Earth Institute Meeting Turns Into Complaint Session About “Deniers”

The Earth Institute at Columbia University held a panel discussion recently on the subject of climate change. The main themes of the evening were the complexity and fluidity of climate science, interweaving policy, politics and science, and evolving public attitudes. Not surprisingly, being held in an academic environment, the audience at Columbia was firmly in the camp of climate change believers and was preoccupied mainly with deflecting attacks by deniers. Why do anthropogenic global warming proponents seem so paranoid about opposing views?

As reported by Sally Adee, in IEEE Spectrum Online, the panel, moderated by New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert, featured Gavin Schmidt and Joshua Wolfe, Peter deMenocal, a paleoclimatologist at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Stephanie Pfirman, a polar scientist at Barnard College, and scientists from the Earth Institute at Columbia. Ostensibly being held to celebrate the publication of a book—Climate Change: Picturing the Science by Schmidt and Wolfe—the meeting soon degenerated into a communal complaint session for climate change true believers.

According to Adee, “with the panel and audience largely in agreement, attention tended to focus on how to deal with dissenters—not always constructively, perhaps.” One of the complaints aired was that the multi-facedness of the science, which is always changing, is being used with great effectiveness as an argument against the over simplified view of climate changes presented to the public. Among the climate change faithful, it seems academic research and investigation has been replaced by blind doctrinal acceptance, with dissenters' research or objections to current theories summarily rejected without comment or debate.

The comments of the panel members are revealing: “The [scientific] questions are more sophisticated than they were five years ago,” said Schmidt, and models are always being updated. “Uncertainty is not our friend,” he said, worrying that public confidence was being eroded by the global warming lobby's constantly changing story. “We struggle with articulating the science so that people feel that they are being given information, not an angle,” said deMonocal. But, in point of fact, it is an angle, an angle provided by the IPCC, Al Gore, Michael Mann and many other climate alarmists.

The New York Times recently did a complimentary article on physicist Freeman Dyson, who has questioned the dangers of global warming and the accuracy of its proponents predictions. True to form, the general reaction of the meeting's attendees was to attack the messenger rather than engage the message. One audience member questioned whether the newspaper has become an “actively hostile force.” When the Times turns against what is primarily seen as a liberal cause, the true believers have reason to worry. Quoting from the article:

For more than half a century the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson has quietly resided in Princeton, N.J., on the wooded former farmland that is home to his employer, the Institute for Advanced Study, this country’s most rarefied community of scholars. Lately, however, since coming “out of the closet as far as global warming is concerned,” as Dyson sometimes puts it, there has been noise all around him. Chat rooms, Web threads, editors' letter boxes and Dyson’s own e-mail queue resonate with a thermal current of invective in which Dyson has discovered himself variously described as “a pompous twit,” “a blowhard,” “a cesspool of misinformation,” “an old coot riding into the sunset” and, perhaps inevitably, “a mad scientist.”

An audience member at the Columbia forum said of Dyson, “This is another in a long line of scientists who knows just enough to be dangerous.” A math prodigy, called “infinitely smart” by one colleague, Dyson was made a professor at Cornell University despite his lack of a Ph.D. He subsequently worked on nuclear reactors, solid state physics, ferromagnetism, astrophysics and biology. According to the Times article, Dyson’s gifts include interpretive clarity, a penetrating ability to grasp the method and significance of what many kinds of scientists do: “His thoughts about how science works appear in a series of lucid, elegant books for nonspecialists that have made him a trusted arbiter of ideas ranging far beyond physics.” And just what are the audience member's qualifications?

Dyson thinks, as I do, that climate scientists rely too much on computer climate models that predict what the Times calls a “Grand Guignol” of devastation—icecaps melt, oceans rise, and storms and plagues sweep the planet. “The climate-studies people who work with models always tend to overestimate their models,” Dyson told the Times. “They come to believe models are real and forget they are only models.” This is a point that we have made in The Resilient Earth, chapter 14, on The Limits of Climate Science. Nobel physics laureate Steven Weinberg has commented: “I have the sense that when consensus is forming like ice hardening on a lake, Dyson will do his best to chip at the ice.”

Dyson is not only an iconoclast and scientific skeptic, he has commented on some of the propaganda put out by the likes of Al Gore. “I think Gore does a brilliant job,” Dyson said, after viewing Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth. “For most people I’d think this would be quite effective. But I knew Roger Revelle. He was definitely a skeptic. He’s not alive to defend himself.” Gore has long claimed Revelle as his mentor and inspiration for crusading against global warming. As for Gore's claims of disappearing arctic ice and drowning polar bears Dyson points out a real inconvenient truth: “Most of the time in history the Arctic has been free of ice.”

Because so many climate alarmists do not come from a scientific background, and most of the climate scientists are not engineers, there is widespread mistrust of engineering solutions to the world's energy and climate problems. I say energy because all of the brouhaha about anthropogenic global warming stems from burning fossil fuels to produce energy. Solutions exist to solve our energy needs, while at the same time eliminating the production of large amounts of CO2 that has the climate change crowd so overwrought. We have the technology to shift to safe, clean and reliable nuclear power, along with hybrid or full electric powered vehicles, but the eco-lobby keeps insisting on such bogus solutions as non-industrial scale solar & wind, biofuels and carbon sequestration. The response from the true believers is yes to computer models predictions of disaster, no to any sensible engineering response to the problem.

Oddly, psychological engineering seems to be an exception to this abhorrence. As I reported in my previous blog post, a move is afoot to bring behaviorists and other social scientists into the fray. Having failed to convince the world on the merits of their scientific evidence, global warming activists are shifting to an Orwellian propagandist phase. Mass social engineering, as a conference attendee stated, may be the only way to get everyone to act on the crisis. Facts are out, spin is in.

Back on the IEEE web site, one commenting engineer put it well: “As I see it, there is very little science associated with the "study" of climate. At the root of the "concern" about climate (formerly global warming) is a radical social agenda of "change". I for one don't want to be changed. There is no compelling data to support the idea that we can affect the climate, either for harm or benefit, only computer models which have been manipulated to justify an agenda. The use of truly scary terms like mass social engineering lead me to the conclusion that none of the actions proposed are justified by the "science".” I could not have said it better myself.

Be safe, enjoy the interglacial and stay skeptical.