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Climate-Change News

by Rudy M. Baum
June 22, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 25

Events are moving quickly on the climate-change front. In the past few weeks, there have been several major developments that, taken together, delineate pretty clearly how the political battle over climate change will play out in the coming months.

The science of anthropogenic climate change is becoming increasingly well established. The scientific consensus on the reality of climate change has become increasingly difficult to challenge, despite the efforts of diehard climate-change deniers (for brevity’s sake, CCDs).

Last week, the U.S. Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) released a comprehensive summary of the science of climate change and the impacts of climate change on the U.S. (see page 10). USGCRP “coordinates and integrates federal research on changes in the global environment and their implications for society,” according to its website. Thirteen agencies and departments participate in the program. It is not associated with the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), CCDs’ favorite whipping boy.

The report states: “Observations show that warming of the climate is unequivocal. The global warming observed over the past 50 years is due primarily to human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. These emissions come mainly from the burning of fossil fuels … with important contributions from the clearing of forests, agricultural practices, and other activities.”

On June 11, the presidents of the G8+5 national academies of science released a joint statement, “Climate Change and the Transformation of Energy Technologies for a Low Carbon Future PDF icon,” which states: “Climate change and sustainable energy supply are crucial challenges for the future of humanity. It is essential that world leaders agree on emission reductions needed to combat negative consequences of anthropogenic climate change.” The G8+5 consists of Canada, Italy, the U.K., the U.S., Japan, France, Germany, and Russia (G8), and Brazil, India, South Africa, China, and Mexico (+5).

Additionally, legislation (H.R. 2454) with real teeth to control the emission of greenhouse gases is beginning to move through Congress. The cap-and-trade provisions of the bill will finally begin to assign a cost to greenhouse gas pollution.

The prospect of having to pay to pollute has sharpened opponents’ focus. The CCDs’ strategy going forward became clear last week with the release of three full-page ads placed by the Heartland Institute in the Washington Post on June 16, 17, and 18 calling for an “open debate on the science of global warming.” According to the Heartland Institute’s website, “We are placing these ads because the mainstream media refuse to report the views of many scientists—by some accounts, most scientists—who believe that global warming is not a crisis.”

The first of the ads suggests that public hearings on climate change have been closed to CCDs. “We want to be part of the conversation,” the headline reads. The tagline reads, “Reject group think. Open up the debate.”

We see here the same tactics used by other purveyors of nonsense rejected by the mainstream scientific community. Creationists, for example, only want to expose students to “both sides of the debate over origins,” ignoring the fact that there is no debate over evolution. And, of course, it’s always useful to attack the “mainstream media.”

Heartland and its ally are also flogging an 800-plus-page report, “Climate Change Reconsidered PDF icon,” from the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC)—kind of an anti-IPCC, get it?—which, of course, proves conclusively that global warming probably isn’t happening; if it is happening, it’s not due to human activity; and, besides, a “warmer world will be a safer and healthier world for humans and wildlife alike.”

Sow doubt, make up statistics, call for an “open debate,” claim that you are being “silenced and ignored by the media and politicians,” claim that your opponents are just a “few bureaucrats and environmental activists,” not real scientists—those are the tactics that will be brought to bear in the coming months by the CCDs in their attempt to derail meaningful efforts to respond to global climate change.

Thanks for reading.

Rudy Baum

Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.



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