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Scientist to CEI: You Used My Research To "Confuse and Mislead"

The Competitive Enterprise Institute runs ads saying "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker." A professor objects, saying CEI deliberately misrepresents his research.

May 26, 2006

Modified: May 26, 2006

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Summary

The business-backed Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) released two ads last week to "counter global warming alarmism." 

One of the ads says research shows "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. . . Why are they trying to scare us?" Actually, scientists say increased snowfall in Antarctica's interior is evidence that global warming is taking place.  Scientists also say that the ice sheet is melting at the ocean's edge and a recent report says it is shrinking overall.

The ads drew a protest from a University of Missouri professor who says they are "a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate." He said one of them misuses a study he published in Science magazine last year on the Antarctic ice sheet. An editor of Science also said the ads misrepresent the findings of that study as well as a second study on Greenland's glaciers.

The second CEI ad notes that carbon dioxide (CO2) is "essential to life," and says, "they call it pollution. We call it life." That ad fails to mention that too much CO2 can cause global temperatures to rise or that there is more of it in the atmosphere than any time during the last 420,000 years.

CEI, which gets just over 9 per cent of its budget from Exxon Mobil Corporation, said it was only trying to make sure the public hears "both sides of the story." 

Analysis

CEI released two ads last week as part of a $50,000 ad buy in 14 cities scheduled to take place from May 18th to May 28th.

CEI Ad: "Glaciers"

Announcer:  You've seen those headlines about Global Warming.  The glaciers are melting. We’re doomed! That's what several studies supposedly found.
(The Cover of Science Magazine is shown opening up) 
Announcer: But other scientific studies found exactly the opposite: Greenland ’s glaciers are growing, not melting; The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner. Did you see any big headlines about that?
Why are they trying to scare us? Global warming alarmists claim the glaciers are melting because of carbon dioxide from the fuels we use. Let’s force people to cut back, they say.

But we depend on those fuels to grow our food, move our children, light up our lives. And as for carbon dioxide, it isn't smog or smoke. It’s what we breathe out and plants breathe in. Carbon dioxide. They call it pollution. We call it life.

Misrepresenting Conclusions

The CEI ad "Glacier" quotes  two studies in Science magazine, one as saying " Greenland’s glaciers are growing, not melting" and the other as saying "The Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner." That drew quick objection from an editor of Science and from the author of the Antarctica study.

Brooks Hanson, a deputy editor at Science, complained in a May 19 news release that CEI was misrepresenting both the studies and also the general state of scientific knowledge:

Hanson: The text of the CEI ad misrepresents the conclusions of the two cited Science papers and our current state of knowledge by selective referencing.

The lead author of the Antarctica study, University of Missouri professor Curt Davis, said in the same release that CEI was twisting his findings deliberately to mislead the public:

Davis: "These television ads are a deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate. They are selectively using only parts of my previous research to support their claims. They are not telling the entire story to the public.

For one thing, the release said, Davis' study only reported growth for the East Antarctic ice sheet, not the entire Antarctic ice sheet. More importantly, it said that growth of the interior ice sheet is just what scientists had predicted would happen as a consequence of global climate warming, bringing about more snowfall in previously arid regions of the continent. 

Davis's study indicated the increased ice accumulation in the interior might be offsetting the loss of ice at the coastal regions, or might not. It said that whether the entire ice sheet is shrinking "will depend on the balance between mass changes on the interior and those in coastal areas."

What CEI Says

CEI posted a rejoinder to this criticism on their website.  In it, they say:

CEI: Professor Davis admits that he doesn't know whether the coastal losses offset or outweigh the gains in the interior.  This is precisely our point - the public needs to hear both sides of the story not just the coastal loss, if they are to judge whether we face an imminent catastrophe justifying policies that would drastically affect our way of life.

Actually, a more recent study (also published in Science magazine) says satellite measurements show that the ice sheet as a whole is in fact shrinking "significantly," and that most of the loss is taking place in the smaller West Antarctic ice sheet.

That study, by Isabella Velicogna of the University of Colorado and John Wahr of the California Institute of Technology's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, used satellite measures of gravity to estimate the mass of the Antarctic ice sheet during 2002–2005. "We found that the mass of the ice sheet decreased significantly," the study said. It estimated the rate of loss at between 80 and 152 cubic kilometers of ice per year.

Greenland, too

As for Greenland, the CEI ad says its glaciers "are growing, not melting." That's a misrepresentation of a study by five scientists from Norway, Russia and the US published by Science magazine in November 2005. That study did report that the ice sheet in the interior of Greenland had grown thicker over the 11 years ending in 2003. But it reached no conclusion about whether "Greenland's glaciers" were growing or melting overall. The study said it is conceivable that melting at the coast more than offset the growth in the interior, and that the "the 11-year-long data set developed here remains too brief to establish long-term trends." It called for more measurement by newer, better satellite sensors to calculate what is going on with Greenland's glaciers overall.

A more recent study in Science, published in February, reports that Greenland's glaciers accelerated their movement to the sea between 1996 and 2000. It concluded, "As more glaciers accelerate farther north, the contribution of Greenland to sea-level rise will continue to increase. "

CO2: Too Much of a Good thing

A second ad, "Energy," downplays the adverse effects of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere by identifying it as a natural biological occurrence. 

CEI Ad: "Energy"

Announcer: There’s something in these pictures you can’t see. It’s essential to life. We breathe it out.Plants breathe it in. It comes from animal life, the oceans, the earth, and the fuels we find in it. It’s called carbon dioxide---CO2. The fuels that produce C02 have freed us from a world of back-breaking labor, lighting up our lives, allowing us to create and move the things we need, the people we love. Now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant. Imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then? Carbon dioxide. 

They call it pollution. We call it life.

The ad correctly asserts, "we breathe it out, plants breathe it in."  As many of us learned in high school biology classes, humans and animals breathe in oxygen and out carbon dioxide, and plants take in the carbon dioxide and release oxygen.   

The ad goes on to say, "they call it pollution, we call it life."  It is true that some politicians and environmental groups want to label CO2 as a "pollutant."  Several environmental groups, states and municipalities are currently suing the EPA to do so. 

But they are doing so for regulatory purposes so that CO2 emissions can be brought under the Clean Air Act.  Nobody is claiming CO2 poses the immediate health threat that smog, smoke, and other conventional pollutants do. But in June 2005, the science academies of 11 leading industrial nations (including the National Academies of Sciences from the US) released a statement listing CO2 as a greenhouse gas and saying :

Joint Statement: Carbon Dioxide levels have increased from 280 ppm in 1750 to over 375 ppm today - higher than any previous levels that can be reliably measured (i.e. in the last 420,000 years). Increasing greenhouse gases are causing temperatures to rise .

Heeding his own advice

Even though CEI minimizes the impact of carbon dioxide, they still take Al Gore to task for his carbon footprint as a result of his travel surrounding his "Inconvenient Truth" presentation and documentary. 

They posted a video with their TV ads as a "special web only bonus." It includes quotes from Gore's film about personal accountability for global warming by taking such actions as telecommuting, and limiting air travel. The video then shows Gore's lengthy air travel schedule and displays a rolling meter of carbon dioxide output and challenging Gore to start "walking the walk." 

He says he is.  According to NativeEnergy, Paramount Classics and Participant Productions plan to announce that they offset 100% of the global warming impact from production activities. In addition, NativeEnergy is offsetting all CO2 from Mr. Gore’s travel to discuss and promote the film and book.  This is achieved by calculating how much CO2 your activities produce and purchasing  the corresponding amount of credits to generate renewable energy.  

Who funds CEI

CEI is supported, in part, by several major corporations and corporate foundations, including oil companies, according to the liberal organization SourceWatch. In 2004 CEI declared revenues of $2,919,537 with the IRS, according to their Form 990. Just over 9 per cent of that total, $270,000, came from donations from ExxonMobil, according to the oil company's 2004 Worldwide Contributions and Community Investments Report. Exxon said two-thirds of their donation was earmarked for "Global Climate Change and Global Climate Change Outreach."

by Justin Bank

Sources

Davis, Curt H.; Yonghang, Li; McConnell, Joseph R.; Frey, Markus M.; Hanna, Edward, "Snowfall-Driven Growth in East Antarctic Ice Sheet Mitigates Recent Sea-Level Rise."

Eilperin, Juliet, "Antarctic Ice Sheet is Melting," Washington Post . 3 March 2005.

Johannessen, Ola M.; Khvorostovsky, Kirill; Miles, Martin W.; Bobylev, Leonid P., "Recent Ice Sheet Growth in the Interior of Greenland," Science . 11 Nov 2005.

Rignot, Eric and Kanagaratnam, "Changes in the Velocity Structure of the Greenland Ice Sheet," Science. 17 Feb 2006.

Vedantam, Shankar, "Glacier Melt Could Signal Faster Rise in Ocean Level," Washington Post. 17 Feb 2006.

Velicogna, Isabella and Wahr, John, "Measurements of Time-Variable Gravity Show Mass Loss in Antarctica," Science. 24 March 2006. 

Vergano, Dan, "Greenland Glacier Runoff Doubles over Past Decade," USA Today .  17 Feb 2006.

Press Release, "MU Professor Refutes National Television Ads Downplaying Global Warming,"  University of Missouri. 19 May 2006.

Press Release, "CEI Launches Ad Campaign to Counter Global Warming Alarmism," CEI, 17 May 2005.

Joint Statement of Science Academies: Global Response to Climate Change, 2005.