Senator James Inhofe Rehashed Skeptic Screed Getting Old

Senator James Inhofe Rehashed Skeptic Screed Getting Old
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He may only be part of a noisy minority, but Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) isn’t about to let his fringe status get in the way of his latest skeptic shtick.

As he did last year, Inhofe, writing under the guise of the Minority on the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works, has penned another anti-global warming screed with the help of his staffer, Marc Morano, entitled “UN Blowback: More than 650 International Scientists Dissent over Man-Made Global Warming Claims”. And, like last year, Inhofe’s laughable attempt at a serious “report” falls flat on its face upon any close scrutiny.

While there is much that could be singled out for ridicule in the senator’s report, I’ll focus on what I’ll call the skeptics’ “greatest hits” (i.e. the wrong-headed arguments they’ve been trotting out for months, if not years, to “prove” their point).

Let’s start with the claim made in the report’s title: that “half of warming” is due to solar forcing.

Despite being debunked over and over again, skeptics like Inhofe have latched onto a few studies published during the last decade that purported to show a link between solar activity – cosmic rays, in particular – and rising greenhouse gas emissions. (The idea being that cosmic rays helped water droplets form in the atmosphere, leading to increased cloud clover and, thus, lower average temperatures.)

This theory lost a lot of its clout (read: all) when scientists discovered that global temperatures continued to increase even after solar radiation dropped off. Indeed, a study published last year in the Proceedings of the Royal Society (sub. required) found that “all the trends in the Sun that could have had an influence on the Earth’s climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures.”

While acknowledging that solar radiation likely played a climatic role during the pre-industrial era, the authors – Mike Lockwood of the University of Southamptom and Claus Frohlich of the Physikalisch-Meteorologisches Observatorium Davos – concluded that solar activity peaked some time between 1985 and 1987 and that the present warming trends could therefore not be attributed to sunspots, solar forcing or cosmic rays.

A study published only last month in Geophysical Research Letters attributed only 10 percent of warming over the last 100 years to changes in solar radiation – not the 65 percent or so claimed by a few other studies. If anything, the authors say, solar forcing in the last two decades may have actually caused a slight overall cooling.

Inhofe and Morano point to a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters (sub. required), which they claim shows that “approximately 50% of the observed global warming in the last 100 years can be explained by the Sun,” as proof that their argument is scientifically sound. As Joe Romm noted in a recent post, however, that’s only part of the story. Indeed, if you look at the entire quote in context, what it says is exactly the opposite: that carbon dioxide, not the sun, is responsible for the temperature increase over the last few decades. Romm even went directly to the source – the study’s author – to verify the claim; as might be expected, she told him that her conclusions “were misinterpreted” by Inhofe.

The report’s other “major” finding is that sea levels are apparently not rising anymore. The evidence? An op-ed penned by the reliably skeptic Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (and tellingly highlighted by Roger Pielke on his blog). That’s funny because every study I’ve found only using Google Scholar and the search term “sea level rise” has argued the exact opposite: that sea levels have risen appreciably over the last century and that future sea-level rise will be significant.

For example, a study published last year in Science found that sea levels would rise between 0.5 and 1.4 meters above 1990 levels by the end of the century. Another study, published in 2006, found strong paleoclimatic evidence for future ice-sheet instability and fast sea-level rise – much faster than previously thought. (According to Jonathan Overpeck of the University of Arizona, the lead author, polar warming by 2100 could reach levels last seen 130,000 to 127,000 years ago – when sea levels were several meters above current levels.)

But, wait, what about those 650 scientists Inhofe and Morano claim believe climate science is hogwash? Joe Romm once again does an exemplary job debunking this list of supposedly “prominent scientists,” pointing out that most of the names were simply rehashed from a 2007 list that was also widely debunked.

Last year’s list (which boasted 413 “prominent” scientists), for instance, included 20 economists, 44 television weathermen, 84 scientists who have either accepted money from, or are otherwise connected to, the fossil fuel industry or likeminded think thanks and 70 scientists with no apparent expertise in the subject, according to Adam Siegel.

It doesn’t help that scientists have also been included on the list against their will. Andrew Dessler noted earlier this year at Grist that meteorologist George Waldenberger was on the 2007 list – this despite asking Inhofe’s staffers to remove him from it. In his e-mail, Waldenberger wrote:

I’ve never made any claims that debunk the “Consensus”.

You quoted a newspaper article that’s main focus was scoring the accuracy of local weathermen. Hardly scientific … yet I’m guessing some of your other sources pale in comparison in terms of credibility.

You also didn’t ask for my permission to use these statements. That’s not a very respectable way of doing “research”.

Who wants to bet he made the 2008 list as well?

Frankly, all of this crass skepticism is getting old – whether or not Inhofe likes it, the incoming administration has a very different opinion about the global warming “hoax”.

While he and the right-wing will do everything in their power to stop President-elect Obama – a task at which they may very well succeed if we let them – it’s hard to imagine a worst time to be a skeptic. With the recent selection of Nobel Laureate Dr. Steven Chu and Carol Browner as his Energy Secretary and climate change czar, respectively, Obama has shown that, unlike his predecessor, he is determined to fight climate change.

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