Excerpted from the The Hamilton Spectator
Thu 21 Mar 2002
Forum, p. A15

Climate skeptic’ misinterprets global warming
by John Bennett

I’m not a scientist nor a climatologist. I am, I hope, a well informed concerned citizen, and as such I was enraged by an article by Tom Harris published by The Spectator on Feb. 12 (The dogma of ‘global warming’: CO2 link with climate change is still uncertain).

I was so enraged that for the first time in my life I called the Forum page editor to complain because the article was full of misinformation designed to mislead the reader. This article is the result of that conversation.

Harris is not a climate scientist. He is what is known as a “climate skeptic.” I spoke to Henry Hengveld, Environment Canada’s top climatologist, about climate skeptics and their counter theories of ice ages and improved plant growth. He told me that by and large they are not climatologists and they do not submit their studies to be peer reviewed by other experts in the field.

Harris uses two techniques. He quotes people whose titles suggest they are experts in the field when they are not and he cites studies out of context, drawing incorrect conclusions. His lineup of experts sounded impressive: Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Richard Lindzen, Dr. Willie Soon of Harvard and geologist Tim Patterson of Carleton University. None are climatologists.

Lindzen told Ross Gelbspan, author of The Heat Is On (Perseus Books 1997), that he charges $2,500 a day to consult for fossil fuel companies. His trip to Washington to testify before Al Gore’s committee on climate change was paid for by Western Fuels — a coal mining company. He is a paid lobbyist for the fossil fuel industry.

I had never heard of Willie Soon or Climate Research magazine. I did an Internet search on Climate Research magazine — every reputable scientific publication has a Web site. I expected hundreds of hits. I got three. All were articles by Harris, Soon and Tim Patterson, the geologist from Carleton University. In fact, one article was co-authored by Harris and Patterson.

Harris also refers to a petition signed by 17,000 scientists. It sounds impressive. But it is a crock and has been effectively dismissed. To qualify as scientist all that was required was a B.Sc. degree. How did it come about?

In the spring of 1998, mailboxes of U.S. university graduates were flooded with packets from the “Global Warming Petition Project.” The packets included a reprint of a Wall Street Journal op-ed with the headline “Science has spoken: Global Warming Is a Myth,” a copy of a faux scientific article claiming that “increased levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide have no deleterious effects upon global climate,” a short letter signed by U.S. National Academy of Sciences, past-president Frederick Seitz, and a short petition calling for the rejection of the Kyoto Protocol on the grounds that a reduction in carbon dioxide “would harm the environment, hinder the advance of science and technology, and damage the health and welfare of mankind.”

The sponsor, the little-known Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, tried to beguile unsuspecting scientists into believing that this packet had originated from the National Academy of the Sciences (NAS), both by referencing Seitz’s past involvement with the NAS and with an article formatted to look as if it was a published article in the Academy’s Proceedings, which it was not. The NAS quickly distanced itself from the petition project, issuing a statement saying, “the petition does not reflect the conclusions of expert reports of the academy.”

The most enraging method Harris uses is misinterpreting the work of real scientists. He does this when he refers to professor Jan Veizer of the University of Ottawa. The professor’s study was published in a scientific journal last winter and was picked up by the media as evidence that proved the climate change theory wrong. The media did not ask the professor.

When the CBC did, he said he believes human-induced climate-change theory was not affected by his findings and that he was distressed by the media reports that misinterpreted his work.

Yet, a year later here is Harris continuing to misuse Veizer’s work. Harris commits this folly again when he refers to media reports of ice thickening in Antarctica. Scientists studying a glacier in Antarctica published a report in a scientific journal saying it was getting thicker. The media jumped on it as proof climate change is not happening. The media mistakenly equated the phenomenon studied by Joughin and Tulaczyk — a change in ice flow rates — with ice melting rates. The mistake contributed to the erroneous belief that the studies constituted, as it were, scientific “tests” of the global warming theory.

The headline in the National Post declared: “Antarctic ice sheet has stopped melting, study finds.” “The ice sheet growth that we have documented in our study area has absolutely nothing to do with any recent climate trends,” Tulaczyk declared. Again, newspapers did not talk to Tulaczyk before drawing conclusions from his work. Harris then argues that we have no alternatives to fossil fuels. While no technology can replace all fossil fuels immediately, and environmentalists have not suggested it could, we can move to a more sustainable energy system. Renewables are part of the solution, but the greatest and quickest gains can be made through conservation and efficiency.

Right now, the federal and provincial governments are calculating the economic impact of the Kyoto Protocol on Canada. New work is required because Canada won significant concessions in the rules of the protocol in 2001. These concessions will make it easier to meet the Kyoto target.

Harris opened his article by saying we are about to see a propaganda campaign by environmentalists. In fact, his article coincided with U.S. President George W. Bush’s announcement and Alberta Premier Ralph Klein’s media stunt in Moscow. I would suggest if there is a propaganda campaign, Harris is part of it. The most significant thing Prime Minister Jean Chrétien can do this year is ratify the Kyoto Protocol. We should support him in making this decision.


John Bennett is director, atmosphere and energy, for the Ottawa- based Sierra Club of Canada and director of the Climate Action Network of Canada.