A Bad Time For Climate-Change Deniers in the Courts

The Competitive Enterprise Institute is having a bit of a rough go in the courts lately. The CEI—best known in recent years for trying to rebrand planet-threatening carbon dioxide emissions with the catchphrase “They call it pollution. We call it life”—most recently tried to sue the Environmental Protection Agency to get access to certain classified emails. It was rejected.

It’s not so much that the climate-change deniers lost their court case, but that the judge didn’t seem to be overly troubled by the need to be kind to them, calling their legal arguments an “imaginative conspiracy theory.” To be fair, the EPA’s head brought this on her agency by using a pseudonymous email account, which is either an attempt to hide some email correspondence from public view or just a mundane attempt to maintain a separate, non-public email account.

Regardless, the CEI will remain a well-funded mouthpiece for whatever industrial cause needs protection this season.The CEI was fighting tobacco regulation and prosecution until 2011, so it would be unfair to call them guns for hire; they’re true believers, for what it’s worth. So it’s not a surprise the institute is also engaged in a lawsuit whose consequences could be far more serious—albeit not for the CEI itself, thanks to its donors’ deep pockets.

No, the real victim here is the National Review, whose most recent blunder was its decision to publish Mark Steyn. Steyn, playing to the room, decided to branch out from his regular shtick of terrifying the National Review’s senior, whiter readers about brown people who worship in a different tongue and tried to dabble in climate science denial.

The problem is Steyn quoted CEI adjunct Rand Simberg, who in July 2012 compared climate scientist Michael Mann to child predator Jerry Sandusky. Ha ha, because both worked at Penn State! And, to quote Simberg, Mann “molested and tortured data.” (Those sentences have now been purged from Simberg’s post, but not Steyn’s.)

In the fever swamps of the American right, Michael Mann is notorious for serial scientific malpractice. In reality, his work has been investigated repeatedly (with glee, from some right-wing politicians) and hasn’t just been confirmed, but indeed corroborated by multiple independent sources. Perhaps most stingingly, the results of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project—the “independent” scientific group that was supposed to overturn all the science from those big-government commie types—ended up falling well within the spectrum of scientific consensus on climate change.

Despite all this, attacks like Simberg’s continue, eagerly repeated by Steyn, but it turns out that libel law may finally do what scientific reason cannot. Mann has sued Simberg, Steyn, the CEI and the National Review (the future of which could be at stake), and the early efforts to have the case thrown out have all failed. Steyn is taking this in his usual stride, writing self-pitying columns about how not even the National Review is defending his right to reproduce horrific defamation on other people’s dime.

Whether the National Review or the CEI live or die is, alas, irrelevant at this point. On the climate change file, they have contributed so much pollution to the discourse that it’s practically impossible to talk rationally about the causes of climate change, much less its effects. So the fact that California’s state water agency had to turn off its taps for 25 million residents last week, for example, is just some random event that happened, not the last link in a chain of events thatmay be due to declining Arctic sea ice and global climate change.

William F. Buckley founded the National Review with the theory that a place of literate conservatism could purge the American right of its lunatics. The answer to that hypothesis—glimpsed in 2008, when the magazine fired Buckley’s son—seems to be in, and it’s not affirmative.

Image of California’s drought-afflicted Folsom Lake via ewoerlan / Flickr