New Internationalist

Toxic Sceptics

Issue 357

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Climate Change / SCEPTICS

Toxic sceptics
More than 2,000 of the world's leading scientists who sit on the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) are agreed. Global warming is happening - and it's connected with fossil-fuel use. But there are disbelievers, too. Here are six climate-change deniers who have shot to fame for their views - and their talent for attracting publicity.
Chris De Freitas
Fred Singer
Hugh Morgan
Bjorn Lomberg
Philip Stott
Ross McKitrick
Illustration: Jonathan Williams

Fred Singer, leading US climatechange denier, puts his faith in satellites. The University of Virginia professor, and former director of the US Weather Satellite service, observes that data from satellites show no increase in temperature. He discounts readings from the ground. 'Fears of climate catastrophes are without foundation,' Singer states. In 1994 he proposed a $95,000 publicity project to 'stem the tide towards ever more onerous controls on energy use' and has received consulting fees from Exxon, Shell, UNOCAL, ARCO, and Sun Oil. Singer's organization, The Science and Environment Policy Project, has Exxon among its funders. Singer has also enjoyed close links with Reverend Moon (of the Moonies religious cult) who owns the Washington Times, a regular outlet for the professor's views.

Chris de Freitas believes that more carbon dioxide (CO2) - the main greenhouse gas - can only be good for us. It's food for plants which means a more robust biosphere, asserts the climate scientist at the School of Geography and Environmental Science, University of Auckland, New Zealand/Aotearoa. 'Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant and it does not harm the environment,' states de Freitas. Nor does he believe that global temperature has risen significantly in the past 20 years. De Freitas has been vocal against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol. His work features prominently on fossil-fuel industry websites.

Hugh Morgan convenes the Lavoisier Group - described by critics as 'Australia's funniest corporate front group'. Set up to challenge what it calls 'environmental extremists', the group declares: 'With the Kyoto Protocol we face the most serious challenge to our sovereignty since the Japanese Fleet entered the Coral Sea on 3 May, 1942.' It gets better. Morgan views discussion papers from the Australian Government's Greenhouse Office as Nazi propaganda, labelling them ' Mein Kampf declarations'. Like several others in the Lavoisier Group, Morgan is connected with the mining transnational WMC - he only resigned as its Chief Executive in January. In recent years WMC's greenhouse-gas emissions are reported to have risen sharply, from 1.62 million tonnes of carbon dioxide in 1994-95 to 2.99 million tonnes in 2001.

Bjorn Lomberg is one of the most media-loving (and loved) of the deniers. His book The Sceptical Environmentalist turned the youthful Dane and former Greenpeace member into a star public speaker. But this T-shirt-wearing, vegetarian professor of statistics from the University of Arhus recently fell foul of the Danish Committee on Scientific Dishonesty for 'misrepresenting or misinterpreting' the scientific studies of others. Lomberg's line is that global warming is probably happening - but it's not nearly as bad as we think. 'It will not decrease food production; nor is it likely to increase storminess, the frequency of hurricanes, the impact of malaria, or cause more deaths.' We should do nothing to reduce CO2 emissions, he says. Better to maintain business as usual, but invest in renewable energy anyway.

Ross McKitrick sees climate change in money terms. While global warming is relatively benign, argues the economics professor from the University of Guelph, Ontario, measures to tackle it are not. The Kyoto Protocol 'will ultimately mean a fundamental restructuring of the economy,' warns McKitrick, a senior fellow of Canada's right-wing Fraser Institute. Ratifying Kyoto would, he claims, lead to a 5.5-per-cent drop in 'real' household incomes. 'This is obviously a bad deal for Canadian households and should be rejected,' he concludes. McKitrick is on the roster of experts with the Competitive Enterprise Institute which has ExxonMobil as a major funder. In 2001 Exxon donated $280,000 to the Institute.

Philip Stott is bit of a newcomer to global warming - his previous stomping ground was promoting GM food - but he's been grooming himself to become Britain's leading climatechange denier. 'The myth of global warming was invented in 1988,' claims the emeritus professor of biogeography at London University. Climate change, he argues, is unexceptional and anyway 'humans have always coped with change'. Stott, an ardent self-publicist, regularly appears on radio and television. His favoured method is to cite carefully selected, contradictory data to undermine the IPCC consensus. A contrarian, it seems, in more ways than one, Stott claims to belong to the political 'Left' while maintaining a fiercely pro-industry stance.


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