The righteous are in high dudgeon because a proposed White House panel on climate change will include Will Happer, eminent Princeton professor emeritus of physics and inventor who made foundational contributions in the applications of atmospheric science to laser guidance systems, using physics which lies at the core of climate research. “White House Climate Panel to Include a Climate Denialist” hissed the New York Times. His sin? He doesn’t think CO2 is a crisis, and annoyingly insists on pointing out that it benefits plant growth. Progressives love the idea of challenging convention… until someone actually does it.
Ask questions about climate change and suddenly Galileo is forgotten and man-made global warming is a disaster from which no scientist dissents except those, in Leonardo DiCaprio’s words, “bought off by lobbyists and oil companies” or who, in John Kerry’s comparatively gentle characterization, are “shoddy scientists” and “extreme ideologues”.
There was some pushback over the character assassinations, especially the term “Denialist” which, some rightly noted, links scepticism about the man-made global warming panic with anti-Semitic Holocaust denial. But it’s remarkable the extent to which coverage plunges into abuse without giving any consideration to Happer’s actual views and impressive qualifications, or the question whether science is meant to advance by silencing dissent. We hail Galileo, Darwin or Einstein for questioning established wisdom now that they’re safely vindicated and their views are established wisdom. But try it on the cause du jour and see how fast the tar and feathers appear.
The Washington Post sneered that “The initiative represents the Trump administration’s most recent attempt to question the findings of federal scientists and experts on climate change and comes less than three weeks after Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats delivered a worldwide threat assessment that identified it as a significant security risk.” It added that “Happer, who worked at the Energy Department under George H.W. Bush and joined the White House in September to work on ‘emerging technologies,’ is not formally trained as a climate scientist. He developed a national reputation for his work on laser technology used in missile defense and on the interactions between light and atoms.”
Perhaps the mention of missile defence was intended further to discredit him. But actually the interaction between light, or electromagnetic radiation, and atoms in the atmosphere is the issue at the heart of the greenhouse effect. Despite which the slight about his distinguished academic background being in a different field quickly found its way into Wikipedia, which says “Happer rejects the scientific consensus on climate change. He has no formal training in climate science.”
We wonder what training the Post authors (or Wikipedia’s editors) think most “climate scientists” have, given the supposed dependence of climatology on the kind of physics Happer specializes in. Or why they aren’t impressed that Happer is such a Renaissance thinker, interested in so many fields.
If by contrast you’re wondering what scientific training the authors of this condescending Post piece have that let them casually disparage the academic qualifications of such a distinguished scholar, it turns out they have none at all, climate or otherwise. One has a BA in English and an MA in public policy; the other an AB in politics and a “Certificate in Latin American Studies”. The same is of course true of a great many climate alarmists, from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (international relations and economics) to Al Gore (government) to Elizabeth May (restaurant management and law) to Prince Charles.
At least Canada’s David Suzuki is a fly geneticist. But his field has far less to do with climate than physics, which bears directly on questions from atmospheric turbulence to ocean currents to solar radiation. John Kerry, who as Secretary of State was given to inflammatory comments about climate that got wide favourable coverage, received a BA with lacklustre grades and later a law degree, a JD, from Boston College. Yet stories about their valiant stand on behalf of Mother Earth rarely dwell on this point. It’s only skeptics who get heckled in this manner.
It gets worse. The Post adopted the “When in doubt, smear” principle, adding “Last March, when asked in connection with court proceedings whether he had received money from the fossil fuel industry, Happer said he had been given somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 from Peabody Coal to testify before a Minnesota Public Utilities Commission hearing.” So there you have it. A know-nothing on the take.
The article went on to give Happer a few lines, including “’We’re doing our best to try and counter this myth that CO2 is a dangerous pollutant,’ he said. ‘It’s not a pollutant at all…. We should be telling the scientific truth, that more CO2 is actually a benefit to the earth.’” But only immediately to retort that “Most scientists have taken a different view, concluding that the world must curb its carbon output dramatically in the next few decades or risk dire consequences.” And how exactly did the authors know that “most scientists” predict dire consequences soon? This claim simply bounces around the echo chamber even though it is quite untrue, even obviously preposterous.
Nobody has ever surveyed “most scientists”, of whom there are literally millions. Moreover, “most scientists” have even less relevant expertise than Happer. Having trained in some field other than atmospheric physics, they mostly work in a field other than climate change and if they did venture an opinion it would not be as experts. Whereas Happer has turned his prodigious intellect to the question seriously over many years.
The New York Times piece, by a former food and travel writer with a BA in English, took an eerily similar line to that of the Washington Post, saying “According to a White House memo dated Feb. 14, Mr. Trump’s staff members have drafted an executive order to create a 12-member committee, which will include a White House adviser, William Happer, whose views are sharply at odds with the established scientific consensus that carbon dioxide pollution is dangerous for the planet.”
Incredible that a man willing to question orthodoxy should be asked to contribute his opinion on a key policy issue or that a distinguished physicist should have an opinion on science. Outrageous. Leave it to the food writers and lawyers. Or, in view of the personal cost and opprobrium that greets qualified scientists who challenge the media climate fictions, perhaps the sensible thing to do is to listen carefully to what they have decided they must nevertheless stand up and say.