Is global warming a conspiracy concocted to destroy private property and freedom?
According to a powerful lobby of ultra-conservatives, oil and coal corporations and a shadowy network of climate change deniers it is. And these voices alarmingly seem to be gaining credibility.
What is going on? Ever since Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the science seemed to be settled in most people's minds.
Yet, right before the 2009 Copenhagen conference on climate change, unknown computer hackers took over a server containing private e-mails by well-respected scientists at the UK's University of East Anglia who have worked for years on climate change studies. The e-mails wound up on the Air Vent, a blog dedicated to attacking the accepted scientific conclusion that human activity is a major cause of climate change, meaning society is putting way too much carbon and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
Combing through the hundreds of e-mails, the climate change deniers seized on a couple of phrases, out of context, to "prove" that the science of human-caused climate change is a conspiracy. The e-mails and all the "proof" of a climate conspiracy have been put together in a book, one of whose co-authors is a U.S. Navy-trained electronic specialist and former analyst for military contractor Northrop.
Now the climate change denier lobby has ratcheted up their smear job. They have set their sights on the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Climate Change Panel, Indian scientist Dr. Rajendra K. Pachauri, who accepted the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the 4,000-scientist-strong panel and former Vice President Al Gore.
In the carefully detailed, sober and even cautious UN panel's reports, the 4,000 scientists from dozens of countries including the United States relied on solidly established scientific methods, including cross-checking and peer reviewed studies, to arrive at their conclusions.
However, at least one verifiable mistake, and some lesser errors, crept into the hefty and historic report. The main one was that the panel report gave an erroneous year by which a scientist said the Himalayan Glaciers could disappear: 2035 instead of 2350. The panel later acknowledged and apologized for the error.
Dr. Pachauri is also being accused of financial conflict of interest over his work as an adviser to some businesses like Deutsche Bank and Toyota. Pachauri never made the business dealings a secret. "My conscience is clear," Pachauri told The New York Times in a telephone interview. However Pachauri has his critics among scientists who say it was inappropriate.
All this in no way changes the fact that the scientific evidence on climate change is overwhelming. But who cares about that when you have Republican Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming calling for Pachauri's resignation. Oil, gas and coal industries top the campaign contributions to this senator. Barrasso is also not immune from "politicizing science" in the health care debate (the health "industry" is another large donor of his) and on the environment.
According to ThatsMyCongress.org, Barrasso and GOP colleague David Vitter of Louisiana (like Wyoming, an oil/gas-rich state) recently introduced legislation that puts "political convenience" over rational and science-based decisio- making. "Their bill, S 724, would amend the Endangered Species Act in order to 'temporarily prohibit the Secretary of the Interior from considering global climate change as a natural or manmade factor in determining whether a species is a threatened or endangered species.'" Climate change denying is a multiple-headed hydra with far-reaching implications.
The other conservative "star" among the deniers is Britain's Lord Monckton, the Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, who likes to rail against the world's elitists. If that isn't the old pot calling the kettle...
Lord Monckton tried to make a name for himself by putting large ads in the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times challenging Al Gore to a debate on global warming. The ads made it sound like a WWF-type climate throwdown. How un-viscount-like.
Nonetheless, Monckton, who is now affiliated with a Washington-based institute that states on its web site "Proved: There is no climate crisis," called the UN panel corrupt and the panel's chair a mere "Indian railroad engineer."
"What on earth is he doing there?" Monckton said. The viscount was an adviser to the ultra-conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who along with Ronald Reagan, ushered in an era of unfettered capitalism, deregulation, tax cuts for the rich and privatization.
Many analysts point to the timing of the smear attacks on scientists and the science of climate change. India based Frontline Magazine reported, "The lobby - in which 770 companies have come together to hire over 2,300 agents in Washington alone, in addition to hundreds of supporters in polluting corporations, powerful think-tanks and the media - is targeting climate science itself." There is Copenhagen, but there is also the climate change/green jobs bill currently being considered in the U.S. Congress that has a whole phalanx of special interest opposition, especially from the deeply embedded oil/coal/gas corporate interests.
These interests feel they can win if they keep pointing to minor - and solvable - problems that have no bearing on the big issues. Scientists and the public cannot afford their victory. Analyst Praful Bidwai, in Frontline, urges a "special commission to cross-check and verify all the references" in the UN reports and urges "full disclosure of the details of the grants and fees" Pachauri and his foundation "received from different sources - in the interest of transparency and the spirit of science."
In the U.S., the media has a special responsibility to look into, and expose, the corporate and energy interests behind the deniers of climate change before they catch hold of public opinion through their scare tactics.