By Kennedy Maize
Washington, D.C., May 16, 2010 — Will Happer, noted Princeton physicist, and a veteran of Washington’s bureaucratic wars, has an intriguing suggestion about how to reconcile the views of raving advocates for climate controls with the objections of skeptics, when both sides are populated by reputable scientists. He wants the government to create a “B-team” of climate scientists with the explicit task of shooting down the conventional wisdom about warming.
At an excellent briefing on climate science in Washington May 14, sponsored by the Marshall Institute, long an intellectual home for warming skeptics, Happer said that there is no effective way today for dissenters to challenge the conventional wisdom. The “deniers” get hooted down as a minority, shortsighted, and tarred with all kinds of personal attacks. But, as Happer and many other physicists can clearly demonstrate, there are real problems with the conventional wisdom about global warming. The science is far from settled.
The objections of the physicists about the assumptions of the warming advocates make — particularly about the effect of feedback mechanisms such as water vapor and clouds – have not been answered. Warming, Happer noted, has morphed into “climate change,” so that any unusual weather phenomena can be grouped under the rubric of “mankind did this.”
Happer served as research chief at the Department of Energy in the early years of the Clinton administration and is a fellow of the American Physical Society and member of the National Academies of Science. He is chairman of the Marshall Institute, named for legendary general and Secretary of State George C. Marshall. It has been widely reported, and he has acknowledged, that Happer was fired from the Clinton administration because his scientific views clashed with the policy predilections of Vice President Gore.
Happer told the Washington briefing that if he ran the scientific ship on climate research, “I’d set up a B-team. That’s how it works in (the Defense Department).”
The job of the B-team, Happer said, “is to try to shoot it all down.” Staffed with experts whose credentials match those of the existing advocates, with full access to all the data (that’s a problem today, as some climate scientists believe they have a proprietary interest in the climate data), and funded sufficiently to run the operation, the B-team could provide rigorous tests of the hypotheses, data, and assumptions that are the foundation of the claims that mankind is ruining the planet with carbon dioxide emissions.
Under this approach, policy makers would be confronted with the strengths and weaknesses of all the arguments, equipping them to make informed decisions, not driven by biased advocates for just one point of view.
Happer played a sly trick on the briefing, slipping a CO2 monitor undetected into the meeting room in the Capitol Hill Club. In his opening, he noted that pre-industrial levels of atmospheric CO2 were probably around 280 parts per million. Today, the figure is about 390 ppm. So what, he asked, is the CO2 level in the meeting room? After several wild guesses, Happer reached underneath the podium and displayed his CO2 meter. The reading: over 2,000 ppm. What the Environmental Protect Agency calls a dangerous pollutant is harmless at five times the current atmospheric concentration. The assembled coven of climate skeptics (your’s truly included) was amused.
Physicist Roger Cohen, retired Exxon research chief, also took on the warming acolytes and their sky-is-falling liturgy. Empiricist Cohen noted that models, no matter how sophisticated, are not evidence. The current global circulation models, he observed, are faulty, and not because there is not enough computer horsepower in them. The problem is that they rely on exaggerated land-based data, don’t measure ocean temperatures well, and can’t “precast” past climate phenomena, suggesting that their ability to forecast climate is suspicious.
“Real science,” said Cohen, also an APS fellow, “predicts real things that really happen.” The climate models are unable to predict, said Cohen, adding that there has been no statistically significant climate warming since 1995. That, he said, “is an inconvenient truth.”