Hal Lewis resigns from The American Physical Society

An unimportant moment in science history, but perhaps a lesson in “normal science” that will shut down Cuccinelli’s witch hunt

A physicist named Hal Lewis who doesn’t know the first thing about climate science has resigned from the American Physical Society because he doesn’t know the first thing about climate science.

The anti-science crowd has, with unintentional irony, compared his words of resignation to “a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door.”  That laughable assertion might be a half-truth, I suppose, if scientific views were no different from religious ones, which, I suppose, for the disinformers they are.  And it might even be a quarter truth if Luther hadn’t actually included any theses in his letter but instead cited, say, the work of Nostradamus in defending his critique of the Catholic Church.  But it isn’t even be a semi-hemi-demi truth because it won’t be leading to a major new science religion of Lewisism, since, of course, that’s not how science works.

As we’ll see, Lewis couldn’t even bother himself to learn the basics of climate science and he apparently doesn’t know or talk to very many if any climate scientists.  Indeed, this whole story isn’t terribly newsworthy:  Lewis isn’t even the first physicist born in 1923 who was a longtime member of the JASON defense advisory group, who studied nuclear winter, and who has said absurdly unscientific things about climate science.  That honor belongs to Freeman Dyson.

UPDATE:  To see the APS’s reply, click here.

But it did inspire me to break out my copy of Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, which is marked up from my MIT undergraduate physics days and still has some amazingly relevant insights for today, as we’ll see.  It was Kuhn, after all, who originated the term “normal science,” a term confusionists and Tea Party extremists like Viriginia AG Ken Cuccinelli are, well, confused about.

If you want some backstory on Lewis and the APS, read our good bunny friend at Rabett Run, “Dear fellow member of the American Physical Society.”

Lewis’s letter itself is almost a satire of one of those “when I was a kid” reminisces of how great things used to be when people (physicists, in this case) were pure and poor:

When I first joined the American Physical Society sixty-seven years ago it was much smaller, much gentler, and as yet uncorrupted by the money flood (a threat against which Dwight Eisenhower warned a half-century ago).

Indeed, the choice of physics as a profession was then a guarantor of a life of poverty and abstinence””it was World War II that changed all that. The prospect of worldly gain drove few physicists. As recently as thirty-five years ago, when I chaired the first APS study of a contentious social/scientific issue, The Reactor Safety Study, though there were zealots aplenty on the outside there was no hint of inordinate pressure on us as physicists. We were therefore able to produce what I believe was and is an honest appraisal of the situation at that time. We were further enabled by the presence of an oversight committee consisting of Pief Panofsky, Vicki Weisskopf, and Hans Bethe, all towering physicists beyond reproach. I was proud of what we did in a charged atmosphere. In the end the oversight committee, in its report to the APS President, noted the complete independence in which we did the job, and predicted that the report would be attacked from both sides. What greater tribute could there be?

How different it is now. The giants no longer walk the earth, and the money flood has become the raison d’ªtre of much physics research, the vital sustenance of much more, and it provides the support for untold numbers of professional jobs.

Just as an aside, I did get to meet many of the physics greats at M.I.T.  They were giants, and we were in awe of them.  They also developed the atomic bomb and then spent decades trying to convince our government and others not to enter into an arms race, advice that was ignored for decades.  So I’m not entirely certain that having this life of supposed poverty and abstinence proves anybody had either any moral superiority or greater influence on government policy.

Ah but kids today, well, they are all about the money — and who wouldn’t be, given all the money at stake, at least according to Lewis:

For reasons that will soon become clear my former pride at being an APS Fellow all these years has been turned into shame, and I am forced, with no pleasure at all, to offer you my resignation from the Society.

It is of course, the global warming scam, with the (literally) trillions of dollars driving it, that has corrupted so many scientists, and has carried APS before it like a rogue wave. It is the greatest and most successful pseudoscientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist. Anyone who has the faintest doubt that this is so should force himself to read the ClimateGate documents, which lay it bare. (Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.) I don’t believe that any real physicist, nay scientist, can read that stuff without revulsion. I would almost make that revulsion a definition of the word scientist.

So what has the APS, as an organization, done in the face of this challenge? It has accepted the corruption as the norm, and gone along with it….

This scheming at APS HQ is so bizarre that there cannot be a simple explanation for it. Some have held that the physicists of today are not as smart as they used to be, but I don’t think that is an issue.  I think it is the money, exactly what Eisenhower warned about a half-century ago. There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club.

Seriously.  Or, rather, not serious in the least bit.

First off, he apparently doesn’t know what the word “literally” means — I’d like to assume he knows what the word “trillions” mean.  But then he repeats and insists on trillions.  Where the frig are all these trillions of dollars?  America’s entire GDP is $14 trillion.  There are tens of millions of dollars involved, to be sure, although only a small fraction of that money ends up in the hands of U.S. physicists, who really are only a small part of climate science research.  So it is hard to see how the APS could be corrupted by it.

Second, it is just absurd for him to say that climate scientists are somehow corrupted by “the fame and glory” — that was precisely what motivated many of the giants.  And as a trivial aside, travel was always one of the perks of being a big-league physicist.  Heck, they actually had sabbaticals every seven years!

Third, the Inhofe-esque statement “this is the greatest and most successful pseudo-scientific fraud I have seen in my long life as a physicist,” accuses the scientific community broadly defined of conspiring in deliberate fraud – and not just the community of climate scientists, but the leading National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and the American Geophysical Union, an organization of geophysicists that consists of more than 45,000 members and the American Meteorological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (see “Yet more scientists call for deep GHG cuts“).  Such a statement accuses all of the member governments of the IPCC, including ours, of participating in that conspiracy, since they all sign off on the Assessment Reports word for word. And it accuses all of the leading scientific journals of being in on this fraud, since the IPCC reports are primarily a review and synthesis of the published scientific literature.

Fourth, “Montford’s book organizes the facts very well.”  Well, if you are getting most of your “facts” from Nostradamus Montford, well, I daresay that’s the very definition of no longer engaging in the scientific method.  See, for instance, the outstanding Real Climate post, “The Montford Delusion.”

The letter is devoid of any actual critique of climate science, but here are some of Lewis’s amazingly uninformed statements on the subject:

I think it behooves us to be careful about how we state the science. I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help (and specifically since the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago), and is most likely to continue to do so in its own sweet time. The important question is how much warming does the future hold, is it good or bad, and if bad is it too much for normal adaptation to handle. The real answer to the first is that no one knows, the real answer to the second is more likely good than bad (people and plants die from cold, not warmth), and the answer to the third is almost certainly not. And nobody doubts that CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for the better part of a century, but the disobedient temperature seems not to care very much. And nobody denies that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, along with other gases like water vapor, but despite the claims of those who are profiting by this craze, no one knows whether the temperature affects the CO2 or vice versa. The weight of the evidence is the former.

So the tragedy is that the serious questions are quantitative, and it’s easy to fool people with slogans. If you say that the Earth is warming you are telling the truth, but not the whole truth, and if you say it is due to the burning of fossil fuels you are on thin ice. If you say that the Earth is warming and therefore catastrophe lies ahead, you are pulling an ordinary bait and switch scam. If you are a demagogue, of course, these distinctions don’t bother you — you have little interest in that quaint concept called truth.

So it isn’t simple, and the catastrophe mongers are playing a very lucrative game.

Eli Rabett debunks the whole thing here, while noting that Lewis is a devoted data destroyer!  Eli notes among other things, “The temperatures are tracking the CO2 forcing just fine.”

Feel free to debunk whatever statement you find more absurd — “people and plants die from cold, not warmth” is notable.  But far more so is:

I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help…

This line tells you the author not only doesn’t follow the scientific literature, but that he doesn’t actually associate with or talk to anybody who does.

That statement made Eli hopping mad.  As he explained, “Well, actually most people who have a clue think that without our contributions the surface would be cooling a bit right now due to the Milankovitch cycles which have reached and passed the warm peak.”  Indeed, he points us to the 1980 Science article, “Modeling the Climatic Response to Orbital Variations,” which concludes

Ignoring anthropogenic and other possible sources of variation acting at frequencies higher than one cycle per 19,000 years, this model predicts that the long-term cooling trend which began some 6000 years ago will continue for the next 23,000 years.

Of course, that piece is by John Imbrie and John Z. Imbrie — and they sure sound like the names of conspirators in some sort of pseudoscientific hoax, no?  Even back in 1980 they were just in it for the trillions!

More recent money-grubbing conspirators include those folks at the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

Arctic temperatures in the 1990s reached their warmest level of any decade in at least 2,000 years, new research indicates. The study, which incorporates geologic records and computer simulations, provides new evidence that the Arctic would be cooling if not for greenhouse gas emissions that are overpowering natural climate patterns.

But Lewis knows not a single person who denies the earth has been warming for thousands of years.

Lewis’s unscientific statemenst really aren’t a surprise.  The notion that ‘puny’ humans can drastically change something as vast as the Earth’s climate is really an amazing paradigm shift.  Many scientists and others simply can’t get their heads around it, so they don’t even bother to read the scientific literature or talk to actual climate scientists.  They know in their gut it can’t be true, just as for decades many geologist couldn’t accept the paradigm of plate tectonics.

The term paradigm as it applies to scientific understanding was popularized by Kuhn in his classic book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.  Indeed, when I first read Lewis’s statements, I was reminded of something I remembered reading in the book about how “the transition between competing paradigms cannot be made a step at a time”:

Newton’s work was not generally accepted, particularly on the Continent for more than half a century after the Principia appeared….  Darwin, in a particularly perceptive passage at the end of his Origin of Species, wrote: “Although I am fully convinced of the truth of the views given in this volume…, I by no means expect to convince experienced naturalist whose views are stocked with a multitude of facts all viewed, during the long course of years, from a point of view directly opposite to mine…. [B]ut I look with confidence in the future, — too young and rising naturalist, who will be able to view both sides of the question with impartiality.”  And Max Planck, surveying his own career in his Scientific Autobiography, sadly remarked that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

Even the old giants are very slow to embrace new scientific paradigms.  Heck, “Einstein himself is well known for rejecting some of the claims of quantum mechanics” even though Einstein actually helped establish some of the foundations of quantum mechanics (a name coined by Planck).

So Lewis might have been a brilliant physicist in his own right, but it means nothing whatsoever that he can’t accept a new paradigm — particularly if he hasn’t bothered to study the scientific literature or talk to experts in the field.  It is just “normal science.”

Interestingly, the very next paragraph in Kuhn’s book states something even more relevant for today:

Lifelong resistance, particularly from those whose productive careers have committed them to an older tradition of normal science, is not a violation of scientific standards but an index to the nature scientific research itself.  The source of resistance is the assurance that the older paradigm will ultimately solve all its problems, that nature can be shoved into the box the paradigm provides.  Inevitably, at times of revolution, that assurance seems stubborn and pigheaded as indeed it sometimes becomes, but it is also something more. That same assurance is what makes normal or puzzle-solving science possible. And it is only through normal science that the professional community of scientists succeeds, first, in exploiting the potential scope and precision of the older paradigm and, then, in isolating the difficulty through the study of which a new paradigm may emerge.

I know what you are thinking:  Stop the presses — or at least, stop the criminalization of climate science!  Let’s run back that key phrase:

And it is only through normal science that the professional community of scientists succeeds….

As I noted here (see Cuccinelli attempts to criminalize all of climate science “” with Post Normal logic & fervor), the Virginia Attorney General built his entire legal case around Michael Mann around this “logic”:

Mann’s reference to “the community” when writing to Hulme in the first e-mail quoted above appears to be Post Normal jargon.  As recently as September 16, 2009, Mann posted this remark to his blog RealClimate:  “More than anything else, the book attempts to show us what the community is doing wrong in our efforts to communicate our science to the public.” (emphasis added).  This is also probably Post Normal jargon.

Academics are free to follow any philosophy of science they wish. Nonetheless, Post-Normal Science has produced jargon which might be misleading/fraudulent in the context of a grant application if its specialized meaning is not disclosed or otherwise known to the grantmaker.

You read that right.  The word “community” as it applies to the professional community of scientists is in fact part of “normal science” as explained by the man who originated and elaborated the term “normal science”!

So if nothing else good comes from Lewis’s uninformed letter, I hope somebody filing a legal brief in the Cuccinelli-UVA-Mann case will cite pages 152 and 153 of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions to eviscerate the case.


70 Responses to Hal Lewis resigns from The American Physical Society

  1. Mike says:

    Martin Luther was a young man (34) taking on the old guard. Lewis is a curmudgeon defending the past.

  2. Another case of “old scientist syndrome”. Sad really.

  3. mattlant says:

    Stats for Hal Lewis:

    Strength: 8
    Dexterity: 9
    Constitution: 9
    Inteligence: 18
    Wisdom: 3
    Charisma: 14

    Weapon of choice: Staff of Ignorance

    I am really starting to notice many highly intelligent people who lack the wisdom to see past all the crap :/

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    ” There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club. ”

    Too bad all that climate and biology are outdoors. I’m mean it’s a real shame that the Greenland Ice Sheet isn’t down the hall in Santa Barbara.

  5. Colorado Bob says:

    fame and glory

    I’m sure the death threats are the glory part.

  6. MarkB says:

    Hal Lewis contradicts himself:

    “I know of nobody who denies that the Earth has been warming for thousands of years without our help (and specifically since the Little Ice Age a few hundred years ago),”

    “And nobody doubts that CO2 in the atmosphere has been increasing for the better part of a century, but the disobedient temperature seems not to care very much.”

    So is it warming or not, Hal?

    Oh, and…

    “it’s easy to fool people with slogans.”

    On that I agree with (ahem ClimateGate)

  7. Embarrassed UCSB alumni :-(

  8. Perfect fodder for an Onion headline, “Old Guy Gets Mad, Stops Paying Dues”.

  9. LP says:

    Lest we also forget the petition Hal Lewis helped organize to demand the APS revise their official statement on climate change managed to garner an amazing 0.45% of the APS membership to support it:

  10. Anne van der Bom says:

    He lectures his fellows on something called ‘integrity’. No kiddin’, he really does. Mindboggling.

  11. Laphroaig says:

    Gutsy move. He’s got phlogiston in the belly. Youbetcha.

  12. robert says:

    Re: #7 — Sweet! (I think I just snorted coffee out of my nose. :))

  13. Kevin says:

    Dear God, When I get to be a truly old man, please give me the humility to talk to those young wipper-snappers so as to try to understand what they are doing before shooting off my mouth. Also, please grant me the courage to simply say when asked “I don’t know” or “I don’t understand this topic.” And please, more than anything, help me to not destroy whatever good reputation I may yet have in my dotage by doing something so obviously dopey as to rely on a bunch of political hacks for “information” about any complex subject.


  14. Jeff Huggins says:

    Asking Too Soon??

    Am I asking too soon? I got back yesterday from a day of 10/10/10 events, and I looked through three papers today — The New York Times, USA Today, and the San Jose Mercury News — and all I could find was some page B3 coverage in the San Jose Mercury News.

    My own day was enjoyable and (I hope) somewhat productive, and perhaps I’m asking too soon, but I’m interested in whether the media are giving it good coverage, or when they might?

    Be Well,


  15. Mark says:

    Once again, thanks Joe.

  16. Steve Bloom says:

    If feces were theses, Watts would be philosopher-king.

  17. Mark says:

    I just want to say in addition, that this statement is astonishing.

    “(people and plants die from cold, not warmth)” I wonder why he threw this in?

    I will wait for “wits end” to comment on it.

    But I can just post this, from an article in the Univeristy of Toronto online magazine:

    “You might expect warm weather to be good for trees. But new research by professors and students in the (University of Toronto )Faculty of Forestry suggests that a balmy spring can be bad for temperate forests. The group, studying a patch of forest in the Haliburton Highlands, discovered that many sugar-maple leaves that developed during three record-hot days in May died without expanding to their full size; other leaves are stunted.
    “In early June, when the canopy should be its greenest, the canopy was tinged brown,” says Sean Thomas, the Canada Research Chair in Forests and Environmental Change and a professor of forestry. “In my 10 years of working in this region I’ve never seen anything like this. The foresters I work with who have been there many decades have never seen anything like this.”

    “Thomas says the death of new leaves is an effect few would have predicted for warmer springs; the researchers have ruled out other causes, such as disease, pests and rainfall. The finding is a good example of the sort of unexpected consequences of global warming that the forest plot and instrumentation will help researchers.”

  18. john atcheson says:

    This is sad — nothing more, nothing less. And old guy gets passed by as his discipline progresses and he whinges.

    One wonders how he got a physics degree. The heat forcing capacity of CO2 isn’t exactly rocket science — it’s straight forward, uncontroversial and incontrovertible.

    Yup. Little more than sad, as some poor old guy let’s his ideological biases trump his scientific objectivity.

  19. Wit's End says:

    Actually Mark what is killing the maples is not warmth – or drought – induced by climate change…although that will certainly be sufficient to drive them to extinction eventually.

    Since you brought it up, allow me to explain, it isn’t just maples, but every species of tree, that has leaves which are stippled and singed, exhibiting chlorosis. In fact, it isn’t just maples in the forests, and all the other species of trees that are dropping leaves prematurely, but young saplings irrigated in nurseries; and tropical, heat-loving annuals in pots, PLUS aquatic plants in ponds like lilies and lotus, that ALL exhibit damaged stomates. Oh and by the way, this wholesale visible harm actually began in 2008, a very damp season!

    The one common factor all plants share – irregardless of soil, precipitation, temperature, pests, diseases or predatory fungus – is the composition of the atmosphere.

    I am not sure whether it is the inexorably rising level of tropospheric ozone that is the fundamental cause of reduced crop yields and dying trees – or if perhaps there is something else going on, perhaps the contribution of ethanol emissions, or increased radiation.

    But the ONLY explanation for such widespread decline – worldwide, including every single form of plant life that needs to photosynthesize – is related to pollution in the atmosphere.

    It would be ever so nice if some enterprising scientists would figure out the process before there is nothing left to eat.

    As for Hal Lewis? He has what I would expand “old scientist syndrome” to a broader notion, “elder syndrome” since I know several folks in their eighties who prefer to die without the knowledge that they exploited the pinnacle of top predator status – whilst thinking of themselves as moral citizens – and simultaneously (though not deliberately!) condemning whatever remains of humanity and the majority of other critters on this planet to a sudden and unpleasant demise.

  20. Rob Mac says:

    Thanks so much for bringing up what a useless crank Freeman Dyson is. I let my NYRB subscription lapse largely because they give his ignorant nonsense a regular forum. His article “Our Bio-Tech Future” (not sure if that’s quite right) was one of the most poorly thought out pieces of BS I have ever read in my life. Dyson lays out a dystopian nightmare that he somehow seems to think is a happy jolly future for mankind. It really must be read to be believed.

  21. Bill W says:

    Good write-up, Joe. I wonder, has anybody verified that this widely-circulated-in-the-denialsphere letter was actually written by Hal Lewis?

  22. Arthur Smith says:

    I just posted Hal Lewis: Incontrovertibly Emeritus before seeing Joe’s post here. I think it’s sad, really. But perhaps he’ll learn a bit from the reaction at least that Montford’s book is not something anybody should put their trust in. If that’s his basis for argument, he’s been had.

  23. caerbannog says:

    “(people and plants die from cold, not warmth)”

    Better tell that to the lodgepole pines in Rocky Mountains National Park.

    Just got back from Colorado — the situation in RMNP is, for lack of a better
    word, **ugly**. When I was in RMNP 3 years ago, the lodgepoles on the east side of the park looked pretty healthy. Fast-forward three years, and the situation is much different. Huge swaths of the forest are dead/dying (especially on the south-facing slopes). And as for the west side? fuggetaboutit! The lodgepoles there are *toast*.

    It ain’t cold weather that’s responsible — it’s *warm* weather that’s allowing too many bark-beetles to survive the winter.

    Also, when we were in Vail last week, it felt like it was about 80F! 80F at 7000+ feet in the Rockies in October? Talk about an endless summer…

  24. Wit's End says:

    You have observed the destruction but not exactly allocated the source, Caerbannog.

    Scientists are just beginning to understand that it isn’t the warming water that has caused coral bleaching, which was generally assumed. It’s emerging that the chemical composition of the water, which has been absorbing CO2, becoming more acidic, that makes reproduction and survival rather problematic for species in the ocean.

    In a parallel scenario, terrestrial plant life is endangered. Most “experts” stubbornly prefer to blame insects, fungus, disease, warming and drought for all the readily observable damaged vegetation.

    Almost all of this is, however, is a consequence of trees and other plants WEAKENED by exposure to toxic greenhouse gas emissions – secondary attacks which have been likened to the sharks in the water that smell blood…and also compared to the stealth infections such as pneumonia that follow exposure to AIDS.

    None of this is a very popular topic since, at its core, the only resolution is a radical change in the way developed societies currently allocate resources and derive energy.

  25. Arthur Smith’s link is broken; it should be Hal Lewis: Incontrovertibly Emeritus

  26. KenL says:

    I don’t belief Kuhn’s concept of “paradigm” is relevant here in any case.

    There is no scientific revolution, involving one well-entrenched paradigm being replaced by another, at issue here. This is all “normal science”.

    Kuhn’s concept of “paradigm” was notoriously opaque, but the things he discusses in his book as indicators of a paradigm shift–incommensurability between two systems, Gestalt-like shifts in perception, and so on–aren’t really relevant here.

    This just is what one would expect though, for as we know, there IS very good consensus among climate scientists on the issue of anthropogenic GW….

  27. caerbannog,
    Denver has been above 80° for 5 out of the first 10 days of October; no records, but the average of 6.1° above normal is enough to be a top 5 October if it continues for the rest of the month.

  28. Sailesh Rao says:

    This reminds me of another physicist, a Nobel Laureate, no less, who wrote an essay critical of climate science recently – Robert Laughlin. Perhaps, we’re going to be subjected to these disavowals properly spaced out so that the public gets the impression of a gathering crescendo of doubt on climate science. Goebbels would be so proud…

    I’m beginning to think that old physicists cannot fathom that computer simulations can actually predict anything. But, I’m also sure that they are blithely using their cell phones and computers, which contain semiconductor components that were designed entirely using complex computer simulations.

  29. Mark S says:

    Joe, thanks for the background and context for the ‘normal’ and ‘post-normal’ science references that have been thrown around recently. Great job at getting to the heart of the matter.

  30. Bob Lang says:

    Jeff #14 “Media coverage of 10/10/10”

    The CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corp.) interviwed Bill McKibben on 10/10/10 (hope this link works outside Canada):

  31. BB says:

    Disinformation aside, in reading Hal’s resignation letter, I got a sense of his concern for applying the phrase “incontrovertible” to that of Anthroprogenic Global Warming.

    I don’t remember the verbiage of the original APS statement on the subject, but did they say that it’s incontrovertible that…

    1. CO2 traps heat?
    2. Global Temperatures have been rising?
    3. Man is primarily behind the current rise in temperatures?
    4. The consequences of continued unmitigated warming are primarily dire?

    …Or all four…?

    I think that his statement (in his resignation letter) about ‘incontrovertible’ being a hallowed word reserved for a very few things in physics should be taken to heart, rather than dismissed (or, as in this post, ignored entirely). There are indeed, for any insatiable scientist, few things that are ‘incontrovertible’.

  32. MarkB says:

    Harold Lewis has written some books since his publishing days (decades prior, and not related to climate science), notably one in 1990 that seeks to downplay human-caused environmental risks, while chastizing environmentalists. He lends praise to a contrarian biologist who believes pesticides aren’t harmful.

    So he seemed stuck on the notion that most human-caused health/environmental were nil to minimal. A preview of his book online reveals that he believed the climate threat (if any) was many decades down the road and shouldn’t be addressed through mitigation.

    With the mounting evidence on global warming over the last couple of decades, he was faced with either conceding he may have been wrong, thus undermining past statements, or declaring everyone’s in on a grand scam. He’s chosen the latter. It’s sad. I suppose he had another option: sticking to his beliefs but at least respecting the scientific views of more qualified individuals, but he doesn’t strike me as that humble or reasonable.

  33. Mitch Golden says:

    I agree with KenL #26. Had the issue of climate science never become politicized, all this would just be understood as the operation of normal physics operating in the usual way. In fact, had it been an real Kuhnian revolution, there might be some actual scientific discussion going on, as for example there was for many years when quantum mechanics was first developed.

    No, there are no words being used in a new way, no deep conceptual changes that need to be hashed out. Just a bunch of deniers spouting talking points.

  34. Matt says:

    I first saw this on Watt’s and I though “Who the heck is Hal Lewis?”

  35. John Mashey says:

    Well, do look at p.12 of Science Bypass
    Anti-science Petition to APS from folks with SEPP, George C. Marshall Institute, Heartland, CATO

    Lewis was one of the organizers. That page shows the demographics of signers compared to the APS as a whole. Very few signers were botn after 1950.

  36. Kaplan, MD says:

    Prof Lewis resignation was not picked up by any reputable orgs because he has lost his credibility.‏
    PLEASE WATCH the video HOME by Yann Arthus in YOUTUBE, it will open your eyes about the reality of our planet, and how little time we have to save it.
    Instead, they uncovered the truth about , the “HOAX” of the East Anglia E mails. Read the Washington Times and most reputable organizations say about that subject.
    THESE ARE A VERY FEW OF THE ORGS THAT KNOW GLOBAL WARMING IS INDEED DUE TO HUMAN ACTIVITIES AND NOT natural climatic changes the earth experienced for 10 billion years:
    1) Journal NATURE
    2) Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change I.P.C.C.
    3) Smithsonian Magazine and Smithsonian Institute
    5) Journal SCIENCE
    6) National Institute of Health
    7) National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (N.O.A.A)
    8) Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
    9) Helsinki University of Technology
    10) Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact
    12) UNESCO
    13) Intergovernmental Panel Climate Change I.P.C.C.
    14) NASA Goddard Science & Space Institute
    15) Museo Antropologico de Mexico
    16) Johns Hopkins University
    17) University of Michigan
    18) Harvard University
    19) Sindicatum Climate Change Fdtn. (S.C.C.F.)
    20) 98% Nobel Laureates
    21) Scientific American Magazine
    22) International Energy Agency (I.E.A)
    23) Union of World Scientists
    24) Encyclopedia BRITANNICA
    25) Institut Français de l’Environnement
    26) World Meteorological Organization ( W.M.O.)
    26) National Geographic Society
    your own Prince Charles, and your own Chief Scientists to name a few people.
    Good luck spreading more lies, We had enough of them.

  37. There is a well-documented group of conservative anti-environmentalist physicists who organized to mislead the public and prevent enviro regulations on the ozone hole, pesticides and now global warming. From new book: Merchants of Doubt by two science historians.

    My short interview with author Naomi Orsekes w links to her site:

  38. MapleLeaf says:

    Lewise opines,

    “The notion that ‘puny’ humans can drastically change something as vast as the Earth’s climate is really an amazing paradigm shift. ”

    Uh huh. Correct me if I am wrong, but was it not the tiny rat flea which brought Europe to its knees during the 14th century by killing an estimated 75 million people?

  39. Heraclitus says:

    Has anyone noticed the similarity between Anthony Watts and the good Baron von Monckhofen over at Climate Scum?

    Are they related? I think we should be told.

  40. Colorado Bob says:


    Very warm all over Colorado for weeks now. And at very high altitudes.
    The 350 event at Gunnison yesterday , everybody in T-shirts –

  41. jyyh says:

    One way to estimate if humans can have an effect on the atmosphere could be to compare the weight of the atmosphere (5.3 E18 kg) to the weight of the materials humans have moved from their natural locations. I haven’t done the calculation, though.

  42. caerbannog says:

    Apologies in advance for the OT post — “Smokey” Joe Barton has just responded to Michael Mann’s WP column (linky

    Feel free to wander on over there and “tear him a new one” in the comments section, as I just did. Be sure to highlight the plagiarism/academic-misconduct investigation that the author of Barton-commissioned Wegman Report is facing…

  43. Colorado Bob says:

    We are unable to locate the page you requested.
    The page may have moved or may no longer be available

  44. Colorado Bob says:

    Large Swaths of Earth Drying Up, Study Suggests

    The soils in large areas of the Southern Hemisphere, including large parts of Australia, Africa and South America, have been drying up in the past decade, a new study finds.

    The study is the first major one of its kind to look at the movement of water from the land to the atmosphere, called “evapotranspiration,” on a global scale. This phenomenon returns about 60 percent of annual precipitation back to the atmosphere, in the process, using more than half of the solar energy absorbed by land surfaces. This is a key component of the global climate system, linking the cycling of water with energy and carbon cycles.

    Most climate models have suggested that evapotranspiration would increase with global warming, because of increased evaporation of water from the ocean and more precipitation overall (water that can evaporate). The new research, published online this week in the journal Nature, found that’s exactly what was happening from 1982 to the late 1990s.

  45. adelady says:

    Bob, I just typed barton into the search box. Problem solved.

  46. Joe, I like this twist:

    The anti-science crowd has, with unintentional irony, compared his words of resignation to “a letter on the scale of Martin Luther, nailing his 95 theses to the Wittenburg church door.” That laughable assertion might be a half-truth, I suppose, if scientific views were no different from religious ones, which, I suppose, for the disinformers they are.

    Comparable to pointing out that there are some very important respects in which Climategate is similar to Watergate, starting with the theft of material intended for use in an extensive smear campaign, and some important differences, such as that in the case of Climategate the intended victims were not political opponents but scientists, and while the thieves in Watergate were caught, in Climategate the thieves were not caught and it was the victims which the media treated as criminals.

    Come to think of it, I like what you just gave better: no bitter aftertaste.

  47. I have two nice links to point people to who claim that “scientists are getting rich from global warming public funding”:

    Taking the Money for Granted Part I
    Taking the Money for Granted Part II

  48. Fred Lua says:

    @Colorado Bob: The URL is

    When caerbannog pasted the URL in his comment, he added a closing parenthesis after the ‘.html’. This parenthesis was appended to the URL by the blogging software of this website. Therefore, you could simply look at the URL and remove the closing parenthesis in order to get <- see, I did not put a full-stop in order not to mess it up again.

  49. Wit's End says:

    Bob Lang, thanks so much for that video of Bill McKibben! I’ve been begging him to talk about the “other” greenhouse gases killing trees, because I think more people will understand the existential threat posed by toxic fuel emissions when they realize that ultimately our food supply is in peril – not just polar bears.

    But for some reason he and other leaders in the climate change movement persist in the failed strategy of emphasizing CO2 to the exclusion of more urgent environmental impacts from pollution.

    So watch that video again and check out the dying trees in the background – the worst of which is the completely bare branches protruding from Bill McKibben’s left shoulder. How’s that for poetry??

  50. catman306 says:

    I was pointing out the effects of ozone pollution to my neighbor in his yard. He asked “why all the emphasis on ‘CO2 and global warming’ when we (he’s in his 50s) already understand and can react to the words ‘air pollution’?”

    I really didn’t have a an answer for him.

  51. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent article Joe, I was thinking of that quote from Planck as I was reading there…its always haunted me a little since first hearing it back when I was young (because of its implications for how the real world of science works).

    Jeff #14 Media coverage of 10/10/10 – as far as I could see it was (more or less) totally ignored by the media in the US – not too surprising I guess (based on the track record we’ve had), but sad.

  52. Kermonk says:

    “that will shut down Cuccinelli’s witch hunt”

    What? Cuntinelli is an ignorant person playing to the ignorant masses, why would fact sway him?

  53. Mike Roddy says:

    Physicists and mathematicians don’t often do much quality work after the age of 40, since the mental demands of the disciplines are so great. It’s as if they are aging at triple the rate of the rest of us, which can cause unconscious panic.

    We thus continue to see old physicists embarrass themselves- Dyson and, a few decades ago, Edward Teller. Lewis’ harrumphing is taking it to another level.

    I don’t think they’re sad, I think they’re assholes. They should be teaching undergraduates, not trying to get attention by becoming contrarians outside their fields.

  54. Chris Winter says:

    I’ve weighed in on the absurdity of “people and plants die from cold, not warmth” elsewhere, noting that Lewis has apparently forgotten the European heat wave of 2003.

    Here I’ll add that the productivity of most cereal grains declines significantly with just a small rise in temperature. Nor is more CO2 an unalloyed blessing; not all plants grow faster, and many of those that do are weeds.

    “There are indeed trillions of dollars involved, to say nothing of the fame and glory (and frequent trips to exotic islands) that go with being a member of the club.”

    Gee, with all those trillions flowing, you’d expect a few hundred would have trickled down to us peons by now. Where’s my share? ;-)

    As for exotic islands, it’s my guess that the exotic island most working physicists* want to get to is the Island of Stability.

    * Also nuclear chemist Ken Moody. He was featured in an episode of Nova in 2006.

  55. Roddy can the ageism. Some of us are dedicated to life long learning. Others sit on their wilted laurels.

    I bet all of you here saw Avatar. I think there are people who can connect to the network that is our ecosystem, and there are people who can’t. I pity those who can’t, they are deaf to it, they don’t even know that, and are making fools of themselves as a consequence. I pity those who can, because for us the grief and rage is getting intolerable.

  56. Rob Honeycutt says:

    This whole Hal Lewis thing is straight out of Dr Strangelove. The only part Lewis left out was the bit about fluoridation and “vital bodily fluids.”

  57. mike roddy says:

    Don’t be so damn politically correct, Beam Me Up. It’s not just Lewis and Dyson, it’s Singer and Lindzen (the kid at 72). These old farts are doing a lot of damage, even though their academic papers on the subject are either nonexistent or crappy.

  58. Gnobuddy says:

    I guess the most positive thing that can be said about this fiasco is that criticism is a vital part of the scientific process, and helps to keep it honest; even Hal Lewis clueless drivel might serve a useful purpose if it causes a few scientists to re-check their facts.

    I think Joe’s discussion of the paradigm shift is spot-on, though Hal Lewis beliefs are at least six decades behind reality. In my childhood in the 1970’s I remember reading Robert Manry’s book “Tinkerbell” about his solo crossing of the Atlantic in a small (13 1/2 foot, about four metres) sailboat, and also reading about the Kon-Tiki expeditions across the Pacific ocean. For me, the most shocking part of these journeys was the discovery that there was already trash floating *everywhere* in the oceans, even far from the shipping lanes. Sailors on both expeditions mentioned encountering floating trash every single day, despite the fact that, for safety reasons, they chose routes as far from the major shipping lanes as possible.

    These crossings were in 1965 and 1947 respectively – and already humanity had managed to fill the planets oceans with so much trash that you couldn’t sail for a day without encountering some.


  59. The Sarcast says:

    And nobody denies that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, along with other gases like water vapor, but despite the claims of those who are profiting by this craze, no one knows whether the temperature affects the CO2 or vice versa. The weight of the evidence is the former.

    He obviosly knows that fossil fuels are in fact not being burned. Every power plant has a fusion reactor inside it and the fuel it is supposed to use is not burned, but buried. Nuclear physicist are hiding that nuclear fusion has been discovered decades ago, so they can keep the money, by far the most spent on any research.

  60. Leland Palmer says:

    Hal Lewis was a Jason, a member of the secret group of top scientists that secretly advised the U.S. government for decades.

    He’s pretty old, I think. I have read that the population of scientists that sign on to global warming denier petitions tends to be skewed toward the very old, which is understandable and pretty much inevitable, IMO.

    Interestingly enough, the Jasons wrote their own global warming report, which was amazingly on target, for a report written in 1979.

    What they didn’t know about, though, were the methane hydrates and the possibility of igniting a methane catastrophe.

    Other than that, though, it reportedly was a very good report:

    Jason and the Secret Climate Change War- Times Online

    In 1979 they produced their report: coded JSR-78-07 and entitled The Long Term Impact of Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide on Climate. Now, with the benefit of hind-sight, it is remarkable how prescient it was.

    Right on the first page, the Jasons predicted that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere would double from their preindustrial levels by about 2035. Today it’s expected this will happen by about 2050. They suggested that this doubling of carbon dioxide would lead to an average warming across the planet of 2-3C. Again, that’s smack in the middle of today’s predictions. They warned that polar regions would warm by much more than the average, perhaps by as much as 10C or 12C. That prediction is already coming true – last year the Arctic sea ice melted to a new record low. This year may well set another record.

    Nor were the Jasons frightened of drawing the obvious conclusions for civilisation: the cause for concern was clear when one noted “the fragility of the world’s crop-producing capacity, particularly in those marginal areas where small alterations in temperature and precipitation can bring about major changes in total productivity”.

    Scientific research has since added detail to the predictions but has not changed the basic forecast. The Jason report was never officially released but was read at the highest levels of the US government.

    [JR: The Jasons today fully understand how screwed we are — I heard their presentation at a Defense Science Board meeting.]

  61. Rob Honeycutt says:

    Leland… Totally brilliant! It’s perfectly Onionesk.
    “Member of Committee that Predicted Global Warming Resigns Membership in Group that Now Confirms Global Warming.”

  62. Binky_Bear says:

    Didn’t he play Grandpa Munster? How many onions did he wear on his belt back in the day?
    And isn’t the shorter version of Kuhn the hoary aphorism, “Science proceeds one funeral at a time?”

  63. A Chemical Engineer says:

    Can someone tell me how temperature is considered the only factor which determines whether there is more or less 18-O isotopes versus 16-O in ice/snow? Also, how diffusion constants of air moving in ice are calculated when such constants are based off of temperatures themselves?… Well, I suppose you could use average temperatures based from readings of the present and presume they may be similar to those of the past, yet that would potentially lead to a high degree of inaccuracy- especially if the set of temperatures used to calculate the average has a high variance.

  64. FedUpWithDenial says:

    Since the timely death of Michael Crichton, the accelerating disgrace of Anthony Watts (now losing credibility faster than Arctic Ocean ice is melting), the onset of Richard S. Lindzen’s “age of irrelevance,” the retreat into inane fopperhead-ism of Freeman Dyson, and the disappearance without a trace of Nostradamus (unreachable for many centuries even with a cell phone), Cuccinelli’s lawyers will undoubtedly want to call Hal Lewis to serve as an ‘expert witness’ in their client’s defense when Cuccinelli, after being formally censured and forced to resign in disgrace from his position as Attorney General of the State of Virginia, is on trial in U.S. Federal Court in Richmond, Va. for the crime of “KNOWINGLY, AND FALSELY, WITH MALICIOUS INTENT TO PROSECUTE, AND UNDER COLOR OF LEGAL PROCESS, LAUNCHING OR ATTEMPTING TO LAUNCH A CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION AGAINST A CITIZEN OR CITIZENS IN GOOD STANDING IN THESE UNITED STATES WHEN IN FACT NO SHRED OF EVIDENCE EXISTS TO JUSTIFY SUCH AN INVESTIGATION, LET ALONE THE BRINGING OF FORMAL CHARGES, ESPECIALLY IN THE AGGRAVATING CIRCUMSTANCE WHERE THE RATIONALE FOR SUCH INVESTIGATION HAS BEEN INVENTED OUT OF THIN AIR AND ASSOCIATED WITH AN ATTEMPT TO JUSTIFY THE PROCEEDING BY PUBLICLY SMEARING THE REPUTATION OF SUCH A CITIZEN OR CITIZENS.” Such an article should be included in the next revision of the federal criminal code covering intentional violations of federal civil rights and/or fundamental human rights, and made retroactive.

    Recall that, in most if not all states, for a law officer to attempt (or otherwise conspire to) the same or a similar thing—the bringing of false charges under color of legal process—can be charged as a crime, and under certain circumstances (as when a citizen is falsely arrested and jailed under invented charges) may be a felony, in some cases a crime tantamount to kidnapping. The motive does not matter, though in Cuccinelli’s case it is clear that the motive is an underhanded political one, intended to gain traction among the “Tea Party” faithful and future support from its organization and funding sources.

    Why should a high official in the justice system be exempt from such laws? It is not entirely clear that they are. Cuccinelli is, according to one definition, simply “top cop” in the State of Virginia. He has strayed far beyond the bounds of his legal authority. What he is up to in the Mann case is effectively “extralegal activity,” beyond the bounds of the law and totally unrelated to his proper official business as state attorney general. On that basis alone he could be charged with misusing state funds to further his own private political or ideological agenda. There are probably many ways that a creative lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice could nail him on criminal charges. Let us hope that in some enlightened future Cuccinelli is retroactively brought to trial, found guilty, and sentenced—oh, let’s say, to 25 years—for his public harassment of certain climate scientists and implied threats of prosecution of same, when the clear intent is to silence them and spread fear in the profession, thus violating their most basic rights under the U.S. Constitution.

    Cuccinelli is an everlasting disgrace to the human race. A thousand years of inundating rains under the force of CO2-driven climate change will not be enough to wash away that disgrace. His name will live forever in infamy. May his gravestone ultimately be disintegrated and washed away to Earth’s rising seas by the enhanced silicate-carbonate geochemical weathering to be expected in the superhumid, CO2-rich atmosphere of coming centuries. It would at least be poetic justice.

  65. KenL says:


    And isn’t the shorter version of Kuhn the hoary aphorism, “Science proceeds one funeral at a time?”

    Indeed, Kuhn also noted that paradigm shifts occur not so much by minds being changed, as by the old guard dying out….

    But as I pointed out upstream, this isn’t really a paradigm shift. It’s just a bunch of entrenched interests in all-out obfuscation mode.

    I suppose the “old guard dying out” process applies here too, though….

  66. Leland Palmer says:

    [JR: The Jasons today fully understand how screwed we are — I heard their presentation at a Defense Science Board meeting.]

    Wow. That’s interesting, Joe. I’d love to hear more.

    I’ve read about a program in which the national labs are doing some serious modeling of catastrophic scenarios:

    Investigation of the Magnitudes and Probabilities of Abrupt Climate TransitionS (IMPACTS) Project

    We will focus on the risk of ACC on decadal rather than centennial time scales. We will investigate some of the most significant mechanisms proposed for ACC through a series of linked projects that examine

    * Dynamics of ice shelf — ocean interaction and evaluation of marine ice sheet instability;
    * Boreal/Arctic-climate positive feedbacks and ACC;
    * Rapid destabilization of methane hydrates in Arctic Ocean sediments;
    * Mega droughts in North America, including the role of biosphere-atmosphere feedbacks; and

    Since this proposal is focused on the future risk of abrupt phenomena, we will predict the onset of these phenomena using a detailed representation of the Earth system called the Community Climate System Model

    It’s good to hear that the Jasons are concerned about these sorts of scenarios, too, these days, if I interpret what you wrote correctly.

    This effort by the national labs is very late, of course.

  67. Esop says:

    2010 started on a good note for the deniers with media going ballistic over the non issue of the stolen CRU emails and a cold winter in parts of Europe and NA (despite record setting global average temp). However, as the months ticked by, things turned to a less rosy state in the land of denial. Instead of the denier predicted cooling, the world saw record smashing spring temperatures in a number of countries, massive heat wave in Russia, record heat in DC, one fifth of Pakistand under water. In short, the predicted (Hansen/NASA) warmest year in the instrumental record presented the exact types of extreme weather events that the science had predicted. It got worse, with LA setting all time highs when the calendar was almost flipped to October. Roy Spencer had to admit that the record high temperatures in the troposphere were “stubborn” and could not explain why, as the UAH September temperature smashed the existing record, reigniting the discussion of a possible UAH record for 2010, something that had been discounted due to numerous tweaks, likely designed to keep the anomalies down to sub record levels for a few more years. To top that off, the newly developing Wegman scandal could prove devastating to the strange cult of science denial.
    No wonder they needed to divert attention. The best they could come up with was the news of an elderly denier resigning from the APS. It is a non story, but nevertheless, it made front page news in Europe. What that tells us is that the anti science side has a free pass to the press, a press desperate to print any drivel the deniers come up with, no question asked.

  68. Fred Lua says:

    Just read on Realclimate that the APS responded to Lewis

  69. Robert Sullivan says:

    “The important question is how much warming does the future hold, is it good or bad, and if bad is it too much for normal adaptation to handle. The real answer to the first is that no one knows, the real answer to the second is more likely good than bad (people and plants die from cold, not warmth), and the answer to the third is almost certainly not.”

    There are so many problems with these two sentences, where to begin? As Joe mentioned, “more good than bad” is plain wrong, the link below is a very simple example.

    What really surprises me is that this guy is a physicist. This is a person that is trained to look at the evidence and draw conclusions, but he, like the deniers, seems to be doing the opposite. He has a preconceived conclusion, and tries to make up the evidence. Well, I guess there are good physicists and bad physicists.

    “The real answer to the first is that no one knows [how much warming the future holds]” – again, this guy claims to be a scientist? Science is very good at figuring out questions such as these. And for about one hundred years, I believe, they have been working on this question, obviously with much more urgency and resources now. And, through science, we have a very good idea of how much warmth the future holds.

    And perhaps, deep down, this “physicist” might have his fingers crossed a little, hedging his bets, when he reveals himself a little in the previous quote, saying that, “well, if things did warm up, so what, that’s a good thing.” Which is sort of your layperson-nutjob attitude.

    Joe – it is excellent you mention the Kuhn book. A professor at Stanford, teaching a class on ethics to engineering students, also used that same text. Perhaps it was because he too was an MIT grad, but I think he had already graduated by the time the book came out.

  70. David Ferrell says:

    Joseph Romm, finding that “Lewis’s unscientific statements [about climate] really aren’t a surprise,” draws attention to the archaic and all-too-commonsensical preconception that commonly underlies and motivates such statements:

    “The notion that ‘puny’ humans can drastically change something as vast as the Earth’s climate is really an amazing paradigm shift. Many scientists and others simply can’t get their heads around it, so they don’t even bother to read the scientific literature or talk to actual climate scientists. They know in their gut it can’t be true, just as for decades many geologists couldn’t accept the paradigm of plate tectonics.”

    Romm has put his finger on something very important here. We are undergoing what is literally a cultural paradigm shift, which like the events (e.g., the Copernican Revolution) that led to the eighteenth-century Enlightenment involve much more than just science. The changes underway today can be seen as the final completion of the process of the Enlightenment. And the paradigm we are shifting from is as old as civilization itself.

    Under that very antique paradigm, inherited from the ancient Near East of circa 1000-4000 B.C.E., the world (sky and Earth) was a divine creation not under human control or influence; Man (to use the older, outmoded sexist term for “humankind”) could do nothing to affect the basic conditions of life on Earth, including the climate, and his role was simply to obey the divine powers and know his place. Under the new, still emerging, paradigm, there are no such divine powers (since these are now to be understood as projections of our own incompletely realized power—i.e., we ARE the gods to the extent that such can be said to exist). It is therefore up to us to regulate the earth and sky: we, and we alone, are the arbiters of the conditions which enable our kind of life either to flourish or to fail—a view that (needless to say) is roundly condemned by those still in the thrall of the old paradigm as the deadly sin of pride—manifest as hubris, arrogance, smugness, conceit, vanity, egotism, haughtiness, overconfidence, and the like, including an unwillingness to bow down before “God.” Of such foolishness is the old paradigm of humankind’s place in the universe made. Nor is there any shortage today of those willfully trumpeting such foolishness for the sake of political gain. (Hear that, Newtie boy?)

    But because of our slowness in waking up to our real power, we have already, quite by accident, seriously modified the conditions necessary to life by adding climatically potent trace gases such as CO2, methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), ozone (O3), and halocarbons to the atmosphere—the latter being a perilously thin shield of gases and aerosols whose radiative properties are crucial to the planet’s habitability for life as we know it.

    Changing the atmosphere’s radiative properties even slightly over the long term—particularly the infrared opacity—risks abolishing the conditions which enable us to exist; however, the changes over the past hundred years have not been slight, but rather massive, occurring at a far faster rate than in any natural climate-change process. The earth is now warming rapidly, and changes loom over the next 50-100 years that will likely take the climate to extremes far beyond those to which our kind can possibly adapt. Our only hope of preserving and/or restoring anything resembling the equable climate of the Holocene is to sharply curtail emissions of CO2 and other GHGs while shifting the world’s economies to clean, non-polluting sources of energy without delay, since the window of opportunity for effective action on this front is now closing.

    And that’s something the “old guard” (the entrenched fossil-fuel interests together with underhanded political allies such as Inhofe, Issa, Sensenbrenner, and Cuccinelli) simply cannot accept—either because it’s inconvenient (like changing the rules of the game while the game is in progress); ideologically intolerable (because it violates deeply held though false beliefs about the nature of reality), or makes no sense (because their thinking is hobbled by mistaken assumptions and because they lack essential information). So they fight against it furiously—and in the end, uselessly.

    While this doesn’t in any way excuse the resistance of deniers and delayers or obviate the necessity for sweeping this resistance out of the way—even breaking heads if necessary—it helps us to clearly understand what is going on and why. The deniers can’t win in the end; but they can (and will) cause fatal delay if we allow them to do so. There is here no middle ground, nor (as James Hansen argues) are compromises acceptable: the necessity for abolishing emissions of fossil-fuel-derived carbon is absolute. The science on that is for all practical purposes completely settled. It is like the ethical issues pertaining to slavery: there is no acceptable number of slaves.

    Thus, what in the short view is a lot of powerful special interests working in a more or less coordinated way to hide the truth about man-made climate change—however immoral or worthy of condemnation that is—can be seen in the long, telescoping view as a multi-generational process of cultural paradigm shift—not just scientific in nature but in the end involving large-scale public recognition of the validity of the science concerning the radiative forcing of the climate by CO2 and other man-made GHGs. This requires us to align our collective thinking with what we call “the facts.”

    But of course, there are two entirely distinct ways of arriving at an understanding of “the facts” of any case. The first is the way of intelligence, like understanding Newtonian gravitation and F = ma (force equals mass times acceleration) by the scientific method, based on the time-tested and venerable logical sequence of observation, deduction, hypothesis, and confirmation of what is true and real versus what isn’t. The other, not favored by Darwinian evolution, is the way of stupidity: having to fall off the Eiffel Tower in order to understand that, in fact, the force of gravity is real and that the Newtonian F = ma really does work.

    Thus, being partly creatures of instinct, as well as cultural conditioning, which makes us in general only about half-bright, it is urgently necessary for us to rely on what brains we do have in order to understand that the radiative forcing due to anthropogenic greenhouse gases is as real—and serious—as the force of gravity. We’re playing with fire. Since the range of variability of solar-type stars is only about 0.1% of their total output at maximum, and the long-term orbital variations mostly just redistribute incoming radiation, the variable level of heat-trapping due to well-mixed greenhouse gases such as CO2, CH4, and N2O is the primary controller of terrestrial climate, with CO2 being much the most important due to its extraordinarily long atmospheric lifetime, many sources and sinks, and high relative abundance.

    The overwhelming importance of CO2 to the earth’s habitability for life, making it the fundamental greenhouse gas (“the central supporting pillar of the terrestrial greenhouse,” as I like to call it), becomes clear when we realize that the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere largely determines the amount of water vapor. Together these two gases largely determine the character of Earth’s climate.

    There’s an undetermined level of CO2, for example—thought to be in excess of 1000 ppm at today’s level of (slowly increasing) solar luminosity—at which changes would be triggered that would eventually cause the oceans to boil and the greenhouse effect to run away completely. But we have to be careful—even relatively modest CO2 increases could initiate long-term carbon-cycle feedbacks that could push CO2 well past 1000 ppm. At the other extreme, reducing CO2 to some very low level—into the range of 10-100 ppm or less—could freeze out most water vapor and trigger runaway glaciation, bringing on the scenario known as “snowball Earth.”

    Between these devastating extremes lies the entire range of climate states suitable for life as we know it. And only a little fiddling with the CO2 thermostat is necessary to bring on extremes that we could not tolerate. The current rapid rise in greenhouse gases—making the atmosphere significantly more opaque at infrared wavelengths—risks triggering the onset of a type of climate not seen on Earth in tens of millions of years, when the planet was ice-free—a climate in which alligators and ferns flourished in the region of the North Pole and big-brained, warm-blooded entities such as ourselves could not have existed owing to the inability of our bodies to lose heat to an environment in which temperatures of 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees F) or higher and 100% relative humidity coexist. In inadvertently hitting the climatic switch that says, “DANGER—GREENHOUSE GASES UP,” we are, on a rather short historic time scale, turning the earth into a much hotter and unrecognizable place—essentially a different planet.

    To avoid that fate, we have to use our heads, starting now.