An NRO Q&A
National Review Online
April 22, 2008
Lawrence Solomon is author of a new book from the new Richard Vigilante Books. The Book is The Deniers: The World Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution and Fraud *And those who are too fearful to do so. And that about tells you everything you need to know. In The Deniers, Solomon focuses on profiling the scientists Al Gore conveniently doesn’t engage. In the run-up to the hottest holiday of the year, Earth Day, he took questions from National Review Online editor Kathryn Lopez.
Kathryn Jean Lopez:Will you feel bad you defended “The Deniers” when we’re all dead?
Lawrence Solomon: The third world is sustaining terrible environmental damage today and people are losing their source of food and fuel, because too few people have been defending scientists who want nothing more than to have their voices heard, and because journalists have turned a blind eye to the consequences of Kyoto.
Consider this: Kyoto has emerged as the single biggest threat to the global environment. Thanks to Kyoto, we are seeing a revival of megadams that threaten to destroy many of the world’s remaining river valleys, we are seeing a renaissance of nuclear power, which remains a costly and dangerous technology, we are seeing our foodlands turned into fuel lands, and people in the Third World rioting because they can’t afford the doubling of grain prices that has resulted.
Because we have been blinkered, we don’t realize that when we purchase a carbon offset in the west, the other half of that transaction is often a carbon sink in the third world. That carbon sink is typically a fast growing eucalyptus plantation, planted on land that had formerly been farmland or old growth forest.
No area of public policy is more dependent on sound science than environmental protection. Sound science presupposes debate and the free flow of ideas, and scientists who are not castigated when they offer their views.
Lopez: How did you choose your “Deniers”?
Solomon: I looked for scientists with exceptional credentials, without affiliations or funders that would call their integrity into doubt. At first, it was hard to find such scientists to profile in my newspaper columns, because many of them didn’t want to be found. They feared castigation. Over time, as scientists learned of my columns, they began to find me.
Lopez: Isn’t the “Political Persecution” from your title a little overly dramatic?
Solomon: Well none of my deniers has been water-boarded. On the other hand, many of those who didn’t toe the government line lost their funding, were drummed out of their jobs, found it impossible to publish in crucial journals, discovered that they were pariahs in their academic departments, or were exposed to furious criticism in the press of a sort most research scientists will never encounter, including being compared to Holocaust Deniers by quite mainstream-media figures like Scott Pelley of 60 Minutes. That is certainly quite enough persecution to have a chilling effect on debate.
Lopez: Do “The Deniers” all believe global warming is a hoax or is more complicated than that?
Solomon: None dispute that the earth has been getting warmer on some time scale. They variously dispute the significance of that warming, or that global warming can lead to cataclysm or that man is an important cause of the warming. As Habibullo Abdussamatov, the head of research for the Russian half of the International Space Station told me, there is global warming on Mars, and the Martians aren’t responsible.
Some of the deniers do think the scare is all hoax. Others believe global warming to be a concern, just not a serious one.
Lopez: Is hysteria really a bad thing or is it just getting us to act?
Solomon: Acting without reason is really a bad thing.
Lopez: Is it warmer?
Solomon: Yes. I especially like the explanation by Syun Ichi Akasofu, discoverer of the origin of the storms of the aurora borealis. He explains that the 20th century saw warming of about one-half degree Celsius, that the 19th century saw global warming at the same rate, and the 18th and the 17th century. Over all these centuries, he told me, the likeliest explanation is that we have been slowly climbing out of the Little Ice Age.
Lopez: What’s the hockey stick of global warming and do you really know it to be wrong?
Solomon: The hockey-stick-shaped graph claimed to show that temperatures had been fairly stable over the last 1000 years (the long handle of the hockey stick) until the last century, when temperatures shot up (the blade of the hickey stick). Based on that graph just about any human being with access to a newspaper, a magazine or a television set was told that the 1990s was the hottest decade of the hottest century of the last 1000 years, that the current warming trend was unprecedented and cataclysmic, and public opinion shifted massively toward the belief that man-made activity was hurtling us into disaster.
The statistics upon which that graph depends was challenged and eventually came before a committee of the House of Representatives. Dr. Edward Wegman, one of America’s foremost statisticians, found that the graph was bogus — it had no statistical validity. In effect, the technique that produced the graph would always produce a hockey stick shape, regardless of the data — you could feed it baseball statistics and a hockey stick graph would come out the other end. As the committee members learned, the climate scientists who produced the hockey stick graph had inadequate training in the requisite statistical methods.
Lopez: Is there something arbitrary about the United Nations?
Solomon: The United Nations is a political body, not a scientific body, and it acts accordingly. In the case of global warming, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was given a mandate to search for man-made causes of climate change. The investigation of natural causes of climate change was outside its mandate. Not surprisingly, it neither searched for natural explanations for climate change nor found them.
Lopez: Has Al Gore ever debated any of your Deniers?
Solomon: No. I don’t know that he has ever debated any scientist who disputes his take on climate change. Al Gore doesn’t even take questions from the press during his public presentations When he does deal with the press, it tends to be in controlled situations, with members of the press that he trusts.
Lopez: How did you wind up writing about this climate debate we’re in?
Solomon: My organization, Energy Probe, has long been involved in the climate change issue. We were one of the first organizations, in the late 1980s, to warn of the possible dangers from climate change. We were in Rio in 1992, which set the stage for the Kyoto Protocol. And we proposed various reforms to deal with unnecessary CO2 emissions.
When the warnings of catastrophe became strident, we naturally took notice, as we did when some scientists began to challenge the catastrophic outlooks, and when they then became subject to attack. As a journalist, I naturally was curious as to whether these scientists were all disreputable, or whether they has something credible to tell us. So I inquired.
Lopez: Do you believe all “The Deniers”?
Solomon: I don’t believe they are all correct in their theories — they themselves don’t claim infallibility and disagree with each other on important points. I do believe they are all sincere.
Lopez: What Denier fact could be characterized as most inconvenient for Al Gore?
Solomon: The claim that there is a consensus on climate change. This claim is based on the media’s often repeated claim that the 2000 to 2500 scientists associated with the UN’s panel endorsed the U.N.’s report. In fact, as the Secretariat of the UN panel told me, those 2500 scientists are merely reviewers of some of the hundreds of input studies that went into the mix. They endorsed nothing. There is no consensus and there never has been.
Lopez: But still, the U.N.’s work was peer reviewed, even if some of the peer reviewers disagreed.
Solomon: No, the science in the U.N. reports was not peer reviewed, as it is usually understood. As some of my deniers point out in proper scientific peer reviews the identities of the peer reviewers are kept secret, so that they can be free to make critical comments about the science without fear of recrimination. In the U.N.’s peer review, the reviewers must identify themselves to the scientists they are critiquing, discouraging many from expressing themselves frankly. It gets worse than that, though.
In a normal peer-review process, the critiques from the reviewers are public. If a scientist decides to reject a critique, he must justify his refusal. In the U.N. peer-review process, the system is turned on its head. The scientists don’t need to explain themselves. They can ignore the criticisms and no one will be able to assess if the criticism was rejected for a valid reason. The U.N.’s version of peer review does not meet the standard of professional science.
Lopez: What would you like to see happen for “The Deniers”? Is that reasonable?
Solomon: For my book? I’d like to see it on school shelves, in school libraries, in libraries everywhere, so that students and the public as a whole can judge for themselves whether the science truly is settled.
Lopez: If you could leave every American with one Earth Day point to reflect on, what would it be?
Solomon: Earth is the sum of an infinite number of ecological niches. Each has its own characteristic, each has its own needs. One size fits all solutions — whether a Kyoto Treaty or a rush to renewable energy or a crash program to install compact fluorescent light bulbs — is fundamentally anti-environmental.