Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach
After years of getting up at 4 AM to go commercial fishing, these days I generally have as little to do with dawn as possible. But last Sunday, I found myself in the Palm Springs airport at 5 AM, boarding a plane to Chicago to go speak at the ICCC7. The Conference is put on by the Heartland Institute, which has had real trouble getting any publicity this year. So I figured I’d go give them a hand …
My connecting flight out of Denver was delayed so I didn’t get to Chicago until the afternoon, and I figured I’d just roll into town. As the world always turns out, things were not quite that simple … because the Conference was being held at the Chicago Hilton Hotel, which was also hosting the NATO Conference and the inevitable associated protests.
Since the main staging ground for the protestors was in the park across the street from the Hilton, the police had barricades up all around there, many of the roads were closed entirely, and my bus couldn’t even drive up to the front door. It dropped us two blocks away, and I had to schlepp my luggage to the hotel. Nor did the fun stop there. Because there were a variety of heads of state staying in the Hilton, there were Secret Service people from a dozen nations all over the hotel. It was like being in some alternate reality where every second person is a policeman … quite strange.
But that was just the surrounding storm. The Conference was another matter, I enjoyed it greatly. Judith Curry has a very catty post up at her blog attacking both Heartland and the Conference, I don’t know why.
Let me start by saying that I have many disagreements with the Heartland folks, and that I went and spoke anyway. Let me see if I can explain why.
For the majority of my life, I’ve been a social liberal and a fiscal conservative. This puts me at odds with both political parties. It also puts me in a very different group than most of the Heartland folks. But that’s all just the personalities. Judith Curry said “I’ve looked at the program, nothing in particular caught my interest, I’ve seen previous presentations from most of the scientific participants.” However, for me, the value in conferences is rarely in the presentations or in the personalities or the political positions—it is in meeting, discussing, and interacting with the participants in the times between the presentations.
So for example I got to spend a delightful hour wandering over to the shore of Lake Michigan with Lucia Liljegren of The Blackboard, who turns out to be as charming, witty and lovely as she is intelligent. I got to meet one of the Moderators of WUWT that I had never met. I got to spend some time with Dr. Willie Soon, whose exuberance and passion seems never-ending, and who gave me some new information of volcanoes and mercury. I got to reconnect with Dr. Craig Loehle, my co-author on our recent paper, who I rarely get to see in the flesh. I got to talk with Anthony Watts, who I usually see only once or twice in a year. Those are the kinds of interactions that are of great value to me.
I also found a number of the presentations to be quite interesting. US Representative Jim Sensenbrenner discussed some of the political intricacies surrounding the attempt to bring reason to the US Government’s role in the climate issues. Václav Klaus, the President of the Czech Republic, gave a fascinating talk about how he sees the underlying issues in the climate debates. And a number of the scientific presentations were interesting. Yes, as Judith said, I’ve read and heard much of the science before … but it was a chance to directly ask questions of the scientists, which is always a treat.
Finally, it was a chance to talk to some of the Heartland folks. As I said, I have many differences with them. I felt, for example, that their billboard showing the Unabomber was simultaneously true, meaningless, repulsive, and a very self-destructive, unpleasant, and foolish venture into guilt by association. I have said many times that it doesn’t matter whether a statement is made by the head of Greenpeace or written on a bathroom wall. What is important, the only thing that is important, is whether or not it is true. And it matters just as little who believes it as it matters who said it. I can understand their frustration at being the unending target of attacks that are just as vicious and ugly, but “tu quoque” (which is basically Latin for “but Mommy, he did it first”) works no better for adults then it does for children.
But Heartland is no different from any of the other organizations involved in climate change, from Greenpeace to WWF … except that its budget is much smaller, and as far as I know, it doesn’t harass the Greenpeace funders the way that Greenpeace harasses those who fund Heartland. Greenpeace is famous for their unpleasant and intimidating “we know where you live” attitude.
But all of these organizations try to push their own beliefs and ideas, so I don’t understand the opposition to Heartland for doing just that. If you want to get upset about the ethics, people should be as upset about harassment of funders as they are about billboards.
I was also surprised by Judith’s claim that Heartland is “losing the battle”, citing in support articles by the well-known fraud Susanne Goldenberg of the “neutral” media outlet, The Guardian … Judith, for many of us, citing Suzanne Goldenberg marks you as someone who isn’t paying attention. She’s the one who recently flat-out lied about Gleick’s actions, you believe her at your own peril and you cite her at no small cost to your reputation for due diligence regarding the honesty of your sources.
My strong sense from talking to Joe and Diane Bast and some of the Heartland staff is that although there have been some losses from the attacks on the funders whose names were revealed by the mail fraud perpetrated by Peter Gleick, as well as from the billboard fiasco, the Heartland folks are most definitely alive, doing well, and still kicking. Sure, they lost some funders, but they have gained others. And as usual, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog, and I don’t detect any slackening in their fighting spirit. My conclusion is, Suzanne Goldenberg’s rumors of Heartland’s death are greatly exaggerated, which is just more of Suzanne’s usual misdirection, falsehoods, and fallacies.
But that doesn’t mean that I agree with a number of the Heartland political positions or those of their followers. For example I sat next to a lovely woman one dinner who was a firm believer in Intelligent Design. She made an argument for intelligent design which was that when we see a watch, we don’t assume that it was a random creation. Instead, we assume that there is a watchmaker.
I’d heard that argument before, but never given it much thought. So I considered it for a few moments, and I replied that if we were to accept that argument, that the job wasn’t done. She asked, what did I mean that the job wasn’t done?
I said that if a complex watch implies a more complex human maker of the watch, and by implication if a complex human watchmaker implies an even more complex maker of the human watchmaker … then by exactly the same logic, the complex watchmaker-maker she called “God” implies an even more complex maker of the watchmaker-maker … and on ad infinitum. In other words, if we are to assume that a complex watch necessarily implies a more complex and intelligent watchmaker, then a complex God must imply an even more complex and intelligent God-maker, and so on …
Clearly she had never considered that her argument contained the seeds of its own destruction … but to my surprise she was honest enough to say so, and to say that she had no counter-argument. I admired her for that. But it was a clear example of the generally large distance between myself and a number of folks at the Conference. For example, I think that human beings require regulations, or else people will piss in the drinking water. To me it’s a no-brainer, we’ve proved that many, many times in a host of realms. But a lot if not most of the participants seemed to see any and all regulations as tools of the devil incarnate … not me.
As I said above, however, that wasn’t the point, that’s not the science, that’s just the personalities and the political and religious beliefs. For me, the science, and the opportunities to discuss the science with the scientists, transcends all of that. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and I can live with that.
My conclusions from the Conference were that overturning the current climate science paradigms and the AGW supporters’ activism and malfeasance is going to be a long, slow slog. People like Suzanne Goldenberg want to prematurely claim either victory for their side, or the defeat of their opponents’ side … me, I think this will take years to settle. And more importantly, as far as I can see, neither Heartland nor I have any intention of giving up that fight.
And that for me was the main lesson from the Conference.
PS—On the last day, I walked around the block for some exercise. Upon returning to the Hilton, I noticed a man holding a sign that from a distance read “THE WORLD IS FLAT”. As I came closer, I noted that there was small print, and his whole sign said “The Heartland Institute says THE WORLD IS FLAT”. I stopped and said to him I’d never seen such a statement from Heartland … he said well, no, but “a number” of the Board of Directors think the world is flat. How do you know that, I asked? They’re that kind of people, he said. Ahh, I thought, another follower of Suzanne Goldenberg.
He asked, wasn’t I was ashamed be associated with an organization that gets its money from “giant corporations”? I said that Greenpeace and WWF historically have gotten big donations from the giant oil companies, wasn’t he ashamed to be associated with them?
He said that it was OK for them to take oil money from giant oil corporations, because Greenpeace and WWF do good work … I sighed, and went back into the hotel to listen to something logical and understandable …