Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey have the global warming folks out in full force. In the face of two of the more powerful and destructive hurricanes in recent years, their claims gain a certain gravitas among the general public. It provides a bit of credibility, but credibility is belief based, not necessarily factual.
I am neither a believer in the popular political view of climate change nor am I a denier. I have delved into the issue over several years and have my doubts and my questions. I am a true agnostic. The volume of scientific opinion suggesting global warming is impressive, to be sure, but the subject needs to be analyzed issue by issue. A lot depends on what you focus on.
I confess to knee jerk skepticism. In just my lifetime, the scientists predicted the most tragic climate impacts from the testing of atomic bombs. I recall the dire scientific predictions about what was called “the population explosion.” I was working for the White House in the early 1970s when the scientific community predicted the exhaustion of all usable fossil fuels by the end of the century. And now we can see that even the past predictions of Al Gore & Co. have fallen woefully short of reality. Throughout history, unfolding events have frequently proven scientists to be wrong before they were right.
We hear a lot of accusations from the left about the idiocy of “climate change deniers” when, in fact, I have not found anyone who denies that the climate is changing. Virtually all science has shown that over time the climate repeatedly changes between warm eras and mini ice ages – and even major ice ages if you look at longer cycles. So let’s all agree, the climate IS changing – and it has been changing every day for the past billion years. For all practical purposes, there are no climate change deniers.
One of the subordinate controversies has to do with contemporary changes in our weather. As I have reviewed the scientific data, most scientists have indicated that you cannot attribute short-term weather patterns to the effects of long-term climate cycles. They point this out whenever the weather breaks record cold or when the earth did not get warmer for about a decade. These have nothing to do with the long-term climate trend, they assure us. However, when there is a record heat wave or dramatic weather event, they reverse field and claim global warming as the cause. That flip-flopping does not give me a lot of confidence in any relationship between today’s weather and climate change.
We should note that Harvey and Irma were not the most powerful hurricanes ever recorded. In terms of Atlantic Ocean hurricanes, Irma is the fifth most powerful. The second most powerful was a Category 5 monster that hit Florida on Labor Day in 1935 – long before the global warming controversy. Ironically, the top wind speed (185 mph) and path of the Labor Day storm (left) were remarkably similar to the more recent Category 4 Irma (right). Irma had a top barometric pressure of 914 hPa, making it weaker than twelve previous hurricanes going back to 1932. The concept of high and low hurricane activity in any given year has been a matter of cycles over many years. In other words, Harvey and Irma are not necessarily indicators of climatic global warming no matter what the politicians proffer.
The next question is whether Mother Earth is in a long-term warming trend. Most meteorologists tend to see a warming trend over the past 30 years or so. It has not been a continuous upward trend. There have been years of no change and even a dip here and there. So, even as an agnostic, I am inclined to agree that the earth’s temperature has been increasing during most of my lifetime – how fast and for how long, to be determined.
While the global warming community sees this as an endless trend caused by human activity, a significant number of credible scientists see the warming cycle nearing its end, claiming we will soon be entering a cooling cycle. That would seem consistent with the pattern of warmer/cooler cycles that have been occurring for centuries. We have to keep in mind that all scientific climate predictions are based on computer models that are highly complex and prone to error. Bad model, bad predictions.
The next question is whether the warming trend of recent years has been largely the result of human activity. Certainly, we are a contributor, but to what extent? This is where things get really dicey. The advent of the Industrial Age has contributed to CO emissions. They call it the “greenhouse effect” as if it is something unique. But our entire atmosphere creates a natural greenhouse without which we would not exist.
Our oceans contain 37,400 gigatons (GT) of suspended carbon, which they routinely release to and recover from the atmosphere. The land flora and fauna contribute between 2000 and 3000 GT. The atmosphere contains 720 GT. To all of this, mankind contributes only between 6 and 29 GT – depending on the data you examine. Unlike the land and sea CO exchange, much of the man-produced CO is not recycled. It stays in the air – which means a net growth in airborne CO of about 1 to 12 GT. This is because the land and seas actually absorb a bit more than they release. All this means that reducing our CO output is probably a good idea, but maybe it is not the Draconian crisis we are led to believe.
Then there is the issue of what we can do about it to make a difference. This is where the agnostic in me becomes a bit more skeptical. Yes, we can convert to the so-called alternative energy sources, such as wind and solar – as we are doing as rapidly as possible – but they do not provide a pure gain of any significance. You may feel responsible driving an electric car, but the production of that car and the electricity you use to charge it require a large carbon footprint. Unless we are willing to return to 18th Century lifestyles, our ability to reverse the trend is highly dubious. This coupled with our contribution to atmospheric CO suggests our best option may be to refocus technology away from CO emission and focus on CO recovery from the atmosphere – more like the oceans and land masses.
Combating CO emission brings me to the politically driven fear mongering. The Paris Climate Accord was a prime example. More than 140 nations agreed to cooperate to fight carbon emissions. Or did they? First of all, China, one of the world’s leaders in industrial CO emissions was given a pass for several years. Every one of the other nations signing aboard got financial benefits. These included a competitive economic advantage against the roaring American economy and billions of dollars in financial aid to reduce CO emissions. Assuming that the Accords were fully fulfilled – and that is by far not a certainty – the impact on man-made CO emission would be negligible. The Accord was politics trumping science and the United States was the big loser.
It should be noted that almost all the reports and warnings of global warming in the wake of Harvey and Irma have come from politicians, media personalities and those making millions on the propagation of the theory. Al Gore, as the world’s number one advocate of man-made global warming, has raked in hundreds of millions of dollars in investing in businesses that benefit from his sales pitch. That is also true of those scientist getting big grants from the government to give support to the theory and the businesses that get billions in subsidies to develop non-fossil fuel alternative.
There is a simple rule of government finance. If you tax something, you get less of it. If you subsidize something, you get more of it. The availability of such large sums of money could lead to actual unethical and dishonest scientific studies – and it has. For decades, our government has been subsidizing research to prove that man-produced CO emissions are not only the cause of dangerous global warming, but that it can be reversed. That means we get more scientists creating weather and climate models to prove the preconceived notions. If that is the case, the models might well be wrong – and so far, they have not been impressively correct. There have been numerous examples of diddling with the data, including by scientists associated with NASA, NOAA and the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). One scientific scandal was even dubbed “Climategate.”
My suspicion against the popularized narrative rises due to the conduct of the global warming proponents. Rather than engaging in fact based dialogues, they resort to cutting off the debate. They bar scientists who disagree from professional forums. They go so far as to suggest mental instability or criminality on the part of those with differing views – a tactic that is usually reserved to brutal dictatorships. If the proponent’s evidence is so compelling, they should welcome open debate.
Finally, there is alternative data. Contrary to the political and media narratives, the entire scientific community does not agree on the various facets of the problem, the efficacy of the solutions offered or even the future trend. If you look past the name calling, you will find a rather large number of scientists with outstanding credentials arguing against the current climate change narrative – enough to keep this writer as an agnostic.
Larry Horist is a conservative activist with an extensive background in public policy and political issues. Clients of his consulting firm have included such conservative icons as Steve Forbes and Milton Friedman, and he has served as a consultant to the White House under Presidents Nixon and Reagan. He has testified as an expert witness before numerous legislative bodies, including the U. S. Congress and lectured at Harvard University, Northwestern University, Florida Atlantic University, Knox College and Hope College. An award winning debater, his insightful and sometimes controversial commentaries appear frequently on the editorial pages of newspapers across the nation. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.