It was a busy week in the North Carolina legislature, with the new Republican super-majority hard at work slashing unemployment benefits, blocking poor people's access to Medicaid, and seizing control of regulatory commissions.
But a few lawmakers took time out from their hectic schedules to hear a talk by John Droz, a fellow with the American Tradition Institute (ATI), a conservative advocacy group tied to fossil-fuel interests that's known for its attacks on prominent climate scientists and efforts to overturn state renewable energy laws.
His slideshow presentation, titled "The Assault on Science," was a compilation of claims purporting to show that science is in danger from a hostile conspiracy involving the scientific elite, environmentalists, educators, and the media -- but his own sources were rather unscientific, to say the least.
Among the publications Droz cited to make his case were Whistleblower, the monthly magazine companion of WorldNetDaily, a website that promotes conspiracy theories about topics such as President Obama's citizenship; Quadrant, a conservative Australian magazine that was involved in a scandal over publishing fraudulent science; and the Institute for Creation Research, a Texas outfit that rejects evolution and promotes Biblical creationism and the notion that "All things in the universe were created and made by God in the six literal days of the Creation Week."
Droz, a retired real-estate investor who holds a master's in physics from Syracuse University and has never published a scientific article on climate, pointed to stories warning smart meters are "fascism in a box" and calling environmentalism a "new world religion backed by the United Nations." He also claimed the "logical next step" for environmentalists is to advocate mass suicide and dismissed scientific peer review as an "arbitrary academic anachronism" that has been "hijacked by the con artist clan."
His conclusion? The "jury is still out" on climate change -- never mind the fact he neglected to mention that no scientific body of national or international standing dissents from the opinion that global warming real and driven by human activity.
Droz's talk left the actual scientists in the room shaking their heads.
Sam Pearsall, a UNC environment and ecology professor and a retired program manager for the Environmental Defense Fund, called the presentation "the most remarkable example of propaganda delivered as anti-propaganda" he's ever witnessed, adding, "I don't know how you pack that much misinformation into one hour."
Tom Earnhardt, an attorney and naturalist who hosts the weekly UNC-TV show "Exploring North Carolina," was also taken aback by what he heard.
"Under that pile of quotes," Earnhardt said, "there must be a pony."
This was not Droz's first time addressing the legislature. During the last session, he gave a presentation critical of global warming science titled "Our Energy Policy: From Scientists or Lobbyists?" And as the science adviser of a coastal development group called NC-20, he played a prominent role in last year's debate over sea level rise, ending in passage of a widely ridiculed law that bars the state's Coastal Resources Commission from using scientific forecasts as the basis for regulations. (By the way, that commission is among those the Republican legislative leadership wants to take over.)
Droz's latest talk was sponsored by state Rep. George Cleveland (R-Onslow), one of the many lawmakers in North Carolina's Republican-controlled General Assembly with ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a prominent conservative group funded largely by business interests that brings together state lawmakers and corporate representatives to promote industry-friendly legislation. During the last legislative session, Cleveland sponsored a bill to overturn North Carolina's renewable energy program, which is also a target of ALEC.
Back in 2011, Droz teamed up with representatives from ALEC and the John Locke Foundation, a think tank founded and largely funded by conservative mega-donor Art Pope, now the North Carolina budget director, to give presentations around the state critical of global warming science, renewable energy, and particularly wind power, which Droz -- a proponent of small modular nuclear reactors -- dismisses as "18th century technology." That presentation contained factual errors and used government data in misleading ways.
Droz has come under criticism for his attacks on renewable energy. Last year the British newspaper The Guardian reported on a confidential memo it obtained from an accountability group called The Checks and Balances Project detailing an effort masterminded by Droz to turn the U.S. public against wind and solar power. He proposed using controversial tactics including "subversion in message of industry" so that "no one wants to admit in public they are for it," launching "dummy businesses" to buy anti-wind billboards, and creating a "counterintelligence branch" to track the wind energy industry.
ATI said it had nothing to do with that effort. However, Droz told The Guardian that he got support from FreedomWorks and Americans for Prosperity (AFP), two corporate-backed tea party groups that have been heavily involved in efforts to block climate action. For example, FreedomWorks supported the American Petroleum Institute's "Energy Citizens" rallies to oppose climate legislation, while AFP sponsored a "Hot Air Tour" with the slogan "Global Warming Alarmism: Lost Jobs, Higher Taxes, Less Freedom."
Though Droz's Feb. 6 talk in the North Carolina legislative auditorium was sparsely attended, there were a number of high-level staff there from the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources. But that may be because Secretary John Skvarla -- an attorney and businessman who rejects the idea that there is scientific consensus around global warming and questions whether oil is a finite resource -- had his office send out an email last week inviting division directors and senior management to consider attending.
However, there were few lawmakers in attendance, which did not go unnoticed by Rep. Cleveland.
"I'm a little disappointed that more of my peers aren't here," he said while introducing Droz.
But then, it was a busy week.