Science meets politics.
Someone seems to be fudging the figures. That's the conclusion of Dr. S. Fred Singer and other scientists. Dr. Singer is the guiding light behind and organization called The Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP). The group was started in 1990. Its objective is to make sure that "sound, credible science must form the basis for health and environmental decisions that affect millions of people and cost tens of billions of dollars each year." Its members are respected scientists most of whom donate their time and skill to analyse public policy that is based on scientific research. Several times in the past, SEPP has exposed government officials for monkeying around with science to support a political goal.
One of SEPP's major concerns is the way in which science is being used to support government actions on global warming. And, Dr. Singer and his colleagues believe they have uncovered evidence that politicians and bureaucrats are distorting scientific findings to support their agenda.
The most widely quoted piece of literature on the global warming issue is the 1995 report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Hundreds of scientists worked on the project. Their findings were handed to editors at the United Nations who put together a draft report. When the draft report was approved it was returned to the editors. But, between the draft report and the final report unapproved changes were made. According to SEPP, these changes to a "crucial part of the report" were "significant." SEPP called the whole thing "an attack on science itself."
It gets worse.
After the IPCC report was published, public officials began distorting what it said. UN bureaucrats and other non-scientists put together a "Policymaker's Summary" of the heavy scientific report. The idea is that the summary saves public officials and politicians -- the people who fashion rules on greenhouse gas emissions -- from the chore of having to slog through the entire IPCC report. In this summary it's asserted that a primary conclusion of the report itself is that, "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate."
According to SEPP, this is not what the scientific report says at all.
There is no scientific evidence that human activity is a cause of global warming, says SEPP. The report stresses over and over that more study is needed. Yet, that phrase is quoted frequently by bureaucrats and politicians who are pushing cutbacks in greenhouse gas emissions. This angers Dr. Patrick Michaels, a renowned climatologist at the University of Virginia. "The `discernible effect' statement may be politically sensational but it's scientifically bankrupt," he says.
However, not content with using a misleading quotation, speech writers and others have distorted it almost beyond recognition. Here's what U.S. President Bill Clinton said in a speech in July 1997: "The overwhelming balance of evidence and scientific opinion is that it is no longer a theory but now a fact that global warming is real."
Our own prime minister, Jean Chretien, was even more dramatic in November 1997. He said that: "If we do not take action, climate change will create droughts, floods, and other disasters around the world. It will create unprecedented tides of refugees."
Another phrase used by those who want to reduce greenhouse gases is that, "the consensus of 2,500 scientists" is that human activities are warming the planet.
Not so, says SEPP. They point to the Leipzig Declaration (see box) and other similar documents which show there is enormous disagreement among scientists about global warming. The prestigious journal Science said in May 1997: "Climate experts are a long way from proclaiming that human activities are heating up the earth."
If there is a consensus, it is that we shouldn't be making far-reaching decisions based on the very slim evidence that currently exists.
And, those 2,500 scientists? That was the total number involved in the IPCC study. Only 80 of them took an active role in writing the report -- a report that was later doctored by its editors and then further distorted in the "Policy maker's Summary."
Of course, the central question is why are these half truths. distortions, and deceptions taking place. It takes a suspicious mind to figure that out; the people at SEPP are suspicious.
There are various groups of people who have a lot to gain by exaggerating the global warming problem. Among the suspects are some environmental groups, some politicians, some research scientists, and some bureaucrats. It's important to understand that not every member of these groups is under suspicion. Let's take them in order.
Some environmental groups have played up the global warming threat as a fund raiser. Guy Crittenden, editor of Hazardous Waste Materials Management magazine, has watched this aspect of the story. He wrote in the Globe and Mail in 1997 that: "Environmental organizations such as Greenpeace have found the [disaster] scenario is the best fundraising tool since baby seals... The Suzuki Foundation's Climate Change Campaign has run splashy ads calling global warming `the most urgent slow-motion catastrophe facing mankind.'" Within days of the January 1998 ice storm in eastern Canada, Greenpeace issued a report which said: "If greenhouse gases continue to build up in the atmosphere, climate chaos will convulse the entire planet."
According to SEPP, the environmental lobby in the U.S. raises $1 billion a year in donations. The scare tactics seem to persuade donors to open their wallets wider.
Politicians are skilled at jumping onto any bandwagon that passes. Public opinion polls always show protection of the environment as a hot topic in the minds of voters. One politician who is leading the pack on cleaning up the environment is Al Gore. He's vice-president of the United States and has high hopes of winning the top job in the 2000 presidential election. He's positioned himself firmly on the side of environmentalism. Doing good by Mother Earth is a great campaign platform. So, Mr. Gore and many others benefit from having the issue constantly on the front pages. It's especially helpful if the headlines frighten the public. Then, the soothing politician can calm everybody down with a neat solution.
Journalist Gregg Easterbrook sees even more sinister goings on. In an article in The New Republic in 1992 Mr. Easterbrook wrote that Vice-President Al Gore suggested "that journalists quietly self-censor environmental evidence that is not alarming, because such reports, in Gore's words, undermine the effort to build a solid base of public support for the difficult actions we must soon take."
Parts of the scientific research community would suffer if the greenhouse effect is proved to be just so much hot air. As with environmental fund raising, there's big money involved. Each year, the U.S. government hands out $2 billion for researchers to study global warming. Canada gives a more modest $85 million a year to universities and government departments as part of the Global Warming Strategy. Guy Crittenden writes that research grants are now hard to come by after waves of cutbacks. He doesn't want to accuse anybody of unethical behaviour but he points out that "scientists in the public service have a vested interest in producing research that remains `inconclusive' so that they can continue to attract funding."
And bureaucrats? For them, playing along with the exaggeration of data may be a matter of job security. Government officials who disagree with their political masters usually get fired.
At the most senior levels this is what happened to William Happer. He was appointed by the Clinton administration as chief scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy. He suspected that the much-talked-about hole in the ozone layer was not as bad as it was portrayed to be. He went public with his doubts. But, Vice-President Al Gore had already written that chemicals, "like an acid, burn a hole in the ozone layer worldwide." William Happer was asked to leave. He says, "I was told that science was not going to intrude on policy."
Mr. Happer was a high-profile casualty of the politics of global warming. Less powerful, lower level bureaucrats are quick to learn from his experience. If you want to keep your job you don't disagree with the politicians, and certainly not in public.
Another problem is that some prominent people in each of the suspect groups have built reputations and even careers on the global warming disaster scenario. They may yet turn out to be right. But, while the debate continues, these powerful people do their best to downplay evidence that contradicts them.
As Jerry Taylor of the Cato Institute says: "The professional stakes tn this debate have become so high that few scientists can afford to simply admit that they were spectacularly wrong."
1. Scan news media reports of the global warming issue. Are they balanced? Do they focus mostly on the catastrophe aspect of the story? Do they cover the debate within the scientific community? What should be the role of the media in covering stories of this nature?
2. Invite representatives from the energy industry, the environmental movement, and government to your school to participate in a forum on global warming.
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|Title Annotation:||global warming research used for political ends|
|Publication:||Canada and the World Backgrounder|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1998|
|Previous Article:||The story so far.|
|Next Article:||Leipzig declaration.|