Disinformation spreads confusion about the reality of climate change

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NASA Goddard Photo and Viveo/flickr

The climate change denial machine has been working hard to discredit the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which confirms that climate change is occurring and that human activity is primarily responsible.

While some publications are refusing to publish responses to the report that contain clearly false information, other mainstream media outlets are providing an outlet for the denialists. For example, in an op-ed recently published by Forbes, an unqualified scientist with a background in the coal industry shares mostly fact-free views about climate change and the IPCC.

In the editorial, Larry Bell, a Forbes contributor, quotes Dr. Vincent Gray to the effect that “there is no evidence that human-emitted greenhouse gases have a harmful influence on the climate.” Bell refers to Dr. Gray as a climate scientist and long-standing IPCC expert reviewer, but he fails to note that Dr. Gray is the retired chief chemist of the Coal Research Association in New Zealand. He also fails to note that Dr. Gray’s viewpoints contradict 97% of scientists and hundreds to thousands of peer-reviewed research publications.

In fact, Dr. Gray’s claim is wholly inaccurate. The human fingerprint on excess greenhouse gases is clear and a warmer climate will undoubtedly change the Earth.

Dr. Gray also says of the IPCC that it is “obvious that their climate models do not work” and that the global temperature record is “doctored.” Once again, he is flatly contradicted by the facts. Climate models do a remarkable job of reconstructing past and current climate conditions, such as surface temperatures, sea ice extent and ocean conditions. There are multiple independent records of temperature with which to compare model results, and observations of melting glaciers and rising sea levels corroborate these records.

The IPCC itself does not conduct original research. Nearly a thousand scientists from over thirty countries volunteer their time to synthesize thousands of recent peer-reviewed studies. Peer-reviewed means that these studies have already undergone scrutiny by at least two other independent scientists from different institutions. This is objective scientific assessment at its very best.

Dr. Gray suggests that the IPCC report’s Summary for Policymakers was written by policymakers, which is nonsense. Representatives from 195 nations do approve the report, but the summary is written by 70 prominent scientists. The IPCC report reflects the consensus views of the scientific community, and every assertion in them can be traced to original, reputable research. Calling the IPCC “unwelcome” to constructive criticism, as Dr. Gray does, is laughable, because the essence of the peer-review process is constructive criticism.

Finally, Dr. Gray’s remark that the “IPCC grossly exploits general public confusion over the whole issue of ‘global temperatures’” is ironic, given that the climate change deniers are engaged in exactly such activity—spreading disinformation to a public sometimes bewildered by the complexities of this subject. As Dr. Gray puts it, in words that apply not to the IPCC but to denialists like himself: “It’s really crazy, but they seem to get away with it in the mainstream media.”

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Ilissa Ocko

Ilissa Ocko

Ilissa Ocko is a High-Meadows Post-Doctoral Science Fellow at EDF.

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Winters are arriving later and falls are warmer and wetter. Where I live our first snowfall always came in October now it isn't coming until December. It has messed up the deer hunt for at least a dozen years or so....