Guest opinion: Dr. Tim Ball
In his fascinating 1950 book “Unpopular Essays,” mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote that
“Most of the greatest evils that man has inflicted upon man have come through people feeling quite certain about something which, in fact, is false.”
He explained how the nature of people made such inflictions possible.
The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. So long as men are not trained to withhold judgment in the absence of evidence, they will be led astray by cocksure prophets, and it is likely that their leaders will be either ignorant fanatics or dishonest charlatans. To endure uncertainty is difficult, but so are most of the other virtues.
Over the last fifty years the evil inflicted involved exploitation of a new and necessary idea – environmentalism and its subset global warming.
The “cock-sure prophets” are environmentalists and global warming advocates who push the claim that only they know and care about the environment. They are secular proselytizers of the new paradigm of environmentalism, which they turned into the religion of environmentalism. After 20 years the doom and gloom predictions they made and scares they inflicted proved incorrect, while those who said they were wrong are proving correct.
A paradigm shift is a significant change in approach or assumptions of a society that takes everything in a different direction; it happened with the shift to environmentalism. Most people are slow to accept a new paradigm because they fear change. They know that when a change occurs some get hurt and some benefit and fear they will get hurt. However, there is always a small group who grab the paradigm shift and exploit it for their agenda either financial or political or both. They become the “cock-sure prophets”.
We are all environmentalists, but a few grabbed the title and claimed only they cared about the environment and preached to us from that moral high ground. Global warming became the major vehicle for their political attack on developed societies because it transcended national boundaries and demanded a one-world government response. They created and spread a multitude of scare stories about different aspects of the environment to perpetuate the lie. H. L. Mencken succinctly explained the objective in two quotes,
The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it. Power is what all messiahs really seek: not the chance to serve. This is true even of the pious brethren who carry the gospel to foreign parts.
The stories are a mix of macro and micro issues all built around the claim that they are the direct or indirect result of human existence, exacerbated by industrial progress. The list of macros included desertification, deforestation, extinction of species, habitation loss, rising sea levels, destruction of the ozone layer, hazardous waste sites, asbestos contamination, acid rain, and ocean acidification among others. The list of micro issues is longer and includes, sheep going blind in Chile, frogs born deformed, lower human sperm counts, coral reefs destroyed, a multitude of animal populations in decline, and on and on ad nausea.
I know from serving on many commissions of inquiry that only limited investigation reveals very different truths. This experience includes chairing panels to resolve supposed environmental challenges including threats to air, soil, water, and forests. I chaired the Hazardous Waste Committee of the City of Winnipeg and provided evidence for trials involving weather, climate, and environmental issues. The difference between the media reports, public understanding and the facts was vast and frightening, but despite this, the stories drive public policy. Few politicians dare to challenge and so they create unnecessary, inappropriate and often damaging policy. Like modern crusaders they don the cloak of green, not to deal with the facts but to deflect charges that they don’t care.
The media report these stories because sensationalism sells and they accept without question the claims of the extent of our impact on the environment. In the US, the media fail to fulfill the role defined by the Founding Fathers at the Continental Congress in 1776.
The last right we shall mention regards the freedom of the press. The importance of this consists, besides the advancement of truth, science, morality, and arts in general, in its diffusion of liberal sentiments on the administration of Government, its ready communication of thoughts between subjects, and its consequential promotion of union among them, whereby oppressive officers are shamed or intimidated into more honourable and just modes of conducting affairs.
They did not identify the role of academics, likely because they assumed they would pursue the truth. In fact, academics manifest the problems that develop when you are on welfare. As Henry Canby said,
Arrogance, pedantry, and dogmatism are the occupational diseases of those who spend their lives directing the intellects of the young.
A few academics question the prevailing wisdom by design or accident and immediately experience attacks, which includes expulsion to isolate. Judith Curry is now well aware of what happens.
Aaron Wildavsky was a political scientist, specializing in public policy, government budgeting, and risk management. Wildavsky confronted what Michael Crichton identified as the biggest challenge facing mankind. In a 2003 speech to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco he said,
I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.
Wildavsky set out to determine the truth about environmental threats by using the proper scientific method of posing a question and testing it with experiments. The question he posed was, “But is it true?” that later became the title of his posthumously published (1995) book. The experiment involved graduate students with no science degrees asking the question and seeking the origin and validity of the various environmental stories.
A 1995 article summarized some of the findings;
• “The ban on DDT, one of the first great triumphs of modern environmentalism (and a tribute to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring), did “more harm than good.”
• Despite the hysterical fears of parents, asbestos in schools poses no detectable danger to children.
• There is no evidence that acid rain poses significant danger to the environment except in a few isolated places (such as some high-altitude forests).
• Most hazardous waste sites (including such notorious ones as Love Canal in upstate New York and Times Beach in Missouri) posed no significant danger to residents. The government’s extraordinarily costly Superfund program for cleaning up such sites is, on the whole, a waste of money.
• There is no credible evidence to support fears of global warming.
• “there is no clear evidence of global ozone depletion,” that there is good reason to believe that what depletion there may have been has nothing to do with CFCs and that there are “strong indications that the harm from [ozone] depletion will vary from little to none.”
Today, 20+ years later, the validity of these findings is confirmed. They are all victims of what Wildavsky identified as the basic flaw of absolutism in environmentalism. He asked,
“What norm states that health is the only value or even the dominant value?” “Whatever happened to other values? How much is a marginal gain in health worth compared with losses in other values such as freedom, justice, and excellence?”
In an entry for The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics, Wildavsky anticipated the ascendancy of government bureaucracies as politicians didn’t ask questions and covered themselves with the cloak of green.
Since the late 1950s, the regulation of risks to health and safety has taken on ever-greater importance in public policy debates—and actions. In its efforts to protect citizens against hard-to-detect hazards such as industrial chemicals and against obvious hazards in the workplace and elsewhere, Congress has created or increased the authority of the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and other administrative agencies.
Appearing before the Canadian parliamentary hearing on ozone I abandoned my prepared presentation. I realized quickly while listening to evidence and questioning of others that the politicians didn’t understand the scientific method. They didn’t realize that a scientific hypothesis is scientific speculation and assumed it was fact. I provided a scientific speculation based on evidence.
· Earth’s rotational speed is reducing.
· The magnetic field has weakened for 1000 years.
· If it continues at the current rate, the field will disappear in approximately 120 years.
· Some evidence indicates mass extinctions associated with previous collapses.
· Protection from some harmful solar radiation is gone.
· Some claim DNA is particularly vulnerable to exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
I asked what my government planned to do to prevent this threat? I told them I could produce dozens of such speculative threats. Their challenge was to know which ones were valid and to establish priorities because they could not deal with them all. Wildavsky provides an excellent synopsis of risk and priorities in the Encyclopedia of Economics article titled “Risk and Safety.”
Global warming was another untested scientific hypothesis, just like all the others. They never asked the fundamental scientific method question, but is it true? Instead, they attacked those who tried to ask. Global warming was bigger than all the other false threats as evidenced by the 2015 Paris Climate Conference. It was wrapped in the wider environmental envelope by powerful people who assumed the speculation was fact. The best place to see the worst confusion and display of gross misunderstanding created by accepting speculation as fact is the Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si” from Pope Francis. It is a paper that should fail as a first-year university course or High school research paper. It lacks evidence, fails to explain mechanisms, lacks objectivity, and fails to consider development and progress as part of natural human evolution. Sadly, it received a high grade from “cock-sure prophets, the media, academics, and teachers who represent and perpetuate societies demand for certainty.