Big Picture News, Informed Analysis

Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Former National Post & Toronto Star columnist, past vice president of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association.

Do Climate Scientists Approve? Who Cares?

Asking a group of climate scientists to comment on policy measures (as opposed to scientific questions) leads to some disturbing answers.


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Two days ago, a journalist associated with the Washington Post (one of the most influential newspapers in the world) did something truly bizarre. He asked scientists to comment on a political announcement by the US government.

These scientists then did something even more bizarre. They participated. They expounded. They voiced their personal opinions about a policy decision. Even though their expertise is not in policy, even though lots of well-qualified people are trained, experienced policy analysts, these scientists imagined that their personal opinions were relevant.

On Monday morning, President Barack Obama announced plans to restrict the carbon dioxide emissions of US power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency also released a 645-page explanatory document.

Mere hours later – by two o’clock in the afternoon, to be precise –  Jason Samenow was publishing the personal opinions of “climate scientists” with respect to this matter. This means that e-mails were sent, e-mails were received and read, replies were composed and sent back, and then the news story was written – all within a few hours.

No one – not Samenow and not the scientists who participated in this exercise – had anything like sufficient time to read the relevant 600-page document. Yet these climate scientists were happy to express their views and these views were then considered worthy of Washington Post readers’ valuable time.

So here’s what these 10 climate scientists had to say:

  • Myles Allen: He heads a climate group in Oxford University’s physics department and, in this context, discussed “our grandchildren” looking “back on this day as a kind of Pearl Harbour moment.”  He then told us what he believed would be “a fairer approach” to emissions reduction. One wonders which part of his physics PhD training gives him special insight into the world our grandchildren will inhabit – or equips him to evaluate the relative fairness of various policy options from which a government might choose?
  • Richard Alley: According to his CV, his 1987 PhD dealt with “Geology, Minor Materials Science.” Although he has no background whatsoever in economics, he was nevertheless eager to pen two full paragraphs about economic matters. Indeed, he confidently declared that “actions to reduce CO2 emissions can make us better off economically.”
  • Ken Caldiera: Both his MA and PhD are in atmospheric science. No doubt this makes him knowledgeable in that particular field. But why should anyone care that he personally believes the “EPA announcement represents an important first step down a long road” – especially when he uses anti-scientific, politicized phrases like “CO2 pollution”?
  • Judith Curry: She holds a PhD not in policy analysis, but in geophysical sciences. Thus, when she told Samenow she doesn’t believe the proposed emissions reductions will “improve the climate,” she may well have been relying on her area of scientific expertise. But her additional comments about investing in “clean energy strategies” and the need for an “abundant, reliable, and economical” energy supply were mere personal opinion.
  • Noah Diffenbaugh: His PhD is in Earth Sciences. He alone acknowledged that it isn’t the business of scientists to pass judgment on policy decisions. In his words: “the question of whether and how to act is a question for policy makers and citizens.” But then he totally torpedoed this sentiment by dressing up his own personal opinions as science. There are a variety of ways to respond to alleged human-caused climate change. What gives an earth scientist sufficient knowledge about the tradeoffs associated with each of these policy options to confidently declare that “it is clear” that emissions reductions are required?
  • Michael MacCracken: Spent 25 years as an atmospheric physicist. Yet he devoted a great deal of ink to matters not even remotely connected to his area of specialized knowledge. For example, he’s certain that higher electricity prices “can readily be made up for by consumers raising the efficiency of their use of electricity.” He commented on federal automobile mileage policy, talked about how industry and consumer behaviour might be influenced, and viewed this as his opportunity to “urge the Administration” to pursue still other policies. Let me shout this from the rooftop: MacCracken’s enthusiasm for “greening our energy system while setting an example for the international community,” and his remarks concerning “the environmental heritage we hold in trust for our children, their children, and beyond” have nothing to do with climate science. Why is this individual’s philosophical perspective on life, the universe, and everything being reported as though it has any relevance?
  • Clifford Mass: With a PhD in atmospheric sciences, he knows a great deal about some highly specialized subjects. But in this context, he thought it important to opine about natural gas fracking, “renewable energy, nuclear power, and carbon sequestration.” Tell me again why I should care about his views regarding those matters?
  • Patrick Michaels: Holds a PhD in ecological climatology. Like Curry, above, he believes the impact on the climate of these new measures will be “minimal” – and may well have drawn on his area of expertise in forming that judgment. But there’s no denying the overtly political nature of his comments about whether candidates in certain US jurisdictions will be re-elected. Why are a climate scientist’s electoral predictions any more relevant than a taxi driver’s?
  • Kevin Trenberth: Has trained and worked as a meteorologist. Yet he used this opportunity to opine about economics. He says human-caused climate change is “already costing tens of billions of dollars per year” and that a “price on carbon would be a much preferred” approach. As if that weren’t bad enough, he also got moralistic. In his view, the coal industry deserves to be punished for harming “innocent victims” and the US Congress has failed to act responsibly. Which part of that last sentence has anything to do with science?
  • John Michael Wallace has had a long career in atmospheric sciences. His remarks began with: “I am pleased to see the Obama administration taking steps to reduce fossil fuel emissions.” Well I’m pleased he’s the last person on this list. We then learn his personal opinion about the effectiveness of “a revenue-neutral carbon tax,” and are informed that he “was one of the signers of the Friend of the Court brief in the Supreme Court case that affirmed the provision in the Clean Air Act that gives the EPA the authority to limit fossil fuel emissions.” In other words, Wallace’s remarks were almost entirely self-promotion.

Cripes. Either a policy makes sense – or it doesn’t. If we’re trying to sort that out, surely we should be talking to people who specialize in this sort of policy analysis. Publishing the self-important, highly personal opinions of a random group of climate scientists just isn’t helpful.

See the original source of the-above cited comments here.



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