Kathryn Jean Lopez:Will you feel bad you defended “The Deniers” when we’re all dead? Lawrence Solomon: The third world is sustaining terrible environmental damage today and people are losing their source of food and fuel, because too few people have been defending scientists who want nothing more than to have their voices heard, and because journalists have turned a blind eye to the consequences of Kyoto.
Consider this: Kyoto has emerged as the single biggest threat to the global environment. Thanks to Kyoto, we are seeing a revival of megadams that threaten to destroy many of the world’s remaining river valleys, we are seeing a renaissance of nuclear power, which remains a costly and dangerous technology, we are seeing our foodlands turned into fuel lands, and people in the Third World rioting because they can’t afford the doubling of grain prices that has resulted.
Because we have been blinkered, we don’t realize that when we purchase a carbon offset in the west, the other half of that transaction is often a carbon sink in the third world. That carbon sink is typically a fast growing eucalyptus plantation, planted on land that had formerly been farmland or old growth forest.
No area of public policy is more dependent on sound science than environmental protection. Sound science presupposes debate and the free flow of ideas, and scientists who are not castigated when they offer their views.
Lopez:How did you choose your “Deniers”? Solomon: I looked for scientists with exceptional credentials, without affiliations or funders that would call their integrity into doubt. At first, it was hard to find such scientists to profile in my newspaper columns, because many of them didn’t want to be found. They feared castigation. Over time, as scientists learned of my columns, they began to find me.
Lopez:Isn’t the “Political Persecution” from your title a little overly dramatic?
Solomon: Well none of my deniers has been water-boarded. On the other hand, many of those who didn’t toe the government line lost their funding, were drummed out of their jobs, found it impossible to publish in crucial journals, discovered that they were pariahs in their academic departments, or were exposed to furious criticism in the press of a sort most research scientists will never encounter, including being compared to Holocaust Deniers by quite mainstream-media figures like Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes. That is certainly quite enough persecution to have a chilling effect on debate.
Lopez:Do “The Deniers” all believe global warming is a hoax or is more complicated than that?
Solomon: None dispute that the earth has been getting warmer on some time scale. They variously dispute the significance of that warming, or that global warming can lead to cataclysm or that man is an important cause of the warming. As Habibullo Abdussamatov, the head of research for the Russian half of the International Space Station told me, there is global warming on Mars, and the Martians aren’t responsible.
Some of the deniers do think the scare is all hoax. Others believe global warming to be a concern, just not a serious one.
Lopez: Is hysteria really a bad thing or is it just getting us to act?
Solomon: Acting without reason is really a bad thing.
Lopez:Is it warmer?
Solomon: Yes. I especially like the explanation by Syun Ichi Akasofu, discoverer of the origin of the storms of the aurora borealis. He explains that the 20th century saw warming of about one-half degree Celsius, that the 19th century saw global warming at the same rate, and the 18th and the 17th century. Over all these centuries, he told me, the likeliest explanation is that we have been slowly climbing out of the Little Ice Age.
Lopez: What’s the hockey stick of global warming and do you really know it to be wrong?
Solomon: The hockey-stick-shaped graph claimed to show that temperatures had been fairly stable over the last 1000 years (the long handle of the hockey stick) until the last century, when temperatures shot up (the blade of the hickey stick). Based on that graph just about any human being with access to a newspaper, a magazine or a television set was told that the 1990s was the hottest decade of the hottest century of the last 1000 years, that the current warming trend was unprecedented and cataclysmic, and public opinion shifted massively toward the belief that man-made activity was hurtling us into disaster.