by Asher Price
I went yesterday to hear S. Fred Singer’s talk on global warming. Singer is a well-known skeptic; I wrote about him and the talk earlier this week
. I thought I’d write a few thoughts here.
First off, the crowd, which numbered at least a couple of hundred people, seemed generally gracious, and Singer himself was charming. (Though I got the sense during a question-and-answer session that he was sort of selectively hearing what he wanted to hear in the questions that were being asked.)
Climate science, he said, has “changed from pure science to name calling, on both.” Then he launched into an explanation of why he did not believe manmade emissions of carbon dioxide had anything to do with global warming. (In the q-and-a he said you could build as many coal plants, which are large emitters of carbon dioxide, as you like without affecting climate change.) He also took some shots at climate modelers (of which there happens to be a bunch at UT).
A couple of observations, which I mean to be non-evaluative: I was struck by the generational divide in the audience, especially at the q-and-a, which was in a separate room from the talk. Skeptics, at least at this event, tended to be older, white and male. (That cohort especially stands out at in a university setting, of course.) Also, from my interviews, they tend to consider themselves politically conservative. Many of them worry, for instance, about the taxes that will result from carbon regulation and the overreach of the government.
Another observation: It seemed to me that there was a lot of cheap scoring of points, with no one really leaving the talk or the post-talk q-and-a with a position different from the one they came in with.
I asked Charles Jackson, a climate research scientist at the University of Texas, whether he thought the talk and question period was useful. He was essentially ambivalent.
“To have a scientific conversation, you have to start with some agreement about just what you’re looking at,” he told me. In the discussion on Thursday, however, there were fundamental differences about what the data meant, how it was presented and how it was collected, he said.
“People only heard the arguments they wanted to hear and further entrenched themselves,” he continued. “The danger of misinformation distracts from the important reality of what climate change is and the question of what we, as a society, are going to do about it.”
Lastly, I just thought I’d reprint some of the varying reaction to my story that I got in the last two days in calls and emails. Most of them were from people I’ll call skeptics. (Singer, by the way, said this community is not monolithic and has a wide variation of opinion; the variety of these reactions seems to prove his point.)
Dan Miller, publisher at the Heartland Institute, which puts out a newsletter that seeks to debunk prevailing global warming theory, wrote me: “Very nicely done, Asher. Balanced and well written, too. Nice going.”
This morning I got an email from Brad (I’ll leave out his last name, since he’s a private citizen and his note wasn’t on letterhead, like Miller’s):
“Mr. Price, you are pathetic. do some research. there is no such thing as a consensus on alleged global warming or anything like it. if you would have researched your lame article, you could have found volumes of data supporting no climate change and none tied to man activities. have you heard of Roy Spencer? you have absolutely no creditability [sic], thats why no one buys your paper.”
Thanks, Brad, for the kind words. Very sweet of you.
Bob, a retiree living in Bastrop called to thank me this morning for the Singer story. The idea of a link between global warming and manmade emissions “is the largest fraud in the last two or three centuries,” he told me. Had I seen the article in Pravda that debunked the theory, he asked. By the end of the phone call, he was pressing me to write another global warming story and sounded mildly irritated to hear that, believe it or not, there are other things on the environmental beat that I need to write about.
An Austin environmental activist named Karen told me yesterday she liked the story. And this morning an Austinite named Tim wrote me a note to tell me that I had been mentioned at Media Matters
. That website had complimented me for mentioning that the aforementioned Heartland Institute gets money from the energy sector.
He wrote: “If there were more reporters like you at the Statesman I might be forced to renew my subscription.”
Finally: At some point in my story I referred to skeptics as “contrarians.” A reader named Jim, another Austinite and who also thinks conventional theories of global warming and its causes are nonsense, wrote me: “As a ‘journalist,’ perhaps you should not make your agenda too obvious. Why stop at ‘contrarians?’ Why not just call skeptics ‘infidels?’”
(In his email to me, Jim also described a UT climate scientist I interviewed who took issue with Singer as “a true zealot of the Inquisition!” Gosh, what a thoughtful comparison.)
What I’m struck by, in the emails and phone calls and posts on our web version of this story and others on global warming, is the vitriolic tone of the comments. Debate on the merits, by all means. Freedom of speech, of course, and as a reporter I’ve developed some pretty thick skin. But many of these comments are simply unpleasant and cheap. I just wonder: What’s gained by all the ad hominem stuff?
Source Link: statesman.com