Capitol Hill Book Forum with Lawrence Solomon

Hosted by Cooler Heads Coalition

April 18, 2008

Thank you, Richard (Vigilante) and Myron (Ebell), for those introductions and thank you all for coming to this book forum. I am especially grateful to CEI and the Cooler Heads Coalition, to Myron, and to Fred Smith, for the integrity and tenacity that he and they have shown during this entire global warming debate. 

 Fred isn’t here, so I can tell some tales out of school. I first met Fred 25 years ago, not far from here at a conference sponsored by the American Rivers Association. We, the conference participants, were meeting to save the world’s river valleys from developments sponsored by international development agencies such as the World Bank. The conference had the usual suspects. Sierra Club, NRDC, Friends of the Earth, Cultural Survival, Survival International among others including my organization from Toronto, Probe International. The conference also had one very unusual suspect.

 That would be Fred Smith, who shared with us all concern about the harm that the World Bank was causing around the world.  Fred was a force at that conference, and very much in tune with us, although I don’t recall if he marched on World Bank headquarters with us at the conference’s end.

I suspect that the people who have come to this book forum represent an atypical audience, in that much of what I describe in my book will not surprise you. Those of you who know the Cooler Heads Coalition already know that there are many credible scientists who dispute the conventional wisdom of Al Gore and the UN on climate change.

  But some things that I found in writing The Deniers might surprise you. In interviewing scientists, I often asked them how many of their scientific peers, in their same discipline, subscribed to the views of Al Gore and the UN. Some said they didn’t know and some said most of their peers endorsed the UN’s view. But more often they answered that most scientists in their field rejected the UN’s position on climate change. In some cases the answer was, effectively, that “all scientist” in their field rejected the UN’s position.  

It dawned on me that in some disciplines at least — solar scientists, for example — the consensus was in the other direction, that the majority, perhaps the great majority, dismissed out of hand the notion that man is responsible for global warming. It also dawned on me that among top scientists, the majority view rejected the consensus that Al Gore and the UN claims exists.  

Yet the press states over and over again that there is a consensus. They have evidence, too, of this consensus — the 2000 to 2500 scientists associated with the UN reports that get issued every 6 years or so with great fanfare. This figure — 2000 or 2500 scientists — is the foundation on which are based the great preponderance of press claims. 2500 scientists can’t be wrong. 

I wondered who, exactly, these 2500 UN scientists were. To find out, I contacted the Secretariat of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and asked for their names and contact information. The answer that came back was negative. I learned that the names were not public, so I couldn’t have them. And I learned that they were reviewers, not endorsers.  

Those scientists hadn’t endorsed anything. They were merely people who had reviewed one or more of the literally hundreds of background studies, some important and some not, that were part of this immense United Nations bureaucratic process. They virtually all would have reviewed some small part of the inputs that went into the bureaucratic maw. They did not review the final report or endorse it.  

Their reviews weren’t even all favorable. I know that from many sources, including from among some of the scientists that I profiled, who consider the UN’s work a travesty.   

So there is no endorsement by 2500 top UN scientists. The press has been taken. It’s been taken in by a Big Lie. 

This Big Lie has been told to us for 15 years now. In the early 1990s, Al Gore was saying that the science was settled on climate change, at the same time that a Greenpeace poll showed that the majority of scientists disagreed with Gore. He has been saying it ever since. And, through a coincidence of many factors, the Big Lie took hold. Temperatures did indeed climb. Dramatic weather did occur. In the background, the public’s general concern for the environment became widespread. Also in the background, Gore worked the United Nations system. It paid off big.

In the late 1980s, Gore encouraged the United Nations to hold what would become the world’s biggest conference on the environment, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, and then he encouraged the US to get behind this conference, which enabled the UN’s General Assembly to endorse it in 1989. Then Gore shaped the agenda for the conference and publicized it, and even convinced a very reluctant President Bush to attend, to be there with the other world leaders to make it a success. This was 1992, the date of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, also known as the Rio Conference which spawned the Kyoto Protocol a few years later. Gore worked the system hard and it paid off big.

 He got everyone to sing from the same hymn book. An unprecedented number of environmental groups attended Rio — my organization included — giving the conference moral authority and creating a sense of inevitability.  An unprecedented number of world leaders attended Rio, giving the conference an official stamp and also putting the world’s governments on record. And an unprecedented number of media outlets attended, to report on this juggernaut.  

Picture yourself as Al Gore in the middle of all this. He believed since his university days that man-made global warming was threatening the planet and now here was vindication, in the form of the world’s environmental groups, the world’s political leaders, all under the United Nations’ auspices, endorsing his view. Might you not feel vindicated, might you not believe that you were right all along, maybe even that you had a mission to fulfill, a mission that was greater than yourself. In that setting at Rio, the science truly was settled. 

 It’s easy to see how Gore’s mind would become formed in the belief that there must be no backsliding. No one must question that the science was settled. The science was so clear that man is responsible for climate change that nothing else could be contemplated. Not even by the UN’s own agency, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The mandate of this agency is to investigate man-made climate change. Other causes of climate change — the Sun, cosmic forces, or other natural phenomena — were thus ruled out. No need to look at anything except manmade causes. And with only manmade causes looked at, is it any surprise that only manmade causes were found? 

This UN-environmental-bubble explains in part, I believe, how Gore can maintain that credible scientists don’t exist in any number. It explains in part why earlier this month on 60 Minutes, when asked by Leslie Stahl about those who deny global warming, he answered that “It’s a tiny, tiny minority.” It explains how he could have compared those who hold this view to people who believe the earth is flat, and to people who believe that the moon landing was staged in a movie set in Nevada. 

It may also explain how he could miss the irony of likening deniers to those who don’t believe in space travel. One of those deniers is Michael Griffin, the head of NASA. Another is Habibullo Abdussamatov. He heads research on the Russian half of the International Space Station. A third is Eigil Friis-Christensen, the head of the Danish National Space Agency. A fourth is Freeman Dyson, one of the best known scientists on earth today. To further space flight, he developed nuclear pulse propulsion for the Orion project.  

This bubble, I believe, also explains the fervor of belief by Al Gore and others, and their ability to act with impunity. To attack anyone, regardless of his credentials. Last year, Michael Griffin, the head of NASA, told NPR that he believes that global warming isn’t a problem worth wrestling with.

  Was Griffin entitled to express his viewpoint? He holds a PhD in aerospace engineering. He holds five masters degrees. He is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and the International Academy of Astronautics. He was unanimously confirmed to head NASA by the United States Senate.

He oversees the world’s single biggest climate change research budget – $1.1 billion per year. 

Yet no sooner did he express his opinion than he was called an “idiot” and said to be “in denial.” He was called a “fool” and “surprisingly naive.” He was called either “totally clueless” or “a deep anti‑global warming ideologue.” Those who berated him included his own employees.  

After two days of this, Griffin then apologized and the public hasn’t heard from again on the subject. The public also hasn’t heard from hundreds of others who don’t want to subject themselves to the type of abuse that Griffin faced. 

I was at a literary function in Toronto last year and happened to sit next to a denier, one of Canada’s most prominent climate scientists. I asked him over dinner why he had decided to speak up. He paused for a moment and said, “I was diagnosed with testicular cancer.” He decided he didn’t want to die a coward, and so went public. He described the pressures that confront an academic when they do go public. He became a pariah. His colleagues stopped talking when he entered a room. Not only was he faced with the loss of funding for his projects, so was his entire department, which meant he was threatening the careers of his colleagues.  

He’s now cured of cancer and he says he now has regrets that he has gone public. But I think he is also proud that he has. And he is increasingly getting company. 

My sense is that scientists are increasingly speaking up. They are also becoming firmer in their views.  Some, like Claude Allegre, perhaps France’s best known scientist reversed themselves. At the time of Rio, he was an ardent believer that CO2 represented a mortal danger. After seeing decades of the science that come out of the UN, he has become convinced that there is no credible scientific case for global warming. 

The list of so-called deniers now includes the President of the World Federation of Science, who is also Italy’s best known scientist. It includes one of Britain’s best-known scientists and one of Germany’s best known scientists. It includes scientists from the world’s top research bodies, bodies such as the Pasteur Institute and the European Space Agency and CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, a 50-year-old institution that has 20 country members and services half of the world’s particle physicists. It includes the top climate scientists, legends in the field such as William Gray, who is considered by many the world’s foremost authority on the prediction of hurricanes, and Reid Bryson, who has been called the father of scientific climatology and who is the world’s most cited climatologist. 

At some point, possibly quite soon if climate science doesn’t demonstrate a breakthrough capable of impressing scientists, this whole Big Lie may come crashing down. 

Thank you.

 

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