Wash. Post's Solomon uncritically quoted Thompson “mocking global warming”

In a July 27 Washington Post article on presumptive Republican presidential candidate Fred Thompson displaying his “conservative credentials” through his online writings, staff writer John Solomon wrote, “Thompson seems to have taken particular pleasure in mocking global warming” in commentaries he posted on National Review Online (NRO). Solomon quoted Thompson's March 22 NRO entry, which said, “It seems scientists have noticed recently that quite a few planets in our solar system seem to be heating up a bit, including Pluto,” and continued, “This has led some people, not necessarily scientists, to wonder if Mars and Jupiter, non signatories to the Kyoto Treaty, are actually inhabited by alien SUV-driving industrialists who run their air-conditioning at 60 degrees and refuse to recycle.” But missing from Solomon's report was any indication that Thompson's claim -- that warming on other planets is evidence that warming on Earth is the result of natural circumstances, and not largely caused by humans -- is one, according to a scientist interviewed in National Geographic about the theory, that is “completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion.”

As Solomon noted, Thompson's NRO commentaries are based on his ABC Radio Networks commentaries, which, as Media Matters has documented, contain misinformation about global warming and other topics. Thompson's March 22 NRO commentary is identical to his April 13 ABC Radio Networks commentary, in which he mocked those who “think that our planet is suffering from a fever.” In that commentary, Thompson said that “NASA says the Martian South Pole's ice cap has been shrinking for three summers in a row,” and suggested that the sun is responsible for higher global temperatures on Earth, Mars, and other planets:

Silly, I know, but I wonder what all those planets, dwarf planets and moons in our SOLAR system have in common. Hmmmm. SOLAR system. Hmmmm. Solar? I wonder. Nah, I guess we shouldn't even be talking about this. The science is absolutely decided. There's a consensus.

As Media Matters noted, Thompson's claims about “Martian warming” echoed what National Geographic described as “one scientist's controversial theory” stipulating that “global warming on Earth is being caused by changes in the sun.” National Geographic reported that “Habibullo Abdussamatov, head of the St. Petersburg's Pulkovo Astronomical Observatory in Russia” asserted that “2005 data from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor and Odyssey” show “that the carbon dioxide 'ice caps' near Mars's south pole had been diminishing for three summers in a row,” and theorized that because warming is occurring naturally on Mars, warming on Earth might also be attributable to natural causes. According to the National Geographic article, “Abdussamatov believes that changes in the sun's heat output can account for almost all the climate changes we see on both planets.”

National Geographic went on to report that Abdussamatov's theory has “not been well received by other climate scientists,” and quoted “Colin Wilson, a planetary physicist at England's Oxford University” saying that Abdussamatov's “views are completely at odds with the mainstream scientific opinion.” According to Wilson, they “contradict the extensive evidence presented in the most recent IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] report." The article added that "[t]he conventional theory is that climate changes on Mars can be explained primarily by small alterations in the planet's orbit and tilt, not by changes in the sun," and that “most scientists think it is pure coincidence that both planets are between ice ages right now.”

Additionally, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on April 5 that an article published that day in Nature by Lori Fenton, a planetary geologist with the SETI Institute's Carl Sagan Center, found that increasing Martian temperatures may be due to the darkening of the planet's surface since the 1970s. According to the Chronicle:

On Earth, the recent decades of increasing global temperatures have been caused by increased emissions of industrial heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide and methane, while on Mars, it's the darkening of many surface regions that allows the sun to warm the planet, Fenton says.

“Albedo” is the technical term for a planet's ability to reflect sunlight, and on Mars its over-all albedo has decreased since it was first measured between 1976 to 1978 by infrared detectors aboard the two orbiting Viking spacecraft whose landers had descended to the surface in a search for signs of Martian life.

More than 20 years later, infrared heat detectors aboard the orbiting Mars Global Surveyor measured the planet's albedo and found that it had darkened significantly.

The cause, according to Fenton, is a combination of high Martian winds that periodically scour bright sand and dust from many rocky surface regions, fierce Martian “dust devils,” similar to those that whip desert sands on Earth, and truly major dust storms like the one in 2001 that began inside the crater called Hellas Basin and then literally wrapped itself around the planet before subsiding.

Moreover, the BBC reported on July 10 that a study conducted by Britain's Rutherford-Appleton Laboratory and Switzerland's World Radiation Center concluded “that changes in the Sun's output cannot be causing modern-day climate change” because “for the last 20 years, the Sun's output has declined.” According to the BBC:

The Sun varies on a cycle of about 11 years between periods of high and low activity.

But that cycle comes on top of longer-term trends; and most of the 20th Century saw a slight but steady increase in solar output.

However, in about 1985, that trend appears to have reversed, with solar output declining.

Yet this period has seen temperatures rise as fast as -- if not faster than -- any time during the previous 100 years.

“This paper reinforces the fact that the warming in the last 20 to 40 years can't have been caused by solar activity,” said Dr Piers Forster from Leeds University, a leading contributor to this year's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assessment of climate science.

Solomon's July 27 article followed a July 26 article in which Solomon, as Media Matters for America documented, wrote that Thompson “gained fame in the early 1970s as the 30-something lawyer who helped Republican Sen. Howard Baker of Tennessee pursue Richard M. Nixon's misdeeds during the Watergate hearings,” but did not mention Thompson's reported role as a Nixon mole in the Watergate probe.