Letter: Climate change deniers funded by energy industry
A recent letter to the editor (“Objective is to throttle America’s energy use,” April 10 Readers Write) presented some enlightening insights into the climate-change denier movement (CCDM). The opening paragraph of the letter provides a version of the CCDM description of the U.S. science enterprise that bears absolutely no resemblance to the enterprise I worked in during my 30-year career at NASA Langley.
The research agendas of federal agencies such as NASA and NOAA are prescribed by the National Academies of Science and all research projects are subject to continuous peer review to ensure quality and relevance to the NAS guidance. At NASA I have had some of the leading climate scientists in the world as professional colleagues and friends for many years and have observed how skeptical and meticulous they are in their research.
This is an enterprise driven by observational data, from which hypotheses are developed and tested leading to theories and mathematical models. The basic physics and mathematical models arose through a hypothesis about why the Earth had a livable climate that was proven through the scientific process. This hypothesis and its associated mathematical model is the greenhouse gas theory which has been validated and refined continuously since Svante Arrhenius hypothesized it in 1896.
This second insight provided by this letter is the motivation of private citizen climate-change deniers. The CCDM is funded largely by the energy industry in order to protect the value of their hydrocarbon assets still in the ground and worth trillions of dollars at today’s market prices. This movement uses tactics developed by the tobacco industry in the 1950s trying to prevent the designation of tobacco products as harmful to public health (“Climate Cover-Up,” Hoogan, J., 2009), namely debunking the science. None of the movement’s debunking arguments stand up to factual scrutiny as demonstrated in earlier Readers Write correspondence and elsewhere.
Private citizens who hop into the movement apparently do so, according to this letter, because of attempts “… to curb our freedom to choose how, and even where we live.” I have no problem with anyone making these choices so long as the choices do not harm me or others. Unfortunately if these choices involve the unfettered consumption of hydrocarbon fuel they directly harm me and billions of other people due to one of what economists call the externalities of hydrocarbon fuel combustion, in this case the destructive impacts of an enhanced greenhouse effect that will last for millennia.
The founding fathers recognized that a legitimate role of government is to regulate the activities of citizens when their actions harm other citizens. Since the industry and many private citizens do not recognize the validity of well-proven science and continue activities harmful to their fellow citizens, then I support the government regulating this harmful behavior.