The Age Of Embarrassment

Eighth of a series


I’m sure I saw this coming.


That was during the campaign. Donald Trump is now President of the United States. This has consequences:

Leading candidate for Trump’s science advisor calls climate change a cult

In January, the Trump transition team arranged for two scientists to meet with Trump. Since then, both have been considered front runners to become the new presidential science advisor, a position that typically heads the Office of Science and Technology Policy. While the two—Princeton’s William Happer and Yale’s David Gelernter—have radically different backgrounds, they have a couple of things in common: strong support for science in general and extreme skepticism of climate science in particular.

The above appeared in Ars Technica on 15 February, written by John Timmer. The subtitle is Both picks support science, doubt its conclusions. I keep getting  the idea that Professor Happer has the lead here, and I’m going with that for the time being. Either way, what we are likely to have is a presidential science advisor who does not consider anthropogenic global warming (AGW) to be a serious concern.

To be sure, Professor Happer is a legitimate scientist. From Wikipedia, “He is the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, and a long-term member of the JASON advisory group, where he pioneered the development of adaptive optics. From 1991-93, Happer served as director of the Department of Energy‘s Office of Science as part of the George H. W. Bush administration.” That he may soon lend his opinions on AGW at the highest levels of government science is worrisome. Some background is worth a notice.


YouTube has a short interview, and it illuminates the core of his thinking:

Published on Oct 26, 2012

Professor of Physics at Princeton, William Happer debunks, then destroys global warming alarmism & hysteria in 7 minutes.

This appears to show testimony at a government hearing. Some of Happer’s remarks are worth noting. From the video. These are not verbatim quotes:

  • Global warming has been going on for the last 200 years.
  • There have been periods, like the last ten years when warming has ceased. In fact there’s been a little bit of cooling the past ten years.
  • We have experienced substantial cooling from the period 1942 to 1970.
  • Atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have increased from about 280 to 390 parts per million over the past 100 years.
  • The combustion of fossil fuels has contributed to this increase in the atmosphere.
  • Increases in the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will cause some warming of the Earth’s surface.
  • The key question is whether the net effect of the warming and any other effects of  CO2 will be good or bad for humanity.
  • I believe the effects of CO2 will be good.

That covers the first minute of a seven-minute clip. At this point Professor Happer has conceded that AGW exists, and he takes the assumption that he has proved his case against the dangers and forges ahead. He now transitions out of the field of physics, in which he holds a Ph.D. from Princeton.

He leaves the scientific realm entirely and begins by comparing the movement against AGW with the temperance movement of 100 years ago. Prohibition, we learn seemed like a good idea at the time, and we passed the 18th Amendment to prohibit the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages. That resulted in massive resistance to the laws that were put in place, and it led to an unprecedented crime wave, the beginning, he says, of organized crime in this country.

Professor Happer’s retelling of American history is accurate on that point, but it stretches a point to compare environmental activism with the Prohibition Era. In sum total, he advocates that attempts at government regulation, as it relates to AGW, will have adverse effects with no redeeming benefit. Again, this is an area where his training in physics is of little use.

He touts the benefits of increased CO2 concentration in  the atmosphere. Green plants receive a boost when more CO2 is available, which seems logical and which is borne out. The obverse is also true. Too much CO2 can kill green plants. What Professor Happer fails to tell is one of the downsides of this increased greening.

He rightly refers to a side effect of CO2 concentration in  the atmosphere, but he does not completely elaborate. With additional warming, the atmosphere will take up more water, and water vapor is a significant greenhouse gas. One concern of climate scientist is the possibility of runaway warming due to water vapor. The warmer the air, the more water vapor the more warming the more water vapor and so on. This is likely ameliorated by increased cloud formation, which will reflect sunlight, increasing the Earth’s albedo, keeping warming under control. He cites satellite data.

The Happer video was published in 2012, when his remarks regarding satellite data would have had more credibility in some circles. Not so much anymore:

Climate change doubters may have lost one of their key talking points: a particular satellite temperature dataset that had seemed to show no warming for the past 18 years.

The Remote Sensing System temperature data, promoted by many who reject mainstream climate science and especially most recently by Sen. Ted Cruz, now shows a slight of about 0.18 degrees Fahrenheit since 1998. Ground temperature measurements, which many scientists call more accurate, all show warming in the past 18 years.

“There are people that like to claim there was no warming; they really can’t claim that anymore,” said Carl Mears, the scientist who runs the Remote Sensing System temperature data tracking.

In that regard, Happer’s more recent thoughts may be more pertinent:

In July 2014 Happer said, during a CNBC interview, that “The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler.”

In December 2015 Happer was targeted in a sting operation by the environmental activist group Greenpeace; posing as consultants for a Middle Eastern oil and gas company, they asked Happer to write a report touting the benefits of rising carbon emissions. Concerned that the report might not be trusted if it was known that it was commissioned by an oil company, Happer discussed ways to obscure the funding. Happer asked that the fee be donated to the climate-change skeptic organization CO2 Coalition, who suggested he reach out to the Donors Trust, in order to keep the source of funds secret; hiding funding in this way is lawful under US law. Happer acknowledged that his report would probably not pass peer-review with a scientific journal.

In February 2017 Happer said “There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult … It will potentially harm the image of all science.”

This excerpt from Happer’s Wikipedia entry contains links to the sources.

Jews under Hitler:

“The demonization of carbon dioxide is just like the demonization of the poor Jews under Hitler,” said Princeton University professor William Happer while being interviewed on “Squawk Box” on CNBC. Before host Andrew Ross Sorkin could respond in incredulity, Happer went on to say, “Carbon dioxide is actually a benefit to the world, and so were the Jews.”

There is scientific objectivity, and then there is scientific objectivity. Sometimes more. Sometimes less.

The Greenpeace sting:

The proposed report for the fake consultant was intended to highlight the negative aspects of the climate agreement being negotiated in Paris, he was told in the email approach. The physicist was receptive to the commission, and asked to donate his fee to the CO2 Coalition, a group founded this year to “shift the debate from the unjustified criticism of CO2 and fossil fuels”.

“My activities to push back against climate extremism are a labor of love, to defend the cherished ideals of science that have been so corrupted by the climate change cult,” he wrote in an email. He did not respond to a request from the Guardian for comment.

This is not a case of a scientist selling his soul for grant money. Taking Happer at his word that he did not pocket the payment.

Regarding climate science as a cult, a Guardian article says much the same as the excerpt at the top of this post, and it says more:

“There’s a whole area of climate so-called science that is really more like a cult,” Happer told the Guardian. “It’s like Hare Krishna or something like that. They’re glassy-eyed and they chant. It will potentially harm the image of all science.”

Trump has previously described global warming as “very expensive … bullshit” and has signalled a continued hardline stance since taking power. He has nominated the former Texas governor Rick Perry, a staunch climate sceptic, as secretary of energy and hopes to put the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) under the leadership of Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general, who has been one of the agency’s most hostile critics.

John Holdren, Barack Obama’s science adviser, said Happer’s outspoken opinions would be a “substantial handicap” for a job that has traditionally involved delivering mainstream scientific opinion to the heart of policymaking.

“Every national academy of science agrees that the science is solid, that climate change is real,” he said. “To call this a cult is absurd and … an insult to the people who have done this work.”

Happer also supports a controversial crackdown on the freedom of federal agency scientists to speak out about their findings, arguing that mixed messages on issues such as whether butter or margarine is healthier, have led to people disregarding all public health information.

Jesus, I am so glad he’s not blaming the Chinese.


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