At Climate Science Conference, Global Warming Dissenters Are Emboldened

The Eiffel Tower during a small-particle haze. At a recent conference on climate science, panelists said they favored dismantling environmental regulations enacted by President Barack Obama. Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters

It's a new political environment for the natural environment. Emboldened by the current presidential administration, opponents of federal regulations to control global warming are giddy. Last week's 12th annual International Conference on Climate Change, held by the Heartland Institute, confirmed that such dissent is no longer the outlier position where government policy is concerned. The Heartland Institute is a conservative nonprofit known for questioning the presence and importance of climate change, among other government-regulated issues.

The theme of this year's two-day conference, held in Washington, D.C., was "Resetting U.S. Climate Policy." Attended by about 300 people, the meeting included panels and plenary sessions offering views on climate science that go against consensus views, the economic benefits of fossil fuels, climate politics and policy, and the cost of alternative fuels, among other divisive issues. The speakers rejected policies enacted by President Barack Obama and showed measured optimism about the possibility of dismantling these policies now that Donald Trump is in office.

Below are a few highlights from the talks:

Joseph Bast, president of the Heartland Institute:

"In the science community, we recognize that the human impact [on the environment] is small, hard to predict and probably not worth trying to stop. I think the American people understand that. I think we've essentially won the public opinion battle. What remains to be done is the political battle. That means repealing a lot of laws, regulations, taxes and subsidies passed over the last eight, even 12 years." Included on that agenda, said Bast, is retracting the Clean Power Plan and withdrawing from the 2015 Paris Agreement, "or, better yet, from the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change." He also called for an end to the Environmental Protection Agency. "It's time to replace EPA with something that will do a better job of protecting the environment." Bast proposed that the money saved by "ending the war on fossil fuels" be distributed to the American public as a "peace dividend" amounting to $4,275 per person per year.

Don Easterbrook, professor emeritus of geology at Western Washington University

"Carbon dioxide is not the cause of global warming," said Easterbrook. His talk presented evidence pointing to sunspots as a cause of global warming, a hypothesis first posited by Henrik Svensmark, who researches climate at the Danish National Space Center. Easterbrook described a chain of events in which fewer sunspots lead to more low-level cloud formation, which in turn reflects more sunlight back into space, leading to a cooler Earth.

E. Calvin Beisner, spokesman for the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation

"A clean, healthful, beautiful environment is a costly good. And like any costly good, richer people can afford more than poorer people. This is why the greatest threat to the environment is not affluence; it's poverty. And the second greatest threat to the environment is socialist government, tight government controls over what people do."

Craig Idso, chairman, Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change

Idso focused on the economic benefit of carbon dioxide-induced growth. "The financial benefit of Earth's rising atmospheric CO2 concentration on global food production is numerous," he said, adding that the annual monetary value of carbon dioxide, calculated through yields of the 45 most common crops, had increased from $18.5 billion in 1961 to more than $140 billion in 2011. "The total benefit of rising carbon dioxide on global food production since 1961 amounts to $3.2 trillion," Idso said.

U.S. Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas)

"Americans are tired of scare tactics and misleading information. We should focus on good science rather than politically correct science.… Regulations should be based on sound science, not science fiction," Smith said. He criticized the Clean Power Plan and other Obama regulatory action as posing hardships on Americans, including a loss of jobs, with no significant benefit to climate change. Smith also praised controversial new approaches for extracting energy from the planet. "Advances in technology such as hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have enabled the U.S. to harness our natural resources in ways we never thought possible," he said. Smith also noted that the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions by 2 percent from last year, asserting that many people "attributed this reduction to technological breakthroughs that make fracking environmentally safer and cleaner." Innovation, he said, "can protect the air we breathe and the water we drink."

Myron Ebell, director, Center for Energy and Environment

"Now we have a chance to undo some of the damage that has been done," said Ebell, who led the EPA transition team before Scott Pruitt was confirmed as the agency's new administrator. He noted that one of his tasks as head of the transition team was to produce a confidential advisory document for enacting promises made during Trump's campaign. "I can't tell you what's in it," said Ebell, who then proceeded to disclose the promises his document planned to implement. These include withdrawing from the Paris Agreement; defunding the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change; reopening the endangerment finding (the backbone of the Obama administration's climate change regulations); withdrawing climate rules, power plant rules and methane rules; and freeing up energy production on federal lands and offshore areas. "You add all these up, "said Ebell, "and this changes the entire direction of the country."