The Climate Change Fundamentalists
In our new brave world, heretics must be punished.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/05/end-is-near.jpg)Climate change fundamentalists are predicting an apocalypse. Human depredation in the form of unbridled materialism is the cause. Any dissent from the fundamentalists’ doomsday prophesies if their radical prescriptions to save humanity and Mother Earth are not followed is regarded as heresy.
Charge the well-funded climate change “deniers” with committing “criminal negligence” for “their willful disregard for human life,” says Lawrence Torcello, a philosophy professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After all, heretics must be punished.
Stop job-creating energy independence initiatives such as the Keystone XL pipeline, says the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, James Hansen, which he called the “fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the planet.” Hansen was arrested during the course of a civil disobedience protest against the pipeline as he sat in front of a banner proclaiming, “Witness for Climate and Creation.” Who knew that a pipeline transporting oil to the United States, which would otherwise travel by rail or be shipped elsewhere such as to China, the world’s largest emitter of carbon gases, would upset God’s plan of creation?
Hansen co-authored with other like-minded scientists and economist Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia’s Earth Institute and adviser to the United Nations, a scare-mongering paper entitled “Assessing ‘Dangerous Climate Change’: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature.” The paper, published in December 2013, predicted “mass extinctions” of species and demanded “urgent change to our energy and carbon pathway to avoid dangerous consequences for young people and other life on Earth.” The authors moralized that human-caused climate change is on par with the evil of slavery. It represented inter-generational injustice, they said, for which they recommended there be legal remedies.
James Gustave Speth, formerly dean of the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies and chairman of the Council on Environmental Quality from 1979 to 1981, wrote an indignant letter to the New York Times on May 13, 2014 complaining that the “United States’ response to the climate crisis has been beyond pathetic. It is probably the greatest dereliction of civic responsibility in the history of the Republic.” What is Speth’s solution? Ideally, as he described in his book Red Sky at Morning, he would like to see “a world environment agency entrusted with setting international standards and enforcing them against laggard countries.”
Even some scientists who agree that human-induced greenhouse gas buildup is a real problem policymakers should address believe that the climate change fundamentalists are going too far. For example, Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Department of Global Ecology, discussing his reaction to the Hansen-Sachs paper, said he was “concerned about the presentation of such a prescriptive and value-laden work” in a piece that wasn’t marked as an opinion. Caldeira has also said, regarding the Keystone pipeline, that “I don’t believe that whether the pipeline is built or not will have any detectable climate effect.”
Rather than providing balanced scientific data and reasoned analysis to persuade lay people of the potential adverse environmental consequences of human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases with recommendations for practical incremental approaches to dealing with these consequences, the climate change fundamentalists reject any notion of a gradualist approach. As Robert Skidelsky, a member of the British House of Lords and professor emeritus of political economy at Warwick University, explained: “Climate change is a fact. But apocalyptic thinking distorts the scientific debate and makes it harder to explain the causes and consequences of this fact, which in turn makes it harder to know how to deal with it. The danger is that we become so infected with the apocalyptic virus that we end up creating a real catastrophe — the meltdown of our economies and lifestyles — in order to avoid an imaginary one.”
The doom merchants aim to shove radical economy-wrecking prescriptions down our throats by parading before us their version of the plagues - draught, intense rain storms, floods, fires, pestilence, very warm temperatures and very cold temperatures, all of which they attribute to human-caused climate change. The idea that some natural events may be random occurrences in a universe that far transcends human activity is foreign to the climate change fundamentalists who believe that Mother Earth itself is anthropomorphic.
One problem that the climate change fundamentalists have in persuading the rest of us the sky is falling is that they keep changing their explanations. For example, the catchphrase “global warming” was rebranded as “climate change” when their computer models could not account for the fact that average atmospheric temperatures have risen little since 1998.
There are intellectually honest scientists in climatology who are willing to admit something is going on that the computer models may have missed. “A few years ago you saw the hiatus, but it could be dismissed because it was well within the noise,” said Gabriel Vecchi, a climate scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey. “Now it’s something to explain.”
However, the climate change fundamentalists rationalize that looking at ten or fifteen year trend lines is a waste of time. “If you are interested in global climate change, your main focus ought to be on timescales of 50 to 100 years,” said Susan Solomon, a climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge. Nevertheless, the fundamentalists want it both ways. Now they tell us that every unusual day-to-day weather phenomenon is a result of human-caused climate change.
Another problem for the climate change fundamentalists is that many of their prior doomsday predictions have not come true. In 1972, for example, Arctic specialist Bernt Balchen was reported in the Christian Science Monitor as predicting that a general warming trend over the North Pole “may produce an ice-free Arctic Ocean by the year 2,000.”
Al Gore, one of the original climate change prophets of doom, predicted in 2008 that the entire North Polar Ice Cap would be completely ice free in five years.
While the Arctic Sea ice extent has declined, it has far from disappeared. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, “Arctic sea ice extent for April 2014 was 14.14 million square kilometers (5.46 million square miles). This is 610,000 square kilometers (236,000 square miles) below the 1981 to 2010 average extent, and 270,000 square kilometers (104,000 square miles) above the record April monthly low, which occurred in 2007.”
Here is another dire prediction that did not quite come to pass. Michael Oppenheimer, the Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the Department of Geosciences at Princeton University, predicted in a book of his published in 1990: “[By] 1995, the greenhouse effect would be desolating the heartlands of North America and Eurasia with horrific drought, causing crop failures and food riots … [By 1996] The Platte River of Nebraska would be dry, while a continent-wide black blizzard of prairie topsoil will stop traffic on interstates, strip paint from houses and shut down computers.”
The Platte River in Nebraska has not dried up, and the continent-wide black blizzard and computer shut downs have not materialized.
Moreover, the hyperbolic rhetoric we hear from climate change fundamentalists does not correspond with what we observe around us ourselves, nor with some relevant empirical data.
For example, the Obama administration recently released its National Climate Assessment. It gave several examples of what it claimed to be the drastically worsening effects of human- caused climate change during the last fifty years, stating that “Americans are noticing changes all around them.” Two such examples we are purportedly seeing play out in extreme weather aberrations right now according to the Obama administration’s Assessment: “Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours…large increases in heavy precipitation have occurred in the Northeast, Midwest, and Great Plains where heavy downpours have frequently led to runoff that exceeded the capacity of storm drains and levees, and caused flooding events and accelerated erosion.”
People who shivered in Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, during one of the ten coldest winters in those states since records were kept, would probably not agree with the Obama administration’s description of shorter, warmer winters. Indeed, large parts of the United States just experienced one of the longest and coldest winters in forty years. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported that overall, for the winter period from December 2013 through February 2014, the “contiguous U.S. experienced much drier and colder than average winter that ranked ninth driest and 34th coldest on record.” Those records go back to 1895.
As for rainfall, we are certainly experiencing heavy downpours of rain. But this is not a phenomenon that has sprung up only in the last fifty years.
Anecdotally, the most destructive river flood in the history of the United States, which began with extremely heavy rains in the central basin of the Mississippi in the summer of 1926, was the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. This occurred more than seventy-five years ago, well outside the most recent fifty year period in which human activity supposedly created the weather conditions of very heavy precipitation and floods cited by the Obama administration’s National Climate Assessment as evidence of accelerating human-caused climate change here and now. If the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 is not considered far enough back in time to put the Obama administration’s Assessment findings in perspective, then consider the Johnstown Flood Of 1889. More than eight inches of rain fell in less than a one day period, resulting in a flood that took more than 2000 lives.
As for empirical data, the following is a chart prepared by NOAA which shows the percentage of the land area of the contiguous 48 states that experienced much greater than normal precipitation in any given year starting with 1895, which means it scored 2.0 or above on the annual Standardized Precipitation Index (SPI). The thicker orange line shows a nine-year weighted average that smoothes out some of the year-to-year fluctuations.
The biggest spike was in 1940. The years 1910 and 2000 were nearly equal in terms of the percentage of land area of the contiguous 48 states that experienced much greater than normal precipitation. There is no discernible accelerating upward trend line in the last fifty years.
(/sites/default/files/uploads/2014/05/figure2.png)Data source: NOAA, 2013
None of this is to deny that human activity worldwide contributes to climate change via the cumulative impact of human-induced emissions of heat-trapping gases. The questions to be debated are the extent and imminence of the problem, as well as the best measures to deal with the problem without wrecking our economy in the process. This is where the climate change fundamentalists become unglued. They do not want a policy debate. They want immediate action on their terms. Anyone questioning their dogma is blackballed.
For example, a paper written by an eminent climate change researcher Professor Lennart Bengtsson and four other scientists, which challenged the basis for predictions regarding the speed of global warming, was recently rejected for publication in a scientific journal because it was said to be “less than helpful.” Professor Bengtsson, an author of over 200 papers and former director of the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology which has contributed to United Nations reports on climate change, was harassed for daring to question the received dogma. He said: “I have been put under such an enormous group pressure in recent days from all over the world that has become virtually unbearable to me. If this is going to continue I will be unable to conduct my normal work and will even start to worry about my health and safety. It is a situation that reminds me about the time of McCarthy.”
Through their excommunication of serious-minded scientists who dare to raise questions and their increasingly strident and dogmatic proclamations, the climate change fundamentalists are turning into Cassandras whose prophesies are being tuned out by the public. Sadly, they drown out more reasonable voices who can contribute positively to the public’s understanding of the multiple dimensions of climate change and sensible solutions.
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