Gimme That Old Heartland Religion
Energy Industry-funded Heartland Institute engaging in more religion-style climate science denial proselytizing
By Shawn Lawrence Otto | Jul 11, 2011 | Comments (0)
Have you ever heard the saying "A little knowledge is dangerous?" Last week I wrote about how the Heartland Institute is indoctrinating untrained state legislators and GOP activists by taking a religious, proselytizing approach in spreading their pseudoscience, and listing speakers as "scientists" who are not. Minnesota state senator Mike Jungbauer seems to have fallen victim to this approach, as was amply covered by Don Shelby at MinnPost. Jungbauer says he is an expert on thirteen different fields of science, though he doesn't have a bachelor's degree. I invited him to debate climaterapidresponse.org's John Abraham but to date Jungbauer has not responded.
Then Monday morning I got an email from Joel Primack, Distinguished Professor of Physics, and Director of the University of California High-Performance Astrocomputing Center at UC-Santa Cruz. He and his wife Nancy Abrams, a writer and lawyer, have a new book out and were on Extension 720, a Chicagoland radio show, to talk about it. The show's host, Milt Rosenberg, seemed surprised when Joel and Nancy said that the Republican party opposes climate science. Joel gave the show's producer several references including my blog post extensively detailing this.
Who should call in, but Maureen Martin, the Heartland Institute's senior fellow for legal affairs, and she engaged them in a discussion of denial. Here's her version of the story on the Heartland Institute's blog. In it, Martin begins with flattery, and then, as befits a religious organization like the Heartland Institute appears to be (accept the energy industry into your heart and you, too can be saved), she casts things in terms of God, genesis and religion, before getting to the real issue:
- I started by briefly praising the elegance of their book and their Jungian approach. But, I asked, why do you then spoil the elegance by saying humans face “a bleak future on a declining planet” largely due to global warming? And won’t you acknowledge: (1) carbon dioxide levels have been vastly higher than 300 parts per million in the past? (2) scientists agree carbon dioxide levels increase as temperatures increase, not the other way around?
Ok I'm going to jump in here. First, the book's elegance is a style question, not a content one. So right off the bat we have a smokescreen and suppressive fire coming down.
That's because Martin only seems to have the vaguest grasp of the facts, so she needs some intellectual cover. CO2 levels haven't been anywhere near 300 parts per million (ppm) in a long time. Charles Keeling figured out how to reliably measure atmospheric CO2 content in 1955, while camping out at Big Sur with his wife and infant son. In 1958 he began measuring the level monthly in the pristine mountain air of Mauna Loa observatory in Hawaii, far from pollution sources. His measurement showed an average concentration of 315 ppm even then, not 300.
Every year thereafter, the levels fall in the spring and summer as growing plants soak up CO2, and then rise in the fall and winter as the plants die and decay, releasing it. The planet, he found, is essentially breathing. Each year, the levels rise by a little more than they have the previous fall and winter, creating an overall upward trend. Keeling’s chart of the annual rise and fall in CO2 levels and their inexorable climb has become one of the most famous images of science, one that is etched into a wall at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, DC. It is called the Keeling curve. Currently, they stand as of June at 393.69 ppm, NOAA reports. Here's the current Keeling Curve:
- First, he (Primack) said, there is a “consensus” of scientists around the world that man-made emissions of carbon dioxide are causing global warming. A “consensus?” Oh, really? It’s one thing when Al Gore, trained as a journalist, utters the “c” word. But it was pretty surprising to hear a Ph.D. physicist abandon the scientific method of proving scientific hypotheses, a process which is rigidly factual and decidedly not a popularity contest, in favor of “consensus.”
There is also a scientific consensus about the theory of gravity and the theory of evolution. In the case of climate change, the consensus is the vast majority of climate scientists. After looking at the massive amounts of data generated over the last fifty years since Keeling, and Al Gore's college professor, Keeling's boss Roger Revelle, first began studying this, the US National Academies, NASA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the National Academies of dozens of other countries, have issued report after report on the topic. It's, excuse me, a consensus.
- Second, he said, smugly, you obviously get your information from Fox News and the Republican Party. A personal
ad hominem attack if I ever saw one. Not what I expected.
Probably, but not wholly unjustified. After all, she's a legal fellow for the Heartland Institute, and as I detail here, Fox News has taken positions that amount to propaganda, not responsible news reporting.
- Time for a commercial break, but Milt Rosenberg held me over. When we came back, I said, first, I admire your book, but why are you insulting me? I do not get my information from the media or political parties. More to the point, though, won’t you at least acknowledge we can have a debate about the science? No, he said.
This is another example of the dishonest style of attack Martin opened up both her call and her blog post with, damning her targets with faint praise. Because she claims to "admire" the book, despite all evidence to the contrary when it comes to its actual content, Primack is "insulting" her by taking her on about her sources of information. And her response? She doesn't "get my information from the media or political parties." Hmm.
- These professors are dangerous – much more dangerous than Michael Mann and his hockey-stick graph, which is easily refuted, or other global warming factual falsifiers.
Mike Mann is a favored whipping boy of the climate denial crowd because his "hockey stick graph," which has been upheld by the conservative US National Academies, is so iconic. Mann’s graph charts average temperatures for the last thousand years, and the sharp increase it shows in the last century makes it resemble a hockey stick. It was used prominently in the 2001 report issued by the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). It was also used, more famously, by a scissor-lift-riding Al Gore in the documentary film An Inconvenient Truth.
Tree scientists have correlated tree-ring density measurements with annual average temperature data. Mann used this correlation to analyze tree rings going back a thousand years and infer unknown temperatures. He then plotted them on a chart using blue and, being a scientist, he added gray bars to represent the statistical probability of error in his estimates, which increased with time. Finally, he added current known temperature measurements in red.
I emailed Mike Mann, who's a pretty mild mannered guy, but he's out until July 27. It's hard to tell which part of Martin's statement is funnier - that Mann is dangerous, that the husband and wife team of authors Joel Primack and Nancy Adams is more dangerous, or that even though Mann is very dangerous because of his hockey stick graph, is it easily refuted.
When you're indoctrinated in the religion of the Church of the Heartland Institute, it's articles of faith, not reason, that appears to matter most.
Welcome to the new sawdust circuit.
Tags: Antiscience, Climate Change, Politics, Environment, Religion, Astronomy, Republicans, Physics, Media