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An Open Letter to Global Warming Skeptics

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Dear Skeptics:

I am what your side would call an 'environmentalist hand wringer.' I believe that global warming is a threat that should be taken seriously.

I have been called a 'useful idiot' by the people on your side. I won't argue about that. I am an intelligent layman with no professional background in science but a concern for the environment and a willingness to learn. And from my perspective, your side isn't doing so well.

We laymen face an ongoing deluge of information on every subject. As a result, we have developed strategies to make quick judgements about an issue. When someone makes a claim about global warming or secondhand smoke or the health effects of junkfood, we don't always have the math or science background to evaluate the claim.

But there are many other things to consider: what is the background of the promoter? Are there obvious conflicts of interest? Is the commenter a scientist? A scientist in the field? Does he or she offer evidence or just rhetoric? Show a real understanding of the topic?

Lately public opinion in the US seems to be headed my way. Polls show that most people in the US believe global warming is a threat and we should do something about it. In this, we are catching up to the other industrialized nations.

Your side doesn't believe there's a threat. You claim a liberal bias to the media, that the effects are overblown because fear sells. You claim that scientists are afraid to speak the truth for fear of losing funding or jobs.

Frankly, that is bunk. There is plenty of money available for skeptics.

Michael Crichton is a bestselling author who published a novel, State of Fear, raising doubts about global warming. He has since sold more than 1.5 million copies, met with President Bush to advise him on climate change, and testified before congress.

Senator James Inhofe was Chairman of the Department of Environment and Public Works. He has received 850,000 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry.

Bjorn Lomborg, a statistician, published a book called The Skeptical Environmentalist. For this he was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine and won a powerful position in the Danish government for his views.

Steve Milloy has made a career out of doubting established science on tobacco, the environment, and gun control. Not surprisingly, his 'scientific' positions follow a predictable political trend. Far from being ostracized and denied funding, he is regular commentator on Fox News and has received thousands from ExxonMobil.

So there's no lack of funding for skeptics. What about fear of professional reprisals?

Tim Patterson, Bob Carter, Richard Lindzen, and Ray Spencer are all university professors who have loudly and repeatedly proclaimed doubt about global warming. Some of them have also earned a little extra income from ExxonMobil and others for their views.

Ad hominem, you cry. Vile, baseless rhetoric!

But is it really? Or is it a good way to evaluate how reliable certain positions are?

Inhofe calls global warming a hoax but he is in the pocket of the oil industry and a career politician to boot. Why trust him? Michael Crichton is a fiction writer why trust him?

What was I supposed to think when Congressman Joe Barton launched an investigation of a noted climate scientist (Michael Mann). Is Barton a reliable source for decisions about global warming? In 2001 Barton declared "As long as I am chairman, [regulating global warming pollution] is off the table indefinitely. I don't want there to be any uncertainty about that." In 2005 he engineered an outrageous government giveaway to the oil industry with the Gasoline For America's Security Act, right as the industry was posting record profits. He worked as a consultant for the oil and gas industry before becoming a congressman.

So what did intelligent laymen think when Barton launched his investigation of Mann and demanded to see all Mann's data, all his funding records, details about his work on the International Panel on Climate Change, and his entire Curriculum Vitae?

And let's not forget the background noise: a Republican Congress that has, at best, a troubled relationship with science. In one corner we have multiple supporters of Intelligent Design, over there we have Bill Frist diagnosing Terry Schiavo by video, and in this corner we have someone inviting Michael Crichton to testify against global warming.

Perhaps I am a useful idiot for the secret cabal of climate scientists out there, a member of H. L. Mencken's great Booboisie.

But if I am a useful idiot, then aren't Senator Inhofe and Representative Barton harmful idiots for your side?

If your science is right, you are doing a terrible job promoting it. Really. Lomborg, Crichton, and Milloy show us its not a lack of funds. Patterson, Carter, Lindzen, and Roy Spencer demonstrate that its not fear of speaking out.

So what is it that is causing your side to lose the public debate?

Could it be your science?


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William Wilson is a writer and activist living in the American midwest. He blogs at http://naturematters.wordpress.com.

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