivious to physics, chemistry and climate science, the principal weapon of climate “skeptics” remains ad-hominem slur “Gore lied“, conspiracy theories and ad-infinitum use of terms such as “alarmism” and even “ecofascism.”

Some “skeptics” appear to confuse, or pretend to confuse, the weather with the climate, misunderstand the meaning of terms such as “average” or “trend”, hinging their arguments on transient cooling events. Lately, based on the La Nina cooling phase since 2007, some claim global cooling.

Some “skeptics” continue to claim climate change does not exist, or is caused by the sun (precise measurements of solar radiation disprove this theory), or by cosmic rays (which enhance clouding). Some invoke water vapor as a cause of global warming (evaporation is but a feedback effect). Others point to the lag of CO2 rise behind temperatures during glacial age terminations (which is due to the dominant warming effect of the ice-water albedo flip, namely the change from high-albedo reflecting ice sheets to infrared-absorbing open water).

Other skeptics claim global warming occurs on other planets and is thus of extraterrestrial origin (no inter-planetary connection is known), or even due to geothermal rise (the main connection of internal Earth processes is via volcanic eruptions). There are those, like Australia’s Ian Plimer, who say climate has always changed, and is not of anthropogenic origin (which overlooks the consequences of emision of some 300 gigaton of carbon since the down of the industrial age).

Publishing in politically friendly media provides a golden opportunity to gain public exposure and air grudges against science and scientists. A hallmark of climate change skeptics is the dissemination of doubt (“doubt is our product“) and a reluctance to engage in direct public discussions with climate scientists.

The skeptics ignore the severe deterioration of the atmosphere-ocean system, as stated by the UK Hadley-Met in 19 December, 2008, the consequences of 5.5°C warming by 2100, which are “likely” on our current emissions path, are all but “unimaginable ­mass extinction, devastating ocean acidification, brutal summer-long heat waves, rapidly rising sea levels, widespread desertification.”

It remains to be seen whether Obama will be able to fulfill what is arguably the single most critical undertaking he has made to the American people and to the world.

Peter Fray

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