A View From the Cheap Seats

May 7, 2008

The Heretic


By Rich Trzupek

We get letters here in the Cheap Seats, more on some topics than others. The two that are most likely to send people to their keyboards are columns dealing with religion or with the environment/global warming.

Not all the letters are negative. In fact, I would say that the split is typically fifty-fifty, and that’s about right. Some of the negative letters are spectacularly irate, which is just fine too. Passion is generally a good thing.

I’d like to share one that I received recently, from a reader whom I will refer to simply as “Tom”. He sent this letter to me personally and I presume he didn’t intend for it to be published, so it’s only fair to protect his identity.

By publishing this letter, it’s not my intent to pick on Tom per se. Like me, you and everyone else, he is entitled to his opinion. But it’s a letter that is so typical of the genre, I thought is would make for a good object lesson. Plus, thankfully, it’s short, which leaves more space for me. So, without further ado, here’s what Tom had to say:

Why you spend your time trying to convince people that everything is OK with the environment, that climate change is a fantasy, and that corporate pollution is a myth is a mystery to me. However, I see you use as credentials the fact you “lectured at several universities.” Wowie. As though that means something. People are invited to give lectures all the time, but it doesn’t validate their message.

Things are changing. And there is a need for us to be aware of our own role – and modify our behavior.

I don’t expect you to change your spots, but I’m attaching a short article about someone who did.

By the way, Al Gore never claimed to have “invented” the internet. Your use of that falsehood undercuts your credibility. Find the citation that backs it up, or man up and admit your mistake.

He then attaches a story with the headline “Major Arctic sea ice melt is expected this summer”. (Don’t “major Arctic sea ice melts” happen every summer, by the by? But more on that later).

Reading this letter, one can envision the smoke coming from the keyboard as Tom composed it. The tone is sneering, dismissive and, above all, angry. It’s almost as if I attacked his religion, which – in a sense – I suppose I did. For belief in human-induced climate change is an article of faith these days and no true believer wants to be troubled by any inconvenient facts that might challenge those beliefs.

Many of his themes are typical of these letters. Like Tom, most of the complainers start out by shooting the messenger, rather than considering the message. As in: “you’re obviously unqualified to discuss the topic Trzupek, so shut up!”

Tom picks out one particular credential, the fact that I have lectured at a number of universities on environmental topics, and uses it to “prove” that I am unqualified to have an opinion on global warming. What about the rest of my credentials – such as the fact that I have been doing air quality work for twenty five years, the fact that McGraw Hill thought highly enough of my expertise to publish a book I wrote on the subject, the fact that I am a chemist and the fact that I actually run computer models? It appears that those parts of the resume aren’t important enough to be considered.

Now I can’t claim to be the king of all the air quality experts out there, but I’ll stack up my credentials against – say – Al Gore any day of the week.

“Times are changing” Tom says. Yes, they are. They always do. That’s the beauty of, and the challenge of, nature. Central to the arguments of the Gore-pologists is the claim that I am “ignoring” the changes to the climate going on around me. That is simply not true. I have written, over and over again, that the climate has changed, and that it will continue to change. I just find the “evidence” that mankind has anything to do with that change less and less compelling, as do a growing number of scientists in my business.

There is a certain arrogance to the belief that if the climate is changing, humans MUST be causing it.

Why? The climate has changed for millions of years, from ice-ages to tropical periods to the (relatively rare) periods of moderation such as mankind has enjoyed for a few thousand years. Yet, there are people who believe that we have become so powerful that we can actually create the weather. Artic ice is melting. Glaciers are melting. Temperatures are changing. All of these things have been going on forever, but now – based on flawed modeling (and flawed modeling alone) – some people are sure that we must be causing it.

Poppycock. The most “natural” state of the planet is an ice age. Civilization has been fortunate to come about at a time between ice ages, but our descendents will eventually have to deal with another. We will have to adapt, as the planet will adapt. Species will die off and new species will spring up. That’s the way it works and it’s silly to think that mankind has anything close to the power to alter that cycle. We’re just along for the ride folks.

Oh, and that Al Gore line? Probably should cover that too. The exact quote comes from an interview that Greenhouse Al did with Wolf Blitzer when he was running for President, as part of CNN’s “Late Edition” on March 9, 1999. Al said: “During my service in the United States Congress, I took the initiative in creating the Internet.” (If you go to YouTube and search “Al Gore Internet”, you can hear the original).

As dopey lines go, that was a classic, especially considering that that Internet actually traces it’s origins to the 70’s, well before Al was even in Congress. Like practically everything the guy says, Gore created a “fact” to support his conclusions. Call me old fashioned, but when the Jesuits trained me to be a chemist, I was taught that the facts should lead you to a conclusion, not the other way around.


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