Thank you, Dr. Lindzen

Originally Published in eFlourishing Issue 6, March 2, 2010

Over the past twenty plus years, Dr. Richard Lindzen has been one of the scientists most maligned by the global warming orthodoxy. Dr. Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist, is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT. Naturally, that qualification didn’t prevent his being labeled (should I say libeled?) as a “global warming denier” and an “oil industry puppet” by global warming alarmists. Incidentally, I don’t feel either of those charges are true. More to the point of this essay, Dr. Lindzen’s criticisms of the global warming establishment are now being vindicated, albeit ever so quietly in the media.

One very good example of Dr. Lindzen’s long-standing concerns is a paper written for the Cato Institute, published in the Spring 1992 issue of their periodical, Regulation. The title of the article was Global Warming: The Origin and Nature of the Alleged Scientific Consensus.

My favorite line from that 14-page report is this matter-of-fact statement in the first paragraph:

I must state at the outset, that, as a scientist, I can find no substantive basis for the warming scenarios being popularly described. Moreover, according to many studies I have read by economists, agronomists, and hydrologists, there would be little difficulty adapting to such warming if it were to occur.

Dr. Lindzen goes on to acknowledge a substantial increase in CO2 levels over the past two hundred years. He then discusses popular misunderstandings of the “greenhouse effect” and the contribution of CO2 according to his research.  For example:

The main absorbers of infrared in the atmosphere are water vapor and clouds. Even if all other greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide and methane) were to disappear, we would still be left with over 98% of the current greenhouse effect.

He discusses the science of atmospheric temperature variation – and lack thereof – at some length, but comes to the crux of the current problem in a section entitled Consensus and the Current “Popular Vision” (quotes in the original):

The growth of environmental advocacy since the 1970’s has been phenomenal. In Europe the movement centered on the formation of Green parties; in the United States the movement centered on the development of large public interest advocacy groups. Those lobbying groups have budgets of several hundred million dollars and employ about 50,000 people; their support is highly valued by political figures. As with any large groups, self-perpetuation becomes a crucial concern. “Global Warming” has become one of the major battle cries in their fundraising efforts. At the same time, the media unquestionably accept the pronouncements of those groups as objective truth. 

Dr. Lindzen then offers several pages of examples of highly qualified, but skeptical, scientists being denied funding for their climate science research and/or being denied the opportunity to publish their findings. He then asks,

Why, one might wonder, is there such insistence on scientific uniformity on the warming issue? After all, unanimity in science is virtually non-existent on far less complex matters. …Biologists and physicians are rarely asked to endorse some theory in high energy physics. Apparently, when one comes to “global warming”, any scientist’s agreement will do. The answer almost certainly lies in politics.

As to the motivation of the global warming alarmists, Dr. Lindzen quotes former Berkeley professor of political science, Dr. Aaron Wildavsky:

Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on the rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.

Dr. Lindzen does have a sense of humor about the environmentalist lobby’s proposed diminutions of human progress:

In many ways Wildavsky’s observation does not go far enough. The point is that carbon dioxide is vitally central to industry, transportation, modern life, and life in general. It has been joked that carbon dioxide controls would permit us to inhale as much as we wish; only exhaling would be controlled.

In my opinion, the end of the global warming hysteria is near, if not at hand. Cap and trade – the death of industry tax on carbon emissions – is itself all but dead.  A year ago that measure seemed almost sure to pass through Congress and become the law of the land. It was supported not just by Obama, Reed, and Pelosi, et al, but by such notable republicans as John McCain and Lindsay Graham.

It is my sincerest hope that scientists like Dr. Richard Lindzen will finally be recognized for their beliefs. If there is such a thing as a Galileo Galilei Prize for Scientific Integrity, I feel Dr. Richard Lindzen is among the most deserving.