T Nation

Intimidation of Global Warming Skeptics


#1

Nice article from MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science Richard Lindzen. This whole argument should be more scientific and less political - but that's hard to do when people want the law to enforce their prescribed position.

http://www.opinionjournal.com/extra/?id=110008220

Climate of Fear
Global-warming alarmists intimidate dissenting scientists into silence.

BY RICHARD LINDZEN
Wednesday, April 12, 2006 12:01 a.m. EDT

There have been repeated claims that this past year's hurricane activity was another sign of human-induced climate change. Everything from the heat wave in Paris to heavy snows in Buffalo has been blamed on people burning gasoline to fuel their cars, and coal and natural gas to heat, cool and electrify their homes. Yet how can a barely discernible, one-degree increase in the recorded global mean temperature since the late 19th century possibly gain public acceptance as the source of recent weather catastrophes? And how can it translate into unlikely claims about future catastrophes?

The answer has much to do with misunderstanding the science of climate, plus a willingness to debase climate science into a triangle of alarmism. Ambiguous scientific statements about climate are hyped by those with a vested interest in alarm, thus raising the political stakes for policy makers who provide funds for more science research to feed more alarm to increase the political stakes. After all, who puts money into science--whether for AIDS, or space, or climate--where there is nothing really alarming? Indeed, the success of climate alarmism can be counted in the increased federal spending on climate research from a few hundred million dollars pre-1990 to $1.7 billion today. It can also be seen in heightened spending on solar, wind, hydrogen, ethanol and clean coal technologies, as well as on other energy-investment decisions.

But there is a more sinister side to this feeding frenzy. Scientists who dissent from the alarmism have seen their grant funds disappear, their work derided, and themselves libeled as industry stooges, scientific hacks or worse. Consequently, lies about climate change gain credence even when they fly in the face of the science that supposedly is their basis.

To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.

So how is it that we don't have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It's my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear. An example: Earlier this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton issued letters to paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and some of his co-authors seeking the details behind a taxpayer-funded analysis that claimed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the last millennium. Mr. Barton's concern was based on the fact that the IPCC had singled out Mr. Mann's work as a means to encourage policy makers to take action. And they did so before his work could be replicated and tested--a task made difficult because Mr. Mann, a key IPCC author, had refused to release the details for analysis. The scientific community's defense of Mr. Mann was, nonetheless, immediate and harsh. The president of the National Academy of Sciences--as well as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union--formally protested, saying that Rep. Barton's singling out of a scientist's work smacked of intimidation.

All of which starkly contrasts to the silence of the scientific community when anti-alarmists were in the crosshairs of then-Sen. Al Gore. In 1992, he ran two congressional hearings during which he tried to bully dissenting scientists, including myself, into changing our views and supporting his climate alarmism. Nor did the scientific community complain when Mr. Gore, as vice president, tried to enlist Ted Koppel in a witch hunt to discredit anti-alarmist scientists--a request that Mr. Koppel deemed publicly inappropriate. And they were mum when subsequent articles and books by Ross Gelbspan libelously labeled scientists who differed with Mr. Gore as stooges of the fossil-fuel industry.

Sadly, this is only the tip of a non-melting iceberg. In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.'s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected Italian professors Alfonso Sutera and Antonio Speranza disappeared from the debate in 1991, apparently losing climate-research funding for raising questions.

And then there are the peculiar standards in place in scientific journals for articles submitted by those who raise questions about accepted climate wisdom. At Science and Nature, such papers are commonly refused without review as being without interest. However, even when such papers are published, standards shift. When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an "Iris Effect," wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as "discredited." Indeed, there is a strange reluctance to actually find out how climate really behaves. In 2003, when the draft of the U.S. National Climate Plan urged a high priority for improving our knowledge of climate sensitivity, the National Research Council instead urged support to look at the impacts of the warming--not whether it would actually happen.

Alarm rather than genuine scientific curiosity, it appears, is essential to maintaining funding. And only the most senior scientists today can stand up against this alarmist gale, and defy the iron triangle of climate scientists, advocates and policymakers.

M. Lindzen is Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.


#2

Ahahahahahaha! Bwahahahahahahahah! Aaaahhahahahhaahaha! Hack. Cough. That's a good on BB, almost keeled over here.


#3

Yes vroom, you're right -- using the law to enforce your position is the best way to depoliticize a discussion, because you can just imprison those who act in ways you have not approved.


#4

The politics have trumped the science.

We will never know the truth about this issue in my lifetime.


#5

BB,

I couldn't agree more. First off, I'll admit it, I watch public TV. I was addicted to 'Nova' as a kid and I still am, but the latest episode "Dimming the Sun" (tonight at 8) is pissing me off. I expected a nice even-hand (or at least skirting political) discussion about albedo, water vapor, etc. But they posted the producers commentary on the site which they rarely do. His commentary veered right into the 'global warming' toilet. After reading it, I don't think I'll be watching this one.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/sun/

The Producer's Story:
A Taxonomy of Skepticism
by David Sington

Like most films that we at DOX Productions make for NOVA, "Dimming the Sun" is a coproduction between a U.K. broadcaster and WGBH, Boston. So we are well used to creating two slightly different versions, one for the British audience and one for the American. Often the difference is simply one of language, those little Britishisms and Americanisms that cause so much innocent amusement (you say "tomato", we say "genetically modified organism"). But "Dimming the Sun" posed an interesting and unusual challenge: how to deal with the fact that British and American viewers are, so to speak, in a different place when it comes to global warming.

In general, Americans seem rather more skeptical about the idea that human activity is changing the climate than we British are. This impression, which led us to adopt a subtly different approach in the two versions, got me thinking about the whole question of why so many people still reject an idea that must be one of the most intensively studied and widely accepted in modern science, and why Americans seem more resistant to it than Europeans are.

An average view

Climate change skepticism, it seems to me, has a number of different sources. Firstly, there are what one might call arguments from common sense. It seems obvious that if meteorologists have trouble forecasting the weather three weeks from now, how on Earth can they claim to predict it three decades hence?

The answer to this, of course, is that scientists are forecasting not weather but average weather (i.e., climate). It is much easier to predict averages than individual values. The casino owners have no more knowledge than the gambler where the ball will fall on any particular turn of the wheel. But the owners know the averages are in their favor and can predict with mathematical precision the monthly take from each roulette table.

In fact, only three factors determine the planet's energy balance: the sun's output, the Earth's reflectivity, or albedo, and the thermal properties of the atmosphere, which are affected by the level of certain trace gases like carbon dioxide and water vapor. Reduced to its essentials, the greenhouse effect is a problem in 19th-century classical physics, and the basic theory was worked out with pencil and paper in the 1890s. To say that increasing CO2 levels leads to more heat trapped in the atmosphere is really no more scientifically controversial than saying you'll feel warmer if you put on a sweater.

The difficulty arises when you try to work out what this extra heat energy will do. Will it lead to increased rainfall, or more cloud, or higher winds? It will raise temperatures, but by how much? This is where the complex computer models and the (legitimate) scientific arguments come in-accompanied by the occasional science filmmaker!

Force of nature

A second kind of skepticism arises, I believe, from a deep-seated psychological attitude towards the natural world. For most of human history, our ancestors knew themselves to be highly vulnerable to natural disasters and setbacks?floods, famines, plagues of locusts, and the like. The sense that Nature is big and powerful, and that we are puny by comparison, is rooted deep in the human psyche. So it is genuinely difficult for most people to believe that something they do as individuals-driving their SUV or turning up the air con-could possibly be having an effect on something as vast as the world's climate.

Yet this attitude, that humanity is dwarfed by its environment, is several thousand years out of date. Ever since the development of agriculture, we have been progressively adapting the global environment to our own ends, to the point now where it is estimated that human beings co-opt between 20 and 40 percent of the entire planet's net primary productivity.

For example, according to some estimates, industry today fixes as much nitrogen as the planet's bacteria. We now dominate the nitrogen cycle, a fundamental process vital to life. Even basic geological processes, such as the transport of sediments from the continents to the ocean floor, are now effectively under human control. Humanity itself is now a force of Nature, and a very powerful one. We need to shift our mindset to accommodate this profound fact.

The American way

There is a third reason why people reject the idea of man-made climate change. It is my observation that on the whole people tend to believe what is convenient to them. Faced with a choice between an awkward fact and a comforting fiction, most people will take the fiction any day. And global warming is certainly inconvenient. Just when we have finally freed ourselves from the tedium of tilling the earth and gotten nice and comfortable with a big TV, central heating, cheap flights to exotic destinations, and an armor-plated all-terrain vehicle for nipping down to the mall, along come some bloody scientists to tell us that we can't go on as we are and as we like doing.

I have a sneaking sympathy for those conservatives who seem to regard the greenhouse effect as an unwarranted interference with the workings of the free-market economy. But as a bit of a political conservative myself, I have always thought that the guiding spirit of conservatism was the determination to see the world as it really is, to cast away the rose-tinted spectacles. Global warming is nothing less than a fact, and it has to be faced.

In my experience, these skeptics of the third kind are much more prevalent in the USA than in Europe. I think this may be partly to do with a particularly American attitude to money. American rhetoric tends to present prosperity as the natural consequence of political freedom. Like democracy, it becomes a moral good in its own right. Anyone who seems to question the wisdom of unconstrained economic growth risks appearing un-American, if not downright immoral.

Taking the lead

But in my view, tackling global warming is extremely unlikely to damage the American economy. What's required is another industrial revolution. America is rather good at these. Britain led the first (coal and steam), but America has pioneered the rest (the internal combustion engine, telecommunications, computers). Each one only adds to our prosperity, and it will be the same once again.

But there is an important difference from previous industrial revolutions. This one requires political leadership; the market on its own won't do it. As an Englishman I am often impatient with the notion of America as "the indispensable nation," but on this occasion I think that it is. To combat global warming, the world desperately needs U.S. leadership.

I am optimistic enough to believe that we won't have to wait much longer. The pace of global warming is now quickening to the point where it will soon be obvious to everyone. When you can discuss the question sitting at a pavement caf? in London in November in your shirtsleeves, you just know something is up, and all skepticism becomes moot.

It's nice to see a scientific discussion based almost purely in nationalism. Pretty much everything below "The American Way" is wrought with inaccuracy, wild speculation, nationalism, and bias. He wonders why Americans aren't listening? It's because a two paragraph message is surrounded by 13 paragraphs of pseudo-scientific political horseshit. At least Michael Moore was direct in his intent.


#6

lucasa,

Maybe this forthcoming BBC program will be interesting -- and maybe even carried on NPR (though I'll not speculate on how likely that is...):

http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/thebattleforinfluence/pip/abkim/

Overselling Climate Change

Thursday 20 April 2006 20:00-20:30 (Radio 4 FM)

Simon Cox reports on how scientists are becoming worried by the quality of research used to back up the most extreme climate predictions.

Every week we are assailed by scare stories about the climate. Malaria in Africa, hurricanes in Florida, even the death of frogs in Latin America - all are being linked to global warming. But does the science behind these claims really stand up, or are the risks of climate change being oversold to win the battle for influence?


#7

There is far more of a consensus amongst the scientific community on that the climate is warming.

The only question is how much we, as humans, have to do with it.

I think its pretty obvious that we do...but then most people would rather have the earth fall apart than pay an extra dollar in gasoline, or raise taxes.

Mankind will pay for all this eventually. Deny it all you want, but I suggest that you pick up the last issue of TIME, with the huge special report on global warming. It's happening. All politics aside, this could get very bad for everyone.


#8

One excerpt from the above article:

[i]To understand the misconceptions perpetuated about climate science and the climate of intimidation, one needs to grasp some of the complex underlying scientific issues. First, let's start where there is agreement. The public, press and policy makers have been repeatedly told that three claims have widespread scientific support: Global temperature has risen about a degree since the late 19th century; levels of CO2 in the atmosphere have increased by about 30% over the same period; and CO2 should contribute to future warming. These claims are true. However, what the public fails to grasp is that the claims neither constitute support for alarm nor establish man's responsibility for the small amount of warming that has occurred. In fact, those who make the most outlandish claims of alarm are actually demonstrating skepticism of the very science they say supports them. It isn't just that the alarmists are trumpeting model results that we know must be wrong. It is that they are trumpeting catastrophes that couldn't happen even if the models were right as justifying costly policies to try to prevent global warming.

If the models are correct, global warming reduces the temperature differences between the poles and the equator. When you have less difference in temperature, you have less excitation of extratropical storms, not more. And, in fact, model runs support this conclusion. Alarmists have drawn some support for increased claims of tropical storminess from a casual claim by Sir John Houghton of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that a warmer world would have more evaporation, with latent heat providing more energy for disturbances. The problem with this is that the ability of evaporation to drive tropical storms relies not only on temperature but humidity as well, and calls for drier, less humid air. Claims for starkly higher temperatures are based upon there being more humidity, not less--hardly a case for more storminess with global warming.[/i]


#9

Thanks for joining us 'Irish, now that you've got us all on the same page we can continue the discussion. Thanks.

As you quickly see later in your own post, this isn't the only question. Questions like can we do anything about it and should we do anything about it are also very important. If we have to eliminate all industry back to the point where half of us die in the first winter we haven't saved much have we? If a one degree upswing in 100 yrs. is indicative of a catastrophe, what would a corrective downswing of one degree in 50 yrs. indicate?

Are you privy to models that others aren't? Or are you just contributing to the sensationalism?

I can see it now, an article in TIME proclaiming "Global Warming: No Big Deal, Everything is OK". I bet it'd fly off store shelves. Even better "TIME Magazine Actually Predicts End of the World!"


#10

Unfortunately, with all the stuff going on in the World, alarmism is what is needed to get stuff done.

Even if you forget about WHY or HOW MUCH the temperature is rising it is a fact that the polar ice caps are melting. It is a fact that eventually they will break away and the sea level will rise.

Sometimes, even certain fate doesn't get people moving.

Today marks the 100th anniversary of one of the biggest disasters in US history, the 1906 SF Earthquake. If another, equally powerful, Earthquake hit TODAY, it would be THE biggest disaster in US history -- far worse than Katrina. Billions of damage, hundreds of thousands dead. We know such a disaster WILL happen in our lifetimes. It is almost certain. We know those billions of dollars can be saved with a few millions in retrofitting investment. But, still, people gamble, against all odds, and don't make that investment.

People are incredibly stupid. They gamble even when the odds are firmly against them. How else do you explain casinos?

If exaggerating the problem, being alarmist, saying the odds are 99.999% rather than 90% is what gets something done about it, so be it. Let them.


#11

The only way to prevent the kinds of property and casualty loss of an earthquake in the Bay Area is for people to move away. No amount of retrofitting can minimize the damage another earthquake would create in the Cascaes region.

By your rationale, anyone who lives in Northern California fits this description.


#12

OMG, whatever you do don't watch something that may not echo your own fucking opinion -- that would be fucking horrible!!!

Lunatics.


#13

I don't have the science article, but I do have this:

Antarctic Ice Sheet Is Melting Rapidly
New Study Warns Of Rising Sea Levels

By Juliet Eilperin

The new Antarctic measurements, using data from two NASA satellites called the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE), found that the amount of water pouring annually from the ice sheet into the ocean -- equivalent to the amount of water the United States uses in three months -- is causing global sea level to rise by 0.4 millimeters a year. The continent holds 90 percent of the world's ice, and the disappearance of even its smaller West Antarctic ice sheet could raise worldwide sea levels by an estimated 20 feet.

"The ice sheet is losing mass at a significant rate," said Isabella Velicogna, the study's lead author and a research scientist at Colorado University at Boulder's Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences. "It's a good indicator of how the climate is changing. It tells us we have to pay attention."

Richard Alley, a Pennsylvania State University glaciologist who has studied the Antarctic ice sheet but was not involved in the new research, said more research is needed to determine if the shrinkage is a long-term trend, because the new report is based on just three years of data. "One person's trend is another person's fluctuation," he said.

But Alley called the study significant and "a bit surprising" because a major international scientific panel predicted five years ago that the Antarctic ice sheet would gain mass this century as higher temperatures led to increased snowfall.

"It looks like the ice sheets are ahead of schedule" in terms of melting, Alley said. "That's a wake-up call. We better figure out what's going on."

Velicogna acknowledged that it is hard to predict how fast the ice sheet will melt in the future but said, "I don't expect it's going to stop in the next couple of years."

So, .4 mm in a year. Wow, so the whole ice sheet raising the ocean twenty feet would take 15,000 yrs. Right? Better start moving inland now. If it were any other profession doing similar things people would laugh.


#14

The only benefit is if it says something new or interesting, not if it repeats the same tired line you've already heard from reading/watching other things espousing the same positions.


#15

You'd have to actually watch something that WASN'T a politically motivated rebuttal to even be in danger of seeing it more than once...


#16

When I posted an article about how the white house tried to silence a scientist who was very vocal, everyone said the same thing you've all said here- its nothing to worry about.

I'm on high ground. It won't flood where I live when the sea levels rise. Sadly, no one is going to pay attention to this until it happens.

And yes, I'm going to take the word of many publications i've read and the many professors that I've met over a bunch of armchair congressmen and scientists here.

I'll argue politics, and even how much should be done in countering global warming that won't cripple the economy. However, I will not argue that it is happening; its already an established fact in my eyes.


#17

Did you say "Cascaes region" to sound smart and esoteric? You'll have to tell me where you found that though... Anyway, I'll assume you're talking about the Northern half of the San Andreas Fault, the part that broke in 1906.

Assuming that's what you're talking about, it is not true -- at least, it is not what every single Engineer I've talked to or I've heard or read in the Media has said.

In fact, studies have been done and what needs to be done, how much it will cost and how much it will save us in case of another "big one" is well documented.

If we implemented every single measure proposed in those studies, the casualties and the property damage would be minimal.

That's a straw man and you know it. An Earthquake almost never kills people directly -- in 1906 what killed people where the collapsing buildings and the fire.

We are incurring the risk by having the wrong infrastructure, not just by living here.

Besides, not only the San Andreas fault goes all the way down to Los Angeles (even though the part that broke in 1906 was indeed in North Cali), but most of the US is due for some kind of major disaster anyway, so if that was a valid argument, we should just evacuate the whole country.

Now, going back to valid arguments and Global Warming, I'm not saying we just leave the coasts, since that's where the majority of the population of this country lives, and where the OVERWHELMING majority of the GDP comes from. It's about investing in the infrastructure that will protect the coasts WHEN the sea level rises.

For example, we can protect Manhattan from being submerged by deploying a system similar to the one implemented by the Dutch Delta Project. That will possibly cost a couple of billion dollars, but how much will it cost if we lose Manhattan?


#18

Are you trying to tell me, somehow, that I don't read or view widely enough?

Or, somehow, are you trying to say that the program lucasa referenced wasn't a politically motivated rebuttal?

Or are you just bitter because you're cold with all this global warming going on?


#19

Another excerpt, from the end of the article posted above:

M. Lindzen is Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at MIT.

I guess what I'm saying is that some awfully smart scientists aren't with the supposedly omniscient juggernaut that is the claimed majority consensus.


#20

.4 mm in a year is the most insanely optimistic estimate I've read. For a more balanced one:

http://yosemite.epa.gov/OAR/globalwarming.nsf/content/ClimateFutureClimateSeaLevel.html

"
Along the coast of New York, which typifies the US Coast, sea level is likely to rise 26 cm (10 inches) by 2050 and 55 cm (almost 2 feet) by 2100.
"

... and before you claim that 10 inches by 2050 is nothing to worry about... having to count in one foot more during a storm surge is more than enough to cause widespread, severe problems and billions of dollars in damages and lost revenue.