Global Warming: Man-made Catastrophe or International Conspiracy?

Nikki Duda
Historical Methods
Final Paper
Elliot Neaman
20 May 2010
Global Warming: Man-made Catastrophe or International Conspiracy?
A discussion of climate skeptics, global warming deniers, and their motivations
In the most basic sense, truth is subjective. Any “truth” we encounter is directly influenced by our own pre-existing perspectives and experiences. Our postmodern reality dictates that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter, and those who try to establish some common ground between the two are scorned for attempting to create absolute knowledge. Truth is fluid and ever-multiplying, as a rule, and so pinning down any issue becomes problematic. When it comes to skepticism, revisionism, and outright conspiracy, how can this postmodern mind-set be countered? Postmodernism is legitimate in theory – there are a multiplicity of perspectives, vantage points. Even if there are at least two sides to every issue, truth, in the loosest sense, can always be honed in on through a diversity of evidence. When the tenets of postmodernism are imported into the world of research-based academia, the problem of pinpointing truth outside of the frame of reference of the researcher presents itself. How can one be expected to weigh competing truths when all perspectives are equally valid?
Locating the ever-elusive truth in the debate over global warming is proving a difficult task for academics and activists living in this postmodern reality. Evidence misleadingly points in both directions, simultaneously declaring global warming an apocalyptic threat and a Marxist scam, while the scientific consensus is being challenged by weathermen and business moguls alike. It seems a hopeless situation, particularly when the loudest voices are generally well-off Western white males without support from any personal scientific training or experience. These climate change deniers, also known as global warming skeptics, are not sticking to cable television and their proverbial soapboxes anymore, but are influential contributers to the discussions in the US Congress, major news outlets and privately funded corporate laboratories. The supposed conspiracy of global warming is different from Roswell and other crackpot theories because it has support from vocal, influential people, particularly in the United States, making the theory all the more difficult to disprove.
As in all areas of academic inquiry, there are some questions that still need to be answered about the science behind global warming, and so there is room for a healthy amount of skepticism. After framing the discussion in terms of climate science and climate change denial, legitimate questions being asked of climate change will be addressed to highlight the lingering uncertainty of the science of global warming. Skepticism turns to denial and conspiracy with the particular attention given to the prominent climate conspiracy theorist Brian Sussman, and his newly released book Climategate. In analyzing Sussman’s work, as well as the musings of his contemporaries via the Internet, it becomes clear that his motivations are political, not scientific. Lastly, the climate denial industry will be discussed, focusing on corporate pseudoscience as a means of protecting the interests of the fossil fuel lobby from environmental legislation that would limit their profit margins, consequentially fueling anti-global warming hysteria. In synthesizing this evidence, it becomes clear the belief in a global warming conspiracy is motivated not by empirical doubt, but rather by ideological conviction and an eye for lucrative business.

The Basic Science
One of the issues with attacking climate science is that contrary to popular belief, it is fairly well-established, historically speaking. In the 1890s, a Swedish scientist named Svante Arrhenius set out to determine the cause of the ice ages, eventually concluding that the earth cooled as a result of low carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, creating a quantitative analysis to accompany the pre-existing concept of the greenhouse effect. Having just gone through a messy divorce, Arrhenius had some more time on his hands, and decided to use it to work out what effect the opposite circumstance would have – he chronicled the impact on temperatures levels with an increased atmospheric presence of carbon dioxide. The answer to his question was the concept of global warming: temperature levels rose as carbon dioxide levels increased. Over one hundred years later, even the most advanced supercomputers have barely been able to improve the accuracy of Arrhenius’ calculations (Pearce X-XI). According to his data, it would logically follow that any increase in carbon emissions, either natural or human facilitated (anthropogenic), would correspondingly result in higher temperatures. As the basis for contemporary climate science, Arrhenius’ century-old findings are the basis of what is being challenged by climate change deniers. Arrehenius’ initial calculations have been reinforced with recent climate data. According to a 2007 report issued on National Geographic News, temperatures have risen 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 150 years due to the increased proliferation of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane – it may not seem like much, but the reverberations are already being experienced by indigenous cultures in the Arctic and Pacific, as well as by polar bear populations and the like.

Climate Change Denial: What is it?
Before launching into a discussion about its various supporters, it first becomes necessary to create a workable definition of climate change denial. The term comes with its share of baggage and can be used to refer to a range of skepticism. In the research presented below, deniers have been grouped into three different categories, the first being deniers of anthropogenic (human-made) climate change. Anthropogenic deniers root their skepticism in the idea of human-made climate change, charging either that its effects will not be as catastrophic as some science suggests or the climate change we are experiencing is an ordinary (and naturally occurring) part of the earth’s climate cycle. The second category of climate denier claims not only that anthropogenic climate change does not exist, but that global warming is a conspiracy constructed to facilitate government control of individual rights and the market. This group tends to be made of right wing libertarians and other hard-core conservatives; for these individuals, climate change is a function of the environmental movement, which in their view, is using global warming as an excuse to make society more equitable. Our final category is made up of corporate global warming skeptics and the research they fund. Corporate skeptics make the claim that anthropogenic climate change does not exist, and therefore neither should emissions restrictions and other climate legislation. Often, corporate denial is rooted in the pseudoscience it funds rather than personal dogma.
While each category has its own unique characteristics, it is also worth noting that they have the same effect. Whether the source is a right wing website, an advertisement or a scientific journal, the consequence inevitably becomes a slowdown – these sources of denial, varying in accuracy, become an alternative, an option for people to opt out of the consequences of potential climate catastrophe by denying the threat’s existence and basing this denial on established “fact”. The medium and perspective are less important than the result: a culture of denial which, if taken to the extreme, could result in dangerous environmental practice. And though some resistance is a healthy aspect of any debate, as with all conspiracy theorists, their motives are questionable. Few skeptics are actual climate scientists, and others still are merely functioning as representatives of their political parties, or worse, privileging the needs of the fossil-fuel lobby over the search for truth and accuracy.
The Hockey Stick Debate
One of the first legitimate challenges to established science came from Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick in their joint report “Corrections to the Mann et al. (1998) Proxy Data Base and Northern Hemispheric Average Temperature Series”, meant to question to legitimacy of Michael Mann’s now-famous hockey stick graph. The data depicts temperature levels from the year 1400 to 1980 with a predicted, drastic curve upward at the start of the 21st century. In their joint paper, McKitrick and McIntyre claim that Mann’s original paper, used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a report which argued there was a 90% chance global warming was anthropogenic, misused climactic data (McIntyre 752). According to the authors, Mann omitted the so-called Medieval Warming Period, a period in the early 15th century when, the pair claim, temperatures were substantially higher than in the 20th century, chalking the mistake up to Mann’s intentional or accidental carelessness (751). By extension, global warming could not be entirely anthropogenic – the Industrial Revolution was still hundreds of years in the future when the Warming Period is said to have occurred. Mann retorted by arguing that the pair of amateur scientists had been analyzing the wrong set of data (claiming that the authors had deleted the correct set), and so had miscalculated the temperatures of the early 1400s, which in his conclusions, had been high, though not warmer than the contemporary period (McKitrick 29). Though the result of Mann’s original data remains uncertain, it is clear that McIntyre and McKitrick contributed to the debate in a meaningful way by forcing Mann to defend his own data – a healthy sort of skepticism.
While it is impossible to know for sure which conclusion is the correct one, it is feasible that both could be wrong. Using tree rings and other sketchy climate data as their guides, both studies relied heavily on speculation (McIntyre and McKitrick even detail the assumptions they needed to make in order to conduct their research), particularly in the first half of their time lines. Keeping temperature records was not common practice until recently and the study of tree rings in climatology is an imprecise procedure. In short, while McKitrick and McIntyre may insist that the Medieval Warming Period experienced higher temperatures than the 21st century has so far, the sparseness of available data for the era reduces all research on the climate of the period to mere guesswork. Climactic science is an ever-evolving discipline, and as a result, the conclusions being drawn from it can never be bullet proof. In the quest to predict the outcome of global warming, some of the catastrophes science is envisioning may never come to pass – McKitrck and McIntyre are correct in asserting this point. But the fact remains that there are dangers most people would loathe to experience in their lifetimes, and if there is even the most remote chance of these risks manifesting in concrete ways, it seems only logical to work toward a solution, rather than stalling the debate (Dow 29).
In this arena, it is important to note that both McIntyre and McKitrick lack academic credentials, and neither has experience in the applied sciences. Their contributions to the debate aside, each man’s motivations remain questionable: McKitrick is an economist, and McIntyre a businessman involved in “financing speculative mineral exploration” – the two are hardly unbiased contributors (McKitrick 22). In a later article, McKitrick wisely asks of his partner’s motivations: “What was a mining executive with no specialized training doing walking into a high-level scientific debate with international policy implications?” (23). McKitrick argues in the same article that the IPCC, as well as his own Canadian government, were using Mann’s data to usher in the Kyoto Protocol – as a mining executive, McIntyre could have had some interest in a treaty that could potentially influence his clients’ ability to conduct business (22).
A New Breed of Skeptic
Legitimate concern over the nature of climate science has recently taken a backseat to a different sort of denial: the global warming conspiracy theorists. These theorists address the science of global warming in their critiques, but focus more on the political implications and motivations of climate change in the arena of policy, painting the climate debate as a leftist ploy to build steam for Marxism in the United States, with the eventual goal of a one-world government. A case in point is that of Brian Sussman, a KSFO DJ and weatherman, as well as the author of the newly released book Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam. Rocketed into the spotlight by his conservative perspective in progressive San Francisco, Sussman treats global warming as a political ideology, rather than a scientific concept. Even in the language of the book’s title, Sussman aims to misguide readers: climatologists, not meteorologists, deal with the science of climate change. Aside from this disingenuous wordplay, Sussman uses his book primarily to undercut center-liberal political figures, primarily Al Gore, and to market climate skepticism to an American audience.
Sussman’s assault on anthropogenic global warming beings Climategate, claiming that Marxism has slowly been creeping into the realm of American political life for decades, and the global warming hoax is proof of its infiltration (Sussman XV). Sussman eventually pins the Marxist conspiracy on the United Nations (particularly the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, responsible for the dissemination of Dr. Mann’s hockey stick graph), arguing that the global body is at the center of the climate conspiracy and linking it to the “disappearance” of the Medieval Warming Period discussed earlier (30). In pinning the conspiracy to the United Nations, Sussman is also asserting that the UN has power as a unit of global governance. History sees it differently; if the United Nations had the sort of political clout Sussman charges it with, the genocide in Rwanda could have been avoided, along with countless other global injustices and a string of human rights abuses. What Sussman is truly trying to get at is that climate data has been falsified to promote global governance and control – the new Big Brother.
Dated footage of David Cole excitedly espousing Holocaust revisionism and Bradley Smith berating a sixty-something Holocaust survivor on the Donahue Show should say it all: there are questions regarding the Nazi gas chambers that still require answering, but the small gaps in the story line do not negate the reality of the Holocaust historically or in the memory of those who survived the genocide. There are blatant inconsistencies in both Cole’s and Smith’s interviews. Cole, for example, presents footage of himself opening doors from the inside in purported gas chamber – in Austria. Rather than pointing out the should-be obvious fact that all of the death camps were located in Poland, Phil Donahue simply makes a crack about Cole’s Colombo-like investigative skill.
Precisely because Donahue is unable, or unwilling, to challenge the Holocaust deniers’ claims and conclusions, some viewers walk away with the segment as their only engagement with the debate. As a result, some undoubtedly come away from the experience siding with the pseudoscience of Holocaust denial without being fully aware of the facts. Climate change denial poses a similar problem: a coworker may offhandedly call global warming a theory, the nightly news will refer to it as a scam, or a televised Congressional hearing may doubt its accuracy. What these situations have in common is a lack of evidence – they all rely heavily on political rhetoric, meant to influence the listener without substantiating the claims being made.
Though Climategate details the author’s foray into this world of pseudoscience, it is mostly a story, rather than an actual “academic” account of the issue. As a result, Sussman’s position can m ore accurately be described when he directly engages with his audience. Take an interview he gave on Hannity, shortly after his book was release on April 22, 2010. Before the discussion even commences, Sean Hannity’s voice-over muses:
Global warming hype is really just a form of communism rooted in the principals
of Karl Marx. The communist tenets of moral relativism, the belief in science over God and the idea of de-developing the successful nations to fill the needs of underdeveloped countries all describe the global warming movement.
Sussman has not said a word, and already the context of the conversation has been framed for the audience: global warming is a hoax fueled by politics. The author’s comments during the interview, however, cast a cloud of suspicion over his own motivations. Once on air, Sussman immediately starts on the topic of Al Gore. To most right-leaning Americans, this buzz-name is an immediate warning: if Al Gore “endorses” global warming, it is necessarily antithetical to their beliefs because he is of a different political party. Furthermore, the interviewee ties global warming as a concept even more closely to political “leftism” by arguing the global warming scam is fueled by money-grubbing academics and politicians. Much like the case of Holocaust denial, the global warming conspiracy theorists interact with people outside of the proverbial ivory tower, taking the time to answer their questions and include them in the debate (Faulk 2). To mainstream folks who are already wary of the inherent intellectualism of the environmental movement, a movement which already does a poor job of engaging with average people, the issue of global warming becomes even further removed from their own concerns. It no longer matters which side of the debate is correct, only which side treats skeptics as equals, people capable of understanding the science behind global warming. Why would an ordinary person meddle in the affairs of elitist scholars?
In the short interview, Sussman takes another stab at linking global warming to anti-Americanism by arguing that at the root of the scam is “the redistributive model”. The meta-narrative of the American Dream touts the ingenuity of the American character, particularly in our collective ability to pick ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps and change our personal situations: class and marginalization are choices in this discourse, the fault of the individual, not the society. In this context, using the word “redistribution” is tantamount to denying American exceptionalism. Just before the commercial break, Sussman goes even further in that vein, confiding in Hannity: “They want to de-develop the United States – take our wealth, transfer it. Now they’re touting global warming and CO2 as the bad guy here. It’s a way to knock this country down many, many notches.”
In the contemporary American psyche, this comment resonates with Vietnam syndrome – the questioning of American excellence that reads as a worldwide welfare program. Sussman is playing on the fear of diminishing American influence and using it to his advantage: if global warming becomes a liberal or Democratic issue, then patriotism, wholesomeness, and self-reliance become conservative, Republican, a move that is meant to enhance the political prestige of that ideology. Moreover, by tying climate change in with “socialism” and the Democratic Party, it becomes anti-capitalist, and therefore unpatriotic.
Instead of a global problem, climate change becomes partisan, and therefore more easily refutable, evidenced by the comments left on this video. One read:
Global warming has been exposed as a hoax. Let’s move on. Al Gore has made his billions, built his palace and received a Nobel Prize for his treasonous activities
toward the United States. Let’s start heading towards reality and prosperity for all
with the facts and truth of capitalism and democracy US style!
In dissecting this message, two ideas become apparent: 1.) global warming is meant to benefit the rich, particularly rich liberals, and is therefore an affront to the dignity of the everyman and 2.) capitalism is an American ideal and so the supposed redistribution tactics of the environmental movement are also anti-American. Sussman’s FOX News interview highlights the ability of global warming skeptics and outright deniers to engage with people on a basic level, to make them feel included in a debate that is otherwise overrun with academic jargon. As a result, deniers like Sussman are able to build a more reliable base by situating global warming as an insult to the everyman, and further politicizing climate change.
“We the People” climate skepticism also works in a bottom-up fashion, working parralel, though in opposition to, conventional environmental movements. Websites like NoCapAndTrade.com and GlobalWarmingHoax.com are some of the most frequently viewed pages that support the idea of a global warming conspiracy, and while both dabble in the politicization of the issue, their respective characterizations of climate change can be accurately be described as economic in nature, a quality it shares with corporate climate skepticism.
Global Warming Hoax published a March 29, 2009 article called “UN Plans to Cut Western Countries Down to Size”. Once again, the argument of this article hinges on the idea of redistribution, the fear of policy that would reduce emissions being an obstacle to Western capitalism. Most climate legislation, including those standards proposed at Copenhagen (the conference the article is predicting the outcome of), include provisions for “third world” countries that specifically allow them to reduce emissions less, so as to avoid entirely disabling their economies. The article, however, portrays the disparity as an anti-Western ploy, arguing, “the United Nations won’t be satisfied until it has equalized wealth among nations”, going on to implicate the Obama administration in the conspiracy of redistribution in the same breath.
No Cap and Trade takes a different angle: the page attacks the cap-and-trade system not for its ineffectiveness (it simply allows for carbon emissions to shift sources, not decrease), but for the tax the site’s authors assume American citizens would incur as a result of its implementation. Under its header of “The Facts,” the website estimates that an average American family will have to fork over an additional $1,700 a year and face massive unemployment, supplementing this claim by also arguing that low-income families will bear the brunt of the financial burden.
The website’s disapproval of climate policy does minimal damage in comparison to its analysis of CO2: the site’s authors acknowledge CO2’s natural presence in Earth’s atmosphere, but not the massive levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases being left in the atmosphere by industrial agriculture and meat production, coal fired power plants, and deforestation. In short, only some of the facts are presented and the human element is ignored, leading the recent warming “has now reversed” and “is not outside the natural variation that has been observed in the geologic record”, an impossible claim. Recording climate data is a recent trend, and so early weather patterns are difficult to establish. On the same page, Timothy Wirth, the President of the UN Foundation, is quoted as saying: “We’ve got to ride this global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, we will be doing the right thing in terms of economic and environmental policy.” Likely meant to be taken ironically, as proof of the conspiracy, Wirth’s words highlight the low level of risk that goes along with decreasing greenhouse gas emissions: reductions could result in saving the planet from catastrophe, but if the science turns out to be incorrect, environmental and social responsibility are not terrible side effects.
Pseudoscience Rears its Ugly Head: Funding Climate Skepticism
If skeptics like Brian Sussman are responsible for fanning the flames of popular contempt for climate science, than the fossil fuel lobby should be held accountable for supporting denial from the likes of Sussman and his cronies. To be clear, corporations are not engaged in actively denying climate change on an ideological level, but an economic one. Corporate climate change skepticism is a different beast altogether: using hard science, unlike the ideological climate skeptics, they are able to influence governance with their own economic interests in mind. Conveniently, corporate climate data is almost entirely in sync with the interests of the fossil fuel lobby, preventing emission reduction legislation and the dissemination of sources of alternative energy by simply existing.
The convenience of the fossil fuel lobby’s arsenal of data disproving anthropogenic climate change is no coincidence: generally speaking, the evidence is paid for, and the actions of oil giant ExxonMobil are emblematic of the scheme. A 2006 poll by the Pew Research Center, 77% of Americans believed there was “solid evidence” for global warming, with the number dropping twenty points to 57% a year later, with only 36% of those surveyed believing that climate change was anthropogenic, due in large part to the wealth of evidence being produced by climate skeptics (Mother Jones). According to a February 2007 article published in the Guardian, a think tank funded by ExxonMobil to the tune of $1.6 million, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), sent out a call for articles questioning the findings of the UN’s IPCC report (Sample). The reward? A cool $10,000 per submission. The same article cited ties between the company and noted climate skeptics David Bellamy, Nigel Lawson, and Tad Murty (Sample). As of 2005, $8 millions dollars of climate skeptic funding had been raked in from ExxonMobil, and though CEO Rex Tillerson has claimed he has given up on funding skepticism, the focus seems to be on improving the company’s public image rather than in the interest of climate legislation (Harkinson). For a company to have such extensive ties to the climate denial industry, and moreover, to contribute to these organizations financially, puts the smoking gun in their hand: if this situation is any indication, a hefty portion of the available literature on climate skepticism has been commissioned.
For an industry that buys into climate skepticism wholeheartedly, it seems illogical to funnel such high sums of money into climate skepticism if their reason for denying were an ideological one: legitimate climate skeptics, like Sussman, have faith in the science that supports their claims. The fossil fuel industry defies this formula: motivating skepticism is not a ploy for political power in the ideological sense – the purpose is to influence environmental policy only, rather than all policy. The Global Climate Coalition, an organization funded by the fossil fuel industry, was at the forefront of a campaign to disprove anthropogenic climate change, sending experts and representatives to major media outlets, intent on spreading the world. What GCC did not share with viewers, however, was that as early as 1995, their own experts were arguing:
The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human
emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and
cannot be denied … The contrarian theories raise interesting questions about our
total understanding of climate processes, but they do not offer convincing
arguments against the conventional model of greenhouse gas emission-
induced climate change (Monbiot).
With their own climate scientists warning the fossil fuel industry of the reality of anthropogenic global warming, the claim that the industry is interested in sound science stands on weak legs. If the scientific analyses being carried out in fossil fuel-funded laboratories is being funded as a tool to protect the fossil fuel industry from the creation of emission reduction standards, the possibility of other skeptical science being for-profit becomes equally plausible.
Never Again?
Anthropogenic global warming may be a grand miscalculation, the mountains of evidence for its existence as accurate as a horoscope. But there is a precedent – anthropogenic climate change, albeit on a smaller scale, has occurred before in human history. Humans are distinct from other creatures precisely because homo-sapiens are capable of shaping and changing their environments, and there is no evidence to show that this agency has always, or will always, work for our benefit.
Cahokia was the only settled city to exist north of the Rio Grande in the pre-Columbian Americas. The city sat along the eastern edge of the Mississippi River, using its waters to create a grandiose irrigation system for their crops, avoiding the long and frequent trek to and from its banks that would have otherwise been necessary. But the Cahokians were ravaging their resources – the surrounding trees were all but gone, and they drew the Mississippi ever-closer through the system of small streams they had created for irrigation. Archaeologists believe the civilization of Cahokia was done in by that very irrigation system, as well as their depletion of the forests: they were too large and could not sustain their people on the area of the city, and so rapid deforestation followed their population boom. Eventually, the River flooded the heavily polluted city, and without the ground cover of the woods, Cahokians were left with little time to escape as the rapid flooding (Mann 28).
Environmental, human facilitated catastrophe is accepted as the source of the downfall of both the influential Maya civilizations and of the Rapanui of Easter Island. Of course, these cautionary tales of pre-Columbian environmental collapse are not entirely parallel to the situation the world faces today – the environmental catastrophes of the past were small-scale, though no less destructive. But like the Maya, we are living far beyond our means, creating waste at breakneck speed and altering our environments in dangerous ways. There may yet be some unanswered questions regarding the nature of climate change, and even the role humans have in the way global warming plays out, but the context of the international community’s response must be one of caution, as the alternative could wreak havoc on human civilization.
In his book With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change, Fred Pearce asks his audience: “The worst may not happen, of course. Nobody can prove that it will. But as one leading climate scientist put it when I questioned his pessimism, how lucky do we feel?” (XXV). The author is making the argument that global warming is simultaneously unprovable and irrefutable: whether the science is correct or not is no longer the issue. In the context of climate skepticism, motivation becomes the focus – of those who deny the existence of anthropogenic global warming, or indeed, buy into the conspiracy theories surrounding the issue, “why” must be asked. For ideologically and profit motivated skeptics, the answer is invariably for political and economic gain.

Works Cited
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“Global Warming Fast Facts.” National Geographic. 4 June 2007. 10 May 2010 .
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Harkinson, Josh. “The Dirty Dozen of Climate Change Denial: No. 1: Exxon.” Mother Jones 4
Dec. 2009. 10 Mary 2010 .
Mann, Charles. 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus. New York:
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and Northern Hemispheric Average Temperature Series.” Energy and Environment 14, 6
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of Due Diligence.” Shattered Consensus: The True State of Global Warming. Ed. Patrick
J. Michaels. New York: Rowman & Littlefield: 2005.
Monbiot, George. “The media laps up fake controversy over climate change.” The Guardian 29
April 2009. 10 May 2010 .
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Pearce, Fred. With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change. Boston: Beacon Press, 2007.
Sample, Ian. “Scientists offered cash to dispute climate study.” The Guardian 2 Feb 2007. 10 May 2010 .
Sussman, Brian. Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming
Scam. Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2010.

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