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January 7th, 2009 Dave Mazza | News Stories
 

Hot Air

An Oregon chemist tends the fires of global-warming deniers.

     
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ARTHUR ROBINSON: “This is not rocket science—climate science is very simple. A 12-year-old could probably understand this subject.”

Not everyone is happy about the global-warming response of cap-and-trade rules, zero-carbon building codes and hybrid car tax credits that potentially lie ahead under Barack Obama and the final two years of Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s term.

In the southwest Oregon town of Cave Junction, Arthur B. Robinson thinks the nation and state are falling for bad science, and he’ll be sounding the alarm bell loudly in 2009, as he has for the past decade.

Robinson, a 66-year-old doctor of chemistry and former colleague of Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling, is in the vanguard of a small but vocal and persistent collection of scientists, industry advocates and commentators who dismiss human culpability for climate change. Being in the minority doesn’t bother Robinson.

“Science is the search for natural truth based on fact, not opinion,” Robinson says. “One man can be right and the whole world can be wrong—that’s happened before.”

For Robinson, the search resulted in his 1998 paper “Environmental Effects of Increased Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide.” The 12-page analysis of existing literature on climate change, such as meteorological records, was self-published by his Cave Junction-based Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine. Robinson’s paper, co-written with his son Noah and physicist Willie Soon, concluded that climate change was a result of normal solar activity and had occurred many times before. Human-caused increases in carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas, resulted in “an increasingly lush environment for plants and animals,” according to the paper.

Robinson’s critics say his analysis is simplistic, but it remains persuasive a decade later with powerful policymakers like U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a visible and effective player in blocking a bill to limit greenhouse-gas emissions last fall.

“The influence Robinson and the others have is to muddy the waters and delay action on global warming,” says Sheldon Rampton, research director for the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit organization that promotes media literacy.

“I thought he was thoroughly discredited years ago,” Rampton says. “But the global-warming skeptics certainly haven’t given up. And they seem willing to promote anyone who can be half-plausibly sold as an ‘expert.”’

Robinson’s views have been cited on Fox News, MSNBC and other national newscasts, such as Exposed: The Climate of Fear, an hourlong special report in 2007 by CNN Headline News’ Glenn Beck. The report relied heavily on Robinson’s findings to attack former Vice President Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.

“People don’t look at the facts, they just want to say, ‘Who said it?’ whether the facts are right or not,” Robinson says. “This is not rocket science—climate science is very simple. A 12-year-old could probably understand this subject.”

One factor in Robinson’s resiliency is his commonly termed “Oregon Petition.”

In 1980, Robinson founded the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, a nonprofit research lab that also served as an outlet for a K-12 home-schooling program Robinson sold, as well as various publications on civil defense.

Robinson used the institute in 1998 to mass-mail his global-warming report to “people in the scientific community.”

Within weeks, Robinson had more than 15,000 signatures providing him with what he considered a rebuke of global-warming believers. Among its most prominent Oregon signers were Floating Point Systems founder C. Norman Winningstad and Portland State University professor emeritus of geology Paul E. Hammond.

With the debate then heating up over U.S. adoption of the Kyoto Protocol on greenhouse gases, Robinson was quoted as the “other side of the argument” on global warming in Newsday, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and The Oregonian.

On Earth Day 1998, the National Academy of Science took the unusual step of issuing a statement disassociating itself from the petition and Robinson’s paper.

The academy board said the formatting of the paper and the cover letter from a former academy president had led people to believe the paper and petition had been reviewed and published by the academy.

Robinson has remained close-mouthed about his institute’s finances in general, other than to tell WW that no government or foundation money is involved.

IRS filings required of all 501(c)(3) nonprofit corporations show the institute as of Dec. 31, 2007, the latest filing, with assets of $4,032,682 and annual income of $790,251.

More important than the cash on hand may be Robinson’s relationships with conservative organizations like the American Association of Physicians and Surgeons, the ultra-libertarian Heartland Institute, the George C. Marshall Institute and the conservative blogosphere that circulates Robinson’s climate theories.

Rampton expects Robinson’s views to continue circulating in 2009.

“He’ll continue to be quoted in some circles,” Rampton says. “In the bigger scheme of things, though, I think his influence on public opinion and policy is doomed to fail. In science and in politics, reality always bats last.”


FACT: Robinson’s Oregon Petition now claims more than 32,000 signatures, though questions about signatures have arisen. Scientific American took a random sample of 1,400 signatories claiming a Ph.D. in climate-related science and found only 200 climate researchers. “A respectable number, though rather a small fraction of the climatological community,” the magazine noted.
 
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