Given the dogmatic fervor of global warming proponents, and their intolerance of skeptics who dare to question the latest commandment (see: cap-and-trade) in the green scripture, it is perhaps no coincidence that the environmentalist movement sometimes seems to have more in common with theology than with science. If that is true, then the logical word to describe those scientists who have challenged environmental hysteria and extremism is “heretics.” In a series of profiles, Front Page’s Rich Trzupek will spotlight prominent scientists whose “heretical” research, publications, and opinions have helped add a much-needed dose of balance and fact to environmental debates that for too long have been driven by fear mongering and alarmism. In a field that demands political conformity, they defiantly remain the heretics. – The Editors
In green circles, Steve Milloy is a pariah. But for many scientists who worry that political agendas are corrupting independent research and undermining the scientific method, Milloy is a hero. Using his website, junkscience.com, to deliver his message, Milloy has been a key soldier in the front lines of the battle to maintain the kind of healthy skepticism that is a critical component of scientific endeavor.
It’s not overstating the case to say that Milloy, along with Climate Audit’s Steve McIntyre and Joe Bast’s Heartland Institute, laid the groundwork for an increasingly skeptical public to ask the tough, uncomfortable questions that are making global warming zealots squirm.
There was a time, Milloy recalls, when he was almost a voice in the wilderness, after he first started to speak out on the issue in 1996. “We’ve been slogging away at this all through the decade,” he said. “The first part of the decade was really tough. Today, there are lots of people questioning the science behind global warming, but back in 2000 it was very lonely out there.”
One can measure Milloy’s importance by the vehemence with which his critics denounce his work. The Guardian’s George Monbiot has described Milloy as “the main entrepôt for almost every kind of climate-change denial that has found its way into the mainstream press.” To that, Milloy replies: “Why, thank you, George. We work very hard to deliver the whole counter case.”
As a regular guest on Fox News and the author of several popular books on the environment and science, including his latest work, Green Hell: How Environmentalists Plan to Control Your Life and What You Can Do to Stop Them, Milloy is one of the most prominent figures offering a dissenting voice when alarmists of all sorts raise a hue and cry.
While he is best known for climate change skepticism, the “Junkman” takes on the questionable science behind popular hysteria wherever he finds it, from “dangerous” consumer products to the swine flu. A common thread runs through all his work: Milloy strives to be a calming, rational influence, patiently and clearly explaining scientific principles to show why some risks are overstated by the media and political figures.
Mention the word “dioxin” to the average person and it will call to mind what is popularly believed to be one of the most powerful toxins on earth. But it hardly rates a shrug in Milloy’s mind. He believes that Environmental Protection Agency’s dioxin standards are ridiculously low and went on to prove the point in one his earlier and most famous moments of, as he puts it, “debunking the junk.”
In 1999 Milloy had a sample of Ben & Jerry’s “World’s Best Vanilla” ice cream analyzed for dioxin. The results showed that the ice cream had over 2,000 times the amount of dioxin that EPA would later say was “the safe level” in its 2003 dioxin report, proving Milloy’s point that dioxin is everywhere in our life, from both man-made and natural sources. The dioxin scare was whipped up by junk science.
The World Health Organization rolled back its ban on using DDT in 2006, a move that will save millions in Africa from dying of malaria. There is little doubt that Junk Science played a role in achieving that result. “100 things you should know about DDT,” authored by Milloy and J. Gordon Edwards, is an invaluable compendium of facts about one of the world’s most useful and needlessly-maligned chemicals. This compellation of data and research makes the convincing argument that DDT presents no threat to human health and the environment; that using DDT to control malaria in the developing world is essential to public health there; and that the reasons DDT was banned in the United States were based on politics and personal profit, not science.
Milloy’s risk evaluation experience gave rise to Junk Science. He was employed as a lobbyist during George H.W. Bush’s term in office, trying to convince the President to sign an executive order that would bring some reason and structure to the EPA’s haphazard risk assessment process. That didn’t happen, primarily, Milloy believes, because doing so would have left EPA bureaucrats with much less to do. “Agencies like the EPA are happy to meet with you and to listen to you,” he recalled. “But, when it comes to doing something, if they don’t like what you say, they just ignore you.”
A likable, well-spoken man with a gift for breaking down complex concepts, one would think that Milloy would become a resource for many news networks. But with the notable exception of Fox, none of the other major outlets call on him any longer, not even to provide an alternative opinion. But then, his non-Fox exposure was minimal, even before global warming took center stage and left him out in the cold among the other networks. “I was on ABC once, with Peter Jennings,” Milloy said, pausing to add with a laugh: “No. Wait. It was with [outspoken libertarian] John Stossel, so I don’t think that counts. And then I used to be on CNBC from time to time, until the CEO of GE took me off.”
One might not know it from the mainstream media, but Milloy’s skepticism about the environmental movement has been repeatedly validated. When a whistleblower released e-mail and data files from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU) in November 2009, even some scientists who line up squarely in Al Gore’s camp were shocked by contents. The files revealed that, even at one of the world’s leading centers for climate research, global warming research is not quite as tidy a package of consensus as many alarmists claimed. The scandal, inevitably dubbed “Climategate,” proved to be a vindication for Milloy, demonstrating that many of the things he said were happening among the alarmist community – from data alteration, to “gatekeeping” at scientific journals that rejected inconvenient findings, to the manipulation of the mainstream media – were in fact going on. “It’s amazing,” Milloy said. “I engage in a lot of correspondence with other skeptics and we’ve never had any discussions that even come close to what is in the CRU files. We talk about what the data is telling us, not how we can manipulate the results.”
While Climategate and Copenhagen are important milestones in the fight to take back science, for Milloy they do not represent the tipping point. He believes that we reached that point a few years ago, when more and more of the public began to take notice of what was going on. When you examine the global warming debate, Milloy believes that even the casual observer realizes that the issue is not about science, but about control. “This is a tribal issue,” Milloy said. “The people on the left who advocate this stuff see the environment as a way to advance their political agenda.”
The overall impression that one takes away from a conversation with the Junkman is that he both enjoys his chosen mission and that he receives a good deal of personal satisfaction every time he convinces another reader to question conventional wisdom. He’s been fighting for rational analysis and scientific integrity over the course of two decades and he’s confident that the future will see more victories. “On my tombstone, it’ll say: he was right,” Milloy concluded. “And I was.”