EPA administrator Scott Pruitt seen in Washington on July 17, 2017.
Ever since Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Scott Pruitt and other Trump administration officials raised the idea of putting climate science up for debate, it’s been an open question as to where the participants who doubt mainstream climate science would come from.
Now that is becoming clearer, and the answer is sure to further convince many that this entire exercise is a set up to discredit some of the most basic, rigorously studied climate science conclusions.
The Washington Examiner reported on Monday that the EPA has reached out to the controversial Heartland Institute for help in casting the so-called "red team" that would try to poke holes in the evidence presented by mainstream climate scientists.
The Heartland Institute is a free market think tank that has received funding from the oil and gas industry and has spent that money to disseminate information to convince the public that the science linking human emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels is flawed.
This fall, the group began mailing 200,000 copies of a report entitled, "Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming,” to science teachers across the U.S. The report encouraged teachers to tell their students that climate scientists are still debating why the Earth is warming, when in reality the climate science community isn’t debating that at all.
The group’s goal is to get the report in the hands of every single science teacher in the country, according to reporting from PBS’s Frontline. The report asserts that even if human activity is contributing to climate change, such a development “would probably not be harmful, because many areas of the world would benefit from or adjust to climate change.”
Image: nasa/mashable/bob al-greene
Despite what Heartland’s experts might say, the Earth is warming due to increasing amounts of greenhouse gases in the air.
The Heartland Institute is also the same group that has been holding annual meetings for climate deniers, with the most recent one taking place in Washington, D.C., in March.
During the Obama administration, these were viewed as meetings of a desperate, irrelevant group of people who had virtually no influence on the federal government’s agenda on climate and energy.
But now, everything has changed under President Donald Trump. Suddenly Heartland is influential, and its experts are being tapped to advise the government.
Heartland’s president and CEO Joseph Bast opened the post-election D.C. meeting by saying that, “those of us in the room who have been working on this issue for a decade or longer can finally stand up and say hallelujah and welcome to the party,” Frontline reported.
Pruitt’s outreach to cast the red team marks the clearest sign yet of Heartland’s newfound influence. This is worrisome, because the group has ties to some of today’s most ardent, and largely discredited, foes of climate science — and in some cases science in general.
"The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached out to the Heartland Institute to help identify scientists who could constitute a red team, and we’ve been happy to oblige," Jim Lakely, the group’s communications director, told the Washington Examiner.
"This effort is long overdue," he said. "The climate scientists who have dominated the deliberations and the products of the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] have gone almost wholly without challenge. That is a violation of the scientific method and the public’s trust."
Lakely did not respond to Mashable’s repeated requests for comment.
His statements to the Examiner, though, are deeply misleading, since the scientific process itself, as well as the methods used by organizations like the National Academy of Sciences and the U.N. IPCC, involve extensive scrutiny and peer review.
In fact, some major climate science reports and most government regulations relying on that science also require public comment periods, which makes the argument that climate scientists have gone unchallenged rather dubious.
Heartland has longstanding ties to well-known climate deniers like Fred Singer, Christopher Monkton, Willie Soon, House Science Committee Chairman Lamar Smith of Texas, Craig Idso, Patrick Michaels, Myron Ebell, William Happer, and others. Many of the speakers at its annual meetings have received funding from the fossil fuel industry, and few if any of them have successfully published studies in scientific journals that deal with climate change issues.
Some of them, including Singer, were involved in efforts to convince the public that there was no clear link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer a few decades ago.
It’s unclear exactly when a red team/blue team climate debate or series of debates will occur. What is known, however, is the general format of such an exercise.
Such a debate would have a "red team" of experts who would challenge consensus findings from scientific reports, and a "blue team" would then have the opportunity to respond. The productivity of this entire exercise would depend entirely on how such a debate were set up, such as the composition of the teams, the questions examined, the stakes and setting involved, and more.
Image: Ed Hawkins
In an interview with Reuters on July 11 Pruitt said that he would like these debates to be televised, thereby raising the stakes for both mainstream climate scientists — who have the backing of thousands of peer reviewed climate studies and the conclusions of virtually every major science academy in the world — as well as climate deniers, who until this point had been relegated to the outer fringes of climate policymaking.
Critics of the debates see them as a way for Pruitt and others who are staunchly opposed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions to elevate minority views and make them appear to be just as valid as the consensus conclusions of the vast majority of climate scientists researching the subject.
This concern motivated senior Democrats on the House Science Committee to write to Pruitt on July 21 to express their concerns about the motivations behind the debates.
The letter didn’t hold back, either.
"In the face of this overwhelming agreement on the basic fact of human-caused climate change by the world’s scientists, your efforts seem to be divorced from reality and reason," the Democrats wrote.
"This only reinforces our skepticism of your motives in engaging in a clearly unnecessary, and quite possibly unscientific, red team-blue team exercise to review climate science."