Conservative groups at the forefront of global warming skepticism are doubling down on trying to discredit the next big report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). In recent weeks, they've been cranking out a stream of op-eds, blogs and reports to sow doubt in the public's mind before the report is published, with no end in sight.
"The goal is to inform the public, scientific community and media that the upcoming IPCC report doesn't have all the science to make informed judgments," said Jim Lakely, a spokesman for the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank based in Chicago that has been spearheading the efforts.
Heartland gained notoriety last year after running a billboard campaign comparing climate change believers to "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski, which caused several corporate donors to withdraw support for the group.
The fifth assessment by the IPCC, the world's leading scientific advisory body on global warming, is expected to conclude with at least 95 percent certainty that human activities have caused most of earth's temperature rise since 1950, and will continue to do so in the future. That's up from a confidence level of 90 percent in 2007, the year the last assessment came out. The IPCC, which consists of thousands of scientists and reviewers from more than 100 countries, shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Vice President Al Gore. Governments often use its periodic reviews of climate risks to set targets for reducing carbon emissions and other policies.
Because the IPCC's conclusions are produced by a consensus process, they are inherently conservative.
Environmental activists told InsideClimate News they believe skeptics' attempts to sway public and media opinion will fail to resonate with people. They say the spate of costly and deadly weather events over the last year has turned climate change into something tangible for many Americans.
In addition, scientists have become more proactive when it comes to squashing scientific inaccuracies pushed by skeptic groups. Dozens of prominent scientists involved with drafting IPCC reports formed a Climate Science Rapid Response Team that punches back against misleading claims about climate research.
Kevin Trenberth is part of that team as well as a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and an author and editor on the forthcoming IPCC report. He explained that nearly every time there is a scientific paper linking man-made carbon dioxide emissions to climate change, the "denial-sphere" immediately responds with accusations that the research is wrong.
"The scientists get nasty emails. Certain websites comment. ... So a bunch of us formed this rapid response team to deflate these arguments." The group has been very busy in recent weeks.
The IPCC will release a 20-page summary of its report for policymakers on Sept. 27, as well as Working Group I's assessment, which examines the science behind climate change.
What Skeptics Are Doing
To try to shape coverage of the findings, the Heartland Institute released a 1,200-page report on Wednesday by the provocatively titled Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC). The 10-year-old coalition of "nongovernment scientists and scholars" disputes the reality of man-made climate change.
The new report, Climate Change Reconsidered II, "uses layman's language to present solid evidence that today's climate changes are well within the bounds of natural variability," according to Robert Carter, a former marine geologist at Australia's James Cook University and a consultant to climate skeptic groups. "Real world observations tell us that the IPCC's speculative computer models do not work, ice is not melting at an enhanced rate, sea-level rise is not accelerating, the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events is not increasing, and dangerous global warming is not occurring," he said in a news release.
The report rests its argument largely on the uncertainty surrounding climate sensitivity, a measure used by scientists to determine how global temperatures will change in response to carbon dioxide emissions. In short, it says the IPCC exaggerates the warming effect of CO2.