Justice League

Are progressives aggressive enough?

And if not, what would happen if they became a little more intense in the pursuit of their political goals?

These were the provocative questions Grist’s David Roberts asked in a terrific March 2 post about the notorious right-wing lobbyist Richard Berman, who’s now shamelessly shilling for the fossil-fuel industry. Roberts observed:

My strong suspicion is that if a [Berman] did pop up fighting for progressive causes, liberals would line up to disown him, thus demonstrating their precious independence and moral superiority. My further suspicion is that, of the vast amount of money being spent by left-leaning foundations, green NGOs, and clean energy industry groups to shape public opinion about climate change, approximately zero of it is being deployed with the same ruthless, unscrupulous ferocity that Berman brings to defending the status quo. Is that a good thing?

No, it’s not. The war against the climate deniers is indeed a cultural war, and in such a conflict, those on the pro-science side must defeat their adversaries by any means necessary–for if they fail, and the anti-science side wins this war, millions will be dead from the consequences of carbon pollution.

One person who understands that we are in a cultural war is Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who recently launched an inquiry focusing on the ties that bind climate deniers and the fossil-fuel industry. Apparently, some folks aren’t too thrilled about Grijalva’s aggressiveness, as Hill Heat’s Brad Johnson reports:

The American Meteorological Society’s executive director, Keith Seitter, has condemned a Congressional investigation of the potential corruption of scientific testimony on climate change by AMS members.

The investigation was launched by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) following the revelations that the research of Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Laboratory was secretly financed by the fossil-fuel industry, including Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and Southern Company. Soon testified before Congress in 2003 questioning the scientific consensus on fossil-fueled global warming.

Grijalva sent letters to the universities of seven other academics who have been Republican witnesses challenging the climate-science consensus, asking for testimony-related financial disclosure. Seitter responded by condemning the investigation.

“Publicly singling out specific researchers based on perspectives they have expressed and implying a failure to appropriately disclose funding sources — and thereby questioning their scientific integrity — sends a chilling message to all academic researchers,” Seitter wrote in the AMS response. “Further, requesting copies of the researcher’s communications related to external funding opportunities or the preparation of testimony impinges on the free pursuit of ideas that is central to the concept of academic freedom.”

The whining from Rep. Grijalva’s critics is as unbearable as world temperatures will be if we don’t act soon to curb carbon pollution. Johnson notes that AMS is a house divided against itself on climate:

Dozens of television weather reporters who have attacked climate science and scientists are AMS members. At least twenty television weathermen who publicly reject basic climate science are AMS Certified Broadcast Meteorologists, the society’s seal of approval granting them scientific legitimacy in their role as weather and climate communicators…

Either the claims [about human-caused climate change] made by AMS and the rest of the global scientific community are exaggerated, unwarranted, and detrimental to the general public welfare, or the claims of the academics under investigation are. Either the burning of hundreds of billions of tons of fossil fuels is disrupting the climate and threatening the public welfare, or the global scientific community has been corrupted into deceiving the general public into policies that would unnecessarily transform global energy production through massive government intervention. Either the climate conspiracy theorists are ethical AMS members, or all of the other members are.

For decades now the AMS has looked the other way and pretended this fundamental conflict within its ranks does not need to be resolved.

Two thumbs up to Rep. Grijalva for his courage in casting a spotlight on the dark corners of industry-funded climate denial. Two thumbs down to Keith Seitter for being a coward on climate. As for Willie Soon and the rest of these right-wing, Big Oil-backed haters of humanity, future generations may give them a gesture involving a different finger.

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D.R. Tucker

D. R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based journalist who has served as the weekend contributor for the Washington Monthly since May 2014. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Washington Spectator, the Metrowest Daily News, investigative journalist Brad Friedman's Brad Blog and environmental journalist Peter Sinclair's Climate Crocks.