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HNN Forum: Climate Change in Historical Perspective

By Rodney Huff

Mr. Huff is an HNN intern.

Have historians anything to add to the debate over global warming? That was a question we had in mind this past year after watching Al Gore's documentary, An Inconvenient Truth. It turns out the answer is a resounding: YES.

The following articles explore various historical aspects of the debate over global warming.  Contributing to this forum are environmental historians who bring their expertise to bear on those aspects of global warming in which they are most interested and intellectually engaged.  Since these articles are intended to spur further discussion and debate, readers are welcome to post comments. 

The first article comes from Frank Uekoetter, an environmental historian and Dilthey Fellow with the Research Institute of the Deutsches Museum in Munich.  Drawing upon his knowledge of the history of environmental regulation, Uekoetter chides environmentalists who seem content with merely “raising awareness” of the dangers posed by greenhouse gases, without delving into the more contentious issue of the policies needed to implement changes that will actually reduce these gases in the atmosphere.  According to Uekoetter, the Kyoto Protocol shows very little promise of achieving this end, and environmentalists would be naïve to pin the salvation of the world on the U.S. agreeing to a regulatory scheme so prone to corruption.    

Spencer Weart, Director of the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics, contributes the second article.  Weart challenges the validity of arguments advanced by those who deny the threat of global warming. He suggests that denialists willfully misunderstand this threat and engage in sophistry to achieve the ideological imperatives of powerful interest groups.  Weart goes on to describe his ongoing effort to educate the public through the development of a website detailing the history of research on climate change.

Matt Chew, a Ph.D. candidate at Arizona State University, contributes the final piece.  Chew's focus is on the ways global warming is causing the redistribution of plant and animal species.  According to Chew, this redistribution creates new selective pressures in localities infiltrated by “invasive” species.  Starting from the premise that life on earth began at one time and in one place, Chew suggests that all species were at one time invasive before becoming established in their familiar host environments; thus, invasive is a relative term, applied at all times in accordance with human valuations.  Chew also contemplates what the future will be like as the average global temperature continues to rise.  Drawing upon his knowledge of past “infestations,” or redistributions, Chew arrives at a scenario he considers to be all too familiar.

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Sherinn Pall - 7/9/2010

Global sea level rise is caused by two factors. One is the delivery of water to the ocean as land ice melts, such as mountain glaciers and polar icecaps. Current evidence of global warming includes the widespread retreat of glaciers on 5 continents.
The second factor is the thermal expansion of water within the oceans. As the temperature of the waters in the oceans rises and the seas become less dense, they will spread, occupying more surface area on the planet. Increased temperature will accelerate the rate of sea level rise.

jason ssg - 9/5/2007

Kudos to you Mr. Samis, but I would somewhat disagree on one point-

"do they have anything to contribute to the alleviation of this problem that is more meaningful than that contributed by other non-scientists?"

I would say yes only in-as-much-as many persons considered voices of authority, like historians, can have a somewhat more significant impact than those not considered authorities, and should thus propose their ideas and theories with more caution than some do, as there are those who will take the word of an "authority" that agrees with what they already want to believe- such as those who point to the few "scientists" of the Flat Earth Society or the "scientific" controversy as to whether or not the Earth is more than a few thousand years old, or the almost laughably fraudulent if it weren't so insidious mockumentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle."

Experts in all fields of inquiry, including historians, are behooved to learn well of what they speak before coming to slap-dash conclusions when publicly discussing cross-discipline matters.

Rodney Huff - 10/24/2006


It was my intention to seek out environmental historians to participate in this forum. For instance, Spencer Weart, one of the contributors, has intimate knowledge of climate science and documents the history of this field of research on his website. (See his article for details.)

The other contributors to this forum are also well grounded in the science of climate change. Thus, I fail to see how they could be considered "traditional historians" who "don't know science."

I hope you take the time to read the articles so your participation in this discussion may be better informed.

Sean M. Samis - 10/23/2006

Contrary to contemporary mythology, there is no significant controversy among scientists that Global warming is happening, that humans are at least contributing and that there are things humans can do to at least slow its advancement and ameliorate its effects.

The following is an excerpt:


The scientific consensus is clearly expressed in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Created in 1988 by the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Programme, IPCC's purpose is to evaluate the state of climate science as a basis for informed policy action, primarily on the basis of peer-reviewed and published scientific literature (3). In its most recent assessment, IPCC states unequivocally that the consensus of scientific opinion is that Earth's climate is being affected by human activities: "Human activities ... are modifying the concentration of atmospheric constituents ... that absorb or scatter radiant energy. ... [M]ost of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations" [p. 21 in (4)].

IPCC is not alone in its conclusions. In recent years, all major scientific bodies in the United States whose members' expertise bears directly on the matter have issued similar statements. For example, the National Academy of Sciences report, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions, begins: "Greenhouse gases are accumulating in Earth's atmosphere as a result of human activities, causing surface air temperatures and subsurface ocean temperatures to rise" [p. 1 in (5)]. The report explicitly asks whether the IPCC assessment is a fair summary of professional scientific thinking, and answers yes: "The IPCC's conclusion that most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations accurately reflects the current thinking of the scientific community on this issue" [p. 3 in (5)].

Others agree. The American Meteorological Society (6), the American Geophysical Union (7), and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) all have issued statements in recent years concluding that the evidence for human modification of climate is compelling (8).

The drafting of such reports and statements involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change" (9).

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

The scientific consensus might, of course, be wrong. If the history of science teaches anything, it is humility, and no one can be faulted for failing to act on what is not known. But our grandchildren will surely blame us if they find that we understood the reality of anthropogenic climate change and failed to do anything about it.

References and Notes

1. A. C. Revkin, K. Q. Seelye, New York Times, 19 June 2003, A1.
2. S. van den Hove, M. Le Menestrel, H.-C. de Bettignies, Climate Policy 2 (1), 3 (2003).
3. See www.ipcc.ch/about/about.htm.
4. J. J. McCarthy et al., Eds., Climate Change 2001: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability (Cambridge Univ. Press, Cambridge, 2001).
5. National Academy of Sciences Committee on the Science of Climate Change, Climate Change Science: An Analysis of Some Key Questions (National Academy Press, Washington, DC, 2001).
6. American Meteorological Society, Bull. Am. Meteorol. Soc. 84, 508 (2003).
7. American Geophysical Union, Eos 84 (51), 574 (2003).
8. See www.ourplanet.com/aaas/pages/atmos02.html.
9. The first year for which the database consistently published abstracts was 1993. Some abstracts were deleted from our analysis because, although the authors had put "climate change" in their key words, the paper was not about climate change.

The preceeding is is excerpted from the 2004 George Sarton Memorial Lecture, "Consensus in science: How do we know we're not wrong," presented at the AAAS meeting on 13 February 2004.

Source: http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/306/5702/1686


Whatever controversy there is, it is essentially political; there are those whose political persuasions do not allow them to believe anything coming from any "authority"; or whose personal, vested political or economic interests are threatened by any action that we might take to respond to Global Warming.

The Scientific Controversy has matured beyond any doubts regarding the participation of human activity (please notice that I did not say "responsibility"; nature contributes to this process too, even without human activity). What Scientists debate now is what should be done.

Are there "scientists" who strongly doubt the reality of global warming? or doubt the human contribution to it? Sure there are A FEW. There are also A FEW "scientists" who dispute any scientific theory you can name; I know a bona-fide scientist who insists that the Earth is hollow; that's where all the Aliens are coming from. Really. But if a thousand scientists say the Earth is round, and one says "It's flat." is there a controversy? I think not. The minority may be right, but probably they are not. And, unlike a discipline like History, the empirical sciences do not regard all theories as equal, there are ways of discerning the reasonable from the unreasonable. In that light, the human contribution to the FACT of Global Warming is the only reasonable conclusion.

THE QUESTION FOR HISTORIANS is simple: do they have anything to contribute to the alleviation of this problem that is more meaningful than that contributed by other non-scientists?

I don't know the answer to that question, but I suspect the answer is "no".

sean s.

John Chapman - 10/23/2006

You are getting fixated on my use of "ironic science" for no practical purpose; my original post was about whether traditional historians can add anything useful to the dialogue on climate change, being they are not scientists and usually grounded in political perspective instead of science. I say they can not because they don’t know science. I still think you don't understand the term “ironic science” in the context it was used and maybe it’s an outdated question before its time so I will remember not to toss it in so lightly in the future. Google John Horgan, who seems to have invented the term, or go to http://www.johnhorgan.org/ There are a lot of interesting perspectives out there, even if only for amusement.

john crocker - 10/22/2006

"Basically, “ironic science” are postmodern theories that subvert conventional notions of truth with conclusions that can never be tested."

The theory that anthropogenic factors are a driving force in current global climate change is in no way post modern and the predictions being made by the models are constantly being tested. The scientists "hard core" and otherwise are in agreement on this point. They further agree that the available evidence supports this theory. Go to a research library, do a search of the scientific literature, read any of the post 2000 climate modelling papers. Better yet, read one or more from each year. Article reviews will give the basic info from several papers and give you a broader, if shallower, understanding.

Models are experiments. There predictions are tested with measured results in the real world. It may be counter-intuitive, but it is much easier to predict trends that are geographically and temporally large than it is to make some smaller scale predictions. Predicting what the weather will be in a week is far more difficult than estimating trends in average global temperatures; much as predicting which drop of water in a full bathtub will be the last to go down the drain is more difficult than where the bulk of the water in the Gulf Stream will be in a week.

Hope that clears up some of the confusion.

John Chapman - 10/22/2006

Climate science is not ironic in itself but I think some pundits, historians/scientists manage to turn it into an irony. Basically, “ironic science” are postmodern theories that subvert conventional notions of truth with conclusions that can never be tested. I borrowed this phrase from John Horgan, a science writer.

I just don’t see how traditional historians can contribute effectively to the issues of climate science when even hard-core scientists cannot agree with each other using their more exact methodologies. Of course the counter argument on my statement on ironic science might be that what is untestable through experiment doesn’t necessarily always make a theory untestable.

Glad to have added to the confusion.

john crocker - 10/22/2006

In what way is climate science ironic?

John Chapman - 10/22/2006

“Have historians anything to add to the debate over global warming?” I would think they would if they perceived history as having at least three solid dimensions, the archeological, linguistical, and the genetic angle of human history. Forget about the political for the moment, it's like journalism - nothing but opinion backed by true lies or true facts. Most of the historians (do they have phd’s in science or the history of science? )who come to this site may know nothing about real science and bring only academic narratives or an ironic science that adds to the confusion of the subject on the causes of global warming. Global warming from a historical perspective is nice but how is it being constructive?

E. Simon - 10/18/2006

Actually Peter, changing the composition of the earth's atmosphere to accomodate massive amounts of heat-retaining gases, and then saying that you will suspend judgment on how that would probably affect global climate patterns, etc., until either those global climate patterns or other effects have drastically changed or not changed at a given point of change in atmospheric CO2 levels, is precisely the definition of a scientific experiment.

E. Simon - 10/18/2006

It's hard to say to a lay person what kind of validity or value they should place on issues of science. I'm pretty much up to letting people come to their own conclusions.

At the same time, the issue of widespread scientific illiteracy complicates things a bit when it comes to issues of public policy that apply to more than just individuals.

I honestly don't find the issue more complicated than looking at heat capacities that I mentioned (potential for heat retention) among various gases, looking at the proliferation of these gases (the overwhelming majority of human-based energy production releases CO2) and recognizing that atmospheric composition plays a significant role in constituting a planet's climate. I realize there are things we don't know about weather, but there are always things in every field that remain unknown, or else science as we know it would end. But for us to say that what we don't know invalidates the simple and easily deduced conclusions of those facts which I point out is basically an argument from ignorance - which is what characterizes the intelligent design fiasco.

Einstein said that things should be explained in the simplest terms possible, just not simpler. Pending what the skeptics have not been able to show about complicating factors that remain, as of yet, theoretical, I think it makes sense to go with those simple facts that are known. Throwing in unknowns into an equation to reinforce one's uncertainty from never having applied it to a larger scenario doesn't seem like a wise thing to do; further doing so violates Ockham's razor.

john crocker - 10/18/2006

Which value judgements and assunptions have I made that lead you to believe that my judgement on this topic is based in anything other than a scientific and objective perspective?

I am much more likely to trust medicine that has withstood the peer review process. Some holistic and homeopathic approaches have withstood this, the vast majority have not. Much of what is published on these topics is in specialty magazines devoted to these topics. The "experiments" published in these magazines are almost never double blind or statistically rigorous and would stand no chance of publication in a reputable medical journal (ex/ New England Journal of Medicine). I would advise that you accept the advice of medical doctors on medical issues and of doctors of climate science on issues relating to climate science.

Those currently argueing against anthropogenic causation of global climate change are the ones who are not published in the reputable journals. Those who are making the case for anthropogenic causation are published in the most prestigous scientific journals. In short your analogy is turned on its head.

john crocker - 10/18/2006

The abstracts of most journal articles are accessable to lay people. Go to any good research library, do a search and browse the abstracts. "Science" and "Nature" are the two of the most well respected journals that would have articles on climate change.

Here are few sites that are non-partisan and mostly accessable to lay people:
www.usgcrp.gov www.earthinstitute.columbia.edu http://web.mit.edu/cgcs/www/

You really should read some of the non-partisan literature on the topic before forming an opinion.

Peter Kovachev - 10/18/2006

To clarify, I'm not trying to be a relativist or an obscurantist, in the sense of truth being dependent on the individual's subjective frame of reference, or the truth being ultimately unknowable. Science is capable of cutting through both fallacies.

I'm only saying that while facts may unfold as they may, the layman has little choice but to follow his best judgment regarding his sources which form his worldview. Also, while I can side with the argument that it may be impossible to determine at this time, with these tools and under these arrangement what is really happening regarding the climate and its relationship to our activities, I'm convinced that the issue is knowable and will be better understood at some point.

Peter Kovachev - 10/18/2006

My previous post to you, above, cxan serve to answer bith you and John here.

My question to both of you is: Can you honestly admit to yourselves that you arrived at your positions purely from a scientific, objective perspective? If so, the value judgments and assumptions in your posts don't support that.

Another question: I know even less about medicine than about climate. At the same time I'm a staunch believer in mainstream medicine and even consider such widely-accepted fields like homeopathy and holistic medicine to be quackery. In line with the thrust of your arguments, should I drop my objections until I can understand the issues and begin treating my maladies with magnets, or whatever, "just in case"? Many I know take this attitude, after all there are thousands of professional articles supporting these fields, and governments even grant them right to issue degrees and run colleges.

Peter Kovachev - 10/18/2006

Your advice is noted. However...

...current energy consumption, use, industrial methods and such are not a world-wide "experiment," even in a symbolic sense. They are reality, part of our history and development and the way we live and do business ... as imperfect or even faulty as they may be. What is be "experimental," in the sense of global economic and social engineering, is the current political drive surrounding the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis.

Fears, hunches and arguments from authority may be valuable at times, but can be deadly at other times, especially when imposed by governments, international bodies and courts. Witness the "Silent Spring" hysteria over DDT; after all the decades the presumed harm has yet to be proven, while millions have died and millions suffer from malaria.

... the layman or the non-specialist cannot follow the technical particulars of of this debate. The best he can do is to consider the advice of experts and parties he finds credible. My position on this issue will not be affected by reading complex journal articles, by watching sloppy propaganda movies, or by bying into the oft-repeated line by the MSM about "near-unanimous" agreements. As someone who is on the same or similar page as I on some of the political issues, you should understand that prestigious, authoritative or popular opinion is not necessarily right or philosophically acceptable.

This is where things stand with me on this issue so far. I choose to defer to the advice of organizations, parties and individuals I have found agreeable and credible in other areas. At this time this includes sources on your government's political Right and my new federal-level government, here in Canada. In contrast, I find the sources which are the main political proponents of the anthropogenic thesis, here, in the US and the world to be less-than-credible. Seeing, for example, how they have treated the issue of Israel vs. the Muslim world, I cannot trust their good judgment or intentions on all or even most issues. Such realities have to count for something; to do otherwise, to suddenly accept popular or political pressure ...and the pressure is imense and arrogant... or to pretend that I can understand the science behind the issue would be intellectually and ethically corrupt. Neither can I totally trust the impartiality and good intentions of a majority of scientists; the past is filled with plenty of reasons not to do so blindly.

I grant that this case may prove to be an aberrant exception, and I know that my opinion is not science-based in the strict sense of the term. I think, though, that it is logical, rational and ethically sound under the current circumstances.

E. Simon - 10/18/2006

Insurers for coastal properties, last I heard, are also making good use of the continued costs of inaction. But maybe that's a good thing, right?

john crocker - 10/18/2006

The debate has been going on for over twenty years within the scientific community. Consesus has grown over time, article after article, model after model. The more evidence that has come in the stronger the theory has become until it is accepted by the overwhelming majority of the climate science community and the scientific community in general.

If you discount this as political, you have virtually no understanding of the scientific community. Every assertion and every assumption that goes into any model is challenged in the peer review process to be allowed into any journal, particularly the more prestigious of them (Nature, Science etc.). These articles are then subject to further criticism after their publication and any substantive flaw in methodology or interpretation will provoke articles in response. There are dozens of journals that accept articles on climate science, so any well designed and executed study that has something new to say has quite a good chance of being published in one of them.

You are very concerned about the potential costs associated with acting to address this growing problem. You appear far less concerned with the potential costs of continued inaction. You need to wiegh both in your consideration.

If your level of scientific understanding is at the level you claim, how can you make can you make an informed and rational judgement on this topic? In you position it seems that you must rely on the expertise of others. When one is in this regretable position, one must take great care in choosing independant, informed and trustworthy experts.

Most of the sources you offered as evidence contrary to the consensus opinion come from partisan think tanks or recieve their funding from the energy industry (that stands to face additional costs if action is taken). Do you think that ths is the best place to go for information without an agenda?

You say you respect science; how is it you have so little respect for those who practice it?

E. Simon - 10/17/2006

Also, it would help if you'd update your understanding of this ill-defined controversy beyond 2003. 2006 and 2007 are important years for the reports from bodies that it would be hard to argue lack the unprecedented kind of socially, historically authoritative scientific gravitas that you would seem to require in your understanding of what it means to be conclusive.



E. Simon - 10/17/2006

It is your responsibility, be you scientist, historian, or amateur historian, in a debate that has so potentially much at stake, that involves so much of the scientific community (the one that actually researches and submits to peer review their findings on such things), regardless of whether or not it has political implication, etc., etc., etc., to define the terms under which you would interpret a finding as "conclusive." It helps, Peter, if you could find a scale model that involves something less than subjecting the entire Earth to a giant science experiment, but hey, that's just the alarmist in me.

What offends so many, is that, like you, they don't like to refer to the scale models (think heat capacities), because this sort of thinking requires an understanding of a rudimentary semblance of science that a greater percentage of Americans than in any other Western, developed country have absolutely no capacity or patience for. Imagine if the FDA could only recall drugs if deaths occurred, regardless of the extrapolation of pre-clinical or clinical interpretations. Thank God some U.S. organizations that still have some sway haven't succumbed to faith-based interpretations as standard operating procedure, and understand what the meaing of caution in the name of policy is all about. (Hint, it goes beyond short-term financial considerations).

E. Simon - 10/17/2006

The "hysteria" of science is a construct that begs one's familiarity with the institution of science, a topic on which you've already pronounced your own shortcomings. Your attempt to fight what you see as propoganda, which you never - by the way - distinguish from publicity, with oppposing propoganda, doesn't clarify anything, especially when you remove something so elementary as heat capacities from the table of discussion. You cannot debate matters of science on the terms of someone who claims that he cannot be brought to understanding science, while claiming a stake in a debate that you presuppose exists in science. We've (John has, at least) already addressed the shortcomings of your dissenters, and one would think that caution be best applied to newer scenarios (bombarding the atmosphere with enough CO2 to change its composition) than older ones (the weather cycles that have existed since before recorded history and which are not being confused by anyone since 2003 with current trends). As far as the economies and the lives of millions go, I seem to note - along with wiser Democrats and Republicans - that technological innovation and a society's involvement in it actually contributes to productivity, wealth, etc., etc., etc., but perhaps the capitalist in me is brushing against a new and weird sense of protectionism that not only no longer fears open borders, but abundant to inexhaustible energy supplies where scarcity and more arbitrary proprietary standards cannot be so easily applied.

Peter Kovachev - 10/17/2006

Yet you totally minimize the cost of hysteria or even caution, Mr. Simon. This is not a squabble over petty little luxuries and against nasty and selfish untermeschen, where removing or mitigating the assumed cause of the assumed danger will cost little or will make us all better, while Gaeia smiles benignly at us. This is a debate whose outcome will affect national economies and the lives of millions. In this context, then, dismissing dissenting scientists and critics and currying support from the masses through fear-mongering and propaganda, is hardly the responsible and moral thing to do.

Peter Kovachev - 10/17/2006

I included that link as an example that things are not as smooth or unanimous as many seem to pretend...we seem to "intrep data" differently.

Just for the record, Mr. Simon, I'm neither a proponent of greater CO2 emissions and more pollution or any such stuff which is liable to send person to the stake nowadays, nor am I arguing that human activity hasn't produced at least localized temperature changes. Urbanization and migration from the countryside undoubtedly play roles. Neither am I committed to the position that it is impossible for us to affect climate in some way.

What I am still saying is that it appears far from conclusive that 1)a global warming trend is in fact taking place; 2) that we, rather than natural cycles or forces are responsible IF such a trend is happening and 3)that the proposed political measures can fairly and effectively address it.

The whole topic interests me as an amateur historian, or historian-hobbyists if you will, from a somewhat different angle, namely how social and cultural trends affect scientific inquiry. As I mentioned in my last post to you, the whole affair reeks to me of a lot of pseudo-science mixed in with the science. By default I always suspect the alarmists first, especially when they use crude propaganda and political muscle, but I will concede that two can play that game. Again, if you look at my original post, my primary complaint was that the articles here represent one side only and that rudely dismissing a significant body of dissenters through insults or on technicalities smacks of psudo-science.

Peter Kovachev - 10/17/2006

First of all, Mr. Simon, it's not heat capacity tables that would make you or anyone else a quack, rather, it's the use of carefully assembled bits of science and scientific jargon, together with arrogance towards legitimate dissenters, fear-mongering among the masses and mysticism that do the trick. And no, political activism can't change science into non-science, but neither can it transmute non-science or inconclusive science into sound science.

As for your reference to the dissenting or unconvinced scientists as dipshits, it's such attitudes from the anthropogenic global warming theorists that caused the proverbial alarum bells to ring and echo in what you assume must be my empty head. I personally would have jumped on the bandwagon along with the crowds who bought into Al Gore's Leni Riefenstahl-like agitprop, had it not been for the warming theorists' irrelevant attacks against their opponents. It may be more politically effective to dismiss dissenters as a minority of ignoramuses, likened to UFOlogists as Weard does, or as mercenaries in the pockets of "entrenched economic interests" as you and others claim, than to answer some truly sticky questions. It may be effective, but it's not science. And when a significant mass of scientists begin to act like non-scientists, then the real "giant experiments," ugly things like witch hunts, phrenology, racialism, sterilizations, euthanasia and equally unfounded and life-destroying policies like denial of promising GM crops to starving populations or DDT to malaria-ravaged parts of the world begin to happen.

The other indication that the global warming alarm is more than just cautious science is the mystical dimension behind the phenomenon. In addition to your helpful reference to "dipshits," I must thank you as well for the reminder that we are not just talking about heat capacity tables here, but what seems to be an epic and gnostic battle of terrestrial and heavenly proportions. In it, "natural cycles," a "natural world," and prophetic "hunches," battle it out with dark, selfish and materialistic forces of "reactionary retrogression" tainted by Hellenistic notions of sinful hubris. In this medievalist iconography, we have greedy oil magnates and industrialists on one side, and stranded polar bear cubs and confused South Sea Islanders with waves lapping at the their scrotums on the other. Above it all, a sad and ravished, but wrathfull Gaeia, sits ready to pass judgement on the sinners.

So, forgive me for not sinking to my knees in awe of this grand theatre production, but I'd like to hear more about surface temperature measurment issues, long-term climatic studies or the studiously ignored, but intense and dramatic warming cycles of the past, most recently between the fourteenth and seventeenth centuries. Make the debate vigorous if you will, but engage in a debate, rather then feeding us grade-nine science drop-outs with catechisms. I'd also like to know how impoverishing or starving millions or billions of people (who unlike Al Gore lack SUVs and oil stocks) with draconian energy consumption measures will stand up to the effects of the next overdue asteroid, or even the next massive volcanic eruption, either of which will make our emissions seem like a bashful foo-foo in the face of a hurricane.

E. Simon - 10/17/2006

No need for concern, Peter. The process is open; these academies aren't Soviet in nature nor are they in the kind of political influence they (and every one else and every other NGO in a Western, capitalist society) are subject to. Your link from 3 years ago proves it. It also links the Science editorial that should clarify what science-based concerns could have been justified at the time. But stay current in your observations, since it is already 2006 and this "larger sense" of the debate is only moving beyond the objections raised by the hear no evil see no evil-ers.

Peter Kovachev - 10/17/2006

I'll take your word on the lack of peer reviews where those names are concerned, Mr. Crocker. I will stress again that I'm not a scientist, much less a field specialist, and even less an in-person on the internal politics of the issues to discuss the whys and wherefores. One explanation I can venture at from the top of my head is that the pro-global warmists are mostly academics with universities, while the skeptics are mostly in the industries and in institutes and think tanks.

The peer review process is indisputably important, but like everything else, it needs to be transparent, open and fair in order to be valuable. And this takes us right back to my (and many others') initial concerns, that this topic has become very politicised and that dissenting scientists are not getting a fair shake. To use an extreme example, without necessarily implying parallels, I'm sure Lysenko got glowing peer reviews from the Soviet Academy of Sciences, and that the lack of dissent had more to do with other scientists' fear of becoming wood choppers in camp at the Magadan, rather than science.

Nevertheless, peer reviews happen in this field, and not only UFOlogists appear to be be on the skeptics' side. Here is an interesting link:


E. Simon - 10/17/2006

Or there could be a single one - if it were strong enough - "debunking" it, which these "hear no evil, see no evil" types have failed to produce.

The most important point to reiterate, I think, is that there are those for whom the whole earth serves as the only acceptable model to which we subject what amounts to the science experiment of massive proliferation of heat-trapping gases to its "conclusion," and then there are the rest of us who are capable of looking at canaries in coal mines from smaller scale trials and saying that we're conservative enough to not want to rely on the unlikely salvation of a necessarily incomplete deduction being outright wrong. Before the first human died of cyanide poisoning I'm sure many people said, "well, it's only killed animals so far." That's the scientific standard of the "hear no evil, see no evil" types. Problem is, they don't have exclusive rights to the planet.

john crocker - 10/17/2006

The test of a scientific theory's validity is how well it stands up to repeated testing and critical review. The number of articles whose conclusions support this theory indicate that the theory has undergone extensive testing and critical review.

If the theory were weak there would be many peer reviewed articles pointing out its weaknesses. The absence of articles effectively disputing this theory despite its high profile, age, grant money available and total number of articles on global climate is further evidence of theory's strength.

John H. Lederer - 10/17/2006

"Can you offer any recent (post 2000) peer reviewed journal articles that either supports the contention that global climate change is not occurring or that it is not likely anthropogenically caused. I will gladly match your contrarian articles 5 to 1."

I was not aware that the test of the validity of a scientific theory was the number of articles expounding it.

john crocker - 10/17/2006

Science is a methodology and one of the more important parts of that methodology is the process of peer review. The consesus you are so ready to dismiss as political has withstood this process, the authors that you hold in such high regard have not.

Not one of the characters you have mentioned have published a single peer reviewed article on the topic of climate change. Can you offer any recent (post 2000) peer reviewed journal articles that either supports the contention that global climate change is not occurring or that it is not likely anthropogenically caused. I will gladly match your contrarian articles 5 to 1.

PS- For a comprehensive debunking of Milloy's voluminous, though flawed argumentation go to realclimate.org.

E. Simon - 10/17/2006

Glad to see that you're not above admitting that you're way out of your league on something, even if it is something as uncomplicated - sorry, as uncontroversial - as heat capacities. But if you think your trumpetted lack of stupidity makes your opinion anything more meaningful than just that, you could start by junking whatever fallacy leads you to argue that political activism turns science into non-science, or gold into lead, or whatever - as it were.

Yes, science is a methodology. The only problem with the dipshits you think I need to take on is that for them, the only modelling comprehensive enough for them to agree to, involves nothing less than turning the entire earth into a giant science experiment, as we are currently doing. Doesn't leave much room for error, there, does it? For the rest of those who have mastered the art of thinking both abstractly and pragmatically, it's enough to know that the heat-retaining gases that humans activity is addicted to producing may be good for the currently entrenched economic interests of many, but it's stupid to wait for enough politically actionable evidence to accumulate for a likely too-late reversal of the no-brainer result. But it's the scientists on the other side who are putting politics over science?

It's funny how people who love to toe the conservative to libertarian line have no problem fucking with natural cycles that have existed since the dawn of recorded human activity. Apparently the exigencies of human nature are the only thing they believe politicians should never underestimate. As far as nature itself, well that's just not potentially metaphysical enough to convincingly reduce to the absurdity that the weaker minds of more foolish propogandists need to, for God knows what reason. But the scientists have a hunch, having seen these similar patterns of reactionary retrogression before, starting with Galileo to Scopes to intelligent design. It's human arrogance. An arrogance that denies that it is at the behest of a natural world that it clearly depends on, and can only manipulate so much before altering drastically. And any skeptic, given a familiarity with at least Greek thought - where science and reason began - should at least know enough about a concept called "hubris" to admit whose expense they act on by ignoring THAT truism.

Citing heat capacities makes one a "quack"...? I guess such is a sample musing of a ninth-grader's sense of physical epistemology.

Peter Kovachev - 10/16/2006

Dont't trouble yourself with giving me links to charts and tables on gases, Mr. Simon. You might as well throw astrological charts at me or your grandmother's recipe for bread pudding; I flunked science in grade nine and never took it again.

That doesn't mean that I'm totally stupid, or that hundreds of scientists who are not falling in line behind what reeks of a politicised hysteria constitute a "few eccentrics outside their field." That seems to be a pretty common refrain among the "anthropogenetic global warmists," it seems. Curious...or not so curious.

If you think of yourself as a scientist, rather than the angry quack you are coming across as, why are you not "demolishing" the skeptics? Have some guts, big boy, take on scientists. Go after Steve Milloy, John McCarthy, Kevin McFarlane, Patrick J. Michaels, Sallie Baliunas, Kenneth Green, and many others.

While you are at it, think about what science actually is. It's not politics stirred-in with alchemy and padded with feel-good gobledeygook. That road leads to "scientists" calculating flight patterns of medieval witches, or measuring craniums with precise calipers to fill up file cabinets full of charts "documenting" Jewish ancestry and "predicting" criminality. Science is a methodology, a way of knowing, arguably the best way of knowing, provided cold, hard facts are examined and radicalized monomaniacs, careerists and brown-nosers get out of the way.

I hope you appreciate my courtesy. I could have said, for example, something like "piss-off, you pompous idiot," but while direct and accurate, such a response would have been against the spirit of civilized scientific discourse. You see, it's not all about graphs and charts and such.

E. Simon - 10/16/2006

Sounds like someone needs to brush up on their physics. Here's a good start:



Your polemical blather above, unless it can be supplemented by a single piece of data, theory, evidence, or even a single citation, does not add one iota to whatever hypothetical "debate" you seem to theorize either, least of all that one even seriously exists within science. A few eccentrics commenting outside of their specialty don't constitute a debate, which is probably what you manage to hit on in the start of your post.

Peter Kovachev - 10/16/2006

The "debate" appears somewhat one-sided here. The experts are either on the side of the "global warming" hypothesis (actually, human caused-global warmin) hypothesis, or as in the case Matt Chew,

There are serious opponents to this hypothesis, scientists who question the assumed human contributions to global warming, and indeed whether such is actually taking place, and if so, whether we have much to do with this and can therefore do anything about it. They question the quality and validity of the data, the soundness of the projection models, and the selective scrutiny and trumpeting of what may be natural cyclical events. Whether the "cynics" are in the minority or the majority is unimportant from a scientific perspective.

What is undeniable is that there is a lot of political activism behind this issue. My guess is that we are selectively observing events through means which are relatively new and that until we amass greater quantity of data under more stringent quality controls, it's possible to come up with almost any model or projection by tinkering with measurement methods and selection of data.

Mike Schoenberg - 10/16/2006

Too complacement. We have ice caps melting in Greenland, the permafrost bog is Siberia melting releasing methane to add insult to injury and you just wnat to say ehh. If we were to look at Global Warming as a chess game or war we would want to be prepared for what the enemy is doing. To do nothing with the threat and possibly wrecking the enviroment for our children and grand children in unacceptable.

John D. Beatty - 10/16/2006

The earth is warming. OK.

Humans are causing it. Maybe part of it.

It can be slowed. Probably not.

If all persons agree on the above, then what?

If no one agrees, then what?

If the "something" that some want to do cannot stop the phenomena, then what?

If the climate is changing (and we have been coming out of an ice age for a few centuries now), only a Boomer could imagine that they could stop it.

The historian's role is to interpret facts of human events (and maybe his environment). If the fact is incontrovertable, it is not the role of the historian to interpret selectively something that humans have never documented to suit their particular political view.