Close this search box.

Lake Erie and the ‘Science of Climate Change’ – President Trump was right: ‘I don’t think the science knows’

By Jack Cashill

Among the more insidious questions “moderator” Chris Wallace asked President Trump during the first debate was the one that dealt with climate change.

As he did on several occasions, Wallace set Trump up to deny what the people in America’s newsrooms just knew to be true, and he did so with a heart-wrenching build-up. “The forest fires in the West are raging now,” said Wallace. “They have burned millions of acres. They have displaced hundreds of thousands of people. When state officials there blamed the fires on climate change, Mr. President, you said, ‘I don’t think the science knows.’”

Given that the debate was in Cleveland, Wallace might have asked a more locally relevant question: “Up and down Lake Erie and the other Great Lakes, sea walls are crumbling and homes are collapsing into the lakes. For at least a dozen years, Mr. President, climate scientists predicted continually lower lake water levels, and now they are at record highs.”

Here is how Wallace actually concluded his question: “What do you believe about the science of climate change, and what will you do in the next four years to confront it?” If those of us with lakefront property were able to answer, we might have said: “From our perspective, the science of climate change seems no more  ‘settled’ than that of embryonic stem cell research or eugenics. We’ve been confronting its miscalculations for years.”

As it happens, I bought my property—two or so hours northeast of Cleveland in New York State—the same year that climate change alarmism kicked into high gear, 1988. Back then, of course, the phenomenon was called “global warming.” James Hansen, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, lent NASA’s authority to his claim that “global warming is now large enough that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship to the greenhouse effect.” So saying, Hansen gave the international left a new rationale for global governance.

The following year, in an interview for Discover magazine, Stephen Schneider of the National Center for Atmospheric Research observed that although scientists were “ethically bound to the scientific method,” they also needed “to capture the public’s imagination.” To do so required media attention, and to get that attention they needed to “offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts [they] might have.” Schneider concluded, “Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both.”

That balance has proved elusive, especially for the media. In real science, dissent is expected, even welcome. In the media-driven “science of climate change.” dissent is discouraged, even vilified. In 2007, Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Ellen Goodman nicely captured the punitive spirit of the alarmist community. “I would like to say we’re at a point where global warming is impossible to deny,” wrote Goodman. “Let’s just say that global warming deniers are now on a par with Holocaust deniers, though one denies the past and the other denies the present and future.” Oy Vey!

In 2007, Goodman was still using “global warming” as a term of art. Soon enough, with almost no public explanation as to why, “global warming” would yield to “climate change.” In 2013, the climate change-friendly Economist hinted at the reason for the rebranding. “Over the past 15 years air temperatures at the Earth’s surface have been flat while greenhouse-gas emissions have continued to soar.” This was a secret the media preferred to keep under wraps. Indeed, the Economist aptly titled the article, “A Sensitive Matter.”

Here on Lake Erie, scientists and their media champions have much to be sensitive about. Year after year, they have proven unreliable on any number of climate-related variables and especially the one that concerns property owners most—the lake level.

In 2002, National Geographic published a much cited article with the none too subtle title, “Down the Drain: The Incredible Shrinking Great Lakes.” That article seems to have vanished into the ether. I learned about it only from reading a 2012 National Geographic article by Lisa Borre that identified the culprit for this shrinkage as climate change, “Warming Lakes: Climate Change and Variability Drive Low Water Levels on the Great Lakes.”

According to Ms. Barre, “Down the Drain” documented “declining lake levels and the potential economic and ecological consequences for the region.” Ten years later, Barre tells us, “The story continues to unfold, as water levels remain lower than normal.” Although somewhat balanced, Barre’s article features several alarming images of stranded boats and sandy stretches where water once flowed. On a dozen occasions in the article, Barre cites “climate change” as the likely explanation for the shrinking lakes.

In 2013, Peter Sinclair, reputed to be “the sharpest climate denier debunker on YouTube,” headlined an article, “Lower Great Lakes Levels – Another New Normal?” Whether a shrinking lake was the new normal remained to be seen. What certainly appeared to be the new normal, however, was the vindictiveness of true believers such as Goodman and Sinclair.

Those of us on the Great Lakes could not be bullied into ignoring the obvious. Our evidence was much more tangible than the media’s. In 2014, the lake levels started rising and have continued to rise. In 2017, they reached crisis level on Lake Ontario. This spring, for the first time in 32 years, I had to pull my stairs back. The bank underneath the stairs had collapsed under pressure from the rising lake. Several of my neighbors lost their sea walls. ‘First World’ problems to be sure, but a little advanced warning might have been helpful.

By the summer of 2019, even the The New York Times had noticed. Wrote Mitch Smith, “The higher water, which set records this summer on some Great Lakes could be part of an expensive new normal.” Left unsaid was that this “new normal” fully reversed the old “new normal” from just six years prior.

If there were a Pulitzer for sophistry, it would have to go the headline writer for the 2019 Scientific American article titled, “Climate Change Sends Great Lakes Water Levels Seesawing.” Not wanting to be pinned down, the authors argued that “rapid transitions between extreme high and low water levels in the Great Lakes represent the ‘new normal’.”

As President Trump might say: “I don’t think the science knows.” And that, my fellow deniers, is the real new normal.

A veteran writer and producer, Jack Cashill has a Ph.D. in American studies from Purdue University. His new book, Unmasking Obama: The Fight to Tell the True Story of a Failed Presidency, is widely available. See also