The Comical Conservative

Updated to correct an error in wording that reversed the meaning of a paragraph.

Don’t get too excited about the title. I’m reusing it to maintain continuity. This is going to be about the Comical Environmentalist.

Sometime back I reposted a Rick McKee cartoon from Facebook and used that as a starting point for a discussion about anthropogenic global warming (AGW). Here’s the cartoon:


I have referred to this cartoon in multiple posts. After the most recent post Rick posted a lengthy comment, and I initiated an email dialog with him. And I agree with him on one point. From his comment:

So, I have a question for you: Can you not see how a reasonable person, having been bombarded with all of this contradictory, false and alarmist information for all these years, could be skeptical of anything to do with the topic of climate change, which, in fact, was the point of the cartoon?

And my answer is yes, I can see how environmental activists are sometimes their own worst enemy. You can have a noble cause. You can have a just cause. Your cause can be right. That is, it can be factually correct. And all of that can be undone by extremism in the name of conviction.

In a previous post I took the cartoon to task for oversimplifying a complex issue. A problem with the cartoon is it makes use of—as required by the cartoon medium—hyperbole and shallow presentation. I figure it’s no good to find fault without remedy. And I propose to provide remedy by doing better. I can do the cartoon one better. I can provide substance and detail. Where to start?

Let’s start with something Rick mentioned:

Ecologist Kenneth Watt stated, “The world has been chilling sharply for about twenty years. If present trends continue, the world will be about four degrees colder for the global mean temperature in 1990, but eleven degrees colder in the year 2000. This is about twice what it would take to put us into an ice age.”

All right, I tried to run that one down. The references I found could not confirm that Watt actually spoke those words. Neither did he say anything like that:

Best Answer:  I’m not sure. Each and every single website I see, as you found too, merely gives the quote and no link to the transcript of the speech, or any further context besides “He once said in a speech at Swarthmore…” Of course, we all know how easily stories are taken and repeated without any sort of analysis at their validity.

I had graphed temperature data from NASA’s GISS, NOAA, and HadCRUT3v together a little while ago. I’m not sure what data Watt presumedly [sic] looked at, but there was no discernible trend during the “twenty years” he allegedly referred to. Temperatures actually began their descent in 1940, and leveled out after 1945 until they began to rise again in the seventies. Why would he claim that that trend would produce 4˚C cooling in 20 years? And 11 in 30?…

Nobody’s saying Kenneth Watt never said it. It appears to be completely apocryphal, with no contemporaneous account of such a speech. The Wikipedia entry for Earth Day includes the quote, but there is no associated link. However, it is the kind of thing Watt might have said, taking into account some of his other proclamations:

Watt also stated, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil.”

Neither does that one have a home, and readers are invited to help me find a link.

A problem with Internet research is the fluidity of the information. Often the provenance of sources is incomplete, and this is particularly true of sources that date from before the time everything started getting put on the Internet. More particularly, this applies to sources from deep history. An example, one of the references Rick cites, is this:

The Arctic ocean is warming up, icebergs are growing scarcer and in some places the seals are finding the water too hot…. Reports from fishermen, seal hunters and explorers, he declared, all point to a radical change in climate conditions and hitherto unheard-of temperatures in the Arctic zone… Great masses of ice have been replaced by moraines of earth and stones, the report continued, while at many points well known glaciers have entirely disappeared. Very few seals and no white fish are found in the eastern Arctic, while vast shoals of herring and smelts, which have never before ventured so far north, are being encountered in the old seal fishing grounds. – Washington Post 11/2/1922

Yes, we’ve seen this one before, and it was on this blog:

Second, Tom neglected to put the Post article into perspective. The article is based on an item in Monthly Weather Review, a publication of the American Meteorological Society. Here is the original article from the AMS:

And readers can go to the previous post and read the full context. It’s a context that is typically left out when enthusiasm gets the better of rigorous scholarship. The full context shows this was not some alarmist prediction from 1922 but was a report on a local climate anomaly observed in the vicinity of “Spitzbergen and Bear islands under the leadership of Dr. Adolf Hoel, lecturer on geology at the University of Christiania.”

What a serious writer will do is obtain access to contemporaneous sources—newspaper clippings, journal reports, correspondence.

Especially, newspaper reports are beyond value—they are next to impossible to forge. Somebody can print up a fake news clipping, but it can be exposed by matching it with any number of other copies of the same issue. Also of worth is the time value of a clipping. A news item published immediately after an event has credibility over something that finds print days, weeks, or years later. Additionally, corroboration can be obtained by comparing clippings from separate publications.

Journalistic sources published on the Internet are equally valuable, provided they are contemporaneous. Although Internet publications can be altered by a few keystrokes, the reputation of the source will preclude attempts at fraud. Absence of fraud is in no small part due to the thousands of readers who keep tabs on Internet news and place pages into archival storage.

The case of the 1922 Washington Post item is an example of obvious fraud. What happened is somebody scanned the clipping, did not follow up and obtain the complete context, and then posted the item on the Internet (or somewhere else) to highlight an argument against AGW. Subsequent users forwarded the fraudulent story without realizing the fraud, or caring. This is often the case when a story tells somebody what they want to believe. And it’s done by both sides of any divisive issue.

Rick McKee responded to my previous post with 124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions. I count 92 separate references in Rick’s comment, including the one relating to the 1922 Washington Post item.

Some others of the 92 are worth mentioning. I have made slight edits to Rick’s list, adding item numbers and such, and have produced a PDF. Readers can refer to the enumerated list, which I have posted on-line.

Take number 1:

Is our climate changing? The succession of temperate summers and open winters through several years, culminating last winter in the almost total failure of the ice crop throughout the valley of the Hudson, makes the question pertinent. The older inhabitants tell us that the Winters are not as cold now as when they were young, and we have all observed a marked diminution of the average cold even in this last decade. – New York Times June 23, 1890

What’s this all about? It appears to be a news report about weather changes of interest. If you’re like me, you’re going to have difficulty reconciling this with “124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions.”

Items 2 and 3 appear to discuss a coming ice age. Here is number 2:

The question is again being discussed whether recent and long-continued observations do not point to the advent of a second glacial period, when the countries now basking in the fostering warmth of a tropical sun will ultimately give way to the perennial frost and snow of the polar regions – New York Times – February 24, 1895

The word “failed” has no apparent relationship with these two items. These are newspaper articles discussing the projected repeat of the previous ice age. Although AGW may turn out to forestall the next ice age, nobody 100 years ago was thinking about this. For your viewing, here is a chart of historical global temperatures relating to previous ice ages:

Here’s number 5:

Scientist says Arctic ice will wipe out Canada, Professor Gregory of Yale University stated that “another world ice-epoch is due.” He was the American representative to the Pan-Pacific Science Congress and warned that North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes, and huge parts of Asia and Europe would be “wiped out.” – Chicago Tribune August 9, 1923

“North America would disappear as far south as the Great Lakes.” Yes. Just as in the previous ice age.

Number 8:

“Gaffers who claim that winters were harder when they were boys are quite right…weather men have no doubt that the world at least for the time being is growing warmer.” – Time Magazine Jan. 2 1939

As with a number of the others, it’s difficult to see how this is an argument for or against the current science related to AGW.

Here are numbers 76 and 77:

“Globally, 2002 is likely to be warmer than 2001 – it may even break the record set in 1998. – Daily Mirror August 2, 2002

Next year(2003)may be warmest recorded: Global temperatures in 2003 are expected to exceed those in 1998 – the hottest year to date – Telegraph UK- December 30, 2002


Would you believe these two predictions turned out to be pure bullshit. Actually not. They were only partially bullshit. An analysis of the top ten warmest years on record include 2002 and 2003. Both were warmer than 2001, which means the first prediction was true. But 2002 and 2003 tied for hottest years on record, meaning 2003 average temperatures were the same, not greater than, 2002. It might be interesting for readers to go to the NOAA site and check out the numbers.

Number 78 is a problem for climate scientists as well:

(The) extra energy, together with a weak El Nino, is expected to make 2005 warmer than 2003 and 2004 and perhaps even warmer than 1998 – Reuters February 11, 2005

Oops! Check with the NOAA page. 2005 turned out to be warmer than 1998, 2003, and 2004.

And I’m getting tired of playing this game. While I suspect there are some other clinkers among the 92, I’m going to spot Rick this, and agree that many of his references are accurate and pertinent. That allows me to avoid having to diagnose each of the 92 and to get back to the topic of this post. Sidestepping matters of AGW, here are some major fubars related to environmental issues:

By 1985 enough millions will have died to reduce the earth’s population to some acceptable level, like 1.5 billion people. – Paul Ehrlich

Yeah, you have to wonder what Ehrlich was thinking, if he was thinking, at all. It is comments like this and others that should have cost Ehrlich dearly in the marketplace of ideas. To give you an idea of how little effect this kind of silliness can have, I subsequently heard reference to “respected scientist Paul Ehrlich.”

Here are some additional silly comments by people who should know better:

“[Inaction will cause]… by the turn of the century [2000], an ecological catastrophe which will witness devastation as complete, as irreversible as any nuclear holocaust.” Mustafa Tolba, 1982, former Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program

“We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?” Lee Iacocca, CEO/Chairman, Chrysler Corporation, 1979-1992

It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it. Dan Quayle

Approximately 80% of our air pollution stems from hydrocarbons released by vegetation, so let’s not go overboard in setting and enforcing tough emission standards from man-made sources. Ronald Reagan

Rick McKee is right. We should be skeptical of what gets pushed into the nightly news or posted on the Internet.

In real science, as in real life, it’s not what what people say that matters, it’s what is that matters. In the end, facts trump opinion. People may, if they choose, post “124 years of Failed Climate and Environmental Predictions,” but that does not make an argument. What makes an argument is a statement of fact.  I’m going to restate something from previous posts:

I have been following the topic of AGW for over 20 years, and a recurrent observation is that people opposed to the science rely on quotes and opinions, some from real scientists, and not so much on the basic science. What any opponent to the science needs to do to refute AGW is to demonstrate one or more of the following:

  • Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere does not absorb infra red radiation.
  • Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are not increasing dramatically.
  • Increases in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere are not due to human activities.
  • There are natural sources to the increased concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that supersede the human contribution.

I have put this out before, and nobody has come back at me on it. Keep reading.

One thought on “The Comical Conservative

  1. Pingback: The Comical Conservative | North Texas Skeptics

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