Climate change: A guide to the information and disinformation

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2009 Events
Aug 31-Sep 4: World Meteorological Organization's World Climate Conference-3, Geneva, Switzerland
SEJ/U of Oregon seminar series: The Changing Climate Issue: Reporting Ahead Of The Curve, dates/locations TBA
Various dates: Environmental Law Institute's Associate Seminar Series, Understanding Climate Change Law

Simple Introductions
Reporting on Climate Change: Understanding the Science (Environmental Law Institute)
A layperson's explanation of many of the key concepts and findings in the 2001 IPCC report. Written and produced by the Environmental Law Institute and the Environmental Health Center with funding from the Energy Dept's research office.
Global Climate Change Research Explorer
This award-winning, highly graphic explanatory Web site is produced by the Exploratorium with funding from the National Science Foundation. The Exploratorium is a Web-savvy San Francisco-based science museum.
Rough Guide to Climate Change
This inexpensive paperback has just been published as part of the commercial Rough Guides series. It is authored by Robert Henson, a writer on the communications staff of the prestigious University Consortium on Atmospheric Research (UCAR). Henson has degrees in both meteorology and journalism, and has worked hard to produce a complete, unbiased, and understandable approach to the subject.
Global Warming: The Complete Briefing
by John T. Houghton (Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994 New York) (Paperback) See also "Overview of the Climate Change Issue".
The Science of Global Climate Change
This 20-page text distributed free in pdf format is by Mike MacCracken, former head of the U.S. Global Change Research Program.
BBC News In Depth: Climate Change
A web-based presentation of some basic facts about climate change in easily readable form, with helpful graphics.
Basic Science
Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)
This is the Bible on climate science. It is a peer-reviewed, review-of-literature consensus compendium of all the science, updated every five years. It is a collaboration of many hundreds of scientists of established professional standing in climate-related disciplines. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions (National Academies' National Research Council, 2001)
Upon taking office, Bush administration doubters asked the prestigious (and non-foreign) NAS to double-check and second-guess the IPCC's 2001 findings. Result: the NAS confirmed most of the key points.
Understanding Climate Change Feedbacks (National Academies' National Research Council, 2003)
The climate system is immensely complex because of the many "feedbacks" between climate itself, the oceans, the biosphere, the ice sheets, and atmospheric phenomena like clouds and particulates. The report explores these processes which raise uncertainty in climate modeling — they could make global warming better or worse. It chronicles the many recent advances in understanding of feedbacks.
Climate Crash: Abrupt Climate Change and What It Means for Our Future (National Academies, 2005)
The fossil record of ancient climate suggests that some climate change happens abruptly, rather than gradually as our basic models predict. This report explores some of the many processes, like ocean currents, which could cause abrupt change. One implication is that our generation could discover that we have less time than we think to address manmade greenhouse warming.
U.S. National Assessment of Climate Change
This comprehensive study of the vulnerabilities and potential impacts of climate change on the U.S. was mandated by the Global Change Research Act of 1990. It includes studies looking specifically at 19 different U.S. regions. Assembled by hundreds of experts from academia and elsewhere, it was completed in the late Clinton administration and partly suppressed by the Bush administration.
Federal Government Programs and Labs
US Climate Change Science Program (Interagency)
The coordinating point for all federal agencies working on climate science, the CCSP reports to the White House Council on Environmental Quality and Office of Science and Technology Policy via NOAA and the Commerce Department.
NASA Goddard Institute of Space Studies
One of the largest, oldest, and best-respected federal labs working on climate, GISS is headed by Dr. James Hansen. It is in New York City.
NOAA Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory
Another pioneering climate lab that specializes in computer modeling of climate. No longer headed by the now-retired Dr. Jerry D. Mahlman, it is keeping a lower public profile these days. It is near Princeton University.
NOAA National Climatic Data Center
This is the repository ("world's largest") of much of the raw data about the U.S. and planetary temperature record and other climate data. It is in Asheville, North Carolina. Director: Tom Karl. Press Contact: Jana Goldman (NOAA HQ Public Affairs).
NOAA Climate Monitoring and Diagnostics Laboratory
This research component of NOAA conducts all kinds of basic monitoring programs to compile long-term series of measurements and observations of the conditions that may be involved in climate change. The CMDL has now been merged into the Global Monitoring Division of the Earth System Research Laboratory.
DOE Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center
An arm of the Energy Dept.'s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, the CDIAC focuses on research and data collection about carbon dioxide and the Earth's carbon cycle. It also tracks other greenhouse gases through its World Data Center for Atmospheric Trace Gases.
US Forest Service Research and Development — Climate Change
USFS has an extensive ongoing R&D program regarding climate change. The program provides long term research, scientific knowledge, expertise, regional resources and tools that can be used to manage, restore, and conserve forests and rangelands.
US Global Change Research Information Office
The US is required by a 1990 law to maintain the GCRIO to disseminate scientific research and other information useful in preventing, mitigating, or adapting to the effects of global change. Unable to disband the office, the Bush administration has given it little funding support. Its online library of key studies and documents from past years is still valuable.
USGS Global Change Science
The US Geological Survey offers information on various climate change topics, publications, news, FAQs, related links, briefings, podcasts, and more.
International Agencies
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
The IPCC is the umbrella organization that articulates not only the consensus among climate scientists, but also the breadth of opinion among them. It assembles and synthesizes the work of some 2,000 scientists in scores of disciplines from about 150 countries. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
The UNFCCC is a treaty that was negotiated at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janiero, was ratified by some 189 countries, and went into effect in March 1994. It initially had no mandatory controls or deadlines. The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which did set mandatory limits, was an add-on to the UNFCCC. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
World Meteorological Organization
The WMO is the U.N.-based international organization for cooperation among national weather agencies on all sorts of weather-related projects, including the instrument observations at a vast network of weather stations that provide basic data on climate. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
United Nations Environment Programme
UNEP is the administrative umbrella for most major UN environmental efforts, including those on climate change. Their site is a good place to look for current and upcoming events, reports, and documents.
Research and Academic Institutions
National Center for Atmospheric Research
NCAR is perhaps the greatest U.S. climate research institution. It draws not merely post-docs, but prominent researchers from around the U.S. and around the globe. It is federally funded via the National Science Foundation and administered by a consortium of universities (UCAR). NCAR is located in Boulder, Colorado, a geographic hub for a number of other climate research institutions.Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Scripps' reputation for oceanography research is unrivaled. But few people realize how important a role the oceans play in climate. Located at the University of California at San Diego, Scripps does extensive research on climate. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Hadley Centre for Climate Change
The Hadley Centre is part of the British government's meteorological agency (known as the Met Office), which, although owned by the Ministry of Defence, was put on a commercial footing in 1996. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Earth Institute at Columbia University
A major research institute with over 200 scientists focusing on all earth sciences, especially strong on climate-related topics.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT has several entities involved in climate research. The Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change is a cross-cutting program that melds work from MIT's Center for Global Change Science and the MIT Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research.
Earth and Environmental Systems Institute, Penn State University
Penn State's EESI includes the Center for Penn State Ice and Climate Research, the National Institute for Climatic Change Research, and several other centers relevant to climate change.
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
The IRI seeks to enhance society's ability to understand, anticipate and manage climate risk in order to improve human welfare. It supports sustainable development by bringing the best science to bear in sectors such as agriculture, food security, water resources, and health. IRI has ongoing projects in Africa, Asia & the Pacific, and Latin America & the Caribbean. January 2007 Climate and Society report, "Climate Risk Management in Africa: Learning from Practice." The IRI also releases monthly precipitation and temperature forecasts for the globe, and its Data Library has more than 300 data sets that can be charted, mapped or downloaded for free via the Web site. Press Contacts: Clare Oh, Public Information Officer, The Earth Institute at Columbia University, 212-854-5479 (tel.), 646-415-2479 (mobile); Francesco Fiondella, Communications Officer, International Research Institute for Climate and Society, 845-680-4476 (off.).
Communicating Climate Change
Produced by Oregon Sea Grant at Oregon State University, Communicating Climate Change is a series of taped interviews with leading social scientists on the question of how to communicate about climate change to a broad public. Interviewees as of April 18, 2008, include Anthony Leiserowitz, Susanne Moser, Caron Chess, Baruch Fischhoff and Ed Maibach. While intended for an audience of meteorologists, science journalists, government agency personnel, university outreach specialists, and members of non-governmental organizations, the podcast offers thought-provoking content for lay audiences as well.
Environmental Groups
Journalists delving into climate change are likely to be bombarded by news releases, reports and offers of interviews with selected "experts" from a bevy of environmental groups. They can be useful in highlighting the latest developments in scientific research and in surveying the responses by government or business. However, it's important to remember that these are not disinterested groups, and the completeness and even accuracy of information conveyed varies.
Just as skeptics tend to inflate normal scientific back-and-forth into a great debate or even a hoax, environmentalists often portray climate change as a looming apocalypse for the entire planet which only immediate, drastic action can avert. Some groups do a better job than others in acknowledging there are still uncertainties about some of the science, but many — in the interests of prompting action — tend to stress only the most extreme outcomes among the range of possible impacts.
The best way to gauge the state of scientific knowledge about climate change — or any scientific issue, for that matter — is to keep up with the latest findings published in peer-reviewed journals. While technical reports in journals may not be easy for many journalists to parse, there are more accessible reports assessing the state of scientific knowledge, such as the IPCC's mentioned above, which summarize peer-reviewed research in less technical language and provide context for individual findings. And, unlike some journals, the IPCC report is free.
Sierra Club
Sierra is perhaps the largest and most politically active of U.S. membership-based environmental groups. Their long-established climate change program is focused on grass-roots organizing and policy advocacy. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
The Pew Center on Global Climate Change is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which is ultimately based on the family fortunes of the descendants of the founder of the Sun Oil Co. The Pew climate program is a centrist, non-profit advocacy organization "working to create a policy environment that leads to the adoption of mandatory federal limits on emissions that contribute to global warming." Pew works intensely with Fortune 500 companies. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Climate Institute
The Climate Institute, founded in 1986, is possibly the oldest single-issue group focused on climate change. Its style is more informational than advocacy-driven, and large conferences and symposia are characteristic activities.
Natural Resources Defense Council
NRDC is a litigation- and science-oriented national environmental group with a membership of 1.2 million. Wikipedia. Press Contact.
Climate Action Network
CAN is actually a coalition of over 365 NGOs worldwide pushing for action on climate change. They follow international climate treaty negotiations closely. Press Contact.
Greenpeace is a media-savvy advocacy group historically focused on environmental, anti-nuclear, and energy issues. It has both a U.S.-based and a worldwide organization. They specialize in direct-action and investigative research. Wikipedia. Newsroom. Press Contact.
Pew Campaign on Global Warming
This is another initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts (also see the Pew Center above). Press Contact.
Skeptics and Contrarians
As scientific evidence has accumulated that the planet is warming and that humans are behind it, many previous skeptics have been won over. There remains a vocal cadre of critics, however, at least some of whose arguments have shifted over the last several years from outright denial that the earth is warming to insisting it's unrelated to human activity — and even if it is, likely nothing much to worry about.
Some of the most vocal skeptics have done relatively little recent peer-reviewed scientific research on the topic, and some have had their voices amplified via financial support from industries opposed to any government regulation or taxation of greenhouse gas emissions. Others do have training and experience, at least in some aspects of the wide-ranging issue, and are not bankrolled by industry. But overall, their number represents a distinctly minority position in the ongoing and normal colloquy among scientists about the evidence of climate change and its likely impacts.
Climate-change modeling is less certain in forecasting impacts on a regional scale, and in assessing warming's role in extreme weather like hurricanes. But the regional resolution of the models is improving, and the 2007 IPCC report offered more detail than previous ones. Researchers also are busily assessing regional vulnerabilities to possible climate-change scenarios. So while there remain more robust debates in these areas, new research is constantly adding new layers of understanding. One needs to try to stay current on the latest published studies, on who's doing them and who's funding them.
There are a number of climate-change skeptics, less-often quoted perhaps than some more vocal ones discussed later, who have more substantial climate science research publications and who have accepted little or no fossil industry and advocacy group money. These typically include:
  • John R. Christy at Univ. of Alabama, who pointed out that satellite temperature observations did not match those from the network of surface instruments (after years of high-level scientific discussions, the differences were eventually reconciled, mostly as a satellite calibration error). Background. Rolodex entry.
  • Richard Lindzen at MIT, who publishes extensive research on atmospheric dynamics and circulation. Bio, publications, contact info. Wikipedia.
  • Bill Gray, at Colorado State University's Tropical Meteorology Project. One of the acknowledged gurus of short-term hurricane forecasting, Gray has weighed in not only on the question of whether climate change is causing more and bigger hurricanes (he says no) but also on whether human emissions are causing global warming — a question beyond his immediate research field. Profile (paid archive).
World Climate Report
A project of Patrick J. Michaels, a University of Virginia climatologist and one of the most often-quoted climate-change contrarians. The Report claims to be "The web's longest running climate change blog." Michaels, the chief editor, has shifted in recent years from denying human-induced greenhouse warming to downplaying its importance. His predecessor publication, World Climate Review, was funded in part by the Western Fuels Association. Michaels' Web site and CV (MS Word document or plain text file) do not appear to list all the funding sources for his latest work (for example, at least $100,000 in 2006 from the coal-fired Intermountain Rural Electric Association; see AP story and letter). A research professor in environmental sciences at U.Va., Michaels also is listed as a senior fellow with the libertarian Cato Institute. He's published several books on climate and many op-eds, and he's readily available for interviews, but apparently has published relatively little recent peer-reviewed climate research. (His U.Va. Web site lists no published research since 2001, but a recent CV (MS Word document or plain text file) lists some 30 publications from 2002 through 2006, not all in peer-reviewed journals.)
After the Virginia governor recently declared that the state does not appoint climatologists, Michaels amended his claim to be the Virginia state climatologist. He now identifies himself as the "AASC-designated state climatologist at the University of Virginia," referencing the American Association of State Climatologists. See stories on this here and here.
Michaels' Cato Institute page. New Hope Environmental Services, Inc. SourceWatch. Wikipedia. Greenpeace/ExxonSecrets. Ross Gelbspan. Phone: (434) 924-0549. E-mail: pjm8x@Virginia.EDU or
Science & Environmental Policy Project
SEPP is the creation of atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia and founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service in the 1960s. SEPP produces a Web site, meetings, and op-eds challenging the scientific mainstream view that human greenhouse emissions are significantly changing climate. He argues that that view is alarmist, questions the reliability of computer models, and asserts that warming will be inconsequential or modest at best — a view decidedly at odds with the latest conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Along with Michaels, one of the most-quoted skeptics, Singer has published books, op-eds, and letters in scientific journals on climate change, but little peer-reviewed climate research in recent years. Also listed as a research fellow with the Independent Institute, Singer deferred to his lawyer when asked to disclose individual and organizational funding sources for SEPP. While currently listing consultancies with oil and auto companies on his online resume, Singer says the money came two decades ago and supported work on oil pricing; he says he does not solicit money now from fossil-fuel interests, though climate activists like Ross Gelbspan offer evidence that suggests otherwise. An example is evidence suggesting $10,000 grants from ExxonMobil in both 1998 and 2000. Singer bio and publications. SourceWatch. Wikipedia. Greenpeace/ExxonSecrets.
Competitive Enterprise Institute
A policy advocacy organization dedicated to free enterprise and limited government, CEI generally espouses a market-oriented, anti-regulatory agenda and opposes the mandatory emission controls of the Kyoto Protocol. Myron Ebell, CEI's director of energy and global warming policy, rivals Michaels and Singer for highest-profile skeptic, and judging from his CEI online bio seems to relish the criticism lobbed his way by environmental activists. CEI's 20th annual program online (2004) does not identify individual donors, but says 52 percent of its revenues came from foundations, 31 percent from corporations and 16 percent from individuals. ExxonMobil, alleged by environmental activists to be a longtime underwriter, recently announced it no longer funds CEI. SourceWatch. Wikipedia.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)
Ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Sen. Inhofe is one of the most outspoken skeptics in Congress. In speeches on the Senate floor, he has called the threat of what he characterizes as "catastrophic climate change" the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." He has challenged the existence of a scientific consensus and attacked scientists whose research is prominently cited in the IPCC reports, and in 2006 directed his ire at Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" and accused news media of hyping "alarmism." Much of his material is written by his communications director, Marc Morano, former staff writer for conservative CNSNews, and former reporter and producer for Rush Limbaugh's television show as well as the syndicated TV newsmagazine "American Investigator." Sourcewatch, a project of the Center for Media and Democracy, says CNS and Morano were the first source in May 2004 of the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth claims against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election and in January 2006 of similar attacks against Vietnam war veteran John Murtha. Morano squared off with reporters and NASA Goddard's James Hansen at SEJ's 2006 conference, and he publishes a blog on the Senate E&PW Committee website. Phone: 202-224-6176. SourceWatch/Congresspedia. Wikipedia.
"Creation Care" and Evangelical Views
The John Ray Initiative
Chaired by Sir John Houghton, former Chair of the IPCC.
Evangelical Climate Initiative
Originators of the "What Would Jesus Drive?" Campaign
Evangelical Environmental Network
Publishers of Creation Care Magazine.
Some Help for Sifting Disinformation from Information
RealClimate: Climate Science from Climate Scientists
Don't let the blog format of this site distract you from the substance of the articles it contains. When somebody is spinning the latest climate story, RealClimate posts authoritative, research-based articles in language accessible to lay readers while the controversy or deception is still fresh in headlines. The site is a collaborative effort of at least 11 scientists actively working on climate research — with Michael Mann of Penn State (author of the famous "hockey stick" graph of global temperature adopted by the IPCC) playing a principal role.
Climate Science Watch: Promoting Integrity in the Use of Climate Science in Government
This site focuses mainly on efforts by the Bush administration and other political forces to distort or censor climate science produced by government programs or with government funding. It is produced with foundation funds via the Government Accountability Project by whistleblower Rick Piltz, who revealed White House re-writes of science reports.
SourceWatch (Wiki), Center for Media & Democracy
The iconoclastic CMD has been in the anti-spin biz for years (they wrote "Toxic Sludge Is Good for You" and produce "Spin of the Day"). This wiki project amounts to a nearly encyclopedic data file on the backgrounds and finances of many of the groups and spokespeople on the anti-regulatory front, with special emphasis on climate-change denialists. If you want to know if a source is straight or bogus, go here and look them up.
Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air: How ExxonMobil Uses Big Tobacco's Tactics to "Manufacture Uncertainty" on Climate Change
A Jan. 3, 2006, report done for the Union of Concerned Scientists by independent journalist Seth Shulman. It documents in detail a "disinformation campaign" on climate science, funded to the tune of $16 million by ExxonMobil between 1998 and 2005.
Integrity in Science Project (Searchable Database of Sources), Center for Science in the Public Interest
This database of scientists produced by the CSPI focuses on identifying possible conflicts of interest, especially when these conflicts are undisclosed by the scientists themselves. It is a good place to discover whether a scientist has ties to, or funding from, an industry whose interests are affected by that scientist's research — whether on climate change or any other environmental subject.
This searchable database site, run by Greenpeace US, focuses on backgrounding and mapping out the large and complex network of climate-change denial organizations and front groups funded by ExxonMobil. (Full use of site requires Flash 7 player.)
This site, while cast in blog form, includes a searchable database of climate-change denialists. It is run and funded by Canadian PR magnate Jim Hoggan, founder of James Hoggan & Associates, "to clear the PR pollution that is clouding the science on climate change." Timely counter-spin.
The Heat Is Online
This blog-style site is regularly maintained by Pulitzer-winning former journalist Ross Gelbspan, author of two books about fossil-fuel industry funding of climate denialists.
Global Warming Skeptics: A Primer, Environmental Defense
ED, an environmental group, assembles the basic facts about the disinformation campaign in a clear and quickly readable form, but also covers some new ground.
Activist Cash
A turnabout on some of the databases above, ActivistCash is operated by the anti-regulatory front group Center for Consumer Freedom. Much of the information comes from the IRS form 990s filed by environmental nonprofit organizations. It also includes information on individual activists and pro-environmental celebrities. Accuses ideological enemies of "false science."
Climate Change: A Guide for the Perplexed
New Scientist magazine takes a shot at debunking 26 common global-warming myths.
Further Information
Birdwatcher's Guide to Global Warming
Produced by the American Bird Conservancy and National Wildlife Federation, the guide offers analysis of how global climate change may affect some bird species.
World View of Global Warming
Photographer Gary Braasch's website is a non-commercial archive of global warming photo-documentation and information since 2002.

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