GEORGETOWN, Delaware - One of the nation's more controversial climate-change skeptics dismissed warnings about sea-level rise and global warming as "scare tactics" and "sick" science in a talk here.
Willie Soon, a researcher at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and Professor David Legates of the University of Delaware, a former climatologist for the state, bluntly rejected leading climate change claims during the Monday event organized by two nonprofit groups that promote personal and economic freedoms, the Positive Growth Alliance of Millsboro, Del. and the Caesar Rodney Institute of Dover, Del.
"They're a very sick group," Soon said. "They're not talking about science at all. It is all agenda-driven, science results."
The comments came during a session that one organizer later said should be a call to oppose efforts to base land-use and other policies on forecasts of significant, long-term sea-level rise.
Director Richard Collins of the Positive Growth Alliance said the program, which drew about 250 people, was planned to counteract "outrageous" claims about global warming and its consequences.
"You're going to find out later that there is deliberate deception going on," Collins said during his introduction of the evening's speakers.
Collins also is a member of Delaware's Sea Level Rise Advisory Committee, a group scheduled to release a plan this summer for adapting to climate change in coming decades.
The group, formed by the state Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control, based its efforts on forecasts of possible sea-level increases of 1.6 to 5 feet in the next century. It has recommended dozens of policies for consideration.
Legates, asked to step down as climatologist in 2011, said state policymakers never asked his opinion on climate change or sea-level rise while he had the position.
He thinks Delaware should focus on responses to severe, natural coastal erosion rather than strict sea-level rise.
"There is no clear signal of sea-level rise in Delaware," Legates said.
Some environmental groups have pointed to Soon's and Legates' ties to organizations financed by fossil fuel and deeply conservative interests, including the George C. Marshall Institute in suburban Washington and the Chicago-based Heartland Institute.
Geologic factors, mainly subsidence in coastal areas, account for the apparent and future long-term sea-level rise, Legates said.
The rise "essentially disappears" once subsidence is accounted for, he said, in contrast to warnings that sea-level increases could reach 6 feet by 2100.
"There's lots of variability," said Legates, who noted that the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change had steadily reduced its sea-level rise estimates in the past decades.
Legates pointed to North Carolina's recent efforts to develop land-use policies based on accelerating sea-level rise and claimed that developers had used skewed data that eventually undermined the effort.
Secretary Collin P. O'Mara of Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control said Thursday that scientific agreement on the process and prospect of global warming, climate change and its link to human activities was "overwhelming."
"We are past this being a theoretical problem," O'Mara said. "We're experiencing exactly what the climate models predict: warming global temperatures, more extreme weather events, sea-level rise."
"Rather than rehashing settled science, we need to focus our efforts on how to reduce emissions most cost effectively, improve the resiliency of vulnerable communities and strengthen our economy in the process," he said.
Maureen Leary, a Georgetown resident who attended the session, said she has doubts about the threat despite U.N. studies warning that some amount of damaging warming and sea-level rise already appears unavoidable.
"I'm not sure that I believe the predictions," Leary said.
By Jeff Montgomery, The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal