“Despite media horror stories, many species have benefitted from recent climate change. Those species that are struggling have invariably been affected by issues other than climate change and require very different remedies. Controlling our carbon footprints will never address the most pressing issues of habitat loss and watershed degradation.”
– Book Description, Amazon
Book Review: Landscape and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism by Jim Steele, 2013.
In 1615 astronomer Galileo Gallei wrote a famous letter called the Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina in the Duchy of Tuscany, Italy, giving his heliocentric position that the sun – not the earth — was the center of the earth’s solar system. By 1632, Galileo had expanded his letter into his scientific manifesto titled Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, for which he ended up being brought to trial by a faction of Dominican priests before Catholic Pope Urban as a religious heretic.
Jim Steele, a biologist at San Francisco State University in California, has perhaps written no less than the modern day equivalent to Galileo’s letter and his Dialogues in his book Landscapes and Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism.”
A New, Credible Voice
Just as Galileo’s book was monumental because he was a pious Roman Catholic who once considered the priesthood, Steele’s book is important because of who he is.
Steele enlisted in the military at age 17 and was honorably discharged. He was a computer programmer for a major Sacramento newspaper for 10 years. Steele’s environmental pedigrees are too long to list.
Steele dropped out of the mechanical engineering program at the University of Massachusetts in 1968 out of concern that his career would involve Vietnam War time industrial production. He embraced several social justice issues and toured many national parks around the U.S. Later, he completed a master’s degree in biology from San Francisco State University, where he went on to direct their field biology program.
He is a genuine environmentalist who has worked for various government agencies as a consultant and is a supporter of the Feather River and Sierra County Land Trusts. He is now a professor emeritus and is thus untethered from dependence on government grants or patronage.
In the preface to the book Steele’s mentor, Dr. James Kelley, former President of the California Academy of Sciences, explains that Steele is a field biologist who has studied the biosphere first hand his entire career rather than working in the secular monastery of a laboratory or on computer models.
Taking Ad Hominem Arrows
Steele relates how he has experienced accusations from his colleagues that he is a global warming “denier” who is collaborating with “Big Oil” due to his observations that local landscape changes, not global climate change, has had a greater impact on California’s wildlife.
Steele explains that Galileo offered his antagonists the opportunity to look through a telescope and see the motions of the planets around the sun for themselves but they refused.
Like Galileo, Steele has encouraged his antagonists to look at the historical temperature data but they have refused. He writes that the opposition to Galileo wasn’t religious but was due to entrenched Dominican scientists that refused to look through Galileo’s telescope because their scientific fiefdom was threatened.
Steele says that looking through the lens of science at global warming that average temperatures are useless. He found that maximum temperatures have declined and minimum temperatures have risen over the last 100 years near Lake Tahoe in California. His conclusion: the world isn’t getting hotter, just less cold!
The chapters of his book are one debunking after another of the conventional science about global warming.
In Chapter One of his book, Steele takes on NASA’s climate change guru James Hansen: “In contrast to predictions of accelerating heat stress by ‘CO2 advocates’ like Dr. Hansen, the past 60 years of climate change in California should have benefited wildlife…Top down global climate change models have repeatedly failed to explain regional climate change.”
Steele says CO2 has been so demonized and politicized that it has created a blinding bias that has diverted focusing on factors that affect the biosphere such as urbanization and ocean temperature cycles called El Ninos (wet monsoon rainstorm years) and La Ninas (dry years).
Steele is not one who avoids blaming industrialization where blame is due. He relates a story of how he restored a watershed that had been degraded by the construction of a railroad 100 years ago. But such changes are local and regional, not global, says Steele. Steele also points out that 75 percent of tornados occur in the U.S. because of nature’s creation of a “tornado alley.”
In chapter four he explains that the emperor penguins shown in the film “March of the Penguins” are not going extinct due to warming. Instead he writes their numbers have decreased when environmentalists disturbed their habitat and explosives were used on three islands to construct an airplane landing field.
In chapters 14 and 15 he discusses photogenic polar bears that are the poster children of the media. Steele writes that polar bears aren’t going extinct and there never was any warming of their habitats. Evidence is shown by Steele that the local food supply benefits from less ice.
Social Psychology Insight
Steele is a master social psychologist about the how we create our own illusions about nature. In one case study Steele shows that claims made by biologist Camille Parmesan of the University of Texas at Austin are a statistical illusion. To Steele, scientific hypotheses unintentionally create powerful illusions that prejudice the conclusions of a study. He adds: “any hypothesis that appeals to our prejudices readily possesses our minds.”
Steele’s book is not some highly technical work written in language only for scientists based on abstract models based on assumptions that are never disclosed. As a field instructor and educator he has written a book for laypersons to understand what is really happening at the ground level of the debate on global warming.
There are many books that have attacked the models on which global warming studies are based. Meteorologists, retired scientists, and scientists working for think tanks outside of state-funded academia have conducted most of these counter studies. Academic-based scientists subsidized by federal grants or working for NASA or some other government agency have conducted most of the global warming modeling studies.
Steele’s book is the first of which I am aware of an academic-based scientist who has gravitated to climate change skepticism. This is what makes Steele’s book take on the importance of a new Galileo.
Unlike Galileo, Steele cannot be indicted for heresy, put under house arrest or have his written work banned. A popular legend is that Galileo blurted out “and yet it moves” (referring to the earth moving around the sun) after he was made to rescind his views on cosmology. Prof. Steele may be similarly remembered for stating “global warming benefits wildlife” and that “it is not getting hotter, just less colder.”
The sociological function of global warming science is to legitimate the state’s reasons for creating state-controlled energy industries and to establish a politically liberal constituency dependent on government energy subsidies on the specious grounds of the moral superiority of renewable energy to combat an unfounded notion of global warming. It should be understood that Steel may not agree with such a view. His non-partisan book embraces no ideology that I could find. Instead it just speaks about the facts.
In this sense, the ideological struggle over global warming is not much different than that in Galileo’s time. Of all those who have “denied” the C02 theory of global warming, Steele’s book stands a chance of being the most lasting both for who the author is and for his conclusion: “Although it is wise to think globally, all wildlife reacts locally.”