Gerald North: The Non-Alarmist Alarmist? (A challenge to Texas A&M’s noted climatologist to explain himself on his recent move to Dessler-Left alarmism)
[Editor note: This is Part V of a series of posts on the political activism of climate scientists at Texas A&M.]
“I really enjoyed the ‘fact’ that I saved you from being a ‘climate alarmist’. Frankly, your descriptions of my colleague Andrew Dessler are outrageous. You seem to forget that he spent several hours tutoring you and your student from [Kinkaid] on climate change during a university holiday. As I said to Steve McIntyre after spending hours trying to help him, then being mocked in his blog, ‘No good deed goes unpunished’. I am afraid to say anything more to you via email.”
- Gerald North to Rob Bradley, April 17, 2010 (cc Eric Berger, William Dawson, Andrew Dessler)
I asked for substantive feedback from you to my post(s) and instead got a sarcastic, emotional response. You are clearly annoyed, but open debate about contentious public public policy issues should not be compromised by personal relationships or ‘favors’. And there is nothing wrong about a ‘challenge culture’ and mid-course corrections, either. We are talking about climate science, after all.
I am going to elaborate as best I can and bring in some more of your own quotations for the record.
[North as My Enron Consultant]
Jerry: you are a very interesting and important figure in the climate-change debate–and one whose views future historians of science should note.
Back in 1998, I picked you out of many candidates as a corporate consultant because you seemed to be more open to finding the middle than many of your colleagues. Thinking that Enron was progressive on the climate issue (and they unfortunately were–Ken Lay saw many rent-seeking opportunities with CO2 pricing), you said yes.
“In talking over consulting with ENRON with many friends, I decided to do it, only because of the open-minded position ENRON seems to be taking. I decided that I might even have an influence on what course ENRON eventually takes. I am not concerned with one ideological position or another—just the truth. If ENRON makes use of the truth to make a profit, good show. If ENRON wants to twist the truth to the detriment of everyone else, I will drop out—tarnished but wiser.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), March 25, 1998
I think you provide an excellent ‘case study’ to understand:
1) how the climate alarm got out of control, and
2) how/why a good many in your profession got off scientific track (as evidenced by Climategate and the growing recognition of problems with the IPCC reports).
My Major Point: You Have ‘Gone Political’ and ‘Gone Left’ Post-Climategate Despite Your Skepticism About Climate Alarmism–and Climategate Itself
I have a treasure trove of emails from you that are fair and insightful, in retrospect. (And you have stated that you write your emails as if they would be made public–nothing to fear from your own views.) Some of them are very critical of scientists–skeptics and alarmists. Your criticisms of the skeptics are public (I can provide citations); your more ‘private’ views against alarmism should be made public too.
This is why, coming out of our decade-long experience, I was so disappointed that you rented your good name to [Andrew] Dessler’s attack on the State of Texas regarding its petition against EPA’s endangerment finding.
What happened to the Gerald North of old?
“I did worry that my comment on my not being willing to sign on to Kyoto right now got into the [Houston] Chronicle and in our local paper. I do not like being too public on policy matters. It ain’t my thing.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), October 2, 1998
And your rejection of knee-jerk alarmism:
“As you know I am a subscriber [to man-made warming], but hardly in the Al Gore category. Nor do I have any preconceived ideas about what should be done about GW if anything. I have been busy fending off reporters trying to connect the unusual [El Nino-driven] summer [heat spike] to GW. I even sent an e-mail to Gore.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Richard Lindzen with cc Rob Bradley (Enron), August 11, 1998
Which also included an open mind toward low-sensitivity warming and the quite possible net positive externalities of GHG emissions, particularly CO2.
“[Robert] Mendelsohn’s position is rather similar to yours…. He believes the impacts are not negative at all for the US and most of the developed countries. Most impact studies seem to be showing this. It leads us to think that a little warming is not so bad. Glad I have kept my mouth shut on this issue of which I know so little.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), November 12, 1999
And given your views, why did you not jump on Climategate in the way that Judith Curry did? You went public (Washington Post, etc.) that Climategate was no big deal and then said you had not read the emails! Have you read Climategate: The Crutape Letters? Why would you not read it with great interest? Where there are plumes of smoke, there is fire.
Some years back, I challenged you on the obvious scientific errors of Al Gore’s book/movie, An Inconvenient Truth–including his show-stopper ice age graph on CO2 levels vs. temperature, the very one you had me take out of Enron’s stock presentation:
“I do not remember, but I think Gore has used the famous ice age graph correlating CO2 and climate change. I think I had you take it out of your [Enron] presentation if you recall. [Pat] Michaels is right about its irrelevance, but it is really not new to the research community as I stated.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), May 5, 1999
But you simply claimed that you had not and did not want to watch the movie (the ‘I-know-nothing’ Sgt. Schultz defense that Enron execs used). Yes, you finally reviewed the book beyond its political moment and in a rather apologetic way. But what if you had greeted the book and movie with some tough, sober scientific assessment? You could have really done some good for maintaining scientific standards in the heat of political battle.
And then your tepid Climategate response.
AND then the Chronicle op-ed, which I criticized as scientific ‘spin’.
So much for trying to find the middle of the debate, a middle that your own views champion.
So now let me respond to your email reply in its entirety:
1. Comfort against Climate Alarmism
“I really enjoyed the ‘fact’ that I saved you from being a ‘climate alarmist’.”
In fact, your middle-of-the-road stance has been quite comforting to me. I have greater confidence that climate alarmism is very exaggerated. Your warming range is outside of the official IPCC range on the low side–the world should know that, even though you have kept this unadvertised. And you alerted me to some bad scientific actors that were pushing the alarm–more comfort amid all of the uncertainty.
Third, your recognition of the exaggerated climate mini-alarms (super storms, disruption of thermohaline circulation, etc.) in personal emails and in a letter-to-the-editor in the Houston Chronicle has been comforting too. The 1998 temperature spike and, more recently, the very bad Gulf Coast hurricanes–why wouldn’t I think the something bad from the human influence might be probable?
And so the balance of scientific evidence is against anthropogenic global warming being the mother of all negative externalities. You helped me realize this (wish Enron could have toned down the climate alarmism … I certainly failed on that one).
Here is some of what you told me:
“[A review of the models] (together with my own toy model prejudice) has led me to think that sensitivity [of climate to greenhouse gas forcing] is collectively ‘coming down.’”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), February 1, 1998
“My own conclusion is that we can see the [enhanced greenhouse and aerosol] signals (G and V) but they might we weaker than we originally thought.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), May 7, 1999
“As I have argued for years, we simply do not know the answer. There is a wide margin of error in many of the ingredients that go into the models. For example, we do not know some of the radiative properties of the aerosols to a factor of 5. No matter how good your climate model is, you cannot compensate for that uncertainty. The range of uncertainty is broad enough to accommodate [Pat] Michaels (well, maybe North) and Mahlman.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), September 17, 1999
“I am buying the Lindzen story as far as the importance of upper level water vapor…. I am beginning to sense a sea change.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), November 12, 1999
“[Richard] Kerr’s article delved a bit beneath the surface to find who some of the silent skeptics (really noncommittals) are. I suspect there are many more.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), September 17, 1999
“As usual we may have been caught believing our models before we should.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), June 17, 1998
“I think Dick [Lindzen] and I agree on the role of lag in the oceans and the freedom modelers have in using the oceans to help in the fit to the record.”
- Gerald North (Texas A&M) to Rob Bradley (Enron), August 18, 1998
And on extreme events, your message to me back to Enron is unchanged–more comfort.
“In his article Sunday, Rob Bradley reminds us of the errors made about dire climate predictions proffered by some climate science outliers. These have been given undue coverage by politicians and the media (the same can be said about the nay-saying fringe). Virtually all of these dire predictions were never made or endorsed by the mainstream climate community of researchers in the field.
- Gerald North, “Fringe Predictions,” Letter to the Editor, Houston Chronicle, April 1, 2008.
Square this with (Dessler’s) recent op-ed co-signed by you that said in part:
“Rising sea levels threaten our coasts; increasing weather variability, including heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and even winter storms, affect our infrastructure, energy and even our health.”
Settled science … really? Human driven and bad. All bad? Nothing benign or good? Will the real Jerry North please stand up?
2. Andy Dessler
“Frankly, your descriptions of my colleague Andrew Dessler are outrageous. You seem to forget that he spent several hours tutoring you and your student from [Kinkaid] on climate change during a university holiday.”
First of all, I am all for Dr. Dessler the scientist refuting or correcting any climate “skeptic” or anyone else on science. But I would expect that he (like you) would call out bad science by the Al Gores of the world and the ‘dire climate predictions’ that you mention above. Has he? No, he teams up with the infamous Joe Romm for science presentations for the media and offers no criticism of the alarmists–and Romm’s serial exaggerations. I can’t help but think that Dessler’s political views drive his science rather than the other way around.
At our lunch, I found it a bit ‘outrageous’ that Dessler said:
1) humankind could be living underground in the future because of the human influence on climate and
2) fossil fuel usage was akin to human slavery.
You remained silent when he made both statements. But how can you not say that this guy is getting over the top, particularly given your own sensitivity estimates and the fact that GHG forcing on climate is logarithmic, not linear, and the enhanced greenhouse signal is more about minimum (nighttime) temperatures going up rather than maximum (daytime) temps rising?
As far as you and him doing me a favor, I used my holiday to drive from Houston to College Station and back with a very top student from a very top high school where I volunteer teach each January. Dessler only came for lunch and declined a post-lunch visit. I bought lunch for everyone out of my own pocket. I paid you well at Enron for consulting–and arranged to pay you $2,500 for speaking at two Houston events a couple of weeks after our lunch. Dessler did you a favor by coming to lunch–and he did me a favor through his favor to you. Fair enough?
The lunch was very valuable for all of us to understand Dr. Dessler’s mindset. I was not impressed. He seems to be to be mad at the world and locked-in to a dangerously invasive, open-ended agenda of government planning in the name of ‘stabilizing climate’.
Is Andrew Dessler even capable of agreeing with your views and not the IPCC’s? Can he even admit that the possibility that the human influence on climate has strong positive effects–and maybe even net positive effects? As a scientist, can he not reasonably make a case that the balance of evidence is working against climate alarmism?
3. Being ‘Mocked’ in a Blog
“As I said to Steve McIntyre after spending hours trying to help him, then being mocked in his blog, ‘No good deed goes unpunished’.”
Not fair to me, whatever the story is with McIntyre.
My post did not mock you–it exposed you by using your own quotations in a very public debate given your sign-on of the Chronicle op-ed. You mock yourself by leading a double life as a closet ‘skeptic’ of climate alarmism. Indeed, before the recent Houston debates, you emailed me on not associating you with climate alarmism–just climate concern.
Rob and Dick [Lindzen],
Could we change it from “alarm” to “concern”? I won’t be claiming alarm.
Jerry North, January 4, 2010
Climate concern? A ‘concernist’ and not an ‘alarmist’? Well, lots of us are concerned about all sorts of things that may or may not turn out to be real problems. On the public policy front, I am concerned about energy unaffordability, energy unreliability, energy poverty, carbon trade wars, cap-and-trade profiteering, bogus offsets, and an intrusive carbon bureaucracy. That is why I challenge Dessler and Joe Romm and the like on ‘settled’ alarmist physical science.
And have you not stated that climate change might be positive and not negative under some realistic scenarios? This gets us back to Mendelsohn. Mendelsohn + North = CO2 as a positive externality and certainly not a ruinously negative one.
My MasterResource blog documented how you have gone Far Left by joining alarmist Dessler in your criticism of the State of Texas petition against EPA.
This is probably the most sensitive sentence in my post: Yet Dr. North dare not advertise his dissent or what he believes is climate realism versus model-contrived climate and the resulting alarmism. But you have clear quotable views on climate sensitivity, climate model fudging, and extreme events. What else can you or I say other than I ‘outed’ you (sorry–but I had to…)? The ball is in your court for a rebuttal if I have misrepresented your views.
Responding to the Real Issues
Can you directly respond to the key issues for the record? Climate alarmism and its adjunct, government activism, is a huge public policy issue. You and your Texas A&M colleagues are paid by the taxpayer and are knee deep in taxpayer-funded climate studies. You went public with Dessler in a very public way against the State of Texas despite your own caution against getting political. I think you owe a lot of us, and even the State of Texas, a forthright airing of your ‘private’ views.
1) Will you forthrightly explain your own ‘best guess’ sensitivity estimate and what it really means for the debate–and how your estimate is different from the IPCC and certainly Andy Dessler?
2) In light of #1, should the Texas A&M ‘litmus’ test of climate sensitivity
“If we do nothing to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, future warming will likely be at least two degrees Celsius over the next century.” (emphasis added)
be changed or even dropped? And is such ‘political correctness’ what you really want to subject your department too? (You might have to overrule Dessler on this….)
3) Will you respond to my analogy of Climategate and the bad behaviors at Enron, a company you got to know well?
[And speaking of Enron analogies, something crossed my mind when I tried to understand your going Left with Dessler post-Climategate. Remember how Ken Lay co-opted Enron's board of directors by giving them use of the company planes and other perks? Conflict of interest. Andy Dessler largely put together the conference in your honor last June.
Just might this have clouded your judgment in a very public policy matter regarding the op-ed? Do you have the capability with your very close friendship with Andy to tell him "you have gone too far" or "that is not correct" or at least "be careful on that"? Just asking ... and this might be worth thinking about. Friendships and loyalty in place of a tough-love, challenge culture can lead to organizational failure as my forthcoming book, Enron and Ken Lay: An American Tragedy, will explain.]
4) I responded paragraph-by-paragraph and even line-by-line to your Chronicle op-ed critical of the State of Texas re the EPA endangerment finding.
I put a lot of time into it. Your response? [Andy, your response?]
Correct Me On Any Particulars
“I’m afraid to say anything more to you via email.”
Let me have it–but on the substance only. You are a great, nice guy, and I ain’t so bad myself. (Let’s go to an Astros game after this is over….) I do not enjoy what I am doing here–or the conflicts I have found myself in with Rice’s Baker Institute at Rice (the Neal Lane problem–we had to go around him/Baker to have your climate debate with Lindzen at Rice) or other conflicts that I find myself in (including at my high school that has had a huge political correctness problem that is now being addressed).
I did not enjoy fighting Enron on windpower and their other (BTW, all money losing) ‘green’ initiatives–I put my job at risk and was penalized financially for my views expressed inside and outside of the company (http://www.politicalcapitalism.org/enron/). If I was a ‘whistleblower’ at Enron, or if I am a ‘whistleblower’ on you, this email is a plea to deal with the issues and come clean. The time for hiding should be over. It’s a new ball game post Climategate.
A Final Question (and sorry for having to ask it)
Are you an honest man in a partially dishonest profession?
Are too many of your colleagues so imbued with an anti-industrial mentality, a back-to-nature mindset, and government dependence that alarms must be sounded and wagons circled when there is bad behavior, even cheating (Climategate)? Your scathing remarks about Tom Wigley of NCAR, for example (http://masterresource.org/?p=735, and other quotations I have not made public), a relatively clean Climategater, reveal that a number of scientists just don’t have the temperament to be scholars and disinterested seekers of truth in the political fire.
Here is hoping that you step back, reevaluate things, and get back to your once noble work of finding the middle ground of the debate between ultra-skepticism and Dessler-style alarmism. Judith Curry could use some company–and maybe other ‘closet skeptics’ (or just ‘closet non-alarmists’) will have the courage to come forward. It’s the best thing you could do for your profession and for your place in history. And now is the time.
Appendix: Final Exchange With Gerald North
My 12-year relationship with Dr. North may now be at an end. “Politics’ killed it–but not only from my side but from his. North’s decision to go political by signing onto Andrew Dessler’s op-ed was the major blow, but his muted, peculiar reaction to Climategate spoke volumes about how he is protecting his friends and even his wayward profession rather than as a senior fellow of his trade, dressing down some of his colleagues.
Enron went bankrupt when the market lost faith in the company; climate science can chug along quite well on government grant money even if the public has lost faith in this profession.
Here is the way the two of us left it for the historical record.
I have made the decision to post our controversy so you and Andy will every reason to explain yourselves in this very public, contentious public policy debate. http://www.masterresource.org/2010/04/gerald-north-the-non-alarmist-alarmist/*
1) both of you are public servants of the State of Texas as full time paid employees of a state university, and
2) you are on record as challenging the State of Texas on the state’s petition against EPA’s endangerment finding. I believe this post (and the other related ones at MasterResource) are relevant in this regard.
I am afraid you are ‘in denial’ under the perverse incentive (grant $$$), group think (‘tribalism’ as Judith Curry would put it), and mind set (Malthusianism) of most of your profession.
I thought that if you would take a month or two to step back and really think about what you believe, there was a chance you would ‘own up’ to your private beliefs and how they diverge from the IPCC–just like how your beliefs have diverged from the mini-alarms that big names in your profession have championed (your Chronicle letter-to-the-editor was quite important and even courageous, in retrospect). Judging from the last emails from you to me, I was wrong.
I was also naive to think you would take a closer look at Climategate a la Judith Curry. “These are all her opinions and she has a right to hold and exhibit them” is a cop out when you as a ‘middle of the roader’ really have an obligation to speak truth to power. She has courage and you do not. She and all of us deserve better from you. This cop-out is what you have told me about James Hansen as a duck (I can pull out those emails if you would like). Is Al Gore or John Holdren excused in this way too? Can anyone hold any belief as if there was not a ‘balance of evidence’ in the whole climate debate?
Shoot back. If I am wrong, I am wrong. But I think there needs to be a lot of explaining on what the heck you believe on models, sensitivity, fudge factors, and the rest of it given your (private) history.
The ball is in your court. And there is also time to come clean with your beliefs and not hide behind the IPCC, Dr. Dessler, or anyone else. You are your own man and not like a young scientist who cannot professionally or financially afford to buck the establishment on the quite unsettled science of climate change and politically-forced scientific ‘consensus’.
From: Gerald North [mailto:email@example.com] On Behalf Of Gerald North
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 11:16 AM
Until recently, our relationship has been pedagogical. You asked me questions over the years and I tried to answer them as best I could. I have enjoyed that because it caused me to learn as I taught.
We are no longer in that mode. You are using me to advance a political agenda. I have asked you not to post these private communications, but you persist.
This has come to an end. I am sorry, but it must be.
From: Robert Bradley [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Sunday, April 25, 2010 11:35 AM
To: ‘Gerald North’
Cc: ‘Andrew Dessler’
Climate science is ‘nonpolitical’? What world do you live in?
Would you like me to pull out the emails with your political statements in them? Was your Chronicle op-ed with Dessler nonpolitical?
Yes, I knew this could be the end. But this is a small price to pay to try to get toward the truth as you experts state it.
And if you would ‘come clean’ with a full response, you might actually thank me for all this on down the road. I have emails from you thanking me for my ‘public policy’ push on the science–want me to pull those out too?
You have stated that you do not write emails that you do not want to be public. What are you hiding other than what you have said in the past?
Is the ‘private’ Jerry North just an extension of Climategate–emails that reveal what is really going on behind the curtain? What if we could see all of the emails of the climate alarmists and the closet non-alarmists? Wow!
What do you really believe, Jerry, to inform the policy debate? Sounds like you will just ignore this and hope it goes away….. That is a pretty bad way to deal with it–and I gave you a golden opportunity to come clean in a much better manner than what is now the case. You are a student of the philosophy and history of science. I have to believe you care about how a philosopher or historian of science will view your legacy.
Why not explain yourself? It is not the end of the world to own up to 2C, for gosh sakes….. And the problems of models….. And the obvious lessons of Climategate…. This is not ultra-skepticism but good middle-of-the-road stuff.