As an on-line subscriber to the Houston Chronicle, I am familiar with Mr. Chris Tomlinson’s daily column “Outside The Boardroom.” His commentaries on various business related events have been generally entertaining and informative. Perhaps the heat of the recent presidential election season brought forth some heretofore suppressed political activism residing in his otherwise analytical nature.
Not only “outside the boardroom” but also outside of a rounded, and informed discussion of climate related issues and public opinion was his October 29, 2016, column “Public knows energy issues.” Tomlinson quoted solely from a Texas energy poll of “2,043 Americans by the University of Texas’ Energy Institute” to conclude that “Republicans should recognize that they need to get with mainstream scientific opinion, because the American public already has.”
Extrapolating the results of a small, unidentified poll sample of responders to a poll of undefined construct and possible bias as representing the American people is questionable enough. This is especially true when a national poll by the Gallup organization had climate change last in a list of environmental concerns: http://www.gallup.com/poll/182105/concern-environmental-threats-eases.aspx
Discrepancies in polling results aside, the greater concern to me was Tomlinson’s advocacy of using public opinion to set scientific truth and political action. My letter to him is reprinted here. His response, having assured me that he had read my letter was “Thank you.” The letter was not a letter to the HC editor. That editor did print a letter of mine, albeit somewhat edited of its punchline.
Dear Mr. Tomlinson:
Your October 29, 2016 “Public knows energy issues” tosses out statistics purporting to show what the public “knows” about energy and climate related issues. It also tosses out any linkage to supporting scientific fact on the topic.
Reminiscent of the propaganda campaigns of the 1930’s which were driven by the concept that “if you repeat a lie often enough, it will becomes truth,” you add to the political clamor for consensus on climate issues, without any acknowledgement of, nor quantification of the basic scientific uncertainty surrounding climate science.
Scientifically informed individuals know that both global and local climate has been characterized by cyclical change since day one. Change is a characteristic of climate. That is a fact. Propagandists have succeeded in portraying this natural attribute of climate into a fearful thing about which “something must be done.” Politicians and vested financial interests salivate at the chance to impose their remedies to enforce their own orthodoxy and profitability.
You set up a straw man argument implying that “Republican leaders” do not question the human “contribution” to a warming planet and rising sea levels and are thereby remiss, ignorant, or worse. You do not attempt to quantify how much that contribution might be. You do not seem to be aware that land use (farming, irrigation, land clearance) changes do greatly influence climate patterns. You do not distinguish between carbon dioxide from fossil fuel use and these other components of the climate puzzle.
If you were to go beyond parroting these claims, and do your readers the service of fact checking, you would have found out that there has been no recent significant change in the rate-of-sea-level rise. For example, you might read what a scientist devoted to the topic has reported (vs. what a casual respondent might check off in Hobson’s Choice structured, slanted survey) https://www.researchgate.net/publication/306103010_Sea_level_changes_in_the_real_world_Models_vs_observational_facts
“A warming planet,” you make that sound scary; you neglect to say how much warming over what period of time. Would that be one or two degrees over 250 years, or even less? Was that warming all bad or possibly good? How much of it was secondary to the natural rhythms of the earth, and how much can be shown to be secondary to human activities? As a physician I know that general death rates go up in the winter. You ignore the increase in planetary greening and increased crop yields (as shown by satellite imagery) attributed to increased atmospheric CO2; you do know that CO2 is an essential plant food?
Two past geological time periods known as the Roman Warming Period, and the Medieval Warm Period both exhibited global temperatures about as warm as at present. Conspicuously absent during those two warming periods was the use of fossil fuels. Conspicuous was a significantly lower level of atmospheric CO2. Conspicuous were the ravages of plagues and crop failures in the intervening cooler Dark Ages.
Did anyone ask those quoted millennials how much of a carbon tax they would be willing to pay? Do they, do you, understand that we are carbon-based life forms, as you give carte blanche to the carbon demonizers? Did anyone assure them that making electricity more expensive by reducing the atmospheric carbon dioxide produced by fossil fuel consumption would thereby reduce some assumed amount of global warming by “x degrees”? Where is the proof for such a quantifiable linkage? You might have taken the step of further inquiry into what has been the disastrous and expensive experience in Germany, the poster-child for renewable energy replacing fossil fuels. Electricity rates are nearly three times ours, and thousands are unable to pay their monthly bills. http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/high-costs-and-errors-of-german-transition-to-renewable-energy-a-920288.html
As I physician, I wonder if you would be comfortable with a physician making critical health decisions on your behalf using the survey responses of “Americans” and “millennials.” Imperial Rome made its own life-or-death populist decisions using similar inputs from the “public” which, not having the advantage of scientific polling results, resorted to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down vote. Progressives work to establish a ruling class of experts, a technocracy. Yet the medical field is just one area where such blind adherence to their advice has proved fallible and dangerous to one’s health. Once peptic ulcers were claimed to be result of too much stomach acid, and should be treated with antacids; they have now been shown to be a specific bacterial infection and are treated with antibiotics. “Saturated fats cause heart disease and heart attacks,” “high carbohydrate diets should replace animal fats,” “trans-fat butter substitutes are preferable to natural butter,”…all advice from the experts, all shown to be false.
Consensus science is an abomination of fact-based science. Consensus policy based on public opinion is akin to mob rule. Your article portrays the results of crowd-sourcing of public opinion as good enough to set public and political policy. With good reason was our government structured not as a democracy, but as a representative democracy. The other component of that original design was an “informed electorate.”
Did the HC cover the recent climate debate at Rice University and attempt to inform its readership of basic science in action? www.masterresource.org/debate-issues/climate-debate-rice-soon-sass/
As your column dealt with public opinion, it was more political than scientific. The front page article of your HC today (October 29, 2016) describes the extent to which the current ruling class works behind the scenes to mold public opinion and to crush dissident voices on climate issues. Some months ago, a cabal of state attorney generals banded together to use their legal powers to search and destroy climate scientists who dared to question the validity of the politically correct policy of disastrous climate change caused by man-made CO2. Lurking about is the evil Queen muttering “Off with their heads.”
In keeping with the populist spirit which you espouse, I give your article a “thumbs down.” To the unquestioning public and their polling preferences, I give the quote: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” (Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)
Charles G. Battig, who now lives in Houston, Texas, has actively studied and written about the climate debate for the last decade.
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