Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Senator Inhofe uncovered

In the continuing "Senator Infofe" saga we now provide links to a series of posts that provide an excellent rebuttal of Inhofe's recent speech (again worth skimming first).

Although not strictly "economics" related, the ramifications of US policy on climate change certainly are. Moreover, the implications of climate change may have grave enconomic consequences (see the previous post). Finally, the role of Big Business in the US and the role of powerful lobby groups is of great interest to political ecomomists.

The following links are all from the excellent Gristmill blog. This is an impressive site that provides "Environmental news and commentary" and is of course blogrolled.

We start with the most recent Gristmill post "Inhofe strikes back" that provides a link to a new video of Inhofe in an interview with Miles O'Brian.

The post begins:

Check out the video of Sen. James Inhofe appearing on the cable news show of Miles O'Brien, the very CNN anchor that slammed his wackadoo speech from a few weeks ago.

It's ... tense. Inhofe is courteous in that blank-eyed, sociopathic way that makes you think he'd just as soon strangle O'Brien as talk to him. "Keep smiling ..." he said at the end. Shiver.

and concludes:
I wish O'Brien had asked a simple question: "The overwhelming majority of climate scientists take one position. A tiny minority, many funded by fossil fuel industries, take another. Why have you, in your capacity as a U.S. Senator, chosen to champion this tiny minority so vocally?"

Good question.

Perhaps more informative is the excellent David Roberts Gristmill post "Inhofe's speech and right-wing global warming myths" from the 25th September.

As a UK citizen it is sometimes difficult to comprehend what it means to be described as a "right-wing" politican in the US. I am not even sure how the views of Senator Inhofe can even be placed on the UK perception of what is left and right wing. The British conservatives in the UK (the right of centre party) for example have just spent 3 days at conference talking about little else except their "greeness".

The post begins:

Inhofe is, of course, famous for being one of the Last True Skeptics, resolutely resistant to the idea that global warming is real, much less dangerous. It is, he says, the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He's an implacable foe of any energy legislation that doesn't begin and end with drilling. (His latest gambit was an attempt to punish California for its recent climate legislation.)

He's also, as it happens, a budding media critic. His office at the Senate Environment Committee has taken to publicly attacking journalists who fail to demonstrate sufficient balance (a mix of truth and falsehood) and objectivity (refusal to distinguish between them).

Now, some might find nefarious motives for Inhofe's skepticism, and no doubt his indebtedness to the oil and gas industry plays some role, but veteran Inhofe-watchers realize that on this issue, he is a True Believer. Whether that is more or less scary than simple corruption I leave to the reader.

What's remarkable about this particular speech is its windy, compendious breadth. Inhofe comes off like nothing so much as an assiduous right-wing blogger who's spent hours in his Cheeto-scattered basement combing the net for every rumor, half-truth, and slander he can find, collecting them all into some half-ass database of delusion.

The post then goes on to refute the major points of the speech. I include them here in their entirety.

The "Hockey Stick"
The so-called hockey stick study, by a team of researchers led by Michael Mann of the University of Virginia, showed a recent spike in global temperatures. The study has become a conservative bete noire, a white whale that righties have pursued all the way up to congressional hearings. According to Inhofe and other skeptics, the congressional investigation discovered that the hockey stick is worthless and thus that the entire edifice of climate science has fallen. The congressional investigation did not, in fact, find that. They found small errors in Mann's statistical methods, but the main finding was that the basic results of the study -- the recent spike in global temperature -- are basically sound and have since been confirmed by numerous other studies using a variety of methods. The hockey stick is a conservative obsession, but it's ultimately a sideshow. For more, see RealClimate here and here.

The 60 Canadian scientists
Inhofe is not alone in making much of the fact that 60 Canadian scientists wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to reject the global warming consensus. The letter was a vapid collection of myths; among those 60 scientists were long-time skeptics, known liars, and at least one guy who was tricked into signing. A few weeks later, 90 scientists -- who unlike the original 60 were Canadian and active in climate research -- wrote a letter of their own, denouncing the first. The moral: in a world with tens of thousands of PhDs, you can find at least 60 to sign anything.

Computer models aren't real science
Yes they are. Furthermore, there's plenty of empirical field data supporting the basic conclusions of climate science. More here from RealClimate (written by, you know, real scientists).

Peiser refuted Oreskes; there is no consensus
Back in 2004, Naomi Oreskes did a survey of peer-reviewed climate science and discovered that there was not a single piece questioning the basic climate change consensus. This confirmed what everyone knew already, which is that the consensus is broad, deep, and stronger every day, despite the absurdly high profile of a few media-beloved skeptics. Later, social scientist Benny Peiser claimed to have refuted Oreskes' results by altering her search terms. Peiser's work has since been completely discredited, and he has admitted to major errors. But that doesn't stop this zombie claim from marching on in right-wing circles (as though Oreskes' paper were the sole evidence of consensus).

Kyoto would cost too much and wouldn't work
Estimates of the cost of complying with Kyoto vary wildly. But there's reason to believe it would be considerably less cataclysmic than Inhofe's crowd claims. In an influential piece in the Washington Post, U. Chicago law professor Cass Sunstein claims it would cost roughly as much as the Iraq War. Gregg Easterbrook argues that virtually every attempt to control pollution has been met with predictions of economic doom from all the same people, and all have ended up much cheaper and easier than anticipated. As for the fact that Kyoto doesn't do enough ... isn't the logical conclusion that we should do more?

Scientists used to predict a "coming ice age"
In the 70s, they were predicting an ice age -- now they're predicting warming! Those scientists and their kooky hype. Only, that never happened. A few media reports hyped the possible ice age, but scientists never did. Climate science has been developing, as science is wont to do. Early on, there was some question about which "forcings" would be dominant, the ones that cool us off (e.g., pollution blocking sunlight) or the ones that warm us. Because scientists, unlike senators, cannot find all the information they need in their own rear ends, it took a while to settle the issue. But now it's settled -- the warming forcings have it, by a mile.

The actual Gristmill post has links within the quotes above and some more commentary. I return to my original comment - if US is run by people like Senator Inhofe things look bleak indeed. However, it appears that there are enough scientists out there attempting to provide well grounded scientific fact - we can only hope that someone is listening.

As a foonote a recent post on Conservation Finance by Lars Smith caught my eye. Entitled "senator-inhofes-speech-on-global-warming" I feel honoured to be part of a"Rashomon effect" event.

The Wikipedia definition is:
The Rashomon effect is the effect of the subjectivity of perception on recollection, by which observers of an event are able to produce substantially different but equally plausible accounts of it.

I suppose it really comes down to how you define "plausible". I hope this post goes some way towards clarifying that definition.

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