Climate science is a major front in the Republican war on science. In fact, rejection of climate science is a policy requirement to be a Republican running for elected office. Ronald Brownstein nicely summarizes the zealotry of Republicans in climate change denial in the National Journal.
Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.
Virginia provides a perfect example for how extreme Republicans have become in their war on climate science. Last Monday, Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli announced that he was continuing his witch hunt against climate scientist Michael Mann. A funny thing happened a few days later. George Mason University finally admitted publicly that a misconduct investigation was underway on Edward Wegman whose 2006 report to Congress is the basis for Cuccinelli's harassment of Michael Mann.
The Wegman Affair
The Wegman Report was commissioned by Rep. Joe Barton in 2006 in his capacity as chairman of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. The Wegman Report was a clever hatchet job. It used a social network analysis to claim that paleoclimate research was too insular in its collaboration and publication authorship. Of course that is true of any narrow and highly specialized scientific discipline. It falsely claimed that climate scientists had not consulted with statisticians in modeling climate change because they were not listed as authors. Curiously, the report gives great credence to Ross McKitrick and Steven McIntrye despite their lack of training in statistics and frequent blunders while conducting even rudimentary analyses. However, the biggest charge leveled by the Wegman Report was that Mann misrepresented the temperatures of the 1990s as the highest on record during the past one thousand years.
Overall, our committee believes that Dr. Mann’s assessments that the decade of the 1990s was the hottest decade of the millennium and that 1998 was the hottest year of the millennium cannot be supported by his analysis.
The medieval warming period (circa 900 to 1300 A.D.) has long been critical to the climate change denial crowd, with claims that the temperatures during this epoch were as high as modern temperatures. This myth has been debunked because the medieval warming period was a climate anomaly limited to the upper northern hemisphere rather than a global event in the paleoclimate record.
The Wegman Report was the first real attempt to try Michael Mann in the court of public opinion using deceptive information. Given its broad citation by think tanks involved in climate change denial and politicians fighting any regulation of greenhouse gas emissions or carbon pricing, the utility of the Wegman Report cannot be understated. Yet, Wegman provided no empirical evidence to refute the paleoclimate reconstructions conducted by Mann and others. In other words, Wegman only raised the possibility of a statistical artifact in Mann's work without being able to show that one existed. That did not stop Barton and his committee from pronouncing Mann guilty.
Mann et al., misused certain statistical methods in their studies, which inappropriately produce hockey stick shapes in the temperature history.
The Wegman Report was produced with the purpose of discrediting climate scientists in advance of the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. Wegman was ignored by many in the climate science community for several reasons. They were already aware of the statistical modeling issues and had been working to improve variance estimation when combining multiple temperature proxies. Wegman was old news with its preoccupation with the methods used primarily in Mann's 1988 publication. However, changes in the political landscape in 2009 meant that policy changes could adversely affect fossil fuels consumption. Trillions in profit were suddenly at stake and something had to be done to protect these vested interests. The Wegman Report along with stolen emails became the foundation for attacking climate science and scientists.
The resurrection of the Wegman Report as a political tool to attack climate science has finally been met with resistance. Although there have been many critiques, the most extensive has come from Dr. John Mashey in a 250-page examination of the distortions, fabrications, omissions, and plagiarism in the Wegman Report. Mashey documents that over 30 pages in the 90-page Wegman Report contain material taken verbatim from other sources, including an overview of paleoclimate science taken without attribution from a book by Dr. Raymond Bradley. Bradley contacted Wegman's employer, George Mason University (GMU), in March and demanded an investigation.
"Clearly, text was just lifted verbatim from my book and placed in the (Wegman) report," says Bradley, who is also one of the authors of the 1999 Nature study. In response to earlier concerns raised by the Deep Climate website, Bradley says he wrote a letter in March to GMU, noting the possibility of plagiarism and demanding an investigation of both the 2006 report and a subsequent, federally-funded study published by some of Wegman's students. "Talk about irony. It just seems surreal (that) these authors could criticize my work when they are lifting my words."
Details of Bradley's complaint have not been made public, but Mashey's dissection of Wegman attracted attention and unwanted questions from journalists. On Oct. 8, more than six months after Bradley contacted GMU, the university finally admitted publicly there was a formal investigation of Wegman, even releasing the most recent communication with Bradley.
As noted earlier, Virginia Attorney General Cuccinelli uses the Wegman Report prominently in his political witch hunt against Michael Mann, a former professor at the University of Virginia. The embarrassing revelations about the Wegman Report did not stop Cuccinelli from filing his appeal to the state supreme court in a desperate and disgraceful attempt to gain access to Mann's email and personal correspondence during his tenure at the University of Virginia.
The promised Republican offensive on climate science
The Wegman Report is the perfect example of how Republican politicians have been able to create smear campaigns against climate scientists that are rapidly disseminated to conservatives through industry-funded think tanks and conservative media personalities. Make no mistake - this machinery is well-oiled (with money from fossil fuel energy companies) and highly effective in persuading conservatives in America to oppose steps to decarbonize our economy. As noted by Ronald Brownstein in the National Journal:
The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones.
If Republicans are successful in retaking control of the House in the upcoming election, they have promised a no-holds-barred war on climate science and scientists.
House Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is promising to give a “careful relook” at climate change science in the wake of last year’s “Climategate” scandal if Republicans take over the House.
Wisconsin Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner wants to keep the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming alive so it can investigate climate science and police President Barack Obama’s green policies.
Joe Barton (R, TX-06), the sponsor of the Wegman Report and chief apologist to BP:
Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, is waiting in D.C. to reclaim chairmanship of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, if his friend Speaker-in-waiting John Boehner waives a tenure limit.
If Boehner replaces Barton as head of Energy and Commerce, John Shimkus (R, IL-19) is a leading contender:
Boehner's leadership also makes it more likely that someone like John Shimkus of Illinois, among the most anti-science members of the House, could be tapped to fill the top slot on Energy and Commerce.
Shimkus earned plenty of attention for his antics during the markup and debate of the climate and energy bill in March 2009, trotting out photos of jobless coal miners, hard-hats, and other props at every opportunity and bellowing about the "carbon-starved" planet. Regulation of emissions, he said, would mean "taking away plant food from the atmosphere."
Bellowing about a carbon-starved planet when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere never exceeded 270 parts per million in the past 650,000 years prior to the past century and currently rival levels not seen in at least 15 million years indicates that Shimkus comes from a brain-dead planet. If the Wegman Report was the product of a less extreme Republican Party, one can only imagine what the product of a Shimkus update will look like.
"I pledge allegiance to the fossil fuels companies and to the Tea Republican Party which stands by them, one nation under oppression, in economic collapse, with disaster and despair for all."
What the Republican war on climate science will accomplish
Republicans intend to stop any state, regional, or national policy to regulate carbon emissions; protect the interests of the fossil fuels companies at all costs; and reap the rewards of unregulated campaign contributions. When it comes to obstructing any attempt to regulate carbon emissions, they are likely to succeed.
It will be difficult for the world to move meaningfully against climate disruption if the United States does not. And it will be almost impossible for the U.S. to act if one party not only rejects the most common solution proposed for the problem (cap-and-trade) but repudiates even the idea that there is a problem to be solved. The GOP's stiffening rejection of climate science sets the stage for much heated argument but little action as the world inexorably warms -- and the dangers that Hague identified creep closer.
Republican opposition to a clean energy and climate change bill was very effective as the minority party, particularly in the dysfunctional Senate. The return of a Republican majority in the House will shelve the already passed Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, guaranteeing at least 2 more years of inaction and probably much longer.
Brownstein is also correct that Republican opposition to clean energy and carbon pricing will prevent progress toward any global agreement to regulate carbon. We can already see evidence of it. During climate negotiations in Tianjin last week, the U.S. team was critical of China's refusal to commit to binding targets. China's reaction was to point out that we had no plan to achieve the 17% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 we pledged in Copenhagen.
“China is not very impressed by what the U.S. is doing,” Meyer said. China has been “more clear on the steps they will take to meet their target by 2020 than the U.S. is on Obama’s pledge to meet the 17 percent cut without legislation.”
The real consequences of the Republican war on climate science and clean energy policy are likely to be economic devastation and social upheaval. Analysts predict the price of oil will likely reach over $200 a barrel within 10 years, which will have catastrophic effects on our economy if we do not drastically cut our dependence on oil. Obstruction of clean energy policy will facilitate economic growth in Asia and Europe at our expense. Instead of being potential world leaders in clean energy research, development, and manufacturing, we will be dependent on importing technology developed and manufactured in other countries. Military and security experts have begun to plan for the consequences of climate change and energy shortages. And let's not forget conservative fascination with the medieval warm period, which was accompanied by prolonged drought in the western and central United States. To be fair, the extreme hydrologic events during the medieval climate anomaly were likely driven by other factors in addition to temperature. The combination of population growth and climate change is likely to produce unprecedented water shortages and declining agricultural productivity in many areas of the United States.
If left unchecked, climate zombie Republicans will help create energy, job, water, and food shortages on a scale that will make the Great Depression look like utopia. I am sure they will be able to find someone to convince us that the pain is just a figment of our imagination.