Latest posts by H. Sterling Burnett (see all)
A couple of weeks ago, I had an editorial published in CNS News, lambasting claims made by Bill Nye, the so-called “science guy,” in an interview touting his new climate alarmist book. The article was shared more than 5,300 times within a few days and garnered more than 500 comments before the comment section was closed. Clearly the article struck a nerve.
As can be imagined with so widely shared an article, it generated a great deal of traffic to my Heartland e-mail. Some comments were complimentary, others not so much with some being downright nasty, abusive, crude and rude. I responded to several, thanking people for their compliments and/or directing them to further information, responding to respectful critics with further evidence backing my claims and ignored ignorant, abusive e-mails entirely (or at, at most, derided them for being ignorant and abusive while shedding no light on the issue).
One e-mail I received was particularly thoughtful and inquisitive and, though I suspected the questioner’s mind was not as open to evidence as he claimed, I thought merited a response. Said response, sparked and exchange of emails and I want to describe a bit of the discussion which took place because it sheds light on what climate realists are up against even when trying to educate those with supposedly open minds.
The first e-mail requested peer reviewed research denying anthropomorphic climate change was a reality, and brought up the 97 percent consensus claim.
After correcting him on his mistakenly referring to ‘anthropomorphic’ climate change when I was sure he meant ‘anthropogenic.’ I explained that scholarly research papers don’t typically simply say, humans are causing climate change or humans aren’t causing climate change rather they address factors which tend to support or undermine specific claims concerning the general theory that human activities, primarily through the burning of fossil fuels which release carbon dioxide, are causing a general warming of the planet that could cause catastrophic changes to the climate. I then listed a number of scholars and provided links to some articles in which scientists have raised significant questions concerning fundamental issues with the general cause and effect relation of carbon dioxide to temperature, the reliability of climate models concerning temperature predictions, and projections of specific climate related problems people who buy into AGW have predicted would likely arise do to climate change such as ice disappearing in Antarctica and sea levels rising more quickly than has been the case historically, or predictions about hurricanes. I directed him to a number of scholars who have written on climate matters and who reject at least some part of the claims made concerning AGW. I also provided links to the Vitae’s of a number of skeptical scientists I cited to so he could find more articles where they had produced research rejecting either the claims human greenhouse gas emission are the primary cause of present climate change, or dispute the projected sensitivity of the earth’s climate to carbon dioxide emissions as built into the assumptions concerning feedbacks of climate models, or while believing human greenhouse gas emissions are contributing to a degree to warming, they don’t think the warming is particularly dramatic or the consequences dangerous.
He responded that many of the articles, because they acknowledged humans were increasing greenhouse gas concentrations, they also acknowledged we were causing some increase in temperature, but of course he ignored the fact that the real work of the AGW scenario’s, the factors that were “enhancing” warming and threatening disastrous changes, were various assumed feedback mechanisms, which some of the papers I cited challenged as being woefully overstated. According to many skeptics, the earth is simply not as sensitive to changes in carbon dioxide emissions as general circulation models, and IPCC projections, assume. The “feedbacks” either don’t exist, or don’t work as proposed.
In my second response, I provide more links to establish some ground for him to acknowledge the legitimacy of skepticism concerning AGW, and to address one of his concluding remarks, “Even if our contribution to climate change is on the small side, we cannot argue that the environmental destruction we’re causing (in terms of habitat destruction and gross pollution) is not caused in part by our incessant need for oil to fuel our economy.”
To which I responded, “Concerning your most important question, environmental destruction, I suspect you and I simply disagree concerning the normative implications of fossil fuel use. I see it as a great liberating force, leading hundreds of millions out of poverty, while you see it as leading to environmental destruction. I point you to this column of mine concerning the matter, I’ve provided the link but it is behind a paywall now — even I the author can’t access it so I’ve pasted a word version below:
Fossil Fuels or Death: You Choose
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D.
“How many people do you want to kill or let die?”
That’s how I’ll respond from now one to anyone who argues we should end or sharply restrict fossil fuel use to prevent global warming.
Arguing the science has no effect on global warming alarmists. They are immune to facts and stick to models and fallacious arguments from authority.
Climate models say temperature should climb right along with the rise in CO2 emissions, yet emissions rose from the 40’s through the 70’s when scientists were warning of the next ice age. And for the past two decades CO2 emissions have continued to rise, yet temperatures have been in a holding pattern for the last 18 years.
Models say we should see more intense hurricanes, yet for nearly a decade the U.S. has experienced far below average hurricanes making landfall, and they have been no more powerful than previously experienced. Sea level rise has slowed, polar bear numbers have increased, the Antarctic ice sheet has set new records month over month and even the arctic is back to average ice levels for the decade. None of these trends are consistent with model predictions, yet alarmists ignore facts because controlling human lives is their underlying goal, thus they cling to failed models to claim disaster is in the offing if humans don’t change their ways.
Arguing economics is equally ineffective.
Multiple analyses show, economically, the best response to the challenges posed by global warming, would be to use fossil fuels to grow peoples’ wealth globally, and adapt to climate changes as they come – basically doing what humans have done throughout history.
In The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, author Alex Epstein makes a key point, “Climate is no longer a major cause of deaths, thanks in large part to fossil fuels. … The popular climate discussion . . . looks at man as a destructive force for climate livability, one who makes the climate dangerous because we use fossil fuels. In fact, the truth is the exact opposite; we don’t take a safe climate and make it dangerous; we take a dangerous climate and make it safe.”
Humans have long fought a war with climate, and where we’ve won it has been through the use of technology, most recently including, the use of fossil fuels.
While there are many differences between developed economies and developing economies, one critical difference is the widespread availability and use of fossil fuels to improve living conditions. People in countries using abundant fossil fuels, live longer, have fewer infant deaths, are healthier, are more educated and are much wealthier on average than people who live without coal, oil and natural gas. This is not coincidence as wealth, health, education, etc., after remaining virtually stagnant for most of human history, began to improve dramatically coincident with and in large part because of our discovery of the ability to transform coal, oil and gas into fuel that powered the industrial revolution.
In the West, fossil fuels light homes, making work and an active home life possible after dark without the use of dung, wood and tallow, thus preventing millions of preventable deaths from respiratory disease. Conversely, lack of fossil fuels condemns millions to early deaths from respiratory disease in Africa and Asia. Children who die in Africa from malnutrition or starvation do so because they lack access to the quality and quantities of food made available to the West through fossil fuel dependent industrial agriculture and transportation.
Lives are saved in modern hospitals due to fossil fuels: from the gasoline fueling emergency vehicles, to the electricity keeping the lights, computers, climate controls and refrigeration on. Electricity runs incubators that save premature babies lives, and respirators that keep people breathing until they can breathe on their own. Electricity runs the machines sterilizing instruments and conducting MRI’s, X-rays, C-T scans and all of the other tests and technologies that allow medical professionals to predict, diagnose and treat the many diseases and injuries humans suffer each year. Electricity delivers safe drinking water, and fossil fuels make the plastics that are used in hospital blood and medicine bags, tubes, wiring and even furniture.
Ask yourself, would you want to be treated at a hospital without these life-saving technologies? And ask yourself, why should the poor around the world live without these modern wonders in pursuit of some ideal vision of the perfect climate?”
In the end, it comes down to right and wrong. Meaning how many people are climate alarmists willing to let die prematurely, to satisfy their perverse desire to end the use of fossil fuels.
He responded to my response with the hubris of youth. People like myself with more than 20 years experience in the field, had nothing to teach him because someone, somewhere had told him something that confirmed his prexisting beliefs on the matter — after all he had all the answers (just like many youth’s believe they do at his age). How do I know he felt his way? After telling me he was glad my article was behind a paywall, that way, I guess it couldn’t be used to confuse or misinform others he stated what I suspected from the start:
“The arguments posited in your article are misinformed at best. I’m glad it’s stuck behind a paywall. Actually one of the main reasons for my interest in talking to you was to find out if you were woefully misinformed, willfully ignorant or just a cynic in it for the money. I actually can’t tell, so I guess I’ve failed in that regard. I honestly can’t understand how you think that fossil fuels are good for anyone. There are so many ecological disasters caused by the extraction and consumption of fossil fuels.”
So there we have it, it can’t be my honest assessment of the facts that lead me to skepticism — since he never addresses the facts I present, its either I am ignorant or misinformed, or I’m in it for the money. Going further he states, “I know the Heartland institute is paid to promote fossil fuels, so your job depends on your ideology…” Ah, yes, ad hominem the ultimate response of the closed minded and fanatical.
Concerning the ecological disasters of fossil fuels, he cites wikipedia, the ultimate source of information, for today’s college kids. Were I still teaching, I would mark any student down a grade for using a citation from wikipedia to support his or her argument. He got the information from about Heartland’s funding sources from an even more questionable source “Sourcewatch.”
Then, with no one but himself as a judge he declared, “I’m walking away from this knowing I’ve won this debate; the facts, the papers, the consensus are on my side.” To which I would respond, 1. I didn’t know we were in a debate (you asked questions, I answered — and he lied about his motives, saying he was open minded and seeking the truth while later admitting he really just wanted to determine whether I was a liar, stupid or a paid shill), 2. consensus is a political term having no standing in scientific discourse, and 3. no facts he presented showed humans are causing catastrophic climate change. But, of course, to him, despite his protestations the contrary, the truth didn’t really matter, he already had his mind made up.
He goes on to admit that our use of “filthy” fossil fuels have propelled us to “greatness” and delivered us our “modern society” (including the power used to run his computer, smart phone, tablet, automobile, light his room and class rooms, etc), but so what. Because he read some articles, he knows what technologies are capable of today, and what kinds of energy we need for the future.
He then suggested I read three papers to understand how we can transition “to 100% renewable energy by 2050. (We don’t even need nuclear).” One of them is from Greenpeace, hardly a credible source since they are more known for destroying or attempting to destroy things than building them. As an alternative, I suggest he read Greenpeace founder, Patrick Moore’s work on energy and climate. I had previously perused the two other articles he recommended but did not found convincing.
My main problem with his latter point concerning the ease with which we can switch to green energy sources, is that, aside from a few woolly headed academics saying it’s possible, no engineer, corporation, industry or government has committed to actually implementing the programs described in the articles.
Of the millions of people around the globe advising and working for governments (many who are far smarter than me, the student I was engaging, or the authors of those papers — none of the latter of whom, as far as I can tell have demonstrated their theories through the real world construction of linked power grids or even a credible demonstration project) or of the millions more in industry, banking and investment aiming to make a profit (at least those aiming to profit through competition in the market, not entirely or exclusively through government largesse in the form of grants, subsidies and the mandated use of the technologies they support) have wholly embraced the future presented in those papers. Sure China and India are building wind and solar (and in China also nuclear) but they are building even more coal-fired power plants. Natural gas is growing far faster in the U.S. than renewables (and without the subsidies), and Africa and Asia are clamoring for, and building, coal. In other words, on the ground, in the real world as opposed to academia, the judgement has been made that the world still needs fossil fuels to prosper and will do so for some time to come. This isn’t my judgement, this is the world’s.
The world’s poor, the millions dying from hunger, disease, poverty and privation now, those living without modern lighting, sewage treatment, safe drinking water, refrigeration or the schools and hospitals that those innovations make possible, need energy now, not 35, 50 or 100 years from now, and they shouldn’t have to wait until some “student-approved” suite of green technologies is available to benefit from these modern necessities we in the West take for granted daily.
Fossil fuels can deliver the real “goods,” and the wind and the sun just can’t.