On Saturday, Feb. 9th 2013, I saw something truly amazing on French-language television: The referee stopped a soccer game between two French city teams because the player couldn’t see the off-play lines on the ground . They couldn’t see the lines because the snow was covering them and it was falling so hard, the stadium cleaners couldn’t uncover the lines fast enough for the game to proceed normally.
As I write this introduction (2/9/13), the Northeastern United States is trying to recover from yet another crippling cold wave.
Now, the cynic in me suspects that this kind of event is going to be exploited by someone or other to claim that it’s another proof of climate change ( the other name for global warming) caused by human activity (and/or by eructing bovines).
And, of course, I know that climate scientists, scientists of any kind, will not make such silly claims. However, I think that people with scientific training who support the general notion: 1 that there are currently unusual weather variations; 2 that we should worry about urgently; and 3 that they are the result of human activity that can be modified, I am claiming that scientists who conform to this description don’t do enough. They don’t do enough to deny or disclaim the stupid statements of their illiterate and innumerate supporters. In many cases, they passively give such supporters material with which to do mischief.
Travis, a modestly self-described “junior” climate scientists at U. of California at Berkeley with a flair for subtle flattery takes me to task for my throw-away lines about climate change in my essay (“What’s Peer Review and Why it Matters,” posted Feb 5/10/10) otherwise dedicated to explaining scholarly reviewing. Travi’s admonition to me on my treatment of climate change research and publication is included at the end of the present essay.
I am glad that Travis gives me a chance to save him from a career shaped to any extent by religious fanaticism. The only reason I have not done so earlier is that did not know him. (We met through the libertarianish blog site “Notes On Liberty.”)
There are thee parts to my response to Travis. (I am afraid I am giving Travis about 500% of the reply he expected.)
1 Climate changists propose or demand that we alter radically our current system of economic production. This current global system of production has saved almost every human being from the misery that was the rule for millenia. (There were never any “good old times” except for brief periods, very locally. Ask me.)
2 The findings on which their proposal for massive societal change is based lack the high level of credibility the seriousness of the changists’ proposal must entail.
3 Climate changism is a religious movement. Like Christianity before it, it is able to incorporate rational and empirically based tenets. In other words, I don’t claim that it’s 100% irrational.
The fact is that our current, global way of doing things has improved radically in a short time the lives of nearly everyone in the world. Our “current way of doing things” is roughly industrial, greatly energy-centered capitalism (not capitalist enough for me, but that’s another story). Nothing else has ever worked since the agricultural revolution of about 10,000 years ago. Climate change believers want us to transform our ways of doing things quickly in major manners that are sure to cause much misery, especially among the poorest of the poor of this world.
How do I know? I was born in 1942. I was well aware of how poor the world was like even in the fifties, even the rich countries. (Please, read my memoirs: I Used to Be French….on this blog.) Well into the seventies, there was widespread misery in the world. (I was then a specialist in the sociology of economic development.) Climate alarmists simply want us to turn back the clock, I believe. They contemplate different rates of economic slowdown, more or less thorough transformations, implemented in more or less drastic ways, but I have not heard any of them come up with anything but turning back the clock that is even half-way reasonable. (And yes, I too like windmills; they look cute.)
The group’s general unreasonableness with respect to alternative forms of economic systems stands out when you begin to think of what its members do not (NOT) promote: The obvious, simplest, cheapest solution to the putative problem of excess emissions of CO2, one that does not undermine thoroughly our capacity to provide for the many, is nuclear energy (NUCLEAR). Hardly one of them ever mentions this simple fact. It’s not that they are too stupid to see the obvious. The problem is that those who see the obvious are too afraid of excommunication to open their mouths.(Yes, the use of a religious term here is deliberate.)
Climate changists thus demand something very grave, serious, absolutely dangerous. Therefore, their assertions must be held to a high standard. If they simply fought for internal combustion engines that would be 10% more efficient, for example, the standard of evidence in support could be lower. Let me repeat myself and say the same thing in a different way: If the climate changists’ worst predictions are correct then, the prospect of deliberately bringing misery to millions becomes ethically justified. If their predictions are incorrect, bringing such misery would be a crime. If their predictions might be correct then, again, we need a a very prudent approach to potential economic devolution. These simple facts requires that we be very demanding about determining the truth or falsity of the alarmists’ predictions.
Climate changists know full well that very few in the general public are able to assess the quality of the climate scientists’ pronouncements under their own power.(Nor are many able to determine who is a climate scientist and who learned about it in night school at community college.) Their predictions are thus fated to degenerate into absurd vulgarizations unless they take precautions. I am no exception to the general rule of incompetence. So, I use the normal, reasonable shortcuts of the untrained: First I assess the processes that produced the pronouncements and then, I assess the honesty of the gate-keepers, of those who implement the processes. Simple enough, right?
Much of this conversation refers to publications and announcements of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC.
Of course, I agree with Travis that a few contributions that are not peer-reviewed in the reports of IPCC are not enough to invalidate all the findings (FINDINGS) of many more studies that are peer-reviewed and that contribute to the same reports. But the kind of sickening falsehoods I cite (see below) force me to ask: To what extent were those other statements proceeding from real peer-review? How many studies invoked in the report were peer-reviewed for real? How thoroughly? What percentage? Which?
A real figure that 40% of the Amazon forest will disappear shortly if nothing is done sure would motivate even me to demand change in logging practices. I would want change right now. A mistake, an overestimate, of 300 years about how fast glaciers are melting (an error in the climate changists’ favor, N.S.!) sure makes the merely possible/ maybe look like the real emergency changists’ hearts most fervently desire. The fact that those in charge of the report could allow such gross, stinking mistakes as they did, leads me to suspect that the gate-keepers, are negligent, stupid, or simply moved by fanaticism. (Again, here, I refer here to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or IPCC.)
What would Travis have us do when confronted with failings of this magnitude? Does he really expect us to give the gate-keepers, the guard dogs, the benefit of the doubt after they let the fox into the hen-house? How long? How many times? Like my second girlfriend, Marie, after they betray me, they have to work at regaining my trust. It’s now up to them to persuade me that they are not the sluts I suspect they are. They did act like sluts, if only a few times. I can’t simply forget it.
Incidentally, the fact that Travis blames the “federated” process by which IPCC gathers findings for inclusion seems to give simple mistakes a valid explanation. But it’s not a valid excuse. It’s rather an admission of carelessness, at best.
And does Travis know whether the IPCC’s “federated” process includes a safeguard to ensure that contrarian findings are not systematically excluded (EXCLUDED)? And if he does not know, why? And will he try to find out from those better informed than he? And, if not, why? I only ask because my limited personal observation tells me there is a strong anti-contrarian bias even in good scholarly journals. There is an anti-contrarian bias in journals that don’t ask that we stop or reverse progress. I mean that I fear that if there were weak evidence that there is no such thing as a global warming at all, it would likely never be made public by those who control the journals.It would never be discussed. If there were mildly powerful evidence to the effect that global warming is caused to the tune of 95% by solar flare-ups, I suspect the evidence would have trouble finding its way into committed journals. Again, I am referring here to ordinary anti-contrarian bias, not to the naked prejudices of changists. The existence of such bias demands that prudents safeguards be established. Do they exist?
Note that any interpretation of the source of the gatekeepers’ misbehavior that they were impelled by dishonesty instead of mere incompetence, could easily be nullified. One would merely have to point out in any IPCC report a few equally serious mistakes of inclusion that would undermine (UNDERMINE) the global warmist cause. Perhaps Travis has access to free grad student labor he could put to work on this proposal. I hope the results of such effort will appear on my blog soon. You can be completely sure that neither this blog nor Notes On Liberty shelter an anti-contrarian bias. If anyone comes up with any instance of evidence denying climate change appearing in any IPCC report, we will publish if forthwith. (Note: This challenge was first published August 12th 2012. There is still no response on 2/9/13, not from Travis, not from anyone.)
The fact that IPCC, the most accessible voice of climate change research, is affiliated with the United Nations does not help its credibility among skeptics, of course. That is, after all, an organization whose committee (or commission) on Human rights included both Kadafi’s Lybia and Assad ‘s Syria in the past five years. (Now eight years, still true of Syria, 70,000 dead later, according to the same UN.) A long time ago, the UN even had a cannibal’s government represented. (Another story I will tell on request. And watch the spelling: I wrote “a cannibal’s,” and not “cannibals’ .” I don’t exaggerate)
Global warmists who, claim scientific objectivity and who possess scientific credentials could improve their collective credibility if they would once in a while do the obvious in terms of engaging those not of their church. And I don’t mean adversaries like me. That’s too hard and warmists are mostly too dogmatic even to try it, I think. It’s easier to dismiss reasoning skeptics like me as cranks. I mean relevant voices that do their cause harm without opposing it. Two kinds come to mind. I describe those below.
1 Anyone who reads a little, or who watches television, or who listens to the radio frequently encounters statements of absurd pseudo-facts pronounced in the name of global warming. My current favorite (actually August 2012) I read in the prestigious French newspaper Le Monde. Recently it had a big an article to the effect that the sea level is rising faster – because of global warming – in the Central Pacific than in France, for example. This should thus lead to the following kind of statements: “Mount Everest is 29,029 feet above sea level in Hong Kong and in Le Havre but only 29,017 feet above sea level in the Tuamotu islands.” No one protested, no comment! Of course, it’s the stupid French. One could not find anything of the kind in the world’s English language press, right?
I know climate changist scientists can’t be everywhere. I just think that if theirs were an intellectually honest enterprise, once in a while, one or two of them would feel obligated to smack on the head publicly some of the media morons who contend to speak for them. I think it never happens (NEVER)! This last statement should be easy to contest, of course. It would only take one single instance of smacking.
2 The prolific, statistically trained Bjorn Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist and of Cool It! keeps assuring everyone that he believes that there is man-made global warming that is worth worrying about. However, all of his policy proposals undermine and destroy the credibility of the mainstream changists’ own ideas about what to do next. It seems to me that writing-bulky Mr Lomborg is hard to miss in the general panorama of discourse on the subject. Yet, the main changist scientist church practically never address his raucous views. I believe they ignore him on purpose. Likewise, in medieval times, the Catholic Church pretended that rival Christian movements they could not suppress just did not exist.
Of course, some would object that the warmist movement includes many intelligent, cultured, rational people. In medieval times, intelligent, cultured, rational intellectuals never countenanced, for example, the burning to death of deviants who stubbornly insisted that during the Eucharist ritual, it is not really the real blood and flesh of Christ that appears on the altar. Or am I confused again? Were the intellectuals actually in charge of convicting and delivering heretics to the pyre?
Of course, climate changism is a religious movement. Specifically, it’s an offshoot of Christianity. It has a doctrine of the Fall (“Original Sin”) the main component of which is hubris ( as in eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge). It has an apocalyptic scenario. It developed a hierarchy of sins, very big ones, little ones. It advocates collective guilt, as with God’s decision to destroy the world with the Deluge. It is forever elaborating small and big dogmas many of which are too difficult for ordinary people to understand… “mysteries,” of course. Its priesthood is still ill-defined and struggling against itself – as happened in the first centuries of Christianity. The religious movement holds periodic councils to advance itself, to define doctrine and thus to reject divergent ideas, as the early Church did (in Rio, in Copenhagen; where was the recent one again?)
Those who think they are important members of the Climatechange Church hierarchy do not hesitate to plot and to misrepresent the truth on behalf of the greater good (as show in the leaked emails- affair at two universities, one in the US, the other in England). They merely imitate in this connection what the Jesuit Order did for centuries with no qualms at all.
This religious movement’s central weakness is that its most visible and audible prophet, Al Gore, is both downright grotesque and sinister, as often happens in new cults (But unlike the leaders of the early Christian church who did not hesitate to submit to martyrdom: Al the Martyr, that would be the day!) Nevertheless, the true believers who know better, those who are technically and intellectually equipped to do so, don’t find it within themselves to denounce his ridiculous exaggerations and his many big lies (let alone his small lies).
Personally, I fear the day when rational climate changists do just this, when they actually denounce Al Gore for what he is: a rich but pathetic Daddy’s boy reared in a Washington DC luxury hotel who could not even carry his own state when he ran for president. And when ten climate “scientists” sign even a discrete manifesto denouncing Al Gore’s half of that Nobel Peace Prize as a farce, when that day arrives, it will become more difficult to denounce climate changism as an overgrown middle-class cult.
As in the historical precedent I keep invoking, intellectually sophisticated priests are embarrassed by miracles but not quite embarrassed enough to oppose the movement’s reliance on them to gain adherents and financial contributions from the unwashed masses. (Incidentally, in the 21st century, the Catholic Church cannot quite bring itself to denounce the orgy of horrors of Lourdes miracles. It manifests its rationalist disapproval by recognizing only about one hundred of the thousands of miracles claimed in Lourdes over the years!)
In all of the above, about the religious nature of climate changism, I realize I am probably plagiarizing others, smarter observers, people who described the obvious before me and whose names I forgot, I am afraid. I regret that I cannot give them proper credit.
Thanks again, Travis. I suspect you are personally not guilty of any atrocity, yet. Just watch your steps. Don’t believe everything. In fact, don’t believe anything. The majority is not always right; it’s usually wrong at first. The truth is never somewhere in the middle. Your adversaries are not all stupid although it may be that many are. Some of your adversaries may be smarter than you. Or, they may simply not be blindfolded by faith. If you were so blindfolded, you would be the last one to know it, right? And the effects of the faculty club on conformity of belief are powerful and insidious, always have been. And, finally, keep in mind that the European intellectual class as a whole, and many American intellectuals as well, actively helped murder millions in the Gulag between 1930 and 1955 always in the name of the obvious and of the obviously necessary.
What if I tun out to be completely wrong, you ask? Let someone ask that question openly, without circumlocutions. Ask it openly and I will answer it openly and with all the seriousness it deserves.