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CRF Blog » Blog Archive » The Battle Over Climate Science

CRF Blog

The Battle Over Climate Science

by Bill Hayes

Writing in PopSci, Tom Clynes looks at the increasingly nasty Battle Over Climate Science.

“There’s really only about 25 of us doing this,” Steve Milloy says, shortly after sitting down at Morton’s, a Washington, D.C., steakhouse favored by lawyers and lobbyists. “A core group of skeptics. It’s a ragtag bunch, very Continental Army.” Milloy, a Fox News commentator and former tobacco-industry advocate, runs a website called JunkScience.com that is an outlet for attacks on those he calls “global-warming alarmists.” Many of those who question mainstream climate science resent being called deniers; they say it unfairly equates them with Holocaust deniers. They prefer doubters, skeptics or realists. “Me, I just stick with denier,” Milloy says. “I’m happy to be a denier.”

Milloy is dressed in a striped pink button-down shirt and khaki pants, classic Potomac prep. He moved into climate denial in the 1990s as funding from the tobacco lobby began to dry up. At the time, conservative and libertarian think tanks were just starting to take aim at climate science. Milloy, who has received funding from entities controlled by oil billionaires Charles and David Koch, helps them get their message to the masses.

Milloy and other aggressive deniers practice a form of asymmetric warfare that is decentralized and largely immune to reasoned response. They launch what Aaron Huertas, a press secretary at the Union of Concerned Scientists, calls “information missiles,” anti-climate-change memes that get passed around on listservs, amplified in the blogosphere, and picked up by radio talk-show hosts or politicians. “Even if they don’t have much money, they are operating in a structure that allows them to punch above their weight,” Huertas says.

Scientists who speak up quickly become targets. Both Milloy and his counterpart Marc Morano, who runs the site ClimateDepot.com and once declared that climate scientists “deserve to be publicly flogged,” occasionally publish the e-mail addresses of climate researchers, a stunt that can result in scientists receiving a flood of vitriolic messages. A few weeks before our meeting, Milloy had offered a $500 bounty for a video of anyone who would heckle [paleoclimatologist Michael] Mann with “an alarmism-debunking” question during the California leg of his book tour. The hecklers never materialized but, as with the white powder in Mann’s letter (which the FBI determined to be cornstarch), the threat made an impact.

Mann calls Milloy “a valueless, all-purpose denier for notorious industries who need a hired gun.” But Milloy, like others in the movement, says that he’s fighting an existential war with forces that would, without his intervention, steal the American way of life. “This whole green thing, the whole environmental scare industry, is really just an ingenious plan to exert government control over everything we do,” Milloy says. “I have yet to see an environmental scare that is remotely true when it comes to human health. Secondhand smoke, air quality, ozone depletion, pesticides, superfund sites — you name it.” [more]