The 13th Annual Energy & Environment Conference, held in Phoenix Feb. 1-3, isn’t the sort of place where global warming “deniers” are exactly welcome. In fact, by my observations, the skeptical caucus at the event consisted entirely of: James M. Taylor, a senior fellow for environment policy at The Heartland InstituteKeith Lockitch, a fellow of the Ayn Rand Center for Individual Rights; and me. All the other attendees spent their time discussing how the U.S. government — or, even better, a “global government” — needs to compel us all to live “greener” lives through schemes like cap-and-trade. Environmentalists are a bossy and power-hungry lot.

Lockitch gave a presentation arguing free-market economies are better positioned than socialist societies to deal with any severe weather events caused by climate change — and was called a “denier” and compared to a shill for “Big Tobacco” for his trouble. Taylor got off a little easier, receiving only scoffs and curious-to-annoyed glances for asking inconvenient questions.

But that’s not to say we were the only people to question the assumptions of the attendees who believe the “science is settled” on global warming. Perhaps the greatest challenge came from one of their own — renowned climate scientist William Sprigg — who urged his colleagues to stop treating the ClimateGate scandal as irrelevant noise promoted by “deniers.” In an amazingly telling moment, green energy consultant Andy Van Horn, who introduced Sprigg, admitted he’d never heard of ClimateGate until Sprigg suggested it a few weeks ago as a topic worthy of discussion. (Who are the real “deniers” again?)

Sprigg, adjunct research professor in the Institute of Atmospheric Physics at the University of Arizona, believes the planet is on a potentially dangerous warming path and atmospheric carbon dioxide is to blame. He also led the technical review of the first global warming report issued by the United NationsIntergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1990. Clealry, Sprigg is no “outlier” or “rebel,” but one of the most respected and “mainstream” scientists in the field of climatology. So it came to a bit of shock to the audience when Sprigg expressed concerns about how contrarian scientists are treated with contempt by many of his colleagues.

It’s not right, he said, that the game is rigged to keep skeptics out of peer-reviewed journals. It violates the scientific method to refuse to release raw data so others can test your theories. And it’s a big mistake to keep defending the likes of infamous “Hide the Decline” emailers Phil Jones and Michael Mann. The very credibility of the entire discipline of climate science is at stake, Sprigg said, and it’s time to stop ignoring this fact. As one might imagine, this all did not go over very well in the audience — who were undoubtedly expecting to hear a lecture ratifying their view that ClimateGate was no big deal when they saw Sprigg’s topic on the agenda.

I recorded Sprigg’s remarks on video for Heartland, and (from what I could tell) mine was the only camera in the room. The footage below features Taylor — who is also managing editor of Environment & Climate News — asking Sprigg what he thinks the future holds for the wholly corrupted IPCC. Sprigg nodded as Taylor referred to “mounting scandals” at the IPCC and then responded:

“There will be some reform. I think there are going to be big changes in the peer review process for the IPCC. There will be — there are — calls for the head of [IPCC Chairman Raj] Pachauri. Some of my colleagues have written letters saying that he needs to be taken off the job.”

In his 24-minute lecture, Sprigg also:

  • warned of a growing perception that “the IPCC is biased, conflicted, [and] pushing political agendas.”;
  • called for a new climate research agency supported not entirely by the government, but in conjunction with the private sector;
  • and declared: “We need to stick to our scientific principles,” and “improve our peer preview process, and expand the stakeholders’ role to keep us all honest.”

It was a remarkable presentation, one that The Heartland Institute has summarized with commentary in the video below. One gets the feeling Sprigg has put himself on the path to pariah status among the true-believers of global warming, But this honest scientist deserves praise from all sides of the debate for demanding politics, group-think and a desire to control our lives through government mandates not replace scientific rigor.