Who Do You Believe About Climate Change

By David Montgomery

Who do you believe about climate change? An autistic teenager made into an oracle by the media, or a tenured professor driven into a different field of research by political investigations and conformist publishers?  The comparison of Greta Thunberg and Roger Pielke is enlightening about what is true in climate science and how the climate thought-police control public expression.

Thunberg, now 17, burst on the scene with a carefully staged emotional appeal to the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2018. In a later speech at the Climate Action Summit, she said “How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction.”

After non-stop travel to carry these messages to European Parliaments, international climate conferences, and even a meeting with the Pope, she was named person of the year for 2019 by Time magazine.

Roger Pielke, a professor at the University of Colorado, has written on the relationship between climate change and catastrophic weather events and on long-term climate forecasts. His findings were that examining global data shows that catastrophic weather events have become less frequent, and that fatalities and damage as a percentage of global GDP from those events has been falling since 1990, even as temperatures have risen.

He has also criticized the UN body known as the UNFCC for “centering its Fifth Assessment Report on the most extreme scenario [called RCP8.5]” even though that scenario assumes rates of economic growth greater than have been observed in modern history, accelerated deforestation and resurgence of use of coal worldwide.

For these truthful statements, Pielke was removed as a contributor to online publications, investigated by a Democratic Congressman, subjected to personal threats, and driven into a different field of research.

I should make clear at the outset that in making this comparison, I have no ill will toward Greta Thunberg. She is a courageous young woman who refused to be limited by her autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and OCD. My point is that her unoriginal repetition of distorted interpretations of climate science is treated as if it were divine revelation, while Roger Pielke is silenced and threatened for serious research that raises questions about the so-called scientific consensus.

The message of climate activists has matured over time. In the 00s, a report by Sir Roger Stern was cited daily for his message that we owed it to future generations to incur substantial costs today to ensure that they were not bothered by rising temperatures.  Since the revealed preferences of politicians and voters, which we can easily see in rapidly rising governments deficits, are for present satisfaction at the expense of future generation, that moralizing gained little traction.

The activists adapted more rapidly than Darwin’s finches, and changed their message from justice to future generations to impending doom. Picked up by President Obama in justifying his climate policies, this apocalyptic message has become the strident theme of climate alarmists and is pitched as “what science tells us.” Thunberg is a pawn in this messaging. The two key claims are that recent extreme weather events prove that climate change is real and causing harm already, and that consensus forecasts show calamitous effects if use of fossil fuels is not halted in the next 8 years. These are Thunberg’s oracular pronouncements. PIelke’s research and writing demonstrate how far-fetched the claims are.

Summing up the conclusions of a series of independent and meticulously cited studies, Pielke concludes that “The case of fires appears quite similar to that of tropical cyclones in which every visceral tragedy is exploited by a few prominent activist scientists and journalists to suggest that things are getting worse, when in fact the evidence indicates that the opposite is true”

“The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2014 that there has been no increase in hurricanes, floods, droughts or tornadoes within the past 30 years. And 2018 is on track to have the lowest losses from disasters as a share of global GDP since 1990.”

Pielke has been labelled a climate denier, but in fact he is a careful reader of the actual scientific literature, and he supports aggressive but realistic action to reduce emissions and adapt to changes.

What Pielke objects to is what he calls a “chain letter” phenomenon. In a most amusing example, he compares the actual content of a recent IPCC report on oceans and cold regions to how it was reported in the New York Times. The report discussed a range of scenarios, from a future in which there are strong efforts to reduce emissions to that unrealistically high RCP8.5 scenario.

The New York Times ignored the lower scenario and wrote that “The new report projects that, under the business-as-usual scenario for carbon emissions, seas by the end of the century will rise between 2 feet (61 centimeters) and 43 inches (110 centimeters), with a most likely rise of 33 inches (84 centimeters).” The Financial Times went straight to 43 inches as the “likely” sea level rise under a “business-as-usual” scenario. The so-called “business-as-usual” scenario in both these cases being the most extreme case the report’s authors had to work with.

Pielke wrote that “Like the children’s game of Chinese whispers or telephone, this is how the most extreme results from the most extreme family of scenarios becomes transformed into “likely under a business-as-usual scenario.” No wonder Thunberg is confused.

This contrived message of impending doom has directed the efforts of the climate modelers and policy analysts, sustained by European governments, the UN and progressive billionaires, into creating pathways toward “deep” emission reductions. It is the force behind extreme proposals like the Green New Deal and Thunberg’s call to end use of fossil fuels within 8 years.

Who was right? Pielke’s research remains unchallenged except by means of character assassination, ad hominem arguments and politically motivated censorship. His statements are carefully documented in the actual text of the UNFCC and other scientific studies.

Thunberg refers continuously to the UNFCC Fifth Assessment Report when she insists that her message represents the scientific community’s consensus on climate change, but she takes the chain-letter interpretation of the most extreme scenario and ignores the clear message of the UNFCC that weather and fire damage is not increasing.

Do we see Pielke quoted in the New York Times? No, because his truthful explanation of what the scientific documents actually say undermines the woke belief in climate catastrophe. Instead, we see a superficially informed teenager heralded as an arbiter of truth and treated as a saintly figure leading a Children’s Crusade. It is like something from dystopian science fiction.

Thunberg’s “expertise” as well as her inspiration are attributed to her obsessive study of the topic since she was 8 years old.  Sympathy for her intellectual and physical challenges silences all criticism, either through self-censorship or ostracism. Yet all she makes are emotional appeals that resonate because of her disability, while the content in her tendentious speeches only reiterates the progressive message of impending doom, providing media with an opportunity to use her celebrity to spread misinformation about climate that Thunberg herself has never stated.

These exploiters should be condemned for child abuse, not granted the uncritical hearing that sympathy for an intellectually challenged teenager gives them. So should the fellow academics and bullies in the media and politics who strove to silence Pielke.  Because the best science continues to support him and not her: there is only tenuous evidence for the connection between global temperature and extreme weather, and tales of future calamity peddled in the media are based on distorted reporting of extreme and highly unlikely scenarios as if they were inevitable.


David Montgomery is managing editor of the Chesapeake Observer. He began working on climate policy and modeling in 1989 while Assistant Director of the Congressional Budget Office, served as a principal lead author of the IPCC Second Assessment Report and expert reviewer of the Fourth Assessment Report, testified frequently before Congress on climate policy, and published a number of papers on the topic in professional journals.

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