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Climate-Change Dissent

The letters in this issue of C&EN, all six columns of them, address my editorial “Climate-Change News” that appeared in the June 22 issue. Most of the letters disagree sharply with the editorial. Many more letters on climate change appear in the letters section of this week’s issue of C&EN Online. Most all of the printable letters we received about the June 22 editorial are either printed in this issue or posted on C&EN Online.

I will let the letters speak for themselves. Some chemists do not think human activity is causing Earth’s climate to change. They think the evidence for their point of view is stronger than the evidence that supports the widely accepted idea that burning fossil fuels and discharging other gases and particulates into the atmosphere is causing global warming.

A few points: One is that some writers suggest that ACS should not allow me to express what they consider an extreme view on global warming. They point to the disclaimer on the Editor’s Page—”Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS”—and say that it is insufficient in distancing ACS from me.

ACS, in fact, has an official position on climate change, which is easy to find under the “Policy” section of www.acs.org. The position statement opens with the following: “Careful and comprehensive scientific assessments have clearly demonstrated that the Earth’s climate system is changing rapidly in response to growing atmospheric burdens of greenhouse gases and absorbing aerosol particles (IPCC, 2007). There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.”

I am also struck by the contempt of many of the letter writers for the thousands of scientists who work for government agencies such as EPA, NASA, NOAA, and DOE. Their harshest vitriol is aimed at the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Many of the letters dismiss out of hand any report from IPCC or any U.S. government agency that supports the idea of human-induced global warming, calling such reports irredeemably “politicized.” I am startled that they so blithely impugn the integrity of so many of their colleagues.

I am also always surprised, although at this point in my career I know I shouldn’t be, at the vehemence of many of the letters. Some of the letters I received are not fit to print. Many of the letters we have printed are, I think it is fair to say, outraged by my position on global warming.

My interaction with one ACS member, who shall remain unnamed, on “Climate-Change News” began with an unpleasant telephone conversation followed up by a series of e-mails. The last e-mail from the member read as follows: “I hoped that you may have had a new information input valve into your mind but I see it has been closed off or eliminated. I guess you’re happy in your little prison of thought so I certainly don’t want to disturb you. It becomes obvious when the ‘Flat Earth’ comments come out one is not dealing with an individual interested in fact finding or relevant discussion. When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have moved on to be an unthinking urn for another rat pleading catastrophe.

“You will be removed. I promise.

“We have no need for further interaction.”

Meanwhile, the science marches on. On July 7, the American Geophysical Union put out a press release on a paper appearing in the Journal of Geophysical Research—Oceans. “Scientists have evaluated for the first time how much the thickness and volume of Arctic sea ice, not just the ice’s surface area, have shrunk since 2004 across the Arctic Ocean basin. Even where the sea ice cover persists despite climate change in the region, a vast portion of the remaining ice layer has become thinner than it used to be, the new study finds.”

Thanks for reading.

Click here to read the letters mentioned in this week’s Editor’s Page.

22 Comments

  • Jul 27th 200913:07
    by Paul

    Rudy, I imagine that you are a magnet for unsolicited opinions from crazy subscribers who have nothing better to do than share their lovely pearls of wisdom with you. The most inflammatory and ridiculous letters should be posted on the blog—signed, of course—as a form of entertainment for the rest of us. Pass on the jokes!

    The editorial page is a place where readers should EXPECT opinion on controversial subjects. Readers should also expect to occasionally (or regularly) disagree with the opinions expressed by the editor. Your critics must admit that you allow plenty of balance in the form of dissenting letters to the editor. So, while people may be angered at your opinion, I feel it silly for them to be angry that you used the editorial page to share it with us. They’ve obviously missed the point.

    That said, I, too, wish you would stop writing about global warming. Please use those column inches to write about your cat, “The Prince”. Pictures are also a necessity. This is not a joke; I’m serious. The Prince. Please. Soon.

  • Jul 27th 200913:07
    by Bryan E

    The evidence that the climate is changing is very strong; at issue in my mind is the cause/effect relationship between what we do and the environment. So long as the two are hopelessly entangled, we can’t hope to sort it out. The article mentioned, about Arctic Ocean ice, shows something is going on. That’s fine. The question is whether we are at fault or if it’s merely part of some normal temperature cycle that we simply don’t understand.

  • Jul 27th 200915:07
    by Neil Gussman

    Rudy–I am writing from the permanently dessicated climate of southern Iraq less than a mile from the Ziggurat of Ur–the birthplace of Abraham and a former garden spot. Since I am a soldier in one of the most ill-conceived wars in our history, I am reading Idiot America by Charlie Pierce. The book is about the decline of respect for expertise in America. I am sure Pierce would find your correspondents even funnier than the fans of Rush Limbaugh. A chemist who trashes the work of sincere fellow science professionals is sawing off the branch he (I am assuming your cranks are mostly guys) is sitting on.

    Keep your spirits up Rudy. You voice is important with all the lunacy that besets America.

  • Jul 28th 200909:07
    by Hap

    I love it when people complain that “you shouldn’t be talking about X” – the usual translation is “I don’t have any evidence to support my opinion on X, and so the only way that I can get my way is bully people into not stating the obvious.” The last times this popped up (repeatedly, in local letters to the editor) were the Iraq war decision and the 2004 election. I can’t imagine what those decisions had in common…

    “Reality is that which, when you don’t believe in it, doesn’t go away”? I guess another group of willfully ignorant people wishes to provide experimental evidence for this aphorism, if anyone is going to be left to appreciate it. Santayana comes to mind too, I wonder why…

  • Jul 28th 200918:07
    by John Marsella

    So Rudy Baum is shocked, shocked I tell you at the harsh rhetoric in the discussions about climate change. This from someone who defended an ACS publication that gleefully quoted climate scientists referring to their critic’s arguments as “garbage”, and who purposely uses the emotionally charged term “deniers”.

    As a 30+ year member of the ACS, I don’t recall having an opportunity to vote on whether the MANDATORY part of my dues that go to C&EN should be used to support it as a political soapbox for its editor and certain of its other staff writers, nor do I recall anyone soliciting open comments on the content of the “official” ACS statement regarding climate change.

    The issue is not whether I have “pearls of wisdom” to share. The issue is, how much input do I and other members of this “Professional Organization” have in determining how its news magazine operates. It is, after all, our nickel.

    If Baum and his staff want freedom to write whatever they want, I should have the freedom to withhold that portion of my dues that is used to support their little playground.

  • Jul 28th 200923:07
    by Luboš Motl

    I don’t believe that you are actually surprised that the professional chemists – those who work on genuine chemistry rather than fearmongering directed at the stupid people – realize that the climate hysteria is a junk science driven by political goals and that its proponents are either corrupt fraudsters or unteachable morons. Or both. If you were actually following the developments, new (and old!) insights about the climate, and the discussion in general, e.g. on my website, you would know better.

  • Jul 30th 200902:07
    by Ray

    Rudy you state “I am startled that they so blithely impugn the integrity of so many of their colleagues.”

    However in your piece you state “We see here the same tactics used by other purveyors of nonsense rejected by the mainstream scientific community. Creationists, for example, only want to expose students to “both sides of the debate over origins,” ignoring the fact that there is no debate over evolution.”

    Therefore anyone who doesn’t agree with you is to be linked with Creationists.

    I have only one thing to say about the above. “Pot meet Kettle.”

  • Jul 30th 200907:07
    by Brian R. Strohmeier

    After reading Baum’s original article on “Climate-Change News” in the June 22 issue, I was so disgusted that I gave very serious consideration to dropping my ACS membership, after 31 years. But it warmed my heart (no pun intended) to read the many letters from ACS members who spoke out with differing opinions. With members like those, maybe there is still hope for the ACS. Hopefully, global warming will soon go the way of cold fusion.

  • [...] wrote “The Republican War on Science”). But, thinking about the comment thread over at Rudy’s post this week, I still have no idea how to go about [...]

  • Jul 30th 200913:07
    by Kip Hansen

    I find it shocking that the ACS has a POSITION statement about a SCIENTIFIC question at all — whoever heard of such a thing. It is so so unscientific! Shame on the ACS.

    Members should rise up in scientific revolt against such an idea – regardless of the content of such a position statement, it shouldn’t exist.

  • Jul 30th 200915:07
    by Larry Scalf

    As an attorney who is a non-chemist, a non-scientist, it has been apparent to me for some time now that science has become increasingly politicized in this country, and not just by the Republicans. With so much government and private grant money available to satisfy just about any apocalyptic fantasy, it is easy to stir up fearmongering with a few choice statements and studies about climate change.

    It is obvious to see who controls your magazine, but it is also gratifying to see how many of your members have responded negatively to the old canard thrown out by the IPCC that: “There is very little room for doubt that observed climate trends are due to human activities. The threats are serious and action is urgently needed to mitigate the risks of climate change.”

    The truth is that statement was crafted not by the scientists who advised the IPCC, but by the bureaucrats and other UN political types who run the IPCC. Someone who makes such a categorical statement about climate or any type of science, then hides behind the word “consensus,” knows little about the history of science and clearly has a much larger agenda in mind. The evidence is growing that this statement is quite ignorant of climate reality. My fear is that political desire and expediency remains disguised as scientific authority, to the detriment of true scientific authority. Many of your membership do realize that, thankfully, and hopefully, Mr. Baum, you will soon realize that too.

  • Jul 30th 200919:07
    by Hap

    We’d realize it if you had those pesky facts – you know, those sets of words and numbers that are usually used to decide matters of scientific knowledge. Instead, you throw up opinion polls (look! I found a weatherman who doesn’t believe in global warming! Isn’t that proof enough?), conspiracy theories (you can’t trust anyone that doesn’t agree with me), and the hole card (you don’t have right to have an opinion because it isn’t the same as mine and you can actually say it).

    Just because you can actually win elections with willful stupidity does not obligate physical reality to comply with it as well. Sorry about that.

  • Jul 31st 200909:07
    by Michael

    Earth is certainly warming up, and it is quite easy to observe the effects on our ecosystems. The question is how much this observed climate-change is a result of things that are anthropogenic or things that astrological (difficult to measure), or both. It is presumptuous to put such drastic cap and trade policy into action without knowing more about the dynamic of climate change. The computer models that are the foundation of IPCC’s argument are premature. Check this out http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/325/5938/273, tell me what you think :)

  • [...] outraged ACS member wrote to Baum: “When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have [...]

  • Jul 31st 200922:07
    by William E. Keller

    I wrote a letter to Rudy Baum in opposition to his somewhat nasty stand on deniers of human-caused climate change. I note others agreeing with me have had their letters posted as blogs.
    I fail to find mine posted. Any reason ?

  • Jul 31st 200923:07
    by Keith Pings

    Several items concern me in your discussion of man made global warming and “deniers”.

    1. “Increasingly difficult to challenge”. I have been reading extensively on both sides of the debate. Unfortunately both have very politicized persons that damage credibility. Sorting through the specifics, there are some very credible “skeptics”. Give them their due. It would be nice to see a scientific discussion regarding their objections instead of the ad hominem attacks. Have you searched out any of the many credible skeptics and discussed the basis of objections?

    2. I would welcome your providing a solid reference in the pro camp that is not linked to the IPCC or IPCC report. All the Pro AGW groups tend to reference back to IPCC. The flaws in IPCC are very well documented. The IPCC reports fail in my scientific credibility test, as the politicization is clear on the pages. The links in your editorial all tie back to “see IPCC”. I welcome your reading suggestions for a good scientific discussion on AGW (not the political glossy brochures).

    3. Your editorial is loaded with subjective labels not worthy of a scientific publication. Labels have no role in a scientific discussion. “Deniers” has politically loaded connotations, that you realize and thus by using, you indicate a subjective view on your part. Use “skeptics”
    Other subjective labels used include: whipping boy, die hard, purveyors of nonsense, flogging a report,
    Your directly inferring the link to creationists, is over the top. This is an old political ploy, not science. And, you wonder at expressed anger.

    4. Did you read the NIPCC report prior to your comments. Specifically, with what specific detailed items in the report do you disagree? Based upon what science? Did you approach them with your specific objections for discussion? Have you read any of the publications of the listed authors? Which of the referenced articles is incorrect?

    Basically, your editorial was very swallow and politically charged. One wishes ACS would be a much more scientifically based organization, even in editorial comments. Science needs to rise above the politicians. The too extensive feeding tube of funding from political organizations has and will corrupt science. Maybe your editorial is indicative of the state of our corruption as a profession. Want tenure or funding, here is all you need to say…………

  • [...] outraged ACS member wrote to Baum: “When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have [...]

  • Aug 2nd 200904:08
    by christian kuhn

    now it looks like european fanatiks homeworks.

    i think, that almost every scientist knows, that co2 can not be a primary climate driver.

    everybody who do so, must be well payed or a piltdown thinker.

    but is does not realy matter. this co2 trading ist big business and it will stop in a few years, because there is no hope for further global warming.
    all the guys like gore and other “consensus fanatics” will be recovered like the club of rome: always wrong, but we forgott!

  • Aug 2nd 200915:08
    by Verlan Van Rheenen

    Rudy, don’t dispair. Your commentary is not so much opinion as it is options which flow from the facts. The negative letters are from reactionary “wingnuts” who will not accept any data which may contradict their preconceptions, probably based on self interest. They are so vested in the oil (carbon) industry that they can’t accept the factual science. They are not scientists, but propagandists. Understanding cause and effect and then doing problem solving is basic to scientific research. These guys have lost it.

  • [...] outraged ACS member wrote to Baum: “When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have [...]

  • Aug 4th 200907:08
    by Gary Lund

    Since my response to Rudy’s diatribe in the June 22 issue of C&EN didn’t get published, I’ll summarize the gist of it here. I would like to emphasize that as many point out, understandnig cause and effect is basic to scientific research. The causal relationship between anthropogenic carbon dioixide and recently observed temperature changes has never been clearly established and remains a speculative theory. It amazes me that so many are willing to buy into such an outlandish postulate with so little direct evidence. I daresay that even NASA, DOE, NOAA and the EPA have their share of thoughtful sceptics on the subject much as the ACS does, “official” plolicies notwithstanding.

    I found Rudy’s statements in the June 22 editorial interesting in view of my own experience investigating this admittedly emotionally charged subject since I have arrived at precisely the opposite conclusion. Having recently been prompted to explore the whole anthropogenic global warming/climate change controversy by increasingly frequent claims of scientific consensus, I have personally been unable to find a satisfactory scientific study supporting a anthropogenic CO2 (or related “green house gas” emission) causal link to global temperature changes. Instead, the literature seems to be well populated with studies which implicitly assume an anthropogenic cause for climate change and proceed to address whatever effect being reported upon might result. The reliance of the anthropogenic climate change theory on global circulation models which appear to be poorly validated is hardly incontrovertible proof. One thing that does seem to have resulted from the recent focus on climate change is an apparent increasingly sophisticated understanding of the various natural forces effecting global temperature cycles.

    Rather than sneering at opinions at odds with the so-called consensus, resorting to name calling and ad-hominem attacks, one would do well to retain an open mind towards such a politically important subject. The stakes have been raised to high levels and the consequences have the potential to be profound to future scientific funding and economic growth.

  • [...] outraged ACS member wrote to Baum: “When all is said and done, and you and your kind are proven wrong (again), you will have [...]

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