by Bruce Dunlavy (My blog home page and index of other posts may be found here.)
There is plenty of news on the global warming/climate change “debate” these days. I put the word debate in quotes because there is no debate about climate change, nor is there any debate that it is primarily driven by human activity. For a “debate” to occur, it is necessary to have justifiable and demonstrable viewpoints backed up by evidence. The current discussion is no more a debate than would occur when a small boy and his mother have a back-and-forth discussion in which the child consistently denies having gotten into the cookie jar while dribbling snickerdoodle crumbs from his mouth.
The latest to take on the role of the denying child is Scott Pruitt, President Donald Trump’s appointee to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt, who as Attorney General of Oklahoma sued the agency he now heads numerous times, has always been a climate-change denier. Not a climate-change skeptic, but a true denier. As he told CNBC, “I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact, so no, I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”
There are two things plainly wrong with Pruitt’s statement. One is the obvious one that human activity is not a primary contributor to global warming. The other is that “there’s tremendous disagreement” about it. There may be tremendous disagreement about whether the little boy snitched cookies, too, but the disagreement has no basis in reality.
One of the features of the ugly stream of anti-intellectualism that has always flowed through American culture – and is now enjoying one of its periodic surges of influence – is that it admonishes us that the people we should pay the least attention to on a complex topic are the very ones who know the most about it. Pediatricians cannot be trusted regarding childhood vaccinations, historians cannot be trusted regarding history, climatologists and geophysicists cannot be trusted about climate change.
Image credit: pics8.this-pic.com
I know quite a few climate-change skeptics and deniers, and they love to point out to me that “the Earth’s climate is cyclical.” Indeed it is, primarily because of predictable variations in the Earth’s solar orbit and the tilt of the Earth’s axis. But that does not explain what is going on now. Furthermore, the only reason we know that the Earth’s climate is cyclical is because of the research done by the very climatologists and geophysicists we are being warned to ignore.
There is an often-quoted statistic that says 97 percent of climate experts agree global warming/climate change is occurring rapidly and is anthropogenic, that is, caused by human activity. The number is tossed out by general news media regularly, but they do not back it up except to say that some study proved it. In addition, since news outlets are less concerned these days with truth than with “balance,” they may interview one climate-change expert and then bring out a climate-change denier to refute him/her, as if the two positions were commensurate.
The problem here is that the “97 percent” statistic is bogus. It was derived from a not-very-thorough review of a relatively unscientific sampling of published scientific literature. Scientific monographs and published papers are not places where scientists are prone to state their personal beliefs. It is fundamental in scientific inquiry to separate the experiment from the experimenter. As pointed out in James L. Powell’s analysis in Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society, the percentage is higher than 97, and in fact approaches unanimity. Among political office-holders, the percentage is about half that, at best. As I pointed out in an earlier post, politics should stay out of science.
Now, some good news!
For the past few years, the State producing the most energy from wind power is ……. Texas. Although most of Texas is a huge area with a lot of wind, the State is much more readily associated with oil production and the facilitation thereof. However, it is less accurate to think of Texas as an oil State than as an energy State. The production of energy and the distribution of it to ranches and businesses Statewide is as important to Texas as exporting crude oil. Meanwhile, west Texas ranchers are enjoying substantial royalties from allowing the erection of wind turbines on their property while leaving over 95 percent of their land free for continued grazing of cattle.
Who was the forward-thinking governor of Texas who pushed the expansion of wind-generated power? None other than Rick Perry, newly-appointed Secretary of Energy in the Trump cabinet. Trump reportedly told Perry he should do for the country’s energy position what he did in Texas. It won’t be easy at the national level, of course, and Perry will be under considerable pressure from influential forces. But Perry – if nothing else – can see that there is money to be made in generating electric power from wind. If he can (and will) sell America on that, I’m all for it.
I mean to leave this essay on a happy note. I am delighted to update everyone on the positive results of the efforts of that whirlwind of energy and commitment, my friend Xiuhtezcatl Martinez.
After returning from New Zealand, Xiuhtezcatl barely caught his breath before returning down under to tour Australia. There he spoke, performed, and made televised appearances across the nation, urging Australia’s young people to take up the challenge he has assumed here in the USA by suing their government for its failure to ensure a quality future.
Here at home, the lawsuits pursued by Xiuhtezcatl and his co-plaintiffs are still alive in the courts after favorable rulings and despite concerted opposition from the fossil fuel industry and its cronies. The suit against the Federal government has won its initial battles in US District court in the Northwest, and the suit against the State of Colorado focusing on fracking’s role in climate change has begun hearings in Denver.
Meanwhile, Xiuhtezcatl has released his debut album of music performances, Break Free, and performed at the Climate Reality Project, where the audience included former vice president Al Gore. His most recent stop was at the four-day People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, in early March, where he performed with other artists in the Indigenous Peoples event.
But wait – there’s more!! Xiuhtezcatl has signed a book deal with Rodale Books, the prominent publisher of books oriented to nature issues including the environment (Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth), health (Dr. David Kessler’s The End of Overeating), and similar issues. The book, to be titled RISE UP: The Earth Guardians Guide to Connecting, Getting Organized, and Making a Positive Impact in Today’s World, will be an autobiography-based manual for changing the course of modern history for the better.
In the immortal words of Muhammad Ali, “Rumble, young man, rumble!”