Heated Debate in the Heartland
How Political Pit Bulls Distort Scientific Debate
During our school days, the kids who stayed late in the library or the science labs were often sneered at. It’s not much different today, although it now depends on which side of the political aisle one sits. At issue are those who have devoted their lives to study of climate science.
Honest people disagree over the central causes behind global warming and whether it is a man-made phenomenon. Unfortunately, the public discussion has not been held to a higher standard; rather, it has devolved into the political mud pits with each side’s pit bulls taking center stage. Stated differently, the political hacks have infiltrated the debate on behalf of their high-paying clients.
Case-in-point: The Chicago-based Heartland Institute, which has been exposed. True, a true-believer conned a secretary at the think tank into “resending” a list of the organization’s donors and political objectives. The scientist, who has since gotten a scolding from his peers, disseminated the confidential information. But at this point, the story is less about how the documents were obtained and much more about how the Heartland operates.
The group is at the forefront of trying to negate the alleged effects and causes of global warming. It bankrolls those scientists who will support its premise. One such professional is Craig Idso, who gets $11,600 a month from the Heartland Institute. That is over-and-above what he gets from his day-job. Idso, who says that the money does not influence his findings, never divulged this critical fact.
As for the Heartland Institute, it is acknowledging the heartfelt emotions on both sides but says that it simply cannot condone the methodologies used by its opponents. It never said such a thing, however, when some computer hackers wormed their way into the Climatic Research Unit of University of East Anglia in Britain and stole 1,000 emails. That led to the whole “ClimateGate” episode in which some private conversations were twisted and then used as propaganda.
“Observations throughout the world have led to overwhelming consensus among scientists that global warming is occurring and is the result of human activities,” says Jennifer W. Harden, research soil scientist and a 30-year Bio-geochemist with U.S. Geological Survey, in a talk with this reporter. “The scandal is the theft and distribution of private emails, and not their contents.”
Science should trump politics. To that end, the National Academy of Sciences released a survey in 2010 asking 1,372 highly acclaimed climatologists whether climate change is caused by the burning of excessive fossil fuels or whether it is natural occurring. Ninety-seven percent of them fingered the human factor.
People of goodwill have legitimate disagreements as to whether the warming trend is either urgent or man-made. This debate also comes down to whether citizens think it a wise use of public resources to promote the development of newer but less proven green technologies at the expense of minted but less environmentally-friendly ones.
Those who tend to advance the coming of the next-generation economy are in favor of this re-allocation of resources. Conversely, those who say that the earth’s warming is natural are insisting that billions will be wasted trying to fix a problem that does not exist.
Fair enough. But the bloodhounds -- through graft and smear campaigns -- have confused the debate. Some politicos and their paid consultants are taking positions because they are trying to curry political or financial favor with certain constituencies.
As such, the Center for Responsive Politics is reporting that the coal industry gives 73 percent of its money to Republicans while giving the rest to sympathetic Democrats. Oil and gas interests, meantime, give 75 percent to Republicans. Is it a coincidence that the two parties are taking opposing views on global warming?
"Our current budget includes funding for high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist (global warming) message," says a Heartland document.
Public policy debate is healthy. Politicizing the field of science is not. Even if one accepts that global warming is less than “urgent” and more like “uncertain,” slamming the door and hoping for the best is untenable. The proper tack is not to drown out or demonize the other’s position. It is, instead, to listen carefully to what their solutions are — and to incorporate a practical path forward that heads off a potential problem in a cost-effective manner.
Hopefully all sides will heed the message, especially the Heartland Institute.
EnergyBiz Insider is the Winner of the 2011 Online Column category awarded by Media Industry News, MIN. Ken Silverstein has also been named one of the Top Economics Journalists by Wall Street Economists.
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