How and Why Corporate Interests Attack Science. A Detailed Account of the Attack on the Hockey Stick graph

A Book review of:

Bradley, Raymond. S.  2011.  Global Warming and Political Intimidation.  How Politicians Cracked Down on Scientists as the Earth Heated up.  University of Massachusetts Press.

I would read Oreskes’ “Merchants of Doubt. How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming” first for an overview of how commercial interests manipulate the political process to prevent regulation and receive outrageous amounts of public money.

Then I’d read this book to learn the specifics of the attack.  This book also has an easy-to-understand explanation of the research that led them to their conclusions (about the hockey stick graph, made famous by Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient Truth”), and why the attacks of other scientists were bogus and not published by good peer-reviewed journals.

The details of the right-wing attack on science in this book make you really feel the pain and suffering inflicted on scientists like Bradley.  Fighting the attack takes up so much of their time they can’t continue to do research, no doubt another reason to go after them.

The main reason the “hockey stick” teams research was attacked was to reduce the credibility of the 2007 IPCC report.

It’s hard to know whether to laugh or cry when politicians bought by special interests, such as Senator Inhofe, invite a science fiction writer to testify about climate change.  Michal Crichton has a background in medicine, and as Bradley puts it “I really don’t follow the logic.  If I had a medical problem, I wouldn’t want to be treated by a climatologist.  So what possesses a doctor (an M.D., that is) to feel qualified to sound off about climate science is beyond me.  As a fully paid-up climatologist of many years’ standing, I know there is an immense amount about climate science that I don’t know.  The idea of weighing in on an entirely different field strikes me as presumptuous at best and foolish at worst”.

Yet Bradley falls prey to the same problem when he hopes that green technology will save us from burning fossil fuels – this simply isn’t a solution.  The best books to understand why fossil fuels are not replaceable are Hayden’s “Solar Fraud. Why Solar Energy Won’t Run the World” and Trainer’s “Renewable Energy Cannot Sustain a Consumer Society”.

Some of the scary rate-of-change statistics in the book:

  • Climate hasn’t changed this much in at least the last 850,000 years
  • When we burn fossil fuels like coal and oil, we’re releasing carbon dioxide thousands of times faster than it took to form coal and oil deposits.
  • Carbon dioxide levels have risen 40% in just the past 250 years
  • Never have greenhouse gases tripled within a few centuries, and we’re destroying the plants that could help to sequester CO2.

One of the most important concepts to understand is that it’s the rate of change that’s especially frightening about climate change.  If change is slow, then plants and animals can gradually move elsewhere and develop new adaptations to cope with the changes. Bradley has a good analogy of why the rate of change is so important. “If you trip and fall down, you won’t hurt yourself too badly; your system is capable of handling the speed at which you hit the ground.  But if you fall from a ten-story building, there’s likely to be a different result.  Your system is not adapted to deal with the much faster rate of descent in the second case.  In the same way, all systems have evolved to cope with the normal variability in existing environmental conditions.”

Bradley asks whether this rate of change really matters.  Planet earth will survive, he says, but it may become uninhabitable.  Not just from climate change, but from how much humans have altered the earth’s surface through agriculture, roads, vegetation destruction, damaging and diverting water, etc. — which will make it even harder for life to adapt to climate change.

The book is full of easy to understand explanations, which the public desperately needs, not all scientists are good at conveying what they do.  For example, here’s Bradley’s explanation of the difference between weather and climate:

“The energy that the earth receives from the sun is not distributed equally.  Because the earth is a sphere that rotates on its axis as it revolves around the sun, more energy is received near the Equator and in the tropics than at higher latitudes, and more is received (in each hemisphere) during summer months than in winter months.  These factors are what cause the atmosphere and the oceans to circulate, redistributing the energy around the globe.  Continents and mountain ranges get in the way, forcing ocean currents to carry warm (or cold) water to places where they might not otherwise go, and causing the atmosphere to swerve far to the north or south as it sweeps across the globe.  The immediate consequences of these processes are what we think of as weather—the daily and seasonal variations in temperature, rainfall, humidity, cloudiness, and so on that characterize each region.  But over time, the same kinds of weather events tend to recur within each region—of course, a bit mixed up from one year to the next.  This general repetition, season to season, year to year, gives each place its distinct “climate”.

In the future, temperatures will rise over the entire planet. Rainfall is harder to predict, but it will be altered too.  In general, high-latitude regions will get wetter, and subtropical and lower latitude will become drier – regions that now produce enormous amounts of food.

[my comment: I really don’t understand how anyone could deny that humans are causing carbon dioxide to increase.  Coal and oil are ancient plants full of carbon dioxide laid down 330 million years ago.  Billions of people are burning fossil fuels, releasing their carbon dioxide (and other pollutants).  Why would that not have an effect?  Alice Friedemann, energyskeptic]

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