Skeptics and Contrarians - Climate Change Guide

February 24, 2009

Skeptics and Contrarians

As scientific evidence has accumulated that the planet is warming and that humans are behind it, many previous skeptics have been won over. There remains a vocal cadre of critics, however, at least some of whose arguments have shifted over the last several years from outright denial that the earth is warming to insisting it's unrelated to human activity — and even if it is, likely nothing much to worry about.

Some of the most vocal skeptics have done relatively little recent peer-reviewed scientific research on the topic, and some have had their voices amplified via financial support from industries opposed to any government regulation or taxation of greenhouse gas emissions. Others do have training and experience, at least in some aspects of the wide-ranging issue, and are not bankrolled by industry. But overall, their number represents a distinctly minority position in the ongoing and normal colloquy among scientists about the evidence of climate change and its likely impacts.

Climate-change modeling is less certain in forecasting impacts on a regional scale, and in assessing warming's role in extreme weather like hurricanes. But the regional resolution of the models is improving, and the 2007 IPCC report offered more detail than previous ones. Researchers also are busily assessing regional vulnerabilities to possible climate-change scenarios. So while there remain more robust debates in these areas, new research is constantly adding new layers of understanding. One needs to try to stay current on the latest published studies, on who's doing them and who's funding them.

There are a number of climate-change skeptics, less-often quoted perhaps than some more vocal ones discussed later, who have more substantial climate science research publications and who have accepted little or no fossil industry and advocacy group money. These typically include:

  • John R. Christy at Univ. of Alabama, who pointed out that satellite temperature observations did not match those from the network of surface instruments (after years of high-level scientific discussions, the differences were eventually reconciled, mostly as a satellite calibration error). Background. Rolodex entry
  • Richard Lindzen at MIT, who publishes extensive research on atmospheric dynamics and circulation. Bio, publications, contact info. Wikipedia
  • Bill Gray, at Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project. One of the acknowledged gurus of short-term hurricane forecasting, Gray has weighed in not only on the question of whether climate change is causing more and bigger hurricanes (he says no) but also on whether human emissions are causing global warming — a question beyond his immediate research field. Wikkipedia.

World Climate Report

A project of Patrick J. Michaels, a University of Virginia climatologist and one of the most often-quoted climate-change contrarians. The Report claims to be "The web's longest running climate change blog." Michaels, the chief editor, has shifted in recent years from denying human-induced greenhouse warming to downplaying its importance. His predecessor publication, World Climate Review, was funded in part by the Western Fuels Association. Michaels' Web site and CV (MS Word document or plain text file) do not appear to list all the funding sources for his latest work (for example, at least $100,000 in 2006 from the coal-fired Intermountain Rural Electric Association; see AP story and letter). A research professor in environmental sciences at U.Va., Michaels also is listed as a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute. He's published several books on climate and many op-eds, and he's readily available for interviews, but apparently has published relatively little recent peer-reviewed climate research. (His U.Va. Web site lists no published research since 2001, but a recent CV (MS Word document or plain text file) lists some 30 publications from 2002 through 2006, not all in peer-reviewed journals.)

After the Virginia governor recently declared that the state does not appoint climatologists, Michaels amended his claim to be the Virginia state climatologist. He now identifies himself as the "AASC-designated state climatologist at the University of Virginia," referencing the American Association of State Climatologists. See story on this here.

Michaels' Cato Institute page. New Hope Environmental Services, Inc. SourceWatch. Wikipedia. Greenpeace/ExxonSecrets. Ross Gelbspan. Phone: (434) 924-0549. E-mail: pjm8x@Virginia.EDU or

Science & Environmental Policy Project

SEPP is the creation of atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service in the 1960s. SEPP produces a Web site, meetings, and op-eds challenging the scientific mainstream view that human greenhouse emissions are significantly changing climate. He argues that that view is alarmist, questions the reliability of computer models, and asserts that warming will be inconsequential or modest at best — a view decidedly at odds with the latest conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Along with Michaels, one of the most-quoted skeptics, Singer has published books, op-eds, and letters in scientific journals on climate change, but little peer-reviewed climate research in recent years. Also listed as a research fellow with the Independent Institute, Singer deferred to his lawyer when asked to disclose individual and organizational funding sources for SEPP. While currently listing consultancies with oil and auto companies on his online resume, Singer says the money came two decades ago and supported work on oil pricing; he says he does not solicit money now from fossil-fuel interests, though climate activists like Ross Gelbspan offer evidence that suggests otherwise. An example is evidence suggesting $10,000 grants from ExxonMobil in both 1998 and 2000. Singer bio and publications. SourceWatch. Wikipedia. Greenpeace/ExxonSecrets.

Competitive Enterprise Institute

A policy advocacy organization dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, CEI generally espouses a market-oriented, anti-regulatory agenda and opposes the mandatory emission controls of the Kyoto Protocol. Myron Ebell, CEI's director of energy and global warming policy, rivals Michaels and Singer for highest-profile skeptic, and judging from his CEI online bio seems to relish the criticism lobbed his way by environmental activists. CEI's 20th annual program online (2004) does not identify individual donors, but says 52 percent of its revenues came from foundations, 31 percent from corporations and 16 percent from individuals. ExxonMobil, alleged by environmental activists to be a longtime underwriter, recently announced it no longer funds CEI. SourceWatch. Wikipedia.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)

Ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Inhofe is one of the most outspoken skeptics in Congress. In speeches on the Senate floor, he has called the threat of what he characterizes as "catastrophic climate change" the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He has challenged the existence of a scientific consensus and attacked scientists whose research is prominently cited in the IPCC reports, and in 2006 directed his ire at Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and accused news media of hyping "alarmism." Much of his material is written by his communications director, Marc Morano, former staff writer for conservative CNSNews, and former reporter and producer for Rush Limbaugh's television show as well as the syndicated TV newsmagazine "American Investigator." Sourcewatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, says CNS and Morano were the first source in May 2004 of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and in January 2006 of similar attacks against Vietnam war veteran John Murtha. Morano squared off with reporters and NASA Goddard's James Hansen at SEJ's 2006 conference, and he publishes a blog on the Senate E&PW Committee website. Phone: 202-224-6176. SourceWatch/Congresspedia. Wikipedia.