Politics Blog

Ericksen cites climate skeptics on eve of Inslee carbon tax rollout

The globe is warming, the globe is cooling. The Antarctic ice sheet is growing, the ice sheet is shrinking.

Which is right? It depends on whom you listen to.

Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale, is tuned to the frequency of the climate-change skeptics, and some well heeled ones at that.

(Note to readers: By “climate-change skeptics,” I mean people who are not convinced that the trend toward higher overall temperatures since the latter half of the 20th century is caused by the human burning of fossil fuels and the release of heat-trapping greenhouse gases from other human sources. I do not mean by that term people who are skeptical that the climate changes over long periods of time. Everyone knows that.)

Ericksen posted to Facebook on Thursday, Jan. 1, a link to climatedepot.com, showing that 2014 set a record for sea ice extent in the Antarctic. The linked page has graph after graph showing how healthy sea ice is around the globe, especially in Antarctica. Ericksen himself, or whoever handles his “public figure” Facebook page (1,073 “likes” as of this writing), posted the link without comment.

Still, the posting spoke volumes. Ericksen’s reference to a website that questions humans’ role in changing the planet’s climate comes on the same month that Gov. Jay Inslee will put forward a bill, the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act, that will require the state’s 130 biggest polluters (in terms of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide) to pay fees to release the gases. Near the top of the list of state polluters are three Whatcom County industries: BP Cherry Point, Phillips 66 refinery and Alcoa Intalco Works.

Why tax carbon? A policy brief to the carbon pollution bill spells it out:

“Around the globe, carbon pollution has led to the highest concentrations of greenhouse gases the earth has experienced in more than 800,000 years. Largely unregulated for decades, the release of carbon dioxide and other pollution from power plants, vehicles and industries has boosted global temperatures, led to the acidification of oceans, changed global weather patterns, and increased flooding and forest fires.”

Inslee wants Washington to be a leader in removing the causes of climate change. So does Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, who along with Ericksen represents Whatcom County in the state Senate. Ranker will be the prime sponsor of the Carbon Pollution Accountability Act in the Senate.

In a phone interview on Wednesday, Jan. 7, Ranker repeated a quote he’s been saying for a while now, and that Inslee has used, too: “We are the first generation to experience the impacts of climate change, but unfortunately we’re the last generation that’s going to be able to do anything about it.”

Which brings me back to that link Ericksen posted on Facebook to climatedepot.com. What climate change?

The Climate Depot website does get wordy on a separate page, headlined “ Dueling Datasets: Satellite Temperatures Reveal the ‘Global Warming Pause’ Lengthens to 18 years 2 months – (218 Months).”

The author of the Climate Depot article, Marc Morano, doesn’t pull any punches at those mainstream scientists who were so sure about human-caused climate change —who now, Morano says, are fumbling and bumbling in an effort to explain more than 18 years of steady temperatures globally, what he calls the “Great Pause:”

“The Great Pause is a growing embarrassment to those who had told us with ‘substantial confidence’ that the science was settled and the debate over. Nature had other ideas. Though approaching 70 mutually incompatible and more or less implausible excuses for the Pause are appearing in nervous reviewed journals and among proselytizing scientists, the possibility that the Pause is occurring because the computer models are simply wrong about the sensitivity of temperature to man-made greenhouse gases can no longer be dismissed, and will be demonstrated in a major paper to be published shortly in the Orient’s leading science journal.”

It’s hard to find online references to Morano or to the organization behind Climate Depot — Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, or CFACT — that aren’t politically biased. Possibly the fairest treatment came in a profile of Morano in Esquire.

Morano launched the Swiftboat scandal against presidential candidate John Kerry in 2004 and played a key role in spreading the “Climategate” scandal in 2009. The Esquire piece came out in March 2010, shortly after Climategate erupted.

Take whatever source you want to heart, and make what you will of Morano, whose resume includes jobs for Ronald Reagan’s campaign, Rush Limbaugh and James Inhofe. The group Morano now works for as director of communications, CFACT, says it receives donations from a broad base of supporters ($5.5 million in 2012). SourceWatch, a liberal wiki site, cites sources that dug a little and found contributions to CFACT from Chevron, ExxonMobil and conservative foundations.

So Climate Depot is CFACT, and CFACT is reportedly a nonprofit lobby group supported by big oil and other wealthy donors. And Ericksen uses Climate Depot as a source of information to his Facebook followers. OK, so what? What about the science? What about the Great Pause?

According to scientists at NASA, the University of California at Irvine, and others, Antarctic ice is shrinking rapidly.

“Warm water from deep below the surface is lapping up higher than before, undermining a massive frozen shelf that traps ice on land. This effect could mean trouble elsewhere around Antarctica, undermining the huge glaciers covering the continent,” wrote The Washington Post’s editorial board. (WaPo’s board has been hitting the global warming issue especially hard in recent weeks.)

“All of these findings are bad news for sea levels, which could rise on the high end of scientists’ estimates over the coming decades if Antarctica continues down the path it seems to be on,” the editorial continues.

Graphs on Climate Depot of sea ice extent would reflect the area of ice around Antarctica but not the volume. If researchers are correct that the ice is being eroded by warm water from below, then the ice’s disappearance wouldn’t be apparent from looking at the ice formation’s shape.

As for the pause, the dogged folks at WaPo seem to have the answer to that, too. In a Wonkblog piece titled, “2014 may set a new temperature record. So can we please stop claiming global warming has ‘stopped?’” the reporter endeavors to dismantle the whole notion of a pause:

“You can still have global warming even if you have shorter periods during which temperatures don't rise much. In the end, then, the ‘pause’ argument largely relies on the then-record temperatures of 1998 in order to create the impression that there's been little or no global warming ever since. Yet the fact remains that the 2000s were considerably hotter than the 1990s.”

If you’ve ever wanted a handy retort to any of a number of claims made by climate-change skeptics, Bill Moyers‘ website collected “ Eight Pseudoscientific Climate Claims Debunked by Real Scientists” in May 2014. (Conservatives among our readers will recognize Moyers as one of the enemy. Don’t hate the player; hate the game.) Covered in this piece are antarctic ice, the Pause, the claim that changes in the sun are causing warming, and denials that there is a scientific consensus around climate change.

As for Inslee’s proposal for reducing carbon, it’s highly ambitious and may not survive the session, Ericksen or no Ericksen. We’ll have more about Inslee, Ericksen and carbon in a legislative preview story in Sunday’s Bellingham Herald.