Carolyn Gregoire tries to explain “Why Some Conservatives Can’t Accept That Climate Change Is Real.” The question is wrong; the answer is even worse.
Ms. Gregoire attacks conservatives without defining who they are. She assumes that this is known; she is wrong. The division between conservatives and liberals is a rift within a political establishment and does not reflect actual divisions within the American society. This rift is artificially kept alive by a quite populous league of intellectually barren political writers on both sides of the spectrum, whose only message is bashing conservatives or liberals respectively, while applauded by an audience without much intellectual sophistication. It is sad to see that a well-educated young political writer such as Ms. Gregoire so early settled so low.
Next, Ms. Gregoire imputes to her opponents that they cannot accept that climate change is real, implying that they believe that the climate is more or less constant. I doubt that Ms. Gregoire can point me to any politician or political writer claiming that climate is not changing. This is not the bone of contention. We all know that climate is changing, and always had been. The disagreement is in what part of the change is caused by the progress of our civilization, and what – if anything – we should do about it. Our zealous author uses the best of her talent to avoid addressing this core matter.
The issue in question is the work of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and – most of all – the political consequences of it. Ms. Gregoire mentions IPCC with pious reverence, but in the same breath accuses that, for its critics, “it’s never really been about the science.”
Formally, Ms. Gregoire does not address me because I do not consider myself a conservative (whatever it might mean) and do not recall anyone accusing me of being one. I respond because, being all about science, I have essential disagreements with the set of beliefs about climate change that Ms. Gregoire advocates. As a skeptic by nature, I like to learn more from all sides of the issue before forming my opinion. Before elaborating on what I found, let me mention that, as being a little older, I remember well similar hoopla about global cooling, also claimed as having been caused by human actions. I remember as well the alarmist Limits to Growth report from 1972, advocating for society to take action so “the state of global equilibrium could be designed,” protecting us from being just around the corner the collapse of our civilization. Studies that analyze global cooling or warming, or show the limits of our growth, are valuable as they allow us to understand better the world around us. It is a completely different issue if some scientific theory is accepted as a political agenda, which requires that some of my taxpayer’s money must be spent. That eagerness of some scientists to manipulate society (see point 2 of conclusions of the Limits to Growth report) is troubling.
It is exactly the same in the case of global warming today; our government is taking actions that taxpayers need to pay for. Recently, the most controversial is the new set of emission control regulations, which mean that the cost of energy will go up, ergo so will my costs of living. Ms. Gregoire misses the target when she extensively speculates about psychological conditions causing more Americans than before to reject the political agenda of climate change. It is just about money. When someone pulls money out of my pocket, it gets my attention. Most people, before spending their money, do some research; in particular, they want to find out what critics say about the product or service they consider buying. What is wrong with doing the same before committing any of my money for the implementation of the IPCC recommendations?
When one starts looking, things get interesting. About 125,000 years ago, the climate was much warmer, with temperatures 2°C to 4°C (3.6°F to 7°F) higher than present, and the sea level about 4-6 meters (13-20 feet) above what it is now. Then, according to some theories, a shift of continents changed the pattern of the ocean currents and a period of climate cooling began. It peaked about 20,000 years ago, when temperatures were 3°C to 5°C (5°F to 9°F) cooler than the present, and sea levels were 120 meters (394 feet) below current levels. Then, for reasons not fully understood, a period of rapid warming began, lasting until about 6,000 years ago. It is important to know that the process of climate warming during that period was not steady, but happened in bursts, when temperatures could jump up to several degrees within a few decades and sea levels could rise up to 2.5 meters (8.2 feet) within a century. The last burst occurred about 8,000 years ago, at a time when our civilization was emerging. There are numerous theories that stories, as about a biblical deluge or the lost city of Atlantis may reflect human experience during violent floods caused by that last burst of rapid climate warming. Since then, we have been blessed with a period of relatively stable climate. The rise of the oceans was negligible. When our measuring techniques improved, scientists were able to estimate that sea levels rose 9 centimeters (3.5 inches) in the 19th century and 19 centimeters (7.5 inches) in the 20th century. Similarly, temperatures were almost steady as well, with the previous global warming period about 1,000 years ago, when temperatures were similar to now if not slightly higher. It was followed by a period of colder climate; the present period of climate warming started about 100 years ago. We should appreciate that the 0.85⁰C increase of the atmospheric temperature during the last century is mild in comparison to the violent nature of the climate. Just a sizable volcano eruption can cool the Earth by 2⁰C to 3⁰C for an entire year. Also, we should realize that expecting that the climate will be always as stable as during the past few thousand years is simply unrealistic as it contradicts the basic science.
The above conclusions are easy to reach by anyone having access to the internet. Ms. Gregoire claims that Americans reach this conclusion because they listen to “high-profile skeptics.” It is the other way around. After finding that IPCC conclusions are too politicized, Americans speak up, some louder than others. This freedom of expression bothers Ms. Gregoire.
Professor S. Fred Singer can be called a high-profile skeptic. The unquestionable authority in climate science, he has been challenging IPCC work from its origination in the early 1990s. He gathered a team of scientists, and after partnering with the Chicago-based Heartland Institute, he leads the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, NIPCC. In order to check it out firsthand, in 2013, I attended one event when NIPCC presented its work. To my engineering mind the group’s findings look like a valid critique of the IPCC, and I would love to see science behind Ms. Gregoire’s dismissal of their work.
In recent years, climate change activists talk less about global warming per se, as for the last 18 years temperatures have barely moved up, or at least far below earlier IPCC models. However, the content of CO2 in the atmosphere is increasing steadily during the last hundred years, from below 300 particles per million to 400 now. There is no doubt that the burning of fossil fuels contributes to this growth. Scientists cannot agree how much, as basically there is not enough scientific understanding of these processes to determine the causation. Some claim that higher levels of CO2 cause global warming; others argue that global warming, caused by other reasons, results in warmer oceans releasing more CO2 than before.
Advocates from under the banner of IPCC ask for immediate action now to limit CO2 emissions, as a precaution. Opponents say that there is nothing wrong with increased CO2 levels, as this will stimulate our biosphere, trees will grow faster and larger, and farmers will have better harvests. I attended a lecture by Professor William Happer, who brought with him an instrument to measure CO2 level in the auditorium with about 200 attendees. At the beginning of the lecture it was 1,000 particles per million; by the end it grew up to about 1,600. Everybody felt fine. Apparently, this is the most typical level of CO2 we are exposed to, especially in confined spaces, with more people around. The U.S. Navy permits up to 5,000 particles per million on submarines, and NASA has similar limits for spacecraft.
In her text, Ms. Gregoire dismissed arguments such as mine here, because “97 percent of climate scientists insist climate change is real and caused by human actions.” In science more often than not, the truth is on the side of the minority. This was the case with Nicolaus Copernicus or Albert Einstein. We should not forget that in response to the book “100 Authors Against Einstein,” Einstein said, “Why 100 authors? If I were wrong, then one would have been enough!” Coincidentally, NIPCC, which I mentioned earlier, has just released a new publication, “Why Scientists Disagree About Global Warming.” Over there they investigate how that 97% was defined. In 2004 Dr. Naomi Oreskes examined abstracts of 928 scientific publications about climate science and on this basis determined that 97% of them support conclusions and recommendations of IPCC. This study by Dr. Oreskes was not a peer-reviewed scientific project but her work for an “essay on science and society” published in Science magazine. Critics question the selection of the publications, and the criteria of categorizations, as for example, studies confirming some human influence on global warming were categorized as claiming that that influence was decisive. In 2012 Dutch researchers asked 7,555 climate scientists if they agree with the IPCC finding. Out of 1,868 who replied, only 47% supported the IPCC conclusions. This is the number for people who are about science.
Lastly, Ms. Gregoire writes “leaders and corporations — such as ExxonMobile [wrong spelling, sic!] — have a strong financial incentive to ignore the facts.” This sneaky statement, without saying this explicitly, implies that IPCC critics are motivated solely by money from Exxon and the like. After listening to one group of “high-profile skeptics,” I can assure Ms. Gregoire that I do not sense big money behind them. It is exactly the opposite; the big money is against them. The recently published article about “Causes and Consequences of the Climate Science Boom” shows that in multiple programs the U.S. government spends about $10 billion per year on climate science, an additional $10 billion for climate change-related research and programs, and yet another $10 billion is spent on tax breaks for businesses doing something about climate change. This is crony capitalism in its crystalline pure form. With this flow of money, scientists and institutions they work for have an invested interest in proving that climate change is real and dangerous enough to require action. If they concluded otherwise, the big chunk of $30 billion would be gone. IPCC and its acolytes advocate spending real money on changing the climate despite the fact that – as authors of the above-mentioned essay say – “science relevant for understanding many of the climate-forcing factors is still in its infancy.” They conclude: “The line between science and politics in climate science does appear to be rather blurred.”
A Danish scientist asked an important question: “If we could control the climate, how should it then be? As during the ice age, the Stone Age, the 1600s, the 1800s?” What should we do if we were facing a rapid climate change as early humans experienced about 8,000 years ago? Or, more realistically, even if in some miracle way we stop tomorrow all CO2 emissions, can we stop the global warming? Or, if for the next 20 years or so, we all forsake our new cars and houses, live bare level of survival, and devote all our money and technological abilities for the sake of preventing further climate change – will it make a difference? It appears that human action triggered the rapid increase of the CO2 levels. But there is ample evidence that this process has its own momentum caused by forces far beyond our reach. After a man triggers an avalanche, there is nothing that men can do to stop it.
Will all our money, as well as our hubris that we can change the climate, suffice against the power of the Sun and the powers of the magma inside the Earth that moves the continents, changes the path of ocean currents, and makes volcanoes erupt? Isn’t that trying to bite off more than we can chew? The Polish saying in such a circumstance is of someone going against the Sun with a hoe. Can one find a better description of the climate policy that Ms. Gregoire advocates?
Usually my texts are also posted at Huffington Post, but editors there refused to publish this text.