Doubling down on climate denial: ICSF hosts Happer

Below, my latest article on Desmog.uk, covering the recent ultra low-key visit of well known climate contrarian, William Happer to Dublin. Publication was delayed by around a week as Desmog turned its editorial focus to the UK elections – including the climate-denying DUP’s surprise ascent to centre stage.

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The second meeting in a month of the newly formed climate sceptic group, the Irish Climate Science Forum, took place behind a veil of secrecy and a media blackout in Dublin on June 1, DeSmog UK can confirm.

Guest speaker was noted climate science denier William Happer, a retired Princeton professor who is currently understood to be on a shortlist for the role of Science Advisor to the climate-denying Trump administration in the US.

Happer is a director of the US-based CO2 Coalition, whose tagline is “Carbon dioxide, a nutrient vital for life”. In December of 2015, Happer was implicated in a Greenpeace investigation where activists posed as consultants for a Middle Eastern energy company and asked Happer and Frank Clemente, an emeritus sociology professor at Pennsylvania State University, to author reports on the benefits of coal and carbon dioxide emissions and keep the source of the funding secret.

Happer delivered his behind-closed-door presentation in an upmarket Dublin hotel to a hand-picked audience, numbering around 40-50, which included a number of senior staff from Met Éireann, Ireland’s national meteorological service.

His presentation, which DeSmog has seen, was titled: ‘Irish Agriculture – A New Look at the Influences of Methane, Nitrous Oxide and Carbon Dioxide’.

The ICSF describes itself as “a voluntary group of Irish scientists, engineers and other professionals” and claims to carry out: “neutral, independent analysis of the latest climate research with the purpose of better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

In May, DeSmog UK revealed the group launched with a speech by US climate science denier Richard Lindzen.

Spreading Misinformation

Happer began is speech by excoriating what he called “climate hysteria” and went on to accuse people involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of being “on the take”. Happer added that others, such as climate NGOs and activists, were driven primarily by a “financial agenda”.

Within his presentation, one slide claimed that fossil fuel power plants emit no pollution, and equated their CO2 emissions with a human exhaling. His inability to distinguish between CO2 in the current carbon cycle versus injecting carbon from millions of years ago is a standard denier sleight of hand, but it went unchallenged by his Dublin audience sources claim.

Next, Happer presented a series of charts purporting to show that “Global Warming Models Don’t Work!”. For this, he used a long-debunked chartproduced by Dr John Christy of the University of Alabama and a favourite among climate deniers in the US Republican Party.

Happer then did a number of slides explaining how CO2 is really “plant food” and how the world has been in a “CO2 famine for the last several million years”. When challenged by an audience member on this “CO2 as fertilizer” myth, Happer admitted that this was not in fact his area of expertise. But this in no way prevented him from continuing to spread misinformation.

One audience member attending Happer’s talk was rural TD (member of parliament), industrial turf cutter and noted climate denier, Michael Fitzmaurice. In a surreal moment, he asked Happer for advice on how to defeat the arguments of people “who claim that climate change is real”.

Happer next stated that radiative forcing “cannot be verified by direct measurement”. This too is manifestly false, as demonstrated by the USDepartment of Energy’s Berkeley Lab research.

The presumed reason the ICSF invited Happer to present is to provide ammunition to downplay the role of agricultural emissions by inferring that methane is largely irrelevant to climate change. This is the key message the founder of the ISCF, Ray Bates, a retired meteorologist who is an active lobbyist to exempt Ireland’s GHG-intensive beef and dairy sectors from the impact of climate regulations.

Ireland’s agricultural emissions are by far the highest per capita in the EU, with the government committed to backing the politically powerful farm lobby expanding both forms of ruminant agriculture despite the climate implications.

Closed-Door Science

Dr Gerard Fleming, Head of Forecasting with Met Éireann, was invited to both talks but declined to attend. Fleming has also seen Prof Happer’s slide presentation and commented: “a lot of the stuff in there wasn’t science”, adding that it went instead “into the realm of political advocacy”. He stressed that Met Éireann has no corporate connection whatever with the ICSF (Bates is a former assistant director).

Dr Fleming emphasised that Met Éireann regard IPCC science as the “gold standard” and was baffled by Happer’s assertion about alleged IPCC corruption. “I haven’t seen too many [climate] scientists driving around in gold-plated cars,” he added.

He accepted that the presence of senior Met Éireann staff at both ICSF events could lead to the perception that they were giving the event “silent assent”, but stressed no formal discussion had yet occurred within Met Éireann. “We will probably now have to sit down and consider this internally”.

Dr Fleming added that he was personally unhappy with the closed nature of the ICSF meetings. “Science is not to be discussed behind closed doors; I’m not at all comfortable with that idea of inviting some and excluding others. We need an open exchange of views”.

No information on the funding for Happer’s visit was made available. It is understood that, once again, no cover charge was levied for the meeting, and no donations were sought.

Following ICSF hosting Lindzen for their inaugural meeting last month, their choice of another hard-core denier as their second speaker removes any remaining doubt as to the climate-denying credentials of the well-funded ICSF, whatever about its stated aims of “better informing climate and energy policies in Ireland”.

Group organiser, Jim O’Brien, an engineer, refused to answer any questions from DeSmog UK and barred our reporter from attending. DeSmog UK also contacted Happer directly by email with a series of questions, but at time of going to press, he had not responded.

John Gibbons is a Dublin-based specialist writer and commentator on climate and environmental issues. He blogs at ThinkOrSwim.ie.  You can follow him on Twitter here.

ThinkOrSwim is a blog focusing on the inter-related crises involving climate change, sustainability, resource depletion, energy and biodiversity loss
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