OPINION: Information and disinformation on global warming

OPINION: Information and disinformation on global warming

Good information is readily accessible on the issue of global warming. Disinformation is out there, too. That circumstance was on full display in this paper recently, as guest opinion writer Len Suzio and I disagreed on a couple of central points.

He took issue with my statement that a lopsided majority of experts know from studying the evidence that the burning of fossil fuels releases CO2 into the atmosphere. This slowly warms the earth and presents dangerous consequences. In response Mr. Suzio wrote, that there is no such lopsided majority view. To support his opinion, he cited a petition signed by more than 31,000 "scientists" (which, by the way, is a tiny percentage of all science graduates).  The signers doubted the adverse effects of CO2 emissions. Mr. Suzio claims that this petition proves there is no consensus in the scientific community about global warming.   Can both views be reconciled? 

The petition Mr. Suzio cites does exist.  News of it has been widely circulated in right-wing forums.  A group that calls itself the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine started it in 1998. Arthur B. Robinson, who is not a climate scientist, headed the institute.  He has "... a long history of controversial entanglements with figures on the fringe of accepted research" according to the watchdog group, Sourcewatch.org.  (Search "Oregon Petition.") The independent, fact-checking site, Snopes, moreover, has revealing and damning details, too, and it described creators of the petition as politically motivated.  (See, Snopes.com, "Did 30,000 Scientists Declare Climate Change a Hoax?" for a concise review of this matter.)

Initially, the Oregon Petition could be signed online, and the Institute was so lax about screening that just about anyone could add their name.  Not surprisingly, most of the signatories are not climate scientists.  Snopes says, "In fact, based upon the group's own numbers, only 12% of the signers have degrees (of any kind) in earth, environmental, or atmospheric science."  The Oregon Institute will not allow for any independent verification of the identity or credentials of the signers. 

Finally, the petition was originally circulated under false pretenses to make it look as though the prestigious National Academy of Sciences supported it.  The Academy didn't.  Afterwards, it issued a statement saying, in part, "The petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the Academy."  That's a polite way of saying that the petition is dead wrong.  But it's squarely within the agenda of the fossil fuel industry and conservative political activists.  A well-documented Wikipedia article has more details on the disinformation campaign, the Institute, and the petition.

Folks interested in global warming should also be aware of the view of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA reports, "Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.  In addition most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have published statements endorsing this position."  The consequences of global warming are laid out in many, many places and the plain language, easy-to-read NASA website is a good place to start learning about them.  (Search Climate.NASA.gov.)

The 21-year-old Oregon Petition cited by Mr. Suzio, therefore, is not credible and not just because much more has been learned about climate change since 1998 when the petition was started. It is unfortunate that references to the petition have re-surfaced in this newspaper without context or challenge via Mr. Suzio.  Because the petition may come up again as candidates on the national scene discuss global warming, it's useful to be armed with some background. So don't be confused, dear readers, by talk of the infamous "Oregon Petition."

Mike Brodinsky is a former Wallingford town councilor and host of the “Citizen Mike” television program on WPAA-TV.