Climate Skeptics: Myron Ebell

Myron Ebell is a climate denialist who was recently appointed as an advisor to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Ebell’s background is in economics, which explains why most of his thoughts about global warming are about economic policy and not science. But Ebell still claims that the science behind global warming is a hoax perpetrated to harm the US economy. How does a non-scientist get so much credit for trying to dis-credit actual science?

Ebell and his colleagues at the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) are the people that journalists call on to get the obligatory “opposing viewpoint”, which continually propagates the myth that “science is never settled”. Allowing these comments on every scientific study gives the community of denialists an unfair advantage in the fight to educate the public.

Ebell’s arguments span the typical range of skeptic tactics such as,

  • casting doubt on a small subset of thermometers
  • misunderstanding the magnitude of the “little ice age”
  • highlighting the “hiatus” while ignoring ocean heat uptake

Trump plans to massively restructure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), back out of the Paris Agreement, and dismantle the Clean Power Plan for power plants. Ebell was selected to lead these efforts.

The job of the EPA is to enforce national laws that relate to the environment, like the clean air act. Abolishing the EPA or diminishing it’s authority is essentially the same as repealing these laws and removing basic protections of shared resources. It’s infinitely harder to repeal all the laws and regulations that you might not like, so the quick and dirty alternative is to simply prevent such laws from being enforced.

Denialist like Ebell are really only interested in issues of regulation (and removing them at all costs), not issues of science. Casting doubt on climate science is just a tool to give their voices a platform. Giving someone like this the power to shape environmental protections at the federal level is dangerous, like the proverbial “fox guarding the henhouse”.

I wish there was a way for journalists to give “the other side of the story” in a way that indicates the proportion of consensus around an issue. Using smaller fonts for their quotes probably won’t help. Although, if skeptics could only comment on 1 out of every 100 articles on global warming, people might appreciate how widespread the scientific consensus really is.

One thought on “Climate Skeptics: Myron Ebell

  1. Brian Mapes

    You are right about the tactical, adversarial, “courtroom” model of evidenced discourse that many skeptics inhabit. Profitable activities are innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, seems to be the principle. When push comes to shove, this courtroom model, not the mild truth-seeking model of science (such as in IPCC’s mere “likely” categorizations of statements), rules the practical world, the gut and immune system of the Body Politic.

    From this educated man, I learned a wry lesson that Western culture has long learned to have an “immune system” against foppish intellectual worry-warts, for far longer than the present generation of technocratic rationalists have been warning of the present crop of looming dooms:

    From Gulliver’s travels, about the Laputans:

    “Most of them, and especially those who deal in the Astronomical Part, have great Faith in judicial Astrology, although they are ashamed to own it publickly. But, what I chiefly admired, and thought altogether unaccountable, was the strong Disposition I observed in them towards News and Politicks, perpetually enquiring into public Affairs, giving their Judgments in Matters of State; and passionately disputing every Inch of a Party Opinion. I have indeed observed the same Disposition among most of the Mathematicians I have known in Europe; although I could never discover the least Analogy between the two Sciences; unless those People suppose, that because the smallest Circle hath as many Degrees as the largest, therefore the Regulation and Management of the World require no more Abilities than the handling and turning of a Globe. But, I rather take this Quality to spring from a very common Infirmity of human Nature, inclining us to be more curious and conceited in Matters where we have least Concern, and for which we are least adapted either by Study or Nature.

    These People are under continual Disquietudes, never enjoying a Minute’s Peace of Mind; and their Disturbances proceed from Causes which very little affect the rest of Mortals. Their Apprehensions arise from several Changes they dread in the Celestial Bodies. For Instance; that the Earth by the continual Approaches of the Sun towards it, must in Course of Time be absorbed or swallowed up. That the Face of the Sun will by Degrees be encrusted with its own Effluvia, and give no more Light to the World. That, the Earth very narrowly escaped a Brush from the Tail of the last Comet, which would have infallibly reduced it to Ashes; and that the next, which they have calculated for One and Thirty Years hence, will probably destroy us. For, if in its Perihelion it should approach within a certain Degree of the Sun, (as by their Calculations they have Reason to dread) it will conceive a Degree of Heat ten Thousand Times more intense than that of red hot glowing Iron; and in its Absence from the Sun, carry a blazing Tail Ten Hundred Thousand and Fourteen Miles long; through which if the Earth should pass at the Distance of one Hundred Thousand Miles from the Nucleus or main Body of the Comet, it must in its Passage be set on Fire, and reduced to Ashes. That the Sun daily spending its Rays without any Nutriment to supply them, will at last be wholly consumed and annihilated; which must be attended with the Destruction of this Earth, and of all the Planets that receive their Light from it.

    (A Laputian gentleman taking a walk.Illustration by Arthur Rackham, 1909.)

    They are so perpetually alarmed with the Apprehensions of these and the like impending Dangers, that they can neither sleep quietly in their Beds, nor have any Relish for the common Pleasures or Amusements of Life. When they meet an Acquaintance in the Morning, the first Question is about the Sun’s Health; how he looked at his Setting and Rising, and what Hopes they have to avoid the Stroak of the approaching Comet. This conversation they are apt to run into with the same Temper that boys discover, in delighting to hear terrible Stories of Sprites and Hobgoblins, which they greedily listen to, and dare not go to Bed for fear.”

    I’m not taking a position here, just noting that this is one skeptic who leavened my science brain with a valued bit of learned humanities-wisdom, whatever else he may do in the world.


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