Coal Tattoo

Stacking the deck in favor of climate inaction

Congressman David McKinley (R-WV) talks to Dennis Avery, director of the Center for Global Food Issues-Hudson Institute, following a climate change panel discussion held at the 5000 NASA Boulevard building in Fairmont, W.Va., on Thursday, May 30, 2013. (AP Photo/Times West Virginian, Jessica Borders)

Well, Rep. David McKinley certain put out an interesting press release late Friday to describe his conclusions after the previous day’s climate change event in Fairmont. You can read the whole thing here, but this is the key paragraph:

The discussion yesterday reinforced that the science is not settled on the role of humans in climate change. There is no reason to put our economy at risk for the sake of an ideological agenda. Congress cannot let President Obama do this by acting unilaterally on climate change.

Read the first sentence again: The discussion yesterday reinforced that the science is not settled on the role of humans in climate change. The science is not settled on the role of humans in climate change?

Of course you come to that conclusion, when you’ve put together a forum that puts climate change deniers on equal footing with some actual scientists. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, for anyone who didn’t notice, I didn’t attend Rep. McKinley’s forum. Frankly, I didn’t think it was going to produce much news that needed to be reported. It seemed to be to be stacked to produce exactly what it produced: An ability for Rep. McKinley to argue there’s no scientific consensus and therefore no need to do anything.

If you want to read an account of the event, check out the piece from the AP’s Vicki Smith. There were also stories from West Virginia Public Broadcasting and from the Morgantown Dominion Post, but Vicki did about as good as anyone could in making a news story out of this sort of event:

A Republican congressman sought common ground in the climate change debate Thursday but found the same clash of science and ideology that paralyzes Washington had followed him to West Virginia, a state long built on fossil fuel production.

For more than three hours, U.S. Rep. David McKinley quizzed a panel of national experts — only about half of them scientists — about the causes of global warming and what to do about it. McKinley has long questioned the science behind global warming. He now acknowledges climate change is occurring but is not convinced human activity is to blame.

What is clear, he said, is that a state rich in coal, oil, natural gas and timber will be affected by any federal policies that attempt to curb greenhouse gases. Equally clear is that carbon dioxide limits in the U.S. won’t prevent growing air pollution from developing nations like China and India.

“We tried to get an answer: What is the end game?” McKinley said. “And we couldn’t get an end game.”

And that’s the whole point, really — to avoid any sort of “end game” that involves government action to try to deal with the climate crisis. If the science doesn’t show — that human activities like burning coal are causing global warming, then it’s pretty easy f0r Rep. McKinley and the coal industry to depict any efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions as based on nothing more than an “ideological agenda.”

Of course,  Rep. McKinley when he says there’s no consensus on the science. Regular readers of this blog may recall this post from a few years ago which broke down the growth in the consensus that human activities are the cause of global warming. And just last week, we cited in this post a recent report that reviewed 12,000 peer-reviewed papers and found a 97 percent consensus that humans are causing global warming. As that report explained:

The public perception of a scientific consensus on AGW is a necessary element in public support for climate policy (Ding et al 2011). However, there is a significant gap between public perception and reality, with 57% of the US public either disagreeing or unaware that scientists overwhelmingly agree that the earth is warming due to human activity (Pew 2012).

Contributing to this ‘consensus gap’ are campaigns designed to confuse the public about the level of agreement among climate scientists. In 1991, Western Fuels Association conducted a $510 000 campaign whose primary goal was to ‘reposition global warming as theory (not fact)’. A key strategy involved constructing the impression of active scientific debate using dissenting scientists as spokesmen (Oreskes 2010). The situation is exacerbated by media treatment of the climate issue, where the normative practice of providing opposing sides with equal attention has allowed a vocal minority to have their views amplified (Boykoff and Boykoff 2004). While there are indications that the situation has improved in the UK and USA prestige press (Boykoff 2007), the UK tabloid press showed no indication of improvement from 2000 to 2006 (Boykoff and Mansfield 2008).

The narrative presented by some dissenters is that the scientific consensus is ‘…on the point of collapse’ (Oddie 2012) while ‘…the number of scientific “heretics” is growing with each passing year’ (Allègre et al 2012). A systematic, comprehensive review of the literature provides quantitative evidence countering this assertion. The number of papers rejecting AGW is a miniscule proportion of the published research, with the percentage slightly decreasing over time. Among papers expressing a position on AGW, an overwhelming percentage (97.2% based on self-ratings, 97.1% based on abstract ratings) endorses the scientific consensus on AGW.