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Friday, February 19, 2010

"The Phony Attack on Climate Science"

Jeff Sachs attacks the attacks on climate science backed by Exxon Mobile, the WSJ editorial pages, and others determined to stop climate change legislation:

The Phony Attack on Climate Science, by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Commentary, Project Syndicate: In the weeks before and after the Copenhagen climate change conference last December, the science of climate change came under harsh attack by critics who contend that climate scientists have deliberately suppressed evidence – and that the science itself is severely flawed. ... The global public is disconcerted by these attacks. If experts cannot agree that there is a climate crisis, why should governments spend billions of dollars to address it?
The fact is that the critics – who are few in number but aggressive in their attacks – are deploying tactics that they have honed for more than 25 years ... to stop action on climate change, with special interests like Exxon Mobil footing the bill. ... The ... same group of mischief-makers, given a platform by the free-market ideologues of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, has consistently tried to confuse the public and discredit the scientists whose insights are helping to save the world from unintended environmental harm.
Today’s campaigners against action on climate change are in many cases backed by the same lobbies, individuals, and organizations that sided with the tobacco industry to discredit the science linking smoking and lung cancer. Later, they fought the scientific evidence that sulfur oxides from coal-fired power plants were causing “acid rain.” Then, when it was discovered that certain chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) were causing the depletion of ozone in the atmosphere, the same groups launched a nasty campaign to discredit that science, too.
Later still, the group defended the tobacco giants against charges that second-hand smoke causes cancer and other diseases. And then, starting mainly in the 1980’s, this same group took on the battle against climate change.
What is amazing is that, although these attacks on science have been wrong for 30 years, they still sow doubts about established facts. ... The latest round of attacks involves two episodes. The first was the hacking of a climate-change research center in England. The e-mails that were stolen suggested a lack of forthrightness in the presentation of some climate data. Whatever the details of this specific case, the studies in question represent a tiny fraction of the overwhelming scientific evidence that points to the reality and urgency of man-made climate change.
The second issue was a blatant error concerning glaciers that appeared in a major IPCC report. Here it should be understood that the IPCC issues thousands of pages of text. There are, no doubt, errors in those pages. But errors ... point to the inevitability of human shortcomings, not to any fundamental flaws in climate science.
When the e-mails and the IPCC error were brought to light, editorial writers at The Wall Street Journal launched a vicious campaign... They claimed that scientists were fabricating evidence in order to obtain government research grants – a ludicrous accusation, I thought at the time, given that the scientists under attack ... have certainly not become rich relative to their peers in finance and business.
But then I recalled that this line of attack – charging a scientific conspiracy to drum up “business” for science – was almost identical to that used by The Wall Street Journal and others in the past, when they fought controls on tobacco, acid rain, ozone depletion, second-hand smoke, and other dangerous pollutants. In other words, their arguments were systematic and contrived, not at all original to the circumstances. ... Their arguments have been repeatedly disproved for 30 years – time after time – but their aggressive methods of public propaganda succeed in causing delay and confusion.
Climate change science is a wondrous intellectual activity. ... And the message is clear: large-scale use of oil, coal, and gas is threatening the biology and chemistry of the planet. We are fueling dangerous changes in Earth’s climate and ocean chemistry... We need urgently to transform our energy, transport, food, industrial, and construction systems to reduce the dangerous human impact on the climate. ...

Here's more from Jeff Sachs on this topic from Scientific American:

Breaking the Climate Debate Log jam, by Jeff Sachs, Scientific American: There is a growing possibility that the U.S. will pass no climate change legislation in this session of Congress... Several Democratic senators have already asked him to stop pushing for a bill in 2010, given the proximity to the midterm elections. ...
Perhaps the legislation can still narrowly pass, which at this point would be the best option. If it stalls this spring, however, the climate and the rest of the world can’t wait. A different approach is needed. Here are some components.
First, the Environmental Protection Agency has the mandate to move under the Clean Air Act. It could impose a timetable of emissions standards for electric utilities and for vehicles, which together account for around three fourths of carbon emissions. ...
Second, if cap-and-trade stalls, the administration and Congress should rethink their opposition to the much simpler option of a carbon tax. A predictable carbon tax ... might win broader assent as part of a package of deficit reduction.
Third, the public needs to hear a plan. The administration has embraced a goal of 17 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, but it hasn’t told us how that would be achieved. The public is scared that even this modest goal would slam jobs and living standards. It’s time to spell out the changes in power generation, automobile technology and energy efficiency that can take us to our goals at modest cost and huge social benefit.
Fourth, it’s time to step up the response to the climate skeptics, who have misled the public. The Wall Street Journal leads the campaign against climate science, writing editorials charging that scientists are engaged in a massive conspiracy. ...
Let’s hear more from the president’s science adviser, John P. Holdren, Nobel laureate energy secretary Steven Chu, the National Academy of Sciences and other authorities. The public will learn to appreciate that the scientific community is working urgently, rigorously and ingeniously to better understand the complex climate system, for our shared safety and well-being.

It's hard to be optimistic that anything useful will happen.

    Posted by on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 03:03 PM in Economics, Environment, Politics, Science | Permalink  Comments (95)


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