Or: Global Warming, Meet Lysenkoism; You Two Have a Lot in Common!
While wallowing in the bloom of online post-election bloviation the other day, I chanced across this entrancing article on Salon. Being a reliable voice of the American Left, Salon can be counted on to deliver the party line on whatever issue has momentarily captured the zeitgeist. And being the sort of person who likes to keep his finger on the pulse of our culture, for this reason I read it regularly. Though Salon is not exactly known for balanced, careful coverage, this hyperbolic, absurdly self-important piece was over the top by even its rather squishy standards.
Herewith an open letter to Salon and its readers:
The hysterical, apocalyptic tone of this article perfectly illustrates what is wrong with the Green movement and the larger Progressive movement from which it springs. Not content merely to conjecture, the opening paragraph states that glaciers WILL melt, sea levels WILL rise, crops WILL fail, water availability WILL decrease, hurricanes WILL proliferate, and life WILL become a difficult proposition if Donald Trump gets his way. This absurdly specific, completely insupportable certainty, suggesting omniscience, undermines the entire piece, and in a larger sense, the entire narrative of imminent Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW), also known as Climate Alarmism.
If you are a thinking person, the certainty of these statements should unnerve you. Certainty is the province of faith, not science. The Spanish Inquisition was plenty certain. Persons with agendas and who know better than you do, dammit, are certain. Zealots and fanatics are certain. Science is not. There is no place for absolute certainty in science because by definition, that which is not falsifiable is dogmatic, not scientific.
At the heart of this apocalyptic vision is a great deal of misinformation and some really sloppy science. Take, for example, the oft-repeated claim that “97 percent” of scientists accept that global warming is real, caused by humans, and likely to cause serious harm. This claim, probably the most frequently cited talking point of the Alarmist doctrine, has been thoroughly debunked, yet it continues to be cited with undiminished enthusiasm. In reality, the actual percentage of scientists who subscribe to this view is pretty close to zero.
Not that it would matter in any case, because science is not conducted by “consensus,” and for good reasons. After all, not too long ago the consensus among scientists was that you could judge a person’s intelligence, their character, even their propensity for criminal behavior by the pattern of bumps on their skulls.
It is also often claimed by activists that the “excess” CO2 released by human activities remains in the atmosphere for centuries. Which is a big deal because it implies that the effects of anthropogenic (“made by humans”) CO2 are long-lasting. However, abundant evidence clearly suggests otherwise. Dozens of studies place the mean residence time of CO2 somewhere in the vicinity of 10 years, with the UN-sponsored IPCC assessment being the lone, highly conspicuous outlier. Thirty seven studies to choose from, with thirty six more or less in agreement, but guess which one is cited by Greens and the mainstream media.
In reality, CO2 does not linger in the atmosphere because there so many available carbon sinks, starting with the vegetation that surrounds us, which avidly uses all the CO2 the environment may provide. The oceans absorb CO2 voraciously as well. At any given time there will be about about 50 times as much CO2 dissolved in the oceans as in the atmosphere. There it is put to good use as the “carbonate” in calcium carbonate, which forms the shells and skeletal features of countless marine organisms great and small.
These are not mere quibbles. These are what are technically known as “lies.” Big, black whoppers. And their exposure as such punches a hole right through the heart of the Alarmist doctrine. Yet for some reason these and other equally bold, equally untrue claims are never, ever, questioned by our credulous, incurious mainstream press.
Most readers of Salon are blissfully unaware of these, um, discrepancies because they receive their information exclusively from the echo chamber. This is the same echo chamber that told them that Hillary Clinton could not possibly lose.
If you want to get a proper grip on this issue, you have to look at the Big Picture. Our planet has been generally warming for upwards of 20,000 years, ever since the most recent glacial outbreak reached its peak and began to recede. But in that geologically brief time there have also been numerous ups and downs.
Note that I did not say “generally warming since the end of the Ice Age.” This is because we are, in fact, still in it. The warm spell we currently are in is what is known as an “interglacial period.” Historically, such periods tend to be rather brief. The last 700,000 years alone have seen at least 14 glacial episodes and a like number of interglacial periods, and there could well be a hundred more before the ice recedes for good. Don’t hold your breath, though, because it’s likely to be a while before this happens. For the current Ice Age to be truly, finally done the continents are going to have to shift around a good bit to allow better heat distribution between the equator and the poles.
In the last 5000 years there have been at least four major warm periods. We happen to be in one right now. Our current warm spell began about 350 years ago when the Little Ice Age, as it is known, began to abate.
Despite our obsession with it, there is nothing unique about the current warming phase. The Medieval Warm Period, the Roman Optimum, and the Holocene Optimum, 1000, 2000, and 4000 years ago respectively, all brought global temperatures significantly warmer than we currently enjoy, emphasis on “enjoy.”
Within this recent period of general warming there have also been minor ups and downs, typically lasting a few decades each. The period 1975-2000 was an “up” phase, but the forty or so years before that were distinctly downward-trending. For the moment we appear to be in a period of stasis, but don’t be surprised if a noticeable “down” trend begins sometime in the next few years.
Since the onset of the current warm period, sea levels have risen at a consistent, modest rate of eight-ish inches per century. Despite all the alarming rhetoric, this rate has not changed significantly in recent decades. Florida is not going to disappear any time soon.
We are not entirely blameless, though. The infusion of anthropogenic carbon has almost certainly had some effect. But given that the current warming cycle began well before industrialization, the human contribution is, statistically speaking, most likely minor.
If you are ever in a mood to count your blessings you might start with the fact that you happen to be alive now, during a period of hospitable warmth, rather than during one of the many prolonged cold spells that have been the rule for the last few million years. A mere twenty thousand years ago two-thirds of North America, much of Eurasia, and highland areas throughout the world were buried under thick sheets of ice. What few humans there were had a very hard time of it.
The Little Ice Age, which straddled the Middle Ages, gives us an idea of what it might be like to live in a colder world. Harsh, lengthy winters, cool, damp summers, unreliable weather in general, and frequent crop-killing frosts were the norm. Frequent lethal famines were the result. There was conflict on every scale as humans competed desperately for scarce resources.
So enjoy this little warm spell while it lasts because if natural history is a guide, it won’t. Our pleasant interglacial interlude could come to an end at any time with startling suddenness. And when the ice does return, a lifetime or five or fifty from now, what humans are still around will look back on this balmy time with envy.
The problem with the Alarmist movement is that it is basically a cult, albeit one with great power and influence, and with many high-profile members. Sort of like Scientology. And like every cult, Alarmism warps reality as needed to further its agenda.
In the 1930s, an obscure Russian scientist by the name of Trofim Lysenko advanced the hypothesis that traits acquired by organisms during their lifetime would pass onto their offspring. Basically Lamarckism redux, the hypothesis was complete bullshit without a shred of supporting evidence. But it served the Marxist ideology of the “perfectible man,” and so Lysenkoism came to dominate Soviet science, in the process nearly destroying it. The parallels with CAGW are eye-opening.
Using methods of which Lysenkoists would have heartily approved, Climate Alarmists have infiltrated government and science, thoroughly corrupting both. In government, fact-based pragmatism has been replaced with stonewalling and politically correct dogma. In science, informed skeptical inquiry has been replaced with rigid, toe-the-line ideological conformity, ruthlessly enforced. For those who get with the program there are goodies, grants and awards aplenty. But anyone who strays from the party line is bullied into silence, or if foolish enough to persist, simply destroyed. Prominent Greens have actually called for the imprisonment of climate skeptics. This should scare the hell out of you.
For years, so great was the influence of the Alarmists that only a dedicated few had the temerity to publicly oppose the Green juggernaut, mostly emeritus types with impeccable credentials and relatively little to lose. They are not quite as lonely as used to be, though, as the rank-and-file of science, government, and academia push back in growing numbers. Principled, accomplished people who resent the corruption of their chosen profession are summoning the will to fight the Big Green Machine as they sense its grip beginning to loosen.
I urge the readers of Salon to take a walk on the wild side and visit a Skeptical website. There are lots of them and many are quite good, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that they are run almost entirely by volunteers on shoestring budgets. In such places you will find a great deal of scholarly, well-informed, data-driven discussion in a civil, collegial climate (no pun intended.) Please ignore the many Alarmists who drop in to hurl anonymous insults.
Most of you won’t take that walk, though, I suspect, because you don’t like it when your views are challenged. It hurts your feelings and makes you want to retreat into your safe spaces. It’s so much easier just to call anyone who disagrees with you nasty names, like “denier.”
Since we’re on the subject, interesting, isn’t it, how “denier,” a deliberately inflammatory, politically loaded term, sounds an awful lot like “heretic.” Interesting also how frequently and eagerly this epithet is employed by Alarmists to shame their opponents into silence. I see it used multiple times in this article and in the comments that follow.
Public shaming has no place in science, nor in any form of civil discourse. The fact that Alarmists so frequently default to it is telling. This readiness to attack personally any who disagree starkly reveals the underlying cultlike mentality that animates Alarmism, slavishly devoted to a dogma that must be defended at all costs.
Here’s the deal: Atmospheric carbon dioxide is only one of literally thousands of interacting variables that produce this thing we call climate. It is, despite what you have been told, of only median importance, and its effect on climate has been drastically overstated and oversimplified by devotees of climate Alarmism.
In actuality the climate is an extraordinarily complex and dynamic thing, a system so vast and so intricate that it is understood in only the most general sense. And because of its nearly incomprehensible complexity, even small pieces of the overall puzzle remain highly resistant to accurate mathematical modeling.
A couple of crucial, insurmountable uncertainties dog the Alarmist narrative. For example, there is the very basic question of which came first: the elevated CO2 or the warming. Although it is undeniably true that a higher level of CO2 would on its own cause some warming, it is also true that a warmer world would naturally have a higher concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Because a warmer world would be one with more biological activity, hence more respiration, hence more CO2 being released due to normal metabolic activity. In addition, the solubility of CO2 in water varies inversely with temperature, so that warming oceans would naturally release some of their massive stores of dissolved CO2 back to the atmosphere, elevating its concentration therein. What looks like a cause might actually only be an effect. Statistically speaking, this is the more likely case, as this exact scenario has been documented on multiple prior occasions via data from ice cores.
Furthermore, when there have been surges in CO2 due to external sources, such as large-scale volcanism, they invariably have produced a warming effect only after a lag of several centuries, presumably due to the massive thermal inertia of the oceans. We do not see the lockstep relationship Alarmists claim has lately occurred.
But even dedicated Alarmists accept that elevated CO2 on its own can only cause a limited amount of warming; the generally agreed estimate is a 1.1 degree C increase for a doubling of CO2 over the Pleistocene average of 280 ppm. To reach the estimates of five or six degrees of warming–catastrophe territory–theorists rely on certain assumptions. They assume, for example, that this modest increase would be amplified through a feedback loop, in which higher temperatures lead to more humidity, which leads to more heat-trapping cloud cover. However this assumption downplays two key physical realities. First, more clouds means increased reflectivity, which means less sunlight reaches the Earth’s surface because a greater proportion of it simply bounces off the cloud tops and back into space. Second, the process of evaporation at the surface absorbs heat. And condensation of water vapor as clouds releases it, with most of the heat escaping into space.
Thus far, the positive feedback loop proposed by Alarmists has failed to materialize, and observations from multiple sources indicate that the modest temperature increase attributable to elevated CO2 is actually reduced by additional cloud formation, not amplified. So 1.1 or so degrees of potential warming end up being trimmed to about .5 degrees, which most people would agree is not exactly catastrophic.
Furthermore, the idea that elevated CO2 spells doom for the planet is simply fatuous. For most of our planet’s history CO2 was much more abundant in the atmosphere than now. During the Eocene epoch, 55 million years ago, CO2 was ten to twenty times as abundant. Note that the Eocene was a time of extraordinary fecundity, during which the Earth teemed with life from pole to pole.
If plants could speak they would scoff at the idea that there is too much CO2 in the atmosphere, and would likely thank us, profusely, for our recent modest contribution of this scarce yet indispensable gas. Because from a plant’s perspective, CO2, which they require to build tissue, has been in seriously short supply for at least the last several hundred thousand years. It is by definition a trace gas, with a current concentration in the atmosphere of only around four parts in every ten thousand, or .04 percent, by volume.
As a point of reference, consider that at this moment in history the atmosphere contains about 800 gigatons of carbon dioxide. Of that number, roughly 30 gigatons are from human sources, four percent of the total. And of that number roughly 17 gigatons will be consumed almost immediately by vegetation, leaving a net contribution of only 13 gigatons, or about 1.5 percent of the total.
A recurrent motif of Alarmist doctrine is that the price of inaction is certain, imminent destruction. There is a cynical purpose to this intentionally terrifying scenario. If you are frightened out of your wits you cannot think straight. You don’t stop to analyze the message and pick up on its flaws and omissions. Fear subverts reason. And so you unthinkingly do as you are told. You submit meekly to higher taxes and gobs of new and opaquely named fees. You nod your head agreeably–Seems like a good idea!–when a humongous new Federal agency is created to administer a blizzard of onerous new regulations. You don’t question it when a handful of well-connected players come to monopolize the world’s energy markets, becoming obscenely rich in the process. You hide your disappointment–I suppose it’s for the best–when, in spite of all the sacrifices you and millions of others make, nothing really changes. Except the quality of your life, that is, which changes very much for the worse. In the end, you passively accept the new reality of lower living standards, higher prices, and restricted freedoms as the cost of Saving The Planet.
Like peddlers of Doomsday scenarios throughout history, Climate Alarmists have learned to take unfair advantage of our innate existential paranoia. In the struggle for survival, one of the most important challenges facing any organism is distinguishing threat from non-threat. Millions of generations of evolutionary history have endowed humans with an exquisite sensitivity to threats, real or perceived. Tell us it’s going to be a lovely day and we go Gee that’s nice, savor the idea for a moment, and then forget all about it. But tell us that the Huns are headed this way, whether they are or not, and suddenly you have our full attention. We go into vigilance mode, we gird for battle, and we don’t relax until a trusted authority gives the all-clear. And if that all-clear never comes, we remain in a state of persistent anxiety, unable to relax, for a long, long time.
The back-and-forth over climate change is more than just an academic exercise. The future of our civilization is potentially at stake. But not for the reasons you probably think.
We are incredibly fortunate to be living at this particular moment in history, surrounded by comforts, in an advanced, safe society with a standard of living our ancestors would have found miraculous. Yet there are persons, lots of them, who would, were they given the power, eagerly bring it all crashing down.
They mean well, of course, in much the same way the Khmer Rouge meant well when it turned cities into ghost towns, and a nation into a graveyard in the pursuit of a mythical agrarian ideal.
You see, the hard kernel of the Green movement consists of people who really don’t like their fellow humans very much. From this group’s point of view humanity is basically a cancer, and the surest way to control this pesky, invasive species is to knock it so far down that its societies collapse, and it becomes just another life form struggling to survive. The logical first step in in this process is to take away its energy source, i.e. fossil fuels. Sure, billions would die in abject misery, but the planet would be saved so it’s a fair trade. These people care not one little bit for you or your loved ones, they do not have your best interest at heart, and to give them what they want would be an act of historic, irreversible stupidity.
The Green misanthropes miss the larger point, though. This idea that humans hold the fate of the Earth in their hands is arrogant nonsense, Exhibit A of the hubris that is characteristic of our species. Even at our worst we are but a minor irritant to the planet, nothing more. In the long run, we humans simply aren’t that important. Because like every other species, Homo sapiens will have a life span. Regardless of what we do, our time will eventually come to an end.
But if we want our time here to be of good quality, then we ought to be making some changes. First of all, we should get our numbers down, way down. Because when you think about it, every single one of our really large problems is due to the fact that seven-plus billion humans is too many, never mind the ten or twelve billion we are likely to have before the century is over. No drastic measures, mind you, just a few generations of sub-replacement reproduction until we reach a reasonable number, maybe two billion or so. In the meantime it wouldn’t be a bad idea for us to be less wasteful and more mindful. And we should all try to leave the place a little better than we found it.
With a few changes here and there we can all have a decent standard of living while living within our means, and at the same time minimizing the fouling of the collective nest. With a little enlightened effort we may all enjoy happy, safe, and comfortable lives, and in general make the best of the short time we have in this Universe.
I am no fan of Donald Trump, but I admire that he has the guts to call “bullshit” on this shakedown masquerading as science. I wish him all the luck in the world in putting an end to the reign of terror that is Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming.
Just another ignorant “denier”