As world leaders in Durban, South Africa, struggled last month toward an imperfect agreement to curb carbon pollution, I listened to the alternate climate universe -- on talk radio, 1130 AM, where a suite of self-professed conservative commentators pronounce climate science a hoax.
The contrast with scientifically accepted climate reality could not be more stark.
Instead of discussing how world carbon emissions are rapidly destabilizing the atmosphere and oceans, and what challenges and opportunities those trends present, these talk-radio hosts -- beginning with failed Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, through Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and failed Republican gubernatorial aspirant Sue Jeffers -- consistently mock the findings of the world's leading climate scientists.
No wonder there is such disconnect with climate facts in the conservative corner of the public mind.
The largest dose of false information I heard came from Jeffers on her Saturday-night show.
A soft-spoken gentleman called in, declared himself a lifelong Republican, and wondered why conservatives are so hard on climate-change science, which he found convincing. She browbeat him with a torrent of misinformation: There is no global warming; polar bears are not in trouble; consult the work of "Lord" Monckton; on and on.
I wondered where she got this nonsense, so I checked her website. There she promotes links to the Republican Party, the Tea Party, and a site called "Minnesotans for Climate Change," which is linked regularly to Wattsupwiththat.com. Mystery solved -- mad Anthony Watts is a major source for the misinformation she dumps on her listeners.
Watts is an anti-climate-science blogger with a background in television meteorology, not climate science. His mocking assertions have provided no end of fuel for climate-change "skeptics," particularly his misguided alarms about records showing an upward trend in global temperatures.
His shrill "skepticism" on this front led to an expensive study by independent physicists at Berkeley Earth, funded by grants from both the conservative Koch Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, to see who was right, Watts or the world's climate scientists.
The results, announced this fall, showed -- no surprise -- that climate scientists have been right all along in their understanding of temperature data, and that the blogging skeptic Watts has been full of hot air. Yet Jeffers still spreads his foolishness.
Then there is "Lord" Christopher Monckton, neither a lord nor a scientist, whose job in England appears to be deputy head of a right-wing nationalist party. In the United States, he serves as "policy advisor" to an infamous climate-denial website, apparently qualified for the position by his degrees in classics and journalism.
Monckton had a brief day in the sun as one of the brashest climate-change deniers until his misleading presentation at Bethel University in 2009 was calmly demolished by University of St. Thomas physicist John Abraham in a straightforward presentation available to all on the web (www.stthomas.edu/engineering/jpabraham).
Yet Jeffers fawns over Monckton's mad assertions.
Antiscience talk on the radio fringe would not be worth commentary were such misinformation not seriously polluting the political discourse in Minnesota and the nation.
Rep. Mike Beard of the Minnesota House Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Committee has spouted similar misinformation as his basis for seeking to rescind the state's moratorium on new coal-fired power plants.
In the national Republican nomination race, the nation has watched aghast as every candidate who once acknowledged global warming as sound science -- Gingrich, Romney, Huntsman and Pawlenty -- has been pilloried by the Tea Party wing or forced to cravenly reverse course before it.
The talk-show hosts, most famously Limbaugh, say they are the ones, not the "mainstream media," purveying "the truth." How much better they would serve their listeners, and the nation, by purveying the facts.
For Minnesota and the nation need a vigorous dialogue on state and national energy policies, but not on the science of climate change, which is understood as "settled" by every major scientific body that has looked at the evidence, including the George W. Bush administration.
Climate science is neither Republican nor Democrat, liberal nor conservative, but a necessary background for sound policymaking. So please Jeffers, et al., at least check the qualifications of your sources before you browbeat honest listeners with falsehoods.
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James P. Lenfestey is a former Star Tribune editorial writer covering energy and education.