This week, New York City is playing host to an international conference on climate change different from any other that has gone before. The people convening it, and those making presentations, are all self-proclaimed "climate skeptics." And here is the purpose of the conference, in words taken verbatim from the invitation letter sent by the sponsor, the Heartland Institute:
The purpose of the conference is to generate international media attention to the fact that many scientists believe forecasts of rapid warming and catastrophic events are not supported by sound science, and that expensive campaigns to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are not necessary or cost-effective.
In other words, it's a media event designed to promote a fixed point of view with a negative agenda of opposition.
That, ladies and gentlemen (of the media especially) is not a "skeptical" agenda but a denialist enterprise.
And here is what is most sinister: they are out to deny the validity of the most organized and effective form of skepticism we know -- empirical science, in the present instance put in the service of studying the earth's climate. They have turned reality upside-down. They have stolen the name "skeptic" from its rightful owners and given them another name instead -- "alarmists."
Skepticism implies a rational process of evaluation based on empirical evidence, and a willingness to allow the mass of evidence to persuade. This is precisely what the scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change --the largest, collaborative scientific enterprise in human history -- have done.
If you trace their findings from their first assessment report through the fourth -- a period of scientific inquiry spanning almost two decades -- you will see the gradual and careful evolution of their thought as evidence of global warming has accumulated. Only in the very last report released last year do they say with certainty that global warming is human induced and urgent action is needed.
What took them so long? Their skepticism, which is practiced through the scientific method to which they are devoted.
Hired Denialist Guns
What about the Heartland Institute? On what is their skepticism based? The scientific method? Peer-reviewed science? Actually, no. They have circulated petitions and collected signatures and written op-eds and convened a conference and published pseudo-science and done many other things to deny the findings that have emerged out of the true scientific process. They use the methods of political operatives, not scientists.
They do claim they have scientists on their side. But these are not scientists qualified to conduct climate research, or to pass judgment upon it. Perhaps they have one or two qualified scientists on their roster of paid attendees. But one or two paid scientists do not a conference make. IPCC has more than 2000 independent scientists working without professional allegiance to political ideology. (Media please take note of this ratio when you insert balance into your reporting.)
Let's remember a few other things about Heartland. Before taking up the cause of global warming denialism, they worked to help the tobacco industry deny that smoking causes cancer. Their primary agenda appears to be this: protect the right to put smoke -- in your lungs or in our air.
And they are guns for hire. They've received $800,000 from Exxon since 1998 to mount their denialist campaign. Please recall, it was in 1998 that we saw the disclosure of that famous oil industry memo -- the one that kicked off a deliberate campaign to sow doubt on climate science in order to protect industry profits.
The Wall Street Journal's Denialism
So step one is to make sure that we do not let Heartland and its comrades-in-arms at the John Locke Foundation and many other places use the noble title "skeptic." They are not skeptics in the least. They demean the tradition.
By calling themselves "skeptics" they engage in a form of propaganda that would make Stalin proud. Because this conference and their intensifying denialist campaign is murdering truth to serve ideological ends.
What is also worth noting is that they have the support of one of the great organs of denialist propaganda -- the Wall Street Journal's editorial page. The editors there -- led by Paul Gigot -- have long supported the denialist enterprise, and last week wrote in support of the Heartland conference. It has required the Journal to be in denial of the action afoot to put a price on carbon and to capitalize upon the opportunity, the hottest business story there is.
Yet these editors refuse responsible engagement with this reality and prefer to turn it on its head. They support denialism and so force themselves into adopting an anti-business position. Isn't that odd -- the Wall Street Journal, America's financial newspaper of record -- anti-business? It would be like Johnson & Johnson, known for Band-Aids and baby powder, campaigning to promote assisted suicide.
Not only have the denialists stolen the noble name that belongs to the Earth's honest scientists, they have coined a term to unfairly label the true scientists and skeptics: "alarmists." It is amazing that we let the denialists get away with this crime. If they tried to do the same thing in the realm of medical science instead of climate science, we'd have thrown them in jail a long time ago.
Would we call a medical doctor who diagnoses a terminal disease and prescribes a difficult cure an "alarmist"? Are the doctors who identified AIDS and SARS and other epidemics -- alarmists?
Let's say you were an HMO intent on denial -- of coverage -- for these conditions, and you bankrolled a campaign so you wouldn't have to pay for the cures -- as Exxon has bankrolled Heartland. That would be called practicing medicine without a license. And we would all be horrified by the callous disregard for human life, lock up the offenders and throw away the key.
So let's not be fooled by the false dichotomy that the fossil fuel propaganda machine has succeeded in selling to the media and the American public. It looks like there is a debate between skeptics and alarmists over global warming. There isn't. It's a manufactured illusion.
What's really going on is this: there's a war being waged by denialists against scientists, who are the true skeptics, and against humankind and against the earth.
It is a war that the media has yet to cover, and it is a war that should be the cause of universal alarm.