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

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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?

These are just some of the questions that need to be asked and debated in the ongoing controversy about global climate change.  Alas, they are rarely asked today on college campuses due to what can only be described as the stifling dominance of a smug orthodoxy that is so cocksure of itself — and of the general ignorance and malevolence of its critics — that genuine debate and interchange between divergent viewpoints rarely takes place.  So dominant is this orthodoxy that many college students today have never heard the case made by a responsible scientist against what we might call the dominant Gore-Hansen Model of anthropogenic global warming — the model so effectively propagated by former Vice-President Al Gore in his 2006 movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and by physicist and global warming activist James Hansen, the head of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.  While many critics of the Gore-Hansen Model would love to debate its defenders on college campuses, they are almost never asked, and the science on the issue is simply considered settled and incontrovertible. Critics of the reigning orthodoxy are arrogantly dismissed as crackpots, tools of the oil industry, or the climatological equivalent of Holocaust deniers.

Universities, the social philosopher Karl Mannheim used to say, should be places where people coming from diverse backgrounds and viewpoints share their competing perspectives and arrive at some kind of richer, more balanced, and more systematically vetted truth than would be possible in more parochial and narrowly-focused communities.  Mannheim specifically had in mind the clash between the differing social and political ideologies of his day, but much of what he had to say applies with equal force to inquiry in almost any academic field.  We get closer to the truth when differing theories, viewpoints, and ideas, together with their supporting evidence, are brought together in academic communities that ardently seek to distinguish truth from falsehood, facts from fiction, genuine insight from hype.  As the philosopher of science Karl Popper used to say, in any scientific or scholarly enterprise claims to truth must be subjected to ongoing confirmation or falsification by confrontation with the best available evidence, and conclusions must always be held tentatively, never finally or dogmatically. It is here that the dogmatism and unwillingness to confront informed dissent among our legions of Gore-Hansen "true believers" is a shameful travesty of the scientific and scholarly enterprise.       

Political Correctness Spreads to the Natural Sciences

global-warming-2.jpgAnyone with the least acquaintance with campus environmentalism today probably knows the Gore-Hansen litany by heart. Endlessly repeated without challenge or dissent either on our university campuses or in the mainstream media, the litany goes something like this: Science has definitively settled the issue — our planet is rapidly heating up and unless drastic changes are made very soon global temperatures will continue to rise at an alarming rate. This climate change is due primarily to man-made factors, especially to the increased CO2 emissions that derive from the burning of fossil fuels like coal and gas.  Left unchecked the warming will reach an out-of-control tipping point where greenhouse effects produce feedback loops that will lead to wild and unprecedented swings in weather patterns, the melting of the polar ice caps, the extinction of the polar bears, the rise in global ocean levels to the point where all the earth's coastal cities will be underwater, the expansion of the world's deserts, and the global spread of malaria and other tropical diseases.  In time, global surface temperatures will become so hot that the oceans themselves will begin to boil and evaporate and the earth will become a Venus-like cauldron incapable of sustaining human life — or any life.

What readers are perhaps not so informed about is that every one of these claims is highly problematic and hotly contested by intelligent and informed scientists — scientists who, as the Climategate scandal showed, the Gore-Hansen crowd has often tried to silence or discredit.  Here, for instance, is just a small sampling of what knowledgeable critics have argued against the Gore-Hansen thesis.  These arguments of critics are easily found on Internet websites but they are ones that most of our young people on college campuses have never heard expressed at the one place where such views should be most vigorously debated and discussed:

The atmospheric CO2 concentration was many times higher than today in almost all earlier geologic periods when no runaway greenhouse effect occurred.  For example, during the Jurassic period the CO2 concentration was at least 10 times higher than today, and during the Cambrian period it was at least 10-15 times higher than today.  Interestingly, during the late Ordovician period the earth experienced an extremely cold glacial period despite the fact that the CO2 concentration was at least 10 times higher than today.  In fact, most of the greenhouse effect that keeps the Earth warm is regulated by water vapor, not by CO2. … For human health CO2 is as essential to life as oxygen and water.  Carbon dioxide is the major food for plants, which in turn are food for animals, and of course for humans too.  Indeed, an increase in atmospheric CO2 concentration would lead to accelerated plant growth and, therefore, to increased food production.  … Thus an increase of atmospheric CO2 concentration may … benefit humanity.  (Nicola Scafetta, physicist, Duke University)

There have been many warmings and coolings in the past when the CO2 levels did not change.  A well-known example is the Medieval Warming, about the year 1000, when the Vikings settled Greenland (when it was green) and wine was exported from England.  This warm period was followed by the Little Ice Age when the Thames would frequently freeze over during the winter.  There is no evidence for significant increase in CO2 in the Medieval Warm Period, nor for a significant decrease at the time of the subsequent Little Ice Age.  Documented famines with millions of deaths occurred during the Little Ice Age because the cold weather killed the crops.  Since the end of the Little Ice Age, the earth has been warming in fits and starts, and humanity's quality of life has improved accordingly. … The existence of the Little Ice Age and the Medieval Warm Period were an embarrassment to the global-warming establishment because they showed that the current warming is almost indistinguishable from previous warmings and coolings that had nothing to do with burning fossil fuel.  (William Happer, professor of physics, Princeton University)

Temperatures during most of the last 10,000 years were somewhat higher than at present until about 3,000 years ago.  For the past 700 years, the Earth has been coming out of the Little Ice Age and generally warming with alternating warm/cool periods.  Glaciers advanced from about 1890-1920, retreated rapidly from about 1925-1945, re-advanced from about 1945-1977, and have been retreating since the present warm cycle began in 1977.  … Because the warming periods in these oscillations occurred well before atmospheric CO2 began to rise rapidly in the 1940s, they could not have been caused by increased atmospheric CO2, and global warming since 1900 could well have happened without any effect of CO2.  (Don Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology, Western Washington University)

That portion of the scientific community that attributes climate warming to CO2 relies on the hypothesis that increasing CO2, which is in fact a minor greenhouse gas, triggers a much larger water vapor response to warm the atmosphere.  This mechanism has never been tested scientifically beyond the mathematical models that predict extensive warming, and are confounded by the complexity of cloud formation — which has a cooling effect.  … We know that [the sun] was responsible for climate change in the past, and so is clearly going to play the lead role in present and future climate change.  (Ian Clark, hydro-geologist and professor of earth sciences, University of Ottawa)

One can have surface warming for a variety of reasons.  So the key layer of air to look at is the one-to-five-mile up layer of air [i.e., the lower troposphere].  Now, this is the layer of air sensitive to the human-made warming effect, and the layer that must warm at least as much as the surface according to the computer simulations [made by the defenders of the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis].  Yet, the projected warming from human activities can't be found in the low troposphere in any great degree.  … Most of the increase in the air's concentration of greenhouse gases from human activities — over 80 percent — occurred after the 1940s.  That means that the strong early 20th century warming must be largely, if not entirely, natural [since little CO2 was thrown into the atmosphere at that time].  … The coincident changes in the sun's changing energy output and temperature records on earth tend to argue that the sun has driven a major portion of the 20th century temperature change.  (Sallie Baliunas, astronomer, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics)

I predict that in the coming years, there will be a growing realization among the global warming research community that most of the climate change we have observed is natural, and that mankind's role is relatively minor. … Our best satellite observations … suggest [that the climate system is relatively insensitive to CO2 concentrations].  If the climate system is insensitive [to CO2] this means that the extra carbon dioxide we pump into the atmosphere is not enough to cause the observed warming over the last 100 years — some natural mechanism must be involved.  …  My favorite candidate: the Pacific Decadal Oscillation [i.e., the observed cyclical shift in thermal currents in the Pacific Ocean].  (Roy Spencer, atmospheric scientist, University of Alabama at Huntsville)

The greenhouse effect is real.  However, the effect is minute, insignificant, and very difficult to detect.  … It's not automatically true that warming is bad, I happen to believe that warming is good, and so do many economists.  … The current warming cycle is not unusual. … The Earth consistently goes through a climate cycle marked by alternating warmer and cooler periods over 1,500 years (plus or minus 500 years). (Fred Singer, professor emeritus of environmental sciences, the University of Virginia)

Our team … has discovered that the relatively few cosmic rays that reach sea-level play a big part in the everyday weather.  They help to make low-level clouds, which largely regulate the Earth's surface temperature.  During the 20th century the influx of cosmic rays decreased and the resulting reduction of cloudiness allowed the world to warm up.  … Most of the warming during the 20th century can be explained by a reduction in low cloud cover. (Henrik Svensmark, director, Center for Sun-Climate Research, Danish National Space Center)

The Non-Scientific Appeal of Global Warming

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With the science of climate change so uncertain, why, one must ask, are people like Al Gore, James Hansen, and (according to some surveys) the majority of scientists working in climate-related fields, so convinced of the truth of  the anthropogenic global warming thesis?  What explains their fixation on CO2, a minor greenhouse gas that is necessary for plant growth and comprises less than 4 parts in 10,000 of the earth's atmosphere?  The answer here is probably to be found in what an older generation of social scientists called "the sociology of knowledge." 

We like to think of scientists and scholars as honest truth brokers only minimally influenced by factors other than their overriding concern to assess the truth.  And in many cases this is clearly so.  But scientists and scholars, even some of the most gifted, are human beings and under the right conditions are subject to fads and foibles no different than anyone else.  Experience shows just how often the case is that scientists and others with specialty knowledge exaggerate the importance of their own field and their own projects and often distort the situation that concerns them most. Public health scientists have often exaggerated the importance of public health threats; military and defense analysts routinely exaggerate the threat of hostile foreign forces; homeland security experts exaggerate the threat of domestic terrorism.  The importance and prestige of those in any given field is usually enhanced by hyping developments in which their expertise would be called upon and their knowledge needed to prevent grave social harms. 

MIT's Richard Lindzen, a long-time skeptic of the Gore-Hansen Model of global warming, has explained how the serious challenge to American scientific and military dominance posed by the Soviet launching of the Sputnik satellite in the 1950s sent a clear message to the American scientific community that has stuck with it ever since.  After Sputnik, says Lindzen, it became clear that the way to gain status, prestige, and, above all, government funding for one's scientific research, was through the medium of public fear and crisis creation.  A similar dynamic was at work earlier, he says, in the creation of the Manhattan Project, which was originally established as a counterweight to what was believed to be an advanced Nazi atom bomb project.  The threats and crises for which the government will shell out big money may be entirely real, of course, and not in need of any exaggeration or hype.  But they may also be bogus or grossly inflated, a condition that Lindzen thinks accurately describes current global-warming concerns of the Gore-Hansen variety.

The New York Times science editor John Tierney offers a similar take on the global warming issue, stressing both the self-interest of scientists involved in crisis mongering and the more general, herd-like conformism that afflicts scientists along with everyone else.  "I've long thought that the biggest danger in climate research," Tierney writes, "is the temptation for scientists to lose their skepticism and go along with the 'consensus' about global warming.  That's partly because it's easy for everyone to get caught up in 'informational cascades,' and partly because there are so many psychic and financial rewards for working on a problem that seems to be a crisis.  We all like to think that our work is vitally useful in solving a major social problem — and the more major the problem seems, the more money society is liable to spend on it. … Given the huge stakes in this debate — the trillions of dollars that might be spent to reduce greenhouse emissions — it's important to keep taking skeptical looks at the data.  How open do you think climate scientists are to skeptical views, and to letting outsiders double-check their data and calculations?" (John Tierney).

The last sentence was an oblique reference to attempts by many climate scientists to suppress skeptical voices, which was so clearly in evidence in the scandalous Climategate emails.  A commentator on Tierney's blog adds the following valuable insight:  "To survive, most workers in scientific fields must follow the grant money.  If all the grants this year are for work on the crisis du jour, then that's the work which gets done.  The annoying fact is that somebody pays for science.  The 'somebody' may be an Evil Oil Company, the Department of Defense, the National Science Foundation, or anyone else with bags of money.  We shouldn't be too amazed when we find that the 'somebody' tends to get the science he or it wants to see."

A Substitute Religion

That money, power, vanity, and prestige may influence a scientific debate — or non-debate in the case of global warming — should not be very surprising.  As I have said, scientists and scholars are human beings and prone to all the foibles and distortions of the human condition.  This was the great insight of the mid-20th century "sociologists of knowledge," and before them of most Calvinists and other discerning Christians (including most notably James Madison in Federalist No. 10). 

But I think there is an additional element here that is less talked about but probably as important as the kinds of issues Lindzen and Tierney bring up.  This is the attraction of global-warming orthodoxy not as a falsifiable scientific theory or source of research funding but as a substitute religion that engages all the energies and capacities to enhance meaning in life that an earlier generation of secular scholars and scientists often found in various brands of socialism or psychoanalysis.  With the general decline and discrediting of both Marxism and Freudianism over the past thirty years radical environmentalism in various forms has taken their place in the lives of many secular intellectuals as a source of existential meaning and purpose.  The insular, defensive, cult-like behavior displayed by so many global warming advocates when they are confronted with the concerns of informed skeptics reinforces such an interpretation and explains their refusal to debate dissenters.  True believers have no converse with heretics. And such cult-like behavior reinforces one final suspicion: like socialism and Freudianism, global-warming alarmism may prove in time to be a God that failed. 

Russell K. Nieli

Russell K. Nieli

Russell K. Nieli is a Senior Preceptor in Princeton University's James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions, and a Lecturer in Princeton's Politics Department. He is the author of "Wounds That Will Not Heal: Affirmative Action and Our Continuing Racial Divide."

30 thoughts on “Global Warming: The Campus Non-Debate

  1. The Vikings that discovered Greenland called it Greenland to make people move there. It was not any greener than Iceland at that time.

  2. Nice to know there are still plenty of intelligent, thoughtful people brave enough to to send up the intellectual flak barrages needed to jam up any chance the politicians will be motivated to put together a plan of action; which we must always consider rash, until everyone is convinced otherwise.
    It helps to be able to channel Richard Feynman from the Beyond, of course.
    This site hosted by the Manhattan Institute.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manhattan_Institute_for_Policy_Research

  3. Global warming is real. Those who believe global warming is real don’t do so because it’s some kind of neo-religious experience, or because they’re trying to cash in on some fad. Quit being a corporate tool and wake up. How much more evidence do you need?

  4. The models that “Freed Singer” cites as being in agreement with each other have one simple problem: They are NOT in agreement with reality. For the last 15 years, the models predicted a steady rise in global average temperatures. There has been no such rise. Temperatures have in fact plateaued during the last 15 years, despite increases in CO2 emissions and other greenhouse gas emissions. The increase in CO2 emissions from new Chinese coal-fired power plants and new autos on the road in that country alone are a major portion of the increase. Yet despite the material increase in greenhouse gas levels, temperatures have held steady, contrary to the theories that drive the many models relied on by the UN IPCC.
    In most scientific fields, when a theory makes a prediction, and the prediction does not come to pass, the theory is held to have been disproven, and a new theory is sought. For some strange reason, the utter breakdown of the predictive ability of the models has not led to ANY apparent revision of the theories OR the models.
    Instead, what we get is utter silence by the news media on the fact that the temperature chart line has flattened out. When it was rising, from about 1975 to 1998, the graph was constantly being published as evidence of a crisis. But now that it shows there is no crisis, the information is being withheld, and instead the news media carries statements about how hot an individual year was–but not the fact that it was within the normal year to year variabilities of climate and not evidence of a real change in global temperatures.
    The models used in 1997 to justify the Kyoto Protocol were admittedly not able to include a simulation of the role of the important greenhouse gas, water vapor, nor of its relationship to cloud formation and the cooling effect of clouds and their reflection of sunlight. I have heard of NO advances toward inclusion of water vapor and cloud formation into any of those models. Saying that the models accurately model the real atmosphere, when they omit the most significant terrestrial factor in the atmosphere, is simple dishonesty. Now that over a decade of reality has shown the lack of predictive power in the models, scientists need to demonstrate more realistic models that can accurately correspond to reality. Let someone come forwward with a model that precisely duplicates the actual history of global temperatures since 1900, given the initial conditions of that date, and without artificial manipulation, and then it would be time to consider whether we are willing to bet civilization on the accuracy of a prediction frtom that model going forward a nother century. But the fact is that, at present, not a single model can accurately explain the actual course of temperatures during the 20th Century, let alone have any credibility in predicting temperatures for the 21st Century.
    Another reason for skepticism about dire predictions about global ecological catastrophe is the history of hype connected to the last two such crises: acid rain, and the “ozone hole”. The actual NAPAP study issued in 1990, after 10 years of study, found that fears about acid rain were in fact greatly exaggerated. However, by that time so much political energy was invested in the bogus spectre of acid rain that Congress enacted regulation of sulfur in coal that required more costly scrubbing technology.
    The “ozone hole” is a phenomenon that continues to exist, despite replacement of chlorine-based refrigerants and propellants. Ozone is made in the stratosphere when UV light breaks normal oxygen–O2–into free radicals that combine to form O3, ozone. Ozone is a highly reactive chemical substance that breaks down into O2 under normal circumstances, even in the absence of chlorine. During the Antarctic Winter, wheh there is no sunlight to make NEW O3, the natural rate of O3 decay takes over, and O3 totals decrease. The “hole” is a decrease of about 10% below normal concentrations of O3 that can be measured at the end of Winter, but then, when the sun rises in the Spring, the sun starts to make new O3 again, and lo and behold, the O3 levels rise back to normal! The removal of chlorine from the atmosphere decreases a mechanism for reduction of O3, but it has NO effect on the rate of production of NEW O3, which is governed by sunlight. This is a natural cycle, that every Srping and Summer restores O3 levels to their normal level once sunlight returns to the Antarctic. So the Montreal Protocol was basically unnecessary.
    But here is the real kicker: The replacement of chlorine-based refrigerants has introduced the use of new chemicals in that role, chemicals which are 1,000 times as strong in their function as grteenhouse gases as CO2! Indeed, the UN IPCC report in 1997 announced that the ADDED warming just from these Montreal Protocol mandated refrigerants ADDED to global warming a factor of 2 to 3 times as much warming as the entire Kyoto Protocol was intended to remove. In other words, if we just got RID of the Montreal Protocol, and the CFC substitutes it mandated, we would not NEED the Kyoto Protocol.
    Why is it that the citizens of the world should trust the sanctimonious “Smarter than Thou” people who brought us such an absurd result, and actually ADDED to global warming, by their own admission, to advise us on how to respond to the alleged global warming crisis? Both acid rain and the ozone hole are bogus atmospheric crises that are simply unquestioned now, even though the scientific evidence shows they were so minor as to not justify any intervention. Why should we trust our civilization to the same group of policy advisors who overhyped the previous crises, and who continue to this day to claim that they were real?
    Since there are no more questions about global warming, we should immediately STOP funding research on that question. Who needs more research when, according to Al Gore, we already know all the answers?

  5. University students who are with it enough to know who the vice-president is also know that there are a large number of detractors when it comes to global warming.
    Furthermore, AGW theory proponents do *not* ignore arguments like those you have put forth, but it has quite soundly challenged them. The arguments you have pasted here appear simple and obvious in a way that appeals to an educated layperson, however, they are missing details about variables or other components that more thorough study would consider. You can see for yourself by searching around the “skeptical science” website.

  6. Your assertion that the issue of Anthropogenic Global Warming is not debated on campus is not, in my experience, correct. Over the past decade, I have had, on campus,conversations with Business majors, Humanities students, free-energy believers, itinerant Christian preachers, undeclared-major freshmen, Economics professors, Philosophy graduate students, Medical Doctors, food service workers, and nighttime drug-store checkers. All of these undoubtedly fine people have declared their skepticism to me regarding “global warming.” The one place it seems that I have not had a debate regarding the reality and attribution of anthropogenic global warming (at least for the past ten years) is in the Earth Sciences Department. The only explanation I can advance for this discrepancy is that the Earth Sciences people have been convinced by the quality and quantity of evidence, whereas the others are influenced by mass media’s and credulous “skeptics'” often stunningly inaccurate portrayals of the research and the debate which has gone on among the experts, which, as another commenter astutely explains, is over the consequences and extent.

  7. This is an interesting article. I am pleased to inform you that there is more than one Fred Singer in the world, and remarkably, even more than one in Virginia with an ecological background. One difference between me and the other Fred Singer is that I am an ecologist and he is not. Another difference is that I am at Radford University, and he is at UVA. However, neither of us is an expert on global warming.
    This “debate” is very similar to the “evolution/creation debate” in that there really is none. The vast majority of ecologists and environmental scientists recognize that the evidence in support of anthropogenic global warming is very strong, and also recognize that the argument is over the extent and the timing. As I said, I am no expert, but neither is my namesake who is cited in most “anti-warming” articles, simply because he is one of few scientists who is willing to say in public that global warming is a fallacy. If you look at other essays of the type like Minding The Campus about global-warming, you will note that they tend to cite the same tired cast of characters, presumably because there are so few to cite. Similarly, if you look at the “evolution/creation debate”, you find the same pattern whereby the same three or four “creation scientists” are cited, simply because that is approximately how many scientists with advanced degrees don’t accept evolution as the unifying theory of biology.
    Now, of course, “An inconvenient truth” also stretches reality beyond the science, but not nearly so much as your author, who creates a straw man by claiming that ecologists are predicting that ultimately the Earth will develop a temperature profile similar to that of Venus. All of the models that I’ve seen project global warming over the next century of between about 1.5 and 6 deg C, hardly Venusian in their impact, but definitely of major concern to most scientists, and ultimately to most citizens.
    So I’m happy to go on record saying that I am impressed that all of the independently-developed climate models have approximately the same predictions, but as I said, probably more than 99 percent of ecologists and environmental scientists agree with that statement.
    I will also point out that the author uses language in an almost profane way to make his arguments “stressing both the self-interest of scientists involved in crisis mongering and the more general, herd-like conformism”
    “That money, power, vanity, and prestige may influence a scientific debate — or non-debate in the case of global warming”
    “The insular, defensive, cult-like behavior displayed by so many global warming advocates”
    “And such cult-like behavior reinforces one final suspicion: like socialism and Freudianism, global-warming alarmism may prove in time to be a God that failed.”
    These are strong words that really misportray the way people do science. Scientists are people, and go into the profession for a variety of reasons. For most of us, it is a fascinating way to earn a living, mostly doing what we love to do. In my case, I teach undergraduate students and do a bit of research. Now I’m writing an ecology textbook. I can assure you that I, and the vast majority of my colleagues, are not doing it for money and/or power. If we wanted that we would have gone into politics or business.
    We’re also not unconsciously looking for a religion, nor do we generally exhibit herd-like behavior. Anybody who claims that has never been to a faculty meeting.
    Thanks for the interesting, though very flawed, article.

  8. Thanks for calling my attention to the excellent article by Russell Nieli. The article really hits the nail on the head. I never thought I would see the day when ‘scientists’ would blindly accept dogma and abandon the scientific method in exchange of money and power, but that is exactly what is happenng right now. ‘Climatology’ has become a religion that suppresses free discussion and penalizes scientists who do not accept the dogma. As Climategate showed, a few climatologists have highjacked control of scientific funding and editiorial control of scientific journals. It probably won’t last forever (especially as the climate continues to cool), but right now, climatology can’t really be considered science.

  9. I studied meteorology and climatology at a major public west coast university, and I am amazed at how impossible it is to have a reasonable, reasoned conversation with my non-scientific friends about this topic. It truly has become a religion.

  10. It is true that the planet was warmer in past geologic periods. But the death and subsequent burial of trees, helped soak up a lot of carbon which kept the greenhouse effect from running away. (We even call one of those epochs the “Carboniferous Period”–all that carbon got buried in the ground until we dug it up as coal.)
    In fact, until the 19th century, atmospheric CO2 concentration had been falling very gradually.
    Now we have been releasing all the carbon that had been stored in those past epochs, by burning coal and oil, and by burning jungles in South America. It took hundreds of millions of years to compensate for the warming of the Earth by taking CO2 out of circulation; but Man is putting it back in just a couple of centuries.
    One more point. The earth was indeed warmer in several past epochs. And that meant the melting of ice at the polls, raising global sea levels.
    This is what the Earth looked like in the Eocene period:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Paleogene-EoceneGlobal.jpg
    As you can see, most of Long Island and Florida and Central America, and parts of Europe were underwater. So were north Africa and the Middle East.
    If that happened again in the next 100 years, that would mean wrenching changes for the world economy and world society.

  11. That Marx and Freud are done for is an idol of Conservative dreaming. The capacity of Freudian and Marxist analysis for mutation is but an indicator of their profound life and energy in Western thought.
    If one must have a religion, please “god”,let it be secular through and through.
    Tonight the Republican candidates debate: they are expected to deal with the matter of evolution and global warming. No one is in doubt as to the positions they will take. To our everlasting national disgrace they will cast their doubts on evolution, and they will join the company of the doubters about warming. All of them in deepest reactionary, historical lock-step. They have learned nothing.

  12. Excellent summary and compelling demand for an open dialogue about the factual data in this key area. The time for stubborn denial by the Gore-Hansen side of all the observations noted here that question the assumed key role of CO2 as the major factor in climate change is way past.

  13. AGW. The greatest hoax in the scientific community since Piltdown Man. And most of the perpetrators are hacks who couldn’t hold a real science job in industry.

  14. AGW. The greatest hoax in the scientific community since Piltdown Man. And most of the perpetrators are hacks who couldn’t hold a real science job in industry.

  15. My favorite scene in the movie “Thank You for Smoking” is when the protagonist is having a little mock debate with his son about whether smoking is harmful, and he casts doubt on one of the arguments advanced by his son that smoking causes lung cancer. Then he says, something like, I don’t have to convince you that I am correct, I just have to raise enough doubt in the mind of the observer of the debate so that the observer walks away saying I don’t really know, I would need more information.
    The questions the author of the linked piece raises in the beginning of the article do just that. They raise sufficient doubt in the mind the intelligent listener/reader.
    The problem is we only have one planet and we are witnessing massive destruction caused by global climate change. Most climate scientists who have studied this phenomenon agree that human-made global climate change is occurring and that it is caused by human-made greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, if you exclude climatologists in the pay of vested interest industry groups and right-wing US think tanks, then the percentage of climatologists who have studies this and don’t reach that conclusion is rather small, less than 5%. The burden of proof therefore shifts to those who advocate a do-nothing approach to this problem. It is disingenuous to approach this like a scientist does when s/he is trying to isolate a variable in an experimental setting. There is a correlation between lung cancer and smoking but how can I be sure that the latter causes the former? Isn’t it possible that there is something in the genetic makeup of a person that predisposes him to crave cigarettes and that also predisposes him to lung cancer? Causation is a difficult philosophical issue and almost impossible to prove scientifically. But most climatologists who have studied global climate change have concluded that it is real and caused by human-produced greenhouse gas emissions, so given that we have only one planet and that the phenomenon is occurring faster than even the more dire predictions of the mid-1990s, and given the very high stakes for humanity and the planet, we have to do something and do it fast.

  16. “That money, power, vanity, and prestige may influence a scientific debate — or non-debate in the case of global warming — should not be very surprising.”
    Excellent point, and echoes this from Eisenhower’s speech on Federal influence – which for some strange reason the universal focus is on the Military/Industrial complex with the convenient forgetting of this:
    “The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.
    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientifictechnological elite.”

  17. Thanks for mentioning Calvinists.
    Hopefully, some day the world will appreciate what they wrought in terms of the Protestant work ethic, the Constitution, the form of government we have and the other values we take for granted (like contract law) but will sorely miss when totally destroyed by the application of today’s really bad theology.

  18. I was highly pleased to see that my main questions to those who perp the human-based climate change meme almost exactly match those at the beginning of this essay. As one of those PhD types -but one schooled in physics and EE not climatology, it was nice to see that my logic closely matches those who actually study this stuff. Good show, and keep it up. Math and physics have a way of outmatching the limited intellects of those who are doomed to use politics for a lifeline.

  19. Thank you for this article, Mr. Nieli. The most important victim of the AGW hypothesis (ne, hysteria) is the credibility of science.
    If we live in a world in which God is no longer a universally-recognized constant, and politicians, Governors and other nominal leaders are seen as simply corrupt and duplicitous, science (the objective search for truth) might be the only glue that holds society of any sort together. Yet if science itself is perverted to the machinations of political agendas, then we really are in the end of an Age of Reason, and (dare I say) are doomed to the anarchy and despair of another Dark Age.

  20. That is, I think, a good synopsis of the fundamental issue. The underlying FACTS are that ALL global warming alarmism is based AT BEST on the output of patchy, inconsistent, unverifiable models fed selective input “data” which is often flawed and always incomplete. NO existing model has been shown to be reliably predictable. And they are only MODELS! Yet the true believers are comfortable with the notion of crippling western economies in the name of their “settled science,” while other major and ever growing contributors of real pollution, which does NOT include CO2 or H2O vapor, refuse to play.
    The nascent field of climate science would benefit enormously from extended discusion, debate and technical development; but one side only is not interested. They have found their cause celebre, their altar of worship. They are convinced, or willing to pretend so. They intend to stifle dissention and forge ahead with massive government expenditures. That “side” is composed of leftist big-government advocates, greedy potential beneficiaries like Gore, green activists, ignorant but sympathetic media and their like-minded audiences, grant recipients of the correct persuasion, PC academics, and hoardes of the earnest and naive – a rather daunting collection.
    “Shut up, we’re right, you’re stupid and destructive, discussion closed.” is extremely UN-scientific no matter how loudly said, or by how many, or how often. We’ve seen these single-minded, screaming mobs before; and their behavior alone should be sufficient reason for pause and sober reflection.

  21. This is a very useful piece. I would go further and state that university leaders (chairs of departments, deans of faculties and university presidents) have an obligation to enforce, to the extent possible within their spheres of influence, a high standard of debate among their faculty, staff and students on all issues but particularly on such a critically important topics such as climate change. Academic freedom and tenure prevents direct policing of professors, etc., of course, but university administrators must strongly promote debates that are devoid of personal attacks and logical fallacies (guilt by association, ad hominem, motive intent logical fallacies being examples).
    By the same token, I think that university leaders should have no reluctance to clearly condemn attacks from either side in the debate that do not follow ethical and rigourous scientific standards. After all, the objective should be to encourage open and honest debate no matter whether one’s point of view is currently fashionable or not.
    As a point of discussion, how do you think the administration of McMaster University should have responded when I complained about the following attack against me and the group I lead, the International Climate Science Coalition (Note that the letter was written over a signature block that included the writers’ McMaster U affiliation)?
    http://www.thespec.com/opinion/editorial/article/558313–claims-co2-is-harmless-are-nonsense-by-climate-change-deniers
    The attacks points of the letter against us are essentially all wrong, of course but, before going into that, I thought it interesting to see how people think the university should deal with this sort of thing when a complaint is laid against one of their faculty members (note that I am a McMaster U alumni (Engineering Masters 1977) but have never met or spoken with the professor who wrote this letter to the offending letter to the editor.
    Sincerely,
    Tom Harris
    Executive Director
    International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC)
    Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
    http://www.climatescienceinternational.org

  22. A sincere part of my cheerfully agnostic soul devoutly wishes that Dr. Richard Feynman were able to return from the dead to take part in this debate.
    Feynman’s intolerance for pseudo-science was legendary and he would, without a doubt, be appalled by the dreck and nonsense that is being slung about.
    Scientists do not destroy or “lose” inconvenient data. Scientists do not “believe” anything in a religious sense. They test, they experiment, they measure, qualify and quantify.
    If it’s not reproducible by another researcher given the same data, same tools and same conditions, it’s not science.
    To call the “science” of global warming settled is laughable in the face of it.
    I am sure Feynman would have some very pointed observations and extremely caustic remarks about the subject — and regarding the charlatans getting rich on the fears and insecurities of the stupid and gullible.

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