Prominent climate contrarians are seeking to insert their views into an unusual science tutorial scheduled to be held in federal court on Wednesday by offering "friend of the court" briefs that run contrary to the prevailing mainstream consensus.
One group includes adamant nay-sayers like Willie Soon and Christopher Monckton, and another includes Richard Lindzen of MIT and Steven Koonin, an advocate of the "red team, blue team" approach to debating competing visions of how the world works.
It's not clear whether U.S. District Judge William Alsup—who called the hearing as part of a case in which the cities of San Francisco and Oakland are suing fossil fuel companies over climate change-related costs—wants to drag such voices into the fray. He set up the hearing in a way that either side in the case may call expert witnesses if they wish.
On Monday, the judge said he had received two "friend of the court" briefs and told the two groups of contrarians to each file a statement by the close of business on Tuesday declaring who paid for their research, whether they received support from anyone "on either side of the climate debate," and whether any of them were "affiliated in any way (directly or indirectly)" with parties to the litigation."
And why, he asked, did they wait so long to present their documents, limiting the time for others to respond to them?
The case is one of several that pits cities against fossil fuel companies and that turns on what the companies knew about climate science, and when. The cities are seeking compensation from the companies for cost related to sea level rise and other climate damages caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels.
It's unlikely that the fossil fuel companies will deny in court what is widely accepted by authoritative scientific bodies around the world: that human emissions have already begun to warm the planet, that the harm is already being felt, that the risks of future harm are significant, and that to head them off emissions have to be rapidly reduced.
Mainly, the industry's lawyers are likely to argue that fossil fuel companies' past understanding of all this was too imperfect to spur action to protect the climate and is still not absolute.
But the would-be friends of the court, in their proposed amici briefs, are more comprehensive in their denial.
Here's how Lindzen et al. boil down their message:
"To summarize this overview, the historical and geological record suggests recent changes in the climate over the past century are within the bounds of natural variability. Human influences on the climate (largely the accumulation of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion) are a physically small (1%) effect on a complex, chaotic, multicomponent and multiscale system. Unfortunately, the data and our understanding are insufficient to usefully quantify the climate's response to human influences. However, even as human influences have quadrupled since 1950, severe weather phenomena and sea level rise show no significant trends attributable to them. Projections of future climate and weather events rely on models demonstrably unfit for the purpose. As a result, rising levels of CO2 do not obviously pose an immediate, let alone imminent, threat to the earth's climate."
Monckton, Soon et al., whose brief was submitted by a Heartland Institute lawyer, devote much of their effort to disputing that there even is a mainstream view worthy of the court's consideration.
"There is no agreement among climatologists as to the relative contributions of Man and Nature" to the warming of the planet that has already been observed, they claim. As for the consensus view, it "says nothing about whether anthropogenic global warming was, is or will be catastrophic."
The Soon-Monckton memo goes even further, claiming that they "have recently discovered and corrected a long-standing error of physics in the climate models" that would shows any climate change due to human causes will be "too small and slow to be harmful and will prove beneficial."
They say this work was submitted for publication just three days before the judge issued his list of questions in this case. Though their research "has not yet passed peer review, it is simple enough to allow the Court, which has earned a unique reputation for rapid mastery of scientific questions, to understand it completely and to verify that [the] result is correct."