Strangely enough, climate science is a subject I actually know something about. (You needn’t be so shocked.) For 15 years I managed a family office for people who were committed conservationists and who were deeply worried about the impact of human activity on the natural world.
Over that period we funded virtually every environmental organization on the planet. Most of them were so mainstream that merely reciting their names was enough to put you to sleep. But a few were so whacked-out radical that I refused to meet with them anywhere except at a remote Arizona trailer park owned by a friend of mine. (That friend was not, as many people have supposed over the years, Edward Abbey, although I knew Abbey slightly via Garrett Hardin. In any event, I had to give up the trailer park venue when my friend landed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list.)
In those days climate science was, if not exactly in its infancy, then at least in its boisterous adolescence. It was an exciting time, with new discoveries rolling in almost daily. Scientific opinion was all over the map and investigators would literally call me up in the middle of the night (absent-minded professors not being all that adept at juggling time zones) with thrilling news of the latest revelations.
Gradually, all this activity coalesced into a consensus of scientific opinion about climate change. Note that there is no controversy whatever about whether the earth’s climate is changing — it’s been changing continuously since the earth first developed an atmosphere some four billion years ago. The questions before the house are how fast climate is changing, in what direction, and whether it is changing primarily for organic reasons or because of human activity.
The consensus of scientific opinion is articulated by the US National Research Council (the research arm of the National Academy of Science) as follows:
“Science has made enormous inroads in understanding climate change and its causes, and is beginning to help develop a strong understanding of current and potential impacts that will affect people today and in coming decades. This understanding is crucial because it allows decision makers to place climate change in the context of other large challenges facing the nation and the world. There are still some uncertainties, and there always will be in understanding a complex system like Earth’s climate. Nevertheless, there is a strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that climate is changing and that these changes are in large part caused by human activities.” [My emphasis.]
That statement is a little too political and defensive for my taste, but nonetheless it accurately describes both the current climate change consensus and, more important(!), my opinion. And so, on the one hand, the differences between my views of climate change and the climate change consensus are so small you couldn’t drive a quark between them. On the other hand, I’m positively appalled by the consensus and believe it has spawned its own demise.
How can this be? The problem is that, somewhere between the randy adolescence of climate science and today, climate science stopped being climate science and started being climate religion. And, unfortunately it’s not one of those gentle, inclusive religions like, say, Unitarianism, which espouse Two Commandments and Eight Suggestions. No, it’s an authoritarian, intolerant religion more like Catholicism during the Inquisition or, maybe better yet, like radical Islam as practiced by the likes of ISIS. The slightest deviation from approved Catholic doctrine in the Late Middle Ages would get you tortured and executed. The slightest deviation from extreme Islamic doctrine under ISIS marks you as an infidel suitable only for beheading.
So far, members of the climate change consensus haven’t actually beheaded anyone in the literal sense, but they have certainly done so in the figurative sense. The slightest deviation from the consensus marks you as a “climate denier” whose reputation and career deserve to be trashed. Everyone in or near the world of climate science knows a small handful of senior climate scientists who have either been destroyed or have left the field. Everyone knows a good dozen or so junior researchers who’ve learned to keep their doubts firmly to themselves.
As far as I can tell, if these doubters were allowed to publish, lecture and apply for grants freely, their work wouldn’t really challenge the climate consensus. But it would powerfully improve the reputation of climate science and would likely win over people (like me) who already agree with the consensus but who are disgusted by it nonetheless.
Normally, as I’m sure you know, a blogger’s opinions aren’t worth a bucket of warm spit. But as already noted I’ve been involved in climate science for many years. I’ve attended dozens of conferences, read scores of published papers, slogged through hundreds of brain-numbing requests for grant support. So I know where the bodies are buried. I know where the climate consensus arguments are strong, where those arguments are weaker, and where the scientists don’t know their butts from a mudflat in Bolivia.
The evolution of climate science into climate religion has already resulted in the election of an American President who is skeptical of the consensus and who has appointed an even bigger skeptic as Administrator of the EPA. And it will only get worse until the climate change consensus stops acting like God.
There are a couple of other reasons why “change” needs to come to the world of climate science, but I’ll get to those next week.
Next up: Loose Change, Part VIII