The Discussion on Climate Change “Heats Up”

Considering the kind of winter we’ve been having, it shouldn’t be a suprise that global warming is the ‘hot’ topic of the day, second only to Iraq. That discussion is probably the biggest area that science and politics mix on, and they don’t mix very well. So now enter into the fray Weather Channel climatologist Dr. Heidi Cullen, who hosts a weekly show called “The Climate Code”, where she brings stories of climate change and what humans can do about it. This past week on her blog she managed to publicly let her political feelings mix with her science, and as expected, it wasn’t a good mix:

Capitalweather.com, a website for hard-core weather junkies in the DC area, recently published an interview with a local meteorologist that highlights the unfortunate divide that exists right now between the climate and weather communities. Yup, that divide is global warming. When asked about the science of global warming, the meteorologist responded:

“The subject of global warming definitely makes headlines in the media and is a topic of much debate. I try to read up on the subject to have a better understanding, but it is complex. Often, it is so politicized and those on both sides don’t always appear to have their facts straight. History has taught us that weather patterns are cyclical and although we have noticed a warming pattern in recent time, I don’t know what generalizations can be made from this with the lack of long-term scientific data. That’s all I will say about this.”

In an interesting follow-up blog on the reason for this all too common global warming contrarianism within the broadcast meteorology community, journalist Andrew Freedman suggests local TV meteorologist may want to look to the American Meteorological Society for guidance. Freedman goes on to point out that the AMS has in fact, issued a statement on climate change that reads:

“There is convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, resulting in increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other trace constituents in the atmosphere, have become a major agent of climate change.”

I’d like to take that suggestion a step further. If a meteorologist has an AMS Seal of Approval, which is used to confer legitimacy to TV meteorologists, then meteorologists have a responsibility to truly educate themselves on the science of global warming. (One good resource if you don’t have a lot of time is the Pew Center’s Climate Change 101.)

Meteorologists are among the few people trained in the sciences who are permitted regular access to our living rooms. And in that sense, they owe it to their audience to distinguish between solid, peer-reviewed science and junk political controversy. If a meteorologist can’t speak to the fundamental science of climate change, then maybe the AMS shouldn’t give them a Seal of Approval. Clearly, the AMS doesn’t agree that global warming can be blamed on cyclical weather patterns. It’s like allowing a meteorologist to go on-air and say that hurricanes rotate clockwise and tsunamis are caused by the weather. It’s not a political statement…it’s just an incorrect statement. I agree with every meteorologist who says the topic of global warming has gotten too political. But that’s why talking about the science is so important!

See why science and politics is such a lousy mix? How could any scientist actually call for basically ending the careers of others that don’t agree with them? To me, that’s more about her politics than her actual scientific opinion. Science is all about a good dose of healthy skepticism, and clearly when it comes to the subject of climate change/global warming there are many on both sides who either support in full that human activity is the reason why the planet is heating up, and there are those that either think humanity’s impact is not as great as advertised in the mainstream media, or think that the planet is going through it’s own natural cycles of heating and cooling, something the planet’s been doing only for a mere four billion years(an example of that healthy skepticism that Dr. Cullen wants to quiet can be found here).

And it’s not as if Dr. Cullen’s call for decertifying global warming skeptics is anything new in the scientific community. As MIT Professor of Atmospheric Science Richard Lindzen noted in an op-ed published on OpinionJournal.com back last April:

So how is it that we don’t have more scientists speaking up about this junk science? It’s my belief that many scientists have been cowed not merely by money but by fear. An example: Earlier this year, Texas Rep. Joe Barton issued letters to paleoclimatologist Michael Mann and some of his co-authors seeking the details behind a taxpayer-funded analysis that claimed the 1990s were likely the warmest decade and 1998 the warmest year in the last millennium. Mr. Barton’s concern was based on the fact that the IPCC had singled out Mr. Mann’s work as a means to encourage policy makers to take action. And they did so before his work could be replicated and tested–a task made difficult because Mr. Mann, a key IPCC author, had refused to release the details for analysis. The scientific community’s defense of Mr. Mann was, nonetheless, immediate and harsh. The president of the National Academy of Sciences–as well as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union–formally protested, saying that Rep. Barton’s singling out of a scientist’s work smacked of intimidation.

All of which starkly contrasts to the silence of the scientific community when anti-alarmists were in the crosshairs of then-Sen. Al Gore. In 1992, he ran two congressional hearings during which he tried to bully dissenting scientists, including myself, into changing our views and supporting his climate alarmism. Nor did the scientific community complain when Mr. Gore, as vice president, tried to enlist Ted Koppel in a witch hunt to discredit anti-alarmist scientists–a request that Mr. Koppel deemed publicly inappropriate. And they were mum when subsequent articles and books by Ross Gelbspan libelously labeled scientists who differed with Mr. Gore as stooges of the fossil-fuel industry.

Sadly, this is only the tip of a non-melting iceberg. In Europe, Henk Tennekes was dismissed as research director of the Royal Dutch Meteorological Society after questioning the scientific underpinnings of global warming. Aksel Winn-Nielsen, former director of the U.N.’s World Meteorological Organization, was tarred by Bert Bolin, first head of the IPCC, as a tool of the coal industry for questioning climate alarmism. Respected Italian professors Alfonso Sutera and Antonio Speranza disappeared from the debate in 1991, apparently losing climate-research funding for raising questions.

And then there are the peculiar standards in place in scientific journals for articles submitted by those who raise questions about accepted climate wisdom. At Science and Nature, such papers are commonly refused without review as being without interest. However, even when such papers are published, standards shift. When I, with some colleagues at NASA, attempted to determine how clouds behave under varying temperatures, we discovered what we called an “Iris Effect,” wherein upper-level cirrus clouds contracted with increased temperature, providing a very strong negative climate feedback sufficient to greatly reduce the response to increasing CO2. Normally, criticism of papers appears in the form of letters to the journal to which the original authors can respond immediately. However, in this case (and others) a flurry of hastily prepared papers appeared, claiming errors in our study, with our responses delayed months and longer. The delay permitted our paper to be commonly referred to as “discredited.” Indeed, there is a strange reluctance to actually find out how climate really behaves. In 2003, when the draft of the U.S. National Climate Plan urged a high priority for improving our knowledge of climate sensitivity, the National Research Council instead urged support to look at the impacts of the warming–not whether it would actually happen.

So even though attempts at intimidation of global-warming skeptics are nothing new, it seems as though Dr. Cullen’s blog post has awaked many people to the fact that such intimidation is taking place(based on the comments section of her blog which is plenty full of people outraged at her call to decertify skeptics). One meteorologist even took time to write up a nice rebuke of Dr. Cullen which the Birmingham News covered here. It also may be the case that the Weather Channel’s shift to the left on climate change and production of Dr. Cullen’s show may not be scientific in purpose.

So now that a full-blown controversy has erupted, and has turned people on to the fact that the Weather Channel may be taking sides (which could cost them viewers and sponsorships), the spin cycle on Dr. Cullen’s call to decertify skeptics has started in earnest. Dr. Cullen herself posted a reply this week to try and quell the uproar, claiming she doesn’t want to silence skeptics, but she never refutes in plain english her previous call to decertify them, either(and she can’t deny she didn’t call for it, since clearly she did). She laments how ‘political’ the discussion has become, yet her blog links to an editorial post on Scientific American which slams everyone on the Right with the usual leftist ‘anti-science’ slander, and in turn they link to another blog that goes hardcore left and proceeds to echo Al Gore’s “global-warming deniers” slur, while both blogs chalk the uproar over Dr. Cullen’s decertify call to a ‘orchestrated freeper conspiracy’(as though no one else would be concerned about an attempt at censorship and intimidation). If Dr. Cullen and her fellow global-warming alarmists are just scientists who are lamenting the polticization of the issue, they sure have a funny way of showing it.

Now given that I’ve been an avid student and fan of Meteorology, and given Dr. Cullen’s mea culpa that she is ‘just a scientist’, I’d like to try to give her the benefit of the doubt. However, given her recent comments and the fact that there appears to be some evidence she’s a bit more political than she lets on, I’m sorry to say you can count me among the ’skeptics’ of Dr. Cullen’s motives. No matter what you believe about global warming, a call to decertify skeptics of the science should give even pro-global warming advocates a ‘chill’.

(Some more of the ‘healthy skepticism’ that Dr. Cullen and crew would like to silence can be found here, here, and here for your reading pleasure.)

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