For years environmentalists have been pressuring the US Department of the Interior to list the polar bear as a species threatened by global warming, arguing that their habitat — specifically, polar ice — is at risk.
There is no doubt that polar ice is shrinking dramatically, a fact the scientific consensus links to global warming: for a dazzling graphic version of this truth, see this from the Wall Street Journal.
This past May, the government agreed with the environmentalists — in part. The polar bear was listed as "threatened," but not granted a "critical habitat" to protect its livelihood, which makes the ruling more symbolic than meaningful.
Nonetheless, Sarah Palin as the governor of Alaska recently sued the Department of the Interior to overturn the ruling, arguing in part that such a ruling would "deter such activities…as oil and gas exploration and development."
Now it turns out that she and the state based their argument on a clutch of denialists, including the notorious Exxonians Willie Soon and Sallie Baliunas, who with five other deniers wrote a paper (available here) that claims "Climate models are simply not skillful for the projection of regional sea-ice changes in Hudson Bay or the whole Arctic."
If you look more closely, you’ll see the paper doesn’t seriously challenge the skill of the climate models, which actually has been quite good — if anything, a little conservative — at predicting sea ice decline.
Instead it brings up other climate change denier talking points — specifically, solar variance — which Real Climate patiently debunks in a post called cuckoo science.
Maybe I’m idealistic (alright, I am) but I think that if this subject comes up in the debate tomorrow, Joe Biden should reference the fact that Sarah Palin is drawing her "scientific" arguments from outlier denialists funded in part by Exxon.
As The Guardian reported yesterday (see here):
The paper, entitled Polar Bears of Western Hudson Bay and Climate
Change, has been criticised for relying on old research and ignoring
evidence that Arctic sea-ice is melting at a quickening pace. Walt
Meier, a world authority on sea ice, based at the National Snow and Ice
Data Centre, said: "The paper doesn’t measure up scientifically."
co-author of the paper, Willie Soon, completed the study with funding
from ExxonMobil – which has oil operations in Alaska’s North Slope – as
well as from the American Petroleum Institute. Soon was a former senior
scientist with the George C Marshall Institute, which acts as an
incubator for climate-change scepticism. The institute has received
$715,000 in funding from ExxonMobil since 1998.
That won’t hurt Palin with the GOP base, as Tom Toles points out below. But it could remind Independents and undecideds that she is not nearly the enemy of big oil she claims to be.