Richard Lindzen is one of our most distinguished theoreticians of meteorology. His track record of innovation and detailed analyses is outstanding, and yet his voice has been all but drowned out by the hullaballoo being raised by a dramatically risen tide of newly-coined ‘climate scientists’ and associated political and financial opportunists. These are people who can see advantage in their different ways from promoting the notion that our collective well-being is under dire threat from climate disruption brought about by our emissions of so-called greenhouse gases. Both theory and evidence for this conjecture are quite thin on the ground (as shown, for example, in the NIPCC Reports), but it has been sweeping all before it in national and international affairs.
The crisis-conjecture has at least been impressing what might be called the political classes. A recent international opinion poll finds that ‘ordinary people’ do not regard it as either urgent or important compared with their other concerns. Such polls of course merely serve to fire the CO2 commissars up to do more to ‘get the message across’, or ‘raise awareness’, or sometimes in their fury seek authoritarian options (example 1, example 2) to impose their wishes upon us whether we the people like it or not.
The historian Bernie Lewin (2012) has argued that 1995 was the turning-point for the corruption of science associated with climate when the cracks and gaping holes in the case for our CO2 emissions beginning to dominate climate were artfully covered over by, in particular, Ben Santer and John Houghton. If he is right, then these two quite mediocre scientists helped keep the political world on a foolish and destructive path. Those who wish to see an end to capitalism, i.e. to lively markets and individual freedom, have seized upon this notion that our industrial and agricultural achievements, which came out of capitalist societies, are so harmful that capitalism itself must be ‘destroyed’. A recent manifestation from such people has been the witch-hunt instigated against the oil company Exxon in the fervent hope that incriminating documents are to be found showing how they malevolently concealed their knowledge of the supposed climate crisis. Lewin (2015) has neatly shown just how implausible this is.
Thus otherwise unremarkable scientists have helped energise insidious forces, and a great deal of political and financial opportunism. Fiascos such as bio-fuels and wind-farms have resulted. Fatuous policies devised at Kyoto have been touted as needed to ‘save the world’, and it was an earnest hope that such policies would be adopted that seemed to be Houghton’s main preoccupation in 1995.
Yet back in 1989, the far more talented and distinguished meteorologist, Lindzen of MIT, had already pointed out that the likely effect of projected increases in ambient CO2 in the remainder of the 20th century and through the 21st upon the climate system was a modest one. In 1989 he was reported as saying these words in a presentation at MIT:
“I argue that the greenhouse effect does not seem to be as significant as suggested. I personally feel that the likelihood over the next century of greenhouse warming reaching magnitudes comparable to natural variability seems small, and I certainly feel that there is time and need for research before making major policy decisions.”
The behaviour of the climate system in the subsequent 26 years has been far more consistent with his perspective than with that of those who warned us of dreadful warming already underway, driven by our industrial and domestic emissions of CO2. Those emissions continued to rise, according to IPCC estimates, while the computed global mean temperature behaved in a decidedly un-alarming fashion. Similarly variation in sea-level, hurricane activity, and global ice levels have shown little sign of being driven by rising levels of ambient CO2.
The associated policy measures calling for massive expenditures at the expense of more urgent problems have long been known to be fatuous. Most recently, Bjorn Lomborg has shown just how preposterous it is to propose such waste in exchange for tiny impacts on global mean temperature as computed by the IPCC. A handy summary of some of his points, and a link to the original paper, can be found at Bishop Hill:
# US climate policies, in the most optimistic circumstances, fully achieved and adhered to throughout the century, will reduce global temperatures by 0.031°C (0.057°F) by 2100.
# EU climate policies, in the most optimistic circumstances, fully achieved and adhered to throughout the century, will reduce global temperatures by 0.053°C (0.096°F) by 2100.
# China climate policies, in the most optimistic circumstances, fully achieved and adhered to throughout the century, will reduce global temperatures by 0.048°C (0.086°F) by 2100.
# The rest of the world’s climate policies, in the most optimistic circumstances, fully achieved and adhered to throughout the century, will reduce global temperatures by 0.036°C (0.064°F) by 2100.
For a graphical illustration of these negligible impacts, and for further commentary on it see ‘COP21: a pointless virtue-signalling farce?’.
Meanwhile, last week in Texas, Lindzen is reported as saying these words:
“Demonisation of CO2 is irrational at best and even modest warming is mostly beneficial. The most important thing to keep in mind is – when you ask ‘is it warming, is it cooling’, etc. — is that we are talking about something tiny (temperature changes) and that is the crucial point.”
Lindzen also [recalled] the oft-repeated UN IPCC claim that most of the warming over past 50 years was due to mankind.
“People get excited over this. Is this statement alarming? No. We are speaking of small changes – 0.25 Celsius would be about 51% of the recent warming and that strongly suggests a low and inconsequential climate sensitivity – meaning no problem at all.”
We have given a glimpse into Lindzen’s views in 1989 and in 2015. He also contributed a great deal in the intervening years to try to reach a wider public than would read his scientific papers. His calm scholarship, and reasonable criticisms of what has been going on in the public square both deserve far wider attention. Any government which had paid heed to them from the start would have no regrets today, and would have had increased opportunity to address more pressing problems. It is nothing short of tragic that, instead, the Commissars of CO2 Alarm have had so much more impact on so many governments.