Right On: Earth Day illiteracy

Image of Earth derives from a public domain photo of "The Blue Marble," a famous photograph of Earth taken on December 7, 1972, by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft en route to the Moon at a distance of about 29,000 kilometres (18,000 miles). It shows Africa, Antarctica, and the Arabian Peninsula. By NASA/Apollo 17 crew; taken by either Harrison Schmitt or Ron Evans | Public domain photo and caption via Wikimedia Commons; composite design by St. George News

OPINION — It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.

That aphorism is attributed to Yogi Berra as well as others including Mark Twain. Forty-eight years of Earth Day forecasts demonstrate that it’s especially tough to make predictions about global environmental change.

Earth Day has become a “green holy day” for environmental activists. So-called “greens” certainly can take credit for measures that have improved water and air quality since the first Earth Day in 1970.

This year, Earth Day organizers wanted to bring “climate and environmental literacy to the planet.” By that they mean accepting greens’ current climate change dogma as proven science. In the green mind, it’s science over those politicians who question climate change.

Scientists, professors and researchers ought to know, right? Before taking a look at this year’s issue, let’s take a look at how scientists’ past predictions of environmental cataclysm have worked out.

The first Earth Day brought with it a variety of spectacularly wrong predictions of impending apocalypse. University of Michigan economics professor Mark Perry has cataloged 18 of them. As a primer for greens who have blind and unfailing allegiance to scientific infallibility, here’s a sampling:

  • Professor Paul Erlich’s 1968 best seller “The Population Bomb” assured readers that between 1980 and 1989, some 4 billion people, including 65 million Americans, would perish in the “Great Die-Off” as the planet would no longer be able to feed the masses.
  • Denis Hayes, chief organizer of the 1970 Earth Day, piled on with his assurance that “it is too late to avoid mass starvation.”
  • Professor Kenneth Watt is widely reported as having told Time magazine in the ’70s that “at the present rate of nitrogen buildup, it’s only a matter of time before light will be filtered out of the atmosphere and none of our land will be usable.”
  • Green hero Dr. Barry Commoner predicted that decaying organic pollutants would use up all of the oxygen in America’s rivers, causing freshwater fish to suffocate.

Hard to believe now but in the 1970s environmental scientists hyperventilated over imminent global cooling! This fantasy was immortalized on Time magazine’s January 31, 1977 cover. Should we have believed the science then? If not then, why now?

Paul Ehrlich continued making apocalyptic forecasts, assuring the world in 1980 that we would soon run out of critical minerals needed to sustain our economy. Economist Julian Simon challenged Ehrlich to pick any five minerals. Simon wagered that their inflation-adjusted prices would be lower in 1990 than they were in 1980. Simon won handily. By the way, those prices are lower today than they were in 1980 and 1990.

Professor Watt declared, “By the year 2000, if present trends continue, we will be using up crude oil at such a rate…that there won’t be any more crude oil.” To greens’ chagrin, we’re awash in oil today.

Green alarmist Al Gore famously predicted a sea level rise of over 3 feet by 2010. In fact, sea levels are continuing to rise at their historical rate of about 10 inches per century as the earth emerges from the “Little Ice Age” that ended about 1870.

There is a lesson to be learned from all these egregiously wrong predictions: Green alarmists extrapolate existing trends, call it science and then grossly exaggerate, hoping to mobilize the public.

Turn now to this year’s environmental cause du jour. Many of Earth Day 2017’s marchers would be surprised to learn that some of the key “facts” they know are instead fake news:

Fake news: Ninety-seven percent of scientists believe global warming is caused by humans.

  • Fact: This erroneous media claim has been thoroughly debunked in Scientific American and elsewhere. Ninety-seven percent agree humans contribute; how much is natural warming and how much is manmade is uncertain.

Fake news: The science is settled.

  • Fact: The liberal Washington Post says it isn’t settled. Dr. Steven Koonin, Obama’s undersecretary of science in the Energy Department and chair of the American Physical Society committee revising its climate change statement, said the science is not settled. If you have serious interest in climate change, I highly recommend his article.

Fake news: Global warming is causing more severe weather.

Fake news: Obama’s Clean Power Plan will reduce global warming

  • Fact: The plan makes no specific temperature reduction claim. Why? Because the EPA’s own climate models predict the plan will reduce global temperatures by 0.035 degrees F by 2100, an undetectable and embarrassingly small amount achieved at great cost.

Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that the globe is warming and that it’s due to a combination of natural causes and manmade carbon dioxide. The natural causes have not been identified but clearly have been operating for millennia as evidenced by large historical global temperature swings recorded in tree rings and ice bores.

Carbon dioxide is not the strongest greenhouse gas, water vapor is. But carbon dioxide triggers increases in atmospheric water vapor. The amount of this feedback along with other complex interactions is “unsettled.”

Scientists are busily redoing their climate models since 105 of 108 models published through 2014 predicted far higher temperatures than we’ve experienced. Is carbon dioxide feedback lower than expected? Or are natural forces much stronger?

What caused the 16-year warming hiatus from 1998 to 2014 while man-made carbon dioxide emissions rose 25 percent? No one knows.

But climate scientists continue to put all their marbles in the carbon dioxide basket. When the only tool you have is a hammer, the problem looks like a nail.

By hiding facts like those above from their faithful, greens promote public climate illiteracy in support of their political agenda. Most disturbing is their call for indoctrinating the public and especially the young with their counterfactual global warming dogma.

Dr. Koonin, Obama’s former undersecretary of science, said our current understanding of climate science is “insufficient to guide public policy.” Greens, are you listening?

It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.

Howard Sierer is an opinion columnist for St. George News. The opinions stated in this article are his own and may not be representative of St. George News.

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • Pheo April 27, 2017 at 9:44 am

    Anyone can find individual scientists that have said stupid or incorrect things. That doesn’t invalidate science. In fact, the fact that science can self correct means that it is working as expected. No one claims that science is infallible, just that it is the best evidence we have. A scientist that could prove through the scientific method that everyone else is wrong about global warming would be a hero in the scientific community.

    “In the green mind, it’s science over those politicians who question climate change.” This sentence is astonishing. Why would you take the word of a politician over a scientist? That makes no sense at all. You might as well consult fortune tellers over the scientists. By the way, none of your cited errors come from the scientific literature.

    “Fact: The plan makes no specific temperature reduction claim. Why? Because the EPA’s own climate models predict the plan will reduce global temperatures by 0.035 degrees F by 2100, an undetectable and embarrassingly small amount achieved at great cost.” The whole point is to stop global warming. Reducing global temperatures by any amount avoids what would otherwise be a temperature increase.

    Your war on science is hurting people. For example, I personally see the consequences of this war when cancer patients reject effective, evidence-based medical treatment in favor of ineffective alternative therapy. I have personally witnessed massive tumors eating through someone’s skin because someone convinced them that you can’t trust doctors and that herbs would stop that cancer. It is fine for a patient to choose not to undergo toxic treatment, but if they are making that choice based on the idea that scientists are deceiving us, then real harm has been done to the patient. The people that are slandering scientists should bear some measure of the blame for that patient’s death.

    All these whispers that scientists and doctors are hiding the truth for some nefarious gain are actually hurting our country. Please stop.

    • Howard Sierer April 27, 2017 at 10:16 am

      I agree with Dr. Koonin: our current understanding of climate science is “insufficient to guide public policy.” We can’t explain the past with today’s understanding; why should we believe future projections?

      I also believe in cost/benefit analyses. If Obama’s Clean Power Plan cost a few tens of million dollars to implement, I’d say why not. But instead it would cost hundreds of billions, requiring a massive investment in nuclear power. The plan acknowledges that only nuclear power can provide our base power needs. Scientists tell us nuclear power is safe. I agree. Do you?

      • Proud Rebel April 27, 2017 at 10:50 am

        HELL NO! How can anyone​ say nuclear power is safe, when it generates so much hazardous waste? Waste that, while it may be contained, for now, has such a long half life span that the container will likely not last. Something that we currently have no way of rendering it safe?
        And when there is a nuclear accident has such terrible consequences?

      • Pheo April 27, 2017 at 11:51 am

        I have no problem with nuclear power being part of the solution. Nuclear power would kill way fewer people than coal does, despite its drawbacks. I think the long term solution is going to be solar, wind, geothermal, tidal, etc., but this will require breakthroughs in battery technology, which are coming. Going back to coal is asinine though. Getting away from oil is smart even if you don’t believe in global warming because at least some of the money used to buy oil goes to terrorists. Clean air is important for our health whether or not you think carbon dioxide is warming the earth.

  • comments April 27, 2017 at 12:09 pm

    Well I read it–bunch of blah blah about climate change, don’t really care. But I’ll say again, I wish there was the political will to clean up air quality in cities. We can blah blah back and forth all day about global warming, but can’t we all agree that we’d prefer to live w/ clean air and water, and less polluted oceans, etc. These aren’t liberal, conservative, or “green” issues, etc. It really should be common sense. I’ll agree a lot of this crap over the years is alarmist and nothing but ‘fear porn’, but is Howard one of those types that thinks any type of environmentalism is liberal, or green, or tree-hugging, all pejoratives –this tends to be the attitude of many “conservatives”. Mine it, drill it, frack it, use it up is the all to common prevailing attitude.

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