By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, May 28, 2006
As evidence mounts that humans are causing dangerous changes in Earth's climate, a handful of skeptics are providing some serious blowback
LET US BE HONEST about the intellectual culture of America in general: It has become almost impossible to have an intelligent discussion about anything.
Everything is a war now. This is the age of lethal verbal combat, where even scientific issues involving measurements and molecules are somehow supernaturally polarizing. The controversy about global warming resides all too perfectly at the collision point of environmentalism and free market capitalism. It's bound to be not only politicized but twisted, mangled and beaten senseless in the process. The divisive nature of global warming isn't helped by the fact that the most powerful global-warming skeptic (at least by reputation) is President Bush, and the loudest warnings come from Al Gore.
Human beings may be large of brain, but they are social animals, too, like wolves, and are prone to behave in packs. So when something like climate change comes up, the first thing people want to know is, whose side are you on? All those climatic variables and uncertainties and probabilities and "forcings" and "feedback loops," those cans of worms that Bill Gray talks about, get boiled down to their essence. Are you with us or against us?
Somehow Hitler keeps popping into the discussion. Gore draws a parallel between fighting global warming and fighting the Nazis. Novelist Michael Crichton, in State of Fear , ends with an appendix comparing the theory of global warming to the theory of eugenics -- the belief, prominently promoted by Nazis, that the gene pool of the human species was degenerating due to higher reproductive rates of "inferior" people. Both, he contends, are examples of junk science, supported by intellectual elites who will later conveniently forget they signed on to such craziness.
And Gray has no governor on his rhetoric. At one point during our meeting in Colorado he blurts out, "Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews."
... But he's also angry. He's outraged.
He recently had a public shouting match with one of his former students. It went on for 45 minutes.
He was supposed to debate another scientist at a weather conference, but the organizer found him to be too obstreperous, and disinvited him.
Much of his government funding has dried up. He has had to put his own money, more than $100,000, into keeping his research going. He feels intellectually abandoned. If none of his colleagues comes to his funeral, he says, that'll be evidence that he had the courage to say what they were afraid to admit.
Which is this: Global warming is a hoax.
"I am of the opinion that this is one of the greatest hoaxes ever perpetrated on the American people," he says when I visit him in his office on a sunny spring afternoon.
He has testified about this to the United States Senate. He has written magazine articles, given speeches, done everything he could to get the message out. His scientific position relies heavily on what is known as the Argument From Authority. He's the authority.
"I've been in meteorology over 50 years. I've worked damn hard, and I've been around. My feeling is some of us older guys who've been around have not been asked about this. It's sort of a baby boomer, yuppie thing."
Gray believes in the obs. The observations. Direct measurements. Numerical models can't be trusted. Equation pushers with fancy computers aren't the equals of scientists who fly into hurricanes.
"Few people know what I know. I've been in the tropics, I've flown in airplanes into storms. I've done studies of convection, cloud clusters and how the moist process works. I don't think anybody in the world understands how the atmosphere functions better than me."
In just three, five, maybe eight years, he says, the world will begin to cool again. He is almost desperate to be heard. He is howling in a maelstrom.
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