(CNSNews.com) - Climate change skeptics - and journalists who report on them - have become the target of a campaign aimed at stifling legitimate debate at a time when Congress is planning an aggressive new environmental push.
This is the assessment of environmental scientists and free market advocates who see a concerted effort to silence and de-fund think tanks that publish material challenging "prevailing global warming orthodoxy."
Leftist activists masquerading as scientists are promoting false notions of "consensus" in an effort to back calls for mandatory caps on CO2 and other "greenhouse gas" emissions, they argue.
Jeff Kueter, president of the George C. Marshall Institute (GMI) said "rational and open" discussion of climate change science that includes dissenting voices is in danger of being short-circuited, at the expense of sound science and free speech.
Kueter told Cybercast News Service the assault on groups like the GMI amounted to "censorship." He said the notion of scientific consensus on global warming masked "real disputes that exist in the science over the quality of data."
Bonner Cohen, author of "The Green Wave: Environmentalism and Its Consequences" said in an interview with Cybercast News Service that the censorship campaign hinges on two key components - a call for congressional oversight leading effectively to "show trials" aimed at discrediting global warming skeptics and an assault on press freedom.
At issue is a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) earlier this month accusing ExxonMobil-funded "contrarian scientists" and "ideological advocacy groups" of a "disinformation campaign" aimed at deceiving and "confusing" the public about the connection between human activity and climate change.
It also criticized media organizations for quoting scientists who the USC views as being out of step with mainstream opinion.
The author of the report, Seth Shulman, is a journalist and the author of a book entitled "Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration."
Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a key target of the UCS report, characterizes the UCS as a "hardcore left-wing activist" organization with a long history of advocacy (see related article).
Repeated efforts to get Schulman or other UCS officials to respond to the issues raised in this report were unsuccessful, but UCS President Kevin Knobloch spoke to reporters during a conference call Friday on the "state of the environment."
"ExxonMobil's campaign to inject uncertainty into climate science has done some harm, giving members of Congress and business leaders reason not to act," Knobloch said.
"Our report shows ExxonMobil waged a campaign to undercut climate science by borrowing the tactics - almost the entire playbook - of big tobacco."
Recently, ExxonMobil announced it had stopped funding the CEI, and Knobloch said the decision indicated that the global warming debate had arrived at "an important moment."
But ExxonMobil spokesman Mark Boudreaux told Cybercast News Service the decision to stop funding was made in the fall of 2005. In a press release the oil company also called the UCS report "deeply offensive and wrong."
As previously reported the UCS report named 43 advocacy groups it accused of taking part in the alleged "disinformation campaign."
Among those most prominently mentioned apart from the CEI and GMI were the Independent Institute and the Heartland Institute, singled out for what the UCS terms "information laundering" aimed at distorting scientific findings in the mind of Americans. The report also named the Media Research Center (MRC), parent company of the Cybercast News Service.
Keuter and Ebell are among those named who have strongly denied that they accept donations that come with "strings attached."
"We are not influenced by our funders to reach specific outcomes or to validate specific conclusions. We review information we are analyzing for content and quality," Keuter said.
Greenpeace Research Director Kert Davies said he backed the UCS allegations.
"There has been a very deliberate public relations and media campaign designed with an eye toward influencing the policy arena with misinformation," Davies told Cybercast News Service. "It mischaracterizes what we believe to be a consensus on the science."
In his conference call, Knobloch said "the science of global warming is very clear." Policymakers must take action now to "adopt a strong mandatory cap on U.S. emissions of heat trapping gases."
The UCS report took aim at "climate contrarians" affiliated with the Independent Institute such as Fred Singer, David Legates and Frederick Seitz, accusing them of bucking the scientific consensus.
But Ebell said the notion of consensus was a "game" political activists use to discredit skeptics who raise legitimate questions.
Ebell argued that the weight of scientific evidence has in fact shifted against "alarmist projections" that envisage potential catastrophe.
Singer, an environmental scientist at the University of Virginia, told Cybercast News Service that proponents of global warming models that see a significant correlation between human activity and rising temperatures are "afraid they might lose the debate" because their data is unlikely to withstand scrutiny.
"The facts and the data are pretty convincing now," he said. "Any warming taking place is largely due to natural variability, not human activity. The way we can tell is by comparing the pattern of warming with what greenhouse warming models predict. They don't agree."
Although he describes himself as a "believer in the greenhouse effect," Singer said the fundamental question centers around the role of human activity.
"The human influence is small," he asserted. "Not zero - but small compared to natural effects."
Singer's findings are the subject of a new book entitled "Hot Talk, Cold Science," published by the Independent Institute.
Cohen also took issue with the UCS's invoking of "consensus."
"Science does not run by consensus," he said, adding that the organization was simply trying to "shut off debate."
Kueter said he welcomes an open exchange of ideas but remains dubious about the intentions of those on the other side of the dispute.
He was particularly troubled by a recommendation in the UCS report for "congressional oversight" of the alleged "disinformation campaign."
"It smacks to me of McCarthyism and big-brotherism and is completely antithetical to the scientific process and the American political philosophy of free speech," Kueter said.
"The Union of Concerned Scientists and Greenpeace are openly opposed to a free exchange of views," said Dan Gainor, the Boone Pickens Free Market Fellow and director of the Business & Media Institute, a division of the MRC.
"Just like the Weather Channel's Heidi Cullen, they are embracing censorship and tyranny over intellectual freedom," he added. "No journalist should be deceived by this heavy-handed attempt at closing off the debate."
"Tell me where I'm wrong on the issues," said Ben Lieberman of the Heritage Foundation, another organization named in the UCS report.
"What's really going on here is the skeptical arguments have merit and they are resonating with American people," Lieberman said. As a result, "there's a frustration on the part of alarmists who have not been able to scare the American people."
Jay Gulledge, a senior research fellow with the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, is among those who assert that there is an "overarching general consensus" on global warming.
Even so, Gulledge told Cybercast News Service the notion of a corporate conspiracy was far-fetched.
"You can't just make a blanket argument that ExxonMobil dollars equals disinformation - that's a logical fallacy," he said.
Instead, Gulledge argued that problems arose when scientific conclusions that have been vetted through "peer reviewed channels" are being challenged by skeptics.
Cohen counters that the so-called "peer review process" is too narrowly focused, because it does not allow for input from geologists who are better positioned to gauge the question of global warming than climatologists.
The controversy has heated up at a time when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) plans to create a new select committee on global warming.
Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) this month reintroduced their Climate Stewardship and Innovation Act, which proposes emission reductions across all major sectors of the U.S. economy.
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