Lindzen: Reflections on Rapid Response to Unjustified Climate Alarm

Richard S. Lindzen writes: (via

The Cato Institute’s Center for the Study of Science today kicks off its rapid response center that will identify and correct inappropriate and generally bizarre claims on behalf of climate alarm. I wish them luck in this worthy enterprise, but more will surely be needed to deal with this issue.

…As far as I can tell, the issue has largely polarized that relatively small portion of the population that has chosen to care about the issue. The remainder quite reasonably have chosen to remain outside the polarization. Thus the purpose of a rapid response Center will be to reassure those who realize that this is a fishy issue, that there remain scientists who are still concerned with the integrity of science. There is also a crucial role in informing those who wish to avoid the conflict as to what is at stake. …

Climate alarm belongs to a class of issues characterized by a claim for which there is no evidence, … Malthus’ theory of overpopulation, social Darwinism and the Dreyfus Affair. Although each of these issues engendered opposition, only the Dreyfus Affair led to widespread societal polarization. More commonly, only the ‘believers’ are sufficiently driven to form a movement. … the issue of climate alarm is somewhat special in that it appeals to a sizeable number of interests, and has strong claims on the scientific community. It also has the potential to cause exceptional harm to an unprecedented number of people. This has led to persistent opposition amidst widespread lack of interest. However, all these issues are characterized by profound immorality pretending to virtue.

Malthus’ peculiar theory wherein the claimed linear growth of food loses out to the exponential growth of population has maintained continuous popularity in the faculty lounge for about two centuries. It is, therefore, worth noting that Malthus had no evidence that food supply would increase only linearly. … Although Malthus, himself, eventually acknowledged these problems, the enthusiasm for his anti-human conclusions remains strong. Neither the green revolution nor the diminution of famine amidst increasing population dissuades them. … Apparently, the growth of cities, the movement of workers from the farm to the city, and, for much of the developed world, immigration, all served to convince people of means that there were too many other people around, and Malthusian theory formed a framework for something they were (and are) eager to believe.

Social Darwinism and its corollary, eugenics, represents another case of a theory without support that was widely accepted with, at times, horrid consequences. … It was a small step to eugenics which was the counterpart of modern day environmentalism during the first third of the twentieth century, and was supported by all the ‘best’ people … despite the fact that there actually was a mathematical theorem … that showed that the impact of eugenics on the gene pool would be negligible. Needless to add, mathematics is of no importance to the ‘best’ people. …

The current issue of global warming/climate change is extreme in terms of the number of special interests that opportunistically have strong interests in believing in the claims of catastrophe despite the lack of evidence. In no particular order, there are the leftist economists for whom global warming represents a market failure, there are the UN apparatchiks for whom global warming is the route to global governance, there are third world dictators who see guilt over global warming as providing a convenient claim on aid (ie, the transfer of wealth from the poor in rich countries to the wealthy in poor countries), there are the environmental activists who love any issue that has the capacity to frighten the gullible into making hefty contributions to their numerous NGOs, there are the crony capitalists who see the opportunity to cash in on the immense sums being made available for ‘sustainable’ energy, there are the government regulators for whom the control of a natural product of breathing is a dream come true, there are newly minted billionaires who find the issue of ‘saving the planet’ appropriately suitable to their grandiose pretensions, etc., etc. Strange as it may seem, even the fossil fuel industry is generally willing to go along. After all, they realize better than most, that there is no current replacement for fossil fuels. The closest possibilities, nuclear and hydro, are despised by the environmentalists. As long as fossil fuel companies have a level playing field, and can pass expenses to the consumers, they are satisfied. Given the nature of corporate overhead, the latter can even form a profit center.

The situation within science itself is equally grim. Huge sums of government and private funding have become available to what was initially a small backwater field. Science becomes easy when emphasis is on malleable models supported by hugely uncertain data that can be readily found ‘consistent’ with the models supplemented by fervidly imagined catastrophic ‘implications.’ Indeed, uncertainty is often exaggerated for just this purpose. Opposition within the scientific community is immediately met with ad hominem attacks, loss of funding, and difficulty in publishing.

Of course, science is not the only victim of this situation. Affordable energy has been the primary vehicle for the greatest advance in human welfare in human history. This issue promises to deny this to the over 1 billion humans who still lack electricity. For billions more energy will be much less affordable leading to increased poverty. Poverty, itself, is a major factor in reduced life expectancy. It requires a peculiarly ugly obtuseness to ignore the fundamental immorality of this issue.

Although all these issues have strong political consequences, it is by no means clear that their origin is, itself, political. I would suggest that a more likely situation is that politics is always opportunistically seeking some cause that fits its needs. However, once an illusional issue becomes a passionate belief, it becomes impervious to argument. … belief seems to inevitably trump objective reality when one is free to choose ones narrative.

Richard S. Lindzen
Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, Emeritus, MIT
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Cato Institute
September 14, 2014

Readers may with to further enrich themselves by reading this essay from Michael Crichton’s State of Fear on Why Politicized Science is Dangerous

This entry was posted in Energy for Civilisation, Environment, It's only a Model, Science, Securing Liberty and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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