Who Will Be Next?

by Greg Walcher on May 9, 2016

Twice I have written about the growing attempt to silence debate about climate change. Both times I’ve been bombarded with comments from readers with a different opinion, some of them in a very bad mood about it. One wonders if they appreciate the irony of their right to dissent – a right that some of them would apparently deny those who disagree with them.

Irony aside, this discussion is not about climate change, not really. In fact, many of us are less than certain about the science of climate change. Clearly the Earth’s climate does change, and it seems clear that mankind has some ability to impact that change. It is also true that there are historical swings in the climate ranging from ice ages to very hot periods. The Grand Valley was once under water, and tropical rain forests existed in some of today’s deserts. Does that mean we should ignore all evidence that man’s activities may be causing serious damage to Earth’s life system? On the contrary, it suggests that we ought to be even more careful, and study the evidence more thoroughly.

That isn’t good enough for some political activists. Al Gore and other global warming alarmists do not want people to study the issue; they find it intolerable for one simple reason. The policies they advocate do not enjoy widespread public support, even among voters who share the concern about climate change. It is simply not clear to many Americans with three central questions. Is the globe warming, is man causing it, and is it harmful?

thought_police_01The answer to the first question is yes, so the other two questions are the focus of the debate – a debate one side does not want to have. That’s why sixteen state attorneys general announced, at a March 29 press conference with Gore, that they planned criminal charges against “climate deniers,” starting with Exxon-Mobil. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, asked whether the Justice Department might also prosecute climate skeptics, confirmed that she had asked the FBI to investigate that possibility. My column explaining that many climate skeptics feel threatened, drew fire from letter-to-the-editor writers and blog commenters who called it an exaggeration. They claim such prosecution will only be directed at Exxon-Mobil.

Yet this month the first round of subpoenas in the first such prosecution was issued – not just to the oil company, but to at least one non-profit think tank whose scholars have studied the issue for years. That subpoena, issued to the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), demanded copies of all documents related to its research on the issue going back 20 years – not just communications from Exxon, but also lists of its members and donors. Citizens who contribute to such groups might be forgiven for worrying that they may be next. And if they worry enough to stop donating altogether, well that may accomplish at least part of the goal, too.

Does a subpoena that broad seem like overkill to anyone else? Even the IRS can only demand records going back 7 years. It must be extraordinarily difficult to find, sort, and produce 20 years of records in an organization that has moved several times and changed leadership at least twice in the intervening years. Anything relevant to the Exxon investigation would be outdated anyway, since Exxon discontinued contributions to such non-profits over a decade ago. So what does an attorney general, pledged to using “use all the tools at our disposal,” hope to accomplish by targeting non-profits and their donors? Just one thing – to silence debate, stop research, and end discussion on what they call “the most consequential issue of our time.”

These attorneys general are being called rogues by some, heroes by others. On the climate issue itself, they may turn out to be right. But here’s why this is not really about climate change. There are lots of issues where reasonable people disagree, and the freedom to do so is America’s founding principle. That includes the freedom to publish articles, conduct studies, raise money, associate with like-minded people, and give money to the causes of your choice.

Whether government policy is based on science or not, do we really want to go further down the road toward federal-enforced thought conformity? Do we want big brother’s thought police dictating not only what we say, but what we think?

Many policy debates do involve disputes about science – endangered species, forest management, genetically modified foods, abortion, and many others. Does that mean no debate is permitted, that we must simply adopt whatever policies are recommended by scientists? Ban soda pop, abolish automobiles, eliminate video games, and cancel Duck Dynasty? Would we similarly prohibit involvement in health care issues by anyone who is not a doctor? Or allow only lawyers to express opinions on crime and justice issues, and only economists on budget and tax matters?

Or do Americans have spirited debates, and make policy by a vote of the people?

A version of this column original appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel April 29, 2016

{ 0 comments }

99 and 44/100ths Percent Pure Guesswork

by Greg Walcher on May 9, 2016

University of Delaware climatologist Dr. David R. Legates recently wrote that he felt the same pressure as many colleagues who disagree with the supposed consensus that climate change is both manmade and dangerous. He mentions the usual professional criticism by environmental pressure groups, and also what he calls harassment from media, government, and his own university.

None of that is new. But he claims hundreds of scientists now find it difficult to express honest opinions on the topic, especially in light of recent reports about Attorney General Loretta Lynch threatening to prosecute “climate deniers” under racketeering laws. He writes that meaningful scientific discussion is being obscured by politics.

That should no longer surprise me, or anyone, but I am astonished at the extent to which some advocates try to silence people who disagree with their point of view. We have seen this in the often-heated debates surrounding environmental issues for years, but it always struck me as slightly irrational, especially so when leaders on both sides tend to exaggerate their claims.

There was an old joke in which someone exaggerating would be told, “You have been told billions of times not to exaggerate.” No issue lends itself more to such exaggeration then the ongoing debate over climate change.

Even the President of the United States once fell into that trap, famously tweeting to his 31 million followers, “97% of scientists agree: Climate change is real, manmade and dangerous.” The 97 percent figure has been repeated often since then by environmental activists, as evidence that the science is “settled,” as Al Gore continually asserts, and as proof that anyone who disagrees is uninformed, and therefore discredited. One letter to the editor of the Sentinel actually upped the number to 98 percent recently in responding to one of my own columns (which, ironically, was about intolerance in this discussion, not about climate change).

ivory_old_1954The statistic reminds me of the old Ivory Soap slogan claiming the product was “Ninety-nine and 44/100ths percent pure.” That was pure advertising, of course, started in 1881 when Harley Procter, son of the Procter & Gamble co-founder, needed a new angle. People have always been impressed by scientists, so he hired a lab to test Ivory and prove it was “purer” than other soap. Most soap was made of fatty acids and alkali, and Ivory had trace amounts of other minerals totaling 0.56 percent. So it was 99.44 percent pure. As if floating wasn’t enough to sell it.

I don’t think anyone has even proven that 1881 lab test wrong, but the slogan fell out of use eventually, because it just seems far-fetched to claim such a high number. That’s true in almost anything we debate. So where do global warming activists get their 97 percent figure? That is not a rhetorical question.

There is no organization to which all the world’s scientists belong, nor is there any group that has ever claimed to ask all of them those questions: is climate change real, is it caused by humans, and is it dangerous? So how do we know what they all think? Nobody has ever asked even a fraction of the world’s scientists their opinion on that.

The “factoid” originated in 2004, when a Harvard professor claimed to have examined the abstracts of 928 scientific papers and found a 100% consensus that the “Earth’s climate is being affected by human activities.” No argument here. Very few competent students claim humans have no impact on climate. But the professor then interpreted that same evidence as meaning “most of the observed warming of the last 50 years is likely to have been due to the increase in greenhouse gas concentrations.” That was, of course, not what all 928 scientific papers said, and one of those authors called her on it. So she and some of her colleagues decided 97 percent was more credible, so that was the published conclusion, repeated ever since.

Another analysis by a University of Utah biologist in 2010 concluded that “97–98 percent of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field” believe “anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been responsible for most of the unequivocal warming of the Earth’s average global temperature.” To get there, he compiled a database of 908 “climate researchers” (not necessarily scientists at all) who published frequently on climate topics, then identified any who had “signed statements strongly dissenting.” The 97–98 percent figure was simply those who had not signed such dissents.

Keep in mind that “scientist” is a far broader term than “climate scientist” or “climate researcher” or “climatologist.” The Obama claim is that “97% of scientists agree.” Except only a miniscule portion of the world’s “scientists” have published anything at all on climate. Most of them work in other fields: biology, geology, anthropology, zoology, and so on. If President Obama means to include only climate experts, he should say so. But that is a problem, because a large portion of the UN’s own “scientists” and other academics who get government grants to publish studies on global warming are, in fact, not “climatologists,” but people trained and educated in various other fields.

It’s difficult to have it both ways. Either 97% of all scientists agree – a statement for which there is no survey – or just those publishing government-funded studies. If the latter is the case (as it seems to be), their defenders ought to choose their words more carefully. Either way, to use bogus methodology to come up with such statistics and then use that to stifle any other research and stop all debate is disingenuous.

I don’t know the real answer to the question – I’m not a scientist of any kind. But even Einstein once said “a single experiment could prove me wrong.” That’s why we have to keep studying, not silence all other opinions.

An abbreviated version of this column originally appeared in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel April 15, 2016

{ 0 comments }

When is a Decision a Decision?

May 9, 2016

You can’t sue somebody for doing something that did not actually hurt you. However outrageous someone’s behavior might be, unless it directly hurts you in some way, courts will say it is none of your business. That is one of the oldest principles of law, referred to by lawyers and judges as “standing.” You do […]

Read the full article →

A Fine Feathered Frenzy

May 9, 2016

A new book called Nature Unbound (Independent Institute) recounts the story of a landowner whose property was surrounded on all sides by federal (BLM) land. The 1.5 mile driveway leading to the property had been maintained by the family for generations, but had become overgrown with trees on both sides. He sought BLM permission to […]

Read the full article →

Need More Water, Not More Meetings

May 9, 2016

Several recent events have drawn national attention to something Westerners deal with all the time – water. We have always known that problems of both water supply and water quality can affect millions of lives and cost billions of dollars. Water is usually not the hottest topic in politics, but the record-breaking drought in California, […]

Read the full article →

Off With His Head!

March 28, 2016

When Thomas Jefferson was sworn in as the nation’s third President in 1801, much of the civilized world was shocked. The aristocracy of Europe, still mocking the quaint American concept that common people could govern themselves, never thought they would see it. It was said that never before in world history had a government left […]

Read the full article →

Oh the Buzzin’ of the Bees

March 28, 2016

Bees and honey have been important to my family for generations, though I’m not sure which is more important to us. My granddad was an apiarist (beekeeper), with hives in the high mountain clover of Garfield, Eagle and Routt Counties, and he made a living selling honey during the Depression and World War II. My […]

Read the full article →

I’d Like to (Be Paid to) Study That!

March 11, 2016

Someone once told me that if a golfer tries imagines the hole is larger, he will putt better. I’m not sure if that’s true, but the National Science Foundation gave researchers at Purdue University $350,000 to find out. The study was inconclusive, which means two things: we still can’t putt very well, and Purdue needs […]

Read the full article →

Advice Before Consent

March 11, 2016

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s death sparks another political battle over the high court, whose balance of power hangs on one vote. Several vitally important rulings have recently been decided by a 5-4 majority, so battle lines are already drawn. President Obama sees a chance to turn the court into a liberal majority, and Republican […]

Read the full article →

Conservation’s Greatest Hits

March 11, 2016

Earlier this week we celebrated President’s Day. I don’t know how many Americans took time out of their day off to ponder the achievements of Washington, Lincoln, Harrison, or Polk. But the U.S. Department of the Interior did. Interior put up a website on the legacies of “Eight presidents who shaped America’s public lands,” which […]

Read the full article →