Published by on 21 Jul 2010 at 10:28 am
Climatologist Dr. Stephen Schneider died this week. Although he was one of the leading promoters of climate change fears (in the 1970s he warned against global cooling, more recently against global warming), Schneider could also be remarkably candid about what was going on behind the scenes of what is supposed to be a “settled” science.
He is famous for noting that climate scientists will exaggerate if the truth isn’t “scary” enough:
On the one hand, as scientists we are ethically bound to the scientific method, in effect promising to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but — which means that we must include all the doubts, the caveats, the ifs, ands, and buts. On the other hand, we are not just scientists but human beings as well. And like most people we’d like to see the world a better place, which in this context translates into our working to reduce the risk of potentially disastrous climatic change.
To do that we need to get some broad based support, to capture the public’s imagination. That, of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have. This “double ethical bind” we frequently find ourselves in cannot be solved by any formula. Each of us has to decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest. I hope that means being both. [italics ad
Is climate science based on “overwhelming” empirical evidence, as the public is told? Not if you believe Schneider, who wrote: “Computer modeling is our only available tool to perform what-if experiments such as the human impact on the future.” [italics added] In other words, climate science is only as good as its models, models that weren’t accurate enough to predict the non-warming of the past 10 years.
It was Schneider who noted during a debate with Bjorn Lomborg that, in climate science, “We end up with a maddening degree of uncertainty. We end up with scenarios which, if we’re lucky, give us mild outcomes and we end up with scenarios that, if we’re unlucky, give us catastrophic outcomes.” [italics added]
In a similar vein, Schneider wrote in Scientific American as part of an attack on Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist: “Uncertainties so infuse the issue of climate change that it is still impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes.” [italics added]
A “maddening degree of uncertainty”? “Impossible to rule out either mild or catastrophic outcomes”? “Infused with uncertainties”? But isn’t the public told the science on climate change is settled, certain, beyond question, and that we’re heading for catastrophe?
Or are we being bombarded by “scary scenarios” that exist only in computer models?
Based on Schneider’s own words, the answer is obvious.
 In his 1976 book The Genesis Strategy (p. 66), Schneider wrote: “Today there are few people much concerned by the approach of the next ice age. And since ice ages take thousands of years to develop, why should we worry? There are several reasons to worry.”
 Laboratory Earth, 1997, p. 67.
 Quoted in Jonathan Schell, “Our Fragile Earth.” Discover, October, 1989, pp. 45-48.
 Earthbeat, “Skeptical Environmentalist Debates Critics,” Australian Broadcasting Corp., Oct. 10, 2001.
 Stephen Schneider, “Global Warming: Neglecting the Complexities.” Scientific American, January, 2002.