27 October 2011
One of U.C. Berkeley’s most popular undergraduate courses is Physics For Future Presidents. It’s taught by Professor Richard Muller who is a very well-known physicist who has worked in nuclear and particle physics at U.C. Berkeley and is a senior faculty member at Lawrence-Berkeley Laboratory. His book, Physics For Future Presidents, is absolutely excellent as well and I highly recommend it, but this is a story about climate change and the dwindling number of skeptics.
It seems that Dr. Muller made some comments that seemed a bit skeptical about climate change a few years back and he rapidly became the darling of those who do not believe the mountain of scientific evidence that the planet is warming. The skeptic numbers have continued to diminish and among those with a background in atmospheric physics, only about 2% are in disagreement with the consensus. The overwhelming majority of those who think that the planet is not getting warmer, or that the warming is a natural fluctuation, have little scientific background.
So what fuels their anger and mistrust?
It’s simple, they don’t believe because it is very inconvenient to do so. If climate change is real, (and it is) then fossil fuels are going to get more expensive as we switch to renewable sources of energy. If you sell oil and oil products, then you are likely to make less profit in the future, and that can be VERY inconvenient. In other words, the vast majority of those who doubt climate change are worried about the consequences to their pocket-book! I worry about that as well, but I recognize that the scientific reality of rising greenhouse gases is a separate question from what we do about it.
When Dr. Muller announced that he was going to do a separate study of the surface temperature record to confirm once and for all is the planet was getting warmer, the skeptic community rejoiced. Finally the truth would come out! A prominent blogger and TV weather man (not a meteorologist) even announced that he would abide by the results of Muller’s study. Keep in mind that NASA, NOAA, and the UK Met Office have long ago done the same thing, and their results are all very close to each other and confirm that we are indeed warming.
Update: Peter Sinclair has a rather hilarious (but very accurate) video out on this very subject (embedded below).
Now, science is all about showing your work and others being able to replicate your results, so this attempt was welcomed by most, and perhaps some mistakes would be found. The skeptics waited impatiently for the “truth” to finally come out, and prove that climate science was the hogwash they’d convinced themselves of. Unfortunately, my favorite scientific quotation ( from Neil deGrasse Tyson) rules again: “The laws of physics are real, everything else is politics!
Dr. Muller’s study confirmed what NASA, NOAA and 97.5% of the world’s climate experts already knew, the planet is warming. Muller wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal and it is well worth a read. Not that it will convince their editorial board who regularly rely on long exposed myths to proclaim otherwise. Chris Mooney has more about this in an excellent post here. Oh, and if you’re still clinging to the belief that it is heat from cities, John Cook over at Skeptical Science has something you should read first.
Questions about the study? Go here.