When Satire and Science Speak Inconvenient Truths

Just lately two very different people—one a German satirist, the other an American Nobel Prize-winning scientist—have fallen afoul of those concerned citizens who have taken on the unpaid role of “Censors to Prevent the Apocalypse.” And without your having any more information than that, gentle reader, you know that they have done so on the topic of climate change.

Let’s look at the satirist first. Dieter Nuhr is a well-known comedian who, presumably because of his public profile as a scourge of left and right impartially, was invited to contribute a statement to a public information campaign of the German Research Foundation about its work. That statement ran as follows on the website No Tricks Zone:

Knowledge does not mean you are 100% sure, but that you have enough facts to have a reasoned opinion. But many people are offended when scientists change their mind: That is normal! Science is just THAT the opinion changes when the facts change. This is because science is not a doctrine of salvation, not a religion that proclaims absolute truths. And those who constantly shout, “Follow science!” have obviously not understood this. Science does not know everything, but it is the only reasonable knowledge base we have. That is why it is so important.

If we want to classify it, that’s a defense of truth, science, and freedom all in one. It’s not the most eloquent of such defenses, but it covers a lot of ground in few words and it’s admirably clear. Score one for the satirists here. Almost inevitably therefore it provoked an outpouring of hostile criticism from the organized twitter mobs which don’t usually know a great deal but which do seem to have a reliable instinct when one of their idols or shibboleths is being impermissibly doubted. In response to these attacks the German Research Foundation, fearing damage to its reputation, did the usual thing and took Nuhr’s statement down.

The Research Foundation obviously didn’t know its man. Nuhr responded to his defenestration with a very powerful defense of freedom of thought and inquiry in society and of diversity of opinion in science in particular. In it he was unsparing in his criticism of the Foundation for its surrender.

That strong response evoked an even larger volume of external criticism of the Foundation for its loss of nerve, together with an internal serious reconsideration of all the issues raised by the banning of Nuhr. Within a week it issued an apology of the handsomest sort to Nuhr and reinstated his original statement on its site, saying “The DFG expressly regrets that the statement by Dieter Nuhr was taken hastily from the website of the online campaign #forknowledge.” (Not my Boldness.)

And—you can’t fault the Germans for not being thorough—it went on to connect that error with a growing culture of groupthink and particular orthodoxies in the universities, scientific institutions, and other centers of intellectual discussion, and to pledge to lead a campaign of resistance to this culture in the interests of genuine science and free inquiry.

That strong promise of leadership is both welcome and necessary in today’s world. It should be chastening to us, however, that only a few decades ago such a statement would have seemed a string of nice platitudes because no one, except perhaps a few cranks, would have considered advancing the opposite opinion. Some distinguished Marxist historians in Cambridge, for instance, submitted their academic work to communist party committees for pre-publication approval.

What happened to change the intellectual climate not only in Germany but throughout the entire West in this authoritarian direction?

Mr. Nuhr in his response suggested that a Science that outlawed the competition of ideas was turning—or had already turned—into a religion. If religion is a body of beliefs that denies the possibility of its own falsification, then his criticism is acute and correct.

My own tentative sense of the matter, however, is that this is a late stage in climate alarmism. Before it developed religious certitudes, the dogmas of global warming and climate change had morphed into a branch of politics. That is to say, that they were seen as “convenient truths” (h/t to former Vice-President Gore) because they seemed to justify, indeed require, the extension of state power and regulation on a world scale in order—to employ the cant phrase—to deal with global problems.

Once adopted by the statist side of the political spectrum (which was running out of good reasons for increasing its power over people), this convenient "truth" gave funds and prestige to those scientists, economists, and politicians who embraced and propagated it. And because there are some—more in science than in politics—who doubted its doctrines and disputed them, the science of climate change became a political issue everywhere.

That analysis doesn’t mean that its doctrines are false. But it does mean that like every other scientific proposition, they should be treated with a proper skepticism, and if seemingly well-founded on the evidence so far, treated as provisionally true unless and until falsified by subsequent events. After all, they may prove to be convenient falsehoods or timely errors. When the Blair government ordered Gore’s movie on climate change to be shown in schools, a judge ruled that it would have to be accompanied by a corrective point of view since some of its inconvenient truths weren’t actually true.

Something to watch for, then, is when the tone of commentary on some aspect of climate policy changes from the dry, detached, scientific kind to the passionate committed political sort. And that’s where the Nobel Prize-winning American economist comes in.

William D. Nordhaus is an American economist, educated at Cambridge, MIT, and Yale, who at present holds the Stirling Professorship of Economics at Yale, and who for some years has devoted himself to work on climate change and economic modelling. He won his Nobel Prize for his work developing the so-called Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model (NICE) which is essentially a cost-benefit analysis designed to tell us what are the costs of particular changes in the climate, the benefits of policies designed to mitigate or adapt to them, and the trade-offs between the two.

It’s a great deal more complex than that, of course, but the usefulness and reliability of DICE are demonstrated by the fact that Nordhaus’s work is repeatedly cited by scientists and other economists of all opinions in their work. That’s made easier because Nordhaus himself holds moderate opinions on climate policy, endorsing such policies as a carbon tax and tariffs on countries that refuse to follow the Paris Agreement. And though his work can be disputed, no one has yet found serious technical errors in it.

All of a sudden, however, he’s coming under attack from those in science and economics on the alarmist end of the climate spectrum. As is pointed out by Benjamin Zycher, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, in a recent monograph, these attacks are quite severe without being based on anything like a discovery of economic errors by Nordhaus. In fact, they seem to arise from annoyance that Nordhaus’s cost-benefit analysis, if accurately applied to their favored climate policies such as ending the use of fossil fuels by the end of this century, would show many heavy costs and incommensurately low benefits.

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That irritation is glaringly evident in the judgment of Marlow Hoode that “leading scientists and economists, however, say there is [in addition to corrupt leaders, the rich, etc.] another impediment to climate action that merits closer scrutiny: the profoundly influential work of 2018 Nobel economics laureate William J. Nordhaus.” (His middle initial is in fact D.) Among other leading scientists and economists, for instance, Gernot Wagner of New York University is quoted as arguing: “If [Nordhaus] had won the Nobel Prize 20 years ago, it would have helped climate policy. But the fact that he won it two years ago is, in many ways, a step back.” Similarly, Joseph Stiglitz, another Nobel Prize-winner, asserts that DICE is “dangerous because we don’t have another planet we can go to if we mess this up. The message [that Nordhaus has] been conveying is foolhardy.”

Nordhaus might be wrong, of course, and Zycher has his own criticisms of him. He has responded to some criticisms, conceding they’re “half right,” but he defends the main body of the work that won him the Nobel Prize. His modest concession can’t satisfy critics because it implies that a careful cost-benefit analysis is still heavily negative towards extreme climate alarmism (“we don’t have another planet”) that mandates net-zero carbon emissions or banning fossil fuels. And since they have failed to show that DICE is flawed, the logic of their criticisms is that Nordhaus is an obstacle to their climate alarmism because he’s shown that it’s either wrong or greatly exaggerated.

Look out, therefore, for still more criticisms of the distinguished Yale professor, especially if he continues to defend himself and DICE with the determination of a German satirist. For such courage will certainly be required of those who doubt either general or particular aspects of climate alarmism. Out there in the obscurity of the academic jungle, the drums are beating out the message that there can be no exceptions to observance of the tribal lays. As picked up and transmitted by the vigilant website WattsUpWithThat?, here are two Edge Hill University academics, Psychology Professor Geoff Beattie and Education Research Fellow Laura McGuire, advising us on how to ensure that the people are inspired to love climate alarmism:

[T]o prevent optimism bias, we also need to avoid presenting “both sides of the argument” in the messaging – the science tells us that there’s only one side. There also needs to be a clear argument as to why recommended, sustainable behaviours will work (establishing a different sort of confirmation bias).

We also need everyone to get the message, not just some groups – that’s an important lesson from COVID-19. There can be no (apparent) exceptions when it comes to climate change.

Let me concede that our two Edge Hill academics are being refreshingly candid. They’re telling us: we know what’s right; we’re going to ensure that you accept our view on climate change and policy; and we won’t do so by rational persuasion either, but by limiting your knowledge on the matter in question and  getting under your psychological guard to smuggle our view into your mind.

I hope a good many people get to read about their strategy—which strikes me as neither liberal or democratic—but I’m not as alarmed as I might be by it. I don’t believe that human beings can be “conditioned” like Pavlov’s dogs or Orwell’s Outer Party members because we are self-conscious animals who reflect on ourselves and our own thinking. That’s why people can change religions, political parties, and even scientific views.

That said, our Edge Hill scientists are clearly hard cases. So I ask them to reflect on this passage from Dieter Nuhr’s first response to the German Research Foundation cited above:

I find the phrase “Follow science” questionable because it suggests that there is one, untouchable opinion and solution strategy for climate change, because this way science is declared a narrative of redemption. That is the opposite of science.

There are different scenarios and different solution strategies not only among the population but also among climate scientists. It is even a basic condition of free research that different theses are allowed and discussed. This is what happens in science. In the public, however, diversity of opinion is increasingly actively suppressed by denunciation. Individual groups proclaim inviolable truths, claim that science is on their side and accordingly treat critical thinkers as heretics, then lump them together with madmen and conspiracy theorists and try to discredit them. That is Dark Ages and frightening.

To Nuhr, I can only regret that neither Dryden nor Pope is still around to celebrate his admirable and perhaps historically significant defeat of modern obscurantism in appropriate terms. So here’s a contribution from my own Imatitive Muse:

Thus, Science, Reason, Freedom leave the Stage/ Owning their Debt to Satire’s witty Rage.

'Climate Cassandras' -- Plus ça Change

Remember “Anthropogenic Global Warming”?  “Global warming” became “climate change” because the warming… didn’t exist. It still doesn’t. The global temperature has, since 1997, flattened. This is explained-away by the climate alarmists as a “pause.” The problem? Here’s TIME magazine in 1974:

However widely the weather varies from place to place and time to time, when meteorologists take an average of temperatures around the globe they find that the atmosphere has been growing gradually cooler for the past three decades. The trend shows no indication of reversing. Climatological Cassandras are becoming increasingly apprehensive, for the weather aberrations they are studying may be the harbinger of another ice age.

"Three decades." Or since circa 1944. Added to the 1997 – 2014 “pause,” the global temperature has been cooling or flat for at least 47 of the past 76 years, or more than half the time. And this as post-war prosperity accelerated and hundreds of millions of people increased their use of carbon-based fuels to enter into and prosper from the Industrial Age.

Exactly zero temperature data sets exist supporting warming. None. Never have. Sure – a few data sets exist by once-reputable climate science organizations (NASA, East Anglia / CRU), but those are re-manipulated every few years to show whatever curve is required to support the climate alarmism-of-the-day. This manipulation is of the original data sets, both at the upper end (“The earth has a temperature!”) and at the lower end (“See how fast the temperature is increasing?!”). The original data did not show the temperature increase or steeper slope demanded by the alarmists, so the data were … adjusted. This is called many things, but “science” is not one of them.

Remember the “Hockey Stick” curve that started all this? This “curve” has been the subject of constant controversy since its creation, the foundation of Al Gore’s ridiculous film – and the basis for world governments to waste hundreds of billions (trillions?) of our dollars. The problem? The curve doesn’t exist.

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MIT also rejected the 'hockey stick' and the algorithm that created it, noting that random numbers provide a similar curve and fundamental mistakes are present in the underlying math. A large body of “science” supports the AGW argument, though, right?  Don’t 97 percent of scientists support "Climate Change"?

In a word? No.

Why, then, do so many researchers and academics support it? Here’s the answer from Dr. Richard Lindzen, the now-retired Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology:

It was the narrative from the beginning. In 1998, [NASA’s James] Hansen made some vague remarks. Newsweek ran a cover that says all scientists agree. Now they never really tell you what they agree on. It is propaganda.

So all scientists agree it’s probably warmer now than it was at the end of the Little Ice Age. Almost all Scientists agree that if you add CO2 you will have some warming. Maybe very little warming. But it is propaganda to translate that into it is dangerous and we must reduce CO2 etc.

If you can make an ambiguous remark and you have people who will amplify it ‘they said it not me’ and the response of the political system is to increase your funding, what’s not to like?

For the Left, “Science” is spelled “capitali$m,” as most “research” papers supporting “climate change” are written for, or occasioned by, grant money. We have a surfeit of unsupported climate fantasy funded by NGOs, academia and “philanthropic” organizations because academics can be greedy. They see Big Dollars or Big Careers (which equals Big Dollars) in supporting the climate flavor-of-the-month fixation of Big Government or Big Philanthropy. Whatever those organizations are demanding, they supply: the same kind of capitalism the Left is burning down America to protest.

Climate change policies are about one thing: collectivism. The ruling class rejecting the rising individualist middle class of the Western world and billing us for that rejection. It’s about rejecting the voice of people globally, people who, because of the internet and information awareness, now are knowledgeable of how badly and for how long the various Western governments have been and are continuing to screw their citizens.

Notice who the climate change “deniers” are: middle class Western individualists, while the climate change True Believers are anti-Western collectivists. Who makes the world go-round? Individualists (we invent everything). Who mooches off the going-round world? Collectivists (they invent nothing). And now the collectivists want to collect money from the individualists under the unsupported nonsense of “climate change,” usurping the power to choose what to do with our earnings, our property, our life’s work.

Every government needs authority and a common purpose in the eyes of those governed. These can be gained via both external and internal threats. Covid-19 masks and unlawful house arrest/lockdowns by some governors and mayors serve to control you. “Climate change” is being used to achieve that common purpose as well. It's all about control.

The data didn’t support anthropogenic global warming, so the name was changed, but the goals are the same: global totalitarian collectivism under our self-anointed betters, the destruction of entire industries, and robbing the West of wealth, progress, liberty and individualism in order to enrich the totalitarian ruling class in the guise of helping the Third World with cleaner air, cleaner water, cleaner parks and playgrounds, and better schools.

When even the globalists at the U.N. admit that the entire climate hoax is not about the climate, but about destroying capitalism, you can be pretty sure that climate change is a feature for the left, not a bug; an excuse to advance totalitarianism and crush the middle class – and to get the middle class to join in, and pay for, its own destruction.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of U.N.'s Framework Convention on Climate Change, admitted that the goal of environmental activists is not to save the world from ecological calamity but to destroy capitalism. "This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution," she said.

We’ve seen this movie before. In the words of Princeton Professor Emeritus of Physics, William Happer, in 2017,

I don’t see a whole lot of difference between the consensus on climate change and the consensus on witches.  At the witch trials in Salem the judges were educated at Harvard. This was supposedly 100 percent science. The one or two people who said there were no witches were immediately hung. Not much has changed.

At least we aren’t hanging “deniers.” Yet.

 

Setting the Record Straight on the Climate Debate

It is difficult to know to what degree the general public believes the direst forecasts of climate catastrophe after years of having been endlessly frightened by “expert” predictions that have repeatedly failed to materialize, but one thing is certain: the vast majority of us are not hearing both sides of the debate. With most other big controversies, mainstream news generally allow token counterarguments, at least occasionally. Not in this case. Dissent against the prevailing view that humanity drives “climate change” is essentially off-limits on most of the airwaves and in print. Censorship of the opposition is accepted as good journalistic hygiene. Indeed, the Los Angeles Times proudly declared it would no longer accept letters to the editor that challenged the validity of anthropogenic climate change.

Because they control the narrative, climate alarmists are virtually unchallenged, even when they are demonstrably dishonest. No propaganda has been used more effectively by them than claims that the science is “settled” and that 97% of scientists believe humans are the primary cause of global warming, an idea which originated in this paper. What the alarmists would never confess is that the assertion was quickly debunked by Legates, et. al., who wrote,

"In fact, however, there is a decided lack of consensus among scientists, and especially among those who are trained in climate science or have studied it extensively. The 97.1 % consensus claimed by Cook et al. (2013) turns out upon inspection to be not 97.1% but 0.3 %. Their claim of 97.1 % consensus, therefore, is arguably one of the greatest items of misinformation that has been circulated on either side of the climate debate."

Shamefully, even NASA is trafficking in the myth.

Another especially clever persuasion trick, which attempts to cultivate confirmation bias in the alarmists' audience, is to attribute every category of weather outlier to anthropogenic climate change. For example, "climate change" is blamed for stronger tornadoes and weaker tornadoes, shrinking sea ice and growing sea ice, violent hurricane seasons and quiet hurricane seasons, faster winds and slower winds, too much rain and too little rain, coldwaves and of course, heatwaves. If what we read is to be believed, either end of a range of a weather can only be the result of man-made CO2, rather than an intermittent, but perfectly natural, ancient phenomenon. The hucksters and hysterics have made anthropogenic climate change unfalsifiable. Every unpleasant divergence from mild, seasonal weather, they will swear, confirms our impending doom.

Outside of wonkish blogs, scientifically strong counterarguments to the pervasive misinformation are rare. One merely has to Google "climate change" to see how lopsided the leading links are. When a politician with no scientific training, and a sympathetic child manipulated by her elders for cynical reasons are the public faces of the climate debate, we can be certain that the discussion is closer to political science than actual science. Of course, climate alarmists have tremendous political and financial incentives to continue their crusade, and as long as that's true they're not going away.

The main threat to climate hysteria is the actual scientific data and its proper analysis. A widely accepted global temperature dataset published by the University of Alabama at Huntsville shows only a +0.13 degrees Celsius per decade trend in the monthly anomaly data since 1979. The term “anomaly” refers to the deviation of a month's temperature from a 30-year baseline (average) temperature. The current baseline is the global mean for the period 1981-2010, and the temperatures in the global database are derived from measurements of the microwave emissions of oxygen in the lower troposphere using satellite sensors.

There are a few important notes about these measurements. First, assuming the Earth is approximately four billion years old, these four decades of satellite data represent one-millionth of 1% of geologic time. That is analogous to about three tenths of a second out of an entire year. Drawing important conclusions about Earth’s climate from such a razor-thin sliver of time would be foolhardy. Furthermore, there have been periods of climatic history that have been far warmer and far colder than today, and the fluctuations observed in the recent past may simply be variations of little consequence in a milder middle range. More importantly, the trend line of +0.13 degrees Celsius per decade with respect to a baseline mean implies that we are currently only about a quarter of a degree Celsius – less than half of degree Fahrenheit – over the baseline. In other words, much of the world is freaking out over a short-term average anomaly of a quarter degree Celsius, which could be caused by a large number of variable natural drivers. Popular science will not tell us that.

The professional science literature provides us with both sides, however. Three central questions climate scientists are actively trying to resolve pertain to feedbacks, causality, and model sensitivities. Negative climate feedbacks are mechanisms that cool the Earth or mitigate temperature increase. One of the most notable examples is the “iris effect”, a controversial theory proposed by MIT climate physicist Richard Lindzen and his co-workers, which states that warming water temperatures reduce cirrus cloud formation, resulting in greater heat loss and a net cooling effect. Recent independent research appears to confirm the theory. Studies of climate causalities seek to match observable climate states or outputs, e.g., temperature observations, to one or more inputs (i.e., causes). The main thesis behind anthropogenic climate change is that man-made CO2 is the source of nearly all recent global warming. Using a technique known as slow-feature analysis, researchers have mapped the Pacific Ocean’s El Niño–Southern Oscillation cycle and the Hale sunspot cycle to centuries of temperature records from central England. While central England is not a pure proxy for the world at large, the ability to link such diverse dynamics is a powerful argument that our Earth's thermostat is controlled by natural forces far greater than mankind. Results connecting natural global ocean cycles and regional surface temperatures are not unique. Finally, the effort to relate prescribed climate model sensitivities – parameters that fit theoretical models to empirical data – to global temperature observations has been one of the great disappointments of anthropogenic warming theorists. Princeton physicist Dr. William Happer has written about the CO2 doubling sensitivity, which scales each doubling of atmospheric CO2 concentration to global temperature increase:

The doubling sensitivity S is how much the Earth’s average surface temperature will increase if the atmospheric concentrations of CO2 doubles. S is the most important single parameter in the debate over climate change.

As Happer goes on to note, the doubling parameter has been badly overestimated, and climate scientists have proposed more than fifty mechanisms to explain the discrepancy. Regardless, the theory is flawed, and the science is obviously not settled. Do not hold your breath waiting for the alarmists to admit it.