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Sunday, February 25, 2018

Academics & Research

Passing the blame for climate change

The on-going idea of climate change has been attributed to people and natural disasters. Yet to the scientists presenting their thoughts at the Law Center’s luncheon Thursday, the real driving force of climate change is the political arena.

“Science is being ruined by politics, and politics is ruining education,” said Willie Soon, an astrophysicist and geoscientist.

The debate-style forum of the presentation titled “Examining the Science of Climate Change” was led by Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and John Nielsen-Gammon, state climatologist and regents professor at Texas A&M University.  

Nielsen-Gammon said he agreed with Soon and said that many methods of climate study lack proper calibration, which can lead to misleading conclusions with the general public. Nielsen-Gammon said he feels that a human’s impact to climate change through common dioxide was minimal.

Soon said he agreed and he felt that human contribution to climate change was barely present.

“You spend more carbon dioxide walking two miles than you would if you drove the two miles,” Soon said.

A person walking two miles would be burning energy or food from the person. This food was most likely grown, cooked, transported and sold. That process would emit more CO2 than a brief two-mile drive, Soon said.

After the presentation, the conversation continued. Scientists in the audience had a chance to present their own ideas about climate change.

One of these scientists, Harold Doiron who works for NASA as a consultant said there is a difference between climate change and the scientific approach to it.

“If you want to follow climate science follow us, but if you want to follow climate change, follow the money,” Doiron said.

Larry Bell, UH director of Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture and author of “Climate of Corruption,” said people aren’t the only factor in climate change and that other aspects play a role in it.

“The idea that global warming is caused by humans is a hoax,” Bell said.

Boston’s sea level is lower because of the new sky scrapers they just built, but Galveston’s sea level change is because of water taken from the aquifers, Soon said.

Tom Wysmuller, a former NASA meteorologist, said everything is cyclical. The real issue with climate change is what happens in the ocean. The top of the ocean radiates back to the atmosphere, Wysmuller said. He said scientists should be focusing more on keeping it balanced.

Dorion said despite the ocean’s prominent role to climate, in academia there is no federal-funded research group that studies anything but carbon dioxide.

Soon said people accuse scientists of being money-driven, but he said he is not.

“People imply I may be here for money, and I show him my raggedy bag and ask them ‘Does it look like I am here for money?’”

He said his compassion lies with evidence and data and that people choose whatever facts represent their ideology and then claim those arguments as theirs, regardless of evidence.

Both speakers agreed on the complexity of humans trying to comprehend something so beyond us such as climate change. Even the experts have a lot of unanswered questions, and scientists and future scientists should persevere and keep studying harder.

“Climate science changes every day, it is very complicated,” Soon said.

[email protected]


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  • Michael Quirke

    This article gives no summary of the positions of the debate that I moderated last Thursday, nor does it attempt to provide any analysis of the actual debate or weight of evidence presented. This article also seriously misrepresents Dr. Nielsen-Gammon’s position. Yes, both Dr. Soon and Dr. Nielsen-Gammon agree that CO2, when compared to the myriad of factors that heat or cool the earth (sun output, La Nina to El Nino cycles, clouds, aerosols, ocean temp, volcanoes, etc.), is minimal. But what the article doesn’t say, is that Dr. Nielsen-Gammon followed that statement with the qualification that “there are some certain circumstances and timescales where [CO2] matters, and matters a great deal.” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon challenged Dr. Soon on his data and ultimately concluded that “natural variability keeps temperature going up and down, but if you increase carbon dioxide, temperature keeps going up.” Dr. Nielsen-Gammon went on to say that “you can throw climate models completely out the window, and you are still left with basic physics confirmed with observation: that CO2 effects radiation, radiation effects temperature, and [based on] all we know about past climate sensitivity, you change radiation, temperature changes also.“ He stated:”Estimating radiative forcing is easy (how much energy is coming in and out), but estimating climate sensitivity (how much global temperature changes in response) is hard… And we can estimate sensitivity from all sorts of past changes in climate… recent changes in climate, and… future changes (based on models). And right now, the best bet of a doubling of carbon dioxide concentration is a change of 2.5 to 3 degrees Celsius.” I do not think this author realizes that a 2.5-3 degree change would result in cataclysmic changes to our planet. This is the opposite conclusion of Dr. Soon, which is that we just don’t have the proof to back any of these claims and, that based on his observation, CO2 is playing a bit part in climate change and does not pose any serious issue based on what we know. Furthermore, when asked what we, as a nation, should do, Dr. Soon stated that he was just a scientist and doesn’t presume to tell us what to do and will refrain from attempting to predict the future without science to back it up. Dr. Nielsen-Gammon answered, “I’m just a scientist… but I will tell you, that the thing I worry about from a scientific point of view is not just the amount of temperature change, but the rate of change. It is not just an economic trade off…. I just think, religiously, we have a responsibility to take care of the earth and refrain from doing things that endanger it in terms of throwing it out of balance, and I would be a lot more comfortable if we had carbon dioxide on a reasonably constrained tract rather than on its continued increase.”
    Dr. Soon has stated that attempting to reduce CO2 emissions would be “all pain and no gain” and hit on this theme in the debate. When an audience member asked whether we understand the problem well enough to take a hit on the economy to reduce CO2, Dr. Soon answered a different question, but Dr. Nielsen-Gammon stated, “We will have to deal with a non-carbon economy sooner or later, might as well start working on the technology.” All of this was missed in your article. Your coverage of Dr. Soon could have focused more on his scientific arguments, but you at least didn’t misrepresent his opinion, so I will not critique you on that. I would if you had. Finally, as journalists covering a debate on a controversial issue, or examining two opposed positions, it is important examine and cover each side objectively. 50-50 coverage is best if you want to cover a debate fairly. But when a journalist reports on the views of a community of experts, he or she should have some grounding in the prominence and range of actual views represented by that community. This can be found in reliable statistics and surveys. Otherwise, the journalist risks fundamentally misrepresenting where the greater community stands on the issue, providing disproportionate coverage to the local group or the most vocal group, or missing some important or dominant view point. See George Mason University-STATS 2008 survey of American Meteorological Society and American Geophysical Union, which found that 84% say they “personally believe human-induced warming is occurring” and that “5% believe that human activity does not contribute to GHG warming” and “97% believe that global average temperatures have increased.” Based on reading the article, it seems like the consensus is exactly opposite. This is because you not only fail to provide 50-50 coverage, you actually only quote and paraphrase positions that subscribe to a skeptic’s view point. You have, on my count, 9-11 x paraphrases and quotes by Dr. Soon, a 2 x quotes by Prof. Larry Bell- an engineer and lawyer that devotes his book on climate change to “Al Gore, the creator of the internet” and claims that Dr. Nielsen-Gammon is perpetuating a hoax, 4 x paraphrases by another former NASA meteorologist that said “everything is cyclical” and that “the real issue is in what happens in the ocean,” and finally, 2 x quotes by another critic of academia’s focus on carbon dioxide. Would it surprise you that a skeptic group of NASA-affiliated engineers and scientists that call themselves “The Right Stuff on Climate Change,” and whom subscribe to views that are polar opposites of Dr. James Hanson and other NASA scientists, turned out in mass for the event and was planning on having a workshop with Dr. Soon that evening? The only 2-3 x paraphrases of Dr. Nielsen-Gammon published are when he agreed with Dr. Soon. This is poor. And I expect more objective and accurate coverage from my school’s newspaper. I am not speaking to the strengths or weaknesses of any position on the science of climate change, people can see the video and judge for themselves. My beef is with your sub-par coverage of an enlightening battle of the experts. If you are going to cover a debate, cover it. Finally, you start the article with the “real driving force of climate change is the political arena?” Really? When did they state that? I mean, forget the sun’s energy, radiative forcing of GHGs, natural and man-made feedbacks, ocean temperature in the pacific, and other “scientific” things! Our politicians are making it hotter! I get the metaphor. It is a bad one. Just because there are two diametrically opposed policy positions that exist, doesn’t change scientific truth. This reporter is obviously not trying to find that scientific truth, and is content with “policy” defining “science” with such a comment. I am not. That is why the purpose of the event was to examine and explain the science. It is because policy should be based on science. –Michael Quirke, [email protected]
    3L, University of Houston Law Center, Vice President – Environmental and Energy Law Society, Vice President (Technology) – Federalist Society

  • Michael Quirke

    Make your our judgment on whether the above article is objective journalism. See video of the event at: . –Michael Quirke

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