Those cheeky folks at the Cato Institute are at it again, speaking truth to power.
Readers will recall how Cato brought together a large number of economists, including Nobel laureates, to challenge President Barack Obama's blanket assertion that "there is no disagreement [among economists] that we need action by our government, a recovery plan that will help to jumpstart the economy." Over two hundred economic experts disagreed with the President, and signed a statement that Cato published as an advertisement in the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers.
In today's Washington Post is a full-page ad from Cato, this time bringing together climate experts, meteorologists, physicists, and other scientists who take issue with another blanket assertion of the President. This time he said:
"Few challenges facing America and the world are more urgent than combating climate change.The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear."My question in regard to these types of generalizations is, if the science is "beyond dispute," then why are Northern Hemisphere temperatures today cooler than they were 1,000 years ago? Was the human-generated carbon footprint greater in the latter part of the first millennium than it is today and, if so, how? Did medieval factories spew more smoke? Were medieval automobiles unequipped with good exhaust systems?
Or could periodic climate change be generated by something larger than human activity, such as the sun?
But I digress.
The scientists gathered by the Cato Institute come from various institutions around the globe. They come from Argentina, Canada, Germany, Norway, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and other countries (as well as the United States). The list includes at least one Nobel laureate and several winners of other awards. This is their response to the President (footnotes omitted):
We, the undersigned scientists, maintain that the case for alarm regarding climate change is grossly overstated. Surface temperature changes over the past century have been episodic and modest and there has been no net global warming for over a decade now. After controlling for population growth and property values, there has been no increase in damages from severe weather-related events. The computer models forecasting rapid temperature change abjectly fail to explain recent climate behavior. Mr. President, your characterization of the scientific facts regarding climate change and the degree of certainty informing the scientific debate is simply incorrect.One of the many the global-warming skeptics who did not sign Cato's statement is the respected Princeton University physicist Freeman Dyson, who was profiled yesterday in the New York Times. In the profile, correspondent Nicholas Dawidoff writes:
Dyson may be an Obama-loving, Bush-loathing liberal who has spent his life opposing American wars and fighting for the protection of natural resources, but he brooks no ideology and has a withering aversion to scientific consensus....Science is not decided by majority votes. Scientific fact is determined through experiment, observation, testing, discussion, and debate. Progress can be slow or it can be rapid. Scientists learn by their mistakes; they do not decide what is true by a show of hands.
Dyson says he doesn’t want his legacy to be defined by climate change, but his dissension from the orthodoxy of global warming is significant because of his stature and his devotion to the integrity of science. Dyson has said he believes that the truths of science are so profoundly concealed that the only thing we can really be sure of is that much of what we expect to happen won’t come to pass. In “Infinite in All Directions,” he writes that nature’s laws “make the universe as interesting as possible.” This also happens to be a fine description of Dyson’s own relationship to science. In the words of Avishai Margalit, a philosopher at the Institute for Advanced Study, “He’s a consistent reminder of another possibility.” When Dyson joins the public conversation about climate change by expressing concern about the “enormous gaps in our knowledge, the sparseness of our observations and the superficiality of our theories,” these reservations come from a place of experience. Whatever else he is, Dyson is the good scientist; he asks the hard questions.
That there is a vociferous group of scientists who are willing to challenge faddishness among the chattering classes -- and this includes the White House -- is a good thing to be treasured. These are the scientists who take seriously President Obama's admonition that we should "restore scientific integrity in government decision making."