A Free-Market Energy Blog

Climate-Change Exaggeration: Then and Now

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- October 15, 2012

“The climate of many countries seems to be one of the great reasons why idleness, dishonesty, immorality, stupidity, and weakness of will prevail. If we can conquer climate, the whole world will become stronger and nobler.”

– Ellsworth Huntington, Civilization and Climate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1915), p. 294.

“Emphasis on extreme scenarios may have been appropriate at one time, when the public and decision-makers were relatively unaware of the global warming issue…. Now, however, the need is for demonstrably objective climate forcing scenarios consistent with what is realistic under current conditions.”

James Hansen,Can We Defuse the Global Warming Time Bomb?June 12, 2003.

Thank you Dr. James Hansen, for outing some climate exaggeration of the past. But pardon us for not seeing what you seem to only see–a compelling, growing case for climate alarm and policy activism.

Empiricists can beg to differ. As Chip Knappenberger has recently documented, the world is not warming as quickly, and sea level is not rising as much, as climate models predict. And peer-reviewed literature suggests that feedback effects are dampening the warming that high-sensitivity models assume/model/predict.

Exaggeration in the cause of policy activism is an intellectual sin. Thankfully, the public is pushing back at the smartest-guys-in-the-room climate alarmism. F. A. Hayek warned of the ‘fatal conceit’ in the social sciences where intellectuals felt that they could plan an economy. Planning the climate–and thus planning the economy–is a pretense of knowledge also.

Here are some quotations of this fatal concept in action, beginning with a lighthearted, revealing statement from Kenneth Boulding (in 1970) on the fun of it all (at least for him).

“I am something of an ecologist at heart, mainly because I am really a preacher, and we know that all ecologists are really preachers under the skin. They are great viewers with alarm. Is there any more single-minded, simple pleasure than viewing with alarm? At times it is even better than sex.” [1]

And now for the serious–and wildly exaggerated–stuff.

“We have reached an unsettling and portentous turning point in industrial civilization. . . . Business people must either dedicate themselves to transforming commerce to a restorative undertaking, or march society to the undertaker.”

– Paul Hawken, The Ecology of Commerce (New York: Harper Collins, 1993), excerpt.

“The climate of many countries seems to be one of the great reasons why idleness, dishonesty, immorality, stupidity, and weakness of will prevail. If we can conquer climate, the whole world will become stronger and nobler.”

– Ellsworth Huntington, Civilization and Climate (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1915), p. 294.

What we’ve got to do in energy conservation is try to ride the global warming issue. Even if the theory of global warming is wrong, to have approached global warming as if it is real means energy conservation, so we will be doing the right thing anyway in terms of economic policy and environmental policy.

– Timothy Wirth, former U.S. Senator (D-Colorado). Quoted in Michael Fumento, Science Under Siege (1993), p. 362.

“On the one hand, as scientists, we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means we must include all the doubts, caveats, and ifs, ands and buts.  On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well.  And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change. 

To do that we need to get some broad-based support, to capture the public’s imagination.  That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage.  So we have to off up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.  This ‘double ethical blind’ we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula.  Each of us has to decide the right balance between being effective and being honest.  I hope that means being both.”

– Stephen Schneider, quoted in Jonathan Schell, “Our Fragile Earth,” Discover Magazine, October 1989, p. 47.

“As Sir John Houghton recently noted, global warming has become a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ that is killing more people than terrorism.”

– Howard Geller, “Fostering a Clean Energy Revolution,” Cogeneration and On-Site Power Production, September-October 2003, p. 26.

“As University of California physicist John Holdren has said, it is possible that carbon-dioxide climate-induced famines could kill as many as a billion people before the year 2020.”

– Paul Ehrlich, The Machinery of Nature (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1986), p. 274.

“Scientists need to be direct and succinct when dealing with the electronic media. One could talk for hours about the uncertainties associated with global warming. But a statement like ‘Pumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere could lead to large-scale food shortages’ is entirely accurate scientifically and will catch the public’s attention. So would “One of the most environmentally damaging activities of human begins in the bedroom.’”

– Paul and Anne Ehrlich, Betrayal of Science and Reason, (Washington: Island Press, 1996), p. 207.

James Hansen

“We have at most ten years—not ten years to decide upon action, but ten years to alter fundamentally the trajectory of global greenhouse emissions.”

– Jim Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” The New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006, 12–16, at 16.

“If we cannot stop the building of more coal-fired power plants, those coal trains will be death trains—no less gruesome than if they were boxcars headed to crematoria, loaded with uncountable irreplaceable species.”

– James Hanson, testimony of October 22, 2007 before the Iowa Utilities Board.

“With respect to climate change, we have abruptly passed the tipping point in what until recently has been a tense political controversy. Why? Industry leaders, nongovernmental organizations, Al Gore, and public attention have all played a role. At the core, however, it’s about the relentless progress of science. As data accumulate, denialists retreat to the safety of the Wall Street Journal op-ed page or seek social relaxation with old pals from the tobacco lobby from whom they first learned to “teach the controversy.”

Meanwhile, political judgments are in, and the game is over. Indeed, on this page last week, a member of Parliament described how the European Union and his British colleagues are moving toward setting hard targets for greenhouse gas reductions.

Now that the scientific consensus is clear, it’s time to ask what the U.S. Congress is doing to keep pace with this new reality…”

– Donald Kennedy, “Climate: Game Over,” Science,  27 July 2007:
Vol. 317 no. 5837 p. 425


[1] Kenneth Boulding, “Fun and Games with the Gross National Product—The Role of Misleading Indicators in Social Policy,” in Harold Helfrich, Jr., The Environmental Crisis: Man’s Struggle to Live with Himself (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970), p. 160.


  1. Jon Boone  

    Roger Pielke Jr. recently wrote that “scientists and scientific organizations that contribute to a campaign of misinformation [about climate change] may find that the credibility of science itself is put at risk by supporting scientifically unsupportable claims in pursuit of a political agenda.”

    But even this good comment misses the point. “Science” is a method that when applied to inquiry insists that bias, prejudice, and wishful thinking be identified and, if not eliminated, ruthlessly mitigated and accounted for.

    What all of these harbingers of hokum, from Boulding to Hawkin, from Wirth to Schneider, from Ehrlich to Hansen, have in common is a felt desire to save the world from human perversity, in this case our penchant for machines that emit carbon dioxide at scale. They are blindsided by their biases from above and below, unable to see the benefits of such machines in wider context and oblivious to any sense of obligation to obey the first rule of science, which is to account for their prejudice.

    Science only became a useful tool in human enterprise as a countervailance–a functional alternative–to systems of belief that were not ultimately grounded in the empirical world.


  2. Ed Reid  

    Scientists putting their own spin on the data is bad enough; hiding the data from other investigators is even worse, since it inhibits or prevents efforts to “falsify” both the hypotheses and the hype.


  3. rbradley  

    The 15-year ‘pause’ in global warming (1997–2012), coming after a 1980–1996 warming, is discussed by climatologist Judith Curry here: http://judithcurry.com/2012/10/14/pause-discussion-thread/


  4. Kermit  

    A decade ago, I had read a few books describing the calamity of Global Warming. It seemed plausible so I sought more info. This search led be to Roger Pielke, Sr. PhD who had resigned from the IPCC because of political manipulation. My first thought was that such a calamity could be more serious than was being pitched. Lo and behold Pielke was shouting from the rooftops that the bureaucrats of the UN were dictating what literature the scientists could use. Pielke, being quite the environmental alarmist that he is, but still an honest scientist, was having none of this. He in fact was alarmed at global temperature rise, but wanted to look at all possible culprits, not just CO2. Being of the intellectually honest type that he is, he found that the temperatures had not actually risen abnormally.

    His blog, while it was still active, was quite revealing. I have no appetite for further discussion. It’s case closed for me. I learned enough in 2005/6. Until actual research does honestly show that there is a problem, I’m not interested in the Glowarmer point of view.


  5. Ray  

    Dr. Schneider, to his credit, later stated that he was not advocating lying. I still don’t understand what “double ethical bind” means.


  6. Is John Cook planning to use systematically biased “correct” survey answers to make unbiased skeptics look biased? | Watts Up With That?  

    […] that human impacts on the planet need to be dramatically curtailed. According to the late Stephen Schneider, one of the founding fathers of climate alarmism: Each of us has to decide the right balance […]


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