Environmentalism, ideally, is a broad and pluralistic movement that embraces diverse ideologies and myriad disagreements, unified only by a shared and sincere concern for the health of the natural world. Aside from this core value, how individuals and organizations practice their environmentalism must and should display infinite variety, because how love for the natural world is balanced with empathy for the aspirations of humanity is never easy. Environmentalism in this broadest sense is a value that has acquired a welcome momentum in recent years, but challenging this ideal, pluralistic version of environmentalism are powerful political agendas.
These agendas have become mainstream and monolithic and incorporate foreboding certainties centered on two fundamental planks:
- We are running out of resources at a terrifying rate.
- We are perilously near to a “tipping point” after which it will be too late to save our planet from total catastrophe due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
We categorically reject both of these planks, and we are environmentalists.
Attempting to debunk the notion that we are about to run out of resources is relatively easy. If you have any faith at all in the creativity of individual inventors and entrepreneurs, any faith at all in the power of that tragically – and hopefully temporarily – discredited thing called the “market,” you will know there is no situation of scarcity that eludes a solution as long as people are free to own private property, to buy and sell, and to innovate. But that freedom has always been challenged by environmentalists, who, even before global warming alarm became increasingly institutionalized, exercised powerful and inordinate control over economic development. With global warming as the pretext to further regulate and limit all combustion, all emissions, and virtually all land use, the freedom to efficiently create wealth is not just undermined, it is eviscerated. For universal prosperity to be possible in our lifetimes, global energy production must double, and human technology is nowhere near ready to accomplish this goal while simultaneously abandoning fossil fuels.
The good news is we don’t have to abandon fossil fuel, we just have to scrub out the remaining harmful particulates and toxins from fossil fuel emissions. In this transcript of a presentation by Dr. Richard Lindzen at GoingGreen East, delivered this past March in Boston, he correctly points out that if the global climate displayed positive feedbacks, which all climate models that predict disaster depend on, the planet would have burned up eons ago. There are many reasons why alarm over greenhouse gas emissions is misplaced, but this is one of the most elegant yet.
Even if Dr. Lindzen were wrong in his reasoning, it would not mean the alarmist lobby is right, nor would it change the fact that alarm over CO2 is taking away our freedoms and distracting us from genuine environmental challenges, or that we resolutely support his decision to speak his opinion. And it is the content of his arguments, and nothing else, that should concern us.
- Ed Ring
|Sometimes truth is like the tortoise, slow to reach its
destination, but nonetheless unstoppable.
“There can be little doubt that the issue of global warming presents green entrepreneurs with many tempting opportunities and it’s only natural that one would want to exploit these opportunities.”
Moreover, environmental opportunities are accompanied by the satisfaction of cloaking the profit motive in virtue. Still, it pays to remember that for any enterprise there is a responsibility, and one of those responsibilities is the ability to detect bullshit, or as it is more formally called, due diligence. You have been told since 1988 (if your memory should go back that far) that the science of global warming is settled and that all scientists agree. Those of you who are intimate with physics, know that no such claim would even be made for the standard model or for general relativity. Those of you who have attended college will have difficulty remembering classmates who studied climate – certainly not the obvious ‘rocket scientists.’ So how does it happen that a primitive, backwater science dealing with a complex system involving some the most formidable equations in physics and innumerable unexplained features come to be characterized by a certainty that escapes the strongest of sciences? And what exactly is the certainty claimed for given the innumerable facets of this issue? It is certainly not about the various catastrophic scenarios.
Most of you will recognize that the rhetoric of global warming is not the rhetoric of science, it is the rhetoric of politics, and, quite frankly, global warming has always been a political movement. As a political movement, it is characterized by an unusual degree of ugliness. Scientists who legitimately question the alarmism are regularly associated with holocaust denial – an insult to the scientist and a belittling of the holocaust by associating the real murder of millions with a guess about some future problem. And for over 20 years, it has, moreover, been an excellently organized political movement. There has, in fact, been no comparably organized opposition.
My first point is that as far as scientists go, most of the atmospheric scientists and oceanographers who I respect do endorse global warming (without generally being specific about exactly what they are endorsing). The important point, however, is that the science that they do that I respect is not about global warming. Endorsing global warming just makes their lives easier. For example, my colleague, Kerry Emanuel, received relatively little recognition until he suggested that hurricanes might become stronger in a warmer world (a position that I think he has since backed away from somewhat). He then was inundated with professional recognition.
Another colleague, Carl Wunsch, professionally calls into question virtually all alarmist claims concerning sea level, ocean temperature and ocean modeling, but assiduously avoids association with skeptics; if nothing else, he has a major oceanographic program to worry about. Moreover, his politics are clearly liberal. Perhaps, the most interesting example is Wally Broecker, whose work clearly shows that sudden climate change occurs without anthropogenic influence, and is a property of cold rather than warm climates. However, he staunchly beats the drums for alarm and is richly rewarded for doing so.
For a much larger group of scientists, the fact that they can make ambiguous or even meaningless statements that can be spun by alarmists, and that the alarming spin leads politicians to increase funding provides little incentive to complain about the spin.
Second, most arguments about global warming boil down to science versus authority. For much of the public, authority will generally win since they do not wish to deal with science. For a basically political movement, as the global warming issue most certainly is, an important task is to coopt the sources of authority. This, the global warming movement has done with great success.
Thus, for over twenty years, the National Academy had a temporary nominating group designed to facilitate the election of environmental activists. The current president of the academy is one of these. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has been headed by James McCarthy and John Holdren in recent years, and these have been public advocates for global warming alarm. Holdren is now President Obama’s nominee for science advisor. There are numerous further examples. How often have we heard a legitimate scientific argument answered by the claim that the alarmist scenario is endorsed by, for example, the American Physical Society (regardless of their lack of expertise in the issue)? How often have you heard innocuous claims by some society or another taken as endorsements of alarm? How often have you heard that any particular argument has been dealt with by realclimate.org (a clear advocacy website designed to assure warming alarmists that the basis for alarm still exists)?
Thirdly, the success with respect to the second item also gives the climate alarm movement control over carrots and sticks – which, in turn, is what makes it expedient for most scientists to go along. Note that the carrots are as important as the sticks, though the sticks matter a great deal when grants, publication and promotion are at stake.
With respect to carrots, for example, John Holdren was long on the board of the MacArthur Foundation which has awarded ‘genius’ grants to numerous environmental activists. Ironically, an award allegedly honoring the late Bill Nierenberg (who served as director of Scripps Oceanographic Institution), a very perceptive and active skeptic of climate alarm, is now given annually to an alarmist. One could go on at great length. At the stick end, one simply has to note that Science and Nature have both publically taken positions against publishing anything that opposes the notion of dangerous anthropogenic warming, while publishing highly dubious science endorsing the notion.
The process of coopting science on behalf of a political movement has had an extraordinarily corrupting influence on science – especially since the issue has been a major motivation for funding. Most funding for climate science would not be there without this issue. And, it should be added, most science funded under the rubric of climate does not actually deal with climate, but rather with the alleged impact of arbitrarily assumed climate change. All impacts depend on regional forecasts, and quoting the leading scientist at the European Centre for Medium Range Weather Forecasting (widely regarded as the foremost atmospheric modeling center), Tim Palmer, such forecasts are little better than guesses.
Nonetheless, regional forecasts are at the heart of numerous state initiatives to ‘fight’ climate change. These initiatives are usually prepared by the Center for Climate Strategies (CCS), a Pennsylvania-based environmental advocacy group that purports to help states determine for themselves how to develop climate change policies. In reality, according to Paul Chesser of the John Locke Foundation, CCS tightly controls these commissions, who consider proposals mostly from a menu of options presented by CCS themselves. Nearly all the choices represent new taxes or higher prices on energy, increased costs of government, new regulations for businesses, and reduced energy-producing options for utilities, and therefore consumers. CCS is funded largely by a multi-million dollar global warming alarmist foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund.
What can the entrepreneur who wants to get to the bottom of this mess do? The most obvious point is to better understand the science, and to notice the obvious breaches of logic. Logic ultimately has to trump alleged authority. Moreover, there is generally a deep disconnect between consensus statements that commonly only repeat the trivial points that there has been some warming and that man’s emissions have caused some part of this, and the claims of catastrophe made by advocates. Pay attention to these differences. Note especially that citing various changes that are observed is simply to note that the earth is always changing; it is hardly evidence of man’s role in such changes.
With respect to better understanding the science, it is my view that the observations of almost a decade ago that outgoing long wave radiation associated with warmer surface temperatures was much greater than models predicted provided as good evidence as one could hope for that model sensitivities were much too high. However, without an adequate understanding of the physics, the point is largely missed. How can one communicate this to the public? Actually, the science isn’t all that hard.
John Sununu (formerly Bush I’s chief of staff, governor of New Hampshire, and professor of mechanical engineering at Tufts University) offered an easily appreciated example of positive and negative feedback. In your car, the gas and brake pedals act as negative feedbacks to reduce speed when you are going too fast and increase it when you are going too slow. If someone were to reverse the position of the pedals without informing you, then the pedals would act as positive feedbacks: increasing your speed when you are going too fast, and slowing you down when you are going too slow.
Alarming predictions depend critically on the fact that models have large positive feedbacks. The crucial question is whether nature actually behaves this way? The answer is may well be no. In the common (though admittedly somewhat inaccurate) picture of the greenhouse effect, greenhouse substances (mainly thin high clouds and water vapor, but also CO2, methane, freons, etc.) act as a blanket, inhibiting the emission of infrared (heat) radiation. We know that in the absence of feedbacks (in which water vapor and clouds allegedly act to amplify the effect of added CO2), an increase in temperature will lead to a certain increase in this heat radiation (also known as outgoing longwave radiation, OLR). With positive feedbacks, this amount of radiation will be reduced (in terms of the ‘blanket’ imagery, the blanket has gotten thicker). Current models do, indeed, predict this. The feedback processes actually operate on very short time scales, and the earth’s temperature also undergoes relatively rapid fluctuations (associated with internal phenomena like El Nino). In response to such fluctuations, the emitted heat radiation will also fluctuate.
|In these diagrams we actually have a crucial piece of information that
tells us that models are greatly exaggerating climate sensitivity. It tells us that the
greenhouse blanketing effect in models is about 7 times greater than it is in nature.
As we see in the accompanying figures from a paper by Wielicki et al (2002), the actual fluctuations in heat radiation are substantially greater than those produced by models forced by the observed temperature fluctuations. They are also greater than what would be expected in the absence of feedbacks. This implies that nature is, as any reasonable person might suppose, dominated by stabilizing negative feedbacks rather than destabilizing positive feedbacks. It has been noted that the climate in models is an example of unintelligent design – something modelers are far more capable of than is nature.
|From 1985 until 1989 the models and observations are more or less the same –
they have, in fact, been tuned to be so. However, with the warming after 1989, the
observational spikes characteristically exceed 7 times the model values. This
corresponds roughly to a sensitivity of 0.5C for a doubling of CO2. Note that the ups
and downs of both the observations and the model (forced by observed sea surface
temperature) follow the ups and downs of temperature.
Getting people (including many scientists) to understand this is crucial. Once it is understood, the silliness of the whole issue becomes evident – though those who are committed to warming alarm as the vehicle for agendas ranging from a postmodern coup d’etat to simple personal profit will obviously try to obfuscate matters. Although the above results were confirmed by at least four other groups, there did appear a paper in 2006 by Wong, Wielicki et al that attempted to eliminate the observed discrepancy with models by adjusting the data. In this particular case, satellite orbital decay was shown to largely reduce the secular change in emitted heat radiation between the 80′s and 90′s. However, the episodic fluctuations remained substantially greater than those produced by the models. It is an interesting feature of climate science that when data disagrees with models, the data is inevitably ‘corrected’ to eliminate the disagreement. The ‘corrections’ in my experience are not implausible; the data, after all, is subject to numerous uncertainties.
However, the fact that such changes inevitably act to bring the data into better agreement with highly uncertain models is, in fact, highly implausible. There are many reasons why the weakness of the arguments for catastrophic anthropogenic warming are little known (though increasingly suspected by the general public). Some of these reasons are institutional. Those who note the weaknesses are limited by minimal resources.
Indeed, given the minimal resources available to those who are truly interested in how climate actually works, and the immense resources and power of the environmental movement, it is astounding that resistance has been as effective as it has been. That said, one should not underestimate the impressive degree of organization behind the climate alarm movement. Notable, in this regard, has been the Climate Action Network that has coordinated the activities of hundreds of environmental NGO’s since 1989. To be sure, there have been petitions by 100′s to tens of thousands of scientists opposing global warming alarm. These have been largely ineffective. However, there is now afoot a movement for these thousands of scientists to resign en masse from scientific and professional organizations wherein a few activist members have managed to speak for the entire membership in taking unrepresentative stands on the warming issue. Such a movement would make clear the shallowness of the claims of institutional authority.
The global warming issue has done much to set back climate science. In particular, the notion that climate is one dimensional which is to say that it is totally described by some fictitious global mean temperature and some single gross forcing a la increased CO2 is grotesque in its oversimplification. This error is perpetuated by those attempting to ‘explain’ climate with solar variability. Unlike greenhouse forcing, solar forcing is so vague that one can’t reject it. However, acting as though this is the alternative to greenhouse forcing is asking for trouble simply because it endorses the oversimplified paradigm. Remember, we are dealing with a small amount of warming (a few tenths of a degree concentrated in two relatively brief episodes) in an inadequately observed system. The proper null hypothesis is that there was no need whatsoever for external forcing in order to produce such behavior. The unsteady and even turbulent motions of the ocean and atmosphere are forever moving heat from one place to another on time scales from days to centuries, and, in doing so, they leave the system out of equilibrium with the sun leading to fluctuations in temperature. The thought that these turbulent fluctuations demand specific causes is absurd – about as absurd as calling for specific causes for each whirl in a bubbling brook.
Finally, I would suggest that history supports the notion that science eventually favors the truth, and I am confident that when this point is finally reached global warming alarm will be viewed as another inexplicable mania. There are many reasons for being confident of this. However, we have just gone over one of the most important scientific reasons. The satellite records of outgoing heat radiation show that the climate is dominated by negative feedbacks and that the response to doubled and even quadrupled CO2 would be minimal.
In a field as primitive as climate science, most of the alleged climate scientists are not even aware of this basic relation. And these days, as we have seen, attempts will be made to alter the data. Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that the public is not likely to understand this as well. On the other hand, the fact that the global mean temperature anomaly has not increased statistically significantly since at least 1995, does not actually disprove anthropogenic global warming, but for the public this failure may well be crucial. (It may already have been crucial for the otherwise inexplicable surge in global warming propaganda over the past three years.)
For some of us, this is an occasional source of frustration, but one must always remember that this is a political rather than a scientific issue, and in a political issue, public perception is important. Moreover, the temperature record does demonstrate at least one critical point: namely, that natural climate variability remains sufficiently large to preclude the identification of climate change with anthropogenic forcing. As the IPCC AR4 noted, the attribution claim, however questionable, was contingent on the assumption that models had adequately handled this natural internal variability. The temperature record of the past 14 years clearly shows that this assumption was wrong. To be sure, this period constitutes a warm period in the instrumental record, and, as a result, many of the years will be among the warmest in the record, but this does nothing to mitigate the failure of nature to properly follow the models. To claim otherwise betrays either gross ignorance or grosser dishonesty (see Figures 2 and 3 from data from the UK Meteorological Office). When it comes to global warming hysteria, neither has been in short supply.
About the author: Richard S. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (http://web.mit.edu). This paper was prepared for a keynote address delivered by Linzen at the AlwaysOn GoingGreen cleantech investor conference, held March 9-11th in Boston. This transcript is posted here with permission from the author, and the video of this address can be found at the GoingGreen East Program Archives; scroll through the program and click on Lindzen’s opening keynote at 8:30 a.m. on March 11th.