CLIMATE science denialist radio host Chris Smith - of the shock-jock variety - got a little upset recently at a decision made quietly more than six months ago by James Cook University in Queensland, Australia.
“What a bunch of weak pu**ies - James Cook, your management is an absolute disgrace,” screamed an apoplectic Smith on his top-rating 2GB afternoon Sydney show, after directing his listeners to pick up the phone and call the university to complain.
What had the folks at JCU done to attract such an aggressive response?
As I reported two weeks ago, JCU had decided not to extend the unpaid adjunct professorial status of Dr Robert Carter, who Smith had ready on the line for an interview. Dr Carter (pictured) is a globe-trotting geologist who advises at least ten climate sceptic organisations and “think tanks” from the UK and Germany to the US and Australia.
Dr Carter's “official status” with JCU - where he had held an unpaid adjunct position since 2002 after retiring - had ended on 1 January 2013, the university told me. Before his retirement, he had worked as a Professor at the University from 1989.
This belated news of Dr Carter's “non status” had also infuriated climate sceptic blogger JoNova. Both JoNova and Smith claimed that Dr Carter had been booted out because of his fringe-dwelling views on climate change. The Townsville Bulletin declared Dr Carter had been “dumped” because of his “outspoken views”.
Dr Carter dismisses the role of burning fossil fuels in changing the climate, a position at odds with about 97 per cent of peer-reviewed climate change research and every major science academy in the world. Some of the world's highest profile groups spreading unfounded doubt about the risks and causes of climate change, not to mention a number of high-profile media outlets, turn to Dr Carter for comment, advice and sometimes paid consultancy and provide a forum for his views.
January hasn't even ended, yet ALEC has already planted its ”Environmental Literacy Improvement Act” - which mandates a “balanced” teaching of climate science in K-12 classrooms - in the state legislatures of Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona so far this year.
“Coming off one of the most devastating hurricane seasons in recent memory, many are quick to blame the strength and frequency of these storms on global warming. Leading climate scientists, however, say there is no link between increased storm activity and a massive change in global climate.”
The 2006 Saul/DCI press release quotes the Koch-funded Cato Institute's Patrick Michaels, who stated, “There are many more factors determining hurricane frequency and severity, some of which (such as westerly wind strength) should become LESS conducive to hurricanes as the planet warms.”
Figures such as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, former President Bill Clinton, writer and activist Bill McKibben, environmental reporter Mark Hertsgaard, and numerous others all have connected the dots between the tragedy in New York City and its excerbation at the hands of climate change.
On the other side of the spectrum, no matter how bad the tragedy, it seems, climate change denial will continue apace by the “merchants of doubt.” Hurricane Sandy was no exception this time around.
This year’s keynote speaker, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, is the nation’s most influential and successful governor. Elected in 2010 to balance a budget that was billions of dollars in deficit without raising taxes, he did exactly that, winning the passionate support of taxpayers, business owners, and consumers across the state. After years of economic stagnation caused by high taxes and excessive regulation, Wisconsin is growing again.
To balance the state’s budget, Gov. Walker took on powerful public sector unions, reining in their collective bargaining privileges and requiring that public-sector workers start to contribute toward their retirement and health care benefits. Unions fought back, and after they failed to block legislation implementing Walker’s plan, they tried to recall him in a special election. On June 5, 2012, they failed, as Walker won reelection and a solid mandate to stay his course.
Much has been made lately of the Heartland’s Institute’s implosion over it extreme position on climate change. In February there was the revelation of internal strategy documents that included a plan to promote climate change scepticism in schools. In early May they unveiled a billboard equating those who believe in global warming with the Unabomber.
In the resulting uproar, nearly 50% of the Heartland Institute’s projected corporate donors for 2012 have pulled out. The funding drop has been so dire that at Heartland’s latest climate change sceptics conference in Chicago last month, Heartland president Joe Bast was reduced to asking the audience to find a ‘rich uncle’ to fund future conferences.
But the most telling outcome may prove to be the defection of Heartland’s entire Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate division. As team leader Eli Lehrer told the Guardian
“As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risks have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought. Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market.”
The Washington Post reported that on April 23, Common Cause “had filed an IRS complaint accusing ALEC of masquerading as a public charity…while doing widespread lobbying.”
ALEC is trying to brush aside this complaint, but Common Cause presents a compelling case.
“It tells the IRS in its tax returns that it does no lobbying, yet it exists to pass profit-driven legislation in statehouses all over the country that benefits its corporate members,” said Bob Edgar, president of Common Cause, in a statement. “ALEC is not entitled to abuse its charitable tax status to lobby for private corporate interests, and stick the bill to the American taxpayer.”
Common Cause wants the IRS to complete a no-holds-barred audit of ALEC’s work and to examine whether it violated IRS laws.
A new chapter is being added to the ongoing Kochtopus saga. On March 1 the Washington Post, in a story sure to fill the airwaves for the weeks and months to come, revealed the Kochtopus is suing the Cato Institute for control of the recently deceased and former Cato Chairman William Niskanen's ownership share in the think-tank.
At the heart of the dispute is the fate of the shares owned by Niskanen, who died in October at age 78 of complications from a stroke. The Koch brothers believe that they have the option to buy Niskanen’s shares, while Cato officials believe that the shares belong to Niskanen’s widow, Kathryn Washburn, according to the complaint.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.