The letter that 50 former NASA employees signed to the NASA administrator in March did not deal with space. The letter addressed NASA’s reputation for high-quality, objective science. That reputation, established by thousands of employees over the past 50 years, is being tarnished by the political stance the agency has been taking with respect to climate science.
Claims by NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are inconsistent with hundreds of thousands of years of empirical data. Hundreds of well-known climate scientists and tens of thousands of other scientists have publicly declared their disbelief in the catastrophic forecasts, coming particularly from the GISS leadership. It is clear that the science is not settled.
In spite of this, climate alarmist claims on human-caused global warming are the focus of NASA’s climate website. The unbridled advocacy of carbon dioxide as the major cause of global climate change is contrary to NASA’s history of objectively assessing all available scientific data prior to making decisions or public statements. Advocating an extreme position prior to a thorough study of the possible overwhelming impact of natural climate drivers is not appropriate.
NASA’s chief climate scientist, James Hansen, is calling for a worldwide tax on carbon emissions, saying climate change is the moral equivalent of slavery. In the current environment at NASA, open discourse on climate change is discouraged. Scientists know they must toe the official line or face retaliation.
NASA’s stance reflects badly not only on their reputation and the reputation of current and former scientists and engineers, but even on the reputation of science itself. Their reputation carries a lot of weight with both the media and the public, making them a prime tool for climate change alarmists.
Focusing on the small temperature increase since the Industrial Revolution, alarmists say we humans are controlling the temperature of our world. They also claim: “Every major national and international scientific organization from the World Meteorological Organization to the American Geophysical Union recognizes that climate change is real and caused by human beings burning fossil fuels” (a quote from the Sustainability Now Radio blog).
Realists are identified as “climate denialists” or “fake experts.” Those of us who signed the letter to the NASA administrator are described as having “not an ounce of climate science expertise.”
While scientists may be best qualified to deal with the scientific/academic issue, there is a practical issue that affects us all. I’m referring to the consequences of actions taken based on “bad” science. This has turned into a war — a war with our side fighting to avoid the lowering of our standard of living and the economic destruction of our world as we know it. This war is being fought on four fronts: the scientific front, the media front, the public perception front and the political front.
Climate science realists have been fighting on the scientific front, and I believe they are slowly winning the scientific battle.
The real battle today, where we appear to be losing, is on the media front. The media play the most influential role in the public’s perception and, to some degree, on the political front. Those of us who are realists need to focus our attention on the battle for public understanding of the issues.
In general, the media, the public and most of our politicians have little scientific or technical background (with rare exceptions) and they show very little interest in gaining it. That does not prevent the media from playing a major role in this fight.
How did we get to where we find ourselves today?
In the late 1980s, a small group of individuals became concerned about the Earth’s temperature that has been slowly increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age in the mid-19th century. I hesitate to call them scientists, because they apparently had little appreciation for the process by which their “guess” about future temperature increases could achieve scientific acceptance — or rejection. They hypothesized that human activities since the Industrial Revolution, about 200 years ago, were responsible for the temperature increase.
“Human-caused global warming” came into being to replace two earlier myths by environmental alarmists: an imminent plunge into another ice age and the threat of a “nuclear winter.” Only 30 years ago, some of the same scientists now pushing human-caused global warming were arguing that the imminent threat was global cooling, which could eventually trigger an ice age.
This questionable new hypothesis was postured as “green friendly” and was grasped by environmentalists to protect the environment. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was money, it triggered a boom in the field of climate science. Today, this unproven hypothesis of human-caused global warming has had a profound influence on both climate scientists and our accepted scientific process.
Skeptics of this new hypothesis were characterized as nonbelievers and deniers of the “obvious” truth. Instead of the alarmists presenting data to prove their hypothesis, skeptics were challenged to disprove it.
Scientists have long known that the sun, oceans and variations in Earth’s orbit are the principal drivers of climate change. While we may not fully understand all of the mechanisms or interactions involved, over hundreds of years this eventually was accepted as the de facto “theory” of climate change. This provisional “theory” is what was challenged by the handful of alarmists back in the 1980s.
They are not fighting this war with their data, because those don’t hold up. Instead they resort to alarmism, so-called consensus science, politics and money. The alarmists have seized the semantic high ground and consistently exploit it.
The challenge for realists at this stage in the war is to bring the media and the public back to reality. Saying that humans control the Earth’s climate is simple minded, but it is a whole lot easier for the public to buy into than the real, more complex causes in the climate change debate.
“Human-caused global warming” evolved into “anthropogenic global warming” and now “climate change.” Skeptics are painted as “against climate change,” which no sensible person can deny.
Alarmists have abandoned the scientific process and transformed their yet-to-be-proven hypothesis into “consensus science,” convincing most of the media that human-caused global warming is an accepted scientific theory. The media love to hear scary scenarios and simplified dramatic statements that get the attention of their audiences.
Tens of billions of dollars in government expenditures on climate science go almost exclusively to scientists who agree with, or do not openly disagree with, the human-caused global warming hypothesis. Grant proposals intended to show faults in the global warming arguments are generally rejected. New science graduates quickly figure out that to receive research grant support they have to go along with government warming policies.
It’s time for realists to engage the alarmists on the media front.
In writing and speaking, realists should consistently refer to the alarmists’ claim as “human-caused global warming.”
They should emphasize that “human-caused global warming” is not synonymous with “climate change,” which everyone accepts.
The point should be made that the issue is not climate change; the issue is the cause of climate change.
When possible, they should explain what it takes to elevate a hypothesis (a guess based on observations without experimental evidence) to the status of a scientifically acceptable theory.
They should advise the media and the public to not just buy what others are telling them (including myself). Leo Szilard once said: “If one knows only what one is told, one does not know enough to be able to arrive at a well-balanced decision.”
We should encourage individuals and media commentators to look at the historical data and ask themselves the following questions:
Is there anything historically unusual about today’s temperature or temperature trend?
Does human-produced carbon dioxide play a significant role in our atmosphere?
Is there any reason to believe that today’s carbon dioxide and temperature levels are the ideal ones?
Can humans have any significant influence on Earth’s temperature?
At this stage in the war on human-caused global warming, the battle for public perception may be more critical than the scientific fight, and this battle should not be beneath the dignity of climate science realists. I appeal to realists to adopt these tactics, especially when dealing with the media.
Walter Cunningham flew on Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission. He is the author of “The All-American Boys” and numerous articles and op-eds.