Guest essay by Jim Steele, Director emeritus Sierra Nevada Field Campus, San Francisco State University
Richard Feynman idealized the good scientist as someone who displays “a kind of scientific integrity, a principle of scientific thought that corresponds to a kind of utter honesty–a kind of leaning over backwards. For example, if you’re doing an experiment, you should report everything that you think might make it invalid–not only what you think is right about it: other causes that could possibly explain your results; and things you thought of that you’ve eliminated by some other experiment, and how they worked–to make sure the other fellow can tell they have been eliminated.”
In Episode 4 of Years of Living Dangerously while attempting to depict his resistance to “their science”, the producers inadvertently revealed that it was only climate skeptic Pastor Rick Joyner who truly practiced Feynman’s ideal.
In contrast the documentary’s producers demonstrated how one-sided political consensus building is practiced to evoke climate alarm. While Pastor Joyner leaned over backwards to understand his daughter’s global warming concerns, the documentary failed to report the science that might make the CO2 connection invalid. While Joyner embodies Albert Einstein’s advice to “Never Stop Questioning,” the documentary tries to subtly denigrate his questioning as a stubborn refusal to believe what the alarmist were preaching. In gross contrast to America’s public schools where coordinated efforts teach students how to resist peer pressure and think for themselves, the documentary offered no scientific discussion. They simply demonstrated that consensus is built via heavy peer pressure.
The documentary exploited the struggles of Apalachicola Bay’s oyster fishermen who have recently watched their oysters disappear as the bay has become increasingly saline due to low flows Apalachicola River. Pastor Joyner willingly boards 2 fishermen’s boat to witness the absence of oysters in their hauls, and then the documentary implies that it was CO2 climate change at the root of the fisherman’s suffering. Although sympathetic to the fishermen’s plight, Pastor Joyner maintained his skepticism and his stance is supported by most scientific studies.
Although the narrator briefly mentioned the fact that reduced flows in the Apalachicola River were partly due to increased upstream diversions, we never witness anyone sharing or discussing this alternative viewpoint with the pastor. Nor is anyone informed that during an earlier cool phase of the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, the droughts of the 1950s brought even less precipitation to the region, yet there was still greater river flow and less damage to the bay’s fisheries. In a 2008 report “Importance of River Flow to the Apalachicola River-Bay System”1 scientists reported, “A cumulative deficit evaluation of the drought events showed that the greatest cumulative rainfall deficit occurred during the mid 1950’s drought event, but the greatest flow deficit occurred during the 1999–2002 drought event.” The report warned, “With permanent reductions of Apalachicola River flow in the region related, in part, to reservoir and other recent water management practices, the adverse effects of natural droughts would be accentuated.”
If the documentary wanted to educate the public about the best practices of science, they would have examined all the facts including well know water management practices. But only Pastor Joyner seemed willing explore such alternative viewpoints. The producers’ efforts would have done more good, if they had tried to enlist the pastor’s influence to promote better watershed management. But the producers seemed intent on bending over backwards to suggest recent droughts were unnatural and caused by rising CO2. But our best scientists do not support that suggestion either.
Regards the droughts that affected the river’s flow, the NOAA Drought Task Force had reported that “the prior year’s southern Plains drought that spanned October 2010-August 2011, …existed owing to a strong sensitivity of that region to La Niña conditions.” In contrast the ocean surface patterns gave no warming of the looming 2012 drought, and climate scientists determined that year’s drought was “an event resulting largely from internal atmospheric variability having limited long lead predictability”2
The NOAA Drought Task Force concluded,
“Climate simulations and empirical analysis suggest that neither the effects of ocean surface temperatures nor changes in greenhouse gas concentrations produced a substantial summertime dry signal over the central Great Plains during 2012.”
Drought always causes higher temperatures, but curiously they also reported that given the lack of rainfall the high temperatures were not as high as expected writing, “The scatter plot shows that 2012 was the driest summer in the historical record, though the temperature anomaly of +2°C was exceeded by two prior summers — 1934 and 1936. Indeed, although the 2012 summer experienced less rainfall over the central Great Plains than in either 1934 or 1936, those years were about 0.5°C warmer.” Such observations contradict what we would predict if the region had been experiencing the additive effects of CO2 warming. That is likely due to the fact that the southeastern USA has been a “warming hole”3 that experienced a slight cooling trend between 1895 and 2007 even after climate scientists questionably adjusted the data as discussed in “Unwarranted Temperature Adjustments: Conspiracy or Ignorance?”
Instead of discussing all the science, the producers try to bludgeon Pastor Joyner with Christian peer pressure beginning with his daughter. Then Katherine Hayhoe visits and repeats the same simplistic arguments from episode 1. Then former U.S. Representative Bob Inglis piles on. Finally Pastor Joyner is brought to Dr. Richard Muller who has been hailed as the Koch-brothers-funded skeptic who now believes in CO2-caused warming. But the producers fail to mention that Muller’s homogenized instrumental data may suffer from the same biases illustrated in “Unwarranted Temperature Adjustments: Conspiracy or Ignorance?.” Or contrasting satellite data that shows the global average has not risen in 17 years.
Or that not one tree ring study (from locations where temperatures are not influenced by urbanization effects) supports Muller’s interpretation of rapidly rising temperatures. A paper by 10 of the world’s top dendrochronologists reported, “No current tree ring based reconstruction of extra-tropical Northern Hemisphere temperatures that extends into the 1990s captures the full range of late 20th century warming observed in the instrumental record.”4 In contrast to Muller’s reconstructions, a majority of the tree ring studies show a slight cooling since the 40s, despite the rise in during the 80s and 90s. This has been called the ‘divergence problem”.
Nor do the producers discuss with Pastor Joyner about Muller’s dubious suggestion that his reconstruction of the global average since the 1850s was due to CO2. Most climate scientists do not believe CO2 had a significant impact until after the 1950s. For example when discussing the abrupt warming in the Arctic from the 1920s to 40s, Sweden’s top climate scientist and IPCC member Lennart Bengtsson wrote:
“It seems unlikely that anthropogenic forcing on its own could have caused the warming, since the change in greenhouse gas forcing in the early decades of the twentieth century was only some 20% of the present. Second, it remains to be explained the marked cooling trend between 1940 and 1960, a period with a similar or faster increase of the greenhouse gases than between 1920 and 1940” [emphasis added]
As data accumulates Bengtsonn has become more skeptical but his shift to skepticism has not gotten the same media fanfare as Muller. Bengtsonn has become increasingly upset by the IPCC’s attempt to force a consensus, similar to the tactics employed by Years of Living Dangerously against Pastor Joyner. In a recent interview here Dr. Bengtsonn’s wrote,
“I believe the whole climate consensus debate is silly. There is not a single well educated scientist that question that greenhouse gases do affect climate. However, this is not the issue but rather how much and how fast. Here there is no consensus as you can see from the IPCC report where climate sensitivity varies with a factor of three! Based on observational data climate sensitivity is clearly rather small and much smaller that the majority of models.” [emphasis added]
The episode interspersed segments of applying peer pressure to Pastor Joyner, with 60 Minutes’ Lesley Stahl who visits Greenland to suggest rising CO2 has created unusual changes there. But Stahl failed to do her homework or ask the probing questions that 60 Minutes was once known for. For example she never asked about the research from climate scientists as Los Alamos National Laboratories who concluded:
“we find no direct evidence to support the claims that the Greenland ice sheet is melting due to increased temperature caused by increased atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide. The rate of warming from 1995 to 2005 was in fact lower than the warming that occurred from 1920 to 1930.” 6 [emphasis added]
As seen in their graph, Greenland temperatures show a more cyclical nature with more warmth in the 30s and 40s and in agreement with most tree ring studies.
The retreat of Greenland’s glaciers has been largely due to intruding warm waters driven by changes in natural ocean oscillations. Those ocean oscillations increased the flow of warm Gulf Stream waters that eventually bathe the coast of Greenland and islands in the Arctic Ocean. Those warm currents melted the bottoms of any glaciers that terminated in the ocean.
Greenland’s largest outlet glacier, Jakobshavn Isbrae, drains about 7% of the Greenland ice sheet and generates 10% of the Atlantic’s icebergs. During the Holocene Optimum beginning about 9000 years ago, Jakobshavn retreated further than its present day terminus and remained that way for almost 7000 years. It was only recently during the Little Ice Age, that Jakobshavn rapidly advanced several kilometers beyond today’s terminus.7
The North Atlantic Oscillation and Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation’s influences on warm ocean currents explain both Greenland’s cyclical temperature behavior and current glacial retreat. The glaciers’ most rapid 20th century retreat occurred between 1920 and 1950, followed by an advance in the 1970s and then a renewed retreat in 1998.7,8,9 [emphasis added]
The rapid retreat of Jakobshavn between 1920 and 1940, as well as in the 1990s, corresponds to North Atlantic regime shifts during which warm waters from the Atlantic were pushed into the Arctic. Marine biologists wrote, “The warming in the 1920s and 1930s is considered to constitute the most significant regime shift experienced in the North Atlantic in the 20th century.”10 Fishery biologists observed that “species of fish such as cod, haddock and herring expanded farther north while colder-water species such as capelin and polar cod retreated northward. The maximum-recorded movement involved cod, which spread approximately 1200 km northward along West Greenland.” The warm water and associated species lingered for 2 more decades before retreating in the 1960s.
We are all blinded by our illusions and we can only free ourselves from those illusions by careful observations, experiments and respectful debate. I was brought up in a devout Christian family but I am no longer a churchgoer. My parents and I differed on the concepts of evolution. However I still embrace their ideals embodied in the Golden Rule and Abraham’s devotion to knowing the greater truth. Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son to be closer to God is religion’s equivalent of Feynman’s ideal scientist who leans over backwards to prove that he has not been fooled by clinging to a cherished belief. Pastor Joyner embodied the best of his religion and science. He willingly ventured into the wilderness of climate alarmism and respectfully listened to a parade of opposing viewpoints. He allowed his daughter to share her opposing beliefs to his congregation. He demonstrates his faith that only the truth will set you free.
Compare Pastor Joyner’s actions to those of prominent global warming alarmists and ask who best demonstrates the integrity of Feynman’s ideal scientists and the pursuit of truth. Compare Pastor Joyner openness to David Suzuki’s demand that society “Deny the Deniers the Right to Deny.” Or top CO2 climate scientist Kevin Trenberth’s Joint Presidential Session on Communicating Climate Change speech titled “Communicating Climate Science And Thoughts On Climategate” when he advises fellow scientists to act contrary to scientific ideals. Branding skeptics as deniers he condescends, “Debating them about the science is not an approach that is recommended. In a debate it is impossible to counter lies, and caveated statements show up poorly against loudly proclaimed confident statements that often have little or no basis”. And in the published versions provides a cartoon proclaiming skeptics are the world’s greatest threat.
Accordingly climate alarmists have circled the wagons and refused to debate with climate skeptics, preferring hit pieces such as Years of Living Dangerously. Climate modeler Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann’s side kick on the RealClimate website, would only appear on John Stossel’s show if there was no face to face debate and skeptic scientist Dr. Roy Spencer removed himself while Schmidt was on stage. And Michael Mann, the creator of the hockey stick interpretation of climate change not only calls everyone who disagrees with his viewpoint a denier but anti-science. But it is only via thorough skeptical examination that challenges every hypothesis does a scientific opinion become trustworthy. But climate alarmists like Mann demean any and all who question CO2 as deniers, as if the truth has been already determined. They promote their view on websites and op-ed pieces encouraging a new intellectual tyranny aimed at shutting down all skeptics.
I suggest they will be better scientists if they emulated Pastor Joyner, and listen to all sides, promote more debate, and then let the truth lead us wherever it may.
Cited Scientific Literature that supports Pastor Joyner’s Skepticism
1. Livingston (2008) Importance of River Flow to the Apalachicola River-Bay System.
Report to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection
2. An Interpretation of the Origins of the 2012 Central Great Plains Drought
Assessment Report. NOAA Drought Task Force.
3. Menne. M., (2009) The U.S. Historical Climatology Network Monthly Temperature Data, version 2. The Bulletin for the American Meterological Society. p. 993-1007
4. Wilson (2007) Matter of divergence: tracking recent warming at hemispheric scales using tree-ring data. Journal of Geophysical Research–A, 112, D17103, doi: 10.1029/2006JD008318.
5. Bengtsson, L., et al., (2004) The Early Twentieth-Century Warming in the Arctic—A Possible Mechanism. Journal of Climate, vol. 445-458
6. Chylek, P., et al. (2006) Greenland warming of 1920–19 30 and 1995–2005. Geophysical Research Letters, vol. 33, L11707, doi:10.1029/2006GL026510
7. Young, N., et al., (2011) Response of Jakobshavn Isbræ, Greenland, to Holocene climate Change. Geology, vol. 39, p. 131‑134.
8. Motyka, R., et al. (2010) Submarine melting of the 1985 Jakobshavn Isbræ floating tongue and the triggering of the current retreat. Journal of Geophysical Research, vol. 116, F01007, doi:10.1029/2009JF001632
9. Csatho, B., et al., (2008) Intermittent thinning of Jakobshavn Isbræ, West Greenland, since the Little Ice Age. Journal of Glaciology, vol. 54, p. 131‑145.
10. Drinkwater, K. (2006) The regime shift of the 1920s and 1930s in the North Atlantic. Progress in Oceanography vol. 68, p.134–151.
Greenland discussion adapted from the chapter “Many Ways to Shrink a Glacier” in Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism
Read previous essays at landscapesandcycles.net