- - Thursday, June 30, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Sometimes bullies pick on the wrong target. The state attorneys general who thought they could walk over climate-change skeptics with impunity made that mistake. The debate that backers of President Obama’s global warming schemes don’t want to entertain isn’t merely about facts and figures, but about the First Amendment right to free speech. Questioning authority is an American tradition, but it can be inconvenient.

The 16 Democratic attorneys general and one Independent who banded together to protect the president’s climate change agenda have themselves become the subject of scrutiny by House Republicans. Nineteen of the 22 Republican members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee have signed a letter asking top law enforcement officials to produce all records of communications with environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, to examine their collaboration in targeting individuals and organizations that have raised objections to the president’s heavy-handed plan to regulate greenhouse gases.

“The committee intends to continue its vigorous oversight of the coordinated attempt to deprive companies, nonprofit organizations, and scientists of their First Amendment rights and ability to fund and conduct scientific research free from intimidation and threats of prosecution,” wrote Committee Chairman Lamar Smith, Texas Republican.

Calling themselves AGs United for Clean Power, the attorneys general in March announced their plan to confront dissenters to their view that climate change is the gravest threat to the republic. The group issued subpoenas demanding that 100 scientists, nonprofit organizations and academic institutions turn over their climate-related research, documents and communications. The committee is looking for evidence that dissent has helped fossil fuel producers, including ExxonMobil, to mislead their shareholders about the dangers of global warming. The attorneys general say the House committee lacks authority to scrutinize their investigation.

Science bankrolled by industry can indeed be tainted, but it is also true that organized science’s most generous sugar daddy is the federal government. President Obama has declared that global warming is “settled science,” and the one who pays the band gets to call the tune. Hence, NASA has satellites to measure particles in the atmosphere released by the burning of fossil fuels and other tests to measure changes in the Earth’s ice sheets. NASA’s astronauts, on the other hand, must beg rides from the Russians to the International Space Station.

Science can also be skewed by convenience. The majority of weather stations collecting data on global temperatures is located, to nobody’s surprise in the Northern Hemisphere, where most of the Earth’s population lives. Teeming cities create heat islands, making it likely that all those thermometers north of the Equator would detect rising temperatures. In contrast, the Southern Hemisphere, with larger oceans and fewer cities, has remained cooler. But without the equivalent sensors to document it, northern warming is assumed to prove global warming. It’s an inconvenient fact that while those NASA satellites show sea ice in the Arctic has gradually diminished, they have recorded its expansion in Antarctica, setting a record in 2014. People have always complained about the weather. Penguins, not so much.

A juris doctor’s degree and a high public office are evidence of success in the law, but such are no guarantee of expertise in scientific matters. The attorneys general attempting to wield criminal law to silence scientific dissent is a 21st century version of the inquisition of Galileo for his notion that the earth circles the sun. Humanity is best served when science is freed from green bullies with a political agenda.

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