Tuesday, December 11th 2012, 6:27 PM EST
The American Geophysical Union (AGU) is an important scientific society. It includes many earth science disciplines and publishes numerous journals. Unfortunately the organization has been co-opted by global warming extremists. The great majority of the scientists who study the Earth's climate don't have an extremist position on climate change. However, true believers of the "imminent catastrophe" school tend to be activists. These are the people who stay to the end of every meeting, get appointed to committees, and generally punch above their weight in organization politics. The true believers don't waver in the face of contradictory facts or data. For the true believers, ideology trumps facts.
They are agile thinkers and can always figure a method of explaining away any negative information that might disconfirm the impending climate catastrophe. The firmness with which they hold to their beliefs is similar to the unwavering confidence expressed by the flying saucer cult described in the book When Prophecy Fails. After a fleet of saucers failed to land when predicted, the cultists' belief in flying saucers and their belief that they were communicating with spacemen was unshaken. They had plenty of plausible reasons why the saucers didn't arrive. The climate catastrophe shows no signs of arriving either, except in the imagination of the activists and in the slogans of their publicists.
The "imminent catastrophe" school of global warming is in a lot of trouble. If you go back to the year 2000, things didn't look nearly as bad as they do now. The atmosphere had been warming for 30 years, as had the oceans. At least that's what the well-massaged official data said. Then everything started to fall apart. Global warming seemed to stop after 1998 and hasn't reappeared up to now. More seriously, the oceans, in the upper 700 meters stopped warming around 2003 and are still not warming. The atmosphere not warming is serious, but typically a lack of warming in the atmosphere is explained by saying that the heat is being absorbed by the ocean. But if the ocean isn't warming either, then what you have is a big headache for the promoters of global warming. (Some scientists are trying to find missing heat below 700 meters, a dubious proposition.) The imminent catastrophe school finessed the bad news.
They not so subtly cooled talk of global warming and started to blame every bad weather event on climate change. This works well because our memories fade with time, so the most recent bad weather is most vivid and it is easy to make people think that the weather is getting worse. It isn't. The scientific backing for turning global warming theory into extreme weather is nil.
Scientific societies like the AGU, are important sources of support and credibility for climate catastrophe. Scientists are the inventors of the catastrophe theories as well as the beneficiaries of the cash and attention that such theories generate. Webster defines conflict of interest as, "a conflict between the private interests and the official responsibilities of an individual in a position of trust" For the scientist-promoters of climate catastrophe the private interest is the extra financial support and attention that comes to the profession in response to predictions of catastrophe. The conflict of interest doesn't prove that the theories of catastrophe are wrong, but it certainly makes them suspect. The rewards that individual scientists may gain from pushing catastrophe theories can be quite significant. James Hansen, a scientist employed by the government, is the most famous promoter of global warming and a celebrity. Hansen has received various cash prizes amounting to more than $1 million.
The AGU has an official position statement on global warming. The statement is currently being rewritten by a committee of 14 people. The existing AGU climate statement turns the speculative claims of global warming hysterics into what many readers might mistake for the prudent judgment of serious scientists. The current statement was last revised in 2007. It will be interesting to see if the new statement acknowledges an additional 5 years of failure to warm. The 2007 statement does not invoke the extreme weather catastrophe story, probably because the extreme weather story was still in its infancy in 2007.
The AGU climate statement committee is about evenly divided between aggressive promoters of climate catastrophe and more prudent scientists who would probably rather be someplace else if it weren't for the honor of being selected for the committee. There is one token dissenter, actually described as a dissenter in the announcement of the committee formation: Roger Pielke, Sr., not to be confused with his son, who has the same name and is also involved in climate controversies. Pielke is a very distinguished climate scientist who has waged a lonely war against climate extremism while still maintaining a congenial persona, at least compared to some of the angrier dissenting scientists.
The most aggressive of the fundamentalist global warmers is probably Gavin Schmidt. Schmidt works in the aforementioned James Hansen's laboratory and has been described as "Hansen's attack dog." Schmidt runs the blog realclimate.org, known for its snide and superior attitude toward anyone who questions the climate catastrophe. Another fundamentalist is Ben Santer, a scientist at the Energy Department's Livermore, California lab. Santer is famous for saying in an email that he wanted to beat the crap out of the skeptical scientist Patrick Michaels. Santer has carried on a long debate with skeptical scientists concerning the technical subject of warming amplification. Santer adopted the tactic of outvoting the skeptics by writing papers with as many as 24 co-authors. Recently some scientists topped Santer by recruiting 47 co-authors for a paper that claims Greenland is melting even faster than previously thought. Now Greenland might melt in only 13,000 years if the recent 5-year trend continues. Recruiting a mob of co-authors is not scientific evidence, but evidence of groupthink.
Fundamentalist committee member Michael Oppenheimer has a history in the radical environmental movement. He was the holder of the Barbra Streisand Chair of Environmental Studies at the Environmental Defense Fund. The EDF (formerly ED and before that EDF -- They changed their name from Environmental Defense Fund to Environmental Defense for a time but then realized, presumably from constant television advertisements, the meaning of the initials ED (erectile dysfunction) and then resumed their original name of Environmental Defense Fund.) is a radical environmental organization and a promoter of global warming alarmism. Oppenheimer's 1991 book was titled: Dead Heat: The Race Against The Greenhouse Effect.
Committee member Pieter Tans was given a medal by the AGU and in his acceptance speech repeated the popular but paranoid idea that: "...we are facing a well-organized and well-funded campaign attacking our science and our integrity, spreading confusion and disinformation." It is a convenient conspiracy theory that climate skeptics are financed by the fossil fuel industry. But objective analysis shows that the promoters of climate catastrophe have billions and the skeptics have a small budgets with practically nothing coming from industry, much less the fossil fuel industry. In Tans' mind the fundamentalist climate promoters are on the side of the angels and the skeptics are representatives of the devil.
Susan Hassol is another of the radical committee members. She is a professional publicist who has been employed on many projects promoting climate radicalism. She is one of a new breed of propagandists called "climate communication specialists." She is also on the board of directors of the AGU.
The political dynamic of committees is such that the fanatics usually win. A minority of members with fanatical beliefs will outlast and outtalk moderates. The moderates will eventually give in so they can go home. The essence of moderation is to go along and get along. Moderates have to be really provoked to take a stand. The relatively youthful Peter Huybers could be the committee member to slow down the radicals. Harvard professor Huybers is a West Point graduate and former army officer. He seems to have a talent for questioning dogma without becoming unpopular. Huybers is one of a small group of establishment climate scientists who have questioned the (junk science) methodology, using computer climate models, that the climate establishment has adopted to predict future climate doom. (Other scientists in this group include Jeffery Kiehl and Steven Schwartz. Huybers wrote a paper highlighting many skeptical points concerning the climate models: Compensation between model feedbacks and curtailment of climate sensitivity, Journal of Climate, 2010.)
The Texas A & M professor Gerald North is the chair of the committee. North is not a climate extremist. He might be described as an establishment fixer or an establishment wise man. He chaired a National Academy of Sciences committee that investigated a previous controversy involving the climate scientist Michael Mann. That committee produced a vanilla report that made some concessions to the climate skeptics but that could also be quoted as refuting the skeptics.
Unfortunately, this is not one of those academic arguments that is intense because nothing much is at stake. (Sayre's Law: "In any dispute the intensity of feeling is inversely proportional to the value of the stakes at issue.") If the climate catastrophe continues to be taken seriously, the cost to the world will be gigantic. Important problems will be neglected. If the committee acts with common sense and honest science it will move the AGU climate statement away from climate radicalism toward a point of view that acknowledges the dubious prospects for a climate catastrophe. That would be a shot heard round the world. Even a minority report by 2 or 3 scientists would be highly significant. I'm not holding my breath. Unfortunately tribal feelings and social pressure usually trump scientific honesty, so minority reports are rare.
Norman Rogers, educated as a physicist, is a former computer entrepreneur who took up global warming as a retirement activity. He is a member of the American Geophysical Union and the American Meteorological Society. He is a Senior Policy Advisor for the Heartland Institute, a Midwest think tank. He maintains a personal website.
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