The ‘climate change debate’ is Science vs. Snake Oil

This is a Wonkroom repost.

According to the mainstream media, there is a controversy over the validity of climate science, in particular the conclusion that the warming of the planet by greenhouse gas emissions poses a risk to the public:

“Iceberg Ahead: Climate scientists who play fast and loose with the facts are imperiling not just their profession but the planet” “” Newsweek, 2/19/10

“Controversies Create Opening for Critics” “” Wall Street Journal, 2/17/10

“Series of missteps by climate scientists threatens climate-change agenda” “” Washington Post, 2/14/10

“Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze” “” The New York Times, 2/11/10

Let’s take a look at who is on either side of this so-called climate-change debate:

These Groups Say The Danger Of Manmade Global Warming Is A . . .
U.S. Agency for International Development
United States Department of Agriculture
National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration
National Institute of Standards and Technology
United States Department of Defense
United States Department of Energy
National Institutes of Health
United States Department of State
United States Department of Transportation
U.S. Geological Survey
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
University Corporation for Atmospheric Research
National Center for Atmospheric Research
National Aeronautics & Space Administration
National Science Foundation
Smithsonian Institution
International Arctic Science Committee
Arctic Council
African Academy of Sciences
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Academia Brasileira de Ci©ncias
Cameroon Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of Canada
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Acad©mie des Sciences, France
Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina of Germany
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Accademia nazionale delle scienze of Italy
Indian National Science Academy
Science Council of Japan
Kenya National Academy of Sciences
Madagascar’s National Academy of Arts, Letters and Sciences
Academy of Sciences Malaysia
Academia Mexicana de Ciencias
Nigerian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society of New Zealand
Polish Academy of Sciences
Russian Academy of Sciences
l’Acad©mie des Sciences et Techniques du S©n©gal
Academy of Science of South Africa
Sudan Academy of Sciences
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
Tanzania Academy of Sciences
Turkish Academy of Sciences
Uganda National Academy of Sciences
The Royal Society of the United Kingdom
National Academy of Sciences, United States
Zambia Academy of Sciences
Zimbabwe Academy of Science
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Association of Wildlife Veterinarians
American Astronomical Society
American Chemical Society
American College of Preventive Medicine
American Geophysical Union
American Institute of Physics
American Medical Association
American Meteorological Society
American Physical Society
American Public Health Association
American Quaternary Association
American Institute of Biological Sciences
American Society of Agronomy
American Society for Microbiology
American Society of Plant Biologists
American Statistical Association
Association of Ecosystem Research Centers
Botanical Society of America
Crop Science Society of America
Ecological Society of America
Federation of American Scientists
Geological Society of America
National Association of Geoscience Teachers
Natural Science Collections Alliance
Organization of Biological Field Stations
Society of American Foresters
Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics
Society of Systematic Biologists
Soil Science Society of America
Australian Coral Reef Society
Australian Medical Association
Australian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
Engineers Australia
Federation of Australian Scientific and Technological Societies
Geological Society of Australia
British Antarctic Survey
Institute of Biology, UK
Royal Meteorological Society, UK
Canadian Foundation for Climate and Atmospheric Sciences
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society
European Federation of Geologists
European Geosciences Union
European Physical Society
European Science Foundation
International Association for Great Lakes Research
International Union for Quaternary Research
International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
World Federation of Public Health Associations
World Health Organization
World Meteorological Organization
American Petroleum Institute
US Chamber of Commerce
National Association of Manufacturers
Competitive Enterprise Institute
Industrial Minerals Association
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
Great Northern Project Development
Rosebud Mining
Massey Energy
Alpha Natural Resources
Southeastern Legal Foundation
Georgia Agribusiness Council
Georgia Motor Trucking Association
Corn Refiners Association
National Association of Home Builders
National Oilseed Processors Association
National Petrochemical and Refiners Association
Western States Petroleum Association
“FACT” organizations from Is There a Scientific Consensus on Global Warming?,
“FRAUD” organizations are petitioners v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Findings for Greenhouse Gases under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act.

Reckless reporting from senior journalists is giving credence to a laughable concept “” that there is a global conspiracy by the world’s scientific organizations to deceive the public about the threat of global warming. In reality, industrial polluters are promoting baseless conspiracy theories to overturn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare. Despite the smoke and snake oil from these polluters, the threat of manmade global warming is a fact.

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37 Responses to The ‘climate change debate’ is Science vs. Snake Oil

  1. Aaron Lewis says:

    How long until API (& etc), start whining, “You did not tell us how bad it would be!”?

  2. climate undergrad says:

    Great addition! Any person worth interacting with can appreciate this.

    To add (from wikipedia):

    “No scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion since the American Association of Petroleum Geologists adopted its current position in 2007.[2] Some organisations hold non-committal positions.”

    American Association of Petroleum Geologists:

    “In the last century growth in human populations has increased energy use. This has
    contributed additional carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases to the atmosphere.
    Although the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that
    anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases, the AAPG
    believes that expansion of scientific climate research into the basic controls on climate
    is important. This research should be undertaken by appropriate federal agencies
    involved in climate research and their associated grant and contract programs.”

  3. Jeff Huggins says:

    Bravo! And Now — The Question for The New York Times

    IF The New York Times wants to have any credibility left at the end of the day, it should run this list. To this day, as far as I can tell, it has not run the list of all the scientific and related organizations (the left-hand column above) on the front page, in a well-written, credible, scientifically sound way.

    And, it (The Times) and its reporters constantly express confusion or wonder about why the communication of the matter of global warming is not having the impact (on understanding) that it should among the public.

    I don’t know how many times — quite a few — Andy Revkin, on Dot Earth, raised wonder or concern about why the public’s understanding was not improving much. Indeed, several times he ran posts that seemed to be in search of a magic word or phrase. All the while, The Times was not even running lists of all the bona fide organizations on its front page or, indeed, in ANY prominent place. It’s as if the lead singer of a rock band was complaining about the fact that the audience could not hear his lyrics when, in fact, he was skipping most of the lyrics and not even using a microphone anyhow.

    Be that as it may, the past is the past. The present question is this: Will The New York Times now run a clear and compelling article, on the front page, showing the list of all the bona fide organizations that tell us loud and clear about the reality of climate change? That’s the question. It’s a clear one. The list is shown above and can be easily checked. There is not good or responsible reason NOT to run the list in an excellent and clarifying article. ExxonMobil ads have appeared on the front page countless times, confusing matters, distracting us, and often spewing nonsense. Meanwhile, an article such as the one I’m suggesting has not appeared, at all, on the front page.

    The credibility stakes are high, also, for Thomas Friedman and Paul Krugman and so forth. As much as I admire their own honest and verve and (usually) excellence in covering climate change in their own pieces, they too raise concern about the public’s limited understanding and the fact that we need to do something, even as one of the largest culprits (of poor coverage) is the very paper that they work for. Given the stakes in this issue — which those two gentlemen understand, I believe, or at least they say they do — they should be charging into the owner’s office, starting now, and insisting on dramatically better coverage in the news part of the paper itself. A very good, and necessary, place to start would be to run an excellent, clearly written, totally credible, and appropriately “loud” piece, prominently, on the front page, showing the list of all the organizations and that, thus, there is no real “controversy” here, regarding the existence of the problem itself.

    Will The New York Times do it, soon? It’s a simple and concrete question. We will all be able to witness the answer. If they don’t, I strongly suggest that anyone with any self-respect left should promptly stop buying The Times. Get another paper … perhaps one from the UK. Enough is enough. I don’t want to hear yet another time someone’s left hand complain about what their own right hand is doing. Pull it together, New York Times.

    THIS is the sort of thing that deserves persistence, follow up, pressure, and so forth. The list is here. The Times hasn’t covered it. They say (in editorials and among their chief columnists) that they understand the grave urgency of the matter. Yet they haven’t even covered this list, in an excellent article, to clear up a great deal of public confusion. Why not?? Well, we all have a sense of why, but it’s not a good or credible reason. So, it’s time to put up, or shut up. That’s the most polite way that I can find to put it, under the circumstances and given the time that has already passed.

    Indeed, I’ll go farther. Although I often admire their own work on the subject, I’d like to ask — request — that Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman and Andy Revkin write in, here, to tell us their views on this very topic: Why hasn’t The Times run an article of the sort I’m describing? Give us your best reasoning, or let us know whether you think that they should and must run such an article. Be honest and transparent. Don’t give us muddy explanations. Should or shouldn’t The Times run such an article, prominently, on the front page, addressing the matter squarely, in the public interest?

    Calling Paul Krugman and Thomas Friedman and Andy Revkin. Let us know, please.

    And Joe, in my view, you and we should follow up with this and not let it pass and be forgotten. This is a fair and necessary question to ask of The New York Times. So let’s ask it, until it’s answered.



  4. Sou says:

    I’m surprised to see some of the farmer organisations dispute warming.

    You’d think they’d be gearing up to make capital out of it, lobbying for industry rationalisation grants, positioning for drought / flood relief, loans or grants for mitigation, adaptation, converting to other land use and the like.

    I know there are quite a few farmer organisations that are ahead of the game. Some are very aware of the likely huge demand for more food over the next twenty or thirty years, while at the same time there is going to be enormous pressure on the available arable land and water.

  5. Chris Dudley says:

    Jeff (#2),

    The reason is obvious. They won’t run the story because the previous administration asked them to sit on it for national security reasons and, since they are out of office, they can’t give permission now. That’s some catch that catch 22 ;-)

  6. Dennis says:

    The fact v. fraud table neatly summarizes motivations. If you believe in the power of scienec to get at the truth — FACT; if you have financial interests in obfuscating science — FRAUD.

  7. mike roddy says:

    I’ve had a lot of experience with trade groups, and learned that they protect their weakest and most reactionary members. Without mentioning them by name, I’ve gone to their functions: what a joke! Bad country music, and half of the speakers get up and bash environmentalists.

    The National Association of Manufacturers (not one I’ve worked with) is a good example. The NAM president lobbies hard against any climate legislation, but I wouldn’t be surprised if at least half of their memberships’ leaders are at least somewhat awake on the subject.

    I’m not sure why this is the case: maybe small business owners tend to be the most “conservative” (not sure what that term means anymore), or at least believe they have the most to lose by change. The more nimble and progressive business leaders will defeat them in the marketplace, not just because they don’t fear change, but because they decipher opportunities and challenges better.

  8. Ned says:

    Great post, interesting list.

    It’s just a pity that the fact list is international, wheras the fraud list is US centric.

    I’d love to have a full global list, and hopefully it would be similarly skewed.

  9. Wit's End says:

    Sou, it’s not farmers so much as ethanol producers!

  10. Bob Horn says:

    You might also start a list of business organizations that believe the science. Start with the members of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. They are a CEO-membership organization of 200 of the largest companies in the world, 1/2 of them on the Fortune 500 list.

  11. Lewis says:

    RE: Sou at no. 3

    I’d speculate a reason for agriculture inclusions on the denier list would be that in the case of Beef raisers fear of tougher standards or controls on manure handling would be a motivator. I’d posit some sort of fear of a ‘cow tax.’

    I’d think some kind of fear of pushing society to a Vegan lifestyle in the name of reducing methane from stockyards and pushing growing more plants would be a worry for any sort of rancher.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into it but poking around the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association website suggested an ongoing conflict with environmental groups. The Fact Sheet I came across seemed a little defensive.

    Corn growers might be fearful of a shift to electric cars and therefore less demand for corn ethanol. A quick search turned up the Corn Refiners Association website and according to it the second major corn product behind sweetners is corn ethanol. Lots of big agri-corporations on their member lists. General big business fear of regulation perhaps?

    I’d think years of run-ins with ‘lefty environmentalists’ have made growers skittish about agreeing with them on anything.

  12. Chris Winter says:

    It would indeed be interesting to get global lists of organizations taking a stand against the reality of AGW. Even more interesting would be to list those organizations which are savvy enough to be more subtle, working against measures which would force them to cut their production or use of fossil fuels while being “politically correct” in their press conferences.

  13. Richard Brenne says:

    Each of us on the fact side of climate change and who communicate it should carry this list in our pockets, briefcases and PowerPoints and use it whenever denier questions come up. It should be published as Jeff suggests everywhere it is possible to see it published.

    We should also be working to convert everyone and every institution on the “fraud” side to join the “fact” side as soon as possible. If they refuse to be converted we should marginalize, boycott and mock them and the companies they represent as much as possible.

    Similarly, those on the left or “fact” side should be supported as much as possible. In addition to doing all the science they’re doing, they should band together with resources including money to better communicate climate change to everyone in our nation and world that it is possible to reach.

    And those who obstruct necessary education, discussion and action should be marginalized, boycotted, mocked, shunned, ignored and defeated.

  14. GFW says:

    Ned, the powerhouse deniers are mostly American. There certainly are some overseas though. Heh, should get the official position of the Saudi govt…

    Joe, you really should have the Heritage Foundation near the top of the denier list.

  15. Richard Brenne says:

    Also the list should include the names of people at some point, so that the same techniques I mention above can be applied to individuals as well.

  16. Wit's End says:

    I think these two analogies are helpful regarding discussing scientific expertise:

    1. Let’s suppose a neurosurgeon tells you, sorry, the CAT scan shows you have a tumor in your brain. It could kill you tomorrow, or next week, or maybe in a year – we just can’t predict that exactly. But we’re sure it is going to kill you.

    But you don’t like that diagnosis because you have an important project at work this week, and a special dinner out next Saturday night.

    Can you find some crank who will tell you not to worry, he’s got a homeopathic remedy? Of course you can! And besides, that CAT scan…can you trust it? After all, you have no idea how it works, right? Besides, that neurosurgeon is making the whole thing up to get money from you – and government grants for a study.

    Well, the climate scientists are telling you there is a tumor in your brain – and only a few quacks disagree.

    What would you do if you were diagnosed with a terminal illness? Probably what practically everyone does – get on the internet and find all the information from reputable sources about the disease. Like the National Academy of Science, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, every major scientific organization in the world. They all agree we are in a climate emergency from human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

    2. Let’s suppose you are building a house and some geeky scientists tell the government you are in a fault zone and eventually – maybe tomorrow, maybe in a hundred years, but quite likely within 25 years, there will be a major earthquake. So the government tells you that you must reinforce it to withstand the predicted earthquake.

    Well! You protest: Those scientists can’t even agree when the earthquake will come, and a few say it won’t ever come, and I don’t understand plate tectonics or seismographs, and this will cost me money, and I don’t like government regulations!

    So, you sneakily don’t build as required – maybe you pay off the building inspector. And you live happily in your house the rest of your life and die peacefully in your bed, smug in the knowledge that those scientists were wrong.

    Your son loves the pretty house you built and so he and his wife are raising your grandchildren there when whoops, the earthquake hits! The whole family is trapped in the rubble and they all die within the next few days, in agony, from crushed limbs and organs.

    Thanks, Grandpop!

  17. mark says:

    just like their product, they are soon to be dinosaur remains.

  18. Cloneof says:

    Now I though that the geo science committee of the Polish Academy of Science had early last year stated criticism. I might have been mistaken, but here is the link (

  19. Bill Hewitt says:

    Great chart! Bob Horn (#10) is right too about getting the business groups included. (see

    I wrote to the “NY Times” on the “Climate-Change Debate Is Heating Up in Deep Freeze” story. The premise that there are “two sides in the climate-change debate” is way off the mark. There is deep, broad and unequivocal science that has long since ended any reasoned contention that climate change is not a stark reality. Naomi Oreskes, a social scientist, looked at 928 – 10% – of all the papers published on climate change in peer-reviewed science journals over a ten-year period. She chose the 928 papers at random. Not one disputed the view that manmade GHGs were causing a catastrophic environmental crisis.

  20. mike roddy says:

    Richard Brenne,

    Good idea, and I’d like to see it extended. Rainforest Action Network had great success with product boycotts, and got huge corporations to change their purchasing and environmental policies. Examples are Citibank and Home Depot. For some reason the big groups didn’t catch on, but Michael Brune, the old RAN president and brilliant strategist, now runs the Sierra Club.

    Big Green groups could accomplish big things by not only boycotting polluters, but especially in leading consumer boycotts against the reactionary companies that fund climate change disinformation campaigns. That will get their attention faster than Opeds or even media campaigns.

  21. David B. Benson says:

    Coal tax.

    Now also cow tax.

  22. klem says:

    This is a a fantastic post. Too bad the denialists are winning. I think it’s time to jump from the sinking global warming ship.

  23. From Peru says:

    I think this post is insulting for snakes…

    … they are not responsible for the actions of Big Business…

    Will serpentes survive the massive extinction, as they did 65 million years ago?

  24. David Smith says:

    Best post ever.

  25. David Smith says:

    Send this post to everyone you know.

  26. Richard Brenne says:

    Gail (Wit’s End #17) – Brilliant!

    Many of us have used the medical analogy but the earthquake one is brilliantly written and new to me!

    Do you want to re-publish that, submitting it many places (including letters to the editor), do you want to be quoted, or do you want everyone to start using it regardless of attribution?

    Whatever you decide it should be seen by as many eyeballs as possible (and hopefully ones connected to equally well-functioning brains, so forget about Fox News).

    On second thought, tell Joe if he can use it (with or without attribution) next time he’s on Fox. Various versions can be quite succinct, even between Neil Cavuto’s many interruption aftershocks (comparable in number to those tragically in Chile). Again, brilliant -Kudos Gail!

  27. Wit's End says:

    Thank you Richard, of course anyone can use either any time, any way!

  28. zj 77 says:

    This chart is among the most striking statements against the credibility of the deniers that I’ve seen in my 5 years of consciousness of the issue. Brilliantly simple. We need more of this.

    I hope this becomes one of the charts Joe habitually cites and reposts to.

  29. zj 77 says:

    A weakness of the chart is that the left-hand column contains groups from the US, other nations, and global grops. The right-hand column is all US-based orgs & co’s. Deniers will claim unequal terms, and that this alone discredits any implication the list makes.

    You ought remove Massey and Rosebud – to include the category of denier corporations would make the list very unwieldy.

    Club for Growth, Heritage, AEI, & Cato also require inclusion on the right side.

  30. sHx says:

    Long time lurker, first time poster here.

    I find it quite telling that you’ve chosen to show a big snake ready-to-strike when all you wanted to say was that ‘denialists’ are akin to snake oil salesmen. It is not like the choice would illustrate how ‘scientists’ have become scaremongers or anything like that.

  31. Jonathan says:

    While on the subject of lists, I ‘t think the blogosphere has noticed the climate science analysis published by Thomson Reuters in November.

    It uses their authoritative Science Web citation index to list the top 20 papers, authors, institutions and journals in climate science over the last 10 years (and the last 2 years).

    Interestingly, as far as I can tell no prominent “sceptics” made the list. But then the whole institution of science lost the plot back when it started claiming the Earth is round.

  32. Jonathan says:

    “I ‘t think” is short for “I don’t think”. Oops.

  33. Mike#22 says:

    The organized denier machine is based mainly in the US, the UK, and Australia, as this listing from Sourcewatch shows, with some presence in Canada and New Zealand.

    Perhaps denialism is somehow tied to a dislike for the metric system?

    Organizational Skeptics:

    Australian APEC Study Centre
    Competitive Enterprise Institute (US)
    Doctors for Disaster Preparedness
    Exxon-Funded Skeptics
    Friends of Science (Canada)
    George C. Marshall Institute (US)
    Global Warming Policy Foundation (UK)
    Heartland Institute (US)
    Institute of Economic Affairs (UK)
    Institute of Public Affairs (Australia)
    International Climate Science Coalition (NZ)
    International Policy Network (UK)
    Lavoisier Group (Australia)
    Natural Resources Stewardship Project (NSRP) (Canada)
    New Zealand Climate Science Coalition
    Scientific Alliance (UK)
    The United Kingdom House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs
    NZ Center for Policy Research (NZ)
    New Zealand Climate Change Coalition (NZ)

  34. Wit's End says:

    Richard Brenne, I just had a conversation with an elderly friend who read the earthquake analogy on my blog. He was extremely indignant. “It’s not even an analogy!” he insisted. “Probably, the grandchildren knew the house wasn’t built to code, and they decided to live there anyway, so it’s not the builder’s fault if it fell on them! It’s their own choice!”

    This is from a guy who has been flying back and forth to India several times a year for a couple of decades now.


  35. Steve O says:

    I don’t think API’s official stand is that global warming is a fraud. This language is on their website:
    “While we rely on them for most of our energy and will likely do so for years to come, emissions from their production and use may be helping to warm our planet by enhancing the natural greenhouse effect of the atmosphere. That’s why oil and gas companies are also working to reduce their greenhouse emissions.”

    I think that’s their way of downplaying as much as humanly possible the indisputable facts. But they don’t seem to be suggesting fraud.

  36. Steve O says:

    Likewise with NAHB. They have come down on the side of opposing specific legislation, which is certainly not helping the situation, but I cannot find any reference to where they officially claim it’s fraudulent. Here’s some language from their documents, too:

    NAHB believes it plays an important role in the reduction of global warming emissions because “green building is the answer to the residential sector’s impact on global warming…. [Builders] need to make sure whatever impact they have on climate change can be mitigated in some way.”
    And from their testimony against EPA’s endangerment finding:
    – “Matters as important and as controversial as greenhouse gases and global climate change require Congressional action”
    – “Encouraging sun-tempered designing for passive solar heating, natural cooling and other climate-appropriate efficiency measures”
    – “Merely providing evidence that climate change exists and may be caused by the air pollutant under examination is not enough.”
    This last quote implies that they do not dispute the fact that EPA was able to provide evidence of the existence of climate change.

    So although NAHB does a bit of fancy dancing, I would put them in the sort-of-accepts-climate-change-but-doesn’t-want-to-act group, which is different from not accepting or asserting that it’s a fraud.

  37. Steve O says:

    And how about this from the Corn Refiners Association’s 2009 annual report?

    ——Climate Change

    The wet milling industry takes seriously its responsibility to minimize greenhouse gas emissions and has a long history of working proactively and voluntarily with the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our industry is a strong advocate of a greenhouse gas emission reduction program that results in cleaner air, while accommodating the public’s need for affordable energy and protecting American jobs and rural communities.
    I suspect a close inspection of many of the right-hand-column organizations will show that they are not outright disputing climate change but in a more middling neutral position while trying to weasel around taking action.