Chicken Little Climate Science

Climate change has become the go to excuse for anything bad happening in the environment. Legions of climate scientists have issued dire warnings regarding the consequences of man's profligate use of fossil fuels. So common have these pronouncements become that news reporters and politicians have taken to blaming all things judged out of the ordinary on global warming. This fits the agendas of many, since global warming is supposedly caused by human activity and human activity is linked to greed, avarice and big business. But the doomsayers should take care, for there have been other times when experts have warned humanity that its evil ways have brought the world to the edge of perdition. Does anyone these days remember over population?

Here are some excerpts from congressional testimony given by a Professor of Biology from Stanford University. Notice how the warnings and, in particular, the time frame could have come from any number of climate change alarmists.

If bad weather continues in the Midwest this year, and if the monsoon should fail this year in India, as it might, then I think you're going to see the age of scarcity and many of the changes I'm talking about coming on next winter. 'I mean that's when we're really going to start getting into it. If we are "fortunate" for a few years, and have nothing but good weather, then it'll come on, you know, 5 or 10 years down the pike. But of course during that time populations will have increased...

I think that the thing you can say with absolute assurance is, considering the magnitude of the changes, if we have 20 years-which I wouldn't put a nickel on-but if we have 20 years, we're already 10 years too late in starting to do something about it. We're not going to change the political and economic structure of the United States overnight. And for that reason, I think that any feeling of urgency that you can generate—one of the big problems is how do you generate a feeling of urgency...

It's all there: the implicit blaming of bad weather on the perceived problem; the built in disclaimer if weather does not deteriorate, with a promise that things will be even worse when fate catches up with us; the twenty year projection for disaster, and the assertion that it is all ready to late to do anything about it. Naturally the US is at the root of the problem and above all, there is an urgent need to act. I have always wondered if it is already too late to act why we should act at all, why not party on until the end?

Which member of the global warming cabal made these statements? Actually, it was Paul Ehrlich in hearings held by the Committee on Commerce and Committee on Government Operations back in 1974. I remember Professor Ehrlich and his book, the Population Bomb, well. I was still an undergraduate student, a struggling novice new to science and critical thinking, when the distinguished professor told us all that we were breeding ourselves into extinction. I read it cover to cover (not a pleasant task) and it scared me to death. I seem to remember telling my girlfriend of the time that I had decided that givin the current state of affairs having children would be a criminal act (most college students have a tendency to be over dramatic, and I was no exception).

In 1980 economist Julian Simons made a bet with Ehrlich. The bet was over the price of five commodities over a decade – chromium, copper, nickel, tin and tungsten. Ehrlich thought that resource scarcity would inexorably drive up their prices, while Simon believed that greater abundance resulting from economic forces would result in lower prices. At the end of 10 years Ehrlich wrote a check that Simons framed and hung on his wall. Over the decade, Simons was correct 63% of the time.

Now when I hear about The Population Bomb all I feel is embarrassment. Evidently I am not alone in this. Here is a review from Amazon.com by Glenn Gallagher that typifies the book's reviews:

I read the Population Bomb when it first came out, and believed it. Paul Ehrlich envisioned a horrific future with mass starvation of millions, if not billions of people by 1995. As we now know, Ehrlich was a Malthusian of the worst order, and almost single-handedly gave environmentalists a bad name. He is the epitome of an alarmist who has significantly harmed the ability of reasonable environmentalists to be taken seriously (The Boy Who Cried Wolf Syndrome). I'm sure Dr. Ehrlich meant well, but boy, was he wrong. This book should rest in peace, never to be read again. Or, perhaps it could be read as a lesson learned in how to avoid making extremist statements that make you and your colleagues look stupid.

That last piece of advice makes sense, perhaps reading Ehrlich's book should be required for all IPCC members. Then again, they probably have read it and believe it wholeheartedly. According to listvers.com's “Top 10 Most Controversial Non-Fiction Books,” the book has been included as number 11 in Human Events most harmful books of the 19th and 20th century, as well as making the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s “50 Worst Books of the Twentieth Century”. Listvers listed it at #9.

Ehrlich's most shocking prediction was that the world would suffer millions of deaths through starvation in the 1970s and 1980s. The author claimed that “radical action” was needed to prevent this from taking place. Among the radical actions, Ehrlich recommended starving entire nations if they refused to implement policies to reduce or suspend population growth. Life is cheep to tenured professors, just ask their students.

Another example of a catastrophist true believer is a man who also testified at that hearing back in 1974. Here is what he said to the committee:

The main point here is that, although there may be defects in any specific detailed model, the general conclusion is far more robust than any specific model. At the same time, one has to make a certain disclaimer, and that is that neither analysis nor computer models are adequate to the task of predicting exactly what disaster will follow from a continuation of present trends and exactly when such a disaster will take place.

Now, this problem puts those of us who tend to view with alarm in a somewhat curious position. We're calling upon society to make major changes, but we cannot prove exactly what will happen and exactly when, in the absence of those kinds of changes. This particular point is often used against us by people who are optimistic and believe that one way or another, technology will let us muddle through. I think a useful way to think about this particular dilemma is in terms of the burden of proof; that is, we should ask: Are we worse off if we believe the pessimists and they are wrong, or are we worse off if we believe the optimists and they are wrong?

In the first paragraph he admits that their models are flawed but insists we believe the predictions of disaster anyway. Al Gore and Michael Mann could not make a better statement of the alarmist position. In fact, this admitted alarmist confesses to urging major societal changes even though he and his ilk cannot say when disaster will strike or even what form it will take. The precautionary principle rules—for God's sake don't do anything that might have any consequences at all. This timorous chicken little is none other than John Holdren, Assistant to the President and senior adviser to Barack Obama on science and technology issues. But his aversion to action does not extend to things he thinks are correct. In 1977 he joined forces with Ehrlich and Ehrlich's wife Anne to write another totalitarian tome that should have disqualified him from ever serving in government. Here is a quote from Ecoscience:

One way to carry out this disapproval might be to insist that all illegitimate babies be put up for adoption—especially those born to minors, who generally are not capable of caring properly for a child alone. If a single mother really wished to keep her baby, she might be obliged to go through adoption proceedings and demonstrate her ability to support and care for it. Adoption proceedings probably should remain more difficult for single people than for married couples, in recognition of the relative difficulty of raising children alone. It would even be possible to require pregnant single women to marry or have abortions, perhaps as an alternative to placement for adoption, depending on the society.

Mandatory adoptions, forcing single mothers to marry or undergo abortions? Sounds progressive to me. It is not surprising that he was a neo-Malthusian population catastrophist during the 1970s nor is it surprising that he now shills for climate change. In the minds of self-aggrandizing, needful personalities like Ehrlich and Holder the sky is always falling. For more of both men's testimony see the article on Roger Pielke Jr.'s blog, where you can find a link to a PDF of the transcript.

What about the threat of over population that was so feared in the 1970s? It turns out for a number of complex, interrelated reasons world population growth has declined rather dramatically. As can be seen from the chart below, the world's population isn’t going to double in 50 years, or 100 years. As it turns out, there is plenty of arable land, and no shortage of space on planet earth for people to live in. The world's population is still increasing, but the rate of growth is dramatically slowing. In fact, Japan, Russia, Europe, and Canada are facing problems from population decline.


Looks like Malthus, Ehrlich and Holdren were wrong.

People like Ehrlich and Holdren have made careers of being wrong and frightening people. Today Ehrlich bangs the drum for anthropogenic global warming, and Holdren helps the Obama administration mess things up in America and around the world. Remember Rachel Carson and the DDT panic. Pesticides were greatly curtailed and millions of people, many children, died in Africa and Southeast Asia. Remember the Y2K farce and Peak Oil. Some people cannot live without a sense of pending disaster.

From these examples of fanatical belief in bad science, it is obvious that we've been here before when it comes to the science of predicting disaster. Forty years ago it was over population, today it is climate change. The self-delusional prophets of doom just move from one false catastrophe to the next, never admitting error; always 100% convinced that they are saving humanity from itself. The best thing that a rational human can do is not jump off the cliff with them. Sooner or later nature will prove them wrong, but not to worry—they will always find a new catastrophe to hype.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.

Doomsday

Doug,

Don't feel bad. I went through the same thing when the Population Bomb came out. I too feel embarrassed about being conned by Paul Ehrlich.

The wonder is, why does anyone listen to this guy? He still has a job and from all appearances, great prestige.

However, my candidate for worst book from an alarmist is Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring.' There were so many errors on the basic science, brought out by competent observers at the time, it should have been dismissed.

Unfortunately it was bought by the political class in this country as valid. Not only was an effective and safe insecticide banned in this country, matters were maneuvered in such a way as to get bans in other, third world countries. As you pointed out, millions died as a direct result. If the alarmists have their way, millions more will die from a lack of cheap energy.

I did see where Australia has booted the alarmists out of power. It looks likely the same will happen in Great Britain. Don't know about Germany; but the Germans do eventually add up the costs of something and will change course when the benefits don't add up.

We'll see.

Regards,

Jack Simmons