Sir John has just passed away. The report below is from Science News, 102:24, December 1972, written by Kendrick Frazier. It recalls the time when "Nature" magazine was rigorously devoted to science. It is sad to note that the hysteria and pseudoscience that Maddox attacked has got worse rather than better :
In the United States, in 1972, one ventures a criticism of the environmental movement with the trepidation of those who in past years might have questioned the concept of motherhood or the virtues of apple pie. He is sure to be misunderstood or maligned.
Environmentalism (notice how the movement has even added another "-ism" to our vocabulary) has become the issue that every right-minded citizen seemingly can support. In this social context then, one can hardly imagine a book addressing a more fashionable subject while taking a less fashionable point of view than John Maddox's The Doomsday Syndrome (McGraw-Hill, $6.95).
Maddox's arguments, however, deserve the thoughtful attention of all who profess concern about the environment and the future of planet earth. Maddox is the editor of the respected British journal NATURE, and what he has put together is an attack not on the environmental movement itself but on some of the more extreme elements of the movement or, as he puts it, an attack on pessimism. In fact the word "attack" is perhaps ill advised, for one of his main goals is to substitute calm, scientific analysis for some of the more strident emotional rhetoric surrounding environmental issues. In this sense, his work espouses moderation. I do not agree with everything Maddox says, but as one who is annoyed by exaggeration and overstatement, especially on important subjects having scientific content, I found myself frequently cheering him on as I read.
In the past decade, he notes, the peoples of North America and, to a lesser extent, Western Europe have been "assailed by prophecies of calamity." Population growth, pollution, overconsumption of resources, genetic engineering, economic growth all, say the doomsayers, spell danger to the human race. They even talk "of the possibility that the temper of modern science may undermine the structure of modern society."
Says Maddox: "Although these prophecies are founded in science, they are at best pseudoscience. Their most common error is to suppose that the worst will always happen. And to the extent that they are based on assumptions as to how people will behave, they ignore the ways in which social institutions and humane aspirations can conspire to solve the most daunting problems."
Maddox notes that his is not a tract in favor of population growth or of pollution. "One of the distressing features of the present debate about the environment is the way in which it is supposed to be an argument between farsighted people with the interests of humanity at heart and others who care not a tuppence for the future.... This false dichotomy conceals a host of important issues." And, he continues, "The doomsday cause would be more telling if it were more securely grounded in facts, better informed by a sense of history and an awareness of economics and less cataclysmic in temper. .. Too often, reality is oversimplified or even ignored, so that there is a danger that much of this gloomy foreboding about the immediate future will accomplish the opposite of what its authors intend. Instead of alerting people to important problems, it may seriously undermine the capacity of the human race to look out for its survival. The doomsday syndrome may be in itself as much a hazard as any of the conundrums which society has created for itself."
The message is not that everything is all right with the world, but that to remedy what is wrong we need cool heads, accurate, undistorted information, and rational unemotional analysis. I think Maddox somewhat underestimates the positive aspects of the environmental movement in the United States. (Are not the recent clean air and clean water acts the result of "social institutions" conspiring "to solve the most daunting problems"?) The environmental movement has made major achievements. But the intangible costs of some of the excessive rhetoric are yet to be summed up. (High among those costs would be the at-least-partially misguided recent negativism toward science and technology and a lessened faith in society's ability to engage in any enlightened progress.)
Perhaps, now that it has long since gained everyone's attention, the environmental cause can now move into a more mature phase in which scare tactics and "either-or" doomsaying can be supplanted by hard analytical thinking and well-informed realistic action on the whole range of difficult choices to be made.
LAUGHING MY WRINKLED WHITE BUTT OFF
Incredible: America imports engineers and computer programmers, but trains people in "counseling" and "early childhood development" - where they can work at Wal Mart and answer phones, and now America is training people for "green jobs"
I just love this. College students are flocking to "green" fields of study. They're listening to the siren call of Barack Obama and the environmental crowd and they're using their parent's money and four or five years of their lives to prepare themselves for "green" jobs. I can see this one coming. In about eight years these fools will be out there handing shopping carts to Wal-Mart shoppers and wondering where the hell their "green job" is. This is going to be wonderful stuff. They'll show up at some job interview somewhere and they'll be asked "What was your major at State U?" "Green studies!" they'll answer .. .and the interview will be over. You just have to love this. Resumes with "green studies" entries on them being tossed in the trash cans. Oh man, this is gonna be great!
Kyoto's successor may die on the vine
Comment from a Greenie
Any chance the US may have had in taking a leadership role in forming a new international climate protocol diminished today with news from President Barack Obama's energy czar that the White House is taking a wait-and-see approach to regulating CO2 emissions.
For the US to lead on the issue of climate change – and get developing countries to follow – it has to act, and act quickly. The next major international climate summit, the Copenhagen Climate Convention, is in December. And if the US wants any role in shaping the successor of the Kyoto protocol, a global agreement that ends in 2012, its delegates must arrive in Denmark with firm plans on how it will regulate CO2 emissions at home.
The US can pass regulations in one of two ways: through Congressional legislation or in terms dictated by the White House via the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Air Act. The former would likely result in regulations that are more palatable to a larger segment of the US population, since members of Congress from each state would have a say in shaping the legislation. But it's widely believed that Congress won't move on its own, unless it believes the Obama Administration is about to dictate the terms of regulations itself.
I was, therefore, sad to hear today that the White House is tipping its hand on its plans just as Congress takes its first serious look at a cap-and-trade system, in which emitters will be charged for the carbon dioxide they put into the air. "It is the strong preference of this administration that we secure [Congressional] legislation," said Carol Browner, director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change, at a clean energy summit on Monday at MIT. Browner added she was "very confident that Congress will act," and is "very, very encouraged by the schedule of commitment" she has seen from legislators in the House and Senate.
Congressional legislation, and all the give and take it entails, is likely the best approach to creating a lasting carbon-reduction scheme in the US. But even if the Obama Administration "strongly prefers" such a route, I wish it would rattle its regulatory sabre enough to ensure that the US gets to the table in Copenhagen.
Obama's Climate Suicide Threat
Comment from a moderate Green/Leftist
This morning brought more bad news for supporters of cap and trade climate legislation. It came in the form of an appearance by House Energy and Commerce Chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Santa Monica) on PBS' Tavis Smiley. When asked how cap and trade would create technology innovation, Waxman said:
When we raise the price of energy, which will happen if we reduce the amount of carbon emissions, and industries have to figure out how to live in a carbon-constrained environment, they are going to have to figure it out because it is in their profitable interest to figure it out.
Waxman's call for raising energy prices comes after a month of setbacks for cap and trade proponents. In March, the White House floated the idea of passing cap and trade and health care bills as part of the budget in order to avoid reaching the 60 votes needed to avoid filibuster. Moderate Senate Democrats led by Evan Bayh (D-IN), whose state is over 92 percent dependent on coal electricity, joined Republicans in opposing passing cap and trade as a budget resolution.
Then, on March 31, the day after Waxman and Rep. Edward Markey (D-MA) introduced their climate legislation, the Senate passed a resolution 89-8 saying that the Senate will not pass climate legislation that raises energy prices -- a direct contradiction of what Waxman says his bill will do. The following day, the Senate passed a resolution 98-0 that effectively defined cap and trade as a tax. Unless the Senate can manage to do a cap and trade that does something different than what its sponsor say it will do, historians will likely look back on these resolutions as the moment that cap and trade was buried in the Senate.
If there is a strategy coming from the White House, it's not obvious what it is. Waxman-Markey left enough details unanswered in their legislation that the sponsors could still potentially create a huge, pork-filled bill to buy off moderate Dems and Republicans. But there is no obvious strategy to deal with the problem created in the Senate, where the chamber has said it will not allow cap and trade to raise energy prices. Given the recent turn of events, climate czar Carol Browner's statement at MIT yesterday that she believes cap and trade will pass Congress by December is either extremely bold or delusional.
Stung by the Senate moderates who publicly sided with Republicans against passing cap and trade budget resolution, the White House seems either paralyzed about what to do or focused on its many higher priorities: Afghanistan, Pakistan, the banking crisis, and the auto crisis. Last Friday Times' John Broder noted that the Obama administration would use the possibility of EPA regulating carbon dioxide as a club to move Republicans and moderate Dems to pass legislation.
But Roger Pielke makes the point that such a strategy is certain to backfire on Democrats.
Republicans must be drooling over the possibility that EPA will take extensive regulatory action on climate change. Why? Because the resulting political fallout associated with any actual or perceived downsides (e.g., like higher energy prices) will fall entirely on Democrats and the Obama Administration. Far from being an incentive for Congress to act on its own, the looming possibility that EPA will take regulatory action is a strong incentive for Republicans to stalemate Congressional action and a nightmare scenario for Democrats.
In other words, the White House "threat" to Republicans and moderate Democrats to regulate carbon is the equivalent of threatening your enemy with suicide. ("Don't make me raise energy prices! You'll really be in trouble with your voters when I raise their energy prices!")
The White House and Congressional Democrats are now in a lose-lose situation. They can either pass cap and trade legislation which does not rise energy prices -- which would thus not, according to Waxman, result in any innovation -- or it could continue to try to raise energy prices, handing Republican consultants a powerful political advertisement for restoring bi-partisan balance to Congress as a check on a too liberal White House.
Signs of disarray and division among greens and Democrats are everywhere. Friends of the Earth released a scathing critique of cap and trade just before Waxman introduced climate legislation, warning of "carbon derivatives" markets that could be as dangerous to the economy as credit default swaps. The New York Times' green columnist Thomas Friedman wrote a column last week saying that environmental groups were lousy spokespersons for climate legislation, and then in a Newsweek interview blamed Al Gore for why increasing numbers of Americans are telling Gallup that they think global warming is being exaggerated. And a substantial portion of grassroots environmentalists including author Bill McKibben and Middlebury's Jon Isham, endorsed Rep. Van Hollen's legislation instead of Waxman-Markey.
Gore has been notably silent during the cap and trade debate, with his "We Campaign" reduced to asking members to send letters to the editor which explain that cap and trade won't raise energy prices as much as Republicans say it will. This is part of the larger blame-the-media strategy pioneered by Joe Romm of Climate Progress, who attributes the increase in voters telling Gallup that they believe that news of global warming is being exaggerated to the media, and not to Gore, Friedman, himself, and other greens who routinely use apocalyptic language when describing climate impacts.
Environmental groups are quiet, too. They are not running advertisements, releasing reports, or sending much in the way of email to their members. Into the vacuum has rushed Rep. Waxman and Thomas Friedman, who keep insisting to large television and other audiences that the key to developing clean energy is raising fossil fuel prices -- a claim that has been contradicted by large evaluations of the evidence by the International Energy Agency, McKinsey, Stern and others, who all point to the need for direct government investment in technology.
Another legislative loss on cap and trade would be very hard on green groups. It would come under a Democratic president and Democratic Congress, and would thus force greens to ask themselves a hard question about cap and trade: if it can't pass under those legislative conditions, when can it pass? Even more devastating for greens will be if Republicans can use cap and trade to take back one or both houses of Congress in 2010. If that occurs, greens will be viewed increasingly skeptically on the Hill. And it could undermine the ideological consensus on the Hill among Democrats that cap and trade is the only or the best way to deal with climate change. Moderates who refuse to raise electricity and gasoline prices on their constituents will find common cause with liberal members who favor greater government spending on energy technology, infrastructure and education.
We mustn’t warm to this myth
Comment from England
EVERY totalitarian regime needs its defining myth. With the Nazis, it was the “Aryan” fantasy of racial purity. With the USSR, it was the dictatorship of the proletariat. With secularised, semi-pagan Western societies in historic decline, it is global warming.
Sometimes comparisons among these are alarming. For example, Ed Miliband, the climate change minister, has said that opposing wind farms is “socially unacceptable”. How long before global warming denial becomes an offence, like holocaust denial? The Government seizes approvingly on outrageous remarks by such as Dr James Hansen, who wrote in a national newspaper: “The trains carrying coal to power plants are death trains. Coal-fired power plants are factories of death.”
What I find bewildering is that the Greens, who claim to care for the environment, are so strongly in favour of wind farms, which are a kind of pollution of the countryside. What’s more, they don’t work very efficiently. So why ruin the countryside for the sake of obsessed environmentalists’ gesture politics? Millions of British people enjoy our glorious countryside as a natural environment which provides an antidote to the stress of urban life. It is nothing short of wickedness to foul this delight with useless wind farms.
To their credit, some governments are coming to see the uselessness of the wind turbines. Germany and Spain are losing their enthusiasm for wind power because, as reported by The Scientific Alliance, “...of the need to run back-up conventional power stations”.
It is meteorologists and other scientists who point out that settled spells of either very hot or very cold weather – the weather that creates the greatest demand for electrical power – occur when there is no wind. So, when electricity demand is at its peak, wind turbines are static and produce nothing.
Global warming is not indisputable. Thousands of highly qualified and experienced scientists question it. But the problem is that global warming is not being treated as a theory, a possibility, but as a truth of nature on a par with the law of gravity. It is the unassailable myth of the new totalitarians.
I wouldn’t want you to think this is just Mullen shooting from the hip. I have been avidly reading scientific papers and reports and, while there are those who believe global warming is taking place, there are thousands of reputable scientists who deny it.
This is entirely as it should be. Rigorous examination of hypotheses is the very basis of science. And this is what is being asked for by, among other intelligent sources, The Scientific Alliance. I quote: “The whole juggernaut of global warming is based on a framework which accepts the International Panel on Climate Change’s view of the enhanced greenhouse effect as indisputable truth. Hence the refusal to concede that any degree of scepticism or a different interpretation of evidence is legitimate.
So it is even more important for critical points to be raised and debate encouraged. Scientific understanding will benefit from this: and the better the understanding, the better any necessary response can be formulated.” This is the reasonable approach and a long way from Ed Miliband’s dark words about what is “socially acceptable” and the disgraceful invocation of “death trains”.
Beware the climate of conformity
Comment from Australia
What I am about to write questions much of what I have written in this space, in numerous columns, over the past five years. Perhaps what I have written can withstand this questioning. Perhaps not. The greater question is, am I - and you - capable of questioning our own orthodoxies and intellectual habits? Let's see.
The subject of this column is not small. It is a book entitled Heaven And Earth, which will be published tomorrow. It has been written by one of Australia's foremost Earth scientists, Professor Ian Plimer. He is a confronting sort of individual, polite but gruff, courteous but combative. He can write extremely well, and Heaven And Earth is a brilliantly argued book by someone not intimidated by hostile majorities or intellectual fashions.
The book's 500 pages and 230,000 words and 2311 footnotes are the product of 40 years' research and a depth and breadth of scholarship. As Plimer writes: "An understanding of climate requires an amalgamation of astronomy, solar physics, geology, geochronology, geochemistry, sedimentology, tectonics, palaeontology, palaeoecology, glaciology, climatology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, archaeology and history."
The most important point to remember about Plimer is that he is Australia's most eminent geologist. As such, he thinks about time very differently from most of us. He takes the long, long view. He looks at climate over geological, archaeological, historical and modern time. He writes: "Past climate changes, sea-level changes and catastrophes are written in stone."
Much of what we have read about climate change, he argues, is rubbish, especially the computer modelling on which much current scientific opinion is based, which he describes as "primitive". Errors and distortions in computer modelling will be exposed in time. (As if on cue, the United Nations' peak scientific body on climate change was obliged to make an embarrassing admission last week that some of its computers models were wrong.)
Plimer does not dispute the dramatic flux of climate change - and this column is not about Australia's water debate - but he fundamentally disputes most of the assumptions and projections being made about the current causes, mostly led by atmospheric scientists, who have a different perspective on time. "It is little wonder that catastrophist views of the future of the planet fall on fertile pastures. The history of time shows us that depopulation, social disruption, extinctions, disease and catastrophic droughts take place in cold times . and life blossoms and economies boom in warm times. Planet Earth is dynamic. It always changes and evolves. It is currently in an ice age."
If we look at the last 6 million years, the Earth was warmer than it is now for 3 million years. The ice caps of the Arctic, Antarctica and Greenland are geologically unusual. Polar ice has only been present for less than 20 per cent of geological time. What follows is an intense compression of the book's 500 pages and all their provocative arguments and conclusions:
Is dangerous warming occurring? No. Is the temperature range observed in the 20th century outside the range of normal variability? No.
The Earth's climate is driven by the receipt and redistribution of solar energy. Despite this crucial relationship, the sun tends to be brushed aside as the most important driver of climate. Calculations on supercomputers are primitive compared with the complex dynamism of the Earth's climate and ignore the crucial relationship between climate and solar energy.
"To reduce modern climate change to one variable, CO2, or a small proportion of one variable - human-induced CO2 - is not science. To try to predict the future based on just one variable (CO2) in extraordinarily complex natural systems is folly. Yet when astronomers have the temerity to show that climate is driven by solar activities rather than CO2 emissions, they are dismissed as dinosaurs undertaking the methods of old-fashioned science."
Over time, the history of CO2 content in the atmosphere has been far higher than at present for most of time. Atmospheric CO2 follows temperature rise. It does not create a temperature rise. CO2 is not a pollutant. Global warming and a high CO2 content bring prosperity and longer life.
The hypothesis that human activity can create global warming is extraordinary because it is contrary to validated knowledge from solar physics, astronomy, history, archaeology and geology. "But evidence no longer matters. And any contrary work published in peer-reviewed journals is just ignored. We are told that the science on human-induced global warming is settled. Yet the claim by some scientists that the threat of human-induced global warming is 90 per cent certain (or even 99 per cent) is a figure of speech. It has no mathematical or evidential basis."
Observations in nature differ markedly from the results generated by nearly two dozen computer-generated climate models. These climate models exaggerate the effects of human CO2 emissions into the atmosphere because few of the natural variables are considered. Natural systems are far more complex than computer models.
The setting up by the UN of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 1988 gave an opportunity to make global warming the main theme of environmental groups. "The IPCC process is related to environmental activism, politics and opportunism. It is unrelated to science. Current zeal around human-induced climate change is comparable to the certainty professed by Creationists or religious fundamentalists."
Ian Plimer is not some isolated gadfly. He is a prize-winning scientist and professor. The back cover of Heaven And Earth carries a glowing endorsement from the President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, who now holds the rotating presidency of the European Union. Numerous rigorous scientists have joined Plimer in dissenting from the prevailing orthodoxy. Heaven And Earth is an evidence-based attack on conformity and orthodoxy, including my own, and a reminder to respect informed dissent and beware of ideology subverting evidence.
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