Home Energy and Environment #VA Climate Forum: Science-Denier Stewart Showed Up and Lied…Unchallenged and Uncorrected

#VA Climate Forum: Science-Denier Stewart Showed Up and Lied…Unchallenged and Uncorrected


by A Siegel

Last evening’s Virginia Climate Crisis Forum (full event video), with several hundred attendees, featured Senate candidates Senator Tim Kaine (D) and his climate-science-denying opponent, Corey Stewart (R).  The several hundred (perhaps 400) attendees heard Kaine give a reasoned set of comments about climate science and policy issues. They also, unfortunately, suffered through deceitful commentary from fossil-foolish Stewart, who basked in the glory of his willingness to show up to speak to a hostile audience.

Stewart’s time on stage was filled with deception and deceit. One specific item demonstrates clearly how Corey uses very standard science denial tactics – take a fact and twist it to create an #AlternativeFacts distortion of reality – to arrive at a false conclusion and to deceive.

Upfront, since it is important to package deceit in a “truth sandwich,” the question of flooding and Sea-Level Rise (SLR) in the Hampton Roads region is both straightforward and complex.

“A new NASA-led study shows Hampton Roads has one of the highest rates of relative sea level rise—the combined effects of sinking land and rising seas—along the U.S. East Coast, about an inch (23 millimeters) every five years”

Within “sinking land and rising seas” (and not discussing items like greater moisture in atmosphere and a greater share of rain in severe precipitation events), the situation is roughly 90-95% human-driven, with a relatively small “natural” element.

  • Human driven climate change related (roughly 70-80% of total)
    • Warming of oceans ==> global sea level rise
    • Melting of land glaciers ==> global sea level rise
    • Changes to ocean circulation (Gulf Stream) ==> local sea level rise
  • Other human action related (perhaps 15-20% of total)
  • Natural (perhaps 5-10% of total)
    • Over thousands of years, there are land shifts going on due to melting of glaciers from the last ice age. (This is “GIA“.)
Reasons for increased sea-water flooding in Hampton Roads area

In short, there is a double whammy of rising seas and subsiding land that is at play in the Hampton Roads area. And, as with so many complex issues, a complex interplay of “man” and “nature”, an interplay of human-driven climate change and other causes/elements.  Not simple, not single issue, but understandable, explainable, and even addressable.

Spewing falsehoods from the podium …

With that quick summary of the reality in the situation in mind, how did Stewart deceive? Here’s what he spewed out last night:

“…with regard to sea-level rise, the reality is is that between 1950 and 1970, Virginia began a rapid increase, due to improvements in pump technologies, a rapid reduction,  a rapid withdrawal in the amount of groundwater that was being taken out of the Virginia coastal aquifer. And as a result of that as the water went down and the ground began to compress, yes it is sinking compared to the level of the sea but it’s not so much the level of the sea increase as much as it is a matter of the actual ground subsiding. and so this this this is a scientific fact.”

No, Corey, it is NOT “a scientific fact” that the challenges with sea-level rise are solely or even mainly due to ground water withdrawals.

Stewart — as science deniers are wont to do — twisted facts (that groundwater withdrawals contribute to land subsidence) into a seemingly plausible alternative explanation that is simply not truthful (this is not the primary driver nor is it “a scientific fact”).

Without question, Stewart was not truthful and stated outright falsehoods in this discussion of sea-level rise. This is just a taste of the deceitful and dishonest commentary he gave last night.

Debating and discussing with those who deceive and are willing to distort reality, in front of audiences, is almost always a losing battle. Truth-tellers are at a significant disadvantage. One of the tools for dealing with that deceit is to challenge it, to call it out, immediately. This can be tough, as who can be expert in every facet of an issue and be able to speak with authority as to specific (potentially quite obscure) facts at a moment’s notice?

Stewart’s deceptive comments on SLR are a great example. I am familiar with SLR and the region, having sat through more than a few briefings and knowing some top experts. I am not an expert but far from ignorant on the issue. Thus, I knew (KNEW) that what Stewart said was false but it required web searching to get to the details provided above.  Chasing lies with truth is hard …

Many in the audience started to voice their disgust for Stewart’s deceit (lies) at “this is a scientific fact.”  Stewart chimed in with “I accepted your invitation and showed up; the least you can do is show me some respect for showing up.” The moderator stepped in with a call for civility call and then allowed Stewart’s deceitful and (often flagrantly) false comments to go unchallenged and uncorrected.  Even though this was a science-aligned audience, allowing deceit to go unchallenged is dangerous and wrong.

“…evidence, cognitive science, etc. indicates that allowing someone to repeatedly spew out lies and misinformation simply helps perpetuate those lies and misinformation. That’s just the way the human brain works, which is why you just shouldn’t do it.”

And, as to “civility” owed to those who engage in deceit and lies about climate change, the question I wanted to (but wasn’t called on to) ask last night was:

“How far should civility go is a reasonable question in public debate. Should we be civil to the person who has a documented record of criminal activities and lying? The person who says Sandy Hook parents are liars? The person who looks us in the eye and lies and deceives about issues of life and death?
When it comes to the Norfolk area, the science is clear: sea level is rising due to warming oceans and melting glaciers. And, the Gulf Stream is changing due to human-driven climate change. And, less significantly, there is land subsidence. There is land subsidence going on for 1000s of years since the last ice age. And, land subsidence due to groundwater withdrawals. The drawing of water from aquifers is not the sole nor close to the leading driver of increased flooding in Norfolk’s streets. These are scientific facts.
I ask you, what civility is owed to someone who looks us in the eye and lies about issues of life and death?”

In any event,

  • Climate change should be part of every political campaign, in fact should be top-tier in our political discussion. Kudos to FACS for setting this up and thanks to the 400 people who took time out of their busy schedules to attend.
  • While science deniers and purveyors of falsehoods should not be given a seat at the table, if they ARE given that seat, they should be held to a standard of behavior. Organizers and moderators owe honest engagement a serious effort to expose deceit and lies. They should hold speakers accountable for deceitful engagement. Simply assuming your audience is bright enough not to be swayed or influenced by deceit is not sufficient.
  • As I sat there, with my teenage daughter getting far angrier than I and getting ready to scream outrage, a simple question came to mind: where were the real activists? For example, why weren’t there 50 people standing, silently, with their backs turned to climate-denier Stewart as he spouted falsehoods to make clear (with ‘civility’) their disgust for his climate science denial?

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