Friday, January 30, 2009

Dissecting an Activist Web Site (Part One)

This is an example of what one can find on a typical environmental activist web site devoted to ACC. (NOTE: I'm not using ad hominem describing the site this way, the web site author uses this description of himself.)

The site is called One Blue Marble. The author offers not one iota of evidence for any assertion on this page. This page is found under the aptly named link, “ The Misinformation.” Apt since this page contains nothing but misinformation and ad hominem attacks.

The Climate Change Denial Industry

The title is already an ad hominem. ACCTA’s have borrowed the “Denier” ad hominem from the pages of those who counter the position that the Holocaust did not happen. It’s a clever and subtle maneuver and one you will see frequently on these kinds of sites.

Let’s begin with the preliminaries. The first is that global warming isn’t a scientific theory, it’s a scientific fact. The time for debate has ended. We can still argue over tipping points and the minutia — like when the arctic will become ice free during the summer months, or how much world sea levels will rise by 2050 — but the core truth is as solid as the rock of Gibraltar. Global warming is a scientific fact. We're just dotting the Is and crossing the Ts.

The argument of global warming stated here is overly general and therefore misleading. The issue is the anthropogenic component of the ACC theory, not climate change per se. Of course the I’s to be dotted and T’s to be crossed are these bothersome minutia:
     a. Proving the cause and effect relationship between human CO2 emissions and global warming vs warming caused by natural cycle.
     b. Proving the impact (how much will temps rise given “x” human induced CO2 input).
     c. Proving that the negative impacts of increased temperature are greater than the positive impacts.
     d. Proving that CO2 reduction schemes will:
        a. Work.
        b. Not have a significant deleterious impact on world economies.

These are not minutia and they have not yet been proven. Therefore the time for debate is most assuredly not ended. Claiming that the debate is over is a common ACCTA argument deflection. Constantly repeating this assertion is an attempt at avoiding the proofs listed above by closing the argument with a simple declaration. It’s the old, “repeat something often enough and it becomes truth” trick.

Of course, many people, including Canada's Prime Minister and US Senator James Inahofe, have been bamboozled into believing that global warming is a hoax or a socialist money grab, ignoring the fact that conservative governments throughout the world are already vigorously fighting climate change.

This is ad hominem, arguing from authority, and exaggeration. The author is first attempting to denigrate the intelligence of the Canadian PM and Senator Inhofe. His implication is that only the US and Canada stand opposed to ACC theory, specifically certain uninformed politicians. By further implication, since all the lemmings are going over the cliff, we should too.

And many others think that scientists are still engaging in a vigorous debate. With thousands of studies all pointing in the same direction, how is that possible?

This is an unsupported assertion, more exaggeration and arguing from authority. The implication being that all studies point in the same direction and that all “real” scientists buy the theory of ACC. There are 650 scientists (many of them were formerly ACCTA’s) in the Senate Minority Report that was released on 11 December 2008 who disagree.1 Additionally, there are over 31,000 scientists who have signed the Petition Project.2 It isn’t that they deny climate change, but that they are skeptical of the anthropogenic impact on climate change.

Well, we can thank the tobacco companies. In the 1980s, big tobacco paid big money to establish "independent" think tanks and "research" institutes that were charged with confusing the public over the dangers of sidestream smoke.

Astroturfing began when Imperial Tobacco, Canada’s largest tobacco manufacturer, commissioned a secret study that weighed various strategies for combating the growing influence of nonsmoking groups like The Lung Association and the Nonsmokers Rights Association.

“Passive smoking [should be] the focal point,” the study suggests. “Of all the health issues surrounding smoking… the one that the tobacco industry has the most chance of winning [is to argue] that the evidence proclaimed by [anti-smoking groups] is flawed… It is highly desirable for us to control the focus of the debate.” Later, the study urges a comprehensive attack on “the credibility of the evidence presented to date,” and tells the company to hire several doctors and scientists who would be willing to take their side.

And that's exactly what they did.

Companies like Phillip Morris used their huge profits to create institutes and smokers-rights groups to promote pseudo-science and false research as the real thing, thereby confusing many people who don’t really understand how the scientific process works. The campaign convinced many nonsmokers that secondhand smoke was just another unfounded fear — a fear that could be equated to concerns over cell phones, pesticides and, believe it or not, global warming.

All five preceding paragraphs are ad hominem made more insidious by the specific linkage to tobacco. Effective, but still fallacious logic. In fact, the tobacco companies’ studies were debunked on solid scientific grounds not emotion or “consensus.” Counter-studies proved the linkage between cancers and second-hand smoke while exposing the scientific errors of the tobacco companies’ studies, thereby defeating the tobacco company efforts.

Ten years later, when study after study confirmed that global warming was real, and that it seemed likely to roll over us and lead to catastrophic warming, scientists sounded the alarm. The oil industry saw the way the wind was blowing. But rather than do the ethical thing, and join the fight to slow global warming, most companies took a page from the tobacco industry playbook.

More ad hominem (linkage to evil oil companies and evil tobacco companies) and unfounded assertion. Note that the argument still it isn’t entirely dishonest. What the author repeatedly does is omit the anthropogenic component of his argument. Therefore he is correct to argue that global warming is real (so is global cooling), but he leaves the human component (the contentious part) out.

The(y) created research institutes and public policy centers — all very official sounding — that are paid to distort and confuse. They aren't trying to disprove global warming; they're trying to convince decent folk everywhere that the debate is still ongoing, and that the scientific community still isn't speaking with one voice.

Scientific hypotheses are not determined by the character or belief of the person or organization who funds the research. Scientific hypotheses are proven on their merit by using tests against either empirical or experimental data. Who paid for the data to be gathered or the analysis is irrelevant. As I've already shown with real numbers, the scientific community is most definitely NOT speaking with one voice, nor should it.

In a nutshell, these groups are paid to lie in a very clever, media-savvy way.

Ad hominem.

And it's worked. It's still working. People are busy. We lead frenetic lives. In the attempt to provide balance, newspapers give voice to people who can lie boldly and confidently, and still sleep at night. As a result, most people in the North America and the UK still don't believe that climate change is a major concern, or they still believe that we have to put the economy and jobs before the melting glaciers. Most Canadians believe that our country is getting warmer, but they seem to think the real problems are a century away, or that technology will solve the issue before it gets out of hand.

Given the preponderance of media support for the ACC position, I would think that the author has this reversed. Several media personalities and scientists who have dared step out of the perceived orthodoxy have had careers threatened or views quashed.3

Belief is irrelevant, that's a concept for religions. What matters are provable facts, the province of science. That most people at one time believed the earth was flat, did not make it so. That most people once believed that the earth was the center of the universe, did not make it so. That most might believe that man’s CO2 emissions are the primary forcing factor of climate change, does not make it so. The possibility remains that there may be causality, but it has not been proven.

Both possibilities are nothing more than pipe dreams. What we do it the next five years will determine the fate of humanity. If we fail to convince governments in North America to tackle climate change with the same steely resolve that we displayed during WWII, then we are putting the health of our bank accounts before the physical and emotional well being of our descendants, beginning with your children and grandchildren.

And we know this for a fact how? Tugs the heartstrings, but short on fact.

This climate change debate has become a story of citizen journalism gone awry, for the blogosphere is littered with amateur writers who have been duped into fighting against global warming by slick web sites with official-sounding names like the Science and Public Policy Institute and the Friends of Science. There you will find "climate scientists" who spout all manner of opinion that muddies the global warming waters. But if you did deeper, you’ll find that SPPI — and their ilk — are sponsored by oil companies who borrowed the tobacco industry’s guidebook. Their experts aren’t experts; they either pocket oil industry money, or they can't publish their work in respected scientific journals.

Again the author is using unproven assertion and ad hominem. The Internet is equally littered with amateur writers with slick web sites like “One Blue Marble” who have been duped into fighting for the economic destruction of the civilized world in the hope of stopping climate change that will happen with or without human intervention. Note the usage, “climate scientist.” Clearly this is used in a denigrating manner to impugn the professional qualifications of any who dare argue against the orthodoxy. Equally the author implies that his side only uses facts while these heretics offer only opinion. The entire time the author makes this argument, he does not offer a single supportable fact.

Major climate change has occurred in the past absent any forcing by human emissions of CO2. The burden of proof is on the ACCTA community to prove that this time, human CO2 emissions are the primary forcing factor of climate change rather than natural forces. They have yet to do this and that is why there are Skeptics.

To make a climate skeptic sputter, you need to as ask him for real evidence — published in a respected, peer-reviewed scientific journal and authored by a scientist with a PhD in climatology — that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 can rise above 450 parts per million (ppm) without affecting global temperatures. No expert will make that claim. The overwhelming majority of climate scientists believe that a global tragedy is drawing nigh.

Arguing from authority…again. A report, even a peer-reviewed report, is not necessarily evidence. A report peer-reviewed only within a small pool of researchers who frequently collaborate on papers is highly suspect.4 Data is evidence. Climate models, the tool of the ACCTA’s, are not. Nor is there any single scientific field that has total knowledge of climate. Even the IPCC points to the myriad of complexity requiring experts from many fields in order to understand climate.5 Any “scientist” who claims to know everything is a fraud.
More to the point, the author demands that Skeptics produce counter-evidence from a PhD in climatology, as if this is the gold standard for authority. If that is his standard, then perhaps the author should withdraw from this discussion altogether. He will find it equally difficult to find a scientist with a PhD in climatology to support his arguments.

Here are eight of the most prominent names in the ACCTA side of the debate:
     Michael Mann, PhD Geology and Geophysics (this is the Dr. Mann made famous in Al Gore’s “Inconvenient Truth” with the now-discredited “hockey stick” graph)
     James Hansen, PhD Physics (NASA, one of the most prominent and vocal advocates, now on Obama’s “Science Team”)
     Rajenda K. Pachauri, PhD Industrial Engineering, PhD Economics (Chairman IPCC)
     Herve LeTreut, PhD Geophysics (Co-Lead Author, IPCC WG1 Fourth Assessment)
     Richard Somerville, PhD Meteorology (Co-Lead Author, IPCC WG1, Fourth Assessment)
     Peter Huybers, PhD Climate Physics and Chemistry (MIT)
     Benjamin D. Santer, PhD Physics and Astrophysics
     Steven Sherwood, PhD Oceanography

The first three names listed above are like the “high priests” of ACC. NONE have a PhD in climatology. Therefore, if having a degree in climatology is so critical to credibility, then the ACC proponents are equally without credibility.

And again the author totally ignores or misses the crux of the debate, namely whether human emissions of CO2 are causing warming and by how much.

Our parents have been described as the greatest generation. If we fail to act, we will be known as the selfish generation, and our children and grandchildren will remember us for the rest of our days — for all the wrong reasons.

The effective heartstring tug again, but still not proof of anything.


1 U.S. Senate and Environment Public Works Committee Minority Staff Report, 11 December 2008.

2 Petition Project. (Among the most prominent signers is Edward Teller, PhD. Physics)

3 U.S. Senate and Environment Public Works Committee Minority Staff Report, 11 December 2008.

4 AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University, John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation. (July 2006)

5 Technical Summary, 4th Assessment, Working Group 1 of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), page 21. (August 2007)

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