Climate Bullies, the Surrealists of Science
Popular perceptions about climate appear surrealistic to me. I'm a seasoned science geek who has been involved in big-time climate modeling, serious mathematics, theory, and more. Popular discussions of this subject have come to look like a Salvador Dali painting, as once noted by Dr. Robert Carter, a well-known Australian marine geologist and paleontologist.
Here's just a taste of the surrealism. Culture has not only given us oxygen-free carbon dioxide (e.g. "carbon credits," "carbon taxes," and of course President Barack Obama's own "carbon pollution"), but also "carbon-free sugar." Check out the latter yourself at Domino Sugar. I especially like the official-looking seal on the package that declares it "certified carbon free." Former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard's relentless drive to "decarbonize" led one of Australia's best political cartoonists, John Spooner, to draw her as a cup of water. I give him full credit for lifting the credibility of journalism singlehandedly.
If you strip the oxygen from carbon dioxide it works differently. The Canadian environmental activist and columnist David Suzuki, who no doubt got lost in surrealist language, missed this. He told his readers that carbon in automobile glass was the reason cars are hot on a sunny day. But glass is silicon, and the atmosphere works differently from cars on a sunny day, despite decades of earnest schoolteachers saying otherwise.
This kind of Dali-painted science is nothing to base the fate of the world on, let alone the expenditure of quadrillions of dollars. But that does not bug me as much as the fact that the Dali paint is virtually impossible to remove. Mistakes can be corrected, but these delusions defy correction. Every time you try to remove the paint or paint over in a new color, it just comes back when you aren't looking.
Surrealistically painted science isn't science. It is an interloper from the world of politics, where language and thinking work in a way that most scientists find mystifying, unattractive, and, well, wrong. Politicians grasp for popular perceptions rather than physical reality. To win perceptions, politicians must "toe the line." But science cannot work by toeing lines. People don't become scientists to worship knowledge; they become scientists to question it.
The well-worn "consensus" mantra about climate is actually about toeing the line. It is a political construct, not a scientific one. There is good reason why being argumentative is a part of science culture. No matter what dogmatic line is imposed, it will suit some scientists and not suit others. Thus resistance to the climate dogma was guaranteed from the start. The enormous scale in this case has set up a historic clash between political dogma and science, which we all have been living through.
Let me decode some of the more surrealistic language to hint at what history will see when it looks back at this clash. The term "science" is actually used to describe the dogma. Complaints that some people are "anti-science" are actually complaints that those people are not toeing the line. The statement, "climate change is real," which has dubious scientific meaning, serves as an oath of compliance. Pesky, questioning scientists who won't go away are derided variously as "dissidents," "climate criminals," "deniers," "contrarians," and "skeptics." It's easy to overlook the resistance from science because this paint has been sprayed on so thick. But it is also very telling: Non-skeptics aren't scientists.
Let's use Robert Carter to make this concrete. He's a distinguished scientist and a sensible, good-humored, fair-minded gentleman as well. But he does not toe lines. In the best scientific tradition, he has been commenting about his recent work as coauthor of the latest Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change (NIPCC) report, consisting of more than a thousand peer-reviewed pages citing nearly 4,000 peer-reviewed articles. It is transparently an independent competitor to the United Nations' new IPCC report, but with more optimistic conclusions.
Instead of engaging in scientific debate, normal in science, dogmatists leveled personal accusations against the NIPCC authors, who are, naturally, enemies of line-toeing and thus deserving of no mercy. A plethora of incoherent, incomprehensible charges were leveled against Dr. Carter specifically, about the very idea of the NIPCC, and everything associated with it, in a rambling open letter to the head of the BBC. It called on the latter to ensure that Dr. Carter, and anyone like him, would never be heard from again.
This is not new or unique. For example, the Los Angeles Times recently revealed its letters policy on climate: It allows only letters that toe the line, because otherwise, well, they would not be "factual." At this late stage of the climate fervor, no politically denounced scientist finds this at all novel. But it is remarkable how effortlessly such a brazenly unbalanced policy is rationalized. The editor's explanation was reminiscent of the justification for using psychiatric hospitals to incarcerate political dissidents in the Soviet Union: You have to be crazy to oppose socialism.
This is more than mere cultural distortion; it's a premeditated political tactic. Activist organizations, such as Greenpeace, post bizarre definitions of free speech on the web that practically write the Times's letters policy and make the incoherent complaint letter to the BBC seem lucid. Free speech, for them, excludes those with views they deem incorrect. This dressed-up totalitarianism is defective on many levels, but, for science, particularly, brilliant discoveries famously look incorrect at first, so this just won't do.
Activist organizations maintain outrageous smear sites solely devoted to disparaging the reputations of scientists who don't comply. There has been a protracted PR war against those scientists that has even penetrated science journals. In contrast, those that didn't resist have been beneficiaries of social lionization and big government grants. The naturally fractious scientific community has been effortlessly polarized and paralyzed by the carrot and stick, setting back our progress in knowledge by a generation. Instead of scientists educating the political world about Misters Navier and Stokes, the political world has been educating scientists about Mister Alinsky.
Surreal language is only the tip of the iceberg. Hide-the-decline Climategate revealed to all the enormity of the distorting effects of the carrot and stick. Moreover, the term "denial" got new meaning with the release of the latest UN climate summary, proving to everyone that surreal science is a dead end. You may recall the popular climate slogans following the previous seemingly endless UN emanations over the decades (e.g. "the science is in" and "the debate is over"). None say them now with a straight face.
The political movement behind this is cutting its losses. Connie Hedegaard of the EU recently said it does not matter what climate science says, their green policies are still right. This simplifies the story: Global bullies have been trying to beat up the science geeks in the parking lot after school, and it did not work. Nature has been giving the bullies the stick. We are still here, and we are not going away. We demand our science back! Also, we demand the release of those other geeks whose views happened to be consistent with the "consensus." They've had their carrots, and we need them to argue with about actual science.
Dr. Christopher Essex (firstname.lastname@example.org) is chairman of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Climate for the World Federation of Scientists and professor and associate chair of the Department of Applied Mathematics at the University of Western Ontario.