Bogus CO2 claims

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by Philip Fry,
Oxford Station

What are we to make of Christine Dorothy’s arguments? Let’s have a quick review of the “authorities” she calls upon to validate her dramatically presented “defence” of CO2. Even a relatively sustained search on the internet to verify her claims – I urge you to do one of your own – invalidates ALL of her claims. Not only are none of her “experts” credible sources of information, most (with the exception of Takeda Kunihiko, a nuclear scientist, who is known as a systematic Devil’s Advocate against almost everything) are linked, either directly or indirectly, to right-wing climate denial institutions which are generously funded by gigantic oil extraction, processing, and distribution enterprises (ExxonMobil and Koch Industries). The one exception, The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, which is concerned about the rate of absorption of CO2 by the oceans, is misrepresented in Dorothy’s text.

William Happer, who thinks that we are now in a CO2 famine, is not a climate scientist. He was a leading part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to debunk the role of CO2 in climate change; his views are closely associated, if not derived, from those of Craig Idso, a noted climate change denier and founder of the Centre for Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change. The Centre receives generous funding from ExxonMobil and Peabody Energy, and is closely associated with the Heartland Institute. Chris de Freitas of New Zealand was, indeed, a climate scientist, but his reliability as a source of information can be seriously doubted. As an editor at the journal, Climate Research, he bypassed the journal’s peer-review panel to publish several articles, notably a badly flawed essay by the climate change deniers W. Soon and S. Baliunas. Thirteen of the authors they cite rejected the interpretation of their work presented by Soon and Baliunas, and three members of the review panel resigned.
Likewise, according to those who collected the original information on which Ron Clutz’s bases his view, his understanding of the dynamics of arctic sea ice is a gross misinterpretation of the data. And Susan Crockford’s work on Polar Bears is not based on any original field work of her own, nor has she published her data in peer-reviewed journals. Ian Sterling, who has spent forty years studying polar bears and has over one hundred publications on the matter, says that Susan Crockford “has 0 authority on the subject.”

Climate change denial is promoted by a network of institutions bearing innocent names, among them those mentioned above. The tap root of the network can be traced back to a public relations company named APCO, which in 1993 began working for the Phillip Morris tobacco company to discredit the science behind the dangers of passive smoking. Its agenda included setting up a network of apparently grass-roots organizations called The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition (TASSC) to promote doubt about scientific research. It soon extended its reach to climate change issues. Among its funding sources was ExxonMobil.

Among the half-truths espoused by TSSAC was that the increase of CO2 levels in the atmosphere is good for agriculture and human prosperity. This idea was promulgated in a 1998 document called the “Oregon Petition”, which was authored by Frederick Seitz, a physicist who had been the president of the US National Academy of Sciences back in the 1960’s. As well as asserting that there was no convincing evidence that human “release” of carbon dioxide has a serious negative effect on the Earth’s atmosphere, it went on to say that increased carbon dioxide would be “environmentally helpful.” The accompanying document claimed that more carbon dioxide: “will help to maintain and improve the health, longevity, prosperity, and productivity of all people.” The petition was printed in a format and typeface that made it appear to be a document of the official Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and signed by Seitz as Past President of the National Academy of Sciences. The National Academy made a public disclaimer of the Oregon Petition, saying that it had not authorized the petition, nor had any other peer-reviewed journal, and that it did not “reflect the expert reports of the Academy.” But it was too late. The petition was in public circulation, and willingly adopted by the denial network.

The denial network presents its half-truths up front, available for easy consumption by the public. That is its strategy: half-truths are more seductive and elusive than outright lies, and, when incessantly repeated, adopt the appearance of facts. Even if disputable, they achieve their main purpose: to weaken the credibility of serious scientific research, and, consequently, the public support to carry out necessary change. Its work is done by a massive public relations machine, well-oiled by funds from petroleum based enterprises.

By focusing our attention on CO2 and climate change, the “debate” Dorothy continues to foster deflects our attention away from other important aspects of the environmental crisis: degradation of soils and waterways, massive reduction of biodiversity and its supporting habitats, the production and use of non-biodegradable and environmentally destructive novel materials. The real issue is moral as well as intellectual: Given its undoubted impact on our children and future generations, how do we adjust our personal mindsets, desires, and daily activities to respond adequately to the crisis so obviously at hand?

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