Senator Steve Fielding returned from a climate sceptics conference in Washington earlier this month ready to open up debate on the scientific merits of climate change predictions.He is seemingly unaware that the debate has been and gone and only a few renegades are left manning the crumbling edifice of what was once thought to be a credible sceptical position.The conference was organised by the Heartland Institute, one of those corporate-funded think tanks whose mission in life is to promote free enterprise, no matter what the cost to society or the environment.Conference sponsors included a variety of far-right organisations, such as the Ayn Rand Institute and the Australian Libertarian Institute; a number of corporate-funded think tanks including, from Australia, the Institute for Private Enterprise and the Institute of Public Affairs; as well as Australian sceptics groups such as the Climate Sceptics Party and The Lavoisier Group.One of the conference scientific experts was Willie Soon, an astrophysicist who argues that global warming is caused by solar variation, a theory that sounded compelling to Sen Fielding. Dr Soon gained notoriety in 2003 when he co-authored a scientific article with Sallie Baliunas, in the journal Climate Research.The article, which argued that the climate in the 20th century was not the warmest in the last 10 centuries, was the outcome of a study that had received $66,000 from the American Petroleum Institute. Dr Soon and Dr Baliunas were also being paid at the time as senior scientists with the ExxonMobil-funded George T Marshall Institute.After the article was published, 13 of the scientists cited in it claimed that their work had been misinterpreted.Half of the journal's editorial board resigned to protest the peer review process.Like Dr Soon, many other speakers at the conference have dubious associations with industry-funded think tanks and front groups, as well as being recipients of money from companies with a vested interest in climate denial. Keynote speaker at the conference Richard S Lindzen, has been a consultant to the fossil fuel industry, charging $3100 a day for his services.Fred Singer, on the science panel at the conference with Dr Soon, is executive director of the Science and Environmental Policy Project, a group that argues that global warming, ozone depletion and acid rain are scare tactics invented by environmentalists.Sen Fielding's claim to have kept an open mind on the road to Washington seems a little disingenuous given he travelled to the US to attend a conference that was so obviously intended to discredit predictions of climate change. It billed itself as calling attention to dissent to the asserted consensus on the causes, consequences, and responses to climate change.Has the senator devoted as much effort to learning about the science behind that consensus?And has he the right to demand a rerun of the debate, further delaying measures to prevent climate change, whilst he plays catch up? Sharon Beder is author of Environmental Principles and Policies and Suiting Themselves: How Corporations Drive the Global Agenda. She is a visiting professorial fellow at the University of Wollongong.
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