Many tell us what to think. I ask my readers to be skeptical. Question me and others.

Climate change, Life and politics, Media

Science and money in the climate change debate

… if we had one

Photo by Paweł Czerwiński on Unsplash

There is no public debate about climate change. On Medium, where I post my texts, there are thousands of articles about climate change. I read many of them and wrote a few myself. As elsewhere in media, each text presents the views of its author. There are no polemics between writers presenting different viewpoints. All four of my published texts[i] on this subject are exceptions. They are polemics, with climate change activists listed by name. Besides that, I did not spot any other polemics about climate change on Medium.

The climate change alarmists avoid any direct debates with skeptics

Daily, I receive emails with reading recommendations. Some come from Medium editors; others are from an algorithm selecting articles based on my reading interests. On average, among other sources, Medium recommends to me daily at least three articles about climate change, totaling about 1,000 articles per year. As this subject is in my focus, I try at least to skim these articles, looking for new ideas and arguments. I recall two articles presenting skepticism about the alarmist tone dominating in the media. Even if I missed some, still the overwhelming majority of texts recommended to me proclaim only one side of the issue.

The only responses I received were from a few readers. In his comment, Chris Crawford, who is also a writer on Medium, challenged me to a debate. I found challenges in comments by Mike Frank and by Frederick Bott as well.

It is not climate science; it is the decision science

Chris Crawford has challenged my arguments as not scientific. In his opinion, I go against the “vast majority of scientists, and every relevant scientific organization,” which endorse the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis. Then, he added that “only a few cranks deny it.” By saying this, he abandoned science for politics. Copernicus was once one of these cranks; so was Einstein, at least for some time. Science is not ruled by majority consensus; arguments rule it. Claiming that a particular theory is correct because most scientists agree with it is purely unscientific. The voice of the majority matters in politics, but not in science.

When scientists give us contradictory reports, how can we, mere mortals, decide where the truth is? My adversaries did not address this problem, other than citing the majority. The world became sophisticated. We go to a doctor with anything more severe than the flu, and we are dealing with advanced medical science. If we are smart enough to ask for more than one opinion, most likely we are facing conflicting treatment options. Buying a car or a house are other examples when experts can recommend contradictory choices.

Politicians ask us to support their political causes. They claim all as scientifically validated, despite the fact that they oppose each other. Unresolved for decades, immigration and health care are the best examples. Then climate change joined the club.

We cannot be specialists in all these matters, but we need to decide which experts to follow. We can do it only by using decision science. This Harvard web page defines it well as seeking “to make plain the scientific issues and value judgments underlying these decisions, and to identify tradeoffs that might accompany any particular action or inaction.”

“To make plain the scientific issues” means to present them in a way that most people can understand them. It is difficult because the knowledge of science and the scientific method can vary. Yet, even the most sophisticated scientific matters can be explained to a layman. An old American saying defines the straightforward way: If you cannot explain it to me in two sentences, you are either lying or have nothing to say. In old times, people with money, often not well-educated, asked for these two sentences when approached with new ideas.

It is about uncertainty

Looking at scientific arguments about climate change, I found out that supporters of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) do not pass the two-sentence test well. Their opponents do it much better. The weight put by the IPCC on the need for immediate political actions with no regard for the cost raises a red flag. For this reason, skeptics like me check what their opponents are saying. The IPCC opponents need not convince me they are right in everything they are saying. They only need to bring a few valid arguments questioning the IPCC conclusions.

Publicizing their agenda, the IPCC supporters try to visualize for us doomsday projections of what can happen. Their appeal to emotion, not reason, is the next red flag, especially because emotional arguments often look like the sleazy tactics of used car salespeople. Someone who is not an expert can sort it out by looking for direct debates between scientists presenting opposite views on this issue. We do not have such discussions because the leading scientific bodies decided that the IPCC findings are irrefutable.

Professor Ivar Giaever resigned from the American Physical Society (APS). It was his protest against the APS declaration that “The evidence is incontrovertible: Global warming is occurring. If no mitigating actions are taken, significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur. We must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases beginning now.” Professor Giaever pointed out the obvious: that incontrovertible could be doctrines of the Catholic Church, not scientific statements. Yet, this quasi-religious approach is typical for many climate change alarmists. For example, Michael Barnard, the leading climate change writer at Medium, blocked me after I posted a critical comment to one of his articles. His action is equal to a church excommunicating heretics. He is a preacher of the climate change religion, not a propagator of a scientific point of view.

The pious manner of presenting and promoting the climate change agenda does not belong to science. For many, this is one more reason for seeking alternative opinions. To lower the level of uncertainty, one need not become a climate scientist; checking a few, easy-to-understand examples, as below, will suffice.

Do we have only 12 years left?

I have a tiny garden plot where every summer I grow several tomato plants. I can enjoy fresh, homegrown tomatoes only if I water these plants daily. Hence, every evening I check for the rain prognosis. Too often, I need to water my tomato plants in the morning because the forecasted rain did not come. On other days, I find out that I did not need water in the evening because it rained at night. If we cannot predict precisely the weather for the next several hours, laughable are claims that we can predict climate change 12 years ahead. We have physical evidence of some climate abnormalities. So far, climate science is still very vague. We cannot exclude the possibilities of catastrophic ecological changes, but we can only speculate when they may come.

Sea rise because of the glacial isostatic adjustment (GIA)

About 20,000 years ago, glaciers covering a big part of the Northern Hemisphere started shrinking. The ice, often up to three kilometers thick, disappeared in a relatively short time. The Earth’s crust that was freed from the ice rebounded, causing mantle to move in from other areas. Even though that glacier receded about 10,000 years ago, the isostatic adjustment is still going on. For example, Scotland, which was under the glacier, is still slightly rising; whereas England, which was not under ice, is somewhat sinking. Similarly, Canada is rising while the Carolinas are sinking.

Chris Crawford and my other critics talk dismissively about the GIA because this well-documented natural phenomenon explains perfectly that sea levels can rise for different reasons than anthropogenic climate change. I remember that about 50 years ago I read in Poland about an American continent tilting, with the Carolinas sinking and California rising. As Mike Frank asked, here is the link to the publication, and the summary is there. I bet that people who have their houses on the Eastern shore of the United States knew about this as well, or at least they should. Now, they claim that climate change is at fault, and they ask the government for money, as the New York Times reports. They should not get a dime from the public coffers on account of climate change. It has been publicly known for at least 50 years that the glacial isostatic adjustment is causing the sinking of the East Coast. 

The lesson from the past

The last catastrophic burst of global warming occurred about 8,000 years ago. It was on the eve of our recorded history. The biblical story about the deluge and Plato’s story about fictional Atlantis might reflect the human memory of that event. In particular, I find convincing a hypothesis that Atlantis could be on the Black Sea. At that time, today’s Black Sea was a lake in a depression. It does not matter if the Atlantis story is true or not; it matters that in the not-so-remote past, rapidly rising sea levels broke through the land, creating the Bosporus Strait, and flooded the vast plats of land with human settlements. For the last few thousand years, we have been blessed with a stable climate. Nevertheless, we have no reason to expect that the rapid catastrophic events, such as the flooding by the Black Sea, will not happen to us again.

Is the CO2 the cause or the result?

My opponents see global warming as caused by excessive burning of fossil fuels, which emit CO2 in such amounts that photosynthesis cannot absorb them, nor the oceans. Then, the higher level of CO2 increases the greenhouse effect, heating the Earth even more. The climate alarmists concluded that we must do whatever it takes to lower the surplus of CO2, with no regard for the cost. Otherwise, they say, the Earth will be baked, and our civilization might cease to exist.

This reasoning would be easy to accept if not that by the end of the last glacial period, we had much more drastic climate warming not caused by humans. Interestingly, 20,000 years ago, the levels of CO2 increased meaningfully parallel to the climate warming, but then the very few humans could not have caused it. If then, the CO2 triggered the thawing of the glaciers, where did that CO2 come from? According to some scientific hypotheses, it came from the oceans. If so, why do we not look now to the oceans first as the potential source of the increased levels of CO2 in the atmosphere?

When we look at the greenhouse effect, one needs to remember that most of the heat that is emitted from Earth needs to come from the Sun first. If the high concentration of CO2 traps some heat on Earth, the same CO2 blocks some radiation from the Sun in the first place. All the energy that we generate on Earth is still much less than what we get from the Sun. For example, just 1.5 hours of Sun radiation equals the entire world’s electricity consumption for a year.

With Earth warming, the water evaporation increases, and we should expect more clouds, blocking the Sun radiation even more. This is a simple cooling effect ignored by my opponents. In their tunnel vision they focus only on how humans could change the climate but dismiss the powers of nature. Trying to prove that the observed climate changes are anthropogenic, my opponents became anthropocentric. 

The conviction that humans have caused a meaningful change in the Earth’s climate, although that could be questioned, is noble at least. But the belief that we can shape the climate to our will is the apex of human hubris, comparable only to the biblical Tower of Babel.

The mystery of the permafrost

Science still does not have a good explanation for sinkholes in Siberia and methane bubbling from the bottom of Alaskan lakes. One can see as obvious that the methane bubbling from the Alaskan lake is caused by something going on at the bottom of it. The land rising there because of the glacial isostatic adjustment comes to mind. The observed drifting of the magnetic north pole confirms the movement of the mantle under the Earth’s crust. My critic, Chris Crawford, claims that we have that bubbling because CO2, brought by wind from far away, warms the bottom of the Alaskan lake. Even if increased CO2 levels can heat the top layer of that lake, Mr. Crawford still cannot explain how this warmer water reaches the bottom.

I found interesting an article about CO2 circulation posted on the NASA website. Both my opponents and I can agree with the main body of that article. But in the closing paragraph, it says: “Current research estimates that permafrost in the Northern Hemisphere holds 1,672 billion tons (Petagrams) of organic carbon. If just 10 percent of this permafrost were to thaw, it could release enough extra carbon dioxide to the atmosphere to raise temperatures an additional 0.7 degrees Celsius (1.3 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100.” For the record, that 1,672 billion tons is about one thousand times the amount of all CO2 emitted in 2015 by all fossil fuels burned in North America. It means that even a tiny defrosting of permafrost can release so much CO2 that all our prognoses will become irrelevant. It also means that we do not know how much of the already observed CO2 increase comes from the thawing permafrost. In short, science is far from knowing for sure what is going on.

Where is the money in the climate change debate?

I explained this in my previous text. Mike Frank calls my explanation a conspiracy theory, and Chris Crawford calls it a fantasy. He accused me of overlooking the only one suspect recognized by the climate change alarmists: the fossil fuel companies. There is much bigger money in play.

Let us take as an example the walls that might be needed to protect coastal cities from flooding. Only the most prominent American corporations can take on billion-dollar projects such as these. The government has no money; hence, it will need to borrow it from the key financial institutions, the same ones that are leading stockholders in the companies that will receive these construction projects. Mostly rich people can afford shoreline properties; hence, they will be the primary beneficiaries of these walls despite my argument that, as I wrote earlier, there is no justification for public money being spent on them. The government loans will be paid by taxes mainly from the middle class, or at least the middle-class Americans will feel the burden of these taxes the most. As a result, it will push more middle-class Americans into poverty. The financial institutions will benefit double, first by collecting interest on the money lent to the government and then on profits from the construction projects.

The low estimates of the Green New Deal are around several trillion dollars. The opponents claim that it could end up costing as much as $100 trillion. Even the optimistic prognosis looks like a way to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That effect could last forever. By that, I mean destroying America as we know it.

Political conclusions

Despite the uncertainties of climate science, the followers of the IPCC eagerly ask for legislative action, meaning grandiose public projects. In my previous text, I criticized professor Hayhoe for giving us far-reaching political and economic directives on what we should do considering the observed global warming. Both Chris Crawford and Mike Frank did not like it, but I stick to my opinion that I did not question her knowledge of climate science. I disagreed with her views on how we should spend public money. Professor Hayhoe rightfully noted that in times of crisis, as the old saying goes, the wind always blows straight into the eyes of the poor ones. Then, under the pretense of dealing with climate change, she outlined a need for many lavish government programs. If she used the decision science to determine the policy that best served the whole population, she might arrive at different conclusions.

The risk assessment

In principle, science never is definite; it is always only the best assessment we can get at a given moment. To have credibility when recommending any political actions due to climate change, one needs to be ready for continuous scrutiny of the science behind these actions. Because the climate alarmists avoid open debates, from the decision science point of view, we should consider their recommendations as high-risk.

But, for the sake of discussion, let us assume that they are right that, as the American Physical Society stated, within several years “significant disruptions in the Earth’s physical and ecological systems, social systems, security and human health are likely to occur.” What should we do?

First, trying to stop CO2 emissions is likely too late because it will take at least 20, more likely 30 years to yield any noticeable result. If they are right, we do not have that much time. Also, if they are correct, most likely, we have already triggered processes that are beyond our control. For example, a human can trigger an avalanche, but there is no human power to stop it once it is already underway. The already observed climate warming might have triggered CO2 release from the permafrost and oceans to the degree that it is now a self-propelling process. That means that even if we spend today all the money we have and all the money we can borrow, most likely this will not lower the CO2 levels soon enough. Knowing that we cannot mitigate much whatever danger is coming, the focus should be on preparing for the impact.

As we do now before hurricanes, the government should focus on informing the public about the upcoming danger and what individuals can do to be prepared. It is unrealistic to expect that the government can help everyone likely to be affected. How can people get prepared? Millions of people might need to relocate from the areas projected to be most affected. It would be proper to let them know now that this might come around 2030. As with every natural disaster, we should expect catastrophic events. Instead of spending money now on the Green New Deal, which is unlikely to help in the short term, the government should lower its current debt so that it has resources to deal with emergencies when they come.

Despite the likelihood that any drastic attempts toward cutting CO2 emission now will not help us in the short term, we should encourage long-term efforts. The government can support science in developing environmentally friendly technologies. The government should look at why American businesses lose in competition with China in such critical areas as solar energy, batteries, and electric vehicles. Then, it should remove existing obstacles facing our businesses.

So far, science is warning us that observed climate fluctuations might evolve into significant changes in our environment. It could be that that CO2 from burning fossil fuels is the primary cause, but it could be as well only a minor contributing factor. We do not know for sure. Science does not justify excessive public projects sought by the climate alarmists. It seems to be precisely the opposite. People advocating for grandiose government programs for unrelated ideological reasons exaggerate the risk of severe harm from climate change as a way of gaining support for their strictly political objectives. The Fourth National Climate Assessment is the best example.

America became great the first time around because Americans did it themselves, not because the government did it for them. Similarly, Americans overcame many problems in the past. The only efficient way to deal with the challenges that climate change can bring on us is by unleashing the power of Americans. It worked before. Coincidentally, and unsurprisingly, this is as well what the decision science tells us to do.


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