November 20, 2012: Good Germans, Munich, Brownshirts, Deniers, Churchill: Enough with the World War II Analogies!
Here is what my friend and anti-imperial compatriot John Tirman, executive director of the M.I.T. Center for International Studies, “tweets” about me and others who are not convinced that industrial emissions are the primary cause of the one degree rise in global average temperature since 1860 – or that this historically minuscule rise, whatever its reasons, is a primary cause of random storms and droughts: “One day, climate change deniers will be viewed like Holocaust deniers are now. #sandy #climatechange” Ouch.
How am I, a statistician who teaches about the uncertainty of exploratory computer climate models in separating human-induced warming from natural fluctuations of various cycles and extreme randomness (an uncertainty that is openly acknowledged by the modelers themselves, who call their models “scenarios” and not “predictions”), analogous to someone who denies that the Nazis planned and carried out the murder of six million Jewish civilians?
Can’t I just be called an “industrial-emissions-warming-catastrophe” skeptic, honoring Diogenes, Socrates, and the core tradition of scientific thought, the refusal to accept claims “on authority” without testing them with reality? Skepticism has brought us a better understanding of our solar system (thanks, Copernicus and Gallileo) and our universes big and little (thanks, Einstein and Heisenberg), the end of the unjust and brutal social systems of monarchy, feudalism, slavery, imperialism, and colonialism, as well as the modern medicines and treatments of water, crops, and materials that have extended our lives some 50 years on average from the 1600’s. Skeptic, please.
John’s respect for the climate models is beyond my ability to alter. (Lord knows I have tried: for a version of the “climate change” chapter in my anti-imperial history “The Turkey and the Eagle,” see here.) But being called a “denier” got me to thinking: why do so many of us reach to the horrors of World War II to make our ad hominem arguments?
In high school in the 1960’s I called Americans who were not out in the streets marching against segregation and the Vietnam War “Good Germans,” since my parents had taught us that the real villains in World War II were the apolitical Germans, not Nazis at all, who just went about their business as Hitler rose to power. When President Lyndon Johnson and his intellectual allies cited “Munich” as the reason they had to stand up to Ho Chi Minh’s national revolution in Vietnam, I was happy to take the bait and argue that it was not the Munich agreement about governing the Germanic western part of Czechoslovakia that was the problem, but the failure of France and Britain to intervene when Hitler violated its terms and stormed the entire country. In fact, I said, it was the United States that was playing the role of Hitler, violating the international agreement in question (the 1954 peace treaty between France and North Vietnam) by blocking what President Eisenhower acknowledged would be the fair election of Ho Chi Minh as president of the entire country.
The Nixon administration called us Nazi storm troopers (“Brown Shirts”) when we marched in the streets, and we called them Hitlers for pushing Americans to “think with the blood” by sanctifying our troops – the very troops they kept out there dying in a war they knew was lost, but needed a “decent interval” before leaving, to preserve American global prestige.
When Vietnam anti-war protestors pretended to be pro-war students, and read quotes about the need for law and order to cheers at meetings of conservative alumni, and then revealed that the quote was from Hitler or his henchmen, I thought that was a great debating tactic. Of course, when pro-war professors played at being anti-war and read quotes about the need to challenge law and order in a noble cause to cheers at meetings of anti-war students, I thought that was below the belt. Nazi writings turn out to be like the Bible – a little bit of something for everyone. (Oops – see how easy it is to use an offensive World War II analogy?)
In his sophomoric (my apologies to my sophomores) climate lecture that is featured in the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” (itself as illogical as the same director’s attack on public school teachers, “Waiting for Superman”), Al Gore casts himself as Winston Churchill in the 1930’s, presciently calling for action in the coming crisis but being ignored. Leaving aside any notion of praise for Churchill, a brutal imperialist dripping with Teddy Roosevelt’s contempt for the genetic inferiority of the colored races he enslaved, maybe, just maybe, Churchill was more successful in pushing Britain to prepare for war (witness the creation of a bombing command in the late 1930’s that was used to pummel German cities for the 5 years before the D-Day invasion) because the case that Hitler was a threat was clearer than the case that industrial emissions are.
The point is, World War II analogies, like the apartheid analogies opponents of Israel’s occupation policies use when the Nazi analogies grow stale, are used to score points, not to start a discussion and analysis, because they are guaranteed to enrage and inflame. If we want to shout someone down, we’ll use them; if we want to talk, we’ll talk about the current facts and claims. And we’ll evaluate the claims like skeptics, asking for proof and logic, not bluster and analogies.
Now, finally, to the substance of the matter. John sounds as if he, like a majority of Democrats but not Republicans and Independents, believes that a warmer season can be attributed more to, industrial emissions than to natural variation. (See here) In this, he is supported by the hysterical, hyper-political, Nobel Peace Prize-winning International Panel on Climate Change (definitely the silliest Nobel Peace Prize since Henry Kissinger’s).
Based on surprisingly (and perhaps inherently) immature climate models, the IPCC claims with 95 percent certainty that “most” of the increase in temperature in the last 30 years of the 20th century was due to human activities. That claim ignores the similar, almost certainly natural increase in the first 30 years of the 20th century, when industrial emissions were so comparably low that no modeler attributes the increase to them. And, the “95 percent certainty” implies that a random statistical test has been applied by the IPCC, which it has not – this is just its confidence for an unremarkable claim (that perhaps half of a small rise is not natural fluctuation) put to numbers.
Let’s start with the statistical fact that slightly higher global average temperatures, whatever their cause, move the distribution of temperatures up as well, leading to a slightly increased incidence of higher local heat spots. From this, those who fear climate catastrophe jump to an unshakeable belief that these increased heat spots lead to stronger and more frequent hurricanes….hence tropical storm Sandy. So, logically, John must conclude that the storm surge damage from Sandy was caused by our failure to cut industrial emissions, which is due to the effectiveness of the venal lies being told by the deniers, like me.
Now, there are lots of little reasons why all this is unlikely. For example, the storm ran into two completely coincidental low-pressure troughs, creating the surge conditions. (See this explanation by Jess Masters) And I wish I was part of a well-compensated conspiracy by fossil fuel companies that has captured public opinion; the reality is that climate alarmists have had an underserved field day, in funding and impact on popular opinion, in the past decade.
But the big issue is that extreme weather is a really random part of our global and local systems, and really hard to attribute to anything other than God playing at dice. For the past few million years, global temperature has oscillated smoothly up and down about 20 degrees every 100,000 years. We happen to be at the top of the cycle right now. Physicists believe that the cycle is, at heart, a response to the 100,000-year shift of our orbit around the Sun from a perfect circle to a 5 percent, egg-like ellipse, because the statistical fit is so good. BUT, they are stumped as to how the change in the orbit does this, since the change in radiative power is insignificant relative to the massive change in temperature it initiates. A little humility is in order when claiming to know the physics of far smaller fluctuations and individual events.
Please, call me a skeptic. And lay off World War II.