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Dear James Hansen: Climate Non-Alarmists Are Intellectually Grounded & Well Intentioned (Sir, are you suffering from a 'fatal conceit'?)

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- February 1, 2012

“The forcings that drive long-term climate change are not known with an accuracy sufficient to define future climate change.”

– James Hansen, “Climate Forcings in the Industrial Era,” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, October 1998, p. 12753.

“In view of the immense power of natural weather and climate fluctuations and the great buffering capacity of the Earth, especially the ocean, it is easy to be skeptical about whether small anthropogenic changes of atmospheric composition can have important practical impacts.”

– James Hansen et al., “How Sensitive Is the World’s Climate?,” National Geographic Research & Exploration, 9(2): 1993, p. 157.

“Climate is always changing. Climate would fluctuate without any change of climate forcings. The chaotic aspect of climate is an innate characteristic of the coupled fundamental equations describing climate system dynamics.”

– James Hansen et al., “How Sensitive Is the World’s Climate?,” National Geographic Research & Exploration, 9(2): 1993, p. 143.

James Hansen has been at the forefront of the alarmist wing of climate scientists regarding the human influence on global climate from 1988 until today. But at least earlier in his career he showed some humility in the face of the enormous complexity of his subject–and the limitations of his own mind. The above three quotations from the 1990s indicate as much. (1)

Humility is out. This NASA scientist has taken a ‘Greenpeace’ approach to the environment. He KNOWS both the problem and the answer to the problem, bringing to mind F. A. Hayek’s warnings about intellectuals who claim to know social problems so well that WE (the world) must adapt their coercive solutions. Beware of what Hayek called The Fatal Conceit.

Dr. James Hansen’s latest communication, Cowards in Our Democracies: Part 1 (January 27, 2012), (parsed in red below) is interspersed by my comments (in green). My critique will continue with Hansen’s just published Part II in the near future.


(Hansen) The threat of human-made climate change and the urgency of reducing fossil fuel emissions have become increasingly clear to the scientific community during the past few years. 

(Bradley) No! Scientific evidence for anthropogenic global ‘lukewarming’ as an alternative to catastrophic warming is gaining currency in both theory and fact. The science is not settled, much less in favor of alarmism. Notoriously complex feedback effects are where the action is, and to pretend that we know the answers, much less in alarmist form, is not only anti-science but also chilling.

Are you ‘drinking your own whiskey,’ so to speak. ‘Smoking your own dope’? The human influence on climate may well be net beneficial at the lower warming scenarios where we also have the benefits of CO2 fertilization.

Yet, at the same time, the public seems to have become less certain about the situation.  Indeed, many people have begun to wonder whether the climate threat has been concocted or exaggerated.

The public is burnt out on neo-Malthusian (false) alarmism. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb … Stephen Schneider’s global cooling fears. John Holdren’s warming and cooling fears. The running-out-of-resources fears….

If you really feared the future, why not embrace the incredible bread machine of market capitalism as the best way approach? Why energy and climate statism for miniscule climate changes rather than a wealth-is-health approach? Your grandchildren might just thank you!!

Public doubt about the science is not an accident.  People profiting from business-as-usual fossil fuel use are waging a campaign to discredit the science.  Their campaign is effective because the profiteers have learned how to manipulate democracies for their advantage.

Please Sir, there are many of us in this business who are just as well motivated and well intentioned (and intellectually grounded) as you are and who see  the problem quite differently than you do. If you demean your opponents in this way, should some of them demean you as a publicity hound who has grown rich off of the alarmist industry? 

The scientific method requires objective analysis of all data, stating evidence pro and con, before reaching conclusions.  This works well, indeed is necessary, for achieving success in science.  But science is now pitted in public debate against the talk-show method, which consists of selective citation of anecdotal bits that support a predetermined position.

The contrarians questioning climate alarmism have worked hard against politically correct, government-funded science and should be commended, not deprecated.

Why is the public presented results of the scientific method and the talk-show method as if they deserved equal respect?  A few decades ago that did not happen.  In 1981, when I wrote a then controversial paper (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abs/ha04600x.html) about the impact of CO2 on climate, the science writer Walter Sullivan contacted several of the top relevant scientific experts  in the world for comments.  He did not mislead the public by dredging up and highlighting contrarian opinion for the sake of a forced and unnatural “balance”.

Politicized science deserves a spanking. Climategate 1 and Climategate 2 (and probably more releases to come) show what a sorry state your side of the debate is in. My experiences with ‘moderate’ Gerald North of Texas A&M, a distinguished climate scientist in his own right, gives me more pause to your black-white view of the nature of the climate alarm.

Today most media, even publicly-supported media, are pressured to balance every climate story with opinions of contrarians, climate change deniers, as if they had equal scientific credibility. Media are dependent on advertising revenue of the fossil fuel industry, and in some cases are owned by people with an interest in continuing business as usual.

The media has been very pro-alarmist in years and decades past, but, thankfully, the media reports both sides of the story now. When you keep crying wolf, and the wolf does not show up, expect more and more skepticism, not less. Don’t kill the messenger–look in the mirror and beware of group-think with your group.

Fossil fuel profiteers can readily find a few percent of the scientific community to serve as mouthpieces — all scientists practice skepticism, and it is not hard to find some who are out of their area of expertise, who may enjoy being in the public eye, and who are limited in scientific insight and analytic ability.

By making such statements, you are throwing your support behind the poor behavior re Climategate. Plenty of skeptics exist within the “consensus” community, but their skepticism is shouted down by other community members.

With influential self-appointed gatekeepers of both science and discourse ruling the roost, opposing evidence is suppressed. Despite the best intension of the gatekeepers, such practices slow the advancement of scientific understanding, not enhance it. Closed science is unreliable science.

Distinguished scientific bodies such as national science academies, using the scientific method, can readily separate charlatans and false interpretations from well-reasoned science.  Yet it seems that our governments and the public are not making much use of their authoritative scientific bodies.  Why is that?

As you alluded to earlier, a recent poll shows that “global warming” lies last on a list of 21 potential “top priorities” that American’s think that the Obama Administration ought to be focused on. It should be of little wonder to anyone paying attention that “economy” and “jobs” are at the top of the list.

Fossil-fuel supported global warming “charlatans” are not the reason why, but I can only think the situation would be worse if climate alarmists pushing for tighter controls(taxes) on traditional energy had more influence.

I believe that the answer, and the difficulty in communicating science to the public, is related to the corrosive influence of money in politics and to increased corporate influence on the media. It is a tragic and frustrating situation, because when all the dots in the climate-energy story are connected it becomes clear that a common-sense pathway exists that would solve energy needs, stimulate the economy, and protect the future of young people.

That, sir, is an argument for the separation of government and science, and the separation of economics and politics. How about free-market capitalism rather than political capitalism?

As I discussed in “Storms of My Grandchildren”, a gradually rising carbon fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies, a gradually rising carbon fee should be collected from fossil fuel companies, with the money distributed uniformly to legal residents.  This would stimulate the economy, making it more efficient by putting an honest price on fuels, incorporating their costs to society.

Are you assuming one world government to implement what you see as the solution to a ‘market failure’? Do you see the current political impasse for climate policy as a form of realistic ‘government failure’ that must be compared to ‘market failure’ before advocating climate taxation? 

Remember this:

“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.”

– James Hansen, “The Threat to the Planet,” New York Review of Books, July 13, 2006.

Is it time for adaptation instead of mitigation by your own reckoning with time running out?

“Captains of industry” told me they would prefer such a course with knowledge of a steadily rising carbon price, which would stimulate innovations in efficiency and clean energies.

Captains of industry–or of crony capitalism?  Ken Lay? James Rogers? T. Boone Pickens? Jeffrey Immelt? Who else?

Despite the obstacles presented by the role of money in politics and by the huge advertising campaigns of the fossil fuel industry, the urgency of addressing the climate-energy issue demands that we do the best that we can to inform the public.

And what about the much larger budgets of anti-market, pro-statism environmental groups that just might not like more lives and better living? Can you question their motivations and results too? What if these same groups funded human needs or the arts and sciences instead of promoting climate alarmism?

One of the things we can do is try to expose how the public and our democracies are being manipulated for the benefit of those profiting from the public’s fossil fuel addiction.

History, anyone? Can you take the time to appreciate how the world’s “fossil fuel addiction” enabled the industrial revolution to allow the quality and quantity of human life to reach undreamt levels?

What is your real agenda if it is not affordable, reliable energy for the masses to tame nature and live better lives? And might you have your own addiction … to yourself as Scientist-King?

For that purpose I provided the witness statement below in support of an effort to reveal the name of the seed funder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) in the UK. GWPF is “successful” in casting doubt on the reality and significance of human-made climate change.

The newsletters of Benny Peiser, Director of GWPF, can be quite entertaining and sometimes include useful references.  He pings the impracticality and costliness of an energy approach that relies excessively on renewable energies.  But ultimately his purpose seems to be to persuade the public that climate science is flawed.

I don’t know if GWPF is supported by the fossil fuel industry, but it seems to me that the public has the right to know.  Ultimately, I hope and believe, the public will be able to appreciate how our democracies are being twisted by people with money for their own purposes.  But that requires freedom of information.

If your agenda is supported by wind or solar companies, or by anti-growth neo-Malthusian monied foundations, would that be just as bad?

And remember Enron. Enron was the leading U.S. company behind climate alarmism. Was this a good thing–or maybe not?

Finally, does a business have a right to fight against government coercion that interferes with its profitability, particularly when the supposed bad is carbon dioxide?

One final thought, Sir. Alarms in the mission of restricting economic and personal freedom deserve critical scrutiny–please don’t kill the messenger.

(1) Previous posts on James Hansen at MasterResource can be found here.


  1. Jon Boone  

    There was a recent WSJ editorial, supported by 16 prominent scientists, that also challenges Hansen’s take on what science knows about climate change:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204301404577171531838421366.html.

    For those who enjoy larger context, I suggest reading Adam Gopnik’s recent review of contemporary histories of the Spanish Inquisition, posted in the January 16 edition of The New Yorker: http://tinyurl.com/7s3gaa2. I cite this because, in many ways, as Gopnik reminds, the zeitgeist of the Inquisition remains too much a part of modernity, as is evident by the way Hansen and other leading climate Torquemadas seek to impose, rudely, their (rather provincial) views of the truth on the rest of the world, in the process mangling the scientific method, beginning with its demand for dispassionate inquiry. Here’s a quote from Gopnik’s piece I particularly found relevant:

    “What makes a civilization lose the inquisitional tendency? The truth seems to be that abundance helps — the more goods there are, the more purely symbolic the struggles over them tend to become — but the idea of decency matters most. The values of tolerance are one of the most difficult lessons to impart, not because people are naturally cruel but because power is naturally fearful. We’re slow learners. The Inquisition has become a byword for cruelty combined with state power and superstition because it was. Monty Python could take it as a figure of fun because Enlightenment ideals of tolerance and decency make us feel safe from it.”

    Hansen’s zeal is not just unscientific. It’s indecent. And it should make all feel unsafe.


  2. Dear James Hansen: Climate Non-Alarmists Are Intellectually Grounded & Well Intentioned… | JunkScience.com  

    […] Robert Bradley Jr. takes on Jim Hansen’s “Cowards in our Democracies, Part 1.” Share this:PrintEmailMoreStumbleUponTwitterFacebookDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. This entry was posted in Climate Change. Bookmark the permalink. ← Salt Lake Tribune: ‘Utahns are dying prematurely from dirty air’ […]


  3. tadchem  

    Will Rogers had some excellent advice for Hansen: “It’s not what you don’t know that hurts you, it’s what you know that isn’t so.”


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