PoliGraph: Gruenhagen climate claim doesn’t hold up


During a state House debate on a jobs and energy bill this week, Democrats offered an amendment that would put the Legislature on record saying that climate change is real and that humans are causing it.

Late in the debate, House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, quizzed a number of Republican representatives on their views on climate change.

Among them was Rep. Glen Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, who has said in the past that he’s skeptical climate change is real. Thissen asked him if he thinks climate change is caused by human activity.

“I believe there are eminently qualified scientists who would disagree [that climate change is caused by human activity], and I agree with those scientists,” Gruenhagen said.

Gruenhagen has a right to his opinion, but his comments – and comments made by other Legislators during the debate – suggest the scientific community is divided on the topic.

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That’s not true.

The Evidence

Gruenhagen clarified his comments in an email, writing that, “as a lay person I have become more and more convinced that science is not based on consensus and that theories need to be continually vetted and critiqued with the latest scientific info and discoveries.”

He pointed to several groups and articles to support his claim, including the International Climate Science Coalition and the Climate Science Coalition of America. Both groups have ties to other climate skeptic groups like the Heartland Institute, a think-tank that has received money from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.

He also pointed to a petition of more than 30,000 scientists who believe climate change isn’t real. But the petition has raised questions because it is old and it does not list the specialties or affiliations of the signatories. And of the signatories from Minnesota, none is a prominent climate scientist.

But the real problem with Gruenhagen’s comments is that there is strong consensus within the scientific community that studies changes in the earth’s climate.

A 2010 study shows that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and is very likely caused by human activity. A study published a year earlier among a wider array of scientists showed 82 percent agree that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

Moreover, the science is clear that climate change is happening.

Since 1998, the rate of warming has slowed. Possible explanations published by leading climate scientists in peer-reviewed journals include increased volcanic activity or variability in temperature oscillations in the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.

But that doesn’t change the fact that we’ve had some of the hottest years on record in the last decade.

In fact, the latest numbers from the National Climatic Data Center out this week show that the first quarter of this year is the warmest on record. According to the same data, 2014 was the warmest year to date – and that’s absent El Nino, which affected temperatures in 1998.

And in Minnesota, the scientific evidence is clear: Warming is changing our lives, businesses, landscapes, and environment.

The Verdict

Gruenhagen is entitled to his opinion. And PoliGraph isn’t saying that there aren’t any scientists – trained climatologists or otherwise – who disagree that human activity is leading to climate change.

But his statement casts doubt on the fact there is strong consensus among scientists that climate change is real and that it’s caused by human activity.

There is strong consensus, particularly among climate scientists, that Gruenhagen is mistaken.