(Note: The is a reply to Warren S. Warren’s guest post here – Anthony)
By Roger Cohen
First I would like to say that I respect Warren greatly. He has been very energetic in his support of the APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate (GPC) and contributed substantially to its development. There is no doubt that he “owns” the GPC, and it is very reasonable that he would try to defend it. We have certainly strongly disagreed on some matters, but I have been impressed by Warren’s openness to new data and new evidence.
Here are a few problems with his post.
First, after all is said and done, the fact remains that non scientific activities were routinely used to exclude proposed speakers whose findings do not support climate doctrine, while known public advocates were given a pass, and that consequently the program reflects this imbalance. Whether it was religious belief, or an endorsement of the “wrong side” in a newspaper OpEd, or the vague charge that a person was simply “too adversarial,” any stick that could be used to beat on an opposition speaker was suitable ammunition to exclude that speaker. This despite the fact that the science in question had been peer reviewed and published. But advocates sailed through without so much as a question. Indeed if notable IPCCers such as Susan Solomon and Kerry Emmanuel had not declined their enthusiastically proffered invitations, the advocates would have run the table. In that case Israeli physicist Nir Shaviv, who finds results in opposition to the doctrine, would not have made the roster from his position as “back up speaker.” Even so, he is the only one of seven invited speakers chosen by GPC whose science does not conform to the doctrine, and even he was proposed under the condition that he present “both sides,” a requirement not applied to any other speaker. The old saying applies here: “If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then… it’s a duck.” Plenty of quacking in the GPC.
Then what should we make of the notion that, well, I am not a real “skeptic” because I may be associated with a decidedly non skeptical activity in carbon control. Here again I am at a loss to understand how this bears on the quacking. But Warren’s diversions into this arena and all manner of other irrelevancies are an object lesson in how some of my former compatriots reflexively cloud the real issue with unrelated fog; in this same fashion, all manner of extraneous non scientific objections were raised against proposed speakers with a skeptical inclination. The fact is that my criticisms of GPC bear on what science is exposed – and what isn’t — in a matter of great scientific controversy, not on whether one is a skeptic.
But yes, a few years ago I helped an old friend and colleague launch a privately funded start-up in CO2 air extraction technology. He and I, along with a few other principals even published a paper on it in that bastion of climate skepticism, “Energy and Environment.” (regular commenter Richard Courtney may recall that he reviewed it). But why do this if the CO2 issue is a non problem? Well, I am quite sure that that it is a non problem, but there is a small but finite probability that I am wrong. Thus, it might make sense to have a viable, cheap insurance policy on the table. However, the favored government measures of cap-and-trade and carbon taxes are absurdly expensive; the policy premium is larger than the risk being insured. Geoengineering is also absurd. The air extraction venture could be such a cheap policy, though much R, D & E remains to be done, and right now none of your tax dollars is paying for it. Thus it is a hedged strategy – something one does a lot of in industrial research and planning, where I spent my career.
Finally in order to claim some measure of balance in a completely imbalanced GPC program, Warren seeks to take credit for the GPC for inviting the well known skeptic Richard Lindzen. In a comment he writes, “In addition, Richard Lindzen (MIT) will be speaking at the March meeting, having earlier accepted an invitation to speak in a different session.” Warren neglects to mention that the “different session” was in fact set up by a completely different APS group which GPC had nothing to do with. Professor Lindzen’s invitation came from the Forum on International Physics (FIP), not the GPC. Without anyone in GPC knowing it, this separate and independent group developed an excellent diverse speakers program of international scope, including Professor Lindzen. When GPC Executive Committee members learned of this session, it explicitly refused the opportunity to cosponsor it. Thus we have the spectacle of the Topical Group on the Physics of Climate refusing to formally acknowledge another APS group’s efforts within the field of climate physics. The good news is that there is indeed a spark of objective science focus alive within the APS, but it is not in GPC.
Warren is right when he writes that the GPC “has the potential to dramatically improve the scientific discourse in this field.” Alas, what we have right now is a deeply flawed and biased APS Topical Group on the Physics of Climate. It desperately needs real oversight to ensure that fairness prevails. Until then it will lack credibility. Perhaps this incident will provide the impetus to bring about such a course correction. Let us hope.