CLIMATE scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the US have distanced themselves from the views of a colleague who helped shape Family First senator Steve Fielding's sceptical stance on global warming.
Senator Fielding appears likely to vote against the Government's emissions trading legislation in tomorrow's crucial vote after a recent trip to the US as a climate change sceptic.
During his trip Senator Fielding heard several speakers question whether human-related emissions were leading to dangerous climate change. It is believed that a talk by MIT atmospheric physicist Dick Lindzen convinced him that the case supporting climate change was being exaggerated.
Ron Prinn, a professor of atmospheric science at MIT and former department head, told BusinessDay that, while the university did not have a collective position, Professor Lindzen was a ''lone wolf'' in the climate-change debate.
''The concept of academic freedom is important to protect, but it is safe to say Dick Lindzen's view is definitely in the minority,'' he said. ''I am surprised [Senator Fielding] did not make the time to talk to any other people. The vast majority of scientists, not just at MIT but throughout the US, believe climate change is happening.''
Professor Prinn, a well-known climate scientist, most recently helped create the first scientifically valid, real-time carbon counter in New York City. It details the amount of greenhouse gases trapped in the atmosphere, correct to about plus or minus 0.3 per cent.
He said he felt compelled to speak out given the importance of Senator Fielding's vote if the Government was to pass its emissions trading legislation. ''We wouldn't normally make these kinds of comments but this is such a serious issue and too important to let rest,'' he said.
Professor Prinn said he had not always been ''a believer'' about climate change but had been convinced by the mounting peer-reviewed literature.
In June, the Government's former climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, said he had spoken to Professor Lindzen in compiling his review but had discounted his opinion that the global-warming effect of carbon dioxide was overestimated.
''I would have been delighted if there were 10 or 20 or, better still, 100 Richard Lindzens around the world but unfortunately he's a one-off,'' Professor Garnaut said. ''It would be imprudent beyond the normal limits of irrationality to grab one dissenting view among the serious climate scientists and say, 'I am going to believe that' and not to believe the views of all of Australia's credentialled climate scientists.''