Global Warming Speaker Under Fire

By Seth Slabaugh, The Star Press (Muncie, IN)
Originally published on 11/18/03, reprinted with permission

MUNCIE — Virginia climatologist Patrick Michaels is such a controversial speaker on climate change that even a news release announcing an upcoming speech by him can start a dispute.

Ball State University recently issued a press release referring to Michaels as ‘one of the nation’s leading researchers on global warming.” He will lecture on ‘Global Warming: The End of the Story,” at 7 p.m. Thursday in Cooper Science Complex room 188.

“Pat Michaels is not one of the nation’s leading researchers on climate change,” asserts Peter Gleick, a conservation analyst and president of the Oakland-based Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security. “On the contrary, he is one of a very small minority of nay-sayers who continue to dispute the facts and science about climate change in the face of compelling, overwhelming, and growing evidence.

“I consider that Michaels is to the science of climate change like the Flat Earth Society is to the science of planetary shape.”

Michaels is an environmental research professor at the University of Virginia and the climatologist for the state of Virginia. He is also a senior fellow in environmental studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank that promotes limited government and free markets.

In an e-mail interview, Michaels said Gleick “should read what I write: global warming is real, it is caused by people, and we can’t do much about it. What’s so controversial about that?”

Michaels has given ammunition to critics because of his political activism and his ties to the fossil fuel industry.

‘Funded by coal’

According to Morris “Bud” Ward, editor of a recently published climate change guidebook for journalists, Michaels will be entertaining, provocative, compelling, and convincing when he visits Muncie this week.

“But clearly he comes with an agenda,” Ward said, “and it would not be fair not to disclose his interests [to his Muncie audience].

For example, Ward said, “He was writing a [climate change] newsletter funded by the Western Fuels Association, and he didn’t disclose that. He didn’t disclose who the funder was.”

Western Fuels Association provides coal for the generation of electricity by utilities in the Great Plains, Rocky Mountain and Southwest states, and Louisiana.

Michaels is also a visiting scientist at the Washington, D.C.-based Marshall Institute, whose president, William O’Keefe, is former chief operating officer of the American Petroleum Institute.

Since the start of the industrial era, human activities such as fossil fuel combustion have been increasing atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases on a global scale, according to Ward’s guidebook. Most earth scientists believe the increased atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases are absorbing more infrared energy and causing a progressive warming of the Earth’s lower atmosphere.

Michaels says he “surely did” disclose who financed the newsletter.

>”It was in the public record from the get-go, back in 1992,” Michaels stated. “I gave that information to journalists.”

But according to Ward, “Pat is not correct on that. If he disclosed it in 1992 it was only after we published it in [a journalism newsletter called] Environment Writer.”

Ward said Environment Writer published a series of articles about Michaels’ newsletter because it was being sent to members of the Society of Environmental Journalists with no disclosure that it was financed by Western Fuels Association.

Energy spokesman

Michaels should just represent himself as what he really is — a spokesman for the energy industry, “and he’s a darned good one,” Ward said. When he portrays himself as a world-class researcher on climate change, “that’s where he goes too far,” Ward said.

Michaels, who earned a doctorate in ecological climatology from the University of Wisconsin in 1979, has become so politically active that he is more of a political scientist than a climate scientist, Ward said.
Michaels is one of the climate change experts trusted by Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Pence.

The congressman calls himself a “profound skeptic” in the debate over “the theory of global warming,” which Pence formerly referred to as “the myth of global warming.”

The author of the book, Satanic Gases: Clearing the Air About Global Warming, Michaels has discussed global warming on MSNBC’s “Hardball,” on ABC’s “Nightline,” and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.”

Michaels has been published in virtually every major journal of the atmospheric sciences, and is past president of American Association of State Climatologists and program chair of the committee on applied climatology of the American Meteorological Society.

He was invited to Ball State by Rob Schwartz, assistant professor of geography. Schwartz heard Michaels speak in 1996 and was impressed by the way he handled himself before an audience that had a “very mixed” reaction to that speech.

“I like to hear different perspectives,” Schwartz said. “People can make up their own minds. There will be time for question and answer. He doesn’t want everybody to be sheep. I’ve heard he enjoys different perspectives and questions.”

Copyright 2003, The Star Press, reprinted with permission.