Energy & Environment

The science is settled — until it’s not


Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives, the science is settled!

If any scientific issue should be “settled” this may be it. Knowledge of DNA dates to the 1950s and perhaps the 1860s. Researchers mapped our genetic code in 2003, advances have quickened since.  

But the story has a twist. Orangutans actually share more human-like features and some researchers question the genetic comparison.  

{mosads}Of course, the public never hears “settled science!” about academic curiosities like human-primate genetics. The refrain, however, is common — usually joined with copious contempt — about the formerly named “Anthropogenic Global Warming” (AGW). But despite billions of dollars and vast attention from scientists, only three AGW premises emerge with scientific certainty:  


  1. Global temperatures are up slightly, about 0.3 percent or 0.8° C, since the late 1800s.

  2. During this period, humans have enjoyed unprecedented prosperity fueled partly by cheap energy. This, in turn, has flooded the atmosphere with carbon dioxide (CO2).

  3. None of the dire predictions about how surplus CO2 would affect the earth’s climate or booming human population has happened.

A couple examples:

Former NASA scientist James Hansen the “father of climate change” in 2006:

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 … We have reached a critical tipping point … it will soon be impossible to avoid climate change with far-ranging undesirable consequences.”

The UN 62nd General assembly in July 2008 estimated there would be between 50 million and 200 million environmental migrants by 2010.

But things are actually dandy. Hurricanes are at their lowest point in decades. Droughts are practically nonexistent in the U.S. With due respect to the former president, the oceans did not stop rising with his election, but the extra CO2 hasn’t hastened the rise:


And even Hansen now admits, the period between the last interglacial period — the period between ice ages — was warmer than today.

Finally, and most vexing to climate scientists, global temperatures have remained flat for around two decades despite tons more emitted CO2, although the last few years trended up.


Evidence suggests adding ocean temperatures boosts the trend. But a University of Virginia scientist posits the dramatic increase in sunbathed buoys as temperature gauges explains this. Regardless, the “pause” has vexed scientists trying to explain erroneous models. They have suggested natural variables including ocean cycles, volcanoes, and solar radiation.

As one leading climate scientists stated regarding natural variability, “There is no disagreement that there is decadal variability, and that it is real and needs to be better understood.” We can roughly translate this benign statement into, “We actually don’t know how all these natural factors work together. If we did we wouldn’t keep screwing up the models.”

In ordinary science this is, well, ordinary. Discovery reveals ignorance as it accumulates knowledge. As the great philosopher of science, Karl Popper stated: “The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance.”

AGW of course is not ordinary science. It comes with billions of dollars, media attention, activist energy, and power over the global economy. These factors bring out normal human traits of self-interest and the desire for prestige.

In extreme form, it ends in calls for criminal prosecutions of “skeptics.” Robert Kennedy Jr. labeled some “war criminals.” Bill Nye, an actor with no scientific background, also suggested jail.

Pointing out the data doesn’t match the predictions gets one branded a “denier” or “anti-science.” Calling for civil AGW debate in the New York Times produces a flood of canceled subscriptions.  

This turns science into just another way to score political points or virtue signal as a recent TV segment exemplified.

In it, Bill Nye and another climate activist squared off with an actual Princeton scientist who formerly headed research at the Department of Energy. As the scientist calmly explained facts, Nye exploded:

“Say what you will but you have it absolutely wrong. What happened to that heat, he’s cherry picking a certain model and the heat ended up in the ocean … So sir, with some respect, I encourage you to cut this out so that we can all move forward … .”

As if to embody the current debate, the moderator concluded the segment by asking the other activist to explain her “feelings.”

Feelings, bullying, and condescension of debatable propositions are the last refuge of science’s scoundrels. And policy consensus will not accompany slurs and derision. The debate must change.


Paul H. Jossey is principal attorney at Jossey PLLC in Alexandria, Virginia. Please follow him on Twitter @PaulHJossey.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.


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