Separating truth and fiction in climate debate

Published November 27, 2010 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2010, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Lately, opposition to mainstream climate science has become something of a litmus test for Republican politicians. As a Utah Republican myself, and an Earth scientist, I have been disappointed with how many of our politicians have gone beyond the usual wishy-washy dodge of saying they support "developing all sources of energy" to actively promoting anti-science.

Utah's Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch, for instance, maintains a web page called "Climate Change 101," in which he gives some reasons why he doesn't think anthropogenic climate change is likely to be a problem. The page is riddled with red herrings, references to studies that have since been refuted by other scientists, and the like. Most distressing, however, is Hatch's use of fraudulent data.

In his section on Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change climate models, Sen. Hatch reproduces two graphs that were created by Christopher Monckton of the Science and Public Policy Institute, who has no scientific training. One graph purports to show that the IPCC climate models badly over-predicted the temperature evolution over the past decade. The other purports to show that IPCC carbon cycle models have badly over-predicted the evolution of atmospheric carbon dioxide over the past decade.

The graphs seem very compelling, but the fields Monckton labels as IPCC predictions are actually outright fabrications. This isn't some esoteric technical point I'm talking about. Anyone can print out Monckton's graphs, look up the IPCC projections, and plot the real data on top of Monckton's graphs to see how they match up. In fact, several scientists (including me) have done just that, and you can see the results on the RealClimate website here: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2010/08/monckton-makes-it-up/.

Monckton responded to the charges (sort of), and included the following explanation for why his temperature graphs don't match the IPCC's.

"Some have said that the IPCC projection zone on our graphs should show exactly the values that the IPCC actually projects for the A2 scenario. However, as will soon become apparent, the IPCC's 'global-warming' projections for the early part of the present century appear to have been, in effect, artificially detuned to conform more closely to observation," Monckton wrote.

In other words, Monckton thinks the IPCC scientists monkeyed with their models to give better results in the near term, so he used his own special way of calculating how the IPCC should have projected temperatures. Be that as it may, Monckton clearly admitted that he didn't plot "the values that the IPCC actually projects."

I have no reason to believe Hatch's inclusion of fabricated data in his discussion of climate change was intentional, but it underscores the need to make some attempt to separate truth from fiction, instead of just repeating any reasonable-sounding argument that conforms to pre-conceived notions. Everyone lets their biases influence them to some extent, but in this case the possible consequences are too serious to be so lax about it.

Instead of wallowing in anti-scientific doubt-mongering, why can't Republicans start garnering support for solutions to the climate change problem that don't involve massive increases in government revenue and control? Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., for example, has promoted the idea of a "carbon tax swap," where a tax is put on carbon emissions but payroll and income taxes are reduced by an equal amount. This would strongly encourage people to curb their emissions, while not increasing government revenue.

Barry R. Bickmore is associate professor of geological sciences at Brigham Young University. The views expressed here are his own, and do not necessarily reflect positions of his sponsoring institution.



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