There are particular fields in which those that stray from the official narrative are instantly shunned as dissidents. Climate change is one of these. Dr Judith Curry, Professor Emeritus and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has become known as one of the outspoken scientists who doubt the “scientific consensus” on climate change. As a result, she was “academically, pretty much finished off” and “essentially unhirable”. However, this didn’t slow down the bold climatologist. BizNews spoke to Curry about her views on climate change and the impact that human beings have had on the planet. A delightfully fascinating discussion ensued in which Curry explained her objection to the “manufactured consensus of scientists at the request of policy makers” and how far reality really is from the grim picture painted by environmental activists. Curry made sense of recent extreme weather events and indicated that “Earth has survived far bigger insults than what human beings are doing”. An eye-opening interview. – Nadya Swart
Excerpts from the interview with Dr Judith Curry
Dr Judith Curry on the “scientific consensus” on climate change
First, I’m going to talk about the sociology of why certain people have been separated out as heretics or even called deniers. The basic facts of the situation are pretty clear. Global temperatures have been warming. Humans emit CO2 into the atmosphere. CO2 has an infrared emission spectra which overall acts to warm the planet. But there’s a lot of disagreement about the most consequential issues. How much of the warming has been human caused? How important is human-caused warming relative to solar variability, ocean circulation patterns and so on? So, there are some very legitimate disagreements about this topic and myself and others that are in this category that you’re talking about; we don’t dispute the basics.
What we do object to is the idea of a manufactured consensus for political purposes. This is not a natural scientific consensus that has emerged over a long time. It’s a manufactured consensus of scientists at the request of policy makers, which has been too narrowly framed. There’s too much politics in it. And that’s what I object to and there’s a number of other scientists that object to this as well. And we’ve also been critical of the behaviour of some of the more politically active scientists who are exaggerating the truth in the interests of a good story or political objectives.
On how far from reality the picture of doom and gloom painted by environmental activists really is
It’s very far from gloom and doom. People are being sued left and right over bad weather. Governments, oil companies and everything because they’re not doing enough. People who think that they can control the climate… It’s just a pipe dream. Even if we went to net zero, we would barely notice. It would be hard to detect any change in the climate. The climate is going to do what the climate’s going to do. And there’s a lot of inertia in the system. If the carbon dioxide that we’ve put in is as important, as bad as some people seem to think, those effects are going to be with us for a very, very long time. And stopping now isn’t going to change that trajectory very much. So, we just need to look forward and try to understand what’s happened. But thinking that we’re going to control the climate by going to net zero very quickly is not good. But the gloom and doom, I mean…
Pre-industrial is held up as some sort of golden age that we’re supposed to go back to. Well [in] pre-industrial [times] the weather was horrible. This was at the end of the little ice age. It was the coldest period of the millennium. There were horrible famines, extreme weather and extremely, terribly cold winters and springs and things like that. That was not good weather. The weather now is much better. Even [when you] look more recently, at least in the US, where I’ve looked most carefully, the weather was much worse in the 1930s by any measure. You know, forest fires, droughts, heatwaves, hurricanes, everything that you can imagine in the US was much worse in the 1930s. Does anybody remember that? Well, no. Most of those people are no longer living.
But if you look at the data there, it says [so]. Most people just look at the data from 1950 or 1970. The 1970s and 1980s was a relatively benign period of weather. And so, if you just do the trend since 1970, “Oh, the weather is worse now”. Well, yes, but it’s not worse than the 1930s or 40s or even the 50s. And people are much more prosperous. Globally, poverty is way down. Life expectancy is up. We’re doing very well as we reduce poverty and human development advances. A lot of that has been fueled by petroleum and coal. Are there better fuels out there? Well, hopefully in the future there will be advanced nuclear and stuff like that, very promising advanced geothermal. But right now, this minute, having our entire energy infrastructure relying on wind turbines and solar energy is going to cause a lot of harm to a lot of people, not just to the overall economy. You can’t run an industrial economy on wind and solar, at least not in the way it’s currently envisioned. It requires a huge land footprint.
People haven’t thought this out and there’s no emergency. Economically, we’re all expected to be four times better off worldwide by the end of the 21st century. And a little bit of that might be shaved off because of damages from global warming. But we’re all going to be better off moving forward through the 21st century unless we do really stupid stuff like destroy our energy infrastructure before we have something better to replace it with. That’s the biggest danger. The biggest climate risk right now is a so-called transition risk; the risk of rapidly getting rid of fossil fuels. I’m no fan of pollution and crazy price spikes and whatever. I’d love to see inexpensive, cleaner, reliable, secure energy, better than what we have now. But going to 100% renewables is not a better solution.
Even if we’re going to transition to all wind and solar, we’re going to need a lot of fossil fuels to accomplish that, to do all the mining and establish the supply chains and all the transport and everything else. So, in the near term, even if the plan is to go to all renewable wind and solar, then we’re going to need a lot of fossil fuels to get us there. People just repeat these mantras without any thought. It’s not a good place.
On whether the Earth warming is a bad thing
No, it’s not. This whole issue of “dangerous” is the weakest part of the whole argument. What is dangerous? It’s a whole Goldilocks, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Goldilocks and the Three Bears, the fairy tale about “too hot, too warm, just right”. Everybody has a different idea of what’s good. In the US, people are migrating south; Florida, Texas and California. These are southern states. This is where people are migrating in the US. They’re going south, not north. They don’t like cold winters. And that’s the biggest, dominant thing. So, nobody is moving north. The only harm from warming is sea level rise. And that’s a slow creep, unless something catastrophic happens, say, to the West Antarctic ice sheet. And if something catastrophic happens there, that’s as likely to be associated with under ice volcanoes as it is to be with global warming. So, the only real danger is sea level rise. And people can manage sea level rise and move inland.