Opinion: Climate change issue clouded by wrong information | SierraSun.com

Opinion: Climate change issue clouded by wrong information

J. Derek Larson
Special to the Sun

I want to continue a discussion on climate change that started in the Sierra Sun last April — see the oped “Don’t Cloud the Climate Change Debate” for the context.

I waited a few months to respond because I don’t want the debate to turn personal. It’s about ideas, and the respondent to my piece brought up some very important ones that are shared by millions of people. I am compelled to address several errors that only further cloud the issue.

I never made any such claim that “corporate supported research is somehow tainted.” I simply gave an example of one researcher who took oil money and did not disclose his funding sources as required by academic ethics. That’s a big no-no in university research.

It’s important to note that potential conflicts of interest in funding do not mean a scientist is corrupt as long as he or she follows a transparent and repeatable method. Dr. Willie Soon did not.

Here is a related real world example: Dr. Richard Muller, formerly a strong anti-consensus voice, led a two-year study aimed at verifying the accuracy of worldwide temperature measurements. Muller was suspect of the records because of something called the “urban heat island effect.” He was substantially funded by Koch Industries, which obviously had a strong interest in his coming up with an industry friendly result.

Muller’s independent analysis concluded that previous studies were sound in their methods and that climate change is undeniable‹though he has been careful to stay out of any policy recommendations.

Most climate change mis-information is not coming from anti-consensus scientists, regardless of their funding sources. Deliberate misinformation is coming from oil-funded think tanks such as the Marshall Institute and their hired guns such as Dr. Frederick Seitz.

He served the same role for the tobacco industry, whose sole purpose was to confuse and mislead the public about the dangers of smoking in order to maximize profits for the industry as long as possible. We all know how that turned out. See “Merchants of Doubt” for an excellent read on this subject. It was also made into a movie, released last year, now available on demand.

The respondent also says “any researcher who submits proposals today would have a zero chance of getting a government-funded grant if the proposed work did not support current popular environmental theories.”

This is completely untrue. Example: Drs. Roy Spencer and John Christy at U Alabama Huntsville are two of the country’s most outspoken critics on climate change consensus. They continue to operate with government grants.

Similarly, Richard Lindzen of MIT (recently retired, but probably the country’s most influential anti-consensus voice) reports that his research has “always been funded exclusively by the U.S. government.” These people don’t have “popular” views, but no one is trying to silence their research.

There isn’t room here to adequately respond to the claim that “corporate or private foundation support is necessary to examine non-popular questions ‹ for example, if there are other factors than CO2 causing climate change or to study why popular climate change models have over-predicted the actual temperature changes in the last decades.”

Suffice it to say, there ARE other factors besides CO2 causing warming and these are very well studied and understood. Warming estimates WERE over-predicted when the science was in its infancy, but refined study has produced better models that are bearing out in the real world with remarkable accuracy.

As to the assertion that climatologists are chasing fame, I asked Dr. James Hansen, arguably the world’s most famous climatologist, to respond. He replied: “Skepticism fuels science.

The surest route to fame in science is to find a flaw in conventional interpretations, so there is no shortage of scientists looking for flaws in any consensus.” Now there’s some food for thought!

Finally, consider this: The public wants and NEEDS good news about climate change, and our government is loaded with climate change deniers. Check out statements by the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.

If a research lab could come up with solid, testable, repeatable evidence that human activity is not significantly affecting the world’s climate system, then I suggest that lab would see a windfall of funding!

To any respondents to this letter: No matter what side you fall on, please include specific examples and/or sources for people to follow up. Take ownership of where you are getting your information!

J. Derek Larson is a Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies at Sierra College in Truckee.