By Ross McKitrick, opinion contributor
© Victoria Sarno Jordan
Policy makers and the public need to understand the extent to which major scientific institutions like the American Meteorological Society have become biased and politicized on the climate issue. Convincing them of this becomes much easier when the organizations themselves supply the evidence.
This happened recently in response to a CNBC interview with Energy Secretary Rick Perry. He was asked “Do you believe CO2 [carbon dioxide] is the primary control knob for the temperature of the Earth and for climate?”
It was an ambiguous question that defies a simple yes or no answer. Perry thought for moment then said, “No, most likely the primary control knob is the ocean waters and this environment we live in.” He then went on to acknowledge the climate is changing and CO2 is having a role, but the issue is how much, and being skeptical about some of these things is “quite all right.”
Perry’s response prompted a letter of protest from Keith Seitter, executive director of the American Meteorological Society. The letter admonished him for supposedly contradicting “indisputable findings” that emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases are the primary cause of recent global warming, a topic for which Seitter insists there is no room for debate.
It is noteworthy that the meteorological society remained completely silent over the years when senior Democratic administration officials made multiple exaggerated and untrue statements in service of global warming alarmism.
When Secretary of State John Kerry falsely claimed in 2016 that “storms that used to happen once every 500 years are becoming relatively normal,” or when Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy claimed in 2015 that green house gases are behind upward trends in “extreme heat, cold, storms, fires and floods,” the meteorological society said nothing, even though the evidence clearly contradicts these positions.
When President Obama tweeted in 2013 that “97 percent of scientists agree that climate change is real, man-made and dangerous” the meteorological society said nothing, even though no such survey existed and the meteorological society’s own membership surveythe next year showed nearly half of its members doubted either that climate change was even happening or that CO2 played a dominant role.
But the meteorological society leapt to condemn Perry for a cautious response to an awkward question. Perry could not reasonably have agreed with the interviewer since the concept of a “control knob” for the Earth’s temperature wasn’t defined. Doubling CO2might, according to models, cause a few degrees of warming. Doubling the size of the sun would burn up the planet. Doubling cloud cover might trigger an ice age. So which is the “primary control knob”? The meteorological society letter ignored the odd wording of the question, misrepresented Perry’s response and then summarily declared their position on climate “indisputable.” Perry’s cautious answer, by contrast, was perfectly reasonable in the context of a confusing question in a fast-moving TV interview.
Furthermore, Seitter’s letter invites skepticism. It pronounces confidently on causes of global warming “in recent decades” even though this is where the literature is most disputed and uncertain. Climate models have overestimated warming in recent decades for reasons that are not yet known. Key mechanisms of natural variability are not well understood, and measured climate sensitivity to CO2 appears to be lower than modelers assumed. Climate models tweaked to get recent Arctic sea ice changes right get overall warming even more wrong, adding to the list of puzzles. But to the meteorological society, the fact that these and many other questions are unresolved does not prevent them from insisting on uniformity of opinion.
Trump administration lining up climate change ‘red team’
The Trump administration is in the beginning stages of forming an adversarial “red team” to play devil’s advocate in a plan to debate the facts behind global warming and take on what skeptics call climate alarmism.
The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency are recruiting scientists by enlisting the help of the Heartland Institute, considered to be the lead think tank for challenging the majority of scientists on climate change.The institute has its own red team, which is the antithesis to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which it calls, unabashedly, the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change.
“The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached out to the Heartland Institute to help identify scientists who could constitute a red team, and we’ve been happy to oblige,” Jim Lakely, the group’s communications director, told the Washington Examiner.
“This effort is long overdue,” he said. “The climate scientists who have dominated the deliberations and the products of the IPCC have gone almost wholly without challenge. That is a violation of the scientific method and the public’s trust.”
The Heartland Institute has been a long proponent of a red team “to critically examine what has become alarmist dogma rather than a sober evaluation of climate science for many years,” Lakely said. “In fact, Heartland has worked closely with a red team that has been examining the science for several years: the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, or NIPCC.”
What the Trump administration may pull together in creating its red team might look a little like what Heartland has created.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt “believes that we will be able to recruit the best in the fields which study climate and will organize a specific process in which these individuals … provide back-and-forth critique of specific new reports on climate science,” a senior administration official told the news service Climatewire late last month.
“We are, in fact, very excited about this initiative. Climate science, like other fields of science, is constantly changing. A new, fresh, and transparent evaluation is something everyone should support doing,” the official said.
The Heartland team continues to publish reports challenging IPCC and other climate scientists, which it began eight years ago. The group has produced four volumes of “Climate Change Reconsidered,” with a fifth coming out later this year, Lakely said.
“Hundreds of scientists have reviewed and helped produce those volumes, which have been published by the Heartland Institute,” Lakely said. The reports total more than 3,000 pages.
The irony behind the Trump administration taking up the approach is that it was suggested by a former Obama administration official, Steve Koonin, who suggested a red team-blue team approach to clear out the politics and address the science. Koonin teaches at New York University.
Obama’s Science Czar Rails Against Using ‘Red Teams’ To Debate Global Warming
U.S. President Barack Obama gets direction from White House science adviser John Holdren during an event to look at the stars with local middle school students and astronomers from across the country on the South Lawn at the White House in Washington, October 7, 2009. REUTERS/Jim Young
President Barack Obama’s chief science adviser compared the Trump administration’s use of “red teams” to debate climate science to a “kangaroo court” meant to “create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change.”
“But I suspect that most of the advocates of the scheme are disingenuous, aiming to get hand-picked non-experts from federal agencies to dispute the key findings of mainstream climate science and then assert that the verdict of this kangaroo court has equal standing with the findings of the most competent bodies in the national and international scientific communities,” former President Barack Obama’s science czar John Holdren wrote in a Boston Globe op-ed published Monday.
“The purpose of that, of course, would be to create a sense of continuing uncertainty about the science of climate change, as an underpinning of the Trump administration’s case for not addressing it. Sad,” Holdren wrote in his op-ed, railing against the “perversity of the climate science kangaroo court.”
The idea of using red teams gained traction with Trump administration officials this year after former Obama administration official Steve Koonin suggested the arrangement in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in April.
Koonin, a physicist and former top Department of Energy official, argued red teams could strengthen climate science by exposing its faults and uncertainties. The military and intelligence communities often pit red teams against blue teams to expose weaknesses in policies and strategies being pursued. It could work in a similar way for climate science, with a red team of researchers given the goal of finding pitfalls in blue team’s scientific argument.
“A Red/Blue exercise would have many benefits,” Koonin wrote in the WSJ. “It would produce a traceable public record that would allow the public and decision makers a better understanding of certainties and uncertainties. It would more firmly establish points of agreement and identify urgent research needs.”
Many climate scientists, however, say it has no place in their field. One group of prominent researchers even argued red team exercises amount to “dangerous attempts to elevate the status of minority opinions” that undercut mainstream science.
Holdren argued the scientific peer-review process already acts as a check on bad science, further arguing a red team exercise is a ‘right-wing’ plot against climate science.
“Climate science has been repeatedly ‘red-teamed,’ both by groups of avowed contrarians sponsored by right-wing groups and by the most qualified parts of the world’s scientific community,” Holdren wrote in his op-ed.
“The right wing’s ‘red team’ efforts have consistently been characterized by brazen cherry-picking, misrepresentation of the findings of others, recycling of long-discredited hypotheses, and invention of new ones destined to be discredited,” Holdren wrote. “Almost none of this material has survived peer review to be published in the respectable professional literature.”
Despite this, Trump administration officials have begun looking for scientists to participate in a red-blue team exercise to test scientific claims about man-made global warming. Media reports suggest the Trump team is considering asking Koonin to lead the exercise.
The administration also sought recommendations for who should participate in the red team exercise from the Heartland Institute, which is known for its skepticism of man-made warming.
“The White House and the Environmental Protection Agency have reached out to the Heartland Institute to help identify scientists who could constitute a red team,” Heartland spokesman Jim Lakely told reporters Monday.