Social Issues October 31, 2011
Oh, THAT Global Warming!

Things don't always turn out the way you want them to. One of the difficulties of mixing science and politics is that any scientist worth his or her credentials is presumably an advocate of the scientific method (go figure), meaning that even the most fervently held assumptions have to be reconsidered when one is confronted with evidence they are wrong.

That's a lesson that some leading climate change deniers are now learning to their dismay. Richard Muller, a physicist at the University of California in Berkeley, has released new scientific research confirming that global temperatures have indeed been steadily rising in recent decades - something that doesn't seem all that shocking (this is hardly the first scientific evidence that the planet's environment is in trouble, as the video below suggests) until you realize that many people, including some that helped fund the study, apparently assumed that Muller's conclusions would be quite different.

The research project came about after the Climategate scandal. Muller, who was already a prominent climate-change skeptic and who often criticized the very notion of global warming, set out to test some basic tenets of "mainstream climate science" (for skeptics, talking about mainstream climate science is like Glenn Beck talking about mainstream media, with accusations of evil liberal bias all over the place) and his research was funded in part by the Charles Koch Foundation, a prominent fund for climate skeptic projects and the Tea Party movement in the U.S. It was widely expected to demonstrate that global warming is a scientifically flawed concept.

Sadly, at least as far as the deniers are concerned, Muller appears to respect methodology over ideology. Not only has he released findings that show a steady rise in land temperatures in the 20th century, but he also wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal in which he said it was time to take global warming seriously. (Gasp!)

If you are at all concerned about climate change, this is good news: It's nice to know that even hardcore skeptics can change their minds when the evidence is compelling enough. And even if you aren't too sure about global warming, it's reassuring to see that privately funded research is still held to scientific evidence. But what does this mean for the Koch Brothers, the billionaire siblings who have been linked to everything from defending the Keystone pipeline project to keeping the polar bear from being listed as an endangered species?

If nothing else, it's probably a disappointment: What's the point of having billions if you can't sway environmental policy? Fortunately for them, the brothers are still often seen as having enormous sway over state and federal politicians, the people who have the power to enact environmental legislation. But there may be more disappointments to come. Mark Block, the smoking campaign adviser to front-running U.S. Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain, today denied that the Cain campaign had accepted any money from the Koch brothers, in spite of the candidate's links to the Koch-supported group Americans For Prosperity [Link 8]. On a day of other high-profile denials by the Cain team, this one did not attract much notice, but it could make for uncomfortable reading for some: If America's richest folks can't reliably pay to prove that climate change is a hoax, or put a Tea Party favourite in the White House, what hope do conservatives have?



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