Scientists goosestepping after Gore

From the Swiss weekly magazine Die Weltwoche

  • We are delighted to reproduce this recent translation of an interview with Dr. Richard Lindzen, Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Planetary and Meteorological Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most eminent climatologist alive today. The interview reveals something of the exasperation of the true scientist at the naive, religious belief of his colleagues in propositions that are either unknowable or unproven.

Professor Lindzen, you are called a “climate denier”. Does that make you feel like an outcast?

I am no outcast. If you want to soak up propaganda, that’s your problem. I work at the world-famous Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I have the respect of my colleagues. Think for a moment about what you have just said. I am a survivor of the Holocaust. My parents fled Germany in 1938. Anyone who calls me a “climate denier” not only insults me – he also insults his own intelligence.

Why?

Because the topic of the climate is so complex. It has so many facets. Or do you really believe that every scientist rushes to goosestep in al Al Gore’s footsteps? Do you really believe that all of us ought to agree with him? Anyone who has even one or two neurons still working between his ears should know that anyone who uses the expression “climate denier” has lost the argument.

Have you received death threats, like some of your colleagues who have expressed their skepticism publicly?

Yes, there were a few emails that told me to go to hell, but that is not a death threat.

Why do people hate your point of view?

You have to expect to be hated when you ask questions in such a climate. People like to think that they improve themselves when they believe with their whole hearts that the world will end unless they save it immediately. They develop a quasi-religious enthusiasm, like Islamist extremists. Anyone who winds people up to that extent should be ashamed of himself.

Had you expected that you would be criticized?

Naturally. I once wrote in the Wall Street Journal that scientists have been silenced, and have even lost their positions, because they dared to express doubts about what we are told are the “facts” of the climate controversy. Laurie David, the producer of Al Gore’s film, wrote in her blog that she was happy that those scientists were finally silenced. She also wrote that any scientists who seek to investigate their scientific doubts should not receive any funding.

Surely that contradicts the way that science is understood to work: that its hypotheses always have to be tested again and again, and can be disproved but cannot be proved.

Quite right, but it is easy to corrupt science. It has happened many times. I was at the international meeting of the American Geophysical Union last winter in San Francisco. Al Gore spoke. And his message was this: “You ought to have the courage to join the consensus, to support it publicly in everything you say, and feel free to silence anyone who disagrees with the consensus. The audience gave these remarks an enthusiastic reception.

What did you do?

I shrugged my shoulders and went out and read George Orwell.

What would you do? You are upset about about an Oscar winner, Al Gore, who says things like “The continued existence of our civilization is at stake.”

There is indeed plenty at stake: namely companies like Generation Investment Management [founded by Al Gore], Lehman Brothers, Apple, and Google, Gore has major financial interests in all of these. Al Gore combines lunacy and corruption.

Wait a minute: those are serious accusations.

First, he fosters hysteria. And secondly, he has a major financial interest. He is simply not independent.

OK, you say that climate change is not so alarming because the models overestimate the influence of CO2 on climate. In saying that, surely you are contradicting 95% of all scientists?

But it is so. The influence of CO2 is much smaller that the models have predicted. You then have two choices. The model is false or the model is right and something unknown makes up the difference. The modelers have unfortunately taken the second way and claim that aerosols make up the difference. But, as the IPCC says, we don’t know anything about aerosols. The current models are tuned. If there is a problem, then call it aerosol. That is a dishonorable way out.

The head of the Natural Environmental Research Council in Great Britain said something remarkable. Climate change must be manmade because he can’t imagine anything else that might be the cause. That is a statement touching on intellectual incompetence, which a scientist should never utter.

Professor Lindzen, what, then, are the facts?

Physics does not lie about the greenhouse effect. The CO2 concentration has increased. The 20th century was warmer overall by 0.5 C.

How do you explain the most recent warming?

I don’t believe it. The warming occurred from 1976 to 1986, then it plateaued.

Do you accept that in general it has become warmer?

Yes, but we are speaking of tenths of a degree. If you take into account the uncertainty in the data, there was warming from 1920 to 1940, cooling until 1970, and warming again until the beginning of the 90s. But you can’t say it as preciselu as that, whatever you think. There is no real difference between the temperatures of today and those in the 1920s and ’30s. The system is never constant. And to declare the end of the world because of a couple of tenths of a degree is a joke.

But surely it is just this tenth of a degree that can have monstrous consequences?

Yes, it could – provided that you ignore all reality. The problem is that the media make a big show out of these very small temperature differences – differences that fall within the error-bars of the measurement. The fact is that our methods of measurement are simply not precise enough.

To recap: it has gotten warmer in the last century, but climate is a system that always varies. It is a turbulent system. You cannot think about it dogmatically. The main question remains, are these 0.5 degrees a large or a small variation, is it serious or not? We don’t know. No one should be ashamed to say that we still simply don’t know. And a couple of degrees still don’t make an eternal summer.

You took part in the Third IPCC Assessment Report. What is your opinion of the Fourth Assessment Report?

First, I would have to see the report. Up to now we know only about the Summary for Policymakers. The report itself was finished last October. Now they need several months in order to bring it into agreement with the Summary. If a corporation did that with its annual report it would be front page news in all the papers. And not at all to the corporation’s advantage.

Why did you not participate in the preparation of the Fourth Assessment Report?

I had no time. I had participated – by writing a couple of pages. There were hundreds of scientists, in teams, where two or three were responsible for a couple of pages. They flew all over the world for years. You can’t work that way.

Assume you are right that everything will not be very bad, and that the data are not good enough to prove the alarmist case. In that event, what is all the fuss about?

Many interest groups have discovered climate change. Everyone will profit from it except the ordinary consumer, who must be maneuvered by propaganda. The scientists profit: their funding has increased more than tenfold since the early 1990s. Then there is the ecological movement, a multi-billion-dollaroperation with thousands of employees.

The problem is that we have solved the problems of air and water pollution. We eliminated those. So the ecological movement desperately needed problems that could not be eliminated. That made climate change attractive to them.

And industry, which you assume is against curbs on CO2 emissions, also profits. Corporations are perhaps opposed to the alarmist position, because it gives them problems they have to accommodate to. But they can make money from it. The large corporations live off climate change.

Last year I spoke with someone from the big coal producer Arch Coal. He said he is all in favor of cutting CO2 emissions. I asked him, whether a coal company seriously wanted CO2 restrictions. He said, “Sure, we’ll manage it, but our smaller competitors won’t.”

The energy giant Exxon Mobil was against it.

Yes, the previous CEO fought CO2 restrictions on principle. But what industry wants is this. 1. They want to determine the restrictions themselves. 2. They want all corporations to be subjected to the same restrictions. 3. They want to know in advance how to prepare themselves. Then they can lay off the huge costs on consumers.

And what are your interests?

I have been working for decades in this area. We were beginning to understand how things work, how the atmosphere and the climate really function. Then we were rolled over by the simplified claim that climate depends only on CO2. Thus every hope of finding out, for example, how ice ages work was destroyed. Suddenly everyone said, “All scientists are united,” as if we still lived in the Soviet Union.

Today Russian scientists are moving away from the consensus, aren’t they?

Some yes, others no. It is a question of which generation they belong to. The older ones break away, the younger ones get in line. Russia has a long tradition in climate research. The older scientists were world leaders. And they knew that this simplistic way of looking at things made no sense. The younger ones are not distinguished but they want invitations to visit Europe – so they collaborate and do what Europe wants.

Is the world so simple?

Sometimes yes. In 2004 there was a meeting in Moscow, organized by the Russian Academy of Sciences. Sir David King, who was then the chief scientific advisor to the British Government, was invited. When he heard that they had also invited people like me, he wanted to cancel. But he was already at the airport. So he came and spoke first and said that he would invite Russian scientists who shared his point of view to come to England.

You laugh. Do you find it funny?

No, but that’s the way the world is.

When did you get mad for the first time?

In 1987 I received a letter from a man by the name of Lester Lave, a well known economics professor at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh. He wrote that he had testified in a Senate hearing. Al Gore had also been there, by the way. Lave said then that the science was still very uncertain about what the causes of climate change were. Al Gore threw him out of the hearing with the words that anyone who said that didn’t know what he was talking about.

But Al Gore is really not a scientist.

Well, he was on TV after his film opened in the movie theatres. The interviewer asked him, why he believed that sea level could go up by about six meters, when science talks about 40 cm. He answered that science did not know what it was talking about but he did. I think Al Gore is crazy.

You are annoyed when a politician says something about science?

Yes. I reassured Lester Lave that science really can never be certain. But it all turned serious in 1988, shortly after Newsweek came out with a front-page article about global warming. I began to say publicly that I thought the data too weak to reach a final conclusion. Many colleagues said that they were happy that someone had finally said what I had said.

But, as the older Bush raised the funding for climate research from 170 million dollars to 2 billion, the institutions figured out that their future was connected with climate change. Even at MIT there exists a difference of opinion about this. We all agree about the basic idea that temperature will increase, because CO2 is a greenhouse gas. But we differ on whether climate change is an important topic. And there I differ from most of my colleagues. I believe that it is not a serious topic. I think it is important to think about the causes of the Ice Ages.

What do you know about the Ice Ages?

Very little. The Ice Ages correlate somehow with orbital parameters, but we don’t know how this has influenced climate change. Those are serious topics in atmospheric dynamics. I can tell you that we know very little.

How should we approach the solution?

No one wants to solve the problem, because then the money will stop flowing.

Listen, Professor Lindzen, what really is your opinion about human nature?

I see it this way, the way it is, not as I would like it. After the signing of the Montreal Protocol in 1987 for protecting the ozone layer, research support disappeared. Ozone was not a problem any more – even though it still is. The stratospheric chemists work today in the area of stratosphere and climate. Politics pays science: we are very dependent on it.

Who pays for the necessary research?

NASA. Sometimes no one. I tell you, they don’t want to solve the problem. Uncertainty is essential for alarmism. The argument is always the same. It may perhaps be uncertain, but whatever is uncertain is also possible.

Are you saying that we cannot do anything about climate change? Are we doomed?

I say: We should not do anything. We really have other problems. If I, as an American, look at Europe, then I see a continent that does not care about terrorism, that Iran could become a nuclear power, that Islam is expanding. Instead, Europe worries about climate change. That is a form of societal stupidity. Europe wants to feel that it is good and important. That is dumb. And, at the same time no European country will meet the Kyoto goals. No, I don’t understand any of this. We need to buy new electric lights? How could that possibly help? Is everyone going to screw them in? I hope that this stops soon.

Why should it? That is human nature.

What – that someone proclaims the end of the world every couple of years and then everyone forgets that it hasn’t happened? That can’t go on. Sooner or later people get tired of the story and turn to something else. Surveys in the US already show such a trend. The reality is that Honda has built a small, very good hybrid car. It does not sell. People want a fat Toyota Prius so the neighbors will know that they have bought a hybrid.

What kind of car do you drive?

An old Honda Accord 1998.

What do you really believe?

I am somewhat religious, more of a believer in any case than an observer. Something besides mankind exists.

And in spite of that you also cannot be sure that mankind has no influence on climate?

No one says that. But anyone who says that people are the cause of this or that is wrong. No one doubts that CO2 absorbs infrared, and thus has an influence. But if you double the CO2 concentration, the temperature would rise by less than one Celsius degree – so little that we could not even measure it. I cannot believe that the world was so poorly constructed that it could not withstand such a minuscule change – it has already survived many changes on that scale.

Do humans believe that the world must die because we are mortal?

We live in a time of pessimism. It was the same in the 19th century. Then the Royal Society wrote in a report to the government that the electrification of England was too dangerous for normal people, and that one would do better by choosing gas. People profit today more than ever from scientific progress but don’t have the

slightest clue how their equipment operates. That is a loss of control. This is why Al Gore puts forth a highly simplified picture of global warming, that every five year old can understand. It gives people the feeling that they understand what is going on, and that they can do something about it. Unfortunately, that is not the case.

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