I recently attended a fascinating and informative talk by Tom Harris, director of the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), delivered at a branch of the Ottawa Public Library. The lecture was, in part, framed as a response to a presentation held the week before by Dave Rhynas, an Al Gore-trained speaker, who followed the warmist party line faithfully. As Harris wrote afterward about it in a circulating email, “The talk was very ‘canned,’ no significant new material from what we are all used to hearing from Gore, so it would have been very easy to take it apart scientifically” — which is precisely what Harris proceeded to do during his subsequent presentation.
Harris is a genial and soft-spoken man, carrying the heft of his encyclopedic knowledge of climate science with effortless good humor and a reluctance to traffic in mere polemics. He weighed both sides of the argument with scrupulous fairness and conceded that many of those on the other shore of the climate divide approach the subject with undoubted moral concern, though not, regrettably, with scientifically valid objectivity. Harris is always willing to give the benefit of the doubt respecting the ethical character of his opponents, even when it is not entirely warranted. His adversary, I’m sorry to say, who sat in the audience two chairs down the row from me, was the polar opposite: dour, grim, portentously solemn in his demeanor, patently disapproving, interrupting more than once, listening as if he were painfully unwilling to listen and taking copious notes as if he were stockpiling ammunition. The body language and general comportment of the two men spoke volumes; one, accommodating and engaging, the other, stiff and piliated, as if underscoring the difference in their philosophies.
Harris’s main point is that the science is far from settled and that if we were honest with ourselves and wished to approach the subject with scientific rigor and impartiality, we would have to modestly agree, in his own words, that “the more we learn, the more we realize that we just do not know. Climate change and extreme weather have always happened and always will, no matter what we do. Perhaps instead of trying to stop it from occurring, we need to adapt and promote a sensible approach to a range of energy and environmental topics.” We plainly need “to learn more about the vast uncertainties in the field of climate change and discuss sensible policy actions.”
Uncertainty, however, is not synonymous with confusion or ignorance. We do not know everything or even enough, but we still know a fair amount about climate realities, as Harris’s discourse made clear. We know the long history of climatological variations, the many different factors that impinge upon and largely account for vast fluctuations in weather over the centuries and millennia, and the response of the scientific community, often, it must be said, disingenuous and repressive, to the data at its disposal.
We know, via proxies like ice core samples, fossil remains, marine specimens, temperature-dependent remanence measurements, as well as historical documents, etc., that there were periods in history when the earth was significantly warmer than it is today, though human beings were not pumping CO2 into the atmosphere — CO2 levels during the Ordovician Age 440 million years ago were ten times higher than they are at present and happened to coincide with an ice age; closer to home, during the Medieval Warm Period the Scandinavians farmed Greenland and in the Roman Warm Period olive groves flourished in Germany. We know that the Northwest Passage was open during the early part of the 20th century and that the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, as recounted in his The North West Passage, navigated the strait between 1903 and 1906. (Its “gates” have been “forced…ajar,” he writes, and “traced from end to end by one ship’s keel” — his own.)
We know that solar activity is a primary driver of climate change. We know that temperatures have stabilized since 1998 and may possibly have declined by a fraction of a degree, and that we are currently in what is defined as an “interglacial” — and in fact, temperatures recorded at the American base at the south pole show it to be colder today than when the base was established over 50 years ago. We know, as Harris explained, that there is no “hotspot” in the troposphere, indicating that an increased greenhouse effect cannot be a cause of global warming.
We know, too, that Michael Mann’s celebrated “hockey stick” graphs depicting an abrupt spike in temperatures in the recent era are fraudulent and are in process of being retired; that computer models are notoriously unreliable and are unable even to retrodict the past; that temperature reading stations are both too few and egregiously misplaced, often in urban areas and near man-made structures that capture or produce heat, thus recording misleading data; and that the media contention that the majority of the world’s scientists are firm adherents of the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) thesis is simply false.
No mention is made in mainstream media reports of the more than 31,000 scientists who added their signatures to the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine “petition project” in 2008, repudiating the 600 or so scientists who have signed on to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warming consensus. Further, it seems, as the petition states, “that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the Earth,” a subject Harris also touched on but one studiously avoided by the warmists.
We know that a number of major players in the climate game, such as Canada’s David Suzuki, Rajendra Pachauri who heads the IPCC, and Al Gore, have all grown obscenely wealthy huckstering the global warming canard. Suzuki, as Ezra Levant of Sun News Network has shown, profits handsomely from various multi-national organizations that finance his campaigns, including Canada’s Power Corp that operates in totalitarian China, one of the world’s leading carbon emitters. Suzuki has been intensely busy franchising himself.
Pachauri, who sits on the boards of several climate-related companies and runs The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), seems implicated in a number of suspicious commercial manipulations. Dennis Ambler, writing for the Science and Public Policy Institute (SPPI), comments in a devastating exposé of Pachauri’s diverse business associations, “Conflict of interest has been taken to new levels.” As for Gore, described by his detractors, correctly, as “a limousine liberal and climate alarmist who lives a jet-setting, carbon-profligate lifestyle while preaching asceticism for everyone else,” he reaps his dividends from many sources, such as a toxic zinc mine on his property, his exorbitant speaking fees, his lucrative co-owned Generation Investment Management carbon trading company, including $1.2 million in salary and bonuses he pays to himself, and the sale of his cable TV network to Al-Jazeera, which is owned by the petrochemical sheikh of oil-rich Qatar.
We know that assessments counter to the prevailing orthodoxy have been deliberately suppressed and that the evidence for AGW was often just made up — witness the infamous “hide the decline” email dumps emanating from the mysteriously hacked Hadley Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, which have disclosed the duplicitous and counterfeit nature of its methods and procedures. The lead researcher at the East Anglia CRU, Phil Jones, has gone so far as to recommend deleting all incriminating emails and/or changing the wording of others. As I wrote in Global Warning: The Trials of an Unsettled Science, “What we are seeing is the unfolding of a Climategate scandal that, one hopes, will put paid to a vast and tenacious hoax.” The climate mavens will stoop to practically anything to defend their ideological patrimony.
Indeed, new information has just come to light regarding the obdurate and self-righteous posture of the global warmist tribe, amounting at times to a kind of Savonarola-type zealotry. Perhaps we should not be overly shocked at the way such zealots can deal with the productions of dissenters. History is rife with instances of doctrinaire vengefulness and violence of one kind or another. This stunning, if predictable, example features two professors at the San Jose State Meteorology Department, who photographed themselves setting fire to an offending book (The Mad, Mad Made World of Climatism: Mankind and Climate Change Mania) by Steve Goreham, executive director of the Climate Science Coalition of America. (As one reviewer quips, “Goreham, the antidote for Gore.”) Such fanatic ardor, to cite the department’s brochure, will, apparently, “benefit the science community and enhance our students’ learning environment.” With such devoted firebrands as teachers, who respond to opposition and criticism not with reasoned argument but with auto-da fés, students are definitely in for a memorable learning experience.
Which brings us back to the Ottawa Library event, also a learning experience but a far more useful one. When Harris had finished his disquisition and opened the question period, the Gore disciple monopolized the little time left before the library locked its doors, not by posing questions, but by releasing a fusillade of obiter dicta intended to refute Harris’s argument. He began by announcing, as if relevant, that the Rideau Canal skating rink — one of Ottawa’s premier winter attractions — had closed down several weeks early in the past winter owing to global warming — a localized and short-term epiphenomenon that, as Harris had just demonstrated, proves absolutely nothing about long-term and global climate trends. Rhynas did not pause to consider that the rink had often remained open for the full season, and when it did happen to shut down early, it was just as likely the result of budgetary shortfalls as of a shortened winter.
He next exhumed the wizened cliché about Big Oil subsidizing climate “deniers,” stating that whenever he reads the arguments of climate-warming skeptics, he always looks first to determine their funding sources, convinced that these reveal their dishonest advocacy — though he has obviously refrained from querying the fiscal activities of his mentor and others involved in the thriving warmist trade. Further, aside from the fact, as Tom Harris immediately pointed out, that it is better to test an argument scientifically than to dismiss it out of hand for contextual reasons (and where, one might ask, is Rhynas getting his funding?), the fact is that major oil companies have for some years now been hedging their bets by investing in green energy projects, geothermals, and biofuels, ironically oblivious to the Solyndrification of their enterprise.
Moreover, big money is pouring into the global warming industry from opulent NGO foundations such as Moore, Hewlett, Packard, Oak and Tides to prevent the development of fossil resources — especially in the Canadian oil sands — and from national governments funding the IPCC and many research institutions and individual scientists promoting the AGW myth. (Interestingly, Harris enjoys little in the way of grants and perquisites to finance his work.) Rhynas then fell back on the “majority argument,” claiming that 98% of the world’s nations support the (so-called) “settled science” of global warming, implying that therefore it must be true. This is, of course, pure hogwash. Probably 98% of the world’s institutions, governments, religious hierarchies and populations once believed the earth was flat — which, it appears, had no discernible effect on its curvature.
In essence, the contrast between the two men was unrelievedly stark. Harris mobilized a veritable cache of credible mathematical and graphic detail to demonstrate that the science was to some extent still, so to speak, up in the air, but that the evidence persuasively suggested nonetheless that global warming, as understood and promulgated by the climatocracy, was not only a theory but quite conceivably a fallacy — and he did so humbly and with appealing courtesy. (As Harris wrote in the above-mentioned email, his adversary seemed “surprised that I am not the rich, right wing, evil fire-breathing denier he probably expected.”) Rhynas, for his part, had no factual or scientifically compelling information to propose in defense of his Gorean hypothesis. He could only retail his personal impressions, his literalist sentiments and his jotting points — and did so sanctimoniously and with unabashed didacticism. There was no real science in his riposte.
It is also telling that in a radio debate between Harris and Rhynas that took place following Rhynas’s initial presentation, the former agreed to take questions from the public but the latter refused. Surely it says nearly everything one needs to know about probity and cognitive assurance when a speaker refuses to debate on facts and logic with his audience. Rhynas’s performance serves as an illustration of the misuse of reason, calling to mind the French-Algerian religious philosopher Muhammad Arkoun, who declared that the sole function of reason “is to shape, bend and systemize reality in accordance with God’s signs” — God in our case being Gaia and her Prophet, Al Gore. What we dub “climate science” is not so much a science as a religion, and as in the ultra-theological realm the application of authentic rational arguments is rejected as a violation of faith. In this domain, the function of reason is to support unreason. We can say that Rhynas and those like him do not have an argument, they have a position, which is impervious to proof and reason. By contrast, Harris is a true scientist and an independent thinker who believes in the supple and genuine use of reason whereas Rhynas is a man of the meteorological cloth who believes in sticking to the letter of an unreformed holy text.
One cannot but conclude that the difference in their styles is revelatory of the difference in their postulates, in brief, it is the difference between inquiry and pedantry. And one cannot but wonder: who are the real climate deniers?