Gore and Hitler

Joel Achenbach's portrait of Bill Gray, Fred Smith, and some other leading climate skeptics in today's Washington Post Magazine is a masterpiece of science reporting. Achenbach's story has exceptional literary style and vivid dramatis personae.
As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback

IT SHOULD BE GLORIOUS TO BE BILL GRAY, professor emeritus. He is often called the World's Most Famous Hurricane Expert. He's the guy who, every year, predicts the number of hurricanes that will form during the coming tropical storm season. He works on a country road leading into the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains, in the atmospheric science department of Colorado State University. He's mentored dozens of scientists. By rights, Bill Gray should be in deep clover, enjoying retirement, pausing only to collect the occasional lifetime achievement award.

He's a towering figure in his profession and in person. He's 6 feet 5 inches tall, handsome, with blue eyes and white hair combed straight back. He's still lanky, like the baseball player he used to be back at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington in the 1940s. When he wears a suit, a dark shirt and tinted sunglasses, you can imagine him as a casino owner or a Hollywood mogul. In a room jammed with scientists, you'd probably notice him first.

He's loud. His laugh is gale force. His personality threatens to spill into the hallway and onto the chaparral. He can be very charming.

But he's also angry. He's outraged.

He recently had a public shouting match with one of his former students. It went on for 45 minutes.

He was supposed to debate another scientist at a weather conference, but the organizer found him to be too obstreperous, and disinvited him.

Much of his government funding has dried up. He has had to put his own money, more than $100,000, into keeping his research going. He feels intellectually abandoned. If none of his colleagues comes to his funeral, he says, that'll be evidence that he had the courage to say what they were afraid to admit.

Which is this: Global warming is a hoax.

"I am of the opinion that this is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people," he says when I visit him in his office on a sunny spring afternoon.

He has testified about this to the United States Senate. He has written magazine articles, given speeches, done everything he could to get the message out. His scientific position relies heavily on what is known as the Argument From Authority. He's the authority.

"I've been in meteorology over 50 years. I've worked damn hard, and I've been around. My feeling is some of us older guys who've been around have not been asked about this. It's sort of a baby boomer, yuppie thing."

Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes...

Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes.

"Few people know what I know. I've been in the tropics, I've flown in airplanes into storms. I've done studies of convection, cloud clusters and how the moist process works. I don't think anybody in the world understands how the atmosphere functions better than me."

In just three, five, maybe eight years, he says, the world will begin to cool again.

We sit in his office for 2 1/2 hours, until the sun drops behind the mountains, and when we're done he offers to keep talking until midnight. He is almost desperate to be heard. His time is short. He is 76 years old. He is howling in a maelstrom.

The Shakespearian imagery is deliberate - Joel calls his piece "The Tempest." There is pathos as well as a bit of humor in this image of Gray as Lear, howling into the storm.

Next up on Joel's show is Fred Smith, head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
...when you step into the realm of the skeptics, you find yourself on a parallel Earth.

It is a planet where global warming isn't happening -- or, if it is happening, isn't happening because of human beings. Or, if it is happening because of human beings, isn't going to be a big problem. And, even if it is a big problem, we can't realistically do anything about it other than adapt...

AL GORE IS ABOUT TO COME ON THE BIG SCREEN. Fred Smith is eagerly awaiting the moment. We're at a media preview of "An Inconvenient Truth," the documentary on Gore and global warming (it debuts this week in Washington). Smith is not exactly a Gore groupie. He is the head of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a factory for global warming skepticism.

CEI has 28 people on staff, "half a platoon," Smith likes to say. They're in the persuasion business, fighting for the free market. They lobby against government regulations of all kinds. Smith writes articles with titles such as "Eco-Socialism: Threat to Liberty Around the World." These promoters of capitalism don't really operate a commercial enterprise; like any think tank, CEI relies on donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. The most generous sponsors of last year's annual dinner at the Capital Hilton were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pfizer. Other contributors included General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal.

Smith is short, stocky, bearded. He talks extremely fast and sprinkles his remarks with free market jargon, climate change lingo, historical references and various mysterious words that seem to come from a secret conservatives-only code book.

As we wait for the movie to start, I ask him how he would define his political beliefs. "Classical liberal," he says. He explains that civilization is a means for allowing individuals to liberate their energies and their genius -- an emergence from primitive, tribal, collectivist social arrangements. When humans switch from collectivism to private property, he says, "you have greater freedom of ideas." This prompts the thought that the federal government owns way too much land in the West. Much of it should be privatized, he says.

After this slightly comic interlude, Gray/Lear comes back on stage:
Somehow Hitler keeps popping into the discussion. Gore draws a parallel between fighting global warming and fighting the Nazis. Novelist Michael Crichton, in State of Fear , ends with an appendix comparing the theory of global warming to the theory of eugenics -- the belief, prominently promoted by Nazis, that the gene pool of the human species was degenerating due to higher reproductive rates of "inferior" people. Both, he contends, are examples of junk science, supported by intellectual elites who will later conveniently forget they signed on to such craziness.

And Gray has no governor on his rhetoric. At one point during our meeting in Colorado he blurts out, "Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews."

When I opine that he is incendiary, he answers: "Yes, I am incendiary. But the other side is just as incendiary. The etiquette of science has long ago been thrown out the window."

...

Gray's crusade against global warming "hysteria" began in the early 1990s, when he saw enormous sums of federal research money going toward computer modeling rather than his kind of science, the old-fashioned stuff based on direct observation. Gray often cites the ascendancy of Gore to the vice presidency as the start of his own problems with federal funding. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) stopped giving him research grants. So did NASA. All the money was going to computer models. The field was going off on this wild tangent.

Numerical models can't predict the future, he says. They don't even pretend to predict the weather in the coming season -- "but they make predictions of 50 or 100 years from now and ask you to believe the Earth will get warmer."

The modelers are equation pushers.

"They haven't been down in the trenches, making forecasts and understanding stuff!"

The news media are self-interested.
Some other climate skeptics have walk on parts. Richard Lindzen gets a minor supporting role. Non skeptics are mostly cast in the spear carrier roles.
The Web site Real Climate, run by a loose group of climate scientists, recently published a detailed refutation of Gray's theory, saying his claims about the ocean circulation lack evidence. The Web site criticized Gray for not adapting to the modern era of meteorology, "which demands hypotheses soundly grounded in quantitative and consistent physical formulations, not seat-of-the-pants flying."

The field has fully embraced numerical modeling, and Gray is increasingly on the fringe. His cranky skepticism has become a tired act among younger scientists. "It's sad," says Emanuel, who has vowed never again to debate Gray in public.

When I ask Gray who his intellectual soul mates are regarding global warming, he responds, "I have nobody really to talk to about this stuff."

That's not entirely true. He has many friends and colleagues, and the meteorologists tend to share his skeptical streak.

I ask if he has ever collaborated on a paper with Richard Lindzen. Gray says he hasn't. He looks a little pained.

"Lindzen, he's a hard guy to deal with," Gray says. "He doesn't think he can learn anything from me."

Which is correct. Lindzen says of Gray: "His knowledge of theory is frustratingly poor, but he knows more about hurricanes than anyone in the world. I regard him in his own peculiar way as a national resource."
Meanwhile, the center is having a little trouble holding in the comic relief team as well.
Our Friend CO2

Ten years ago, Fred Smith says, the Competitive Enterprise Institute had contributions from companies across the board in the petroleum industry. It still gets money from Exxon Mobil, the biggest and most hard-line oil company on the climate change issue, but many of its donors have stopped sending checks.

"They've joined the club."

The club of believers in global warming.

The executives don't understand "resource economics." They lack faith in the free market to solve these issues. And they go to cocktail parties and find out that everyone thinks they're criminals.

"Or their kids come home from school and say, 'Daddy, why are you killing the planet?'"

Smith never sounds morose, though. He's peppy. He thinks his side is still winning the debate. Look at the polls: Americans don't care about global warming.

He'd like to get people believing once again in good old-fashioned industrial activity. CEI has created a new public-service TV spot. Smith and several colleagues gather round as we watch it on a computer monitor. The ad begins with images of people picnicking in Central Park on a beautiful day. A child is shown blowing the seeds of a dandelion. A woman's voice, confident, reassuring, says that all these people are creating something that's all around us:

"It's called carbon dioxide," she says, "CO2."

There's an image of an impoverished woman hacking the ground with a hand tool.

"The fuels that produce CO2 have freed us from a life of backbreaking labor."

We see kids jumping out of a minivan. There are politicians out there who want to label CO2 as a pollutant, the narrator says. We return to the child blowing the dandelion seeds.

"Carbon dioxide: They call it pollution. We call it life."

End of ad.

"It should always bring a tear to your eye," Fred Smith says, delighted.
I know it does to mine.

The whole story is well worth reading.

Comments

  1. I wrote a counter ad to the CEI propaganda that I am pleased with:::[They call it a spot, we call it a stain] It is my way of combating their lies so, if you like it, link it to help fight their lies.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Anonymous10:48 PM

    It's pretty sad when a non-expert scientist who hasn't published anything substantive in 30 years (Gray) bends the ear of the media and the blog author while the scientists doing the quantitative work on the topic get "Swiftboated" by the conservative media machine.

    ReplyDelete

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