Behind the scenes – preparing the open letter to the U.N. Secretary General on his climate science mistakes

Answering the public’s questions about the preparation of the letter from 125+ climate experts Since the publication in Canada’s National Post of the November 29, 2012 open letter from climate […]
Published on December 4, 2012

Answering the public’s questions about the preparation of the letter from 125+ climate experts

Since the publication in Canada’s National Post of the November 29, 2012 open letter from climate experts to the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the Web has been abuzz with questions about the letter:

  • Where did it come from?
  • Who wrote it?
  • Why are some of the best known climate skeptics not among the now 130+ endorsers?
  • Why did most mainstream media not report on the letter?

There is nothing secret about all this so here are the answers to these questions.

A few days before the beginning of the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Qatar, Marc Morano of the award-winning Climate Depot suggested to a number of us involved in promoting climate realism that an open letter from scientists was needed to counter the recent hysteria about extreme weather being caused by man-made climate change. The International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC) took on the job and five ICSC participants became the primary drafters of the letter:

  • Christopher Monckton, Viscount of Brenchley, ICSC Policy Advisory Board member and Chief Policy Advisor, Science and Public Policy Institute, Carie, Rannoch, Scotland
  • ICSC Chief Science Advisor Professor Bob Carter, PhD, Adjunct Research Fellow at James Cook University, Queensland, Australia.
  • ICSC Strategic Advisor and Founding Chairman: Terry Dunleavy, MBE, JP, North Shore City, New Zealand.
  • ICSC Energy Issues Advisor: Bryan Leyland, M.Sc., FIEE, FIMechE, FIPENZ, consulting engineer, Auckland, New Zealand.
  • ICSC Executive Director and Research Fellow of the Frontier Centre for Public Policy Tom Harris, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

After two days of exchanging various versions of the open letter by e-mail, the five us agreed on the final text and, by Tuesday, the second day of the U.N. conference, e-mail distribution to potential signatories began.

Two days into the endorser collection, at which point over 100 well-qualified signatories to the open letter had been secured, one of my confidential outreach e-mails to scientists was leaked by unknown parties to activists who then made the following, rather silly, post alerting the alarmist community about “The denialist spin machine in action.”

Signing up to nonsense: denialists plot letter to UN secretary general

The leak then spread like wildfire throughout the activist blogosphere and it became apparent that, even with endorsers still coming in, we had to release the letter right away or the aggressive backlash from activists could start to scare away some of the open letter endorsers.

Happily, the Financial Post decided to publish electronically immediately, and then in the hard copy newspaper the next day, with, initially, 125 well-qualified endorsers. Since then another ten or so qualified endorsers have contacted me and five of them are now listed on the Financial Post Website. The article has received almost 600 comments and over 2.3 K (yes, that’s 2,300) Facebook “Likes”.

Perhaps not surprisingly, despite being notified, most main stream media (MSM), the majority of whom are boosters of climate alarmism, have yet to report on the letter. News editors prefer instead to report on even small events in support of the UN Climate Change Conference. Besides the National Post itself, there have been some exceptions – here are three in major media outlets that reported on the open letter:

Here are a couple in intermediate level media outlets:

Fortunately, we no longer have to rely on MSM as much as we used to to get the word out about important developments like this. Hundreds of Website have now reproduced, or made reference to, the open letter and the endorser list. Most prominently:

So, MSM censorship is not preventing ordinary people from hearing about the project and, as can be seen here in Australia, the open letter is already being referenced in published letters to the editor.

And it is the public who remain the main target audience for our climate realist education activities. After all, once it is very widely known that many relevant scientists do not support the need for carbon dioxide (CO2) emission controls, public appetite for expensive programs to fight climate change will deteriorate still further. Politicians can choose to follow or risk eventual defeat. Mass media that are seen to be out of step with their readers will lose circulation and ratings and advertising revenue. Businesses that promoted the scare will have difficulty regaining public trust. Climate campaigners will be increasingly discounted and the extremists in the environmental movement may be set back decades as their signature crusade, the quest to stop climate change, will be regarded as hopelessly misguided.

Why did more MSM not report on the letter?

To begin with, all media are in competition for public attention and, since the open letter was already published in the National Post, it now became “old news” and so less attractive to most of the press. This does not stop most reporters from covering old news if it is in line with their publications’ editorial stances, of course.

And that is the key to the whole public debate. Media executives must keep ratings high to maintain advertising revenue and reports of crises, present or future, sell media. Many producers, editors and reporters are so committed to climate alarmism (e.g., at CNN, The Guardian, CBC and ABC) that, even when they come to realize that they have been misled by activists, they are loath to change their positions and so do not report on contrary evidence, no matter how well sourced. In addition, as I discussed in the interview, presentation and article at “APPLYING SOCIAL SCIENCE RESEARCH TO WIN THE CLIMATE WAR”, the left-of-centre political stance of most MSM plays a big role as well.

Why does the list not include a number of the most prominent climate realists? For some of them I do not know the reasons since they did not respond. However, here are the reasons that I am aware of:

  • Some scientists said they agreed with the letter but did not want to sign because of job security concerns.
  • Several of the people we most often hear about in media coverage of skeptics never sign these sorts of open letters no matter what the letter’s contents.
  • Other did not sign up simply because they did not see the invitation in time (Dr. Madhav Khandekar is an example of an expert who undoubtedly will endorse the letter when he is back from holidays).
  • Some said that, since their views are so well known, they wanted other climate realists to take the lead for a change.
  • Some did not want to endorse anything that covered topics outside of pure science.

And, yes, some scientists who we approached may have had significant disagreements with part of the letter’s contents. I don’t know. But then no one on the skeptics side of the debate is pretending that there is a consensus in the field in any direction. Science is supposed to be about independent thought, after all, not simply a show of hands. In retrospect, it is rather remarkable we were able to get so many scientists prepared to publicly endorse such a politically incorrect statement.

In general, academics want large research grants and the climate scare has increased funding for the field many times above what it was a generation ago. Professors and teachers fear conflict with students, fellow instructors and administrators if they express skepticism about the causes of climate change. At many universities, colleges and schools, professors and teachers are concerned about a loss in job security if they are seen to side with politically incorrect concepts. So, while many would feel at liberty to sign open letters agreeing with the climate scare, most wouldn’t even contemplate signing one that appears to go against the grain in this controversial field.

Yet, in the space of less than three days, ICSC was able to find 125 experts to endorse the open letter to the United Nations Secretary General telling him he was completely misguided on climate change and extreme weather. Imagine if we had a few months to gather endorsers.


Tom Harris is Executive Director of the International Climate Science Coalition – and an advisor to the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

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