In his June 5 Denver Post column, David Harsanyi falsely described Colorado state climatologist Roger A. Pielke Sr. as being "skeptical" about global warming. In fact, while Pielke has openly questioned some widely accepted conclusions about global warming, he repudiated "the term 'climate skeptic' " as "inaccurately describ[ing] my perspective on climate change."
In his June 5 column titled "Chill out over global warming," Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi misrepresented the views of Colorado state climatologist Roger A. Pielke Sr., whom Harsanyi falsely described as being "skeptical" about global warming. In fact, while Pielke has openly questioned some widely accepted conclusions about global warming (which he calls a "subset" of climate change), he definitively stated in response to Harsanyi's column that "the term 'climate skeptic' inaccurately describes my perspective on climate change."
In his column, Harsanyi initially cited William M. Gray, whom Harsanyi called "perhaps the world's foremost hurricane expert." Gray, professor emeritus of atmospheric science at Colorado State University, has accused scientists of "brainwashing us for 20 years" and has called global warming a "hoax." Harsanyi then asserted that Pielke "is also skeptical." However, in a June 5 posting to the "Climate Science" weblog, which Pielke administers, Pielke stated that Harsanyi's reference to him as a climate change skeptic "inaccurately describes my perspective on climate change." Although Pielke praised the column for "communicating that there are a diversity of views on climate science," he also stated that his research, as well as that of his colleagues, "has documented a diversity of first-order human climate forcings" and that he is "not skeptical of a substantial human forcing of climate change including the subset of climate change that is referred to as 'global warming'!" While Pielke has criticized scientists for focusing primarily on carbon dioxide as the human impetus behind climate change, he maintains that labeling him a "climate skeptic" is "completely wrong."
In his column, Harsanyi noted that Pielke "runs the Climate Science Weblog." Nevertheless, Harsanyi's distortion of Pielke's theories contradicted explicit statements Pielke has made on that weblog, which were written well before Harsanyi wrote his column. On August 23, 2005, Pielke noted that "well documented increases of atmospheric concentration of CO2 are due to anthopogenic [sic] emissions of this gas. This comes from vehicles, industry, biomass burning and other sources of combustion. CO2 warms the Earth's climate system radiatively (i.e. it is a global warming effect)."
Harsanyi is also not the first to mischaracterize Pielke's views on global warming. On August 30, 2005, The New York Times printed the following as part of a correction it ran after wrongly labeling Pielke as one who has "long disagreed with the dominant view that global warming stems mainly from human activity":
The scientist, Roger A. Pielke Sr ... says that warming is caused mainly by human activities; he does not disagree with that widely held view. Where he differs with many peers is on the amount of warming from the accumulation of gases like carbon dioxide, as opposed to other factors; the reliability of temperature measurements on the earth's surface; and the value of computer projections that estimate future climate change.
From Harsanyi's June 5 Denver Post column:
"They've been brainwashing us for 20 years," Gray says. "Starting with the nuclear winter and now with the global warming. This scare will also run its course. In 15-20 years, we'll look back and see what a hoax this was."
Gray directs me to a 1975 Newsweek article that whipped up a different fear: a coming ice age.
"Climatologists," reads the piece, "are pessimistic that political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change. ... The longer the planners delay, the more difficult will they find it to cope with climatic change once the results become grim reality."
Thank God they did nothing. Imagine how warm we'd be?
Another highly respected climatologist, Roger Pielke Sr. at the University of Colorado, is also skeptical.
Pielke contends there isn't enough intellectual diversity in the debate. He claims a few vocal individuals are quoted "over and over" again, when in fact there are a variety of opinions.
I ask him: How do we fix the public perception that the debate is over?
"Quite frankly," says Pielke, who runs the Climate Science Weblog (climatesci.atmos.colostate.edu), "I think the media is in the ideal position to do that. If the media honestly presented the views out there, which they rarely do, things would change. There aren't just two sides here. There are a range of opinions on this issue. A lot of scientists out there that are very capable of presenting other views are not being heard."