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
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
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
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.