America, We Have a Problem: The Irrationality of Climate Alarmism and Policy

By E. Calvin Beisner Published on December 15, 2015

Kindergartners are running the country. Or liars. Or both.


That was my strongest impression during the nearly three-hour “Data or Dogma: Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth’s Climate” hearing by the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Space and Competitiveness Tuesday, December 8.

Subcommittee chairman Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) set out to raise rational questions about some of the “data” offered to support the view that global warming is not only real but also mostly manmade and dangerous enough to justify spending trillions of dollars to mitigate it.

While he didn’t make the case as strongly as he could have, the real problem was the — ahem — quality of the objections.

I’m sure Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI) thought he sounded erudite when he lectured the packed room, “We know by the law of the conservation of energy that additional heat cannot just magically disappear. Instead it causes our planet to get warmer.”

Peters stated both the uncontested and the irrelevant.

Rather than addressing the real issue, he changed the subject. He argued for a point Cruz and each of his witnesses accept. If he knew that and did it anyway, he’s dishonest. If he didn’t know it, he’s either uninformed or — well, you can fill in the blank.

His second goof, irrelevance, stems from the fact that while the law of the conservation of energy does say heat doesn’t just cease to exist, it doesn’t answer lots of other relevant questions that Peters should understand if he’s going to lecture on the laws of thermodynamics:

  • What are the bandwidths at which CO2 absorbs infrared? (Answer: See the graph below and note that water vapor absorbs at far more bandwidths than CO2.)

  • Is there lots of infrared left at those bandwidths to be absorbed, or little? (Answer: very little. Analogy: Have we already put enough coats of paint on the window that another won’t block any additional sunlight?)
  • Is CO2’s warming effect logarithmic (declining with each added increment), linear or exponential (increasing with each added increment)? (Answer: logarithmic, implying that each added increment warms the atmosphere less than the last. See the graph below.)

  • Do other facets of climate respond by increasing the initial warming, reducing it or leaving it unchanged? (Answer: There’s enormous debate about this among climate scientists, but one thing’s clear: the trend in peer-reviewed studies is to think the other facets respond to increase the warming less than previously thought, as illustrated in the graph below, or even to diminish it.)

On those questions hangs the entire debate over whether manmade warming is anything from slight and benign to huge and catastrophic — a point Cruz’s witnesses tried, to no avail, to get across to the minority members of the committee.

Global warming alarmists constantly portray their critics as “science deniers” who ignore basic physics. They don’t, of course. Instead, it’s alarmists like Peters and Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA) who ignore more advanced physics.

You know, the advanced physics that tells you if you drop a rock and a feather from the same height at the same moment they’ll land at the same moment — unless they’re not in a vacuum but in air, in which case the feather will descend slowly with lots of fluttering, or in wind, in which case it might blow up into a tree and never land.

Yes, that kind of very advanced physics. That’s the kind Peters and his ilk either don’t understand or deceitfully sweep under the rug.

For Cruz and his witnesses, and all scientists seriously grappling with how much warming comes from adding CO2 to the atmosphere, the interesting questions are, “How much, and with what consequences? A little, helpfully? A moderate amount, neutrally? A lot, catastrophically?”

Cruz presented four supporting witnesses: Dr. John Christy of the University of Alabama and Dr. Judith Curry of Georgia Tech, climatologists who have been lead authors for the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC); Dr. William Happer of Princeton, one of the world’s foremost physicists, with extensive background in atmospheric physics; and opinion writer Mark Steyn, whose book about the famed “hockey stick” global temperature graph documents not only that the graph’s author badly mishandled data but also that hundreds of his fellow scientists have said so.

All testified that, as a prominent graph provided by Christy showed, IPCC’s computer climate models consistently simulate two to three times the warming actually observed (according to 4 balloon and 3 satellite datasets) over the relevant period, implying that CO2’s warming effect is likely much less than the IPCC has claimed, and therefore whatever risks it poses are proportionately less.

“Being off by a factor of three does not qualify in my book as settled science,” Christy said.

Freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK) demonstrated better understanding than the senior Democrats on the committee when he said, “We’re 7 billion people on the planet. Human activity is likely to have some element of causation with regard to climate change. But is it the main driver? I think the jury’s still out on that. ‘Oh, the science is settled!’ As you know, the real scientists never think the science is settled.”

Markey was having none of that, though, and went so far as to impugn the integrity of Christy and Curry.

Curry in turn was having none of that. She launched into a stream of “Are you aware” questions about climate data and theory that anyone even tolerably well informed would have been able to answer. Markey answered none but merely counterfactually repeated, trance-like, “the warming trend … is inexorable.”

Just who was the “science denier” now?

It wasn’t until fairly late in the question period that the real focus of the hearing came out.

Cruz showed charts of U.S. Historical Climatology Network temperature data adjustments that showed early data were adjusted downward, exaggerating the apparent warming trend.

Curry confirmed that and added that the error bars on NASA’s and NOAA’s datasets should be much larger than they are to reflect the low confidence in their accuracy, then added that the satellite data, which minority committee members had challenged, were nonetheless “the best we have.”

Many other illustrations of government agencies’ biased data adjustments could have been shown. For example, German scientist Friedrich-Karl Ewert recently published a paper with paired graphs, the left in each instance showing pre-adjusted data, the right adjusted “data,” like this pair by NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies. Of the pair below he wrote:

In Fig. 2 the left temperature curve very clearly shows the first warming phase of 1920 to 1940, which was then followed by cooling until, 1980 and then by the second warming period from 1980 to 1995. The first warming was stronger. The overall trend line shows a moderate inclination, indicating a rather small yearly warming.

The right temperature curve in Fig. 2 shows the opposite: the values of the first warming were lowered while those of the second one were adjusted upwards. The scale of the y-axis was modified as well, altogether producing a steeper overall trend line, i.e. a stronger warming. That alteration gives the appearance of a distinct warming for the entire USA.

But of course the lapdog media already knew the tune to sing.

For instance, Darren Goode, “reporting” for Politico, wrote that skeptics say, “Some satellite records show that global temperatures have barely budged since 1998,” an interesting case of cherry picking masquerading as correcting cherry picking.

The graph Cruz displayed showed that the satellite data showed no warming not since 1998 (an unusually warm year because of an unusually strong El Nino) but since February 1997, a significantly cooler year.

By the way, the trend line from 1998 through last month would show cooling, not zero trend, which would seem to the uninitiated to support the skeptics’ case all the better, but the skeptics don’t tout that because that would be the cherry picking with which the alarmists wrongly charge them.

The alarmists, either dishonestly or carelessly, keep “reporting” that the skeptics choose 1998 as the starting year and that that’s cherry picking because 1998 was exceptionally warm. But it’s the alarmists who cherry pick.

The skeptics, instead, ask, “Starting from the last full month of data, how far back can we go and still have a least-squares linear-regression trend that doesn’t differ significantly from zero?” And then they report that answer through the most recent month: 18 years and 9 months, to February 1997.

Why is that relevant? Because the longer the period is, the harder it is to reconcile the climate models with reality (and conversely, the shorter, the easier).

Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman called that “the key to science.” From your hypothesis you infer a prediction, and then you compare that with observation. If the observation contradicts the prediction, the hypothesis is wrong.

Markey predictably trotted out the mantra that 2014 was the hottest year on record (not mentioning that the record in mind goes back only to 1880) and 2015 will top it.

But Curry, prompted by Cruz, pointed out that NASA’s claim for 2014 was given with only 38 percent confidence, meaning it was more likely not hottest; that NOAA listed 2014 as in a statistical tie with four others for hottest; and that the UK dataset only goes so far as to put 2014 in the top 10. (Funny how that didn’t make it into Politico.)

No one, by the way, mentioned that according to the satellite data 2015 will likely be the third warmest year on record, behind 1998 and 2010, with 2014 only the seventh warmest, though 2016, as the second year of an El Nino pair, is likely to top even 1998.

Neither did anyone mention that the entire increase in global average temperature from about 1850 to today, about 1.4˚F, is a small fraction of the typical range from minimum to maximum at any given location on any given day, not to mention the range from midsummer to midwinter — temperature swings that humans, animals and plants all seem to endure quite well.

So, to paraphrase MIT climatologist Dr. Richard Lindzen, “Is the earth warming, and is human activity contributing to it? Yes. So what?”

Christy, Curry and Happer also testified that government funding of climate research biases subjects chosen for research (e.g., lots of focus on human causes of climate change and little on natural causes), and Steyn joined them in testifying that threats (by Rep. Raul Grijalva [D-AZ] and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse [D-RI]) to investigate and prosecute skeptical scientists under RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law had a “chilling effect,” undermining both First Amendment freedoms of speech and press and the free inquiry essential to scientific progress.

They recommended instead that the federal government should fund competing research teams in climate just as it has done on other issues. When the two teams critique each other’s work, both improve.

The “Most Ironic Comment Award” goes to Markey. Comparing today’s climate change challenge to the 1960s space race, he asked incredulously if, “the brightest minds of the United States of America who once figured out how to send a man to the moon can’t figure out how to” change America’s energy system to fight global warming,” and said,

“The Republicans’ message is, ‘Houston, we do not have a problem.’”

The irony is that today a group of retired NASA scientists who worked on the Apollo, Skylab and Space Shuttle programs, calling itself The Right Stuff Climate Team, has turned its expertise on the physics and engineering of radiative heat transfer, crucial to the success of their missions, to the question of how much warming comes from added CO2. Their conclusion? Not much, and it’s not a problem.


E. Calvin Beisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman of The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, a network of theologians, scientists, economists and policy experts educating for Biblical earth stewardship, economic development for the poor and the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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