Answering Ben Santer’s Trickle-Down Ignorance on Climate

By William M Briggs Published on July 9, 2017

Climatologist Ben Santer says living in the “darkness of the Trump administration’s scientific ignorance” is like the time he nearly killed himself by ineptly slipping on some ice.

Well, he ought to know.

Santer’s lack of surefootedness (and political lightheadedness) would be of no interest to man nor beast, except that Santer was able to convince the Washington Post to print his pitiful tale. Which makes it “worthy” of discussion. I guess.

So let’s discuss.

Santer Triggered by Trump

Santer spends most of his article — seven paragraphs! — telling us how important, noble, selfless, smart, and humble he is: “long apprenticeship,” “rigorous,” “years of your life” (he speaks of himself as “you”), “you are first author,” “you jump through hoops,” “You enter the public arena, and make yourself accountable.”

Somebody give this man a lollipop.

Now, the reason old Ben bares his tortured soul is that he is concerned that there might exist people who do not believe this claim: “The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate.”

As far as propositions go, this one is not very interesting. Nor is it consequential. Even if we accept it, it implies nothing. We can deduce no moral or political or economic act from believing mankind discernibly influences the climate.

Just as there is no moral or political or economic act that is deducible from believing aardvarks discernibly influence the climate. Which they surely do: every species influences the climate. Indeed, it’s physically impossible — and not just unlikely — for any species to not influence the climate.

Our Ben — smart, gifted, diligent, dedicated, and most humble man that he assures us he is — doesn’t appear to understand this simple logical point. He’s therefore angry at President Trump because Trump once tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

Santer is far from the first, and certainly won’t be the last, public intellectual triggered into a foamy-mouthed spasm by one of Trump’s tweets. These fellows are like the cat who chases the red light of a laser pointer. The cat knows the phantasm is not a mouse, but it can’t help itself, so it attacks. 

Same thing here. It must be obvious to Santer that Trump did not mean this tweet, or any other of his off-the-cuff utterances on the subject, to be a replacement for a complete scientific theory of fluid flow on a rotating sphere radiated by an external heat source. But Santer, like the cat, can’t help himself and pretends to believe Trump meant precisely that.

This is why Santer is worried that Trump’s “ignorance” will “[trickle] down from the president to members of his administration, eventually filtering into the public’s consciousness.”

Wow! The public consciousness! That’s a lot to expect from a tweet.

Some Advice for Santer

Ben, if you want some advice from a colleague, or even if you don’t, I must tell you that you’re in danger of becoming CNN. Switch off the wireless and concentrate instead on coding models that make skillful predictions of the climate. Your peers, your “fiercest critics” as you lovingly call them, want to remind you that the stuff you’ve been selling hasn’t been living up to its advertised promises.

Here’s what you said, Ben. You said, “we can’t ignore the reality of a warming planet, rising seas, retreating snow and ice, and changes in the severity and frequency of droughts and floods.” But you know as well as I do that these “realities” are so much persiflage.

Remember the “permanent drought” in California? No? The memory must have got washed away in all that rain.

Rampant sea-level rise? It’s rising about a twentieth of an inch per year, and that only in some places. We’ll have plenty of time to move our beach chairs back and still not spill our beer.

I could go on and on, Ben, as you well know, matching every one of your claims with dull observations. But I now see where you’re going. I see why you say the “dark cloud” cast by President Trump is like a “cloud [that] is a clear and present threat to the lives, livelihoods and health of every person on the planet, now and in the future.”

It’s so obvious! You’re exaggerating for effect! You’re being hyperbolic, just like Trump! And also just like Trump, you’re hoping some overreacting slob jumps on your comments and ends up sounding like a fool.

You got me, Ben. I fell for it. Oh, me. Embarrassing.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Like the article? Share it with your friends! And use our social media pages to join or start the conversation! Find us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, MeWe and Gab.

The Habit of Nearness
Robert J. Morgan
More from The Stream
Connect with Us