Tag Archives: global warming

The Remarkable Class of 2015 Must Save the Planet

It is a truth universally acknowledged that all commencement speeches say more or less the same thing.    All that really changes in the annual dusting off of “follow your heart,” “fix the world,” and “dare to face the great challenges” is the precise address of the heartfelt, world-fixing, great challenge that lies ahead.  The space race? Poverty? AIDS?

This year it was that ever-imminent existential threat to humanity, that undeniable theory that explains everything but predicts nothing: catastrophic anthropogenic global warming.

“We are now deep in the most serious environmental crisis in human history,” Bill Nye (the “Science Guy”) admonished Rutgers’ grads at the university’s 249th commencement on May 18. Comparing climate change to World War II, he urged the Scarlet Knights to take arms against the 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide invading our atmosphere. “You all can be the Next Great Generation,” Nye advised. “You can, dare I say it, Change the World.” In twenty-two minutes, he invoked that imperative six times.

“Don’t think that you can change the world by sending each other e-mail petitions,” Bill McKibben, founder of the activist environmental group 350.org, warned at Grinnell College in a speech about the urgency of climate activism. Real change evidently requires picketing and chanting. He recounted how Gus Speth, former chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, claimed his most important position was a cell he shared with McKibben after their arrests for illegally protesting the Keystone Pipeline.

NASA administrator Major General Charles F. Bolden Jr. joked at Rochester Institute of Technology that he’d seen from space a giant “help wanted” sign plastered on the feverish CO2-blanketed Earth. The planet needs entrepreneurial citizens who are “not afraid to change what they are doing from one day to the next or one year to the next,” he said.

Not to be outdone, Naomi Klein on June 6 sermonized on the magnitude of the task: “It is true that we have to do it all. That we have to change everything.” Riffing off her bestseller, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Klein advised College of the Atlantic grads to give up piecemeal lifestyle changes and instead create a “massive and organized global movement” for systemic revolution on “climate change, wealth concentration, and racialized violence.”

It’s understandable why college students should care about the climate. After all, climate change is set to slash coffee production, and it’s the real force behind the rape crisis on campus. Global warming entrenches oppression, and, per Klein herself, it perpetuates racism.  Just about the only thing climate change hasn’t been blamed for is the student debt debacle—though Robert Redford did list the two on par in his talk at Colby College: “You’re stepping into a world that’s, well, pretty rough.…You’ve got climate change, you’ve got debt, you’ve got wars, you’ve got political paralysis.”

President Obama added a few more faults to global warming’s record. Addressing Coast Guard Academy cadets in May, he apologized for the difficulties they would face in the line of duty: “I’m here today to say that climate change constitutes a serious threat to global security, an immediate risk to our national security.  And make no mistake, it will impact how our military defends our country.”

The gravity of such risks makes ignoring them a high crime. “Denying (climate change) or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security,” Obama warned. At Tufts, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright praised “scientists who believe that conservation is a national security imperative” and denounced those who thought it “a four-letter word.” Comparing the climate change “consensus” to that on the health risks of smoking, Nye at Rutgers was perhaps the most direct of all: “Hey deniers — cut it out.”

The promise of technology to improve society opened a schism among the speakers. “Here in 2015, I don’t think we can count on entrepreneurs to invent everything we need fast enough,” Nye mused, even as he asked Rutgers grads to invent better batteries to store solar and wind energy. “So-called techno-optimism is just another way of living in denial.” Albright said technology had enabled “groups who use religion as a license of murder, as if God’s commandment were ‘thou shalt kill.’” McKibben, on the other hand, praised the solar panel for making the climate crisis “no longer necessary.” Bolden gave Gettysburg College grads a “mandate” to lead us to Mars and “tackle” climate change, and asked RIT grads to invent a way to “cure the previously incurable” planet.

All agreed that inaction was not an option. “Others might prefer to opt out of addressing the big challenges of these times. You don’t have that luxury,” Bolden advised at RIT. Michelle Obama echoed at Oberlin, “No, you don’t get to be precious or cautious or cynical. No, not when the earth is warming and the oceans are rising.”

McKibben cast climate activism as a civic duty: “The answer (to global warming) has to be citizenship. Aggressive, engaged, and occasionally impolite citizenship.” This is a moment, he pleaded, “When we desperately need you as full-fledged citizens.” Like Klein, he sees the climate campaign as part of a systemic revolution. “It is a good idea to change your light bulb” and drive an electric car, he averred, but only a “fool” could imagine such personal decisions capable of solving climate change: “This is a structural and systemic problem which means that the answers are structural and systemic.”

Michelle Obama listed climate change among “the revolutions of your time,” an opportunity to “wake up and play your part in our great American story.” Albright congratulated Tufts students for their “protests and marches” on sexual assault, racism, and climate change, which had made the university a “light on the hill” and “shown yourselves to be active citizens.”

“Class of 2015, you have to vote!” Nye chided, noting that “Right now, it’s still too easy for any of us to dump our carbon waste in the world’s atmosphere.” Any who didn’t care to vote, he said, should “please just shut up, so the rest of us can get things done.”

Perhaps the real draw of activism, though, is it’s answering an internal longing for significance. Long-time activist Mindy Lubber rejoiced in the “kindred spirits” she found at Green Mountain College in Vermont, a place “that warms an environmentalist’s heart.” Poet Julia Alvarez urged Middlebury graduates to mimic an environmentalist arrested at a protest who told a reporter, “I’m here because I have a soul.” “May you have a soulful beautiful life,” was Alvarez’s parting advice.

Flattering the audience seldom goes amiss, but it might be worth noting that even skeptics of global warming and supporters of the Keystone Pipeline have souls.  And with an eighteen-year pause in global warming and our planet healthier than it’s been in centuries, this year’s grads might have been better served with some other chestnuts.  Don’t believe everything you are told.  And the grass isn’t necessarily greener on the other side of the sustainability fence.

Two Controversial Professors

The AAUP—the American Association of University Professors—held its annual Conference on the State of Higher Education at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. June 10-14.  A few subway stops away, the Heartland Institute held its tenth International Conference on Climate Change at the Washington Court Hotel, June 11-12.  I suspect that I am the only person to attend both.

Both events dealt with the issues of academic and intellectual freedom.  Both focused on current threats to such freedoms.  Both pictured a world in which politically-motivated foes of free expression are using their wealth and power to silence legitimate dissent.

But, of course, these events were polar opposites.  The AAUP was gearing up to pass a resolution to censure the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign for rescinding its offer of an academic appointment to Steven Salaita.  The Heartland Institute was championing the work of Dr. Willie Soon, the solar physicist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who came under attack by Greenpeace and the New York Times after he published an important article in Science Bulletin.

Both controversies have received ample coverage, though I think it is quite possible, even likely, that people who know a lot about one may not know a lot about the other.  A primer:

Steven Salaita. He was a tenured associate professor of English at Virginia Tech who in October 2013 received an offer for a tenured position in the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, contingent on the board of trustees’ approval.  On August 1, 2014, the university’s vice president of academic affairs and its chancellor wrote to Salaita informing him that they were not proceeding with the appointment.  Salaita appealed to the trustees who on September 10, 2014, voted 8 to 1 not to reconsider his appointment.  Salaita soon after filed a lawsuit which is on-going.

The reason that the university gave for withdrawing its offer of an academic appointment was that Salaita’s inflammatory public statements about Israel would hamper his ability to teach and the university’s ability to attract students, faculty and staff.  The president of the University of Illinois Robert Easter summarized this view when he asked the board not to approve Salaita’s appointment:

“Professor Salaita’s approach indicates that he would be incapable of fostering a classroom environment where conflicting opinions could be given equal consideration, regardless of the issue being discussed…I am also concerned that his irresponsible public statements would make it more difficult for the university … to attract the best and brightest students, faculty and staff.”

The decision created a furor and quickly drew the attention of the AAUP.

Wei-Hock “Willie” Soon. A plasma physicist, he has served as a non-tenured employee of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics since 1991, where he previously did his post-doctoral work.  In 2003 Soon published a paper in Climate Research in which he argued that the 20th century was not the warmest in the last millennium.  The paper occasioned much controversy, and in 2011 Greenpeace using documents obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests attacked Soon for receiving over $1 million in funding from petroleum and coal interests.

In January 2014, Soon was the co-author on another paper, “Why Models Run Hot: Results from an Irreducibly Simple Climate Model,” which takes exception to the “consensus” climate models that predict significant global warming because of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere.  In February, directly following the publication of this paper, the Guardian and The New York Times making use of material provided by Greenpeace and “an allied group,” Climate Investigations Center, ran attacks on Soon for supposedly failing to disclose his sources of funding and for “conflicts of interest.”

Wishing Settlers Get Lost

The speech that gave rise to the University of Illinois’ action against Salaita consisted of his numerous statements on Twitter in 2014 that were, as Inside Higher Education put it, “deeply critical of Israel” to the point of striking some “as crossing the line into uncivil behavior.”  Perhaps the most famous of these was Salaita’s comment on June 19, after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped (but before they were found murdered), “You may be too refined to say it, but I’m not:  I wish all the fucking West Bank settlers would go missing.”  Salaita’s rants have struck many readers as anti-Semitic, but he stoutly denies this. Salaita’s caustic and often extremely uncivil tone is not limited to his tweets.  Many of his reviews and his other academic writings are in a similar vein.

The scholarly paper that landed Soon on the front page of The New York Times and in many follow-up stories in the liberal media contains nothing rhetorical or demeaning.  It is a straightforward scientific argument. The abstract runs in part:

Between the pre-final and published drafts of the Fifth Assessment Report, IPCC cut its near-term warming projection substantially, substituting “expert assessment” for models’ near-term predictions. Yet its long-range predictions remain unaltered. The model indicates that IPCC’s reduction of the feedback sum from 1.9 to 1.5 W m−2 K−1 mandates a reduction from 3.2 to 2.2 K in its central climate-sensitivity estimate; that, since feedbacks are likely to be net-negative, a better estimate is 1.0 K; that there is no unrealized global warming in the pipeline; that global warming this century will be <1 K; and that combustion of all recoverable fossil fuels will cause <2.2 K global warming to equilibrium.

The text of the article itself continues in this vein.

One might think the effort to drum a senior physicist out of the academy through a campaign of public smears and innuendo would concern the AAUP at least as much as the decision by a university not to proceed with the appointment of an ardent polemicist. But that is not the case.

I was at the AAUP conference for two sessions devoted to the topic of academic freedom. Salaita was a major theme in one of the sessions—on “Social Media, Civility, and Free Expression on Campus”—and a secondary theme as the second session on “Versions of Academic Freedom.” Willie Soon was never mentioned, although at the end of the second session some audience members edged towards the topic.  A professor from Florida State University complained that the Koch Foundation is violating academic freedom by paying for some faculty positions in the economics department there.  And another member of the audience followed up by avowing that the Koch brothers are terrible people whose fossil-fuel riches are used in part to deny climate change!

‘Consensus’ Science

Climate Change conferees likewise had nothing to say about the travails of Steven Salaita, though here the parallel breaks down.  The Climate Change conference was not aimed at an all-embracing view of academic freedom.  It was focused on the specific contentions that a self-interested establishment is impeding the publication of accurate climate data, well-designed scientific research, and scrupulous economic analysis.  It was also focused on the ways in which reasoned debate and criticism of “consensus” science and regulation are being stymied.  Salaita was not relevant.

The Role of Civility

I have tried to strike a non-partisan tone in these descriptions but I don’t mean to imply that I am a neutral party.  I was invited to the AAUP event by my friend John K. Wilson, who has regularly asked me to AAUP events that I might enrich the conversation with some views that would probably otherwise go unvoiced.  This year my NAS colleague, Executive Director Ashley Thorne, also gave a talk in which she defended the ideal of “civility” as part of what we should expect in academic discourse.  Her fellow panelists and the audience were unpersuaded.

Civility to them is one of the masks that the powerful use to suppress free, creative, dissenting, and unorthodox ideas and speech.  For my part, I urged the idea that academic freedom is to be valued as the means by which the university encourages the pursuit of truth, and that the attempt to deploy the rhetoric of academic freedom as a cover for engaging in political advocacy is a misuse of the concept.  My fellow panelists and the audience also found little attraction in that approach. Pursuit of truth, it seems, is another mask that the powerful wear when they set out to suppress dissent.

At the Conference on Climate Change, the National Association of Scholars was the recipient of several enthusiastic endorsements from speakers who drew attention to our report, Sustainability:  Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism.  Our table full of handouts was emptied of everything we brought on the first morning.  And the Heartland Institute included a 12-page summary of our 260-page report in the bag of materials that all conferees received. Given that our report takes no stand at all on climate change,” this was a remarkably warm reception. All we did was call for universities to allow open debate that included skeptics of the climate “consensus.”

I find it hard not to be moved by the plight of Willie Soon and other scientists who have become, in effect, “enemies of the people,” for their determination to pursue research that runs against what the climate consensus establishment prefers. The canard that “97 percent” of climate scientists agree with the so-called consensus has been shown up as an artifact of shameless manipulation of the research record.  But no matter: it is repeated endlessly in an effort to make these non-conforming scientists look ignorant, silly, or corrupt.  They are, to the contrary, serious and seriously smart people who have also shown a certain measure of courage.

Science or Politics?

Whether their dissents are accurate will be determined in time to come.  If they are right, the climate consensus is a house of cards built more on political aspirations than on good science.  But, right or wrong, they deserved to be heard and do not deserve to be subject to the sort of ad hominin attack exemplified by what happened to Willie Soon.

So what are academic and intellectual freedom?  They aren’t quite the same thing.  Academic freedom is germane to the university where the disciplined pursuit of truth by rational inquiry and scrupulous examination of the evidence needs to prevail over all orthodoxies of opinion.  Academic freedom can only persist within a community that enforces on itself some degree of compunction about how things are said, including deference to the reality that no matter how strongly we believe in the validity of our own opinions, we may be mistaken and it behooves us to listen with respect to other views.  Intellectual freedom is broader than academic freedom.

It is germane to a free society where every individual ought to enjoy the right to make up his own mind about important questions and where manifestly false opinion or eccentric belief enjoys a wide zone of toleration.  We need not fall silent when confronted with views with which we disagree.  Neither academic freedom nor intellectual freedom entails indulging folly by saying nothing.  But we should never expect to throw someone in jail for an errant opinion or preempt their right to have their say.  If we choose to answer folly, we should do so with our own speech—which just may turn out to involve even greater folly.

The AAUP is celebrating the hundredth year of its founding declaration, its Statement of Principles, which remains one of the great documents in higher education.  Ironically, the AAUP has long since repudiated most of the Statement of Principles, which said all too much about the responsibilities of professors, the need for a scholarly spirit, temperate language, and staying within the guardrails of the professor’s actual expertise.  But no matter, the founding principles of the AAUP are still alive.  In D.C. last week, they were to be found just a few subway stops away.

What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

Cross-posted from National Association of Scholars.

Climategate, both 1 and 2, are textbook cases of gross
lapses in professional ethics and scientific malfeasance.  To understand
why, one must first understand what science is and how it is supposed to
operate. Science is the noble pursuit of knowledge through observation, testing
and experimentation.  Scientists attempt to explain, describe and/or
predict the implications of phenomena through the use of the scientific
method.

Continue reading What’s Going on Behind the Curtain? Climategate 2.0 and Scientific Integrity

BEST and Not Even Second Best on Global Warming

Crossposted at the National Association of Scholars.

Last year, Berkeley physicist Richard Muller quietly assembled a team of researchers for the purpose of creating a new and independent assessment of the evidence for global warming.  The group, which eventually called itself Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST), came to public notice in February 2011 in an article by Ian Sample in The Guardian.  My colleague at the National Association of Scholars, Ashley Thorne, interviewed Professor Muller in April.  Since then the world has been waiting.

Last week we got the results–or at least a preliminary version of them. BEST released four scientific papers, all of them currently under review for publication. Richard Muller summarized the results of all four in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, “The Case Against Global-Warming Skepticism.” The researchers found that:

about one-third of the world’s temperature stations have recorded cooling temperatures, and about two-thirds have recorded warming. The two-to-one ratio reflects global warming. The changes at the locations that showed warming were typically between 1-2ºC, much greater than the IPCC’s average of 0.64ºC.

But Muller is careful to add:

How much of the warming is due to humans and what will be the likely effects? We made no independent assessment of that.

In a separate summary the researchers wrote that the “average world land temperature” has increased “approximately 1º Celsius since the mid-1950s.”

Continue reading BEST and Not Even Second Best on Global Warming

Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate

I do not want us to shut down economic drive to support false science, and on the other hand, I do not want to leave behind a scorched earth.  …. Let’s get the science right!  A better debate and research is needed by honest and believable scientists who study climate professionally.

Richard Lindzen, Professor of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

global warming.jpg

Is the earth in a global warming phase?  If it is, how severe is this trend? Is the warming primarily a product of natural causes or do man-made factors play a dominant role?  If man-made factors are important, is the main culprit the carbon dioxide (CO2) produced from the burning of fossil fuels or are other factors more salient?  What is the evidence for and against the anthropogenic and CO2 theories of global warming? If we really are in a period of sustained global warming, will this trend prove a net benefit or a net loss to human welfare?  Who would benefit and who would be harmed by an increase in atmospheric CO2, the greater plant growth this facilitates, and a general increase in global temperatures? If the burning of fossil fuels is a major contributor to global warming, and if such warming harms many more people than it helps, is the radical curtailment of fossil-fuel dependence a politically and economically feasible response to the problem?  Is it feasible not only in the developed world but in developing regions like India, China, Indonesia, and Brazil?  If the radical curtailment of CO2 emissions cannot be obtained on a worldwide scale either for political or economic reasons, and if global warming proves to be the serious threat to human welfare that some contend, are there economically and scientifically feasible geo-engineering alternatives that could stop the warming or cool the planet down?  What might some of these geo-engineering alternatives be and how could they be implemented?

Continue reading Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate