Facing South

Ignored debate invitation miffs global warming naysayers

The global warming skeptics are miffed because those of us whose work on climate matters is informed by science rather than the interests of fossil fuel paymasters aren't interested in putting on a show with them.

The John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based think tank that's been a prominent voice of climate change skepticism in the state policy arena, recently invited the Institute for Southern Studies to debate global warming and carbon dioxide reduction efforts. The invitation came after our special investigation into JLF's work against state-level policy global warming policy initiatives revealed that the organization accepted at least $126,500 over a three-year period from outfits with ties to fossil fuel interests. At the same time, JLF was coordinating its efforts promoting climate change skepticism with the Heartland Institute, which has close ties to Exxon, a major funder of global warming naysayers.

We were amused to get such a cordial invitation from an organization whose director responded to our investigation not by challenging its accuracy but by calling ours a "kook" site and charging me with "anti-Christian bigotry" for noting that one of his co-workers' articles argued Christians shouldn't worry about man-made climate change because the biblical Book of Revelation says God has some "serious global warming of His own planned." We set the invitation aside with the intention of writing something about how we didn't think it appropriate for an organization like ours devoted primarily to reporting on policy issues to debate complex scientific concepts like global warming, or even to debate carbon reduction policies since we report on what environmental experts say rather than proffering solutions of our own. But we got busy with other work, and the letter was forgotten.

Until yesterday, that is, when we were reminded about it by this post on JLF's EnvironmentNC Web site. It reported that WPTF radio in Raleigh would be hosting a discussion on global warming with U.S. Forest Service scientist Steve McNulty and Pat Michaels -- a close JLF associate whose work promoting climate change skepticism has been funded by various fossil-fuel interests. Writes JLF Vice President Roy Cordato:

It is good to see both sides of this issue discussed in the same forum. The John Locke Foundation has been trying to get advocacy groups who promote an alarmist agenda to co-sponsor a debate on the issue and so far we have had no takers. Both Environment North Carolina and The Institute for Southern Studies have refused to take us up on our offer. Environment North Carolina "respectfully declined" our offer while the ISS simply ignored both a snail mail and and email letter that was sent to them.

It's true we didn't respond to their invitation, and we stand by the wisdom of that decision. It seems to us there's little to be gained from engaging JLF on this issue, particularly since the group's position appears to be informed not by the totality of scientific knowledge and a precautionary perspective but by a reckless willingness to seize on select facts chosen on the basis of an ideology that tends to value corporate profits over human lives. For example, when JLF and the Heartland Institute held a conference call last year to plan their efforts to scuttle state policies addressing climate change, they included a lobbyist for Peabody Energy, the world's largest coal company, but no one whose life has been affected by pollution from Peabody's products.

Would such a debate help the Kivalina and others in a similarly precarious position keep their homes from sliding into rising seas? No. And as Environment North Carolina Director Elizabeth Ouzts noted in her letter declining JLF's debate invitation, there are already existing public forums where a vigorous discussion about how to deal with climate change is taking place. Any debate on global warming involving JLF would be nothing but a sideshow, and this issue is too serious to be treated like a circus.

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re: Ignored debate invitation miffs global warming naysayers

I happen to believe that, though they are hardly worth serious response at a scientific level, the global warming deniers must be confronted repeatedly and thoroughly at the low-level of understanding they are capable of. It is a matter of democratic necessity that the people must be informed of the truth, and that lies should be exposed in order that good decisions be made. Without debate, what are people to believe? It should not be about just believing what scientists tell us. People have to learn enough science to understand the blatant lies that are told against science.