Political Science

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Illinois. Photograph: The Heartland Institute

Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Illinois. Photograph: The Heartland Institute

We had a new candidate announce her campaign for the presidency yesterday. Later today we have another person announcing. But this is about politics and science:

GQ: How old do you think the Earth is?

Marco Rubio: I’m not a scientist, man.

We get that. But, is he a high school graduate? That question is likely to be on any high school science quiz in the nation. With the exception of some schools, of course.

So why is Senator Rubio pretending not to know the answer to this simple question? The answer, dear voters, is ourselves. A certain segment wants the government to confirm their basic religious myths. Answer the question incorrectly, and you don’t get their vote. You may not have to sell your soul to obtain public office, but your brain is up for grabs. At least your intellectual integrity.

Not so fast:

There is no denying it: Climate-change deniers are in retreat.

What began as a subtle shift away from the claim that man-made global warming is not a threat to the planet has lately turned into a stampede. The latest attempt to deny denial comes from the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council, a powerful group that pushes for states to pass laws that are often drafted by industry. As my Post colleagues Tom Hamburger, Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney report, ALEC is not only insisting that it doesn’t deny climate change — it’s threatening to sue those who suggest otherwise.

Threatening to sue? Over what?

In 2013, ALEC planned legislation that would weaken state clean energy regulations and penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels and redistribute the electricity back into the grid, whom ALEC has described as “freeriders” because they do not pay for the infrastructure costs of recirculating their generated power.

Also in 2013, ALEC adopted a model bill saying that the role of human activity in causing climate change was uncertain, that man-made climate change could be “deleterious, neutral or possibly beneficial,” and that the cost of regulating greenhouse gas emissions could cause “great economic dislocation.” ALEC has also invited climate change skeptics such as Craig Idso to speak at its national meetings. Environmentalist groups such as Common Cause and the League of Conservation Voters have pointed to such behavior to accuse ALEC of denying climate change. In 2015 ALEC wrote letters to these groups threatening legal action, denying that ALEC supports climate change denial, and saying it has more recently welcomed debate on the subject and supported renewable energy and carbon tax policies to curb global warming.

If ALEC won’t support global warming denial, then what use is it to its core principles—the promotion of short term gains at the expense of our future well being? With ALEC it has not been a matter of the truth being the first casualty. It’s a matter of the truth never being invited to the party. We have covered this before. Seventeen years ago we were getting the “kettle defense” from anti-environmentalists:

The neighbor offers his defense in three parts: 1) “I never borrowed the kettle.” 2) “It was already damaged when I got it.” 3) “It was in perfect condition when I returned it.”

That’s the essence of the “kettle defense” as explained in February 1998 issue of The North Texas Skeptic. This relates to the arguments of the anti-environmentalists:

Here’s another: 1) “There’s no way adding CO2 to the atmosphere will produce global warming.” 2) “Human activities are not adding enough CO2to the atmosphere to produce much global warming.” 3) “Natural sources are the cause of all this CO2.” 4) “Actually, more CO2in the atmosphere is helpful—it makes plants grow.” 5) “Hey, global warming will forestall the next ice age, which the climatologists were predicting earlier.” To this I might add a suggested 6) “I always wanted ocean front property in Orlando anyhow.”

A few Sunday’s ago I heard arguments 4 and 5 being advanced by an oil company executive on a news show. He sells products that routinely put a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere, and proposed remedies are going to change his company’s business drastically. He’s trying to make as many points as he can in case one of them can’t be supported. Actually, point 4 demonstrates he does have reason to worry. More recently, as seen on TV, a scientist studying an imminent volcano eruption in the Northwest was showing off a large section of forest killed off by CO2 seeping from the ground. Not CO, not H2S, but CO2 is killing the trees.

Of course, there is a lot of silliness being advanced in the name of science these days, and it needs to be refuted by people who really know what they are talking about. I am glad to see every now and then knowledgeable people taking time off from their real jobs and standing in front of a camera explaining the facts and separating the wheat from the chaff. And they don’t have to use the kettle defense.

[As I write this it’s 62 degrees outside. Of course it’s January. At night.]

That last part was a dig at a previous item in the newsletter. The writer, no friend of the science behind global warming, had mentioned what cool weather we were experiencing. He liked to call people who deny environmental science “skeptics.” Here is an excerpt:

If you did not see the June 1 issue of Newsweek, please go to the library and catch up on it. The headline on the cover reads, “No More Hot Air: It’s Time To Talk Sense About The Environment.” Inside, there are several articles examining a variety of environmental controversies, all offering a rational, well-researched perspective that proved sadly absent from most of the speeches and reporting emanating from the Earth Summit.

One article in particular, “A House Of Cards” by Gregg Easterbrook, does an excellent job of explaining the problems with the “greenhouse effect” theory, and with making any long range predictions about world climate. Just a few examples…

Fifty years ago, England’s Royal Meteorological Society predicted that because of increased carbon dioxide emissions, a greenhouse effect had begun, and the Earth would heat irreversibly. Immediately, it got cooler.

After 30 years of cooler temperatures, environmentalists declared in the late 1970s that a new Ice Age was beginning. Immediately, it got hotter.

When the same global computer models that predict global warming are fed with climate information from the year 1880, they predict that temperatures should have risen five degrees by now. The actual increase is at most one degree, and this could be explained by variances in measuring standards and equipment.

There are many more such eye-opening facts throughout this issue of Newsweek, all of which added together show the difficulty of making any kind of accurate, longterm predictions about the weather. Indeed, a year or so ago, the Dallas Morning News interviewed meteorologists from local television stations, and all of them admitted that even their “five-day forecasts” are virtually worthless, and are only offered because of viewer demand. They’re like horoscopes … “presented for entertainment purposes only.”

Newsweek did an exemplary job of cutting through the political rhetoric that surrounds environmental issues, particularly “global warming.” The magazine probably surprised a lot of people who took it for granted that the doomsday scenarios were scientifically established. At the same time, the writers made clear the necessity for protecting the environment and the benefits that can come from taking immediate, rational action. Newsweek does not recommend clear-cutting the rain forests, even if you are building a meeting hall for environmentalist big-shots … they merely suggest cutting through the nonsense, so we know what really needs to be done and can begin doing it as soon as possible.

The alternative is the currently popular “Chicken Little” approach: the belief that it’s best to take some sort of radical action now, no matter what the cost or effectiveness, and even if it attacks a problem that doesn’t exist while ignoring worse problems that do. Like Leacock’s knight, we are urged to jump on our horse and ride off in all directions.

No thanks. Frankly, I believe that it isn’t the stuff you don’t know that can hurt you most … the most damage is done by the stuff that you know for a fact to be true, and which turns out to be wrong.

To be sure, some serious skeptics have voiced opposition to the science, notably James Randi and Penn Jillette. Then maybe not.

To heap ridicule on the anti-science crowd it’s only necessary to quote some of the extreme wack jobs. Here’s one:

In a recent interview with MSNBC, Rep. Jeff Miller (R-FL) argued that human activity can’t be causing climate change because there were no humans around when the dinosaurs went extinct.

“But then, why did the dinosaurs go extinct?” Miller asked. “Were there men that were causing – were there cars running around at that point that were causing global warming? No. The climate has changed since Earth was created.”

As I mentioned at the time, this is a slam dunk argument. There is no way to refute it.

Apparently ALEC is not alone in the retreat:

The turnabout at ALEC follows an about-face at the Heartland Institute, a libertarian outfit that embraces a description of it as “the world’s most prominent think tank promoting skepticism about man-made climate change.”

But on Christmas Eve, Justin Haskins, a blogger and editor at Heartland, penned an article for the conservative journal Human Events declaring: “The real debate is not whether man is, in some way, contributing to climate change; it’s true that the science is settled on that point in favor of the alarmists.”

Previously Heartland was less circumspect:

Development of our “Global Warming Curriculum for K-12 Classrooms” project.

Principals and teachers are heavily biased toward the alarmist perspective. To counter this we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for K-12 classrooms. We are pursuing a proposal from Dr. David Wojick to produce a global warming curriculum for K-12 schools. Dr. Wojick is a consultant with the Office of Scientific and Technical Information at the U.S. Department of Energy in the area of information and communication science. His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science. We tentatively plan to pay Dr. Wojick $100,000 for 20 modules in 2012, with funding pledged by the Anonymous Donor.

The image at the top of this page was provided by Heartland, and the billboard carries the Heartland endorsement. Much to Heartland’s dismay (we can only hope) there was broad and hilarious response:



I am sure Heartland did not put up these billboards. Or these:



It goes to remind that a hint of giggle is worth a ton of scorn.

All of this would be for nothing were there no real science behind claims for anthropogenic global warming. I once attempted to address this and posted a lengthy item titled The Heat Of Darkness. I’m going to repost the entire piece to the NTS site later today, but for now here are a couple of excerpts plus some graphics. Included three years ago was a snippet captured from Heartland’s site:


Left-wing groups commit fraud, but we’re fighting back! Join our legal defense fund and remove false and defamatory materials and prosecute the true criminals.

The site also mentions a number of these “left-wing” groups:

NCSE (National Center for Science Education)
Huffington Post
Pacific Institute

Fortunately they did not mention The North Texas Skeptics, or we would have been in a world of hurt. Maybe the kind of hurt we seek out. The science part might make readers’ eyes glaze over, so to save you from having to read the entire explanation, here is the Schaum’s Outline version:

Keep this in mind. The Earth does not keep this energy forever. If it did, then the Earth would keep getting hotter and hotter until it melted, and we know that has not happened recently. When the surface of the Earth is warm it radiates invisible infra-red energy out into space. The hotter the surface becomes the more intensely it radiates energy. After a time the Earth’s surface reaches a temperature at which the combined reflected and radiated energy exactly equal the energy received from the sun. This is a system in equilibrium.

OK, that’s not strictly true. One problem we poor students had to solve was to calculate this average surface temperature. The solution was about 20 degrees F cooler than what we actually measure. What was wrong? What was wrong, and we knew this going in, is that the sun is not the sole source of heating for the Earth. The Earth contains within it a vast nuclear reactor, large quantities of uranium and thorium undergoing radioactive decay and releasing heat. Enough heat to keep the Earth’s average surface temperature where it is now. Which some would say is just about right.

Electromagnetic energy (including visible light and infra-red) must pass through the Earth’s atmosphere coming in and going out. The atmosphere intercepts some of that energy passing through in both directions. To get to the point, the Earth’s surface reflects some visible light and some infra-red, but it (mostly) only emits energy in the form of infra-red radiation. Without consulting any charts I am going to say a large amount of infra-red energy passes through the atmosphere on the way out into infinite space, never to return again. But some of this infra-red making the trip out gets absorbed by the atmosphere.

And here is a sample graphic:


This is all very complicated stuff, of course, and we can only hope that next year’s presidential contest does not devolve into a science quiz. If it does, some candidates are going to have to find a reverse gear.


One thought on “Political Science

  1. Pingback: Political Science | North Texas Skeptics

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