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The Climate Change Debate: Where Are We Now?

The Heartland Institute's 7th annual International Conference on Climate Change, which ended on Wednesday, could be considered a success on several levels. The more than 300 attendees were brought up to date on the latest research and listened to some top-notch speakers make presentations on various aspects of the debate over anthropogenic global warming. And there were the usual informal exchanges between colleagues that serve to generate ideas and impart knowledge.

But perhaps most importantly, there was a spirit of community among like-minded professionals, some of whom live otherwise lonely lives in their chosen fields of academia and professional associations solely because they do not accept, or because they disagree with, the still-dominant AGW theory. This is real. People pay a professional and financial price for their skeptical beliefs and the ICCC-7 gives many of these brilliant men and women a chance to come together and support each other. One attendee told me it was a "liberating experience" because he had become so used to carefully sounding out colleagues regarding their views on AGW when first meeting them. At the conference, he felt much more at ease and was surprised to actually find himself seeking out strangers to engage in conversation.

This point was brought home by former NASA physicist Hal Doiron, who read an email he received from a colleague whose professional life was, for all intents and purposes, over because of his climate realism. The apostate scientist was unable to gain tenure or even obtain permanent employment in his chosen field despite publishing more than 60 books and articles. There is a war being waged against climate realists -- on campus, in the board rooms of foundations and think tanks, and especially in the media, whose practitioners willingly carry water for the scaremongerers, the smear merchants, and those who seek to destroy anyone who challenges AGW orthodoxy.

There was also a sense of optimism among many attendees that the tide may be turning in their favor, or that at least the momentum of AGW proponents is slowing. Veteran Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner, who spoke at Tuesday's luncheon, highlighted some of the progress made since the last time he spoke to the ICCC in 2009:

When I last spoke, the House of Representatives was poised to pass the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill; the United Nations was promising the extension and expansion of the Kyoto Protocol; and President Obama was touting Spain as our model for a massive increase in renewable energy subsidies.

Three years later, cap-and-tax is dead; the Kyoto Protocol is set to expire; and Spain recently announced that it eliminated new renewable energy subsidies.

We won on these issues because we were right. We highlighted the devastating economics of the proposed solutions and cried foul when proponents tried to bridge gaps in scientific understanding with fear instead of knowledge.

Czech President Vaclav Klaus pointed out the fact that climate "fundamentalists" are being forced to keep a lower profile:

The alarmism has subsided, they want to make it “low profile.” Declarations such as the one in Dr. Pachauri´s manifesto from 1989 that “global warming is the greatest crisis ever faced collectively by humankind” are no longer popular. The former radical alarmists, even the scientists connected with the IPCC, changed their tactic. More and more often we hear carefully worded statements that “some environmentalists, supported by the media, exaggerated the conclusions that had been carefully formulated by scientists.” We know that they were not “carefully formulated.” These “conclusions” were very easy to reformulate.

Dodging the Waxman-Markey bullet may have been a high point, but, as many speakers at the conference pointed out, the failure to pass cap and tax gave Americans only temporary respite. The EPA's war on coal will result in the closure of 319 coal-fueled generating units totaling 42,895 megawatts, about 13 percent of the nation's coal fleet, according to the Sierra Club. This will result in consumers being hit with a 10-15% increase in their electric bills by 2015. That's an extra $150-$330 per year.

So while much has been accomplished, much remains to be done. Former Apollo astronaut and senator from New Mexico Harrison Schmitt believes the number one priority for the skeptical community is to "recapture" youngsters in the K-12 grades. It's too late for this generation, he says, because they have become so thoroughly indoctrinated. But Schmitt believes it is critical for the future that young people be given the opportunity to be taught both sides of the climate change debate rather than brainwashed to accept the AGW religion.

Beyond that, there is a real problem with trying to get the media to report the position of climate realists accurately. This was brought home by protestors at the conference, many of whom carried signs saying "Climate Change is Real." As president and CEO of the Heartland Institute Joseph Bast made note of on several occasions, the vast majority of skeptical scientists believe that the climate is indeed getting warmer. That is not now (nor has it ever been) the issue. What climate realists are "denying" (if that's even the right word) is: 1) that man is primarily, or solely, responsible for the increase in temperature and 2) that the effects of climate change will be catastrophic for humanity.

NASA's climate hysteric Dr. James Hansen believes that sea levels will rise 75 meters (236 feet) by 2500 if we don't do something to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. That claim, when repeated during the breakfast session on Tuesday, elicited gales of laughter from the audience. How is it possible to predict anything with any accuracy 500 years into the future? But Hansen is taken seriously by the scientific community and climate realists are smeared as tools of the oil and gas industry.