By Nick Berning (cross-posted from Open Left)
A big U.S. congressional delegation is arriving here at the climate summit in Copenhagen next week, and it includes notorious climate science deniers Sen. James Inhofe (R-Big Oil/Oklahoma) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Big Oil/Texas).
But one of the world's most prominent science deniers -- "Nobel Laureate" "Lord" Christopher Monckton, who provides the "scientific" analysis upon which Barton, Inhofe, and other members of the anti-science crowd depend -- is already here and he's already generating embarrassing headlines for their movement.
Before getting into how Monckton is exposing the anti-science movement's truly fringe character in Copenhagen, I should explain my use of quotes in the previous sentence. Monckton did campaign to become a member of the British House of Lords, but he lost and is not and has never been one. He has no formal scientific training (more on that here). And his "Nobel Peace Prize" was awarded to him not by the Nobel Prize Committee but by "the Emeritus Professor of Physics at the University of Rochester, New York" (presumably Robert Sproull, a member of the board of the anti-science Marshall Institute), who presented Monckton with a fake Nobel pin made of gold. Monckton now calls himself a "Nobel Laureate" on his organization's website, because he "contributed" to an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report sounding the alarm about global warming (even though Monckton claims there is no alarm to be sounded).
'Quarantine for life' everyone with AIDS?Monckton's lies about his resume expose him as someone who is perhaps out to lunch and not prone to telling the truth, but he also has ideas that are extremely dangerous. In 1987, Monckton wrote this:
For there is only one way to stop AIDS. That is to screen the entire population regularly and to quarantine all carriers of the disease for life.
Fortunately, that cruel, homophobic proposal never picked up much steam, and Monckton himself apparently later backed away from it (though, if his Wikipedia bio is correct, that was because he thought it "wouldn't work" -- not because of its fundamental injustice).
But for some reason (hint hint: the fossil fuel industry's funneled loads of cash into the anti-science movement) the media and members of Congress are still lending Monckton a platform from which to spew nonsense. It's no surprise that FOX News hosts like Glenn Beck would interview Monckton, but CNN's Wolf Blitzer put him on air with softball questions just this week. And this year Monckton has twice been called to testify as the lead Republican witness at congressional committee hearings. At the Energy and Commerce Committee hearing this March, Rep. Barton (the one who will soon arrive in Copenhagen), was the one who asked Monckton to testify.
Back to the climate summit here in Copenhagen, where thousands of dedicated people from around the world are trying to solve the climate crisis, and a handful of fringe attention-seeking denialists including Monckton and Bjorn Lomborg, who makes incredibly illogical arguments about how even though climate change is real, we shouldn't stop it because according to him the short-term costs outweigh the short-term benefits, are now making the rounds at the Bella Center. (What Lomborg ignores are the absolutely catastrophic, poverty-creating long-term consequences that will come from warming if business-as-usual emissions are not checked.)
A day after a group of activists from the amazing global youth climate movement showed up to protest Monckton's denialist message at an anti-science event on Wednesday, Monckton refused to shake youth activist Ben Wessel's hand, saying "I will not shake the hand of Hitler youth" and calling youth climate activists "Nazis." Full exchange here.
Monckton's approach to this issue is reminiscent of Orly Taitz's approach to the debate about President Obama's birthplace, which is as idiotic (with a complete lack of evidence on one side) as the debate about whether the planet is warming. For those who don't know her, Orly Taitz is the "birther queen" -- the leader of the birther movement in the United States. Birthers are conspiracy theorists who claim President Obama cannot be president because he is not a real citizen. They have no factual basis for this claim, yet when confronted with evidence like President Obama's birth certificate, they try to explain it away. The similarities between birthers and the anti-science activists don't end there. Just as Monckton called youth climate activists who disagree with him "Hitler youth," Taitz, when confronted by MSNBC host David Shuster about the lack of evidence for her birther theory, famously said, "The only ones that are on the fringe are Obama's brown shirts in the media." (The term "brown shirts" refers to Nazis.)
Of course, that sort of charge -- particularly when aimed at activists working to save millions of lives endangered by climate change impacts -- is absolutely unacceptable and deeply offensive. But it's all that birthers and science deniers have to fall back on. Factual evidence for their claims doesn't exist.
Giving credence to these claims by presenting them as a legitimate point of view is the same as pretending that people who argue the world is flat, the moon landing was a fake, and Sasquatch was prancing through their back yard have valid points that ought to be considered.
In fact, it's worse. Spreading stories about Sasquatch doesn't cause any harm. Sowing doubt about the alarming conclusions of scientists does. Members of the media need to stop treating anti-science activists as though they're credible, and members of Congress like Joe Barton need to explain why they think it is acceptable to align themselves with radicals like Monckton who are divorced from reality.
The problem with all thisThe problem with all this is that there's a real debate to be had. There's no question that human activity is causing the planet to warm, but there are plenty of questions about how to respond. What level of temperature rise is acceptable? How do we ensure that the costs of solving the problem are distributed fairly, and that farmers in Malawi who didn't cause the climate crisis but are being hit hard by it don't have to bear the burden? How many island nations is it okay to put underwater? (I'd argue none, but if you listened to chief U.S. negotiator Todd Stern's press conference yesterday, it sounded like he was telling them to kiss their homes goodbye.)
These are the things that need to be discussed over the next week in Copenhagen. If James Inhofe or Joe Barton want to help out their oil company friends by embarrassing their country and threatening its economic future as part of the dishonest, name-calling, anti-science fringe, we all need to be clear that that's exactly what they're doing.
If you want to know more about what I and my colleagues at Friends of the Earth U.S. are doing to lobby for a fair and effective global climate deal in Copenhagen, visit foe.org/copenhagen.
SOURCE: Friends of the Earth