By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Science, religion and global warming

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby leans heavily on MIT scientist Richard Lindzen — and not for the first time — in arguing that global warming is nothing to worry about. Lindzen has a commentary in the current Newsweek suggesting that we should all calm down, a sentiment that Jacoby heartily endorses.

To their credit, Lindzen and Jacoby are too intellectually honest to assert something they know to be false. Neither is willing to deny that global warming is real, or that human activity is at least partly responsible. Indeed, this is how Lindzen opens his piece:

Judging from the media in recent months, the debate over global warming is now over. There has been a net warming of the earth over the last century and a half, and our greenhouse gas emissions are contributing at some level. Both of these statements are almost certainly true. What of it?

Both Lindzen and Jacoby go on to say that we should relax because global warming might be good for us. True, Lindzen does say that global warming might prove not to be as bad as current models predict. But his essential view is contained in this sentence: “A warmer climate could prove to be more beneficial than the one we have now.”

This is religion, not science — not far removed from Frosty Hardison, the guy who likes global warming because he believes it will hasten Jesus’ return to earth.

Jacoby and other conservative commentators should be careful about invoking Lindzen. The fact is that Lindzen accepts the science of human-caused global warming. Thus we are under no more obligation to accept Lindzen’s value judgments than we are those of Frosty Hardison.

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  1. Anonymous

    It just seems strange that Lindzen is the only actual scientist global warming skeptics ever cite. I wasn’t surprised to see his name in Jacoby’s column yesterday, but I actually went over it twice to see if Jacoby named anybody else who agreed with Lindzen. He didn’t. I don’t doubt Lindzen’s sincerity or his scientific rigor, but he’s clearly a man apart. Global warming denialists are clinging to him like a life preserver. I doubt they’ll be able to hold on much longer.

  2. Dan Kennedy

    And just to reiterate: Lindzen is not a global-warming denialist!

  3. Anonymous

    Then there’s the Gregg Jackson approach. Skip the science and go straight to Ad Hominem attacks:

  4. Don

    What would Al Gore say? (To paraphrase, “What would Jesus say?”)

  5. Anonymous

    Anon 12:16, that was me, Kevin, not Gregg. I guess an Ad Hominem attack is in the eye of the beholder. I was pointing out the arrogance of the Global Warming Fanatics. I’ve done a number of posts on global warming. I don’t deny its happening, but I question the extent, the causes and certainly what, if anything, we can/should do about it. My biggest problem with this topic is not the science, but with the tactics of the people pushing

  6. Dan Kennedy

    I recently heard Howie Carr say — this is a paraphrase, but it comes pretty close — that no one believes in global warming except Al Gore. Now it turns out that even so-called global-warming deniers like Richard Lindzen, Jeff Jacoby and our friend Kevin accept that it’s real.Kevin, you say you “question the extent” of global warming. How about 10 years ago? Did you “question the extent” of it then, or did you deny that it was even happening?

  7. Anonymous

    Dan,”so-called global-warming deniers like Richard Lindzen, Jeff Jacoby and our friend Kevin accept that it’s real.”That is part of the problem I have with this topic. We are simply questioning the over-the-top, absolutist assertions of many of the leading proponents of GW. Sure, it’s real. So was the period of global cooling thirty years ago. And so was the global warming we had in the 1300s. My point is that climate/weather runs in cycles, I believe this is pretty solid ground to be on. The impact of humans on that cycle is an open question, IMHO. As to the extent, ten years ago I read Gore’s book Earth in the Balance and thought he was making far too many fantastic, over the top claims. I think the same thing today. Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, claims that oceans will rise 20ft. The recetly released UN panel report on Climate Change says 17 inches. That’s a considerable difference, no? Gore shows and ice sample taken from a glacier about ten minutes into the film. This sample was about 10ft. long and the lower half was darker then the upper half. Gore points to the line in the ice sample where it gets lighter and makes the claim that ‘there, right there, was when we passed the clean air act.’ I mean, come on Dan. How much are we supposed to put up with? Gore says we are ten years away from tipping point, catastrophe. In ten years, if things aren’t as Gore is claiming today, will you return to Media Nation and say “maybe Al and his believers were over the top and not exactly helpful to an honest discussion on the topic?

  8. Dan Kennedy

    The impact of humans on that cycle is an open question, IMHO.Kevin: Here’s the problem with way too many political discussions. You (and I) are not entitled to an opinion on whether humans are contributing to global warming. You (and I) are only entitled to consider the views of qualified scientists. Given that Lindzen accepts the likelihood that humans are contributing to global warming, who are you to say otherwise?You also need to get over your obsession with Al Gore. He’s not the issue. Not that I have a problem with Gore, who should be commended for sparking interest in this issue.

  9. Anonymous

    Dan,Believe me, I have no obsession with Al Gore. It was you who brought him into the discussion. Yes, “Lindzen accepts the likelihood that humans are contributing to global warming”. That does not get to the question of the extent of human’s contributions. Humans can contribute 1% to GW or is it 15%? That is what is open for debate. Lindzen believes the human impact is minimal and I’m inclined to agree. Lindzen, while admitting humans play some role, is not on board with the conventional wisdom as to the extent, which is what I was trying (poorly, obviously) to say.Thanks Dan, gotta go get something done today. Appreciate the civil discussion.Kevin

  10. Neil

    I guess an Ad Hominem attack is in the eye of the beholder.My biggest problem with this topic is not the science, but with the tactics of the people pushing it.Kevin, in the eye of this beholder, “arrogance”, “fanatic”, “deluded”, “righteous” and “they seem themselves as beyond reproach”, all sound pretty ad hominem. Those aren’t tactics, they’re labels. Surely it’s more useful to focus on the issue itself than on your perceived attitudes of certain personalities who have spoken up on the subject, whom you happen to dislike. I’m with Dan on this–never mind Laurie David and Al Gore. Stick to what the scientists themselves are saying.

  11. Dan Kennedy

    Kevin: Not to slice the salami too finely, but I was making fun of Howie Carr’s Al Gore obsession. That’s not the same as bringing Gore into the discussion.

  12. Sean

    Great article. Thank you for doing the post.I dispute assertion of one of the comments that there is only one scientist quoted that believes that global warming is a natural thing. I have posted about many of them on my site http://www.globalwarming-factorfiction.comI do think that we need to consider why we should try to reverse any change of the climate by our own efforts. This will be a gigantic proposition especially is we have nature working against us to make it warmer.

  13. mike_b1

    As Sean intimates, many scientists feel global warming comes about naturally (high numbers of volcanos, for example, help in this regard). What many of the same (and other) scientists further feel is that we humans aren’t helping things.

  14. Anonymous

    mike_b1many scientists feel global warming comes about naturally (high numbers of volcanos, for example, help in this regard).Sorry, it’s exactly the opposite. Volcanic activity reduces global warming. The reason is that volcanic activity spews particulate matter into the atmosphere, which reflects sunlight, thereby reducing the insolation that leads to global warming. The 1815 (or so) “summer that didn’t happen” was a result of volcanic activity, and, when Mt. Pinatubo blew up in 1992 there was a noticeable decrease in global temperature.Similar phenomena were seen in 1945-1975, when increases in sulfate aerosols in the atmosphere reflected sunlight. That moderated global warming during that time period, but it resulted in something that was undesirable: acid rain. When sulfate aerosols were reduced in the mid 1970s, acidity of rain was reduced, but the global temperatures began rising again.–raj

  15. mike_b1

    Raj, your Googled research (I’m guessing that’s what you are drawing from) is correct only in the short-term. Yes, temperatures dropped in the winter after Mt. Pinatubo. They then skyrocketed two summers later — a typical response for a major explosion. Volcanoes release vast amounts of CO2, which (in short) traps heat and warms the Earth.

  16. Anonymous

    mike_b1 Much of my research was done over the Internet (my scientific background is physics, not climatology), but it probably predated Google. Regardless, I do not recall any significant discussion that volcanice activity increases CO_2 in the atmosphere. If you have a link to a paper, I would be interested. All of the work that I had read was that volcanic activity reduced insolation (not a misspelling) as I discribed.–raj

  17. John Galt

    Lindzen, heard often on BBC, has never denied the carbons and petrochemicals humans pump into the atmosphere do great harm, but that one or two healthy volcanoes or other natural phenomena are in fact more life threatening. So, one imagines, would be the odd meteor slamming into the planet.He admits that as the atmosphere heats more gases escape the magnetic influence; a very plausible theory as to what occurred on Mars.

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