317 Facts, Not Fear

Two decades ago, Bjorn Lomborg insisted (in The Skeptical Environmentalist:  Measuring the Real State of the World)that if more of us were more skeptical fewer of us would fear environmental catastrophes.  He provided a densely documented repudiation of the environmentalist litanies which then orchestrated world opinion and political action.  As “an old left-wing Greenpeace member,” it was difficult for Lomborg to entertain second thoughts about the movement he’d supported, but reading an interview with Julian Simon prodded him “to put my beliefs under the statistical microscope” (p. xixi).  The results—displayed in charts and graphs on almost every page as well as 2,930 footnotes and 1,800 bibliographical entries—undermined the worldview he’d too easily championed.  Lomborg devoted 68 double column pages to global warming, easily the most emotionally-charged current environmental issue.  He emphasized that many factors point to a slowly warming planet.  But the data are not totally persuasive.  And even worst-case scenarios will not dramatically change life on earth.  Many of the headline-grabbing projections are little more than “computer-aided storytelling.”  Frantic efforts to retard the warming trend would do little to alter the process.  We could easily expend enormous sums and slightly reduce the amount of global warming, but in a century such efforts will make little difference!  So Lomborg urged us to invest in more realistic endeavors and deal with the consequences of global warming when and if—when and if!—they transpire.  He further cautioned that if an estimated $100 trillion were spent during this century to curtail global warming it would reduce global temperature by only one-sixth of a degree Celsius!

Inasmuch as Congresswoman Aexandria Ocasio-Cortez recently rolled out a “New Green Deal” that has garnered endorsements from a variety of Democratic politicians (many of them running for President), it’s obvious we need to treat such proposals with considerable skepticism.  That’s especially true when we’re told we have only 12 years to save the planet!  (I’m reminded of Mark Twain’s quip in Life on the Mississippi:  “There is something fascinating about science.  One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.”)  Agitators such as Ocasio-Cortez know that bad news makes the news, and popular publications and public school teachers pick up on alarming announcements, so that all too quickly extreme cases become accepted as basic norms.  Fears fly faster and further than facts!  Ungrounded alarms send folks scurrying for shelter when nothing has happened!  Scientists, as prone to vanity as any other professional group, enjoy the spotlight as lonely prophets and feed the frenzy.

So it’s helpful to peruse Gregory Wrightstone’s recent work, Inconvenient Facts:  The Science Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know (Silver Crown Productions, Mill City Press, c. 2017) for a readable (and well-illustrated) update to Lomborg’s Skeptical Environmentalist.  Introducing the book, England’s Viscount Monckton of Brenchley says:  “The Roman poet Virgil wrote of the scientist:  ‘Felix qui potuit rerum cognoscere causas:  Happy the one who finds the why of things.’  Science was originally known in the West as philosophia naturalis—the love of the nature of wisdom that is love of the wisdom of nature.  The noble philosophical mission of ‘the seeker after truth’, as the Iraqi mathematician and empiricist al-Haytham beautifully described the scientist, was to discern what is so in nature and why it is so, and to answer the question of the Greek philosopher Anaximander:  how to distinguish what is from what is not?” (Kindle #43).  Still more:  Science, to al-Haytham, “is not done by mere head count:  ‘The seeker after truth does not put his faith in any consensus, however venerable or widespread.  Instead he questions what he has learned of it, applying to it his hard-won scientific knowledge, and he inspects and inquires and investigates and checks and checks and checks again. The road to the truth is long and hard, but that is the road we must follow.’” 

“Gregory Wrightstone,” Viscount Moncton continues, “is a man of true science, firmly in the tradition of al-Haytham.  His mission in this book is not to prop up some failed Party Line willy-nilly, nor—on the other hand—unthinkingly to oppose that Party Line merely on the basis that it is as scientifically disagreeable as it is histrionically hysterical.  His mission is to distinguish what is from what is not in the climate debate.  He has splendidly succeeded” (#65).  Wrightstone himself says he writes “to provide non-scientists with well-documented, easily understood data on the basics of the science, while spotlighting the many glaring flaws in the climate-catastrophe arguments.”  The facts on display easily equip us to evaluate claims set forth by “climate change catastrophe” devotees who indulge in scare tactics to advance their political agendas.  “The inconvenient facts presented here show that the threat to humankind is not climate change or global warming, but a group of men (and women) intent on imposing an agenda based on severely flawed science” (#271). 

Wrightstone is a “geoscientist who has dealt with various aspects of the Earth’s processes for more than 35 years” who knows “that the brief hundred or so years of recorded temperatures—and the even shorter time frame since the first satellite was launched—is just a blink of a geologic eye.  It is too brief a period to evaluate the data adequately” (#258).  The planet has been much cooler—and much warmer—in the past, and carbon dioxide levels have oscillated wildly.  Indeed:  “Our current geologic period (Quaternary) has the lowest average CO2 levels in the history of the Earth” (#448).  Still more:  we also know that there were several previous eras (Minoan, Roman, Medieval) “that all were warmer than today, even though CO2 concentration was only 70% of today’s” (#581).  “It was warmer than today for 6,100 of the last 10,000 years,” and “the current warming trend is neither unusual nor unprecedented,” so it’s obvious CO2 levels had little to do with it (#858).  Contrary to alarmist articles, water vapor, not carbon dioxide, is mainly responsible greenhouse warming.  Indeed:  “Nearly 99% of the atmosphere consists of nitrogen and oxygen.  The remaining 1% consists of several trace gases, including CO2, whose current concentration represents just 0.04% of the atmosphere, or 400 molecules out of every million” (#375). 

Understanding elementary geoscience frees us from “climate apocalypse myths” popularized by National Geographic and environmental groups.  Fortunately the world is not “careening toward planetary doom because of our excesses.”  In fact:  “Humanity and the Earth are prospering wildly, not in spite of rising temperatures and increasing carbon dioxide, but because of them” (#1119).  Nor does anything like an overwhelming “consensus” regarding global warming exist in the scientific community.   A 2016 a survey of 4,000 members of the American Meteorological Society “found that 33% believed that climate change was not occurring, was at most half man-made, was mostly natural, or they did not know.  Significantly, only 18% believed that a large amount—or all—of additional climate change could be averted” (#1221).  Amazingly:  “Only 0.3% of published scientists stated in their papers that recent warming was mostly man-made” (#1223). 

Wrightstone presents data and charts to show that, contrary to apocalyptic myths, during the past several decades there have been fewer droughts, forest fires, famines, heat waves, tornadoes, and hurricanes.  Polar bear populations have increased, rather than decreased, and the rising sea levels have been doing so for 15,000 years with no dramatic increased rate during the past century.  Though a small peninsula of Antartica has been losing its ice cover, “Most of Antarctica is cooling and gaining ice mass” (#2006).  In sum:   “The inconvenient facts in this book support quite a different narrative from that offered by proponents of apocalyptic human-driven climate change.  On every key topic examined, the evidence, supported by voluminous peer reviewed studies, reveals that the ‘consensus’ opinion promoted by climate-apocalypse proponents is consistently at odds with reality” (#2026). 

For the reader’s convenience, there’s a list of the 60 “inconvenient facts” appended to the text. 

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In Landscapes & Cycles:  An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism (c. 2013) Jim Steele, a biology professor at San Francisco State University, explains why he, as an active field scientist, came to distrust alarmist statements when they ran counter to his careful experiments.  He ever emphasizes:  “Although it is wise to think globally, all wildlife reacts locally” (p. 1).  Rather than endorse warnings issued by “authorities” (such as James Hansen—the “father of modern global warming theory”), he looked at the evidence he best knew, and “to my great surprise and great relief, when I examined 100 years of local climate observations throughout California, I found they contradicted the global models.  Global warming was not global and the local perspective suggested wildlife was not being harmed by climate change” (p. 3).  Though alarmist articles blamed rising CO2 levels for wildlife extinction, Steele found that “local temperatures never warmed or were never examined” (p. 15).  Instead, the slightly warmer temperatures during the past 60 years seemed to have benefitted rather than harmed the state’s wildlife.   Yet when he dared state this obvious truth he was attacked as a “denier and accused of helping Big Oil” (p. 9). 

Steele carefully examines celebrated environmentalist horror stories, beginning with Dr. Camille Parmesan’s research on butterflies.  She “is considered one of the leading figures in climate-change research” and was “ranked as the second-most cited author in papers devoted expressly to global warming and climate change” (p. 19).  She is one of the “global” thinkers, looking for “overall patterns” rather than specifics.  Importantly, her views garnered the endorsement of “one of the most prestigious scientific journals with one of the highest rejections rates, Nature” (p. 21).  Though she had become a scientific celebrity—even invited to speak in the White House—her claims triggered questions for Steele since they “contradicted the butterfly’s well-established biology” and “blamed ‘global’ warming even through local maximum temperatures had cooled.  Although butterfly experts and scientists dedicated to saving the butterfly from extinction had pointed to habitat destruction as the culprit and sought habitat restoration, Parmesan argued for reduced carbon emissions” (p. 20). 

Since one of the nation’s best butterfly experts, Paul Opler, finds no evidence bolstering Parmesan’s position Steele contacted her and “asked for the locations of her research sites.”  She refused!  “More than three years later,” he says, “I am still waiting” (p. 25).  And the butterflies she said were going extinct have, in fact, “been recovering” nicely, but one would never know it since “there have been no press releases to celebrate the good news” (p. 26).  After checking the facts in one of her famous papers—“Impacts of Extreme Weather and Climate on Terrestrial Biota”—Steele declares it “egregious.  Her conclusions are based on deceptive half-truths and grave sins of omission, yet it mesmerized the nation’s top climate scientists, who rapidly adopted her as blindly as the ants adopted a Large Blue [butterfly species]” (p. 85). 

Turning to another example, Steele examined the much-publicized decline of Emperor penguins—the largest of all Antarctic penguins.  Recent satellite surveys indicate that there are probably 600,000 of them, but the media persist in referring to “old data from a single colony that had suddenly declined during the 1970s to create a model demonstrating that rising CO2 will cause the Emperors to soon go extinct” (p. 52).  On-site data show “there has been absolutely no local warming,” yet climate scientists still issue warnings that the “Emperors are on the precipice of collapse, when in reality there are more penguins and more Antarctic sea ice now than as ever been observed before” (p. 16).  The same is true of Adelie penguins, cited by Al Gore as a sure indicator of climate change.  He, along with the World Wildlife Fund, focused on “one small area where 80% of the penguins have been lost” while withholding data showing that elsewhere the “Adelies are thriving” (p. 174), unfazed by global warming! 

Polar bears are likewise alive and well!  As are golden toads, pikas, walruses, and gray whales!  Unlike the computer generated alarmist declarations of species doomed to extinction, careful local studies often show them doing quite well, easily adjusting to changing environmental conditions.  Reading Steele’s essays provides a healthy antidote to the frenzy animating the “climate change” movement.

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A decade ago Lawrence Solomon was working for Energy Probe, one of Canada’s oldest and largest environmental organizations.  For years he’d helped sound the alarm on global warming.  He also wrote a weekly column for the National Post.  Learning that there were a few distinguished scientists who disputed the global warming forecasts, he decided to devote a few of his columns to them.  One name led to another and in time he “profiled some three-dozen scientists, all recognized leaders in their fields, many of them actually involved in the official body that oversees most of the world’s climate-change research” (p. 6).  Ultimately he collected his columns in a highly readable and informative book—The Deniers:  The world-renowned scientists who stood up against global warming hysteria, political persecution, and fraud, and those who are too fearful to do so (Richard Vigilante Books, c. 2008).  One of the striking  truths he discovered was that the scientists he interviewed almost always said:  “‘I’m sure global warming exists.  All the science from all the different scientific disciplines say so.  But there is one exception—my particular area of expertise has found no compelling evidence of manmade global warming’” (p. 46).   So there seems to be a pervasive pattern:  “Affirmers in general.  Deniers in particular” (p. 46). 

For his first column he interviewed Dr. Edward J.Wegman, a professor at George Mason University who is considered one of the world’s finest statisticians.  He’d become involved in the global warming issue when asked by the House of Representatives to evaluate the famous hockey stick graph, the “poster child” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and frequently featured “in the global warming debate” (p. 10).    Constructed by Professor Michael Mann, the graph showed global temperatures dramatically increasing throughout the 20th century, in tandem with increasing amounts of atmospheric CO2.  (Mann’s graph simply ignored long-accepted evidence regarding the “Medieval Warming Period” wherein temperatures were much warmer than they are today and during which the civilization of the “High Middle Ages” flourished.) 

Mann’s methodology had been subjected to intensive scrutiny by Stephen McIntyre, who concluded it was inaccurate at best and devious at worst!  So Professor Wegman was asked to decide who was right.  He assembled “an expert panel of statisticians” to help him, and pronounced Mann’s “hockey stick” was rooted in an erroneous methodology.  “Wegman argued not only that Mann was wrong but also that the mistakes he made were those that would have been fairly obvious to a top-notch statistician” (p. 18).  That Mann’s work had been “peer reviewed” also distressed Wegman , for discovered that the “peers” evaluating it all belonged to a small, tightly-bound circle of men committed to the global warming agenda.  In light of Wegman’s devastating critique, the IPCC dropped the hockey stick from its publications.

As a committed environmentalist, Solomon had long believed the UN climate-change scientists who linked hurricanes, such as Katrina, with global warming.  So he was “dumbfounded” when he found that the leading expert on Atlantic hurricanes, Dr. Christopher Landsea, denied any correlation, much less causation.  Summing up, he said:  “‘There are no known scientific studies that show a conclusive physical link between global warming and observed hurricane frequency and intensity’” (p. 31).  He wrote IPCC officials, “protesting:  ‘Where is the science, the refereed publications, that substantiates these pronouncements?  . . . .  As far as I know there are none’” (p. 33).  He then resigned from his IPCC position, lamenting that “I personally cannot in good faith continue to contribute to a process that I view as both being motivated by preconceived agendas and being scientifically unsound’” (p. 35).  Subsequently, “the IPCC quietly banished hurricanes as cover-story material.  Also like the Mann hockey stick, the hurricane fears have done their work” (p. 36).

Of particular importance is the stance of Dr. Richard Lindzen, a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and one of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists.  He authored a chapter in an IPCC report, only to find it seriously misrepresented in its “Summaries for Policymakers.”  To counteract the distortions therein, he wrote a short piece for the Wall Street Journal titled “Climate of Fear.”  Peoples’ fears were being stoked by alarmists who spread “‘model results we know must be wrong’” and predict “‘catastrophes that couldn’t happen even if the models were right’” (p. 50).  Testifying before the U.S. Senate, Professor Lindzen condemned both the media and politicians such as Al Gore who spread untruths.  “‘How is it that we don’t have more scientists speaking up about this junk science?’ he asks.  His grim answer:  carrots and sticks.  Those who toe the party line are publicly praised and have grants ladled out to them from a funding pot that overflows with more than $1.7 billion per year in the United States alone.  This who don’t are subject to attack’” (p. 52). 

When the White House asked the National Academy of Sciences to appoint a panel on climate change independent of the IPCC, Professor Lindzen was one of eleven American scientists asked to assess the evidence.  After careful study, the panel issued a finely-nuanced statement:  “‘Because there is considerable uncertainty in current understanding how the climate system varies naturally and reacts to emissions of greenhouse gases and aerosols, current estimates of the magnitude of future warming should to regarded as tentative and subject to future adjustments (either upward or downward)’” (p. 56).  So how was this careful assessment conveyed to the public?  “CNN, in language typical of other reportage, stated it represented ‘a unanimous deacon that global warming is real, is getting worse, and is due to man.  There is no wiggle room’” (p. 56).  No wonder Richard Lindzen despairs! 

Dr. Vincent Gray is more than despairing.  He’s angry!  So he wrote The Greenhouse Delusion:  A Critique of “Climate Change 2001.  He is one of the “2,500 top scientists” the IPCC cites as endorsing the global warming agenda.  He did, indeed, serve as a reviewer of the organization’s reports, submitting some 1900 comments on one of them.  But Gray has become “aghast at what he sees as an appalling absence of scientific rigor in the IPCC’s review process” (p. 58).  In fact he thinks the whole thing may be little more than a “swindle”!  He even challenges what’s taken for granted by many scientists—the fact that the earth is excessively warming.  He notes that global temperature records may well be flawed since temperature stations “are disproportionately located near cities and towns, which are heat sources, rather than out in the country,” and “many stations that were once in the country have had cities grow up around them, affecting temperature trends” (p. 59).  And even to focus on one century’s trends belies a mental myopia, for over the millennia earth’s climate has dramatically changed.  We have, in fact, recently emerged from the Little Ice Age, for which we should be grateful!  

Central to the “climate change” hysteria is claim that CO2 has dramatically increased during the past few decades.  Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski, a famed Polish scientist, has protested the IPCC’s reliance upon ice-core data to prove the CO2 threat.  “‘These ice cores are a foundation of the global warming hypothesis,”” he says, “‘but the foundation is groundless—the IPCC has based its global warming hypothesis on arbitrary assumptions and these assumptions, it is now clear, are false’” (p. 98).  In fact:  “Scientists have been studying and measuring ‘CO2 since the beginning of the 19th century, and they have left behind a record of tens of thousands of direct real-time measurements.  These measurements tell a far different story about CO2—they demonstrate, for example, that CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere have fluctuated greatly and that several times in the past 200 years CO2 concentrations have exceeded today’s levels’’’ (p. 107).  Despite such facts, desperate politicians still stoke the fears of an ignorant populace!