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German Climatologist Rebukes Green Alarmists


The green movement has long had a penchant for conflating science with policy—that is, justifying their policy ideas with words like “scientific consensus” and labeling opponents as “anti-science.” This appeal to scientific authority, mixed with a “sky is falling” alarmism, has helped them pushed through ill-conceived green policies that all to often end in disaster. Years of the fear-mongering routine have eroded the movement’s credibility to the point where people’s reflexive disdain for environmentalists is becoming a serious problem.

In Germany, one climate scientist would like to see his colleagues regain some discipline and humility. The Schleswig-Holstein Zeitung has the interview with climatologist Hans von Storch (translated by Via Meadia‘s resident Germanophile):

One can think of many people in the 20th Century who believed that they needed to create a better world, and assumed that they were in possession of a higher truth. In our case, some [climate scientists] believe that this privilege absolves them of the need to respect their academic qualifications….

I do not think that’s the majority of climate scientists act this way. But there are some particularly visible climate researchers who push this attitude. Their voices are heard because they correspond to the zeitgeist. In Denmark, where I am currently, I observe no such thing….

The relationship between the people and the climate discussion needs to be changed. We need efficient instead of symbolic measures. An example: Fracking in America has led to a significant reduction of U.S. CO2 emissions, because people are burning gas instead of coal, so an effective bridge technology is being used. In Germany, however, this measure isalmost unanimously rejected — apparently the reduction of CO2 is only considered “good” under certain conditions.

We know the earth is warming, though the fiddly bits surrounding that fact (questions about how quickly the warming is happening, how high sea levels will rise, and so on) are a lot less certain. By immediately jumping to the worst-case scenario predicted by climate models—models that are struggling to explain a recent plateau in warming—greens don’t just harm themselves by alienating people from their cause. They also preclude a lot of the incremental policy solutions that are actually workable, like energy efficiency measures and a transition from coal to natural gas.

Alarmism is counter-productive. It’s refreshing to see a climate scientist acknowledge that.

[Earth image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

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  • tarentius

    We do not know that the earth is warming. The assertion that it is is based on a computer model that is untested. And, even if one accepts the premise that the earth is warming, there are several possible causes for this, only one of which is human activity. It would be irresponsible to radically economic activity based on an unproven assertion.

    • Andrew Allison

      Small correction: The computer models, all of them, have been tested, and failed.

  • Kavanna

    This post is full of hilarious mistakes. Science isn’t about authority; it’s about knowledge. Science doesn’t work by “consensus.” Either something is patently evident, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, further research is needed, although not all conceivable questions can be answered scientifically at any given time.

    What is about authority is politics, and what the climate hysteria is about, is the invasion of science by “correct thinking,” predetermined agendas that come from outside the scientific world. That’s why the hysterics persist in the face of decisive arguments and evidence.

    We don’t “know” the earth is warming. It’s not clear what that means. If temperature trends at various parts of the world are any indication, temperatures on the earth’s surface have been dropping for more than decade, and especially in the last four years.

    We also do know that the earth was a lot warmer in the recent past, like right after the end of the last ice age (hipsithermal period). Parts of the polar regions were *ice-free*.

    To start to see how profoundly corrupt this sort of “political science” is, check out this talk by Richard Lindzen of MIT:

    The lunacy is decisively receding in other countries. But it’s still riding high here.

    Also, check out Lindzen’s recent talk at Cato on “is science progressing” — it’s about a bigger issue, the slowing of scientific progress in the last 30-40 years in a heavily bureaucratic, conformist, and increasingly politicized system of research funding. The US today does not favorably compare with, say, Soviet scientists resisting Lysenkoism. It looks more like what happened at German universities in the 1920s and 30s.

    • qet

      I agree with where you end up here but disagree with your clean division between science and politics. All areas of human endeavor are politics. Man is the political animal. It is the insistence of the Left on this same strict separation that allows them to remain in denial that any sort of politics might be at work in the scientific community on this question.

      • Andrew Allison

        The division is crystal clear: science is about verified hypotheses, politics is about achieving one’s objectives.

        • TheRadicalModerate

          Sadly, no. Hypotheses can’t be verified. They can only be falsified. After a while, once you’ve falsified all the alternative hypotheses everybody can think of, you achieve “consensus”.

          But there is an offshoot of science that’s also about “achieving one’s objectives”. It’s called engineering.

          My problem with climate change environmentalism isn’t that I doubt that the Earth is warming, or even if that warming is caused by humans. It’s that the science isn’t good enough to base any effective engineering on it. This will change, eventually. In the mean time, we ought not to go off half-cocked.

          • Andrew Allison

            Sadly, e.g., disagrees.

            Can we agree that the AGW hypothesis remains unproven? That the idea of engineering climate is ridiculous on its face?

          • TheRadicalModerate

            I’ll buy that AGW isn’t proven, but it certainly hasn’t been falsified, and a preponderance of evidence supports it. But the science isn’t good enough to make useful predictions.

            The idea of climate engineering isn’t ridiculous on its face but currently there are no techniques that can be employed to produce predictable, useful results. Note that an attempt to reduce the level of CO2 emissions is a form of climate engineering. Unfortunately, it’s horrendously expensive and barely affects the problem. Some day, something better will be invented, presumably based on improved climate science. We should wait for that, instead of codifying bad engineering into bad public policy.

            Close enough for violent agreement?

          • Andrew Allison

            Thank you for your thoughtful response. I think that the fact that there’s been no long-term increase in global temperature since 1997 in the face of a 35% increase in anthropomorphic CO2 level is pretty strong evidence that the AGW hypotheses is false. In fact, the objective evidence (measurements) suggests that we’re in a cyclical cooling phase, albeit at historically high levels. But I’ll settle for not proven and let’s not do anything ridiculously expensive until it is [grin].
            Can we agree that attempting to reduce CO2 emissions is only climate engineering if the AGW hypothesis is correct?
            I’ll certainly concede that anything is possible, but some time in the future is not where we’re at.

            I should have written that climate engineering appears to me to be ridiculous. The primary reason is the absolutely enormous amount of energy involved; another is the cost; and another is self-interest. The latter extends from, e.g., our jet-set President and alarmist-in-chief Fat Albert, to developing nations which, as we have seen in China, are going to put national before global interests. In other words, if the AGW hypothesis is correct, we’re screwed.
            For example, there is one sure-fire and cost-effective way to fix carbon: grow trees. You’ve no doubt noticed how actively this is being pursued in the Amazon Basin and China. Regards, Andrew

  • qet

    What many people (on the Left) have failed to see or have wilfully ignored is that there exists no “consensus” having the meaning they want it to have. Science is like every other human activity. Within the community of scientists there are stronger-willed people and weaker-willed people. A relative handful of very strong-willed scientists have managed to cow (the appropriate term as it conveys the idea of herd formation) the majority of weaker-willed scientists into a kind of herd, fearful of directly disagreeing with the Leninists, who dutifully and feebly answer surveys on climate change in the affirmative. I believe that many of this mass that allegedly forms the vaunted “consensus” are as sceptical as the rest of us but dare not endanger careers by openly disagreeing with the handful of Jacobin fanatics.

  • TheCynical1

    The Greens love to tout purported “scientific consensus” . . . except when they don’t.

    For example, the Greens deem GMO foods to be bad for human health — but apparently, according to current scientific consensus, no supporting evidence has been found.

  • Chas

    The Earth has been warming since the end of the last ice age some 20,00 years ago. In the next few thousand years it will start cooling and the glaciers will again overrun the temperate zones.

    • Andrew Allison

      It’s already cooling!

  • Andrew Allison

    For the love of God! The Earth is not, and has not been for the past 16 year, warming. This is not opinion, but emprical data. When will VM recognize the fact.

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