Listen to this post
RBC I By the time you read this, the Herald Times will publish Part 3 of Ms. Hemmerich’s climate series. Please note that this article is my response to her Part 2, printed last week. I do not have early access to Ms. Hemmerich’s writing; I read it at the same time you do. On that schedule, she stays a week ahead of the fact-checking.
Let us stipulate that fossil fuels have driven enormous economic growth to the benefit of human societies all over the world. Let us also stipulate that those same fossil fuels are increasing global temperatures at alarming rates, damaging entire ecosystems and threatening human infrastructures and human health. The data is absolutely clear. It has been published throughout the scientific research literature and referenced in these pages. I will not repeat my previous work. My purpose here is to shine light on Ms. Hemmerich’s claims.
In Part 2 of her series on climate change, Ms. Hemmerich persists in a disinformation campaign. She is participating, perhaps unknowingly, in a strategy of deception first used by Big Tobacco to discredit the science linking cigarettes to cancer and other health problems. (See Oreskes 2011 and Michaels 2020.) The network of climate deniers has adopted the Big Tobacco playbook: Deny the science. Hide the damning data that your own researchers have already collected. Pay big money to hire science surrogates to offer “alternative facts.” Pay big money to fund “research institutes” to disseminate your propaganda. Buy politicians to legislate your interests. Institutionalize your interests in the political process. Remove or muzzle objective science from the regulatory agencies. And insist that the news media provide “balanced coverage.” even if the “balance” includes articles that are very far from the truth. It worked well for Big Tobacco, limiting the damages they had to pay their victims. It worked until the science finally became overwhelming. It is working for climate deniers even though the body of climate science already is overwhelming.
Ms. Hemmerich cites a number of “experts” for her argument. Let’s review that list. Willie Soon; aeronautical engineer funded with big bucks from Koch Brothers, ExxonMobil, Southern Company and other fossil fuel giants. Frederick Seitz; physicist, founder of the Marshall Institute, hired by R. J. Reynolds to obfuscate the health effects of tobacco and, later, an “expert” witness for the coal and chemical industries denying the toxic effects of acid rain and ozone depletion. Patrick Moore; on the board of NextEnergy, a Canadian energy services company, and not as Ms. Hemmerich claims a “co-founder of GreenPeace.” Indur Goklany; electrical engineer on the payroll of the Heartland Institute, a “think tank” dedicated to climate denial funded in part by Koch Industries, ExxonMobil, and Phillip Morris. You get the picture. These are not climate scientists. They are advocates for industry, bought and paid for. The one person with climate science training is David Legates; affiliate of the Marshall Institute, colleague of Willie Soon and, like Soon, funded by Koch Industries and ExxonMobil. Bought and paid for. The only sympathetic figure in Ms. Hemmerich’s list is Freeman Dyson, one of the giants in 20th Century quantum physics but who has no background in atmospheric science and who is a doddering 97 years old. (For documentation to the information above, see Peterson 2019 and DeSmog 2020.)
That’s the rogue’s gallery. I will briefly shred their claims. Once again, I refer you to the climate science references I published previously in these pages.
It is certainly true that increasing concentrations of CO2 can stimulate plant growth. Add carbon dioxide in a greenhouse and your plants will grow bigger and faster. But that most definitely does not mean planet earth will turn green. Plants need more than carbon dioxide. As any gardener knows, they also need sunlight, soil and water. They can’t grow without those, no matter how much CO2 is available. Climate models show that the terrestrial biosphere is getting hotter and dryer (IPCC 2019). Increasing temperatures drive desertification. Climate models and field studies show that increasing temperatures damage soil structure, increase runoff, and damage soil components necessary for plant growth. Rising temperatures reduce microorganisms, especially mycorrhyzae, on which plants depend. Much of the world will be turning brown, not green. (See Xu 2020, Caviccioli 2019, Pugnaire 2019, and Balkovic 2018, for a few of the many primary research studies.)
Ms. Hemmerich’s allusion to the fallacies of “consensus” in fact make an important point in favor of science. Misguided notions of racial inferiority were not informed by science as she suggests. They were cultural biases. There was no science supporting those biases, no randomized control studies, no valid research, no objective methodology to answer questions of race. The “consensus” was a consensus of ignorance, not science. Ditto Ms. Hemmerich’s history of handwashing and childbirth. It was not scientific consensus that guided doctors to avoid handwashing. Antiseptic precautions to protect mother and newborn just were not common medical practice of the time. It was ignorance. Once science established the importance of handwashing, the medical community changed its practice.
And that’s where we stand now on climate. The science of climate change is very well established. It is time to change our practice.
• Balkovič , Juraj et al. 2018. Impacts and uncertainties of +2°C of climate change and soil degradation on European crop calorie supply. https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/2017EF000629
• Caviccioli, Ricardo et al. 2019. Microorganisms and climate change. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41579-019-0222-5
• DeSmog. Disinformation database. https://www.desmogblog.com/global-warming-denier-database
• IPCC. 2019. Climate change and land. https://www.ipcc.ch/site/assets/uploads/2019/08/4.-SPM_Approved_Microsite_FINAL.pdf. An IPCC Special Report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems.
• Michaels, David. 2020. The triumph of doubt: dark money and the science of deception. Oxford University Press.
• Oreskes, Naomi and Erik Conway. 2011. Merchants of doubt: how a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from tobacco smoke to climate change. Bloomsbury Press.
• Peterson, A. M. et al. 2019. Discrepancy in scientific authority and media visibility of climate change scientists and contrarians. Nature Communications. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-09959-4
• Pugnaire, Francisco I. et al. 2019. Climate change effects on plant-soil feedbacks and consequences for biodiversity and functioning of terrestrial ecosystems. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/11/eaaz1834
• Xu Lian et al. 2020. Summer soil drying exacerbated by earlier spring greening of northern vegetation. https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/1/eaax0255
By BOB DORSETT, MD
Special to the Herald Times