Science a 'weapon,' Kansas Sen. Mike Thompson says. Climate change experts fact-check him.
Do humans and carbon dioxide have no effect on climate change? Is science being weaponized, and are scientists comparable to Nazi propagandists?
That's what one politician told the Kansas Independent Oil & Gas Association during its annual convention in Wichita last week. Sen. Mike Thompson, a Republican from Shawnee, is the chair of the Senate utilities committee. He is also a retired meteorologist.
The convention was held one week after the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's sixth assessment report was released. International officials referred to its findings as a "code red for humanity."
Following are eight claims Thompson made during a seminar on "The Weaponization of Climate Science" — and what the climate experts at the University of Kansas contacted by The Topeka Capital-Journal had to say in response.
Do humans have 'zero control' over climate change?
Thompson: "Climate change has been happening since Earth has been around naturally, natural cycles, with stuff that's more powerful than anything humans can do. And so it's pure hubris to think that we should be spending billions of dollars — or now trillions of dollars — on mitigating climate change for something we have zero control over. And that includes trying to change our energy policy to fit that by going more green, with the renewables, which are not reliable."
Kees Van der Veen(Department of Geography & Atmospheric Science professor): "As reported in the IPCC Report, we cannot explain recent temperature trends (i.e. over the last century or so) without taking into account the warming effect from anthropogenically produced carbon dioxide. That is, natural processes (volcanos, solar activity, etc) are not enough to explain the recent warming trend. See Figure TS.7 in the Technical Summary of the WGI IPCC Report that was just published."
Does burning fossil fuels and increasing carbon dioxide affect climate change?
Thompson: "We can burn fossil fuels. We can put things into the environment that might change the environment, but it's not going to change the climate. Reducing CO2 will have nothing to do with changing the climate on this planet. ... CO2 is a greenhouse gas, but it's a very tiny one. Water vapor does 95% of the stabilization of the temperature of this planet. ... With carbon dioxide right now, we could double, triple quadruple the amount of CO2, it is not going to change the amount of warming on this planet or the temperature on this planet at all."
Van der Veen: "Burning fossil fuels releases carbon dioxide: any hydrocarbon source (fossil fuel) plus oxygen produces carbon dioxide and water, plus a lot of energy that we as society use. This is a straight-forward chemical reaction.
"It has been known since the 19th century that CO2 is a greenhouse gas (from laboratory experiments conducted at the time). No one denies this and every introductory textbook will tell you that conditions on Earth are favorable for life as we know it exactly because of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. Compare conditions on Mars (no atmosphere to speak of) and Venus (atmosphere consisting of 96% carbon dioxide). If we look over the last million years, temperature variations corresponding with glacial cycles are linked with similar variations in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Water vapor is indeed a strong greenhouse gas that is likely to amplify warming brought about by carbon dioxide — this is called a positive feedback in the climate system."
Does green and renewable energy work, and is it reliable?
Thompson: "The renewables, which are not reliable. Green energy, which doesn't work. ... And of course, it's green, but it kills the birds. And, of course, it's full of all sorts of toxic materials. And then during the course of a winter outbreak ... look what provided the energy, it was oil and it was gas, and it was coal."
Shannon O'Lear(director of the Environmental Studies Program and a Department of Geography & Atmospheric Science professor): "The fossil fuel based infrastructure on which much of the world relies would not be possible without considerable and sustained government subsidies and support of large corporations. What could it look like if renewable energy received the same amount of support and protection? Energy storage solutions mean that wind power can still be effective even if the wind is not blowing right now. Granted, expanding renewable energy will require a new business model, because key inputs such as wind and solar radiation are freely available, do not require international trade agreements, and do not generate waste that requires additional problem solving."
Van der Veen: "One might want to expand one's view to other countries, such as Germany and elsewhere in Europe where 'green energy' plays a greater role in society and increasingly replaces fossil fuels as energy source."
Is becoming net carbon neutral by 2050 possible?
Thompson: "BP, Exxon Mobil, they all put the promos on Sunday morning, they have the windmills and everything. They say they're gonna go net carbon neutral by 2050, or whatever year it is. It's impossible to do, it's virtually impossible to do. And a lot of it has to do with these ESG standards, because they are being forced into these ESG standards by financial institutions. ... it's a complete distortion of our economy."
Van der Veen: "Where there is (political) will there is a way — who would have imagined the Internet only three decades ago or the phenomenal growth in online retail, spurred on by Amazon? — just to name one example of rapid societal changes occurring despite naysayers stating it could not be done."
Does global warming exist, and can it kill people?
Thompson: "Science has just become a weapon. So we basically turned real science into we're all gonna die in 12 years, OK. And unfortunately, this is the culmination of the dumbing down of America. People buy this stuff. They hear it on the news. They think global warming is real. We're all gonna die."
Van der Veen: "Strawman argument – no credible scientist will say that we are all going to die, let alone in 12 years! But one has only to look around to see impacts of warming already happening, be it more frequent storms, tornados and landslides brought on by wildfires or clear-day flooding in Miami.
"It would be wise for politicians and other officials to read the actual IPCC Reports — or at least the appropriately titled 'Summary for Policy Makers.' These Reports are a far cry from the sensationalist headlines or sound bites that Senator Thompson apparently attributes to science."
Are mitigation strategies, such as carbon sequestration, a waste of money?
Thompson: "From the climate mitigation standpoint, there really, like I said, if you look, there really isn't much we can do. We could spend money, but it would be fruitless. The climate is going to change on its own. … Bottom line is, there's nothing we can do to change the climate. Nothing at all.
"CO2 sequestration sounds like the dumbest idea I've ever seen in my life."
Van der Veen: "I agree that CO2 sequestration, or any other proposed geo-engineering 'solution' is not a real or permanent solution and mostly a waste of money (and energy!!)"
Would more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere be good for agriculture?
Thompson: "If you do some studies on carbon dioxide, plants thrive at high levels of CO2. ... In fact, there was a Harvard study that showed plants are hardier, more drought resistant, produce more crops at about 1200 parts per million — three times what we have in the atmosphere right now. So it's actually beneficial to have more CO2. And since we've seen higher levels of CO2, we've seen a greening of the planet. We've seen a lot more forestation we've seen a lot more green, which counteracts any potential warming that we have."
O'Lear: "Although plants may grow larger leaves with increased levels of CO2, the nutrient quality in those plants becomes diluted and causes knock down effects throughout the foodchain. Research at Kansas State University has demonstrated this point and why it is a concern both for agriculture and for ecosystem resilience. For instance, lowering the nutritional value of biomass could lead to a decline in some species of grasshoppers only to contribute to swarms of other species of grasshoppers that could damage crops. Beyond grasshoppers, other species and types of animals could be negatively affected."
Is messaging on climate change comparable to Nazi propaganda?
Thompson: "Why are we spending billions and billions of dollars subsidizing an energy source that we cannot rely on when we absolutely need it. It's just basically because of propaganda. And you go back to the Nazi era, this guy Edward Bernays actually helped Woodrow Wilson institute, he helped some big tobacco companies institute smoking in America, promote smoking. And basically he said, you know, you tell a lie big enough, you keep telling it, eventually it becomes true. That's what's happening in America today. And Joseph Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister, actually studied Bernays, because he knew it worked. He saw that it worked.
"And of course, if you control the language, you control the narrative. And what has happened since we started on this global warming or climate change path, is that ... they have controlled the language."
O'Lear: In response to the comments on energy subsidies: "This point is true for fossil fuels in our current, deeply networked system. Case in point: the recent cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline and the resulting gas shortages on the East coast."
Van der Veen: "Or think back to the last hurricane hitting the Gulf Coast and disrupting energy supplies and following temporary shortages and price hikes.
"It is interesting that Senator Thompson brings up Edward Bernays and his influence on advertising. As documented extensively by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway in their book 'Merchants of Doubt' many of the strategies developed by Bernays and the advertising agency Hill and Knowlton originally for the tobacco industry, were later used by the fossil fuel lobby to discredit or deny the reality of climate change cause by humans burning fossil fuels.
"And one could argue that some continue to deploy these tactics to discredit or deny climate change."