... The evidence to support the theory of anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change has been mounting since the mid-1950s, when atmospheric models predicted that growing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere would add to the natural “greenhouse effect” and lead to warming. The data was crude at first, and opinions vacillated (skeptics like to recall a 1974 Time cover story that predicted an impending ice age).
But by the mid-1990s, thousands of lines of independent inquiry supported the conclusion summarized in the 1995 IPCC report: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”
Since then, the case for anthropogenic climate change has only strengthened; 98 percent of actively publishing climate scientists now say that it is undeniable. But several finer points remain unsettled. For instance, researchers still don’t completely understand the role of aerosols in the atmosphere, the variable effects of clouds at different heights, and the influence of feedback mechanisms such as the changing reflectivity of the Earth’s surface and the release of gases from permafrost or deep seabeds.
Climate-change skeptics have been keen to capitalize on those gaps in knowledge. “They play up smaller debates,” says Francesca Grifo at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “and divert the dialogue by attacking particular aspects.
They represent climate science as a house of cards, where you pull out one and it all falls apart.”
In 1998, following the negotiation of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, the American Petroleum Institute convened a task force to spend more than $5.9 million to discredit climate science and quash growing public support of curbing emissions.
The group borrowed many of the methods and people, including Milloy, that had been used to mislead Congress and the public about the connection between smoking and cancer and heart disease.
In a leaked memo titled the “Global Climate Science Communications Plan,” the task force laid out a strategy to “build a case against precipitous action on climate change based on the scientific uncertainty.” The memo details a plan to recruit, train and pay willing scientists to sow doubt about climate science among the media and the public.
“Victory will be achieved,” the memo states, when “recognition of uncertainties becomes part of the ‘conventional wisdom’ ” and when “those promoting the Kyoto treaty on the basis of the extant science appear to be out of touch with reality.”
In March 2001, George W. Bush’s administration declared that climate science was “too uncertain” to justify action (such as ratifying the Kyoto treaty) that might put the brakes on economic growth. That refrain would be echoed again and again, weakening or derailing successive international agreements and domestic policy.
How had a small band of non-scientists managed to so quickly and thoroughly pursuade the nation’s leaders to reject an ever more coherent and definitive body of scientific evidence?