5 December 2009

Are We Living Through A Notable Moment In Science History??

Posted by Dan Satterfield


What's the connection between these three famous scientists? Read on!

The class that most impressed me while at university was not taught by one of my meteorology professors. Not that I didn’t have some good ones. One became a provost of the University of Oklahoma, and another has written two text books that are considered the gold standard on dynamics (read that as mean math) and makes frequent appearances on the Discovery Channel with Tornadoes bearing down on him!

The professor who taught me the most about science. Duane Roller.

The professor who taught me the most about science. Duane Roller.

Instead it was Duane Roller and his class on the history of science. It had a major impact on me.

What he taught me I think has a great deal of relevance to the political atmosphere this week surrounding the stolen emails from the Climate Research Unit at the Univ. of East Anglia in the UK.

I’m convinced that we are living through a period that will be looked upon in history of science texts in much the same way we now look back on the controversy around Galileo and Darwin.

They all had ground shaking discoveries that were diametrically opposed to the establishment of the time. Galileo on our place in the Cosmos. Darwin on man’s place among the life on Earth.

In Galileo’s day it was the Catholic Church which was the establishment. In Darwin’s time it was a deeply religious society raised on a belief that humans were created intact a few thousand years before.

Bring us now to the present day. The discoveries in this case were not by any one person, but several big names can be associated with them. Roger Revelle, Guy Calendar, Charles Keeling, and James Hansen among hundreds. This of course was the discovery that humans were having a very serious impact on our climate.

Screen shot 2009-12-05 at 00.46.26In this case the establishment is as well funded as the Catholic Church was in Galileo’s day, and just as powerful. The fossil fuel industry and those associated with it.

This time it’s not one person who has to face the establishment against him, but an entire group of scientists who are woefully unprepared to deal with a well funded disinformation campaign.

Kevin Grandia and John Littlemore contribute to one of the best investigative environmental blogs online. They have  written a great post on this. (and Littlemore with James Hoggan, an even better book).

It’s no wonder that the average person on the street does not know what to think about the climate change issue! They are victims of a well organized effort to keep it that way. I started writing this Wild Wild Science Journal in part because I could scarcely believe some of the questions I was getting. Especially in regard to climate change science.

This is not a secret conspiracy, but a well funded under the table campaign to sow doubt. The scientists trying to find out just what it is we face and the risk it poses are up against real professionals. The stolen climate emails show their exasperation at this without doubt.

What they do not show is any cover up or fudging of data. (Despite what you may have read on climate denier blogs – which based on some good reporting by DeSmog blog are in several cases funded by fossil fuel companies!)

The press has done a fairly good job of covering this issue. The best video journalism online may belong to the retired UK science correspondent named “potholer54” on you tube. He wisely prefers to remain anonymous. Before you believe political pundits calling climate science a fraud- watch it:

One of the best written pieces I’ve seen is this one at the Columbia Journalism Review.

I have collected a few quotes on the issue that are worth posting here as well.

from Brad Johnson via Only In It for the Gold:

“Evidently due to this e-mail conspiracy, Arctic sea ice is at historically low levels, Australia is on fire,the northern United Kingdom is underwater, and the world’s glaciers are disappearing.”


“I called this whole thing a non-event because it’s manufactured drama. It is not the smoking gun, it doesn’t discredit climatological research showing the Earth is warming, and it doesn’t show that scientists are some sort of priesthood guarding their domain. As Real Climate points out, it’s not what’s in the files that’s interesting, it’s what’s not in them: nothing about huge conspiracies, nothing about this all being faked. If this is such damning evidence, where’s that evidence?”
Dr. Phil Plait Astronomer-Bad Astronomy



“From my point of view, the most important issue is whether anything has been added to or subtracted from the scientific picture of global warming. The answer is simple. Nothing has changed. It remains true that the temperature has warmed over 1.2 degrees last century. It remains true, that the sea level has risen by about 2 inches over the last century, and that’s enough to erode 60 feet around average beech. It remains true that glaciers are warming. And it remains true that the ocean is more acidic than it used to be because of the build up of carbon dioxide.”

Michael Oppenheimer (Climate Scientist IPCC Author)


and from Joe Romm Fellow of the AAAS
(Physicist by training who has done the defending the climate researchers have so desperately needed)

“The fact that these climate-skeptics were prepared to take these e-mails, pore over them for some choice quotes (which didn’t even look incriminating to me out of context), blatantly misinterpret them without making any kind of good-faith effort to understand the context or the science behind it, and trumpet it all out as some kind of ‘disproval’ of global warming (which wouldn’t have been the case even if they were right), just goes to show that they’re simply not interested in either learning the science, or engaging in a real debate. And it’s in itself pseudo-scientific behavior in action: Decide there’s a big conspiracy of fraud behind climate change, and go look for evidence to support your theory, and ignore all other explanations.”

The great disconnect between the climate experts and the public. The question was whether humans are changing our climate. I'm on the side of every major science organization on the planet, and 97% of publishing climate scientists. Let' just say I like those odds.

The great disconnect between the climate experts and the public. The question was whether humans are changing our climate. I'm on the side of every major science organization on the planet, and 97% of publishing climate scientists. Let's just say I like those odds.

It’s interesting to note that climate change theory is based on a very simple discovery that carbon dioxide blocks long wave radiation. Add more CO2 to a planets atmosphere and it gets warmer. This has been known for a hundred years.

No sane scientist doubts this. It’s basic radiation physics. The only question is how fast it’s happening, and how fast will it happen in the future.

The best science right now is that doubling the CO2 in our atmosphere will raise the planets temperature about 3C on average. This was what researchers thought 100 years ago and they have a ton of science that says the same thing today.

The consequences of such a dramatic change in our climate over such a short period are as of yet unknown with certainty. So far the worlds best scientists have underestimated the consequences.

I quoted the renowned Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson awhile back. It’s apropos here:

“The laws of physics are real – everything else is just opinion.”

Could we trip a climate switch and bring on catastrophe? No one knows for certain, but the scientists trying to find out are thanked by having their names dragged through the mud by people who understand little more about science than what they read on a website, and approve of criminal acts like theft.

Darwin and Galileo were vindicated by doing good science in the face of powerful opposition. This time you have an overwhelming consensus of the brightest physicists on Earth. They will someday be vindicated as well because they are doing good science.

Some of our descendants will hear about all this from a history of science professor. I think the lecture will be about the most important scientific discovery of the age and how it was fought tooth and nail by the carbon based establishment of the day.

I wonder what the planet’s climate will be like outside the classroom?



ps Joe Romm put together a press interview with several of the top climate experts on Friday. Listen to it here.