CATEGORY: EnvironmentNature

Heartland’s Taylor fails to discredit authors of National Climate Assessment

On January 11, 2013, the United States Global Change Research Program (USGCRP) published its draft National Climate Assessment for public comment. The first paragraph of the Executive Summary found that

Climate change is already affecting the American people. Certain types of weather events have become more frequent and/or intense, including heat waves, heavy downpours, and, in some regions, floods and droughts. Sea level is rising, oceans are becoming more acidic, and glaciers and arctic sea ice are melting. These changes are part of the pattern of global climate change, which is primarily driven by human activity.

Given these findings, it is not surprising that individuals and organizations who deny that global climate change is “primarily driven by human activity” would attack the report.

Yesterday James Taylor of The Heartland Institute wrote a blog at Forbes attacking the Assessment by questioning the objectivity of seven of the scientists involved in writing the report. However, Taylor’s entire argument is based on the false assertion that being associated with an environmental organization automatically biases the scientists’ judgement. This is known as the “guilt by association” logical fallacy and it’s an attempt by Taylor to defame the character of the scientists.

Taylor asserts, without proof, that scientists James Buizer, Jerry Melillo, Suzanne Moser, Richard Moss, Andrew Rosenberg, Donald J. Wubbles, and Gary Yohe are all supposedly “crooked” because they have current or former associations with the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), and Second Nature. This assertion is absurd. Is Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, inherently biased simply because he works at Princeton? Is commentator David Brooks inherently biased because he writes for the New York Times? Is Richard Lindzen, the contrarian MIT climatologist, inherently biased because he teaches at MIT? Are all registered Democrats inherently biased against drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge because most environmentalists are Democrats? In every case the answer is clearly “no” – any individual may well be biased, but simple association does not and can not prove bias.

If we applied Taylor’s own poor logic to Taylor himself we could automatically dismiss everything he writes on the subject of industrial climate disruption simply because he’s a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute.

When we look at the professional experience and scientific expertise of the seven scientists that Taylor names, the fact that Taylor is attempting to smear their reputations becomes clear.

And most of these seven scientists have also been asked to work on climate reports by the National Academy of Sciences and other expert panels just like the USGCRP itself. These seven scientists have nearly two centuries of cumulative experience in climate-related science and public policy. As such they can legitimately claim to be authorities in their climate-related fields.

Taylor, on the other hand, has a background in law and government, not science. There is no evidence that Taylor has written any peer-reviewed scientific papers or been intimately involved in crafting regulations relating to climate policy in the way that Moss and Rosenberg have. Taylor’s Forbes bio indicates that he “studied” atmospheric science while getting his government degree from Dartmouth, but he certainly hasn’t worked as a scientist or maintained any scientific expertise since.

More damning, however, is that Taylor has a habit of distorting scientific studies and taking other peoples’ words out of context. S&R found in early 2010 that Taylor had incorrectly applied the results of a small small self-selected poll of broadcast meteorologists to all scientists. In February 2011, S&R found that Taylor had incorrectly accused scientist Mark Boslough of lying and criticizing former astronaut Harrison Schmitt when Boslough did neither. S&R found in late 2011 that Taylor had dishonestly claimed that so-called “skeptics” merely question the source of industrial climate disruption – to not know that many of his fellow so-called “skeptics’ would require that Taylor be incompetent. In addition, S&R found in mid-2012 that Taylor deceptively took quotes out of context in ways that dramatically changed their meaning and implications.

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Percentage of authors of the Assessment affected by Taylor’s fallacious criticism (Climate Nexus)

And Taylor continues his habit of distorting facts in this Forbes blog. While Taylor mentions that there are 13 senior scientists engaged in guiding the report (one chairman, two vice-chairmen, and 10 members of a “secretariat”), he fails to mention that the National Climate Assessment and Development Advisory Committee led by these 13 scientists was actually composed of 60 scientists and policy experts. And he fails to mention that the Committee “engaged more than 240 authors in the creation of the report.” As the graph shows, Taylor’s illogical and deceptive criticisms apply to only a small percentage of the report’s authors. Even if they had merit, Taylor’s criticisms would have insignificant impact on the Assessment’s science and data-based conclusions.

Taylor’s Forbes blog is a failed attempt to distract readers from the overwhelming data and objective facts documented in the Assessment. And those facts demonstrate the reality of industrial climate disruption, namely that it is “primarily driven by human activity” and that it is “already affecting the American people.”

The Weekly Carboholic: UK says Greenpeace stopped climate damage

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In an unexpected development, jurors in the UK acquitted six Greenpeace activists in a case involving £35,000 ($62,591) worth of damages to a coal-fired power plant. The defense had argued that a 1971 law (Criminal Damage Act 1971) permitting damage to property in order to prevent even greater property damage applied to the activists. Specifically, the Greenpeace activists claimed that they were preventing “damage to properties worldwide caused by global warming”. And the jurors agreed.

This case defines a precedent for UK law that will be difficult to sort out. Does it mean that Parliament comes back through and refines the law to prevent this kind of “abuse” in the future? Or does it mean that the UK cannot build any more new coal plants without carbon capture and sequestration (CCS)? Continue reading

"Drill, baby. Drill!" is a lie

During the DNC, I had the opportunity to sit in on a climate messaging discussion with several VIPs from various environmental organizations. During the discussion, there was a great deal of hand wringing over what was and was not possible, what was going to happen on oil drilling legislation once Congress was back in session, and so on. But the thing I remember the most was what Leslie Robinson of Rifle, CO said:

“You’ve got 15 seconds to get a potential voter over to your side.” What do you say to that undecided voter in 15 seconds that is simple enough that you know they’ll get it, but that is also powerful enough to at least get them to do a double-take and ask you to explain what you mean? After all, everyone understands “Drill, baby! Drill!”. So how do you counter that simple message with an equally powerful and yet simple message? Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: good-bye Holocene, hello Anthropocene?

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Until recently, according to the International Commission on Stratigraphy, we have been in the Holocene geologic epoch. The Holocene started about 10,000 years ago with the end of the last ice age and has persisted until recently. However, if some stratigraphers have their way, at the end of this year’s ICS meeting, we’ll be officially living in a new geologic epoch, the Anthropocene – a period in geologic time dominated by humanity’s influence. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: public opinion shifts from the environment to drilling and mining

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The AAA overnight survey of gasoline prices found that the national average price for gasoline is at $4.108, and the cheapest gasoline in the U.S. is still $3.930. With prices that high, SUV drivers are increasingly finding themselves members of an unfortunate group, the triple-digit club, people whose large gas tanks and low mileage make every fill-up cost over $100. As more and more people have budget for high fuel prices, their support for environmental conservation has fallen and their support for more energy development and exploration has increased. According to last week’s Pew Research Center for the People and the Press report, support for energy conservation has fallen 10% and support for more energy exploration and development (drilling, mining, etc.) has increased by +12% from February to June and support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling has increased 8% to 50% of the survey respondents. Continue reading