Lunch, With a Side of Climate Denial

You might think the recent exoneration of the scientists involved in the so-called “Climategate” scandal would have put a damper on efforts by climate change deniers to exploit the issue. But the leaders of the anti-science movement were still at it on Friday, as the Heritage Foundation and the Competitive Enterprise Institute hosted a lunch briefing on Capitol Hill to continue playing up the “controversy.”

“The Climategate Scandals: What Has Been Revealed And What Does It Mean?” featured Cato’s Pat Michaels and John D’Aleo, a meteorologist who runs the skeptic outlet ICECAP. It also featured Chick-Fil-A catering, which seemed to be the chief draw for many of the young House staffers in the audience.


The briefing was a rehashing of many tired points: other climate scientists are mean to climate skeptics; the world is not actually getting warmer; but if it was, the problem isn’t burning fossil fuels, it’s the sun, water vapor, or volcanoes; satellite temperature readings are more reliable than surface temperature readings; there are many scientists who disagree with the consensus on climate change but are just too scared to speak up.

The panelists spent a lot of time on “Climategate,” arguing that the incident proves that global warming is “a catastrophe that never was,” as Heritage senior policy analyst Ben Lieberman put it. Of course, he noted that he was already a skeptic well before the emails were leaked: “I’ve been a fairly hardnosed skeptic for years. After Climategate I realized I wasn’t skeptical enough.”

Since the panelists spent a lot of time complaining about how the investigations into “Climategate” were just “whitewash,” I asked Michaels what they would accept as an objective examination of the emails. His response? Nothing could ever satisfy the skeptics. “I don’t think the can of worms can be unloaded,” said Michaels. “It’s just not going to happen.”

He said it would be difficult “to find someone with expertise on this” who is a “purely objective person.” He also took the opportunity to subtly downplay his industry ties, and portray scientists funded by grants and universities as equally biased. “How can you have expertise and not be supported in some way?” he said. “That makes this a difficult situation.”

So, the skeptics will never be satisfied, nor will they abandon their flogging of the emails as the smoking gun proving that climate change is a giant conspiracy. (Never mind that the emails didn’t put a dent in the vast body of scientific evidence on climate change.)

The event itself was a case study in how these guys manage to keep this non-issue alive. Discover‘s Sheril Kirshenbaum has an excellent post up about their strategy and why it works (hint: the Chick-Fil-A is part of it). In any case, don’t expect the skeptics to give up on Climategate any time soon. Heritage and CEI are planning another event on the matter for June 17.


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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.