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On Global Warming - A Concluding Unscientific Postscript On Global Warming - A Concluding Unscientific Postscript
by Dr. Lawrence Nannery
2012-12-31 10:27:30
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Thoughts on Leif Ericsson. 

As a child in the lower grades of elementary school, my favorite subject was always geography.  It also thrilled me to read about Leif Ericsson, the son of Eric the Red, who was born in Iceland in the late 10th century of our era, who traveled to a place he called Greenland, and perhaps also to what is known today as Nova Scotia.

The romance of his exploits filled my dreams.  For, how did Greenland ever get to be called by that name?  No one lives there now, only some very sparse Eskimo tribes who dot the shores for some months while the men of those tribes hunt for seals along the coast.  Officially, Greenland, which belongs to Denmark, has no population.

But this was not so in Leif Ericsson’s day.  In about the year 1000 A.D., heading further and further West, he discovered an extremely large island which he called “Greenland.”  He invited landless people from Iceland to emigrate to this new world that he had discovered, where they could start anew. 

In this endeavor, on those beautiful Viking ships, some of which can be seen today in museums in Norway, the passengers, paid for their passage, and brought with them their cattle, which would sustain them in the period when they were planting but not reaping crops. 

The real estate scheme worked because there was plenty of grass to sustain the animals, whose milk and flesh sustained the people.  For the island was indeed green.  One can see the homes that were built in several areas of Greenland.  Grass was plentiful in the warmer weather, just as it is in most of the world today.  The houses were made of stone, and shared walls that set off families from one another. 

The settlements seem to have prospered for some generations, but by the 14th century the Northern Hemisphere fell in to a very cold spell, and the grass did not grow.  The colonies dwindled and eventually disappeared, the result of global cooling. 

It was 200 years or so before Columbus set off the Age of Exploration in 1492.

I often reflected about what it must have been like on those voyages West.  Those ships provided little protection from the cold and the wind.  But apparently the seas were rather halcyon in those days.  This follows from the fact that the boats never had “holds” — there were no decks.   The Vikings never made maps, and so dead reckoning was required.  To my knowledge no reports of icebergs were made. 

A happy age indeed. 

The Assumptions behind Environmentalism and the Origins of the Belief in Global Warming.

Beginning in 1970, a new holiday was proclaimed, “Earth Day.”  It was proclaimed by the environmentalist movement, which had only recently come into being.  What was this all about? 

The origin of this movement began with the problem of pollution.  A book by Rachel Carson, a marine biologist, entitled Silent Spring, published in 1962, was the opening salvo.  I remember reading the book from cover to cover, again and again.  Before she addressed the questions on pollution that were just beginning to burgeon, she gave a capsule history of the earth’s climate, and based it upon the rings of trees, which are a very good record of temperature for each year.  This evidence can be universal, wherever there are trees, especially older trees, some of which can live for thousands of years. In fact, tree rings are the only wholly reliable record of temperatures over time, and it is enumerative.

Carson did not live to see the results of her work, but by 1970 there was in place a new governmental agency, The Environmental Protection Agency, and many actions were taken to promote environmental needs, such as the banning of many pesticides and cleaning compounds found to be injurious to many fish and other marine species.

Carson was able to demonstrate that there have been many shifts in temperatures over the centuries, such as the “mini-Ice Age” that dominated most of the 18th century.  It is also likely that, in Europe at least, the 14th century was a period of recession in every area of human activity, and it is related to cold weather, at least up to a point.

Carson started with Europe and much of North America because they were closest at hand, and the weather records could be coordinated with the evidence to be found in the innards of trees.  Where the records in other parts of the world were not very complete, but facts could be found in the living trees themselves.  The trees had no ax to grind.   

The point of all this is: trees are the one case of a record of temperatures all over the world, except the oceans and deserts.  More important, it is a record that is not disputable, and the procedure of counting is a very obvious case of an “enumerative science.” 

How did the question change from how to stop polluting the waters and air with toxic chemicals to one of saving the earth?  I think I know. 

Those who declared themselves environmentalists are incipiently hysterical, and maintain a series of absurd and obviously false assumptions that grew and grew into a delusion, so absurd that it can be said that even if there is a warming of the globe as a whole, it would prove nothing about danger to life on earth, since it would only be a part of the common cycles that have dominated climate for the past millions of years.  Seen in this light, if there were such a thing as global warming, it would probably be a delightful development.

The philosophical kernel of the movement was that the Earth itself is the most precious thing in the universe, and the source of all life.  In effect it replaces God or any other principle of rationality of the world.  It is the highest value, and it suffers when it is abused by the only evil species on the face of the earth: mankind.

The only comments I wish to make are (1) making dead matter the highest principle of all things good is the most absurd thing ever essayed in the history of historical assumptions; and (2) it gathers most of its strength from the doomsday hypothesis, very common in human history, appealing to the emotions of so many people who are subject to the “end of days” hypothesis common in these orientations. 

Credulity rules among the scientific communities on this topic. So hysterical are the papers published on this subject that rooms full of scientists are convinced that if a certain worm not found north of the Oregon border with Washington State is now found in Alberta, Canada, that is proof of global warming.  How absurd this is is easily shown.  Since no prior investigations had searched for the earthworm in Canada, it could not have been found there even if it were present in the whole of the Western littorals of the North American continent.  Let me conclude with this: not everything a scientist says is an example of a scientific statement. 

As to method, there are two separate things wrong with what the scientists do that is completely wrong.  And that means that everything they do is wrong.  And this is easily shown.

Only an enumerative science can get to the question of whether in fact, over long stretches of time, things have changed, how much they have changed, and whether this means anything serious. 

A good example can be taken from the closing averages of stocks over more than a century of such measurements, a graph that is commonly available on Wall Street.  I studied this graph for a while, when I was a lowly factotum there, and I discovered two very interesting things.  First, the closing average on the day before the crash in 1929 was not reached again until 1952. Second, the dollar was worth much less in 1952 than in 1929, and so the real worth of the closing average did not surpass that of the 1929 until almost ten years later.

But the scientists in the field of climate are not so careful. Their two methods are mathematical algorithms and extrapolations from very meager data.  In either case there is not much science in this so-called “science.” 

Arguments in the form of algorithms are not of much worth except, possibly, where the argument has all the relevant facts and factors present and understood.  A case in point: some years ago, stock brokers decided to sell stock in terms of algorithmic reasoning, using lots of curve lines (calculus and all that), beguiling prospective clients, and it was a very big success, especially because it was a boom period in the market.  Within a short term, record losses were recorded, and shortly the USA and Europe were in a depression, which continues to this day. 

But, none of these calculations are relevant to the main question as to whether the earth is warmer today than it was against a clear baseline.  And why would that be?  And there is no clear baseline, and even today there cannot be such a thing for several reasons. 

First and foremost, more than 70% of the earth’s surface is covered by water or ice, and another 10 to 15% or so is covered by deserts.  In the late 1970’s I subscribed to a journal entitled Antarctica, a periodical produced by the US Navy.  One article revealed that there were but three temperature devices in the whole of the Pacific Ocean. They served not so much the function of measuring temperatures as giving headings to submerged submarines, I suspect.  Since then, many more have been deployed, but how are the measurements made today?  Apparently satellites in the sky some hundreds of miles away take readings from the devices as they whiz by at thousands of miles per hour, and nowadays this is said to be adequate?  But adequate for what purpose?  And how are the devices checked for corrosion in the salt seas, or malfunctioning from any other cause?  I believe that if one device’s reading is wildly different from others, it is still taken to be part of an average, especially if it would show an increase in temperature.

If something like that is being done, you would think that people would take umbrage and question the methodology of the scientists, and also, in some cases, their probity?  I believe that the day is not far off when environmental scientists will also be shown to have engaged in attacking any critic of their findings, in this way keeping their community solidly together.  In other words, the difference between saving the world and building an empire has been forgotten.

Scientists who lie are rare, but not so very rare.  In the late 19th century there was a completely faux science that dominated the world for almost 80 years.  The faux science was called “Eugenics” and it was believed to be based upon the theories of the regnant genius of the period, Charles Darwin.  In fact, it was his Nephew, Francis Galton who invented it.  The same man who invented the I.Q. scale, an ineffective version, and another questionable “science.”  Coincidentally, if one reads Hitler’s Table Talk you will experience the impact of Eugenics on the mad racism that made Hitler what he was.

Readers should be skeptical of the claims that rise up before them, with each decade making more and more hysterical claims.  One reason for skepticism is in the solidarity of the opinions on the part of the scientists themselves.  It is hardly ever true that unanimity is to be found in a widespread community such as this.  It is one reason to say, “are all these claims true,” and “are these claims, even if they are true, dispositive of some great catastrophe”?  Readers should be critical, like scientists.

Let me give some examples.  I have grown tired of reading technical materials, some of which I do not understand.  What I will talk about are articles that are in the two most well-thought of journals on literature, the arts, and everything else in the world, The New York Review of Books and The New Yorker.  I have been a long-term subscriber off and on for four decades and more.  These are the most prestigious of all journals of opinion in the United States.  So it has come as an unpleasant surprise to see that the hysteria over global warming is very acute in their pages.

 I will examine two recent articles that are thought by some to clinch the arguments for the proximity of disaster for all life on earth.

The first article is by William Nordhaus, an economist, found in The New York Review, entitled “Why the Global Warming Skeptics are Wrong.” (March 22, 2012)

The substance of his argument is given in a graph that claims to be a “refutation of the global warming skeptics”.   I append a copy of the graph here.


I offer my own belief that economics is not a science, since it is based upon assumptions that are false and do not apply in any way to human activities.  It is marred in this way on account of its ruling premise, which is that human psychology is one-dimensional, and also that that one dimension is nothing but lust for wealth.  Everything else is designated “irrational.” 

There are many other reasons for skepticism.  Though it is an average set of values compiled by three research groups, it has all the limitations of the kind mentioned above.  But, most damningly, it shows what it purports to prove is proven, and very clearly so.  If someone were to accost you in the street and tell you with great agitation that the world as we know it is coming to an end because, by one reading of some data, the temperature of the earth had increased .8 of one degree Celsius over the past 130 years, though there were higher readings in several years just prior to that, you might wonder why such a trivial difference would agitate anyone.  And, you might wonder if the hot regions of the world are getting hotter still.  It is odd, is it not, that the highest reading of temperature ever recorded, in French Equatorial Africa in the 1920’s, has never been surpassed. Why global warming is not more likely to wind up giving us a climate like the one that Leif Ericsson experienced a millennium ago than Armaggedon.

Sometimes I think that the hypothesis put forward by Elizabeth Kolbert, another writer for the New Yorker, that the trend to warmer readings is accelerating is not borne out by a careful look at the downturns as well as the upticks in the graph.  Her thesis is alarming, indeed hysterical, when she claims that the ice sheets that cover almost all of Greenland might slide into the Atlantic in short order.  The graph does not clearly show any acceleration worth mentioning.

Another recent article on the Arctic polar cap is to be found in the current issue of The New Yorker. It is entitled, “Polar Express,” written by Keith Gessen. It describes a trip across the once impassible polar ice cap.  A map is shown to reveal the difference in the size of the ice cap both now and in 1912.  To justify this choice would require that 1912 was a “typical” year, but that could only be accomplished by sifting all the data about this area that we have, from all the zones, arctic, temperate and torrid, and even then the records may be too spotty to show that any readings of any years can be proven typical.  What is needed is an enumeration of all the readings over all the polar ice cap, but we do not and can not have them.  Therefore the comparison made by Gessen is not clearly relevant.

Even more to the point, it is apparently true that there have been developments in the Antarctic that compensate for this.  In other words, the southern ice cap is much larger than the northern ice cap, and, though some erosion on one side of this “continent” has been losing ice, the other side has been gaining in this respect.  Since it is of a larger area, the Antarctic gains seem to more than compensate for the losses in the Arctic. 

Altogether, these contradictory developments actually do not clearly mean anything, since we have no knowledge of what the future will bring, and the reason we do not know that is that we do not have a clear set of causes for these developments.  And until we do have such a clear reason, these speculations are not within the realm of science. 


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Emanuel Paparella2012-12-31 12:26:17
Much food for thought here, Larry. Indeed science may not have the last word after all despite what logical positivists and scientists of many stripes and empirical traditions would like us to believe, as your piece clearly implies. Perhaps science will never be able to answer that simple question which begins Heidegger’s Being and Time: why is there something rather than nothing? Perhaps Einstein was on target when he said that when the scientist will have arrived at the pinnacle of the mountain with his unified theory claiming to explain everything, he will discover that the theologian is there waiting for him.

How else explain Karl Sagan’s "cosmos" and his statement that “we are made of the stuff of the stars’? In effect he together with Steven Hawking did what you mention at the beginning of your piece: he substituted the cosmos for God so that he could have the cake and eat it too: he could be a scientist and an atheist too since the current politically correct stance is that science proves scientifically the non-existence of God. In effect he substituted an idol—the cosmos—for God; and idol that would save us via Sagan and Hawking and then he proceeded to build a scientific empire on the selling of this idol called the cosmos, just as scientists since Rachel Carson have been busy doing: building empires on saving the earth with themselves as the intermediate priests.

There was however a scientist who was not so naïve and he wrote an essay titled “Building the Earth.” His name is Teilhard de Chardin. He was and anomaly because he was both a scientist and a theologian too and so he preferred to build the earth not save it by building and empire. If any saving needed to be done a providential God would probably se to it; that's what he discerned in the evolution of the cosmos. Man does not have a sterling record at saving anything, including himself. He understood that one could not keep the cake and eat it too. Even as a scientist he kept his faith and his belief in God and did not succumb to nihilism which logically follows non-belief, sooner or later. Actually Sagan began to have doubts toward the end of his life struck by cancer and wrote the novel Contact subsequently made into a movie.

To return to de Chardin, while he agreed with Berkeley that to be is to be observed, mankind could disappear tomorrow, a possibility unless we believe with Hegel in historical determinism and deny human freedom, but we need not get too agitated about it for the earth and the cosmos would not disappear since there would still be an Observer keeping it in existence. As I said, plenty of food for thought in the new year. Thank you for making us think a bit amidst the euphoria of the champagne toasts; and Happy New Year. Emanuel

Emanuel Paparella2012-12-31 16:08:45

Khun and Popper have much more to say in detail about the modern conception of science vis a vis building empires, intellectual or geographical, but there is another side to this coin of the critique of science and it is the travesty made of science by Joseph Stalin between 1945 and 1953. As you know, he was not happy with the title of great statesman freely dispensed to him by his adoring sycophants. He studied scientific disputes and went as far as dictating academic solutions under the heading of “Marxist-Leninist Philosophy,” adjudicated controversies about modern physics and even wrote essays on linguistic and political economy, all supposedly scientific. In reality they were propaganda sheets designed to show how scientific truth and Party doctrine reinforced each other. This of course flowed directly from Marx’s similar belief that his social philosophy and Socialism in general were “scientific,” science being always ideologically correct…In his exalted mind, drunk with power, Stalin envisioned himself as embodying the perfect symbiosis between power and knowledge.

I suppose it all starts with Francis Bacon’s quip that “knowledge is power,” which has often been accepted uncritically in the West, nevertheless Stalin's remains one of the most reprehensible travesties of science ever perpetrated. I for one will take Socrates’ “knowledge is virtue” any time over Bacon’s misguided conception of knowledge.

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