Representatives Conaway, Luetkemeyer, McKinley, Pearce, and Poe and Senator Inhofe have all made serious factual errors and repeated the false narrative that the Global Warming Petition Project represents an anti-climate change counter-consensus.For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.
An overwhelming number of climate experts agree that climate change is occurring, is largely driven by industrial emissions of greenhouse gases, and will be disruptive to ecosystems and human society (aka global warming or industrial climate disruption). But this evidence-based consensus is rejected by many people who deny that global warming is a threat or who fear that countering industrial climate disruption will require policy responses that are counter to their political ideology. The Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP), organized by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine and published most recently in May 2008, was an attempt by deniers of industrial climate disruption to counter the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate.
To date, 11 current and two former members of Congress have invoked the GWPP since May 2008. To date S&R has profiled both former members, John Linder of Georgia and Ron Paul of Texas, and five of the current members: Representatives Robert Aderholt of Alabama, Dana Rohrabacher of California, Steve King of Iowa, and Senators Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Roger Wicker of Missippi. In this article, S&R profiles the remaining six: Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri, Representative Steve Pearce of Arizona, Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, Representatives K. Michael Conaway and Lloyd “Ted” Poe of Texas, and Representative David McKinley of West Virginia.
Blaine Luetkemeyer, Representative for MissouriOn December 3, 2009, Representative Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri issued a press release calling for Congress to investigate the illegally hacked and published Climategate emails (multiple investigations later found that there was no evidence of scientific misconduct in any of the emails). In the press release, he refers to the first Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) document published in 2009 which contained an appendix with the complete list of GWPP signers. The NIPCC document was an attempt by its authors to manufacture uncertainty and doubt about the authentic U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that had been published in 2007 (the UN published an updated assessment report in 2013 and 2014).
Luetkemeyer’s press release said
Another report on climate change by the non-partisan Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, signed by more than 31,000 scientists, debunked and rebuked the claims made the IPCC…. (emphasis added)
Luetekemeyer makes the same mistake of referring to the GWPP signers as “scientists” that all of his colleagues have made. In the first article of this series, S&R showed that the GWPP’s definition of “scientist” could include someone who has never read a single article on climate change and who has never used their degree. The GWPP’s definition is so broad that it’s almost meaningless.
While Luetkemeyer’s mistake can be attributed to his staff trusting the GWPP’s own website, which falsely claims that all its signers are scientists, the same cannot be said of his misrepresentation of the 2009 NIPCC document. The NIPCC document was not “signed by more than 31,000 scientists” at all. The GWPP has 31,487 signatures, but there is no indication in the NIPCC document or at the GWPP website that the GWPP signers voluntarily associated their names with the NIPCC document. There is no place on the GWPP petition form (pictured below) for the signers to agree to such an association. And there are GWPP signers who could not have agreed to have their names listed in the NIPCC document because they died between 1997 (when the GWPP’s precursor, the Oregon Petition, was published) and 2009, when the NIPCC document was published. S&R has reported extensively on such deceptive, dishonest, and hypocritical behavior by the NIPCC’s publisher, the Heartland Institute.
S&R informed Representative Luetkemeyer’s office of the errors and asked for comment on the GWPP. His office did not respond to our request. The appendix contains a screenshot of a letter that is representative of the letters sent to the various Congressional offices asking for comment.
Steve Pearce, Representative for New MexicoDuring his 2014 reelection campaign, Representative Steve Pearce faced a question about his views on climate change during a debate. On October 16, 2014, the moderator Sam Donaldson asked Pearce if he believed that human activity was responsible for the observed climate changes and, if so, what Pearce would do about it. The following video of the debate starts at Pearce’s response:
His response started with this: “I Googled this issue a few days ago. I see that there are 31,000 scientists who say that human action is not causing global warming at all.” Pearce continued by rejecting the idea that global warming is happening at all, attacking Al Gore, and saying that people who want to address industrial climate disruption are primarily interested in redistributing wealth from the rich to the poor.
In a debate it’s not unusual for people to misspeak, and so it’s possible that Pearce did not actually mean to say “31,000 scientists.” But given that this is the very language used by the GWPP on its home page, it’s more likely that Pearce failed to conduct his due diligence on the matter and merely accepted the GWPP’s claim on its face.
James Inhofe, Senator for OklahomaOver the years, no member of Congress has attacked climate change as vehemently as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma. It’s hardly a surprise, then, that Inhofe has mentioned the GWPP himself a few times. The first mention S&R was able to find was in a Senate floor speech on global warming on March 12, 2009. In his speech, he was listing off people he called “climate realists,” a misnomer for individuals who deny the reality of industrial climate disruption (aka human-driven climate change), most of whom were attendees at the first Heartland Institute International Climate Change Conference (ICCC) in 2009. Inhofe described the GWPP this way:
a global warming petition signed by more than 32,000 American scientists, including more than 10,000 with doctorate degrees—and they all are rejecting the alarmist assertion that global warming has put the Earth in a crisis and caused primarily by mankind.
Senator Wicker from Mississippi, at a hearing last week, pointed out that some 31,000 American scientists, 9,000 of whom have Ph.D.s, have signed a petition noting there is a lack of scientific evidence that greenhouse gases are causing global warming.
In both of his speeches, Inhofe made the standard “scientists” error that all of his peers have made. In his 2009 speech, Inhofe overestimated both the total number of signers and the number of signers with PhDs, adding 1000 signers to both, although his 2014 speech had the correct number of signers and PhDs.
Finally, as the longtime minority leader of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and as its current Chairman, Inhofe is at least partly responsible for mentions of the GWPP in the EPW committee press releases and on the EPW website. Since, May 2008, the EPW has mentioned the GWPP at least five times via links to selected news articles. And in every case, the context of and commentary on the articles has referenced the GWPP signers as “scientists” and has invoked the GWPP’s false narrative of a counter-consensus.
K. Michael Conaway, Representative for TexasOn June 11, 2009, Representative K. Michael Conaway of Texas participated in a House hearing on the Waxman-Markey climate legislation. During his questioning of Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Conaway invoked Galileo as someone who went against the dominant ideology of his time. Following this, Conaway asked Vilsack how it was that Conaway had “a list of almost 32,000 American scientists who disagree vehemently” that climate change science is “clear.” During his questioning, Conaway also repeatedly invoked his experience as a certified public accountant as a reason to distrust consensus claims based on percentages such as Vilsack’s response that “80% of the scientists” are convinced that climate change is real. [Ed. Note: This hearing predates most of the studies that have since found that the consensus is much greater than 80%]
Given Conaway’s background as an accountant, it is reasonable to believe he didn’t understand that the GWPP signers he was referring to were not all scientists. However, that same background should have given him the necessary mathematical skills to realize that the GWPP signers represent a tiny minority of all possible signers. This assumes, however, that Conaway had the intellectual curiosity to look up the numbers or, more realistically, to have a staffer do it for him.
Lloyd “Ted” Poe, Representative for TexasAnother Texas Representative, Lloyd “Ted” Poe, invoked the GWPP on the House floor during a speech on “cap-and-trade” legislation (aka Waxman-Markey) on March 31, 2009. Poe repeated the false GWPP anti-consensus statement and claimed that it had been reported by the Heritage Institute at the ICCC. He then asked how, if “31,072 American scientists” rejected the reality of climate change, then how could people claim that “global warming is a fact.” [Ed. Note: When the GWPP was published in May 2008, it had only 31,072 signatures. That number was revised upward sometime in August, 2008.]
Poe made the same mistake that every one of his fellow Congressmen has made – referring to the signers of the GWPP as “scientists.” And Poe also bought into the false narrative that the GWPP represents some sort of counter-consensus, when S&R has shown it represents nothing of the sort.
David McKinley, Representative for West VirginiaRepresentative David McKinley of West Virginia sits on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and on April 10, 2013, he was one of the Republicans who held a hearing on a bill known as The Northern Route Approval Act. During his questioning of a professor of environmental economics, Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, McKinley said the following:
I would concede that there are people that agree with you [that say climate change is largely driven by human activity]. But there is a document floating around right now, 32,000 scientists that disagree with you on that. So I am still torn over it because, here, we are still arguing over this. Science has not been determined.
As S&R has shown previously, a 2010 study by Shwed and Bearman found that the basics of climate science – that climate change is happening and that industrial emissions of greenhouse gases are the dominant cause – had been determined and accepted by climate scientists as fact nearly a quarter-century ago.
Two months later, on June 13, 2013, McKinley was questioning the Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz during a hearing on the Department of Energy’s budget. During that hearing the following exchange occurred:
Secretary MONIZ. I believe in my view there is no question that a major component is anthropogenic.
Mr. MCKINLEY. Interesting
Secretary MONIZ. And that comes from——
Mr. MCKINLEY. Is that from a consensus?
Secretary MONIZ. It is practically—I would say 98 percent of scientists involved in this area——
Mr. MCKINLEY. You are aware of the petition process has 32,000 scientists and physicists who have disagreed that it is manmade?
Secretary MONIZ. But sir——
Mr. MCKINLEY. They say it is contributing. I think it would be irresponsible to say we don’t contribute, but is it primarily——
Secretary MONIZ. If I may say, and I would be happy to come and have a long discussion, but a few facts that, first of all, the rise in CO2 emissions in the last half-century is clearly tracked to our global increased energy use. Secondly, I know how to count. I can count how many CO2 molecules have gone out from fossil fuel combustion, and I know how many additional CO2 molecules are in the atmosphere.
Mr. MCKINLEY. Let me just close with saying in terms of consensus, I think consensus has a place in politics but consensus doesn’t have a place in science.
Secretary MONIZ. Again, sir, I just want to clarify. My——
Mr. MCKINLEY. I yield back my time.
Secretary MONIZ [continuing]. Judgment is based on numbers on data and not on the consensus. And I would be really delighted if we could have a discussion.
Mr. MCKINLEY. If we could have that, I would like to do it. Thank you very much.
Secretary MONIZ. Thank you.
From this exchange it’s clear that McKinley believes in the false narrative that the GWPP represents a counter-consensus. Furthermore, his consensus statements are self-contradictory – he can’t argue from a supposed counter-consensus of scientists while still claiming that “consensus has a place in politics.”
S&R contacted Representative McKinley’s office about his references to the GWPP in 2013 to ask for comment. His office did not respond to our request.
While the vast majority of Congressional Republicans deny the reality of industrial climate disruption, only a few have explicitly invoked the false narrative pushed by the organizers of the Global Warming Petition Project. Representative Luetkemeyer, Representative Pearce, Senator Inhofe, Representative Conaway, Representative Poe, and Representative McKinley have invoked or referenced the GWPP eight times since May 2008. Combined with the other current and former members of Congress who have done the same, there have been a total of 23 individual references to the GWPP by 13 different people, of which 19 mentions were recorded in the Congressional Record or in transcripts of House or Senate hearings.
The GWPP falsely claims that all their signers are scientists, yet every one of the current and former members of Congress investigated by S&R accepted that claim without hesitation. The GWPP falsely claims that their signers represent a counter-consensus against the overwhelming consensus among climate experts that industrial climate disruption is real, and yet most of the members of Congress invoked that same false narrative in their comments. And the GWPP falsely claims that every signer is as well informed as authentic climate experts are, an allegation that is implicitly accepted by each of the members of Congress who repeated the false counter-consensus narrative.
Fact-checking the GWPP is not difficult. It would have taken a staffer just a few minutes to discover that the GWPP’s claims were all false, and yet there is no indication that any of the current and former members of Congress that S&R investigated had bothered. And not a single Representative or Senator we contacted replied to our request for comment even after we pointed out serious factual errors in their statements. The closest we got was one staffer telling us that he wasn’t the right person to ask and referring us to another staffer.
The next article in this series focuses on few miscellaneous mentions of the Global Warming Petition Project by Senators Michael Crapo of Idaho and Orrin Hatch of Utah, and by Congressional testimony by witnesses J. Scott Armstrong, Kesten C. Green, and Patrick Moore.
The following is a screenshot of a request for comment that S&R sent to Representative Aderholt on November 1, 2015 asking for comment on his GWPP remarks.