Letter to NASA is Common Ploy in Climate Change Denial

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A group of 49 former NASA employees from Johnson Space Center have written a letter to NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, requesting that the space agency refrain from “unproven and unsubstantiated remarks” regarding how human activities are causing global climate change.

“As former NASA employees, we feel that NASA’s advocacy of an extreme position … is inappropriate,” says the letter. “We believe the claims by NASA and GISS(Goddard Institute for Space Studies) that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”

The letter was reportedly supported by Leighton Steward from the Heartland Institute, an organization known for its stance of trying to cast doubt on global warming science.

“NASA has always been about looking out to the skies and beyond, not burying our heads in the sand,” climate scientist Michael Mann told Universe Today in an email “This is an old ploy, trying to cobble together a small group of individuals and make it sound like they speak with authority on a matter that they have really not studied closely. In this case, the effort was led by a fossil fuel industry-funded (climate change) denier who works for the Heartland Institute, and sadly he managed to manipulate this group of former NASA employees into signing on to this misguided statement.”

Mann added that 49 people out of tens of thousands of former and current NASA employees is just a tiny fraction, and that “NASA’s official stance, which represents the full current 16,000 NASA scientists and employees, is clear if you go to their website or look at their official publications: human-caused climate change is real, and it represents a challenge we must confront.”

NASA has responded to the letter, inviting those who signed it – which includes Apollo astronauts, engineers and former JSC officials – to join the debate in peer-reviewed scientific literature and public forums.

“NASA sponsors research into many areas of cutting-edge scientific inquiry, including the relationship between carbon dioxide and climate,” wrote Waleed Abdalati, NASA Chief Scientist. “As an agency, NASA does not draw conclusions and issue ‘claims’ about research findings. We support open scientific inquiry and discussion.”

“If the authors of this letter disagree with specific scientific conclusions made public by NASA scientists, we encourage them to join the debate in the scientific literature or public forums rather than restrict any discourse,” Abdalati concluded.

As several different people have noted — including former astronaut Rusty Schweickart who was quoted in the New York Times — most of those who signed the letter are not active research scientists and do not hold degrees in atmospheric sciences or fields related to climate change.

Schweickart, who was not among those who signed the letter, said in the New York Times that those who wrote the letter “have every right to state and argue for their opinion,” and climate scientist Gavin Schmidt added in the article that people stating their views is completely legitimate, “but they are asking the NASA administrator to censor other peoples’ (which is something else entirely).”

The letter from the former NASA employees – including Apollo astronauts Jack Schmitt, Walt Cunningham, Al Worden, and Dick Gordon — chides that since “hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists publicly declaring their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership, it is clear that the science is NOT settled.”

Schmidt wrote previously on the RealClimate website that he certainly agrees the science is not settled. “No scientists would be scientists if they thought there was nothing left to find out…The reason why no scientist has said this (that the science is settled) is because they know full well that knowledge about science is not binary – science isn’t either settled or not settled. This is a false and misleading dichotomy.”

However, he added, “In the climate field, there are a number of issues which are no longer subject to fundamental debate in the community. The existence of the greenhouse effect, the increase in CO2 (and other GHGs) over the last hundred years and its human cause, and the fact the planet warmed significantly over the 20th Century are not much in doubt.”

For further reading:
Letter from former NASA employees
Letter from Waleed Abdalati
Article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times
Article by Eric Berger in the Houston Chronicle
NASA’s Climate Change website
Real Climate

Watch Our Live Interview with Climate Scientist Michael Mann

If you missed it live, here’s the replay of our live interview this morning with climate researcher Michael Mann. We discussed his new book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines,” his experiences — good and bad — of being one of the leading paleoclimatologists and dealing with deniers of climate change, as well as talking about the science being done by Mann and his colleagues.

Thanks again to Michael Mann for taking the time to join us for the latest in our series of live interviews via Google+ Hangouts On Air.

Upcoming: Live Interview with Climate Scientist Michael Mann

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Join us on Friday, March 16, 2012 at 14:00 UTC for another in our series of live interviews. This week we’ll be talking with climate scientist Michael Mann, who has written a new book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.”

Please note the different time than our usual interviews/Hangouts On Air: our interview with Mann will be at 14:00 UTC, 10 am EDT, 7 am PDT. Watch on CosmoQuest’s Hangout page, or on Fraser’s Google + page. We’ll be taking questions for Dr. Mann in the ‘chat’ areas on the Hangout.

If you can’t watch it live, we’ll post the video reply later in the day on Friday.

Mann: A Changing Climate Doesn’t Have a Political Agenda

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The body of evidence for climate change is strong and convincing, and multiple lines of evidence show the changes are caused largely by human activities. The consensus among scientists about the reality of the phenomenon is also convincing.

But from the nature of public discussions on the subject today – at least in the US – that consensus might not be apparent. And somehow the discussion has become a “debate,” which is often divided down political party lines.

“We have to make it clear that the ice sheets are not Republicans or Democrats – they don’t have a political agenda as they disappear,” said Michael Mann, a physicist at Pennsylvania State University, who has been at the recent forefront of climate research. “Certain facts cannot be denied. We have to find a way to steer the conversation to a good faith debate about what we can do about the problem, not this bad faith debate about the reality of it.”

Mann spoke to over 600 writers and journalists on November 7, 2010 at the combined meetings of the National Association of Science Writers and the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, held at Yale University this week.

Why has the public discourse become so polarizing and why is there a fair amount of legislators and the public who now think that climate change is an elaborate hoax?

Michael Mann, Professor Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University. Credit: PSU

Mann said there has been a large, well funded campaign to manufacture misinformation about climate change, similar to how tobacco companies muddied the waters in the 1960’s on how smoking causes lung cancer and emphysema. It’s no secret that many climate change deniers have ties to the fossil fuel industry.

Mann referred specifically to an infamous memo sent out by GOP political consultant Frank Luntz in 2002 to President George Bush, “which basically said that if the public comes to understand the reality of this problem they will demand policy action to deal with it,” Mann said, “and so you need to manufacture doubt and controversy and uncertainty and cultivate a set of scientists who can act for advocates essentially for fossil fuel industry. And that is what is happened.”

And the science became politicized. “If you can politicize something in today’s political environment,” Mann continued, “you can immediately get half the population on your side. Unfortunately the forces of anti-science — those who deny the science — have been very effective in politicizing the framing.”

Line plot of global mean land-ocean temperature index, 1880 to present, with the base period 1951-1980. The dotted black line is the annual mean and the solid red line is the five-year mean. The green bars show uncertainty estimates. Credit: NASA

But thousands of scientists from almost 200 countries around the world agreed on the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report which said most of the observed increases in global average temperatures is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations. Additionally, the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Academies of all the G-8 nations, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and several other scientific bodies have all issued equivalent statements of consensus of the reality of human-caused climate change.

“Certain facts cannot be denied because you don’t like the implications,” Mann said.

Mann is probably best known for known for his “hockey stick” reconstruction of past climate, (Nature, 1998) which shows the world is warmer now than it has been for at least 1000 years. The “hockey stick” has been attacked by climate change deniers, and while new research has better defined the data, it has not been disproven, nor is it the only line of evidence for global warming.

“The hockey stick is not ‘the’ pillar of evidence for the reality of climate change,” Mann said. “There are multiple pillars that include just the basic understanding of chemistry and physics. But it is one of the more visually compelling pieces of evidence for warming.”

The 'hockey stick' chart from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report in 2001.

Mann conceded that various other studies and reconstructions of past climate data don’t agree entirely and that there are uncertainties of how much warming will continue because the predictions are based on models, which attempt to predict the future.

“There are legitimate uncertainties, but unfortunately the public discourse is so far removed from where the scientific discourse and controversies actually are, “Mann said. “There is not an uncertainty of the reality of climate change, that sea levels are going to rise, that arctic sea ice will be gone in a few decades or a whole lot of other areas, but we do have an uncertainty in our ability to project regional climate change.”

Mann said scientists don’t completely understand the El Nino and La Nina affects, how cloud feedback will influence the warming and other modeling issues.

However, Mann said, the science has improved over the past few years, and still, there is enough evidence for not just a hockey stick, but an entire hockey league.

“Every reconstruction reveals that the warming is indeed anomalous in a very long term context. Global temperatures are running the highest they have ever run. The twelve month running averages are warmer than they have ever been in documented history. There is no cooling of the globe and no decline to hide,” Mann said referring to the “Climategate” emails that were stolen from East Anglia climate research center and leaked just a few weeks before the Copenhagen climate summit in late 2009.

“Hackers stole thousands of emails –private correspondences between scientists,” said Mann, “and their words were cherry picked, taken out of context and distorted to make it sound like scientists were engaged in some sort of hoax.”

‘Hide the decline’ actually meant the scientists were going to remove unreliable tree-ring data, not cover up any decline in temperatures.

Mann said the real crime was the illegal theft of private correspondence, in addition to the moral crime of intentionally distorting what scientists believe and think.

Mann took his audience to task by saying, “I’d like to say the mainstream media recognized the manufactured controversy for what is was, but they didn’t, entirely.” He also admitted that scientists have not done all they could in the past to make the science clear and their words convincing.

But looking at the current political climate, Mann asked for journalists’ help in the future.

“No doubt we are in for a period of months or even years where climate science is likely to be subject to the sort of politically motivated inquisition that we haven’t seen, frankly, since the 1950’s,” he said. “It is necessary and important for the scientific community to do the best it I can to defend itself from this oncoming attack, and frankly, we are entirely reliant on the willingness of the mainstream media to serve in its role as the critical and independent arbiter and not just report the two sides of the so-called debate, but to actually establish what is fact and what is fiction. The scientists will not be successful against the attack that is coming unless the media is serving its role.”

Mann ended his talk with a picture of his daughter enthralled by a polar bear at a zoo. “I don’t want to have to tell my daughter that polar bears became extinct because we failed to counter a well funded effort to distract the public,” he said.

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Note: For any reader who thinks they need to leave a comment to debate the climate change science, before posting, please take a look at the following information:

Mann’s (and other scientists’) data are entirely open and available for anyone to view.

RealClimate.org –– Mann and other climate scientists answer questions and discuss climate change data

NASA’s Global Climate Change Website. Lots of graphs, images and information.

IPCC