17 May 2006

Twisting climate science

The Competition Enterprise Institute today unveiled a pair of pro-carbon dioxide television ads designed to assuage fears about climate change. Which is to be expected from a think-tank funded by ExxonMobil.

But the CEI isn't playing fair and though the ads are so far only scheduled to play in limited markets, anyone who cares about the accurate representation of science should be up in arms.

You can watch the ads here. One recasts CO2 as our friend. Plants breathe it in, after all. No mention of natural atmospheric levels. Fair enough. Again, misleading propaganda is to be expected from the likes of the CEI. (By the way, where are all the non-competitive entrepreneurs?)

But the second ad dares suggest that science actually casts serious doubt on the idea that climate change is behind melting glaciers. Now, I know that there are many uncertainties in this field. But anyone who bothers to read the two studies singled out in the CEI ad might be surprised at what the researchers actually said.

First, there's "Recent Ice-Sheet Growth in the Interior of Greenland" (Science, Nov. 11, 2005). While the title does encapsulate the central finding of the study, the study in no way undermines the climate change consensus that the world is warming. The authors conclude:
A modeling study of the Greenland Ice Sheet mass balance under greenhouse global warming has shown that temperature increases up to 2.7°C lead to positive mass-balance changes at high elevations (due to accumulation) and negative at low elevations (due to runoff exceeding accumulation), consistent with our findings, which implies that perhaps a quarter of the growth may be caused by global warming in Greenland in our observation period.
Just as with the first study, the camera zooms in on the title of the second, "Snowfall-Driven Growth in East Antarctic Ice Sheet Mitigates Recent Sea-Level Rise" (Science, June 24, 2005). At first glance -- because that's all the viewer gets -- it would indeed suggest that things aren't as bad the nefarious environmentalists would have us believe. But again, reading the actual paper, one finds this observation:
...the East Antarctic ice-sheet interior increased in overall thickness within the ROC from 1992 to 2003 and that this increase is probably the result of increased snowfall. Both of these observations are consistent with the latest IPCC prediction for Antarctica's likely response to a warming global climate.
This is why many a climatologist prefers to talk about "climate change" rather than "global warming." More to the point, the warming won't be global in the early days. For another, in some regions, the increased precipitation anticipated in the coming decades will cause ice buildup at higher altitudes.

I suppose that level of complexity is just too much for the good people at the CEI to grasp. I mean, they must be confused. Otherwise, they'd be trying to pull a fast one. And I wouldn't want to cast aspersions on such fine examples of American citizenry.

[Update, May 21: Curt Davis, the lead author of the Science paper on snowfall-driven ice-sheet growth in Antarctica, has denounced the CEI for mispresenting his work. From a press release issued this weekend by his employer, the University of Missouri-Columbia:
"These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate," Davis said. "They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public."
"It has been predicted that global warming might increase the growth of the interior ice sheet due to increased precipitation," Davis said. "All three of these points were noted in our study and ignored by CEI in a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public."
So there.]


Anonymous Gerry said...

Wow, when history looks back on what happened in this era, CEI will become a poster child for the corporate, growth-at-any-cost, myopic leaders. But wait, there's not enough room to fit them on one wall. :-0

And what makes CEI experts on climatology so as to advise the public with these ads?!? How irresponsible! They should try getting into email spamming of 'hot stocks' recommendations. More their line of work IMO.

11:40 AM  
Anonymous Gerry said...

Alright, I starting wondering if they did have an environment expert. Here he is based on their own web page:

Myron Ebell

Director of Energy and Global Warming Policy

Among numerous recognitions, Greenpeace featured Mr. Ebell and three of his CEI colleagues in “A Field Guide to Climate Criminals” distributed at the UN climate meeting in Montreal in December 2005. Rolling Stone magazine in its November 17, 2005 issue named Mr. Ebell one of six “Misleaders” on global warming in a special feature, along with President Bush, Senator James Inhofe, and Michael Crichton. In November 2004 as a result of a BBC Radio interview, seven members of the British House of Commons from all three major parties introduced a motion to censure Mr. Ebell “in the strongest possible terms.” In its May 22, 2004 special Issues and Answers issue, National Journal profiled Mr. Ebell as one of ten people who would lead the global warming debate during the next presidential administration. The Clean Air Trust in March 2001 named Mr. Ebell its "Villain of the Month" for his role in convincing the Bush Administration not to regulate carbon dioxide emissions.


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