Hysteria’s History

Pacific Research | Amy Kaleita and Gregory R. Forbes | September 21, 2007

Environmentalist alarmism from Rachel Carson to Al Gore.

Hysteria’s History

Remember my point that global warming follows a stream of thought I labelled as secular apocalypticism? I came across this paper today that charts environmental hysteria of the last handful of decades. It opens as a pdf file.

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37 thoughts on “Hysteria’s History”

  1. Just one thing to say: This author claims that Dune by Frank Herbert is a piece of propaganda about how Earth will become a desert. Has he actually read the books? I can tell you that “environmentalism” is not the point of the Dune books. Rather, greed, scarcity of resources, and the power of ideology are the main concepts in the Dune series.

  2. Dean, good question — having read all the Dune novels myself, I asked the authors the same thing when I reviewed the draft. (Full disclosure: I work for the Pacific Research Institute.) It turns out that Frank Herbert did, in fact, explicitly state that the desertification of Arrakis was intended as a metaphor for Earth’s own putative fate.

  3. Joshua writes: “It turns out that Frank Herbert did, in fact, explicitly state that the desertification of Arrakis was intended as a metaphor for Earth’s own putative fate.”

    As with Dean, I read the book too, and I don’t think the average reader would come away with the idea that it is in any way environmental “propaganda” as stated in the article.

    The article makes some good points, many of which were discussed here some time ago. But the article seems to downplay the legitimate role of environmental projections and predictions, describing them as “hysteria.”

    For example, the article says that

    Some hysteria was understandable during the 1940s and ’50s. America had suffered its worst productivity disaster, the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, and images of dust clouding the sun as far east as Washington, D.C., were still vivid in the public memory. The Dust Bowl was a wake-up call that spurred farmers to take greater care in their agricultural practices. Profit and surplus today are worthless if the land is underproductive or even unusable tomorrow.

    Because the farmers heeded that call, the Dust Bowl, far from dooming the
    country to famine and desert, demonstrated the ability of man to learn,
    progress, and overcome. The once-feared desert lands of the North American Great Plains have long since returned to productivity. Indeed, they are some of the most productive agricultural lands in the world.

    I would argue that “understandable hysteria” is not really hysteria. especially when it leads to constructive private and governmental action.

    Likewise with the concept of “peak oil.” The article states that in 2006 estimated total oil reserves were around 1300 billion gallons (they mean barrels.) I believe this figure in 2007 is 1317 billion barrels. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, worldwide consumption in 2004 was 83 million barrels per day (30.3 billion per year) and growing to 118 million barrels per day (43 billion per year).
    http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/ieo/oil.html

    That is an average annual increase in consumption of around 1.36 percent per year. Applying that to the 1317 billion barrels gives us oil that meets consumption needs until 2039, or 32 more years.

    But let’s say that we’re wrong about the reserves. Let’s say that the reserves are really TWICE what we think, or 2634 billion barrels. Applying the increasing rate of consumption to that figure gives us a resources that meets consumption until 2062, or 55 years.

    Note that the doubling of the resources only buys us 23 additional years. This is because when you have exponential growth in the consumption of a finite resource, the starting quantity of the resource doesn’t matter that much. If we TRIPLE the reserves, then the resources meets consumption until 2079, 17 more years than the doubled figure. (You can work all this out for yourself in an Excel spreadsheet in a few minutes.)

    Of course you never actually “run out” of oil. What happens is that oil becomes increasingly expensive to the point that a lot of the demand simply gets priced out of the market. This in turn causes various other severe economic and social disruptions.

    Given these numbers, I would hardly categorize peak oil as a kind of “hysteria.” The idea in the article is that new energy sources somehow saves us. But it’s not clear what those are, and the clock is running. People talk a lot about hydrogen. But hydrogen isn’t an energy source; it’s a battery, so to speak, in that it takes more energy to produce hydrogen than what it gives back. Ethanol is also proposed, but I don’t think there is enough farm land in the U.S. to grow the corn that would be required to replace oil. Nuclear power is an option, but currently it provides only a small percentage of what is currently consumed. To replace much of oil-based energy with nuclear would probably require the construction of hundreds of nuclear plants around the country.

    Nonetheless the article ends the discussion of energy on a happy note. In its criticism of environmental “hysteria,” it fails to note that there are two manifestations of hysteria — excessive fear AND manic happiness. Remember nuclear power that would be “too cheap to meter?”

  4. Environmentalists guilty of hysteria? Perhaps a lttle, but this is rich coming from the same people who were thoroughly conned by the claims of the Neoconservatives about Iraq and bought into the Bush administration’s fabrications (lies) about weapons of mass destruction without hesitation.

    At least environmentalism isn’t responsible for the deaths of 3,700 American servicemen, or the spending of a half a trillion dollars in taxpayers money on an unneccessary, mismanaged, futtile war, a.k.a, down a rathole.

    Today, we have crazy Dick Cheney and his neo-convervative flying monkeys pushing more propaganda trying to forment a war with Iran, and American conservatives are eagerly buying that snake oil as well.

  5. It is not a digression to question the track-record and qualifications of my acusers who call me an alarmist and victim of hysteria. My views on global warming are informed by the findings of the world’s top scientists and climatologists. I can go to the web site of any US government agency dealing with science and climate and find data confirming the association between man-made carbon emissions and temperature change.

    My accusers, on the other hand are the same people who have espouse such nonsensical, idiotic and discredited concepts, as supply-side economics and Islamo-fascism. These are the same people who believed that a man who spent most of his life as a mean-spirited drunk and failed businessman would make a fantastic President of the United States. My accusers are the same people who thought gay marriage was the most important issue in the 2004 presidential campaign, and not how to end a war that was sending 90 young men a month home from Iraq in caskets. My accusers ideas on foreign policy have resulted the United States’s reputation in the world falling from that of one of the respected to one of the most loathed and despised. My accusers economic philosophy has resulted in the transformation of a federal budget surplus into a trillion dollars in additional debt for our children and grandchildren to pay off.

    I would say that my accusers need to examine their own track-record and learn to be a little more circumspect before accusing other people of being victims of dangerous hysterias.

  6. Dean S, to be blunt, you burst upon this blog spewing spittle-filled tirades against our President. You have contiuned to throw non-sequitur after non-sequitur wrapped in the same spittle combined with often irrelevant quotes from somewhere on the ‘net. Ideological skreed followed by ideological skreed “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”

  7. Mr. Scourtes #7:

    “My accusers, on the other hand are the same people who have espouse such nonsensical, idiotic and discredited concepts, as supply-side economics and Islamo-fascism.”

    And you cite the Ecumenical Patriarch’s statement that humans cause earthquakes? So far you have not said he is incorrect. Anything from anyone who agrees with you goes, I guess.

    Whether supply-side economics and the Islamofascist threat are idiotic and discredited concepts is something reasonable people can and do debate. Furthermore, not all people who criticize global warming fanaticism fall on the same side of those two issues. But humans causing earthquakes? What kind of argument is that, Mr. Scourtes?

  8. Dean S., just because we may agree in some of the opinions of certain individuals, does not mean that we share all of their vices and virtues. We are not hive insects who all think alike.

    As for “environmentalism” not responsible for 3,700 dead Americans: Yes, this is true, it is not responsible for these certain Americans. However, what about the lives of honest, hard-working people that ran businesses that were affected by eco-terrorism? Have not many people been affected this either directly or indirectly?

  9. I’m not sure there’s much value in setting against one another comparative (and putative) evils such as, say, the Iraq war versus the misapplication of environmentalist sentiment. It says more about the person doing it than either topic.

    Be this as it may, yes, honest people may disagree on the subject at hand: namely, environmentalist “hysteria.”

  10. Well, if I may respond to two specific quotes, and at the risk of seeming quite the shill for my own organization:

    First: “My views on global warming are informed by the findings of the world’s top scientists and climatologists.”

    Some of them, perhaps. But is there consensus? Not quite in the way you might think. May I urge you to watch our endearingly low-budget documentary on this topic? It’s entitled “An Inconvenient Truth — Or a Convenient Fiction?” and it’s watchable online for free at aconvenientfiction.com.

    Second: “I can go to the web site of any US government agency dealing with science and climate and find data confirming the association between man-made carbon emissions and temperature change.”

    Not quite! For over a decade now, the Pacific Research Institute has issued an annual Index of Leading Environmental Indicators — it’s available in its entirety at pacificresearch.org — that purposefully uses only “official” USG and UN data. The conclusions from that data are, to say the least, not exactly concurrent with conventional wisdom.

    It’s quite all right to have opinions at odds with what we espouse — as noted, honest people may disagree — but you owe it to yourself to look at all the facts, especially on matters of such import.

  11. I’m not sure there’s much value in setting against one another comparative (and putative) evils such as, say, the Iraq war versus the misapplication of environmentalist sentiment. It says more about the person doing it than either topic.

    I always liked “zen” questions, like:

    “Who is better, Einstein or Beethoven”

    ….;)

  12. D. George – Of course Global warming doesn’t cause earthquakes. That was a bit of hyperbole by somebody writing press releases for ther Patriarch. But go ahead, take that nit you picked and get as much mileage out of it as you can.

    Speaking of hyperbole, I noticed you let pass Christopher’s remark that globbal warming would be a positive development because we will be able to grow crops in the far northern latitudes. Well the Russians and Caniadian might, we here in the USA will be dealing with drought, forest-fires, hurricanes and salt-water contamination of low-lying coastal agricultural areas.

  13. Joshua – How objective do you expect research to be that is funded by industries that have a financial interest in weak environmental regulation?

  14. I once had an elected officeholder — I won’t say who — demand to know how much she could trust a think tank that took money from corporations and wealthy people. My answer: as much as we could trust elected officials who take money from corporations and wealthy people. Sadly, unless you’re a desert ascetic, we all need funding in life.

    In direct answer to your question: as it’s my job to enforce the “wall of separation” between our donors and our scholars, I expect it to be rigorously objective. (NB: as we’re a 501c3 nonprofit, our finances are public record, so you may verify that we only get about 20% of our donations from corporate sources.) That said, I hardly expect you to take my word for it — which is why I invite you to peruse the publications for yourself!

  15. Well the Russians and Caniadian might, we here in the USA will be dealing with drought, forest-fires, hurricanes and salt-water contamination of low-lying coastal agricultural areas.

    Liar.

  16. It is a widespread fallacy that academics do not not have any financial motivations that underlie the positions they espouse and the research they pursue. The truth is that for all but the very-well established scientist, careers are made by obtaining funding from the government – period. And it is political relevance that makes the government loosen the purse strings.

    Am I claiming that academic scientists would exaggerate a problem to secure funding, or would keep silent when their colleagues exaggerate so as not to upset the gravy train? Absolutely. Anyone who has spent even a month or so in graduate school and witnessed the funding scramble would concur. It’s no conincidence that the global warming realists – called “deniers” by the warmers – are senior scientists with established reputations who are relatively free of the pressures of obtaining funding. It’s also no wonder that some of them do work for the utilities and oil companies. Where else can they get money to pursue their ideas?

    I’ve also seen the other side of the issue, i.e. been involved in administering grant money to scientists to pursue research that my company was interested in. I’ve never experienced anything remotely corrupt from either the company or the scientist. No hint of pressure to produce a certain result or any attempt to “buy” a result. In fact, the only difference is that corporate research usually has to pass multiple audits and review by regulatory agencies. Something rarely demanded of purely academic work.

    Climate modeling has gone from an esoteric specialty, practiced by about 20 or so academics in the US and Europe, to a multi-billion dollar “industry” in just 10-15 years. This “industry” would evaporate overnight if a string of cool years came along, or if the public ever understood how the models are manipulated to get the “right” answer.

    So, I don’t buy the notion that research funded by corporations is any more tainted that that funded by government. Too much first-hand experience.

  17. #14 Dean S.

    The award for looney scare mongering goes to the European newspaper that blamed the tsunami of a couple of years back on George Bush. The reasoning?

    1) GWB’s failure to implement Kyoto made global warming worse
    2) This led to higher sea levels from melting ice
    3) The higher sea level caused increased pressure on the ocean floor
    4) The pressure led to the movement of the fault which…
    5) …caused the tsunami
    6) QED

    Of course I am just nit picking. A little hyperbole is a good thing in the service of environmentalism, no?

  18. Good research should be able to stand the scrutiny of peer review. The methodology must be sound. The researchers must clearly identify the explanatory variable(s) and describe how they have controlled for confounding variables. The experimental design must be appropriate and the data gathered must be free of internal and external sampling error. The analysis should report the strength of the association between the independent and dependent variables and/or provide other statistical tests of signifigance to show why the results are meaningful.

    I would be very interested to know if any research paper that has found an absence of a relationship between temperature change and man-made carbon emissions has actually ever been published in an academic and scientific journal where it could be subjected to peer review, and whether it received a positive response from other climatologists.

  19. Our debate echoed elsewhere on the blogosphere. Michael Schrage at the Financial Times agrees with Tom C and the global warming sceptics.

    Science must be more political
    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/457d52e4-6b76-11dc-863b-0000779fd2ac.html

    Science as an enterprise may be objective; scientists as individuals are not. Anyone who has participated in peer reviews or research grant committees knows this. Scientists can be as vulgar, pigheaded and contemptuously dismissive of contrary evidence as any lawyer, civil servant, journalist or elite professional. Indeed, scientists who inject themselves into the white-hot centre of policy debate tend not to be famous for either modesty or understatement. They are, in every meaning of the phrase, “political scientists”.

    Economist Mark Thoma, on the other hand, agrees with the global-warming “warmers” and me.

    Politicizing Science
    http://economistsview.typepad.com/economistsview/2007/09/politicizing-sc.html

    I don’t have any problem at all with an honest debate over the validity of scientific claims used to support a particular policy. I do have a problem with dishonest debate, with distorting what science says to support or oppose a policy.

    Uncertainty will be present in most cases, but the mere presence of uncertainty does not justify inaction. If a broad, though incomplete scientific consensus exists on a particular topic, and if the science implies that we face large costs of one sort or another in the future, precautionary action may still be justified. We can’t just worry about the consequences if the science is wrong. We also need to worry about what might happen if it is right.

  20. Tom C.: I’m Orthodox, so I read this site. I just decided to jump in this thread because I helped put out the referenced study!

  21. Note 23. Dean writes:

    I would be very interested to know if any research paper that has found an absence of a relationship between temperature change and man-made carbon emissions has actually ever been published in an academic and scientific journal where it could be subjected to peer review, and whether it received a positive response from other climatologists.

    I’m not a scientist so I leave a lot of the data grinding to others, but I wonder if your question even makes sense. How can a causal connection be asserted in the absence of quantifiable data? Am I missing your point?

  22. Josh: Thanks for jumping in. I noticed you also write for Spot-On. I’m a big fan of Matthew Holt who covers Health care for that site.

  23. Dean S. re: Note #23:

    Good research should be able to stand the scrutiny of peer review. The methodology must be sound. The researchers must clearly identify the explanatory variable(s) and describe how they have controlled for confounding variables.

    Yes, that’s what we’re waiting to see!! Where is that hard data and peered-reviewed EXPERIMENTS clearly showing that human-caused CO2 CAUSES warming?

    I posted back in June of this year an important research experiment that the scientific community should have done by now.

    If we’re to be convinced that human-generated CO2 is a statistically significant factor in global warming then we need to see scientific experiments and hard data, showing a CAUSAL CONNECTION between CO2 and warming. All we’ve seen so far is opinion pieces, anecdotal information, and computer models with countless assumptions and full of “what if” scenarios that provide wild fluctuations in what’s predicted.

    Here’s yet again the simple experiment that should provide us with that DATA. How many of these studies have been done? Where is the objective and measured data to backup the rhetoric we keep hearing from the “human-caused global warming alarmists”?

    Causal Connection Experiment on CO2 Influence on Air Temperature
    =======================================================
    Step 1 – Create 2 heavily insulated chambers with the same volume of air.

    Step 2 – Place air in Chamber A with concentration of Carbon Dioxide of 280 parts per million at set temperature, pressure and humidity.

    Step 3 – Place air in Chamber B with concentration of Carbon Dioxide of 377.5 parts per million at same set temperature, pressure and humidity as Chamber B.

    Step 4 – Confirm the same starting average temperature of Chamber A and Chamber B to enough significant figures to measure change.

    Step 5 – Shine the same amount of light energy for the same amount of time on both Chambers A and B.

    Step 6 – Monitor and record average temperature in Chambers A and B after the same amount of time has passed.

    Step 7 – Temperature Difference (if any) between Chambers A and B will represent the additional warming caused by the extra CO2 in Chamber B.

    Got it now? Show me the scientific experiments and papers on that and let’s see how much CO2 really contributes to the warming. I’ve been waiting for 3 months for you to find and post this information, papers, or research. I’ll continue to wait….

  24. It’s been a while since I was at Spot-On. Chris Nolan fired me in spring 2006! Ha. But you’re right to like Matthew Holt — he’s a good guy.

  25. #23 Dean S

    There are hundreds of such papers, but dredging them up is a waste of time. This is a media-driven issue, not a scientific-driven issue. Probably no better example than all the current twittering about how ice is declining in the arctic. Yet here is a quote from the latest IPCC summary for policy makers:

    “Antarctic sea ice extent continues to show inter-annual variability and localized changes but no statistically significant average trends, consistent with the lack of warming reflected in atmospheric temperatures averaged across the region.” Furthermore, they note “Current global model studies project that the Antarctic ice sheet will remain too cold for widespread surface melting and is expected to gain in mass due to increased snowfall.”

    So, while the arctic is warming and losing ice, the antarctic is cooling and gaining ice.

    If the media were truly interested in the truth of the matter don’t you think that simple fact would make it into a story or two?

    #28 Chris B.

    It’s much more complicated than you suggest. The earth both absorbs and emits heat energy, the geometries and scales of your test and the earth are vastly different, and warming affects other things like clouds and precipitation which lead to compound effects.

  26. Vaclav Havel, playwrite, former anti-communist dissident and former President of the Czech Republic writes:

    It is also obvious from published research that human activity is a cause of change; we just don’t know how big its contribution is. Is it necessary to know that to the last percentage point, though? By waiting for incontrovertible precision, aren’t we simply wasting time when we could be taking measures that are relatively painless compared to those we would have to adopt after further delays?
    Maybe we should start considering our sojourn on earth as a loan. There can be no doubt that for the past hundred years at least, Europe and the United States have been running up a debt, and now other parts of the world are following their example. Nature is issuing warnings that we must not only stop the debt from growing but start to pay it back. There is little point in asking whether we have borrowed too much or what would happen if we postponed the repayments. Anyone with a mortgage or a bank loan can easily imagine the answer.

    ..I’m skeptical that a problem as complex as climate change can be solved by any single branch of science. Technological measures and regulations are important, but equally important is support for education, ecological training and ethics — a consciousness of the commonality of all living beings and an emphasis on shared responsibility.

    Either we will achieve an awareness of our place in the living and life-giving organism of our planet, or we will face the threat that our evolutionary journey may be set back thousands or even millions of years. That is why we must see this issue as a challenge to behave responsibly and not as a harbinger of the end of the world.

    Our Moral Footprint, By VACLAV HAVEL, Published: September 27, 2007

    http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/27/opinion/27havel.html?ref=opinion

  27. #31 Dean S.

    You might want to read this piece from Vaclav Klaus, who is the current president of the Czech Republic, a professor and scholar of high distinction, and in possession of common sense to boot. He is also able to use the word “dirigistic” in an interview with seeming ease. His take on global warming is quite different than that of his predecessor.

    http://www.klaus.cz/klaus2/asp/clanek.asp?id=denI3ZwlmNcg

  28. Tom: I thought Antarctica was known for its Penguins not Red Herrings, but okay.

    Objection: The Antarctic Ice sheets are actually growing, which would not be happening if Global Warming were real.

    Answer: There is actually very little data about the changes in the mass of the Antarctic ice sheets, and the conclusion of some growth in the East Antarctic ice sheet is so little that with the uncertainty, it might even be shrinking. This is not a surprising phenomenon as such an increase would be the result of increasing precipitation and this is fully consistent with a warming world as the antarctic is a desert and warmer climates tend towards more percipitation. And even if you warmed 10 oC from -50 oC, you would still be accumulating snow, not melting in the rain.

    There is some widespread glacial melting on the Antarctic peninsula and ice shelves are breaking up, but it does indeed appear that the mass balance on ice at the south pole may be positive but negligible. This does not, however contradict the theory of Global Warming in any way whatsoever.

    While on the subject of ice sheets, Greenland is also growing ice in the center for the same reasons described above, but it is melting on the exterior regions, on the whole losing approximately 200 km^3 of ice annually, doubled now from a decade ago. This is a huge amount compared to what the changes may be in the Antarctice, around three orders of magnitude larger. So any potenial gain in total volume of ice on the planet due to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is wiped out many many times over by Greenland’s ice sheet.

    From the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide.
    http://illconsidered.blogspot.com/2006/02/antarctic-ice-is-growing.html

  29. Former Czech President Vaclav Havel once described the economic policies of his successor, Vaclav Klaus as “Gangster Capitalism”.

    Come to think of it, that’s also a good description of the economic policies of George W. Bush and his radical conservative supporters.

  30. #34 Dean S.

    Right. The only problem is that Klaus is a distinguished economist while Havel is a playwrite.

    There you go Jim H. Notice how the Left runs to a softer than soft artist for information on the fairly hard subject of economics.

  31. #34 Dean S.

    You are missing the point. Climate conditions are constantly changing in every region of the world. By highlighting trends in some areas and ignoring trends in other areas the illusion of crisis is created. Greenland is warm now, but it was warmer back in the 30s. The arctic is warm now but the antarctic is cooling. Back in the 20s the newspapers were filled with stories about arctic ice melting, but at that time seals were said to be dying off. I guess polar bears were not considered iconically cute enough back then.

    The real reason that we don’t hear about antarctic cooling is that the climate models all predict dramatic warming at both poles. The earth is not behaving the way the computers want it to.

    BTW, Ross McKitrick, who helped to demolish the hockey stick, came out with a brilliant idea a few months back. His idea is to tax carbon consumption based on the temperature of the troposphere. Every model predicts that CO2 based global warming will dramatically increase the troposphere temperature. So far, that also has not happened. But a tax on consumption tied to this temperature would call the bluff of both parties. If the warmers are so sure it will go up, they will get their punitive tax when it does. If the skeptics are so sure it won’t go up, they will agree to the tax, confident that it will never be implemented. No one has a good reason to oppose it.

    But the real genius of the idea is that now huge industries have a stake in what does happen to the troposphere. So, they will devote serious effort to validating the computer models. The insurance and oil industries would get to the bottom of this much more quickly and accurately than the government scientists since they are efficient at tackling large-scale efforts like this and living with the real-world consequences. This is really the only way to get at the truth of the global warming issue.

    You know, Dean, if some one showed me convincing evidence, I am perfectly willing to be worried about this issue. But so far, the thing walks and talks like a fraud.

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