How the Environmental Left Became the New Climate Deniers

“By every measure, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change raises the level of alarm. … Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.”
- Ellen Goodman, Boston Globe, 2007

When the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report in 2007, the response of the environmental left was histrionic. Just two years earlier the IPCC had shared the Nobel Peace Prize for its work assessing climate change. Those on the left claimed the IPCC’s international mandate to be so clear they called its findings the “climate consensus.” They declared the debate over, demanding that politicians act according to the IPCC’s scientific findings.

Those who did not honor the IPCC’s science, they said, were dooming future generations to environmental collapse. People who questioned the authority of the IPCC, they said, had the mentality – and morality – of holocaust deniers.

Now, six years later, the IPCC has released a new assessment of climate change, with new calculations of potential global temperature increases, sea level rise, ocean acidification and other impacts. Because the new predictions are less dire than in the past, the IPCC’s old fans have suddenly become the new climate deniers, calling the IPCC’s latest report “political” and ignoring its key findings on a number of important issues.

The dramatic about face, coming after attacking those had who questioned the last report, demonstrates that much of what is said about climate science in the political realm is just that – political. Rather than follow the science, politicians, journalists and some in the general public prefer to play games, denying today what they said was undeniable yesterday.  Specifically, the environmental Left is denying the IPCC’s new science findings in three key areas.

Temperature Increase

Writing in the Wall Street Journal just before the release of the new IPCC report, actress Darryl Hannah, who is frequently joined by climate scientist James Hansen at protests, claimed “There’s also a consensus that we must act urgently, if we are to avoid a 4-degree Celsius raise.” Her claim, however, is simply incorrect. It was wrong before the new report and is more clearly so with the latest consensus science.

The latest projection of the IPCC for temperature increase under the most likely scenario (comparable scientifically to the standard the IPCC used in 2007) is 1.8 degrees Celsius (3.2 degrees Fahrenheit) by the year 2100. This is less than half of what Hannah claims. In fact, the median projection for the most extreme scenario, is 3.7 degrees Celsius. Her projection is even beyond that.

Hannah herself, of course, can’t be blamed. She is just listening to James Hansen, as do many people on the left. Rather than listen to the “climate consensus,” the left listens to Hansen, ironically calling him the “most prescient climatologist,” even as he attacks the IPCC’s own “climate consensus.”

Sea Level Rise

Recently, the group Earthjustice warned of “sea levels rising dangerously fast,” claiming that, “The IPCC projects sea-level rise of 5–6 feet by 2100.” In Washington state, the left-leaning Sightline Institute was more modest, claiming only that “the world’s leading climate scientists warn of the sea level rising by three feet by 2100.” Northwest NPR asked how Seattle “would be affected if sea levels rise 1 foot by 2020.”

None of these dark predictions are accurate. All projections are above the highest increase forecast under the IPCC’s most extreme scenarios.

Under the most likely emissions scenario, sea levels will increase about 18 inches. The most extreme scenario projects an upper limit of sea level rise of 32 inches by 2100 – less than the three feet claimed by Sightline and less than half of Earthjustice’s phony statistics. NPR’s estimate is wildly exaggerated, more than ten times the IPCC’s estimate.

Ironically, the IPCC actually increased the sea level projections by five inches in this latest report. The 2007 report called 13 inches the most likely scenario. Even with this increase, however, many on the left still exaggerate the data.

Ocean Acidification

The portrait painted by a recent Seattle Times series is stark. Oceans acidifying at an alarming rate due to increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere. The Times claims “carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions has turned” the waters along Washington’s coast “lethal,” noting that “plummeting ocean pH in 2008 and 2009” caused oyster die-offs. During that time the measure of acidity, pH, in the ocean fell by about 0.1 per year, which they attribute to human-caused carbon emissions.

Washington state Governor Jay Inslee has made similar claims. Inslee argues, “We know that two of the most challenging threats we face to our environment are climate change and ocean acidification.”

The problem is that less than one percent of this acidification can be attributed to CO2 emissions at all. As the IPCC reports, “The pH of ocean surface water has decreased by 0.1 since the beginning of the industrial era.” The acidification The Seattle Times attributes to carbon emissions annually is actually the amount that has occurred over the course of more than 100 years.

If The Seattle Times and the Governor want to argue that CO2 impacts are 100 times more powerful in Washington state, they are free to do so. That, however, is extremely unlikely and would be tantamount to arguing that the climate consensus holds true everywhere but in their back yard.

Denying the IPCC

Some on the left have realized their cataclysmic projections are no longer in line with the consensus science. Instead of adjusting to the new information, however, they have turned to undermining the IPCC.

Having received a leaked version of the 2013 IPCC report, the New York Times took to chipping away at the IPCC’s credibility even before the report’s formal release. One columnist accused the IPCC of “bending over backward to be scientifically conservative,” claiming the U.N. agency was intentionally low-balling the projections for political reasons.

Another left-wing environmental activist was more blunt. Commenting on the CleanTechnica blog, one solar energy advocate argued “the IPCC report is more of a political document than a scientific one.” Ironically, that is exactly the view of the best-known climate “denier,” Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma.  Senator Inhofe told an audience in 2007, prior to the last IPCC report, that, “This is a political document, not a scientific report.”

Instead of adjusting environmental policies to fit the new science in ways that will help the planet, many on the left are clinging to their older policies and catastrophic predictions, rejecting the very consensus that used to be their life ring. Having cast off from their scientific tether, they have set out into the open ocean, hoping that political winds will carry them where they want to go.

Of course the term “denier” itself is an obnoxious and insulting term, designed to shock those who disagree into a defensive posture. Yet, while some on the right never believed the IPCC’s claims to begin with, the left’s denial is particularly stark.  The left has abandoned the IPCC only after years of touting the agency’s unshakable standard of excellence. What changed was not the IPCC’s standards but its conclusions. New science sparked the left’s new denial.

The new, left-wing climate science deniers have made it clear they were always more interested in suiting the science to their pre-determined politics.

Comments (15)

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  1. terry graham says:

    Todd,
    Washington State is and always will be in lock step with “those” who are using guilt to promote “their” agenda.
    Global warming, now referred to a Climate Change, moved from one descriptor to another without missing a beat, and without challenge.
    Inslee is a prime example of politics gone a muck.
    His motives are self seeking, to do what the “believers” want to maintain his acceptance and continue as governor.
    The law describing biomass burning for energy as GHG neutral is a prime example.
    This law pushed by the cronies such as Jeff Morris, State Rep and Energy consultant, Chuck Collins, self professed Energy CEO, both conspired with the financial help of Seattle Steam to pay(ved) the way to pass this law.
    Seattle Steam has paid thousands to lobbyists such as Tim Hatley, former aid to Larry Phillips, KC Council member, Michael Mann, former Director Office of sustainability Seattle, to continue the political pressure on Seattle and King County facilities to remain on steam. Seattle even formed its own non-profit with stimulus money, District 2030, to provide more incentives to remain on steam.
    This will never change as long one party remains in power, can appoint their own cronies to office who hide the truth.

  2. Kevin says:

    “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers”

    That seems a bit of an exaggeration.

    • Jackson says:

      Just a bit of one. You know, because it’s perfectly rational to compare the denial of the systematic murder of people based on race and creed to the denial of rising temperatures.

  3. Jackson says:

    “Her claim, however, is simply incorrect.”

    They won’t let a silly thing like facts stand in their way.

  4. Billy says:

    “Earthjustice”

    A sham organization designed to farm money from people overly concerned about trees and polar bears.

  5. Wilbur says:

    ‘The Times claims “carbon dioxide from fossil fuel emissions has turned” the waters along Washington’s coast “lethal,”’

    Why don’t we throw the left into those waters to test it?

  6. Tom G. says:

    “The acidification The Seattle Times attributes to carbon emissions annually is actually the amount that has occurred over the course of more than 100 years.”

    Three options: they didn’t check they’re sources, they lied about it, or they’re morons.

  7. Kilian says:

    “One columnist accused the IPCC of “bending over backward to be scientifically conservative,” claiming the U.N. agency was intentionally low-balling the projections for political reasons.”

    Conservatives are on the downswing right now, so what possible reason could someone have for lashing themselves to it?

  8. Will says:

    The +1.8°C “most likely scenario” you cite is the IPCC “B1″ scenario which would require a coordinated global carbon tax and massive fossil fuel subsidies.

    No one ever said that scenario is the “most likely” to happen. In fact given current politics it seems extremely unlikely. The current “business as usual scenario” is the IPCC “A2″ scenario which says we’ll see +3.4°C warming.

    Get your facts straight.

    • Todd Myers says:

      You get your facts straight.

      You are reading the 2007 IPCC report. In the 2013 report, they don’t use the A2, B1, etc. scenarios. Instead they have moved to an approach that is related to CO2 concentrations.

      On page 1055 of the new report (http://www.climatechange2013.org/images/report/WG1AR5_Chapter12_FINAL.pdf), the IPCC notes that under what it now calls the RCP4.5 scenario, temperature increases are projected at 1.8 degrees C. The most extreme scenario in the new report shows 3.7 degrees C.

      This new report show a reduction in climate sensitivity to CO2 concentrations.

      Before you accuse someone of getting their facts wrong, make sure you aren’t reading a 7-year old report.

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