As the Biden administration and governments worldwide make massive commitments to rapidly decarbonize the global economy, the persistent effort to silence climate change skeptics is intensifying – and the critics keep pushing back.
This summer the International Monetary Fund summarily canceled a presentation by John Clauser, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist who publicly disavows the existence of a climate “crisis.” The head of the nonprofit with which Clauser is affiliated, the CO2 Coalition, has said he and other members have been delisted from LinkedIn for their dissident views.
Meanwhile, a top academic journal retracted published research doubting a climate emergency after negative coverage in legacy media. The move was decried by another prominent climate dissenter, Roger Pielke Jr., as “one of the most egregious failures of scientific publishing that I have seen” – criticism muffled because the academic says he has been blocked on Twitter (now X) by reporters on the climate beat.
The climate dissenters are pressing their case as President Biden, United Nations officials, and climate action advocates in media and academia argue that the “settled science” demands a wholesale societal transformation. That means halving U.S. carbon emissions by 2035 and achieving net zero emissions by 2050 to stave off the “existential threat” of human-induced climate change.
In response last month, more than 1,600 scientists, among them two Nobel physics laureates, Clauser and Ivar Giaever of Norway, signed a declaration stating that there is no climate emergency, and that climate advocacy has devolved into mass hysteria. The skeptics say the radical transformation of entire societies is marching forth without a full debate, based on dubious scientific claims amplified by knee-jerk journalism.
Many of these climate skeptics reject the optimistic scenarios of economic prosperity promised by advocates of a net-zero world order. They say the global emissions-reduction targets are not achievable on such an accelerated timetable without lowering living standards and unleashing worldwide political unrest.
“What advocates of climate action are trying to do is scare the bejesus out of the public so they’ll think we need to [act] fast,” said Steven Koonin, author of “Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters.”
“You have to balance the certainties and uncertainties of the changing climate – the risks and hazards – against many other factors,” he adds.
These dissenters don’t all agree on all scientific questions and do not speak in a single voice. Clauser, for example, is a self-styled “climate denialist” who believes climate is regulated by clouds, while Pielke, a political scientist at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and Bjørn Lomborg, the former director of the Danish Environmental Assessment Institute, acknowledge humans are affecting the climate but say there is sufficient time to adapt. The dissenters do, however, agree that the public and government officials are getting a one-sided, apocalyptic account that stokes fear, politicizes science, misuses climate modeling, and shuts down debate.
They also say it is a troubling sign for scientific integrity that they are systematically sidelined and diminished by government funding agencies, foundation grant-makers, academic journals, and much of the media. Delving into their claims, RealClearInvestigations reviewed a sampling of their books, articles, and podcast interviews. This loose coalition of writers and thinkers acknowledges that the climate is warming, but they typically ascribe as much, if not more, influence to natural cycles and climate variability than to human activities, such as burning fossil fuel.
Among their arguments:
• There is no climate crisis or existential threat as expressed in catastrophic predictions by activists in the media and academia. As global temperatures gradually increase, human societies will need to make adjustments in the coming century, just as societies have adapted to earlier climate changes. By and large, humans cannot control the climate, which Pielke describes as “the fanciful idea that emissions are a disaster control knob.”
• Global temperatures are increasing incrementally, and have been for centuries, but the degree of human influence is uncertain or negligible. Climate skeptics themselves don’t agree on how much humans are contributing to global warming by burning fossil fuels, and how much is caused by natural variability from El Niño and other cycles that can take centuries to play out. “The real question is not whether the globe has warmed recently,” writes Koonin, “but rather to what extent this warming is being caused by humans.”
• Rapidly replacing fossil fuels with renewables and electricity by mid-century would be economically risky and may have a negligible effect on global warming. Some say mitigation decrees – such as phasing out the combustion engine and banning gas stoves – are not likely to prevent climate change because humans play a minor role in global climate trends. Others say mitigation is necessary but won’t happen without capable replacement technologies. It’s unrealistic, they say, to force societies to rely on intermittent energy from wind and solar, or wager the future on technologies that are still in experimental stages.
• The global political push to kill the fossil fuel industry to get to “net zero” and “carbon neutrality” by 2050, as advocated by the United Nations and the Biden administration, will erase millions of jobs and raise energy costs, leading to a prolonged economic depression and political instability. The result would be that developing regions will pay the highest price, while the biggest polluters (China and India) and hostile nations (like Russia and Iran) will simply ignore the net-zero mandate. This could be a case where the cure could be worse than the disease.
• Despite the common refrain in the media, there is no evidence that a gradually warming planet is affecting the frequency or intensity of hurricanes, storms, droughts, rainfall, or other weather events. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has expressed low confidence such weather events can be linked to human activities. Still, “it is a fertile field for cherry pickers,” notes Pielke.
• Extreme weather events, such as wildfires and flooding, are not claiming more human lives than previously. The human death toll is largely caused by cold weather, which accounts for eight times as many deaths as hot weather, and overall weather-related mortality has fallen by about 99% in the past century. “People are safer from climate-related disasters than ever before,” statistician and author Bjørn Lomborg has said.
• Climate science has been hijacked and politicized by activists, creating a culture of self-censorship that’s enforced by a code of silence that Koonin likens to the Mafia’s omerta. In her 2023 book, “Climate Uncertainty and Risk,” climatologist Judith Curry asks: “How many skeptical papers were not published by activist editorial boards? How many published papers have buried results in order to avoid highlighting findings that conflict with preferred narratives? I am aware of anecdotal examples of each of these actions, but the total number is unknowable.”
• Slogans such as “follow the science” and “scientific consensus” are misleading and disingenuous. There is no consensus on many key questions, such as the urgency to cease and desist burning fossil fuels, or the accuracy of computer modeling predictions of future global temperatures. The apparent consensus of imminent disaster is manufactured through peer pressure, intimidation, and research funding priorities, based on the conviction that “noble lies,” “consensus entrepreneurship,” and “stealth advocacy” are necessary to save humanity from itself. “One day PhD dissertations will be written about our current moment of apocalyptic panic,” Pielke predicts.
• The warming of the planet is a complicated phenomenon that will cause some disruptions but will also bring benefits, particularly in agricultural yields and increased vegetation. Some climate skeptics, including the CO2 Coalition, say CO2 is not a pollutant – it is “plant food.”
Curry, the former Chair of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, expresses a common theme among the climate refuseniks: that they are the sane, rational voices in a maelstrom of quasi-religious mania.
“In the 1500s, they used to drown witches in Europe because they blamed them for bad weather. You had the pagan people trying to appease the gods with sacrifices,” Curry said. “What we’re doing now is like a pseudoscientific version of that, and it’s no more effective than those other strategies.’
The climate change establishment occasionally concedes some of these points. No less an authority than the newly appointed head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has urged the climate community to cool its jets: “If you constantly communicate the message that we are all doomed to extinction, then that paralyzes people and prevents them from taking the necessary steps to get a grip on climate change,” Jim Skea recently said to German media. “The world won’t end if it warms by more than 1.5 degrees [centigrade]. It will however be a more dangerous world.”
In testimony before the Senate Budget Committee in June, Pielke said human-caused climate change is real and “poses significant risks to society and the environment.” But the science does not paint a dystopian, catastrophic scenario of imminent doom, he added.
“Today, there is general agreement that our current media environment and political discourse are rife with misinformation,” Pielke testified. “If there is just one sentence that you take from my testimony today it is this: You are being misinformed.”
Still, the overwhelming impression conveyed is one of impending disaster, with the menace of global warming rhetorically upgraded in July by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to “global boiling.” Climate scientists announced in July that the planet is the hottest it’s been in 120,000 years, an old claim that gets recycled every few years. Meanwhile, three vice-chairs of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of mass starvation, extinction, and disasters, saying that if the temperature rises 1.5â„ƒ above pre-industrial levels, “children under 12 will experience a fourfold increase in natural disasters in their lifetime, and up to 14% of all species assessed will likely face a very high risk of extinction.”
Many of these predictions are based on computer models and computer simulations that Pielke, Koonin, Curry, and others have decried as totally implausible. Koonin’s book suggests that some computer models may be “cooking the books” to achieve desired outcomes, while Pielke has decried faulty scenarios as “one of the most significant failures of scientific integrity in the twenty-first century thus far.” Curry writes in her book that the primary inadequacy of climate models is their limited ability to predict the kinds of natural climate fluctuations that cause ice ages and warming periods, and play out over decades, centuries, or even millennia.
Another critique is the use of computer models to correlate extreme weather events to multi-decade climate trends in an attempt to show that the weather was caused by climate, a branch of climate science called climate attribution studies. This type of research is used to bolster claims that the frequency and intensity of heat waves, floods, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events could not have happened without climate change. An example is research recently cited by the BBC in an article warning that if the global temperature rises another 0.9 centigrade, crippling heat waves that were once exceedingly rare will bake the world every two-to-five years.
One question looms: Does a warming climate contribute to heat records and heat waves, such as those that were widely reported in July as the hottest month on record and taken as overwhelming proof that humans are overheating the planet? The United States experienced extreme heat waves in the 1930s, and the recent spikes are not without precedent, climate dissenters say. Pielke, however, concedes that IPCC data signal that increases in heat extremes and heat waves are virtually certain, but he argues that the societal impacts will be manageable.
Koonin and Curry say that the global heat spikes in July were likely caused by a multiplicity of factors, including an underwater Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcanic explosion last year that increased upper atmosphere water vapor by about 10%, a relevant fact because water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas. Another factor is the warming effect of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation, which has shifted to an active phase recently.
Koonin says that greenhouse gas emissions are a gradual trend on which weather anomalies play out, and while it’s tempting to confuse weather with climate, it would be a mistake to blame July’s heat waves on human influence.
“The anomaly is about as large as we’ve ever seen, but not unprecedented,” Koonin explained on a podcast. “Now, what the real question is, why did it spike so much? Nothing to do with CO2 – CO2 is … the base on which this phenomenon occurs.”
Climate dissent comes with the occupational hazard of being tarred as a propagandist and stooge for “Big Oil.” Pielke was one of seven academics investigated by a U.S. Congressman in 2015 for allegedly failing to report funding from fossil fuel interests (He was cleared). A New York Times review of Lomborg’s 2020 book, “False Alarm,” described it as “mind pollution.”
Climate advocates see climate skepticism as so dangerous that Ben Santer, one of the world’s leading climate scientists, publicly cut ties with Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory two years ago after the federal research facility invited Koonin to discuss his skeptical book, “Unsettled.” Santer, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, said allowing Koonin’s views to go unchallenged undermined the credibility and integrity of climate science research. For similar reasons, the IMF postponed Clauser’s July presentation so that it could be rescheduled as a debate.
Another critique: scientists arbitrarily forcing the facts to fit a prescribed catastrophic narrative, often by ignoring plausible alternative explanations and relevant factors. That’s what climate scientist Patrick Brown said he had to do to get published in the prestigious journal Nature, by attributing wildfires to climate change and ignoring other factors, like poor forest management and the startling fact that over 80% of wildfires are ignited by humans. Brown publicly confessedto this sleight-of-hand in a recent article in The Free Press.
“This type of framing, with the influence of climate change unrealistically considered in isolation, is the norm for high-profile research papers,” Brown wrote. “When I had previously attempted to deviate from the formula, my papers were rejected out of hand by the editors of distinguished journals, and I had to settle for less prestigious outlets.”
These frustrations serve as a reminder that the world has entered what the United Nations and climate advocates call the make-or-break decade that will decide how much the Earth’s temperature will rise above pre-industrial levels. This decisive phase is “unfolding now and will intensify during the next several years,” according to Rice University researchers. “Accordingly, what happens between now and the late 2020s, in all likelihood, will fundamentally determine the failure or success of an accelerated energy transition.”
In response to this call for global action, political leaders in Europe and North America are vowing to reengineer their societies to run on wind, solar, and hydrogen. In this country, California is among a dozen states that have moved to ban the sale of new gasoline-engine cars in 2035, while states like Virginia and North Carolina have committed to carbon-free power girds by mid-century.
In the most detailed net-zero roadmap to date, the International Energy Agency in 2021 identified more than 400 milestones that would have to be met to achieve a net-zero planet by mid-century, including the immediate cessation of oil and gas exploration and drilling, and mandated austerity measures such as reducing highway speed limits, limiting temperature settings in private homes, and eating less meat.
In the IEA’s net zero scenario, global energy use will decline by 8% through energy efficiency even as the world’s population adds 2 billion people and the economy grows a whopping 40%. In this scenario, all the nations of the world – including China, India, Russia, and Saudi Arabia – would have to commit to a net-zero future, generating 14 million jobs to create a new energy infrastructure. Nearly half the slated emissions reductions will have to come from experimental technologies currently in demonstration or prototype stages, such as hydrogen, bioenergy, carbon capture, and modular nuclear reactors. Reading this bracing outlook, one could almost overlook the IEA’s caveat that relying on solar and wind for nearly 70% of electricity generation would cause retail electricity prices to increase by 50% on average and destroy 5 million jobs, of which “many are well paid, meaning structural changes can cause shocks for communities with impacts that persist over time.”
A critique of the IEA’s scenario issued this year by the Energy Policy Research Foundation, a think tank that specializes in oil, gas, and petroleum products, warned of “massive supply shocks” if oil supplies are artificially suppressed to meet arbitrary net zero targets. The report further stated that “if the world stays committed to net zero regardless of high costs – the recession will turn into an extended depression and ultimately impose radical negative changes upon modern civilization.” (Disclosure: The report was commissioned by the RealClearFoundation, the nonprofit parent of RealClearInvestigations.)
Already, societies have fallen behind their emissions reduction targets, and it’s widely understood that fast-tracking net zero is an unattainable goal. Transforming existing energy infrastructures within several decades would require installing the equivalent of the world’s largest solar farm every day, according to the International Energy Agency. Carbon-free energy accounts for only 18% of total global consumption, and fossil fuels are still increasing, according to a recent analysis. The IEA reported this year that investments in oil exploration and drilling have rebounded to pre-pandemic levels, while global coal demand reached an all-time high last year. Globally nations are spending more on clean energy than on fossil fuels, but fossil fuels are still vital to economic growth; for instance, the IEA noted that 40 gigawatts of new coal plants were approved in 2022, the highest figure since 2016, almost all of them in China.
“We live in this world of exaggerated promises and delusional pop science,” Vaclav Smil, the University of Manitoba environmental scientist and policy analyst, told The New York Times last year. “People don’t appreciate the magnitude of the task and are setting up artificial deadlines which are unrealistic.”
A government push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting back on livestock farming has led to public protests in the Netherlands, a conflict over resources that Time magazine predicts will spread elsewhere: “This may be just the beginning of much wider global unrest over agriculture. Scientists say dealing with climate change will require not just gradual reform, but a rapid, wholesale transformation of the global food system.”
Climate dissidents say what happened in the Netherlands is a foretaste of the political backlash that is inevitable when net-zero policies start becoming implemented and people have to travel across state lines to buy a gasoline-powered car.
“The urgency is the stupidest part of the whole thing – that we need to act now with all these made-up targets,” Curry said. “The transition risk is far greater than any conceivable climate or weather risk.”
To Koonin, these challenges indicate that the catastrophic climate narrative will collapse when put to the test of practicality and politics. The more sensible route, he said, is a slow-and-steady approach.
“There’s going to be a deep examination of science and the cost-benefit issues,” he said. “We will eventually do the right thing, but it’s going to take a decade or so.”
John Murawski reports on the intersection of culture and ideas for RealClearInvestigations. He previously covered artificial intelligence for the Wall Street Journal and spent 15 years as a reporter for the News & Observer (Raleigh, NC) writing about health care, energy and business. At RealClear, Murawski reports on how esoteric academic theories on race and gender have been shaping many areas of public life, from K-12 school curricula to workplace policies to the practice of medicine.
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