By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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By Sean Pendergast
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The "science" disseminated by Westbrook and the hundreds like him across the country seems to be sinking in. Internet chat rooms buzz about the myth of human-induced climate change. That message is repeated time and again through letters to the editor and by the punditry class, insisting warming is nothing more than a half-baked theory, with few believers within the scientific community. Groups like the Citizens for a Sound Economy even object to Texas using high school science textbooks that mention an issue that is "by no means resolved in scientific findings."
Westbrook worries that concerns generated by flimsy data may lead to brash actions that could damage the economy. Even if global warming could be proved true -- a big if, Westbrook will have you know -- all the evidence seems to show that it would be beneficial for mankind. The time has come, he believes, for skeptics to set the record straight.
There are those, however, who are skeptical of the skeptics. Sheldon Rampton, co-editor of PR Watch, a quarterly that keeps tabs on public relations campaigns and industrial front groups, says the debate about whether humans are warming the planet is finished in the scientific community.
The real story, he says, is how self-proclaimed experts have been able to obfuscate well-established scientific fact in the eyes of the public. Call it the myth of the global warming myth. The controversy, Rampton says, is coming not from the researchers themselves but from special interest groups with weak scientific credentials and strong ties to the energy industry. He says their claims are typical of those who practice what environmentalists call lobbying for lethargy.
"In general, the tactic is to create enough controversy and doubt about conclusions of climatologists involving global warming that you can justify inaction by saying we need to study the problem further," Rampton says. "The strategy is not to attempt a full frontal rebuttal of the evidence regarding global warming in the hopes of winning the argument. They just attack to create a sense that there's a controversy there."
The methods used for delay, he says, come down to three tactics first laid out by social scientist Göran Therborn. The Swedish scholar says to argue the following:
A problem doesn't exist.
Even if it exists, it's actually a good thing.
Even if it exists and it's a bad thing, there's nothing we can do about it.
These basic arguments enable pundits to muddle an issue with talking points that are then disseminated by the faithful, Rampton says. He says if you look closely, it becomes obvious that these techniques are being used by the very people who have the most to lose if global warming were proved true.
It Doesn't Exist?
At our first meeting, Westbrook pulls out a sheet of paper that lists what he says are the four false claims made by environmentalists. They state that the earth is warming; that the warming is caused by society's activities, particularly burning fossil fuels; that the warming will devastate the planet; and that society can make the needed changes to avoid a catastrophe.
"There are good arguments against each of them," Westbrook says. "These are still hypotheses."
He presents the names of who he says are prominent scientists who will back up his claims. But two hardly appear to be practicing scientists. Dr. Neil Frank, a former director of the National Hurricane Center, is the weather forecaster for Channel 11. And the only credentials listed on John Daly's Web site are a lifelong study of global warming "since my early days as a ship's officer in the British Merchant Navy."
Two others he cites appear to be active researchers in the field. Dr. Richard Lindzen is Sloan professor of Meteorology at MIT and has published climate research in peer-reviewed journals. Dr. Patrick Michaels of the University of Virginia has formed a niche as the go-to scientist for the skeptical view of the greenhouse debate.
Lindzen has in the past criticized certain computer models used to predict climate change. His credentials earned him a chance last year to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the nature of consensus in the global warming debate. "I hope it will become clear that the designation 'skeptic' simply confuses an issue where popular perceptions are based in significant measure on misuse of language as well as misunderstanding of science," he testified. "Indeed, the identification of some scientists as 'skeptics' permits others to appear 'mainstream' while denying views of so-called 'skeptics' even when these views represent the predominant views of the field."
He said scientists basically agree that global mean temperature and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere have both increased over the past century. There is general consensus, Lindzen told senators, that the added carbon dioxide probably caused the temperature increase, and that man, "like the butterfly," has some impact on climate. "Scientists who do not agree with the catastrophe scenarios are assumed to disagree with these basic statements. This is not only untrue, but absurdly stupid," he said.
Patrick Michaels is perhaps the most vocal global warming critic who has unquestioned scientific credentials. He's also a scholar for the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank.