Monthly Archives: September 2012

Climate Science and Political Science

A few days ago I attended a briefing by Dr. James Hansen, the NASA scientist whose 1988 congressional testimony touched off a generation of debate over man-made global warming. He is making the news again, touting a recent guest editorial in the Washington Post and lecturing on the think-tank circuit, generally well-received as the godfather of the scientists and activists who have sounded the warning of our impending doom.

This most recent briefing began with Dr. Hansen’s usual recital of data, though quite different from what he predicted in the early stages of alarmism. You may remember that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which shared a Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore, projected what it called “dramatic” changes in both temperature and sea levels as a result of man-made greenhouse gases, relying in large part on the work of Dr. Hansen and other academics. An early IPCC report predicted a world-average temperature increase of up to 5 degrees, which could cause rises in sea levels of 3-5 feet (IPCC later reduced that original estimate to about 18 inches, and now to about 6 inches). Today Dr. Hansen is saying the rate of sea level rise has declined in recent years. He now says the sea levels are rising at the rate of 1.8 millimeters a year, which he says could be as much as a foot over the next 100 years.

Initially, we were advised by some extremists (including the World Wildlife Fund) that the world would have to colonize other planets by 2050, as the Earth’s capacity to support life was exhausted. A highly-publicized 2008 report from the United Nations University predicted that destruction of the environment and desertification would turn 50 million people into “environmental refugees” by 2010, which we already know did not occur. On the surface of it, the idea is patently absurd. Of course substantial melting of the polar icecaps would dramatically alter life in the arctic regions, and of course a significant rise in sea level would change the environment of cities near the coasts. But to assert that a continent like North America could not sustain life in the face of an average 5-degree temperature increase or a 1-foot rise in sea level over a century strains credulity even for the most gullible among us. After all, we have built huge cities where once there was water. We know how to drain wetlands, build levees, divert waterways, and otherwise ensure that water does not inundate valuable land. Our landscape might change, but it would not disappear.

The truth is that scientists advocating the theory of catastrophic manmade global warming have no idea what the weather will be like next year. Neither does anyone else. They hand out lots of charts, but none of them are based on anything but educated projections and computer models, which have already proven to be wrong in predictions they made a few years ago. So you might think a world-famous expert would be cautiously telling us to be careful about such assumptions. You would be wrong.

Dr. Hansen’s recent editorial in the Washington Post was entitled “Climate Change is Here – and Worse Than We Thought.” Reminding us of his dire 1988 warning of “steadily increasing temperatures, driven by mankind’s use of fossil fuels,” he now says, “I was too optimistic.” He blames every weather phenomenon of recent years on global warming, based lagrely on his now-famous concept of “climate dice.”

I don’t blame academics and scientists for wanting to better understand the weather, and to continue studying and publishing, even lecturing, briefing, and writing books. But scientific study does not come close to the agenda Dr. Hansen and other activists are now pushing.

Dr. Hansen now proposes a massive new tax on all the people who produce oil, gas and coal. He denies it is a tax, preferring to call it a fee, because the money would not stay in Washington but be “rebated” directly to every man, woman and child in America. Instead of using his brain power to help find a way to make alternative energy sources cheaper, he simply proposes making fossil fuels prohibitive – and asserts that this would create a “robust clean energy economy with millions of new jobs.” That is an assertion backed by nothing in the real world, and contradicted by years of contrary experience.

Even though Dr. Hansen and many of his allies are highly educated scientists, and they are entitled to their opinions – on science or even on politics – just remember, the fact that someone is a scientist does not make his opinion science. In this case, the briefing I heard was not climate science, but political science.