The Island of Doubt

It would appear that the staff at the Competitive Enterprise Institute don’t like being called liars. I don’t blame them for that. No likes being caught in the act. In a recent post dealing with the CEI’s latest television ads attacking those of us who are worried about climate change, I made that charge. The good news is I managed to provoke the institute into wasting some of its corporate sponsors’ money by spending the time it takes to respond to my charge. The bad news is they’re still lying.

Senior CEI fellow Marlo Lewis argues on the CEI’s “OpenMarket.org” blog that their ads fairly represent the science behind climate change, and that that science casts doubt on the notion that extra carbon dioxide emissions are bad for the planet; that glaciers and ice sheets aren’t melting at alarming rates; and that Al Gore is a big fat energy hog.

I think that fairly sums up the CEI argument. Unfortunately, and despite Lewis’s inclusion of links to where the ads used to appear on the CEI’s own site and YouTube, neither location offers the ads anymore. YouTube, in fact, removed them because of copyright issues. So it’s not easy to check to see who is right. Good thing for us there is still on YouTube a piece of television by George Monbiot that includes relevant excerpts from the ads.

So let’s review. I originally wrote, back in 2006 when the first two ads appeared that, the ads “suggest that science actually casts serious doubt on the idea that climate change is behind melting glaciers.”

Lewis responds: “Not so fast, James! We did not argue that the ice sheets aren’t really melting.”

Now here’s what the ad in question actually said:

“You’ve seen those headlines about global warming. The glaciers are melting. We’re doomed. That’s what several studies supposedly found. But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite.”

So it turns out you did argue that the ice sheets aren’t really melting. And that climate change is bad for us.

Lewis also takes issue with my contention that one of the original ads misrepresents the role of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, writing that I “ought also to acknowledge that rising CO2 levels boost agricultural productivity and, thus, help alleviate world hunger.”

But anyone familiar with the science on CO2′s effects on agricultural output would know that that’s simply not true. For at least seven years now, scientists have been publishing papers showing that many species of plants will not exhibit increased growth rates under high CO2 levels, for a variety of reasons, including a shortage of other limiting factors, such as soil nitrogen, and also because at some point, they simply stop responding positively to increased levels of the gas.

For example, here’s an excerpt from a 2002 press release from Duke University, describing in language simple enough for the CEI gang to understand, the results of research published that year in Nature:

… production and soil carbon storage basically saturated above 400 parts per million, a CO2 concentration very close to the current one. “For me, this was the most interesting part of the study, because it indicates that we are now right at a threshold where the benefits of extra CO2 may not be all that great.”

So, no, Marlo, I shouldn’t “acknowledge that rising CO2 levels boost agricultural productivity.” What I, and you, should do, is recognize that such simplistic and misleading statements, while short enough for a 30-second television ad, amount to outright lies.

The rest of Lewis’ rebuttal is similarly plagued by an inability to get it right. It has only one comment last time I checked, so it’s likely no one but me (and one of my commenters, Kevin, who first brought the rebuttal to my attention), is reading.

But I still think it’s important to call out the CEI whenever they engage in such mendacious behavior. Check out today’s Washington Post story on Al Gore’s new $300 million climate crisis ad campaign, or more specifically deluge of comments to it. The CEI really has it in for Gore, and it is entirely possible that many of the falsehood-laden critical comments were generated at the behest of an organized campaign led by something akin to the CEI, if not the institute itself.

I’m not saying the CEI has stooped to the equivalent of the old newspaper-era trick of writinglarge number of bogus letters to the editor from non-existent readers. I have no evidence to support the claim but the similarity between many of those comments and the content of the CEI ads, a weak piece of evidence indeed, given the lack of imagination of the climate pseudoskeptics. But given the CEI’s disingenuous performance so far, it wouldn’t surprise me.