Is the planet warming significantly due to human activities, and if so how much can it be expected to warm in the coming century? Frankly, I have no idea. Understanding the climate is a fantastically complicated problem, about which I know only as much as the average scientist, which is to say: not very much. To have a really educated opinion on the subject one must either be a climatologist or have studied climatology in some depth. Therefore, I have to rely to a large extent on people more knowledgeable than myself whose judgment I trust. And here lies the problem. I am not sure who can be trusted on this subject.

I began to have serious concerns about the consensus view of global warming some years ago, after attending a scientific lecture on the subject by Prof. Richard Lindzen of MIT, one of the leading climatologists in the world. He did not claim that there isn’t anthropogenic global warming going on; he merely said that there was insufficient evidence to draw firm conclusions on the subject. He began his lecture by assuring the audience of scientists that nothing of a scientific nature that he would assert in his talk was controversial among the small community of real experts who are involved in global climate research. I asked him in private why, if this was so, one got the impression of a rather solid consensus in the scientific community that we were facing a crisis; and he explained to me some of the sociology involved. I was left with a very favorable impression of the man. He knew his stuff, and it was obvious to me that he had no axes to grind, but was driven a simple passion for scientific truth.

Since then my doubts on the subject have been increased by statements I have heard from some scientists that “the debate is over.” How can it be over in a field that is so complex and still in its infancy, comparatively speaking. Don’t the people who say this realize that scientific conclusions are trustworthy precisely because they are based on vigorous debate?

Just last week I heard a respected astrophysicist say to an audience of two hundred scientific laypeople, “Anyone who doubts that human beings are causing global warming and that it will have catastrophic consequences over the next century if we do nothing about it, is either stupid or ill-informed.” I am sure many in the audience were impressed; I was not. Lindzen is not at all stupid, and he is much better informed on this subject than the astrophysicist who made this bold claim. Physicists of the caliber of Will Happer of Princeton University and Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study have spoken out recently to express doubts about the solidity and genuineness of the scientific consensus on the subject. They also are not “stupid or ill-informed”.

My doubts have grown in proportion to the number of apodictic assertions I have heard that there is no room for doubt. And now I have come across a document written by Richard Lindzen that has turned my doubts into serious alarm. Not alarm over the state of the globe, but alarm over the state of science right now on this issue. I recommend that everyone who cares about science read this document . It is an eye-opener. The behavior of some global warming advocates in the scientific community is truly Orwellian.

And this morning, I read the statement of that noted physicist Paul Krugman proclaiming that to doubt the global warming peril is “ treason against the planet .” One can hear the rumbling of the tumbrels, the crash of the guillotine, and the roar of the crowd in the background. Treason Against the Planet! Set up a Committee of Planetary Safety! What the hell, if I may ask, does Krugman know about it? Is he calling Lindzen, Happer, and Dyson traitors against the planet? Yes, in effect, he is. And that is truly disgusting.

None of this is to say that there might not be a serious problem with anthropogenic global warming. There very well might be. That is certainly something to be seriously worried about. But the skeptics include men of formidable scientific intellect who have serious and respectable arguments. Science does not need groupthink and ideological fervor. It does not need shouting down and cries of “Traitor!” It does not need the kind of thuggishness and unscrupulous dealing that Lindzen reports on in disturbing detail. Ultimately, science will find the truth. It always does in the long run. But it will do so more quickly if scientists think and act like scientists rather than Planetary Saviors.

Articles by Stephen M. Barr

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