Opinion: Climate change — Don’t ignore the mounting evidence for it
March 26, 2015
I want to share an important development in news about climate change. My previous contributions for opinion columns have been in response to others' submissions about climate change denial. This is my first time writing pro-actively.
Perhaps some of you have seen the news clip of Senator James Inhofe throwing a snowball in the Senate chamber and declaring "global warming" a hoax because of record breaking cold on the East Coast.
Climate change deniers love to throw around the idea that scientists are taking money to promote alarmism, or that they are hyping the threat in order to keep their research grants coming in.
However, deniers seem unable to cite any particular study that has been discredited or name a scientist who has been caught in unethical behavior.
Well, I can name a corrupt scientist for you: Dr. Wei Hock Soon, an astrophysicist at The Harvard-Smithsonian Center. He has been a leading voice of dissent from the consensus view that fossil fuel burning is contributing to climate change.
Soon insists that solar output is the main culprit to explain recent warming trends, a view that has been totally discredited, but one that is still promulgated as a means of distracting audiences from the reality of greenhouse gas effects.
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The New York Times recently broke the news that Dr. Soon has taken 1.2 million dollars from Exxon Mobil, American Petroleum, and the Koch brothers, and he failed to disclose that conflict of interest as required by the journals that published his work.
He is now under investigation by his home institution for this lapse in ethics.
Debra Saunders, conservative commentator for the San Francisco Chronicle, opines every few months that dissenters are bullied into silence if they express skeptical views about the scientific consensus on climate change.
She acknowledged the payouts to Soon, but she insists that climatologists with "fat research grants" don't get called out the way Soon did.
Herein lies the biggest source of ignorance about how science works. When a scientist receives a research grant, his or her pay does not go up.
Grants pay for lab equipment, graduate student salaries (who work for minimal wages), travel expenses, or anything else required to do the research.
It's true that grant money follows trends and there is a lot of money going toward climate research right now, as there should be in view of the magnitude of the issue.
However, scientists are not getting richer by studying climate! The payouts to Dr. Soon were direct honorariums — perhaps bribes is a more accurate word here — and thus enriched him tremendously.
I challenge anyone out there to cite actual evidence of a climate researcher who has become a millionaire by warning of the potential dangers of climate change. (And you cannot punt to Al Gore, who is a celebrity and not a scientist.)
If you can find any, compare those with a list of fossil fuel industry millionaires (and billionaires) and then ponder the question: Who has more to protect and more motive to fight dirty?
I am not writing to change the minds of climate change deniers. When faced with evidence they don't want to hear, these people only dig further into their ideologies.
But I want others to have some logical "ammunition" in their quivers. Denialism is a negative argument. It relies on saying: "Your evidence is not good enough, so we win by default."
Science does not work that way. In science, you only get to call out bad evidence if you can present better evidence. Science denialism is dangerous in all its forms, especially when used to deny the existence of easily verifiable facts.
I encourage you to check out the most recent issue of The National Geographic magazine, which has a fascinating article on the "war on science" that is raging on several battle fronts, including denials of the moon landing, evolution and climate change.
I already hear the chorus of: "But science has been wrong before!" Of course it has, and of course scientists are fallible humans. But lack of evidence on the denier side is the key issue here.
You can waste time debating about the moon landing, or you can look through a telescope and see the gear we left behind.
Climate change is not that simple, but we should not ignore the mounting evidence for it by listening to empty denialist arguments.
J. Derek Larson is a Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Sierra College in Truckee.