Thought that I would re-post this op-ed I wrote which was included in today’s Collegian. Paul and I both sat through the event last Wednesday, and were very disappointed that ASAP would choose to spend several thousand dollars to bring someone like that to campus, when it was pretty obvious that he’d just be spewing propaganda the entire time. The actual ‘talk’ was just as bad as anticipated!
ASAP climate change event a disservice to the topic
There’s been a lot written lately on the issue of false balance in climate science media coverage, the notion that reporters can inadvertently provide an air of legitimacy to non-experts or unsubstantiated viewpoints in their attempt to show journalistic even-handedness. I was very disappointed to see ASAP contribute to that trend through Wednesday night’s program on climate change, in which Dr. Jay Lehr of the heavily fossil fuel industry-funded Heartland Institute was brought in to butt heads with local research scientists for two hours at the LSC Theater.
While the event was billed as an independent scientist presenting an unconventional analysis of the subject of climate change, Dr. Lehr’s presentation made few if any references to physics underlying the Earth’s climate system. It instead consisted entirely of easily-debunked talking points, anecdotal or cherry-picked assertions, blindingly self-contradictory logic, and obfuscation on matters as basic as difference between the annual flux and the atmospheric concentration of CO2. It was somewhat comical (in an uncomfortable kind of way) to listen to the scientific panel explain the finer points of the stratospheric temperature profile or the competing effects of CO2 fertilization and drought on local ecosystems, only to be followed by the invited speaker’s absurd misdirection that the American Physical Society is opposed to climate change theory (quite the opposite) or that we should be skeptical of expert opinions because the experts were wrong about the Y2K bug (??). Instead of scientifically-minded discussion, what we heard was lobbying, pure and simple, with arguments that were inconsistent, misleading, and often downright bizarre.
I don’t deny that there are a lot of unresolved issues surrounding climate change science and policy, or that the climate research community has a lot of work to do to engage the large segments of the general population dismissive of its work. While I appreciate ASAP’s effort to promote discussion on this issue, their choice of speaker did more to polarize than to clarify. There are plenty of legitimate academics right here in Colorado who could have provided critical but well-reasoned and intellectually honest arguments exploring the limitations of current climate modeling efforts, critiquing the IPCC process, debating the attribution of individual extreme weather events, or analyzing the cost-benefit tradeoffs of different climate mitigation policies. But instead they turned the podium over to an organization famous for putting up billboards tying climate change science to the Unabomber. In my opinion that’s a glaring misuse of student fees, and it reflects poorly on this institution.
John Field, graduate student, Department of Mechanical Engineering and Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory