An interview with Richard Lindzen in Prague in mid May 2017
The U.S. president Donald Trump has turned his back to the international treaties to reduce emissions when he announced in the White House’s Rose Garden that the U.S. will leave the Paris climate treaty that 195 countries signed in 2015. We use this opportunity to unlock the full interview with one of the most famous climate skeptics among the world’s scientists Richard Lindzen which was published in Echo at the end of May. In February, Lindzen organized a public letter to Trump signed by hundreds of scientists, urging the president to revoke the U.S. signature under the 1992 treaty signed in Rio which became a cornerstone for the subsequent Kyoto and Paris treaties. In these treaties, the countries-signatories pledge to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to make sure that the planet won’t heat up by more than 2 °C relatively to the pre-industrial era.
Question: In your memo, you recommend Trump to withdraw from the Climate Change Convention signed at the 1992 U.N. summit in Rio. Why do you focus on Rio and not the 18-months-old Paris treaty?
Lindzen: Because Rio seems to be the easiest way out. There exists an argument that to leave the Paris treaty [adopted in 2015; signatories-countries vow to realize their individual contributions to fight against the emissions, note by editors] would be more complex and it could take several years. [That’s the path that Trump chose, anyway, comment by Lubos Motl LM.] The argument also notes that our exit must be approved by the other signatories. On the other hand, when you leave Rio, you also invalidate the commitments that were made in the subsequent 25 years and that includes Paris. The second simplest way out would be to classify Paris as a treaty that requires a ratification by the U.S. Senate where it would undoubtedly fail to collect the required 2/3 majority. And in that case, we could think of Paris as a treaty that hasn’t been signed by the U.S. at all. According to the U.S. constitution, all international treaties have to be approved by the Senate. Obama was working outside this framework and in fact, no one exactly knows whether his agreement with the Paris treaty has any legal power.
Q: What are your estimated odds that Trump will behave as you advise him?
Lindzen: I see it as a 50-to-50 proposition. I think that we will be smarter in Fall 2017 or earlier. These days, it’s hard to understand the actual events in the U.S. Trump is complaining about fake news – and rightfully so. So far, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and a majority of the TV channels like to report things about Trump before it turns out that they aren’t quite right. So when they are telling us that Ivanka along with her spouse Jared Kushner or the Secretary of State Rex Tillerson want us to stay in the Paris climate framework, I am not sure that it’s true. Trump himself isn’t ideological, moreover, he doesn’t pretend to possess the scientific expertise. He may be inclined to decide in a way that minimizes the friction. But the most important fact could be his campaign promise to leave the climate treaties.
Q: At any rate, last fall, people were voting for Donald, not Ivanka or Jared.
Lindzen: Yes, and he knows it. He has two candidates for his science adviser, William Happer and David Gelernter. Both are very intelligent men. Bill was mentioning that he was discussing this issue with Trump and Trump was saying: You must understand that my daughter is young and doesn’t understand the issue yet. Who knows how these things will evolve…
Why would Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner be so involved in the efforts to keep the U.S. in the Paris climate framework?‘
Lindzen: They are young people, they have been brought up in the propaganda about the man-made global warming. Before her father decided to run for the White House, they were Democrats. If you’re growing up in the New York City in a certain social class, everyone around you is a believer. That was the case of many CEOs of big companies that I know. Their wives were insisting that they had to embrace this faith, otherwise these wives’ girlfriends would stop talking to these wives.
You have been heard as saying that the ordinary Joe has already seen through the panic about global warming while the educated people are more susceptible.
Lindzen: But that’s the case of many other topics. Orwell was an early thinker who noted that certain ideas are so silly that only intellectuals may believe them. Just look how the education system works. What does it mean for a student to be good these days?
To pass the exams and write a good thesis.
Lindzen: Maybe in your country. In America, to be a good student means to please his or her professor. In other words, the student must accept what the professor teaches and writes, without reservations. And when you disagree, you are a bad student. People who avoid the college don’t have to undergo this. They have the freedom to use their own brain to think. If you ask a regular working person in Boston, Paris, or anywhere, what he thinks about global warming, he will probably respond: I think that something is happening but I am not too interested in it. Almost no one will tell you: We have to save the planet. It would be hard to transmit this sentence through his lips because it would look too pompous to him. And he is intuitively right. Even the official proposals to stop the climate change publicly admit that even if they are realized, they won’t have a tangible impact. These efforts are returning us to the Middle Ages when people liked to do symbolic gestures to persuade God to look at us more mercifully. It is an irrational issue, except from the viewpoint of the people who make profit out of it. And it’s not just the producers of the solar panels or the pinwheels. In America, even utility companies are totally excited about the regulations introduced because of the climate. They have done the maths and they figured out that the regulations will bring them extra profits. The consumers will pay for the party.
On the other hand, the college-educated public ironically thinks that it is the climate skeptics like you who are being paid by the energy industry.
Lindzen: I wish! [Laughter.] The only big grant that e.g. ExxonMobil has ever donated to the research of the climate was its $100 million grant donated to Stanford – to promote the climate alarmism.
Payments that you have allegedly received from the coal company Peabody is sometimes being used against you.
Lindzen: Sure, they wanted an expert analysis needed in the court. Everyone gets paid for this work. More importantly, this money is so modest that it is negligible relatively to the funds flowing to the official climatology. Since 1988, the latter has been tens of billions of dollars, an amount so large that the climate science has basically been unable to absorb it so far. The field is relatively small and the tens of billions are going almost exclusively to support a pre-determined paradigm. Don’t believe the talk about thousands of climatologists who agree with the conclusions of the U.N. international panel. Have you attended a college? Have you ever met someone who studied climatology in your student environment? No? Almost no one has met a climate student. Sure, the U.N. is already importing people from Zimbabwe and Tanzania, but those aren’t real climatologists. But when you continuously increase the research funds, and on top of that, you develop the research on the impacts of the so-called climate change, you may study e.g. cockroaches and still be incorporated to the industry of climatology once you publish studies about the cockroaches’ prospects in the globally warming world. If 90% of the research funding for the climate were slashed, the discipline would actually benefit.
You are alternately living in Greater Boston and Paris so you must have noticed that the French president Macron has invited scientists from the U.S. to France who are – I am quoting – fighting against the darkness and obscurantism and who are afraid that their research will no longer be permitted.
Lindzen: If Macron were honest, he would have to think of people like me. In the past and up to this day, the only scientists who have been suppressed have been the doubters. When they classify you as a skeptic, you won’t get the grants, you face extra hurdles while publishing things. For example, I am a member of the National Academy of Sciences and these members are expected to be able to publish a scientific study. I submitted a publication in 2011 whose co-author was Korean scientist Mr Choi. In the committee that was deciding about the publication, one member was Mr Schellnhuber of Germany [Hans Joachim Schellnhuber was then a science adviser to Angela Merkel, comment by editors] and his argument was as follows: Look, this Lindzen wants his study to be reviewed by Chou but Chou is his co-author. That’s illegal. They didn’t publish our paper even though Choi and Chou are two different people. Afterwards, I even received apologies from other members of the committee who were disgusted – but that couldn’t have helped with the core problem.
Do you know a recent example in which climatology was demonstrably working in a government’s interest?
Lindzen: Sure. The Karl et al. study funded by NOAA (National Ocean and Atmosphere Administration) in Summer 2015, i.e. shortly before the Paris accord, had the goal to prove that the hiatus in global warming that has been taking place already from 1998 (or 1988 written in the original Echo interview, not sure what was meant, LM), didn’t exist. Using slightly different datasets, they reduced the temperatures measured in 1978-1998 and slightly increased the temperatures from 1998 through 2015, and that’s how a steeper curve was created. In newspapers, people could read predictable headlines: No hiatus has occurred in global warming! Of course the warming did take place but they hid an important detail: that the warming was far smaller than the predictions of all the climate models. And that was true even according to the modified datasets. That’s an example of elementary scientific dishonesty built on the silly assumption that every warming is dangerous, even if it were by a hundredth of a degree. Someone has paraphrased the logic as follows: When you eat 100 aspirins, you will die. When each of 100 people eats 1 aspirin, 1 person will die. [The original Czech interview says “100 persons will die” but that’s not what Lindzen meant. LM]
And according to you, is the world warming or not?
Lindzen: The climate is constantly changing, it has never stayed constant. We had a warming episode in 1978-1998, probably comparable to several tenths of a degree. I am using the word “probably” because when the measurement error is plus minus 0.2 °C, you may always modify your results to match a trend you find convenient. To deduce trends from changes comparable to tenths of a degree is nonsense from a statistical perspective. It is almost impossible to say with certainty that the warming has taken place. The international panel of the U.N. known as the IPCC acronym is claiming: The warming between 1919 and 1940 wasn’t caused by humans but the warming between 1978 and 1998 was. But their magnitude and shape was basically identical. It’s propaganda. You may always focus on small changes and scale the graph so that it looks dramatic to the naked eye.
What about the argument about the 10 hottest years in history that were uniformly recorded from 1998?
Lindzen: If 1998 is the warmest one in your dataset from the beginning of your measurements, and if the temperature stabilizes afterwards, then it seems logical that most of the following years will belong among the warmest ones. This argument says nothing about the trends. I think that this argument is abusing the people’s innumeracy. It’s a fact that since 1998, the Earth has basically seen no temperature trend. First, this 20-year-old hiatus wasn’t predicted by the IPCC models. Second, they aren’t even attempting to seriously explain it. Ex post explanations, e.g. that the heat was stored in the ocean and will emerge from the ocean sometime in the future, aren’t convincing.
If the official science is failing, how do you explain that the climate industry keeps on moving?
Lindzen: Environmentalists have attempted to spread several types of a panic since the 1960s: oxygen depletion, global cooling, coming ice age, acid rains… Global warming is the last one in the sequence. They have nothing else to try afterwards, so they will remain attached to global warming for as long time as possible. When this whole construct collapses sometime in the future and the fight against global warming will be moved to the dumping ground of history, people will marvel at a remarkable story showing how it was possible to make the whole of mankind hysterical without any proper arguments. And how vulnerable science may become when it is exposed to such hysteria.
Does the history of science remember something similar?
Lindzen: To some extent, Lysenko’s anti-Mendelian theory of heredity in the USSR was similar. In America, there was a related excitement for eugenics in the 1920s. Eugenics returned to Germany later and in a much more extreme form. But even in the U.S. of the 1920s, it was enough to close the borders. The root of the panic was the idea that America was exposed to the pandemics of feeble-mindedness and you could have found scientists who were blaming this pandemics on the immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, i.e. on you and the Italians. [Laughter.] What’s interesting is that while the research wasn’t subsidized by the government in those times, the public was scared and the government suggested that it was preferring certain results. And science managed to match that demand with its supply. In spite of the geneticists’ knowledge that it was bad science, they remained silent because they felt that it was very important for the public to appreciate the importance of their field.
What risks are facing the scientists whose theory collapses during their lifetime?
Lindzen: Nothing. Paul Ehrlich and his population explosion theory is a good example. Before 1980, famine would explode in the U.S. Nothing like that has ever taken place, of course, but Ehrlich remains a celebrated personality. In fact, he claims that the history has vindicated him. It’s similar with the people in the Club of Rome and their The Limits to Growth. It’s a silliness but they’re still harvesting applause. You can say anything and it doesn’t affect your reputation as long as you belong to a political movement. In that case, you may say: I have done quite some good work to help a good cause.
If Trump leaves the bandwagon of the climate politics, may it bring the demise of this world view closer?
Lindzen: It might. I don’t think that the end will be dramatic. What may happen is simply that the panic will cease to be profitable and profit seekers will have to look for greener pastures elsewhere.
Richard Lindzen. American atmospheric physicist from a Jewish family that fled Germany shortly before he was born in 1940. He was growing up in Bronx and studied at Harvard afterwards. Between 1983 and 2013 when he retired, he was a professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He was an author of the seventh chapter of the 2001 IPCC report before he complained that the conclusions of that report were modified for political goals. His wife is French and both of them alternately live in Greater Boston and Paris.
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