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Two Cheers for Heresy on Global Warming
Climate change is a cycle—of faddish opinions
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I first encountered the strong case for global warming in the early 1970s in an Isaac Asimov science column. As an elementary school student, I merely nodded my head, assumed that America’s political leadership would address the danger, and moved on to an explanation of quarks.

Even in those days, the subject was hardly new. The Asimov column had originally run in the late 1950s, before I was even born, and the possibility that burning fossil fuels might raise the Earth’s temperature via the “Greenhouse Effect” had already been around for many decades, going back to the late 19th century. Whether it occurred in the real world was a different matter.

My next encounter with climate change came in the mid-1970s. Suddenly all the magazines and newspapers were filled with stories that scientists had determined that the world was on the brink of a new Ice Age, with global cooling about to devastate our civilization. I still recall Newsweek’s famous cover depicting an American street scene blanketed by an arctic blizzard. Although I wondered at how quickly warming had switched to cooling, I was in junior high and assumed that our scientists—and the media that presented them—knew what they were talking about. Fortunately, no glaciers appeared, and the topic was soon forgotten.

By the late 1970s, I had joined high-school debate, and one year the topic was the environment, with climate-related issues being the biggest sub-topic. So I diligently gathered vast quantities of highly credible evidence from noted scientific experts proclaiming the certainty of global warming, global cooling, both, or neither, and lugged them around in my evidence boxes to all the tournaments. Random lot would determine whether I persuasively argued that CO2 emissions would fry us to a crisp or whether solar blockage from particulate emissions would freeze us to an icicle, or whether perhaps the two effects would perfectly cancel out. Since debate tournaments often had four rounds, I might alternate my claims of glaciers growing and glaciers melting every hour or so, always backing my position with copious evidence from expert sources. I reluctantly concluded that climatology was merely a pseudoscience, at least compared to my own field of theoretical physics, and I was glad when the debate topic switched to foreign policy the following year.

I had almost forgotten about both warming and cooling when the unusually hot summer of 1988 stampeded our media and political elites into suddenly declaring that global warming was a proven reality. As I joked to my friends, going from Ice Age to oven in just a dozen years seemed a bit much, especially since both trends were allegedly decades or centuries long.

But as the years went by and more and more mainstream voices endorsed global warming, I began to assume it must be true because “everyone said so,” or at least everyone not subsidized by Exxon Mobil. For similar reasons, I later assumed that Saddam must have WMDs—at least of the chemical or biological variety—given the absolutely uniform proclamations of our mainstream media commentariat.

In that latter case, I eventually discovered that I—together with the entire American public—had fallen for a massive hoax, and this raised huge doubts about the credibility of the establishment media. But even so, I was quite shocked in 2007 to read a series of major Counterpunch columns by the late Alexander Cockburn denouncing global warming as the same sort of massive hoax, protected and promoted by the establishment media just like the Iraqi WMDs. Obviously Cockburn himself was no scientist, but those he quoted seemed to be, and more importantly, Big Oil probably didn’t own one of America’s foremost radical-left journalists.

So what is one to think? The scientific topic involved is complex and specialized, requiring years of academic study to properly comprehend. The experts seem divided, with nasty accusations of dishonesty and corruption flying in both directions. The mainstream media and our political elites seem overwhelmingly to favor one side, but given their recent track record, that almost constitutes a negative indicator. Tens of billions of dollars are at stake, so the volume of propaganda is enormous, and I would need hundreds of hours just to dip my toe into the topic. Therefore, my considered verdict is: I just don’t know.

But if I were prodded to take some position, I would focus on the simplest, clearest argument, the one least requiring expertise in complex atmospheric modeling or meteorological theories. Alex’s original April 28, 2007 column did just that.

As he explained, the early years of the Great Depression had seen worldwide industrial output drop by about one quarter, along with carbon emissions from coal, oil, and natural gas, requiring most of a decade to return to previous levels. Yet during these same years, there appears no significant change in the trends of rising CO2 or temperature. If enormous changes in human carbon output have negligible impact on the atmospheric trends of the global warming hypothesis, how can there be a causal connection?

This relates to another point made by Alex and also mentioned in the original Asimov column. The oceans contain perhaps 50 times more dissolved CO2 than is found in the atmosphere, and as our planet warms, evaporating seawater releases carbon dioxide. Is the increase of CO2 producing the warming or is it the other way around? He cited claims that over the last million or so years, changes in CO2 had always tended to lag the corresponding changes in temperature by many centuries, implying that CO2 was a consequence rather than a cause of the warming.

ORDER IT NOW

Five minutes spent with Google uncovers a vast wealth of articles debunking or supporting these simple claims, with endless data and citations all around. Can I effectively judge these competing arguments? Certainly not, and a dozen or more years ago I would have assumed that establishment opinion was probably correct, with the near-unanimous verdict of elite-media sources outweighing a few scattered figures mostly drawn from the political fringe. But that was before the Iraqi WMDs. And Bernie Madoff. And the housing bubble, and so many other revealed hoaxes and scandals that have so totally undermined the credibility of our official sources in almost everything. Consider that one of the strongest private-sector backers of global warming had been the Enron Corporation, up until the moment that it collapsed in the largest corporate fraud in history.

The tendency to attack dissent as heresy hardly engenders free and open debate. Just a couple of years after I read those Counterpunch columns, the New York Times Magazine ran a cover story on Freeman Dyson, one of the most brilliant physicists of his generation. He was labeled “The Civil Heretic” for his strong public skepticism on global warming theories. Given the recent track record of the Times and its peers, I’m half inclined to automatically favor the heretics.

Ron Unz is publisher of The American Conservative.

(Reprinted from The American Conservative by permission of author or representative)
 
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  1. So, the government and media being wrong about three things means they are wrong about everything? Sophistry!

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  2. I think an important thing to keep in mind in this case is that the reality of anthropogenic global warming–unlike, say, Saddam’s WMDs–is not simply a media consensus but a political (at least, outside the extreme American right), and scientific one as well. One of the things that most bothers me about this article is that it implies that opinion in the scientific community is about evenly divided when it comes to global warming. This is simply not the case. The consensus is, and has been for quite some time, that global warming is real, that it is a major threat to our way of life, and that humans are major contributors to it. This is backed up by a huge amount of excellent research and reams of empirical evidence. On the other hand, research claiming to refute those findings almost always ends up being debunked rather quickly. Take the example of the so-called “climate-gate” scandal which made headlines a few years ago, and which climate change deniers the world over triumphantly touted as vindication of their claims. It was recently roundly refuted, and by a study commissioned by an oil company, no less! Of course, the best press coverage that got was a three paragraph write-up on the BBC. Consider also the political consensus. The WMDs and the Iraq War were the product of a warmongering American administration whose actions went in the face of domestic law, international law, and international political opinion. Yet the threat of climate change is acknowledged by every major (and most minor) governments worldwide. The UN considers it one of the most pressing challenges facing the international community. The alarms being sounded are not being sounded by some over-confident or ideological fringe, or by a slight majority with a barely legitimate mandate. The evidence is there, and people have taken note.

    Now, of course, climate change is natural, and temperatures have been steadily climbing for thousands of years. In terms of the overall history of the Earth, average global temperature is at a low point, and it will, one way or another, dramatically increase eventually. The problem is that we are accelerating it immensely. We are accelerating it to the point where neither our civilization nor the existing flora and fauna of Earth will have the time necessary to adapt. If we continue the current course, life will certainly not be extinguished. But it will become much harder. Not only that, but we will likely see the first human-caused mass extinction event, from which life will require millions of years to recover.

    I would like to point out something else. Even if one is of the opinion that anthropogenic climate change is a fallacy, there is little reason to oppose legislation or initiatives designed to counteract its alleged effects. These initiatives (eg. for greater sustainability, reduced waste) coincide with a path that our society will be forced to take in the near future anyway, as we run out of non-renewable resources.

    And in any case, I do not think that anyone could deny that there is enough data to make the existence of anthropogenic climate change a very significant possibility. Taking into account the enormous damage that would be (and is) associated with the phenomenon, how can we possible afford to gamble that we will get lucky and it will all turn out all right?

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  3. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    “Can I effectively judge these competing arguments?”

    Yes, you could – it’s really not that hard. Maybe instead of wasting the time for this article, you could have done the research.
    The consensus is clear, and the newest data shows that warming is in reality even worse than most predictions… this is data, not even just theories.

    The comparison to WMD’s in Iraq or Madoff is preposterous. Both have nothing to do with science – none of these were researched on public data and peer reviewed…. that I even have to explain this hurts my brain.

    Here’s another stunner: Prediction is always tough. No scientist can possibly say to be absolutely sure what will happen in the future – the world (and the climate) is just too complex.

    But complacency in the sight of this clearly upcoming calamity is dangerous. It is high time to change course – we must reduce the massive human interference with the world. There will be damage to nature and to humans.
    Doesn’t take a science degree to figure that out.

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  4. I do wish Unz would apply what he gained from studying physics to reading a climate science textbook- complex and dynamic as the atmosphere may be , there is nothing in the least controversial about the underlying radiative forcing .

    What is new and disturbing is the refusal of one side in the debate to engage on the science, leaving those with policy agendas substantively unopposed.

    Here’s my published take on the matter —

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  5. Amusing as Al Gore’s televised reckoning that the arth’s central temperature is “millions of degrees” may be , Cockburn upstaged him on the wild side of alternative thermodynamics by inisisting in 2007 that :

    “the human carbon footprint is of zero consequence …not even to mention the role of the giant reactor beneath our feet: the earth’s increasingly hot molten core”:

    http://adamant.typepad.com/seitz/2007/05/nation_denounce.html

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  6. “But as the years went by and more and more mainstream voices endorsed global warming, I began to assume it must be true because “everyone said so,” or at least everyone not subsidized by Exxon Mobil. For similar reasons, I later assumed that Saddam must have WMDs—at least of the chemical or biological variety—given the absolutely uniform proclamations of our mainstream media commentariat.”

    Well, I opposed the impending war with Iraq from the time I heard George Bush’s “Axis of Evil” State of the Union speech in early 2002. I remarked to a friend after hearing that speech that “uh, oh, he’s planning to take us to war with Iraq.” Everything I subsequently read (my regular daily reading consisted of the NY Times and the Wall Street Journal—I didn’t hear of or begin to read TAC until sometime in 2009) and watched on TV led me to conclude that the Bush Administration was hyping up the case for war against Saddam Hussein, who had no connection to 9/11, no connection to Al Qaeda, and had not attacked or threatened to attack the U.S. or one of our allies. All that was necessary was to read the MSM carefully and with a skeptical attitude. As far as I was concerned, it was a no-brainer decision to oppose the war with Iraq, and I clearly stated my opposition on the day the war started on a Yahoo finance message board (and got a lot of flack), where I had started to post in early 2003. (I likewise attacked the Greenspan Fed’s “insane” lowering of the federal funds rate to 1% in 2003 and warned of the housing bubble, thanks to regular reading of Barron’s and its longtime columnist Alan Abelson.)

    In a like manner, I have always been skeptical of AGW. All one needs to know is that the Earth’s climate has fluctuated greatly during its 3-1/2 billion year history, long before man became a significant factor on this planet. One has to stop and ask what caused those earlier periods of both global warming and global cooling that man clearly had nothing to do with. There are clearly major forces at play which cause such great periodic climate change. The one that comes immediately to mind is the Sun. You only cite activities back in the 1930′s. What about the massive ice sheet that was up to a mile thick and covered much of the upper mid-west of the U.S. and large parts of Canada as recently as 10,000 years ago? What caused that to melt and disappear? I wonder if there were any humans back then warning about global warming and the melting of the ice sheet, the way we have today warning about the possible melting of the Arctic ice cap. We know that is roughly the time that American Indians began migrating to the American continent from Asia, so their numbers were relatively small.

    I also find very revealing your passing reference, in connection with global warming, “to everyone not subsidized by Exxon Mobil.” Thus, your mindset makes certain basic assumptions concerning political issues that appear to run in one direction. Thus, you innately assumed that global warming skeptics must be influenced by Exxon Mobil, but you never stopped to ask yourself about the possible economic or other motivation of the global warming advocates. That is most clearly revealed by Al Gore’s admission in recent years that his support for the boondoggle ethanol was wrong and was influenced by his need to secure votes first from farmers in his home state of Tennessee and later, when he was running for President, from the farmers in Iowa. An honest but damning admission from the most prominent advocate of global warming, who has profited handsomely through his investments from his strong advocacy of a green agenda. Of course, there is also an entire army of global warming advocates who also profit handsomely from government grants to “study” and push their global warming agenda. The recent Climategate email scandal is deeply revealing about the basic dishonesty of the global warming advocates.

    In a like manner, you apparently failed to appreciate the fact that the neoconservatives were the ones pushing for war against Iraq. In fact, the first issue of the Weekly Standard edited by leading neoconservative Bill Kristol back in 1997 carried a cover story advocating war against Saddam Hussein. The very same forces are also strongly pushing for war against Iran today, just like Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel.

    I think you just need to think a little more skeptically about things, Mr. Unz, not just AGW.

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  7. “I reluctantly concluded that climatology was merely a pseudoscience, at least compared to my own field of theoretical physics,”

    Ron, what do you think of string theory?

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  8. While I think dissenting arguments should be refuted (of they can be) as opposed to ignored, the comparison between the consensus of 97-99% of scientists on the issue of anthropogenic global warming to the media-political consensus that prevailed prior to the Iraq War is a clearly a false comparison and encourages mindless opposition instead meaningful dissent

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  9. I agree with John that there is no comparison between the scientific consensus on global warming as opposed to the herd mentality of the media on so many other issues much less truthful underneath, such as Iraqi WMDs etc.

    We’ve heard this old canard many times recently about the “1970s-it was the Ice Age” but again, zero comparison to today:

    See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_cooling

    EXCERPT:

    This hypothesis had little support in the scientific community, but gained temporary popular attention due to a combination of a slight downward trend of temperatures from the 1940s to the early 1970s and press reports that did not accurately reflect the scientific understanding of ice age cycles.

    END EXCERPT

    Were they REALLY predicting an Ice Age in the 1970s? No.

    http://www.csmonitor.com/Environment/Bright-Green/2009/0728/were-they-really-predicting-an-ice-age-in-the-1970s

    EXCERPT:

    In the 1970s, “they” refers to a handful of scientists making tentative predictions, and a handful of journalists who repeated those predictions. Today, “they” refers to every single major scientific body in the world. There’s just no valid comparison. In fact, back in the 1970s, more scientists were worried about global warming than its opposite.

    END EXCERPT

    I would be very interested to read Mr. Unz’s opinion on the acidification of the oceans being caused by human use of fossil fuels, which is a frightening trend on its own:

    http://www.wunderground.com/climate/acidoceans.asp

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=threatening-ocean-life

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/blog/post.cfm?id=ocean-turning-to-acid-at-lightning-2008-11-24

    http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-dangers-of-ocean-acid

    Now it may be that conservatives have a harder time facing global warming because it points to real physical natural limits to our model of endless economic growth on an inexhaustible earth. Immanuel Wallerstein has some interesting things to say about the long arc of capitalism coming to an end as the 600 years of externalizing environmental costs for firm profitability is coming to a close. Naiomi Klein seems to think so in her article “Capitalism Vs, the Climate” published a few months ago in the Nation magazine.

    But in the end, the politics are just our own emotional and social reactions to things, not the measure of scientific fact. And there does indeed seem to be as much of a scientific consensus on global warming as there could ever be on such a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. Perhaps that’s why smart conservatives are taking their head out of the sand and facing the facts that NOBODY likes:

    http://www.commentarymagazine.com/2011/12/22/conservatives-climate-change-facts/

    EXCERPT:

    I understand the skepticism that exists (I shared in it, in fact, until I began to explore this matter in a more systematic way). I would therefore urge people to read the careful work of Richard Muller, who was skeptical that global warming has taken place but has now concluded it is real (for more, see here). One might study this report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (ICPP). Alternatively, read this report by the National Academy of Sciences, which is trustworthy. (The science academies of Britain, China, Germany, Japan, and other nations all believe there is strong evidence that significant global warming is occurring.) In 2006, the Climate Science Program, a federal program under the direction of the Bush White House and sponsored by agencies including NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, found “clear evidence of human influences on the climate system.” There are several others I could cite.

    But for some on the right to insist that AGW is a hoax, the product (more or less) of a massive conspiracy, is, I believe, damaging to conservatism.

    END EXCERPT

    The original is loaded with links. See also:

    A Conservative’s Approach to Combating Climate Change

    http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/05/a-conservatives-approach-to-combating-climate-change/257827/#

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  10. You were poorly served by your 1970s media consumption. Global cooling, unlike global warming, was never a theory with widespread scientific acceptance:

    The ’70s was an unusually cold decade. Newsweek, Time, The New York Times and National Geographic published articles at the time speculating on the causes of the unusual cold and about the possibility of a new ice age. But Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center surveyed dozens of peer-reviewed scientific articles from 1965 to 1979 and found that only seven supported global cooling, while 44 predicted warming. Peterson says 20 others were neutral in their assessments of climate trends.

    You wrote, “The experts seem divided”.

    The experts are not divided. There is an effort– only in the US, and only on the right, as John notes above– to give the appearance of division.

    Anderegg et all found: “we use an extensive dataset of 1,372 climate researchers and their publication and citation data to show that (i) 97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field support the tenets of ACC outlined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and (ii) the relative climate expertise and scientific prominence of the researchers unconvinced of ACC are substantially below that of the convinced researchers.”

    A more general 2009 Pew survey, headlined “Public Praises Science; Scientists Fault Public, Media”, found that 84 percent of scientists believe the Earth is getting warmer because of human activity, but only 56 percent of Americans thought that scientists generally agree on the topic. (I think Pew used quite a liberal definition of “scientist”; the survey found that only 87 percent of scientists accept evolution).

    Trusting 97% of experts on a matter of scientific fact really isn’t very much at all like trusting Tom Friedman, Charlie Rose, and Dick Cheney in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.

    (In fact, that’s another area where you’d have been well served by reading reporting from the rest of the world, which was largely skeptical of our evidence of Iraq’s WMD program).

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  11. Here’s a fine article by a conservative who came to terms with climate change. “I was defeated by facts”, he wrote, particularly from Morris Fiorina’s book Disconnect, and the 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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  12. The most important error, as others note, is that scientists did not really “predict” an ice age. I remember 70′s news articles myself saying we were “due” but those were not the same thing. Most of them were just explaining climate cycles to a general public.

    For what it’s worth I think AGW is “real” for most reasonable values of “real.” The only serious question is whether global, multi-lateral, agreements justify much action on our own part. It is pointless for a single nation to over-invest in GHG reduction in a multi-player game.

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  13. Even if Global Warming were a natural phenomena (and I am not agreeing to this), why would conservatives choose to just let nature take its’ course if we have the power to do something about it? Like all the flooding and fires that eroded the United States this summer? Well get used to it, because it is the future. Notice how hurricanes have reached new levels of destruction unknown only a few decades ago? Well worse is coming, ask any climatologist (assuming you still pay attention to science). Coastal flooding a problem? IF not yet, then soon it will be. It is simple physics really. Ice melts, more water (all that stuff that used to float ABOVE the water eh), and thus flooding. If you think that nothing can be done, you don’t have much confidence in science and industry, do you? So why the reluctance to stem the environmental havoc that MAY BE natural and cyclical????

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  14. Some more thoughts on the place of AGW in how we are to regain prosperity in this very different century than the last. The essential problems we must overcome are all about sustainability:

    1) Unsustainability in our species’ relationship with our natural environment.

    2) Unsustainability in our economy: trade deficits and offshoring mfg & other high-value-added sectors; public and especially private debt, at unpayable levels, and over-financialization of the economy; deficits and fiscal problems ultimately rooted in the loss of prosperity via loss of manufacturing; this loss of mfg rippling through the economy to cause deepening long-term unemployment and spreading poverty and liquidation of the middle class.

    3) Unsustainability in terms of imperial overstretch and gargantuan military budgets, in the militarization of our diplomacy and economy.

    4) Unsustainability in our crumbling infrastructure, an electrical grid built for the last century not this one, ditto for our transportation systems and infrastructure as a whole.

    5) Unsustainability in our declining competitiveness in skills and knowledge necessary to create prosperity in the 21st century. Primary and especially secondary education results continue declining in comparison to much of the developed world, compounded by the workplace loss of skills and knowledge (through offshoring) necessary for the innovation and creation of wealth in our country in the coming decades. Many companies cite the declining qualifications of the American workforce as a major factor in choosing to build factories and R&D labs in other countries.

    Enough for this post. I do not mean to present a doom and gloom scenario, just one we need to look at squarely and soberly. I think the future is wide open, perilous but also pregnant with better possibilities if we make the right decisions. I think the problems of unsustainability are a challenge to look at all at once because our solutions must not be piecemeal they must take full account of the whole situation. Its a lot to think about but consider our country and species can both have a much longer future than past and thus we must become more forward-thinking as we face our present difficulties.

    I have ideas about solutions and ways of thinking to face the challenges with success, but for now I’m interested in reading what others think of our situation as a country and, yes, as a species.

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  15. In Galileo’s time the “consensus” was the earth was flat. I tend not to be unduly impressed with the “consensus” on any given subject.

    That said, the late Reid Bryson, said by some to be the father of modern climatology never supported AGW. 90 percent of green house gases are water vapor. Of the remaining 10 percent 3 percent is CO2, and humans are responsible for about half of that or 1.5 percent of the total. Maybe that 1.5 percent can influence the entire world, maybe but it’s probably a sretch. Computers today still lack the ability to model all the variables really well and solar activity is a huge one. During the time where warming was attributed to humans, Mars was warming up too. Exactly what “human” activity caused that? It was clearly solar activity and if solar warmed Mars, it was probably doing it to earth.

    The final point is, we have limited resources to address things. If we spent three trillion to deal with AGW, then we don’t spend it on clean water for Africa which will save real lives NOW. We can do one but not both. For all of you, tell us how you think the money is better spent, 500 billion for AGW which may save “some” lives 20 years from now or that same 500 billion NOW which starts saving real lives in two years. And again, this is purely a zero sum game. Either or not both.

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  16. the question is not is global warming psuedo-science or fact; the problem is the right has tried to “politicize” the issue; while the left has tried to “monetize” the issue. it’s not so much a case of “what can we do?” (as with the late George Carlin; cited on another thread – I don’t believe there really is much we can do), but rather; I don’t really see viable “solutions” coming from the left OR the right.

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  17. to support a theory with a large portion of the basis being that the ‘majority had it wrong on these other issues, so they’re likely wrong on this one issue too’ is just weak.

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  18. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    “The experts seem divided, with nasty accusations of dishonesty and corruption flying in both directions.”

    If by “divided” you mean “divided at 98 to 2,” then ok. While there’s a range of opinions on severity, extent of human cause and the correct fixes, the idea that climate change is real and humans are causing it does not really ‘divide’ the experts.

    Skepticism is a good and needed thing. Continuing to equivocate in the face of overwhelming evidence & the opinion of our experts is just stubbornness.

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  19. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "Andrew"] says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    The experts are not divided. There is an effort– only in the US, and only on the right, as John notes above– to give the appearance of division.

    Actually, they are divided, especially when one looks beyond the realm of well trained in political correctness (and the perks which go with it) of those among American scientists. Among “divided” are, for example, Oleg Sorohtin Ph.D in Physics, Chief Of The Laboratory Of Theoretical Geo-dynamics of Oceanographic Institute of Russian Academy of Science, or the whole group of the scientists of the Physics Institute of Russian Academy Of Science together with Russian Hydro-meteorological Center Of Russian Federation, as well as the Nuclear Physics Research Institute at Moscow State University, who have a huge disagreement (including their prognosis published in May 2012) with all this global warming thing, especially its human origins. I am no climatologist but to claim here that “experts are not divided”(c) is really a sign of arrogance. As for the effort, I just introduced several of them in Russia and those guys have no relation to any American “efforts” whatsoever–they just try to do the actual science. There is an actual division and to try to ignore or reduce it to some, however justified sometimes in the US political framework, ideological debate is nothing short of obscurantism.

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  20. andrew,
    the point is that ‘division’ leads one to believe that it’s more than 98-2 split. I’m sure the Russian scientist and his team fall into that 2%, but that doesn’t make them right just because they are in the 2%. If one wants to use use ‘divided’ then they should say that “about 1/50 scientists are divided”.

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  21. The problem with saying “the science it settled” is that it does shut down or marginalizes inquiry that may find something different. Is any science ever “settled?” Some science that was “settled” turned out not to be. The Sun revolved around the Earth; The Earth is flat; Phlogiston; Spontaneous generation; Stellar nucleosynthesis. Or as Isaac Asimov said, “…when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together. The basic trouble, you see, is that people think that ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are absolute; that everything that isn’t perfectly and completely right is totally and equally wrong,” in an article that can be found here: http://chem.tufts.edu/answersinscience/relativityofwrong.htm

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  22. Ah, yes. The mid-70′s. It was clobbered into me (well, they TRIED, anyway) that the future would without doubt be gloomy, cloudy, cold, wet, miserable, plants would only grow in greenhouses that jealous proles would subsequently throw rocks at, birds would fall dead from the sky, we would need respirators to go outside, and of course, cars would be rusting hulks with empty gas tanks that adults would sit in and ‘pretend’ it was the good old days (no, really, grown people pretending to drive). I got it from the teachers, I got it from the films they made us watch, I got it from my Scholastic Weekly Reader. Blah, blah, blah. Having been brought up on STTOS and a bright Warp Speed future, I didn’t believe a word of it, of course. And while I’m still waiting for my George Jetson car dammit, the sky’s blue today, it’s a nice fall day, birds twitter, and my three cars have full tanks. Ptpptptpth.

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  23. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "Andrew"] says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    the point is that ‘division’ leads one to believe that it’s more than 98-2 split. I’m sure the Russian scientist and his team fall into that 2%, but that doesn’t make them right just because they are in the 2%.

    It is a strange logic:

    1. to imply that somebody could be right or wrong “just because they are in the 2%.”(c) Percentage (one way or another) is by no means indicative of rightness or correctness.

    2. I listed several, major and extremely reputable, organizations and groups (clusters) of scientists in Russia, not one, not two–many. Moreover, anti-anthropogenic position of Russian scientists and climatologists in regards to AGW is wide-spread and very vocal. I am not going to go into the possible political background of all that but allow me to mention some facts, which are relevant here:

    a) Russian Arctic Research And Development Program dwarfs just about anything out there, enough to mention Russian nuclear ice-breaker fleet. This program rests on a foundation of a massive hydro-meteorological and climate research done by one of the best people in business combined with one of the best technologies. I hope I do not need to go here into Russian, however tarnished, pedigree in Space research. This alone should attract some attention, but it does not in the English-speaking world and there is a reason for that–it drastically contradicts AGW agenda, and sure, what can Ph.D in physics working on the cutting edge models, based on the massive satellite data offer against the opinion of some clueless Hollywood starlet or journalist with degree in….whatever (sarcasm).

    b) Very many people from that environment, also supported by people from the fields of fundamental physics or space research DO NOT agree with anthropogenic reason for climate change. They do not necessarily argue with the climate change (actually the latest report mentioned by me predicts a cooling, not warming), they reject its anthropogenic hypothesis.

    I, certainly, could offer the translation of the today’s article from Russian Free Press exactly about the issue discussed with interviews with people like Ph.D in Physics-Mahematical Sciences, Chief of the Department Of Solar Studies of Pulkovo Observatory Khabibulo Abdusamatov or Vice-President of the Institute Of Global Climate And Ecology of Russian Academy Of Science Uyri Anohin–hardly an alarmist opinions and that is the problem for American internal, highly politicized, discussion. As for my personal position, I, certainly, can see the climate change, I just don’t buy this argument that humans are at the heart of it. And yes, Al Gore is a scientist and I am an alien from the Crab Nebula.

    P.S. Emotions in the academic debates are so high because the stakes are so low for those who debate.

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  24. While it’s true that the press had a number of scare articles about global cooling in the 70s (and there was a book by, IIRC, John Gribben who never met a scare he didn’t like), a trawl of the peer-reviewed literature shows almost nothing – it was at best a somewhat fringe-y idea.

    That’s in marked contrast to global warming, where as time passed the support for the hypothesis within the scientific community grew stronger and stronger.

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  25. Nathan writes “In Galileo’s time the ‘consensus’ was the earth was flat. I tend not to be unduly impressed with the ‘consensus’ on any given subject.” The problem with such thinking is of course that you must still think the earth is flat for it to make sense. Otherwise, if you believe in progress and better truths, you must consider that AGW might be one of those. IOW, it might be “round earth” and you are calling it “flat earth” out of stubbornness.

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  26. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "Andrew"] says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    is by no means indicative of rightness or correctness.

    I meant rightness or wrongness.

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  27. “Therefore, my considered verdict is: I just don’t know.”

    Me too. The science isn’t in yet and the media are clearly engaging in propaganda.

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  28. In contrast to the excellence of Russian polar science , some literal Cold War apparchiks like Academician Yuri Izrael have taken to dispensing climatic Dezinformatsia on behalf of the American Petroleum Institute’s opposite numbers in the post-soviet Oilgarchy and the Russian coal industry.

    At all times and in all polities, science politicized is science betrayed.

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  29. I’m a confirmed liberal-progressive who like the author, assumed the scientific consensus was real. A dozen years ago or so, I began looking into it just to understand it better, and was surprised to find how compelling the counter-arguments were. As someone who does enjoy looking for those area of mainstream knowledge that turn out to be false, I think this is a gold mine of fallacious thinking and very poorly conducted science.

    Like the author, I can’t say for sure what exactly is happening, but I will say that the skeptical arguments and data are very strong, strong enough not only to cast doubt on the consensus, but to make the possibility of catastrophic warming a mythic fear that we need not treat seriously.

    The comparison to Saddam and WMDs is indeed a valid one in many respects, especially in its use of Cheney’s 1% precautionary principle as a way of scaring people into making irrational and aggressive policy decisions. The mere threat of some remote possibility of catastrophe is hailed as a reason to spend trillions on precautionary abatement, before any real problem actually arises.

    Let’s examine this “consensus” for example. The citing of poorly worded surveys to create the illusion of near universal agreement among scientists is simply dishonest. That survey only asks two vague questions, as to whether a warming trend is real, and whether there’s a significant human component to it, are questions that most skeptics would answer in the affirmative, as many of themselves said. As Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of the world’s most prominent skeptics said, even a 5-10% human contribution to warming is significant. Likewise, almost no skeptics deny that warming has taken place, only some question the validity of the adjusted data (without adjustments, the raw data show a warming of only half that reported, and UHI effects are ignored). It’s meaningless, without a real quantifiable line drawn.

    So what is the actual consensus? Not nearly as strong as one might think. The actual equation for the radiative physics of CO2 cited in the UN IPCC report, written by Michael Mann of Hockey Stick fame, is quite simple. Perhaps too simple, but at least not terribly controversial. It concludes that the direct radiate warming of CO2 is no more than 1.2C per doubling of. That means, given that current CO2 concentration is just shy of 400 ppm, having risen about 120 ppm in the whole of the industrial revolution to this point presumably due to human activity, we would have to increase CO2 to nearly 800ppm to warm a mere 1.2C.

    Now, as to the effect of such warming on the world, the consensus economic analysis of the IPCC also describes in some detail that the actual economic effects of warming add up to a net benefit, until that warming begins to exceed 2C from the present. It would take an increase of CO2 to almost 1200 ppm for that to happen. That means an increase of almost 800 ppm of CO2, over six times as much as we’ve currently experienced. It’s not clear that human beings can even burn that much carbon. And even then, economicaly speaking we are just back to where we are today. We would have to burn even more to significantly increase warming, because the radiative effect of CO2 increases logarythmically, the opposite of exponentially. THe more CO2 you emit, the less effect it has.

    So why all the fuss? Well, that’s where the consensus starts to fall apart. THe real threat, the alarmist say, is not from the direct radiative physics, which is well understood, but from climate feedbacks, which are not. Specifically, the alarmist claims rest on the notion that there are huge feedbacks in the climate system which multiply the original warming by a factor of 2.5 on up, meaning that we can cross that 2C warming threshold with much smaller increases in carbon emissions.

    But here there is no real consensus. THe IPCC says that the over sensitivity of the climate to CO2 doubling is anywhere from 2.0-4.5C, with a median average of 3.0C. And this is where not only skeptics diverge, but the entire scientific community. Some say the IPCC figure is to low, and that the real figure should be much higher. However, these people are not considered “denialists”, or considered outside the consensus, which seems to have wiggle room only on one end.

    The skeptics suggest that the actual data show that the sensitivity figure is much lower than that, and that feedbacks are either a net neutral, only a slight positive, or more commonly, somewhat negative.

    Most of the high-feedback arguments rely on a high water vapor effect to produce greater warming effects. THis is reasonable in some sense, in that water vapor is a stronger greenhouse gas which dominates the earth’s climate system. All of their models assume this high negative feedback to make their predictions of catastrophe. Skeptics, on the other hand, say that this feedback will only produce more clouds, which are a negative feedback, reflecting as they do much sun light back to space before it has a chance to warm the earth. SIgnificant papers on this theory have been written by prominent climate scientists like John Christy who runs NASA’s climate satellite program. There’s lots of data to support this as well. It’s not yet conclusive, but it certainly doesn’t warrant the kind of disdain that has been flung at him and others for challenging the consensus.

    The real point here is that the whole issue of feedbacks is not part of the consensus as of yet, even though the entire alarmist argument relies on feedbacks for its claims.

    So yes, there really is a legitimate scientific constroversy at the heart of the issue. It’s not whether there is warming, or whether humans are responsible for at least part of it. It’s whether this constitutes a legimately major concern that we should address with trillions of dollars in spending and economic disruption. The stonewalling tactic of the climate consensus and media, that anyone challenging these matters is “anti-science” or in the pay of oil companies or just a paranoid outlier and denier, is not just absurd, but itself an egregious violation of liberal norms. As a liberal, it offends my sense of fair play immensely, and even though I end up finding myself on the side of many conservatives who give me a rash, I am happy to make that sacrifice.

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  30. Don’t you disqualify yourself from judgement on this issue for having been duped by Bush on WMD. I didn’t read the internet in 2003 but you could read between the lines, even of the mass media, and judge it false.

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  31. “Notice how hurricanes have reached new levels of destruction unknown only a few decades ago? ”

    Yes, you would think so, given the media’s harping. But is it actually so?

    http://coaps.fsu.edu/~maue/tropical/global_running_ace.jpg

    Any increase in destruction is not due to storms getting worse, but of humans building precarious coastal developments where storms do hit.

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  32. Let’s agree for a moment to agree that it is indeed happening. What should we as individual consumers be doing to stop or mitigate its increase? How should we be changing our lifestyles?

    For 20+ years now we’ve been warned about the consequences of not believing, yet never are we given any meaningful recommendations for changing our consumption. It’s all panic, no action.

    Beyond the symbolic gesture of owning a Prius or adding some thicker insulation, I don’t see ANYBODY doing ANYTHING to stop it.

    It makes it kind of hard to believe it’s real, or if it is real, that it matters.

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  33. Andrei Martyanov [AKA "Andrew"] says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    At all times and in all polities, science politicized is science betrayed.

    Agree completely. This has been done to the GW debate on both sides, but (if to omit Thatcher’s initial GW views, which she later recanted), the contemporary climate scare-mongering is more due to the extreme environmental (and not only) views of the left. As for Yuri Izrael, I already introduced scores of people (should I mention also late Sergei Kapitsa–a vocal anthropogenic skeptic) with more than impressive scientific backgrounds who merely do the science. Even Anohin, who is by no means a skeptic, today states that all those doom-spelling climate theories are “sensationalist”.

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  34. What I find peculiar is that most of the proposed directions of development to block global warming are also good conservative directions to go: dependent on renewable rather than finite energy sources, with a preference for “first do no harm” methods aimed at reducing the ways we disrupt natural systems. No, they’re not yet at the level to be fully acceptable replacements for oil and coal based tech…but they also will not be if no one invests in exploring methods to improve the technology. If we do invest then whether GW is real or not, we end up with self-sufficiency, wider resources of energy, and a less damaged environment overall. Then add in that if we made the effort we’d again have a landmark expertise and industry we could market to the world — or at least promote business both large and small in the US. Those, to me, sound like conservative gold: a win-win for most of the nation, with only those who are themselves invested in fossil fuels losing…and most of them would lose in ways that would allow them to change horses financially. (grimace) I mean, the Exxons and BPs of the world could be investing in alternate tech rather than improving drilling and extraction, and catch the new wave rather than trying to ride the old one right up until it runs out of beach.

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  35. Like most denialists, Mr.Unz concentrates on climate models and debunks them. Yet, even climatologists emphasize the limits of these models–which is why they concentrate on the evidence of ice cores and ocean sediments, in which the composition of the atmosphere can be measured accurately for tens of thousands of years past.

    The ice cores show that the current ratio of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is unlike anything in the past–partly in being so suddenly added to the atmosphere. In previous extreme climate swings, the change occurred over thousands of years, and the biosphere had a chance to adapt to the new steady-state climate system. Now, the change is an order of magnitude greater–faster–than anything in the past. In the words of one climatologist, it is a “rapid powerful blow,” and totally unprecedented.

    I started out as a denialist myself. But a little reading, unencumbered by enticements from the fossil-fuel industry, quickly disabused me.

    But having said that, I also have to say that conservatives are right about two things: the vital need for third and fourth-generation nuclear reactors, and also about the lunacy that is called “cap-and-trade.” We do need a carbon tax, but cap-and-trade is pure shortsighted idiocy–good for Wall
    Street and bad for the environment. People like Al Gore are cop-out artists for not admitting that. He knows better, but he won’t admit the truth about cap-and-trade for political reasons. You can be alarmed by climate change, as I am, while thinking poorly of the usual environmental suspects.

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  36. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    Seems like you have an educated audience…. more educated clearly than the average Fox audience. Doesn’t appear you impressed them favorably either

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  37. The irony is that some of them went from being yes men for the most apocalyptic predictions of nuclear winter to earn approbation from Boris Ponomare’ev to denying global warming to earning paychecks from both Lukhoil and American energy industry beneficiaries like the Heartland Institute.

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  38. I feel sure that Unz is capable of grasping the iterative complexity of serious modeling efforts, and appreciating their strengths as well as their limitations.
    , because it takes considerable mastery of the dynamics of radiative and advective heat transfer in multiphase systems to produce a good potato chip, and some of his are excellent!

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  39. Newsweek is not a scientific journal, and coverage in Newsweek does not imply that an idea has any significant base of support in the scientific literature. It just means a writer found an intriguing idea, and a couple of scientists with speculative theories related.

    If you don’t understand that simple bit, you likely don’t understand anything more advanced.

    We have forty years of data, of vast and increasing quantity and quality, that we didn’t have in the early 70s.

    You might as well pick up a forty year old Newsweek article about cancer, and dismiss modern medicine based on its predictions. Or a 40 year old Newsweek article about computing, and dismiss the Internet.

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  40. David Draper wrote: “Beyond the symbolic gesture of owning a Prius or adding some thicker insulation, I don’t see ANYBODY doing ANYTHING to stop it.”

    Because it pretty much would require regulation, not individual action. “Don’t use CFC’s” wouldn’t have done anything to reduce the use of CFCs, it had to be regulated.

    So it requires government action. Which is fought tooth and nail by corporate interests.

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  41. Nathan wrote: “If we spent three trillion to deal with AGW, then we don’t spend it on clean water for Africa which will save real lives NOW. ”

    It’ll be hard to provide clean water for Africa in an environment of changing climate and rainfall patterns. Set up a fancy system in an area with lots of rain, then the climate changes and the rainfall decreases or stops. Then what do you do with that clean water system you put in?

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  42. Unz is running into a false balance here as properly pointed out by various comments already. John’s response is so well written that he should have been the one writing this article instead of Unz.
    Besides what the scientists said, there are things that lay people can observe for themselves, for instance, receding shorelines of island nations in the Pacific causing them to actually start relocating their people to other countries, snow line getting higher in Montana mountains, etc.
    Plus also, global warming causes eradict climates of more extreme hot weather and cold weather. Why was Unz even invited to write this article? Simply because he represents a conservative voice?

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  43. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    One simple question Mr. Unz.
    How much carbon dioxide and other synthesized Green house gases in the atmosphere is too much?

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  44. Why was Unz even invited to write this article?

    Um, because he’s the publisher of The American Conservative?

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  45. While chagrined to learn that our publisher is one consonant removed from the succession to a great American potato chop dynasty, my faith in his physical intuition remains unshaken.

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  46. Many AGW articles I have read have, somewhere buried in them, a short paragraph that completely undermines the claims. National Geographic’s article on snow cover decline in the alps, mentions that 800 yrs ago there was no snow in the passage ways of the Alps. An article about the prehistoric giant python skeleton found in Columbia mentioned that the average daily temp for a snake to reach the size that it could swallow something the size of a cow, would have had to have been at least 10 degrees warmer than now. And no one recently seems to want to discuss the fact that Antarctica used to be a jungle. I am still a skeptic about AGW. I know I am not too bright, I only have a Ph.D.

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  47. If scientists are one side of the argument, with politicians and oil conglomerates on the other, why would you distrust the scientists on a topic of science?

    It boggles the mind.

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  48. There are scientists on both sides of the argument (and there’s more than one side in science anyway), and there’s politicians on both sides of the argument, and even the oil companies are on both sides of the argument (funding lots of green energy projects and licking their chops at cap’n trade like Enron would).

    Anyway, trust has nothing to do with science, so “trusting scientists” is an anti-scientific attitude. Replicable evidence is the key.

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  49. Frank says: “If scientists are one side of the argument, with politicians and oil conglomerates on the other, why would you distrust the scientists on a topic of science?”

    Frank, those scientists are the happy recipients of hundreds of millions of tax payer dollars that would not be available if they did not agree with the tax and spend politicians (of either party) and, as Church Lady says, the oil conglomerates and companies like G.E. who see where the money is and are positioning themselves for the financial deluge.

    Are you suggesting that scientists are apolitical when it comes to their wallets?

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  50. I’m not the original Frank, but as a scientist, I can address a couple of points.

    Church Lady says:
    “Anyway, trust has nothing to do with science, so “trusting scientists” is an anti-scientific attitude.”

    On the contrary, scientists stake their careers on their integrity and credibility. As a scientist, without integrity and credibility, you are nothing.

    The following are examples of the official statements regarding AGW from America’s major scientific societys, representing tens of thousands of scientists. Not every member agrees with these statements, of course, but there is strong enough support within these societies for them put put their reputations on the line by making these statements.

    http://www.geosociety.org/positions/position10.htm

    http://www.agu.org/sci_pol/positions/climate_change2008.shtml

    http://www.aps.org/policy/statements/07_1.cfm

    http://www.ametsoc.org/policy/2012climatechange.html

    I find it odd that so many people who consider themselves “conservative” are willing to put themselves in radical opposition to the scientific establishment. I believe this phenomenon is a result of many things, including a failure of scientists to communicate directly with the public, a failure of our Science education system (which teaches concepts, but very little regarding process – the average American knows next to nothing about the roles of peer-reviewed journals, funding agencies such as the National Science Foundation, and scientific societies in Science), sloppy science writing and reporting by non-scientists, and a deliberate obsfucation program by monied special interests.

    Wes says:
    “Are you suggesting that scientists are apolitical when it comes to their wallets?”

    This sort of politics generally does not factor in when it comes to research grant funding. So Frank would be correct to suggest that.

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  51. Wes says:
    “Many AGW articles I have read have, somewhere buried in them, a short paragraph that completely undermines the claims.”

    I agree that there is a lot of sloppy science reporting out there. Often we see writers attributing single weather events (such as a specific hurricane event, or a hot spell in the summer) or showing local climate change (such as snow lines receding in a certain area) by itself as “proof” of global climate change. Both of these things are on very shaky scientific ground, and happen all too often. However, sloppy reporting on the part of non-scientists does not indicate that the peer-reviewed science behind AGW is sloppy.

    Of the items that you mentioned, however, none of them undermine AGW science (although perhaps they may undermine some sloppy arguments presented in the pop media articles you read). Climate change in the Alps is an example of local climate change, and is not necessarily indicative of global climate change. So warming or cooling of the Alps by itself doesn’t tell us much about global climate trends. The giant python you mentioned lived 58 million years ago, and the climate of that time period has nothing to do with current climate trends. The climate of Antarctica was indeed much different tens of millions of years ago when it was at a latitude closer to the equator. Even near its current position, it was significantly warmer ten million years ago.

    It’s well known that climate has varied considerably in the Earth’s past, and that climate change occurs naturally. However, some laypersons seem to think that because climate can change naturally, it cannot change due to human influence. That is like saying that because soil erosion occurs naturally, human activity cannot affect soil erosion – a bit of faulty logic.

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  52. “In Galileo’s time the “consensus” was the earth was flat. I tend not to be unduly impressed with the “consensus” on any given subject.”

    Uh, Nathan, the issue Galileo confronted and got in trouble with the Church over was not whether the Earth was “flat” but whether the Earth revolved around the Sun or vice versa, as the Church long believed. While the early Greeks believed the Earth was flat, the later Greek philosophers/scientists certainly didn’t, among them Pythagoras, Aristotle and Archimedes–and one Greek, Eratosthenes in the third century B.C. actually estimated the circumference of the Earth to a remarkably close approximation simply using geometry and measuring the shadow cast in Alexandria and comparing it to a shadow cast elsewhere at the same time of day on the longest day of the year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_geodesy By the time of Columbus, no navigator actually thought so. The great Spanish navigator Magellan certainly disproved the flatness idea by circumnavigating the globe 100 years before Galileo (even though Magellan himself did not make the full trip, having been killed in the Philipines in 1520).

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  53. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    there is a lot of propaganda around global warming and i just read some of it.

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  54. FrankT says, “This sort of politics generally does not factor in when it comes to research grant funding.”
    First let me thank you for the remarkably informative an polite manner in which you have responded. I wish I could have as sanguine an attitude about the motives of some of these GW scientists. However, given the leaked emails that expose intentional efforts to suppress and blackball disagreeing scientists, I have my reservations about how non-political grant awards really are. Sadly, the past forty years of science has ranged from the remarkable to the silly at times. All of us remember the studies (please don’t ask me to find them, I doubt I could in any reasonable time) that declared milk and eggs, etc to be unhealthy, or the storms of the century that didn’t materialize, or even some of those GW scientists who went on major news shows and stated that the upcoming hurricane season would be the worst, etc. It may have been poor reporting but it really causes the common citizen to become quite skeptical.

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  55. “On the contrary, scientists stake their careers on their integrity and credibility. As a scientist, without integrity and credibility, you are nothing.”

    That’s true of everyone. It in no way means that scientists get it right, or aren’t human beings with all the prejudices and faults common to our kind.

    There’s a whole lot of scientists who strongly disagree not just with the consensus, but with the distortion of science that goes into making it and enforcing it, which is more like the actions of a political movement than a scientific inquiry. Hal Green famously resigned from the APS because of the absurdity of their statement on climate.

    I mentioned earlier what the actual consensus on the radiative physics of CO2 warming is – the undisputed science. The disputed science includes most everything else. Science simply doesn’t create “establishments” as you political types would like. Not until an hypothesis is thoroughly vetted and tested and made to stand up to all criticism and every attempt to discredit it, does it become an established theory. The kinds of catastrophic warming claims commonly made simply don’t stand up to that standard. They remain matters of scientific inquiry until then.

    The problem, many of these climate scientists seem to have forgotten the principles of science itself. As RIchard Feynman put it, the job of the scientists is to try as hard as he can to disprove his own hypotheses. Only if it survives all such efforts are refutation, can it be said to be true. This whole climate change hypothesis, however, is being exempted form that approach, because it is considered too important to actually refute. So instead of try to refute their own theory, they are trying to support it and knock down all skepticism and attacks upon it as “denialism”. This is not how the scientific method is supposed to work. It’s how politics works, however, and it’s poisoned the whole debate.

    Trying to create a monolithic authority out of the “scientific establishment” and give it only two sides to come down on, each in opposition to the other, is a travesty of science. Science is not authoritatian, and it doesn’t make arguments from authority, or from any establishment. I merely makes arguments from evidence. Those arguments that can’t be shot down, are considered temporarily true, but only until someone comes up with counter-evidence.

    The whole issue of climate change rests on more than one argument or hypothesis, but literally upon hundreds of separate but related issues. Each of those parts changes the picture, as we find out how they work and how they effect one another. So you can’t simply proclaim some kind of universal consensus of settled science on the issue. It’s pure BS to take that approach.

    There’s some aspects of the science that are indeed relatively certain, but much that is not, and the claim of scientific certainty only applies to a small portion of that which is being cited. There’s much evidence that goes against the alarmism, but that is swept aside, hushed up, ignored, and penalized for bringing it up. Don’t imagine that’s a rare phenomena in science. It’s all too common. Having some kind of idealistic view of what scientists do and how pure and true they are is simply not helpful, especially when at the same time one tries to tar and feather anyone with opposing views, or whose research doesn’t support the consensus claims. There is no magic wand handed out at Ph.D ceremonies that one waves and the certain truth suddenly appears before the scientist. Judgment calls are required, and they are as susceptible to bad judgement calls as anyone else. Many good and well-meaning doctors end up committing malpractice. The same goes for scientists. Casting doubt on their findings on the basis of reason and evidence is not “denialism”. It’s called “doing science”.

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  56. Someone says, “Yeah, we saw the iceberg about five hundred yards in front of us and immediately throttled the hell down and spun the wheel like you wouldn’t believe, so it was easy to turn the ocean liner away from the iceberg–our 50,000-ton baby responded immediately, turning on a dime.” Anything wrong with this picture? There is such a thing as climate inertia–it’s a fundamental fact about climate. There is also the phenomenon of “in the pipeline” in the sense of being there for a thousand years. Nature in its climate mode (as opposed to its weather mode) operates on a completely different timeline than we do. Its normal pace, unlike our frenetic one, is glacial. How Alexander Cockburn missed that, in the article cited by Ron Unz, I wouldn’t know.

    I regard Unz as a default denialist. He says, “I just don’t know” what’s the truth about global warming–but then why hasn’t he looked into the works of leading scientists (I’m assuming he hasn’t because otherwise he surely would have mentioned it) such as David Archer, James Hansen, and James Lovelock? They all have very readable books on the subject. Hansen especially would be a useful read. He is controversial. Many conservatives loudly profess their loathing of him without ever having read him. So what does Mr. Unz think of Hansen’s book (a superb book, IMO)?

    For establishing conservative bona fides there would be nothing better than a lengthy review and rebuttal of Hansen’s book by a smart conservative. It hasn’t been forthcoming. The reason is plain. No conservative writer wants to end up with egg all over his face by obviously not knowing how to argue with James Hansen, or by utterly failing to fairly refute (without recourse to straw men or question-begging) his arguments and evidence.

    How many conservatives know that James Hansen excoriates the whole idea of cap-and-trade, or that he vigorously calls for nuclear energy? Or that he has written that one B.H. Obama “just doesn’t get it” about global warming? You would think that such items would be noteworthy for conservatives.

    If only Edward Abbey were still around. I suspect he would take the trouble to at least read David Archer’s *The Long Thaw* (he would like the writing style) and thereby “get it.” It’s true that the overwhelming consensus among scientists–with only the most marginal outliers here and there–is not proof of global warming; there is no final proof in science. But “proof” is the wrong epistemic standard, if taken literally as meaning beyond any doubt. It is irrational to deny that the evidence strongly favors the AGW thesis. Irrational, that is, for those who have squarely looked at the evidence. For the others, who if they were perfectly truthful would admit not only that they “just don’t know” but that in fact they don’t know what they are talking about, the honorable thing to do is to say nothing. (I don’t place Ron Unz in this group.)

    A gradually implemented carbon tax–preferably a so-called fee-and-dividend tax–is needed. The money from this fossil-fuel industry tax would go directly into American citizens’ pockets at year’s end–roughly $6,000 to $10,000 per household to start, if I’m not mistaken–and it would force the market in a direction that accounts for the costs to society of carbon dioxide emissions, instead of subsidizing the fossil-fuel industry, as at present, by ignoring those costs. I even think Romney could allow the building of the Keystone XL pipeline if at the same time he were to implement an honest carbon tax such as fee-and-dividend. It would be like Nixon going to China, but with vastly greater consequences.

    Also needed, in addition to nuclear reactors, is something more ambitious, since nuclear reactors can never provide the amount of energy that will be needed–we can’t build them fast enough at this late date. The oceanographer David Archer suggests two interesting possibilities: High-altitude windmills (30,000 feet up, where it’s constantly extremely windy), and solar power via the moon. The latter is feasible with current technology but will take at least two decades to get up and running. (An article on this by the Houston engineer who thought of it–called “Solar Power Via the Moon”–is available on the Internet.)

    High-altitude windmills can be set up fairly rapidly–I imagine in five years or less. Birds will be injured or killed by flying into the cable attached to each of the windmills, through which the electricity runs to power plants on the ground. Let the environmentalists scream bloody murder. A few birds, or even a few million of them, can be sacrificed for the sake of humanity.

    And Freeman Dyson . . . it’s easy to see why Ron Unz regards him as someone to defer to on climate change. He’s a famous physicist. But has he ever said anything about the ice cores and their evidence, and about the far greater magnitude of the climate “forcing” that is caused by industrial-era carbon dioxide? Not to my knowledge, but I would be glad to be corrected if I’m wrong. Dyson is big on genetically altered trees that he hopes will soak up all the excess carbon dioxide. But I wouldn’t trust his proposed solution until he shows he understands such things as positive feedback and possible tipping points and, most of all, the ins and outs of climate inertia. Since he’s a physicist and not a geologist or oceanographer, or a specialist in some other relevant branch of science, I’m not holding my breath.

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  57. Anonymous says:     Show CommentNext New Comment

    One thing I understand in retrospect about high school debate in the 70s was how poor we were at distinguishing between good and bad sources of evidence. Mr. Unz seems still to have difficulty separating faddish flurries of media attention (including that Newsweek cover) and actual climate research. Popular reporting on scientific discoveries is notoriously weak and always has been. As for Dyson, while rebels have their place, the observations of an aging contrarian who publicly espouses a belief in ESP and admits to having little technical knowledge of global warming issues weighs little against the work described in other comments here.

    A place where there is little doubt about the reality of global warming is among the international reinsurance companies. These are the insurers of last resort who may lose billions in a single hurricane, for example, because, for a price, they take on the aggregate risk that a disaster will affect large numbers of other insurers’ policyholders. Those companies that I have dealt with all accept the reality of global warming as an element of their long-term planning. With large amounts of money on the line, they do not have the luxury of treating acceptance or rejection of global warming as a way of demonstrating political allegiance.

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  58. First, the obligatory I am not a scientist bit. I’m a historian, for what it’s worth. That out of the way, what bothers me most about the whole climate change debate isn’t the near-consensus on global climate change, but the sheer apocalypticism that scientists, to a degree, and the wider media and interested parties (be they corporations, governments, special interest groups, etc) both peddle and exploit. I have little trouble accepting a warming climate; I have a great deal of trouble taking seriously the red-faced cries of doom and gloom that we hear at a regular pace (though I always wonder whether most of the people ostensibly worrying about it really are worried- rather like other end-of-timers, they rarely ever take very drastic personal actions…).

    While there does seem to be some scientific basis for concern, the alarm, fear, and outright mythology, if you will, surrounding climate change seems to stem far more from older, deeper cultural and intellectual patterns that have cropped up in Western societies for generations and generations. Most salient is the need for teleological understandings of history- a narrative to drive things along, preferably to a fixed (and probably catastrophic!) point. Apocalyptic teleologies are particularly potent; global warming lends most of the necessary elements. An esoteric knowledge increasingly reflected in signs and events; a strong moral undertone of guilt and responsibility; the frantic cries to repentance and contrition, which might avert the impending Doom; and so on.

    This is not to say that scientists and others are simply making things up, or fabricating data, or have an ‘agenda’ guiding them. While those things may be true in some cases, I suspect that the deep ideologies and paradigms driving their appraisal and presentation of the evidence are reflective of particular teleologies and moral constructions. Does this vitiate the claims of scientists and others? Not necessarily. But it does make me reluctant to accept apocalyptic claims without a great deal of reservation, and a desire to wait and see- not exactly something our modern-day prophets are keen on anyone doing, I realize…

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  59. It is the epitome of false equivalency to say that because the media were so wrong about WMD, they must — or even might — be wrong about GW. You have to look at the motive. Americans love to go to war for a whole pile of reasons. People were freaked out about 9/11 beyond all reason. The Halliburtons of the world have enormous sway over our politics, especially in the case of Bush/Cheney. The media were terrified of getting it wrong, and besides they are owned in large part by the same people — or class of people — who profit from war. War sells newspapers. Remember the Maine!

    But where, in the global warming debate, do you find anyone whose argument is driven by sinister motives, other than the oil companies? Do you think the sum total of scientists who make the case for human-caused climate change, added to Toyota wanting to sell more Prius automobiles, amounts to a motive for selling a huge fraud to the world? I can’t see it. Look under the hood of any anti-climate-change website and you’ll find an energy company. Look under the hood of the climate-change-warning community and you find people who have little or nothing to gain, only the hope that there will be a world for their grandchildren to inhabit.

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  60. Jonathan says:
    “First, the obligatory I am not a scientist bit. I’m a historian, for what it’s worth. That out of the way, what bothers me most about the whole climate change debate isn’t the near-consensus on global climate change, but the sheer apocalypticism that scientists, to a degree, and the wider media and interested parties (be they corporations, governments, special interest groups, etc) both peddle and exploit.”

    You make some interesting comments. I wish I knew of some specific examples of AGW apocalypticism so I could comment on them directly.

    I myself have never seen anything written about AGW that I would consider “alarmist” or “apocalytic” (as in some sort of disaster or catastrophy being imminent on a human time scale). But perhaps my perspective as a scientist is a bit different than most.

    I suspect that one cause of misunderstanding and miscommunication is that many scientists (and especially geologists like myself) are used to thinking in terms of geologic time, while most laypersons are only used to thinking in terms of human time scales. For example, if sea level were to rise 100 feet in the next 1000 years, I as a geologist might consider that “catastrophic” sea level rise. While a layperson could certainly notice some sea level rise over the course of his lifetime, he would have plenty of time to relocate if he lived in a low-lying coastal area. So the impact on the layperson’s life would hardly be catastrophic.

    AGW, as I understand it, is something that will gradually play out over hundreds and thousands of years. The changes would occur extremely rapidly from the point of view of geologic time, but very slowly from the perspective of human experience. That doesn’t mean that AGW doesn’t in the long term pose a grave threat to our ecosystems or a significant threat to our economies, but it would hardly be “catastrophic” in a sense that most people would recognize.

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  61. Hi Ron. Why do you persist in implying that ‘Big Oil’ or Exxon is behind the latest climate scare and the poor science that’s being used to advance it? You are completely wrong about this.

    The oil companies are not leading the Global Warming campaign in any way. Big Government liberals, green energy advocates and environmentalists are the major proponents within this movement. ‘Climate change’ legislation poses a real risk to oil companies. They stand to lose billions.

    Since a tax on fossil fuels would only lessen their use, oil and other traditional energy companies oppose ‘cap and trade’ as well as the faulty science that’s being used to justify this transfer of wealth. Quit blaming the oil companies for corrupting science and/or politics via ‘climate change’ hysteria. You are barking up the wrong tree.

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  62. A very good article, Mr. Unz. Like you, I am essentially an agnostic on the issue. To have a truly informed opinion on it would require having invested a great deal more time in study of the topic than I have available to me.

    Given that, one tends to consider the nature of those pushing one side or the other. Climate scientists like Michael Mann, Gavin Schmidt, and James Hansen clearly are no longer acting as just scientists – they have become social activists. That makes me highly suspicious of their claims, especially as their claims now invoke an air of papal-like infallibility.

    And the salient fact about James Hansen’s scientific career is that he made a howlingly bad prediction about the Earth’s climate a quarter century ago. Of the three climate scenarios he presented to Congress in 1988, the one that most closely matched the actual measured mean surface temperature of the Earth during the subsequent twenty years was the one that supposed that CO2 emissions stopped increasing in 1999 – i.e., that the requirements that came to be embodied in the Kyoto Protocols were fully implemented. Of course, they never were. Most nations ignored the Kyoto Protocols, and they have since become a dead letter. But we reaped the benefits of Kyoto none-the-less – just by wanting them, I guess.

    A real, disinterested, scientific inquiry into the Earth’s climate would be a useful thing. I hope we get one someday.

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  63. “mark green says:

    The oil companies are not leading the Global Warming campaign in any way. Big Government liberals, green energy advocates and environmentalists are the major proponents within this movement. ‘Climate change’ legislation poses a real risk to oil companies. They stand to lose billions.”

    I don’t know about the other oil companies, but BP seems to have become a big proponent of global-warming orthodoxy.

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