Why you're not finding Heartland science in my climate dispatches

Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe: Votex of climate misinformation. Got a problem with that? Don't read us on Wednesday.

Greg Harman

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When I first started addressing global warming after my time with daily newspapers, I made one quick change: I didn't cite the warming deniers, those that claimed contrary to all peer-reviewed and published literature that the sun or the moon or celebrity sexcapades were truly to blame for the past decades of global warming.

As I figured it, these fronts for Big Oil had already done too much damage by delaying international action as long as they had.

As international scientists converged on Copenhagen earlier this month, there was sort of a “counter-conference” held in New York, a sweet little tea party tailor made for the last die-hard climate-change deniers.

It was hosted by a Chicago-based “think tank” (and I use that term loosely) called the Heartland Institute.

You can't find out who pays for Heartland opinions anymore, they keep that secret now, but there's plenty enough funding history linking them to Big Tobacco and Big Oil to give you Big Suspicions about their ideological thumbprint.

And, predictably, they're not about to buy into this Global Warming crap.

You may have noticed that I haven't used much of their material in my blogging this past week. You'll be seeing a lot of the same neglect when my climate story runs Wednesday. The simple reason being that these vents of hot air aren't providing the debate with contentious science, they're just bringing noise.

I spent a couple months “debating” a local subscriber of denial theories when the Current published my first examination of CPS Energy, “CPS Must Die.” It was an enlightening experience, providing me a pretty good grounding in what passes for the logic behind how some of these folks think. For a quick overview of the Top Ten Denier Arguments (and why they are wrong), check out Skeptical Science.

While I have found deniers more than willing to misquote or misrepresent the findings of a variety of scientists, it's a far rarer thing for these folks to publish anything that significantly challenges the fundamentals of our understanding of climate change. If you happen to be that extraordinary person with a smoking-gun peer-reviewed paper in hand that achieves this, by all means forward it my way.

And if you're a spectator feeling a bit shaky on what those fundamentals are, unsure whom to trust, I suggest you pick up Climate Literacy, a good guide provided by a few humble scientific organizations, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Energy, Health and Human Services, Interior, State, Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Agency for International Development and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

It offers firm footing.

Last Friday, Dr. Malcolm Cleaveland, professor of merit in the department of Geosciences at the University of Arkansas (right) graced me with his perspective not only on the latest findings related to sea-level rise and our future water-intolerant climate (I'm speaking now of the U.S. West and Central America), but he cut loose a bit on this whole denial “industry.”

All I can say is, God bless him. Not a lot of researchers like to talk policy, much less speak possible ill on colleagues. He's come the closest yet to getting candid with me.

Cleaveland said that, in many cases, today's deniers “play the same role” as those scientists who continued to do favorable research for the tobacco companies long after the science linking smoking to cancer had become undeniably clear.

Though he said he had “no idea what their motivations are,” Cleaveland did allow that scientists (like all of us) “are economically motivated.”

“Their product is not scientific knowledge â?? their product is uncertaintyâ?¦ There is no real scientific uncertainty about the fact the earth is warming up and that it's the greenhouse gases that are doing it.”

And Big Oil? Cleaveland says it's involved in a “disinformation campaign that would do the CIA proud.”

Listen in:

He seems on target there. Apparently, the industry-formed Climate Action Partnership (which includes enviro groups the Natural Resources Defense Council and Environmental Defense) has publicly been urging Congress to act on global warming while funding deniers behind the scenes.

The best report on the impact of industry on pending climate legislation has come from Marianne Lavelle of The Center for Public Integrity.

She writes:

A Center for Public Integrity analysis shows that, by the end of last year, more than 770 companies and interest groups had hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change. That's an increase of more than 300 percent in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress.

Some of the lobbyists, like those representing the U.S. Chamber, clearly are seeking to derail any federal effort to mandate a reduction in fossil fuel emissions. But others have more subtle agendas â?? they seek to blunt the costs, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas. Some just want a slice of that revenue stream. Others hope to shape the rules of the bazaar in the market-based system that the politicians, including Obama, favor for grappling with global warming.

In all the cackle and din, it will take the firmest of convictions to meet the International Panel on Climate Change's recommended 25-40 percent reductions below 1990 emission levels by 2020.

Unfortunately, Obama's first offer as president has been only to meet 1990 levels, nothing more. Is that so bad?

Given that change is happening faster than the IPCC predicted when it issued its last report in 2007, it just could be. Imagine temperatures too hot for sweat glands to cool the human body, and you start to get the idea.

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