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Unformatted text preview: Cool Answers to Counter Hot Air 1/25/10 5:43 PM Search Invasive Species Overview The Magazine of the Union of Concerned Scientists Vol. 23 No. 2Winter 2001 Catalyst
Report Cool Answers to Hot Air
by Susanne Moser and Jason Mathers
Lately it seems you've been hearing arguments skeptical of global warming from all sides.
Your brother-in-law emails articles from the Greening Earth Society; a colleague at the
water cooler asserts that even if global warming is real, it's likely to be good for us; a
newspaper columnist admonishes that adopting the Kyoto Protocol will ruin the American
way of life.
You have a gut feeling that this line of thinking is misinformed and the logic flawed, but you
don't know the issues well enough to hold up the other end of the debate. How can you
distinguish misinformation from fact when you're not an expert in the field of climate
change? Here are three ways:
Seek out a reliable source of information.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change â€” the world's foremost scientific authority
on global warming â€” is a good place to begin. In its latest scientific assessment on global
warming ( www.ipcc.ch ), the IPCC gathered all the evidence that together creates "a
collective picture of a warming world that is already seeing the first impacts of a changing
climate." The IPCC notes that the Earth's average temperature has increased by
approximately 1Â°F since 1860 and projects that it could rise another 2.5â€“10.4Â°F over
the next 100 years if emissions are not dramatically reduced. Climate change is not a
phenomenon of the future. Global warming is real and already under way, and we will be
contending with the consequences in our own lifetimes. The warming observed in the
northern hemisphere during the 20th century appears to be the largest during the past
1,000 years, with the 1990s the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year.
Global changes are occurring in response. Glaciers are shrinking, permafrost thawing, ice in
rivers and lakes breaks up earlier than in the past. Sea levels rose about 10 times faster
during the 20th century than the average rate during the last 3,000 years. Growing seasons
have lengthened in the mid- to high-latitudes. Plant and animal ranges are shifting toward
the poles and to higher altitudes.
Who is responsible? We are, mostly. The IPCC cites new and better evidence of human
influence on climate. Greenhouse-gas emissions from human activities are likely to already
"have contributed substantially to the observed warming over the last 50 years."
Learn to distinguish the real science from the junk science.
"Junk science" is information that, while presented as legitimate science, has not been
subjected to the rigors of the scientific method and peer review process. It can take the
form of selective results, distortions of the results of scientifically sound research, or
publication of unreviewed articles and journals. At its worst, junk science is nothing but
opinion and speculation lent seeming respectability by scientists who are financially
supported by self-interested lobby groups.
Over the course of the 1990s climate change has come to be accepted as one of the biggest,
most complex scientific and political challenges the world has ever faced, one not amenable
to simple solutions. Don Kennedy, chief editor of Science, wrote in the March 30, 2001
issue, "By now the scientific consensus on global warming is so strong that it leaves little
room for the defensive assertions that keep emerging from the cleverly labeled industrial
consortium called the Global Climate Coalition and from a shrinking coterie of scientific
skeptics.Å Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic is rare in
In the face of overwhelming evidence of global warming and strong scientific consensus,
many skeptics are now turning from blunt denial to more politic messages bolstered by
file:///Users/bonk/Desktop/JunkSci1.html Page 1 of 3 Cool Answers to Counter Hot Air 1/25/10 5:43 PM sophisticated marketing. Instead of their previous claims that "Global warming is not
happening" and "Humans have nothing to do with it," skeptics now say, "It will bring
benefits" or "It won't be as bad as they say." They often use biased economic studies to
claim: "We can't afford to deal with it" or "The proposed mitigation strategies are
This predictable chain of contrarian arguments comes into play as skeptics lose ground. Auto
manufacturers used a similar approach to resist the idea of seatbelts; the coal industry
employed it to respond to acid rain. Because skeptics use the same gambit again and again,
anticipating their strategies renders them less effective. Here are the key ones: â Discrediting the message. To undermine the scientific evidence that global warming is real,
€ skeptics highlight scientific uncertainties, emphasize selected findings out of context, and
¢ make false claims about the policy implications of scientific findings. â Discrediting the messenger. Plain old name calling â€” such as "eco-doomsters,"
€ "alarmists," "environmental extremists" â€” is typical. A more savvy approach proclaims
¢ scientists "guilty by association" â€” e.g., tainting scientific advisors to the Clinton
administration as "liberal activists." â Discrediting the process by which scientific conclusions have been reached. The preferred
€ example is to undermine the IPCC process because this international consortium of
¢ scientists works within a UN framework. â Bolstering the countermessage by, for example, putting climate change in the best possible
€ light, propagating sign-on petitions, putting a scientific front on skeptics or their
¢ sponsoring institutions, or forming organizations of skeptics. (See box) Respond with reason.
The next time your brother-in-law emails with skeptics' information, how should you answer
him? How should you respond to a misinformed colleague? An inflammatory newspaper
First, remember that your colleagues and in-laws may not be experts on global warming
either, and that they â€” like you â€” want to be perceived as reasonable and decent folks.
Reasonable people may disagree when they talk with each other, but name-calling and
inflammatory rhetoric can turn amicable discussions into shouting matches.
Second, cite the facts because the truth goes a long way. The first evidence of global
warming is in. Recall the take-home message from the IPCC: we are seeing more and more
signs of a warming world and will see increasingly rapid change in years to come.
Point out that many skeptics' argu-ments are simplistic. Just as a person is more complex
than stereotypes suggest, so the workings of the Earth defy easy explanation. For example,
besides CO2 , plants need water, nutrients, the right temperature, and freedom from pests
and other disturbances to thrive. The skeptics' classic argument â€” that a bit more fertilizer
(i.e., carbon dioxide) will make plants grow better and end world hunger â€” is too
simplistic. Global warming will affect all factors in this complex set of interactions.
Even if you can't point to changes locally, cite those taking place globally. Educate yourself
about what's happening to people living on small islands in the Pacific. Or learn about the
significant warming already occurring in Alaska and its impacts on the inhabitants and fragile
environment. (For other examples, see www.climate hotmap.org.)
Finally, you might engage your relatives and friends in a conversation about responsibility
and stewardship. What will we say to our grandchildren, for example, when they ask what
we did back in 2001 when we heard clear warnings from the world's scientific
community,Å when we knew that affordable solutions were ready for use,Å when people in
other countries shook their heads in disbelief over the lack of leadership from the world's file:///Users/bonk/Desktop/JunkSci1.html Page 2 of 3 Cool Answers to Counter Hot Air 1/25/10 5:43 PM biggest political and economic power, its single greatest consumer of energy resources, and
its greatest polluter?
We act in the face of uncertainty all the time: We buy insurance to protect ourselves against
the vastly more expensive risk of losing our homes or our health. Why are we not responding
to global warming in the same manner? With our planet's beautiful environments and lifegiving resources at risk, the bill for inaction is likely to be significantly greater than the cost
of precautionary action. It's time we started talking basic common sense.
Susanne Moser is a staff scientist and Jason Mathers is the Sound Science Initiative project
assistant in UCS's Global Environment Program.
Prominent Climate Skeptics Organizations
Global Climate Coalition ( www.globalclimate.org)
An industry coalition of fossil fuel companies and related industries, such as
automakers and electric utilities.
Spin: Global warming is real, but it is too expensive to do anything about. The Kyoto
Protocol is fundamentally flawed.
Funding: Corporate members (industries, trade associations, etc.)
George Marshall Institute ( www.marshall.org)
One of many conservative think tanks; sponsor of a deceptive campaign â€¹ known
as the Petition Project â€¹ to undermine and discredit the scientific authority of the
Spin: Blame the sun. The Kyoto Protocol is fatally flawed.
Affiliated Individuals: Sallie Baliunas, Frederick Seitz
Science and Environmental Policy Project ( www.sepp.org )
Conservative outfit aimed at dis-crediting the science of climate change
Spin: Climate change won't be bad for us anyway. Action on climate change is not
warranted because of shaky science and flawed policy approaches.
Funding: Conservative foundations including Bradley, Smith Richardson, and Forbes.
SEPP has also been directly tied to ultra-right-wing mogul Reverend Sun Myung
Moon's Unification Church.
Affiliated individuals: S. Fred Singer, Frederick Seitz
Greening Earth Society ( greeningearthsociety.org)
An offshoot of the Western Fuels Association, a coal consortium
Spin: CO2 emissions are good for the planet; coal is the best energy source we have.
Funding: Western Fuels Association, in turn funded by its coal company members.
Affiliated Individuals: Patrick Michaels, Robert Balling, David Wojick, Fred Palmer,
Sallie Baliunas, Sylvan Wittwer, John Daley, Sherwood Idso
Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide & Global Change ( www.co2science.org )
Dressed up as a scientific institution, the center is tied to the Greening Earth Society.
Spin: Increased levels of CO2 will help plants, thus offsetting any damage in other
Funding: Sources not released, but there is evidence for a strong connection to the
Greening Earth Society and thus to Western Fuels.
Affiliated Individuals: Sylvan Wittwer, Craig Idso, Keith Idso
Check Responding to global warming skeptics at UCS for more detailed background on
the climate contrarians, skeptic organizations, and their typical arguments. Return to the Nucleus homepage Home | Search | Contact | Sitemap
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