Try thinking of yourself as a pea, instead of a human

By The Guardian Updated at 2014-04-10 05:42:06 +0000

For those concerned about climate change, the ultra-conservative Heartland Institute offers up a calming solution: try thinking of yourself as a pea, instead of a human. Peas in a lab sprouted faster with extreme concentrations of carbon dioxide, the greenhouse gas mainly responsible for climate change than under normal growing conditions, Heartland said.

“Which pea shoot would you rather be,” asked Craig Idso, the lead author of a new Heartland publication meant to debunk the authoritative new climate change report released by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

What's good for a pea pod isn't necessarily good for the planet, of course. Idso did not mention how rising temperatures and growing water scarcity might affect plant growth under climate change. It was just one of many lapses by what claimed to be a serious scientific examination of the threat of climate change from the thinktank funded by the Koch oil billionaires and anonymous donors.

The Heartland Institute has over the years published its own parallel-universe version of the blockbuster climate reports produced by thousands of scientists under the banner of the IPCC.

The IPCC reports are seen as the authoritative account of how climate change is threatening security, food supply and humanity.

For the Heartland report, only a handful of reporters turned out, and Heartland complained its offerings were almost never noticed by the scientific press. The event broke up ahead of schedule because Heartland said members had to go meet members of Congress – whose identities the group refused to disclose.

Tuesday’s report, a weighty volume of more than 1,000 pages, was funded by three family foundations – whose identities Heartland refused to disclose.

The summary – of what purported to be ground-breaking climate science – relied heavily on material published by Idso and Heartland as well as a self-published paper. It otherwise cited only one paper published this century, with most of the references dating to the 1970s. One reference was to a paper published in 1904 and another to 1918.

And while in the real world understanding of climate change has moved on, through the work of scientists and real-time evidence in heat waves and killer storms, Heartland’s stable of experts remains resolute in sticking to their arguments that climate change does not exist – or might even be beneficial.

“If you look at the real world data it shows that rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually have a positive effect,” Idso said.

The argument has gained some currency among ultra-conservative groups like Heartland, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), and the coal lobby, according to Kert Davies of the Climate Investigation Centre.

The main coal lobby, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, last January released a report demanding the Environmental Protection Agency take into account the positive benefits of increased greenhouse gas emissions.

Alec – which has sought to tax homeowners for installing solar panels – adopted Idso’s arguments for its comments to the EPA in 2011, according to Davies.

But Idso’s arguments do not appear to have entirely convinced the people at Heartland – who seemed divided on Tuesday as to whether climate change was occurring, or good for the planet.

Fred Singer, a retired physicist, told the press conference in Washington DC there was no warming. “There is a consensus that there has been an increase in temperature ... but people now agree it has nothing to do with carbon dioxide,” he said.

Joseph Bast, who heads the Heartland Institute, admitted a human factor in climate change, but said: “it is very small. The bigger impact is the increase in carbon dioxide.”

As for Idso, he maintained any amount of climate change was for the good. “If you are a plant … you are going to recognise that higher carbon dioxide concentrations are better,” he said. “A little bit of warming is good for the planet.”

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent/ The Guardian