We’ve covered astronauts before, but the case of Walter Cunningham is arguably even sadder than that of Edgar Mitchell. Cunningham is currently giving talks about climate change for the Heartland Institute, and is apparently rather popular amongst the denialist crowd. Yes, 97% of climate scientists agree that the Earth is warming as a result of human action, but they’ve got an astronaut! Who claims that the scientists, all 97% of them, are simply confusing correlation and causation when they claim that carbon emissions cause global warming. Hadn’t thought of that, had they?
How does Cunningham get around the fact that everyone who, you know, actually have expertise in the issues are unimpressed by his observations? Well, as a denialist there is an obvious tactic: He just denies it: “I think only a few climate scientists have bought into this nonsense,” says Cunningham, despite the pretty easily demonstrable falsity of that claim. There is a reason why CPAC, for instance, had to use an astronaut rather than a scientist to deliver that message.
He was, in fact, not the only messenger at the 2013 CPAC. There was also Thomas Wysmuller, who has a degree in meteorology, and who claimed that icy winter temperatures in Moscow and Siberia are evidence the Earth simply isn’t warming. And Harold Doiron, a former rocket scientist who didn’t understand what the fuss is about (he admitted to having “only been a serious student of global warming for maybe two years,” though the “serious” part is contestable): “If sea level’s rising, it’s not a global problem,” said Doiron says. “It’s not happening in the Rocky Mountains.” Which is … true. Besides, it would not be in the United States’ interests to take action unilaterally when China is refusing to get on board, which they aren’t.
Diagnosis: Sad. Cunningham is a serious lunatic apparently determined to ruin his own legacy with nonsense. That his name carries some authority on the issue of climate change is testament to the lack of critical thinking skills among his audience, but he does, admittedly, have some influence.