Scientist Cool to Global Warming

Professor Richard Lindzen
Professor Richard Lindzen


MIT Professor Richard Lindzen, recently on the cover of the Weekly Standard magazine, has risen in opposition to the global warming movement, also known as climate change, and the alarming conclusions drawn from it.

In his gadfly role, the longtime Newton resident has stood  apart from many of his scientific peers and most of the public. Global warming is taught as dogma in local schools, where students, like those in Cambridge, participate in national contests to educate the public to climate change.

Al Gore’s movie on the subject was believed by millions. In response, government programs have poured an estimated $70 billion into the study of climate change and the encouragement of green energy. The government underwrote the solar panel company Solyndra, which failed, at a loss of hundreds of millions. As for Lindzen's fellow scientists, the large amount of grant money for supporting catastrophic warming may undermine neutral inquiry.

The message of catastrophic climate change cannot be escaped, even on the subway. The MBTA recently carried advertisements against those  who disagree on climate change, identified as reality-denying ostriches. With a $2.2 million National Science Foundation grant, the posters show Ozzie the ostrich missing the message, “So, climate change is real. What does it mean for Boston?”

After an especially cold and white winter – in one week 49 states were snow-covered – the public may be more inclined to listen to Richard Lindzen. His research shows that rather than getting warmer -- New England as a tropical rain forest -- our climate is experiencing normal variations in temperature.  Although there are years when it rains more or less, as TV weather men and women remind us, most years adhere to averages. We are in a warming trend, Lindzen acknowledges, but it will fit into an average, given time.

One of his favorite targets is the so-called hockey stick chart, dramatic evidence of a warming climate. As Bruins fans know, the blade is perpendicular to the stick. In the chart, the handle stands for the average temperature for hundreds of years, fairly constant until it reaches the blade of the last few centuries. At the 19th, the blade moves up abruptly with no end in sight.

What coincides with this upward arc of temperature? Industrialization and its dependence upon the burning of fossil fuels. Out of  exhaust pipes and factory stacks come plumes of carbon dioxide. Greenhouse gases, especially CO2, contribute to temperature rise.

A longer handle to cover more time, such as back to medieval and Roman history, would show the spike in present day temperatures more as a bump than an angle – and smaller than the medieval rise in temperature. Medieval times had a warming trend, with vineyards in England and perhaps as far north as Greenland.

This period was followed by a brief Renaissance ice age, documented, some say, in the allusions to bitter cold in Shakespeare’s plays.  The efforts to downplay the medieval rise in temperature is a suppression of contrary evidence. “The presence of a period warmer than the present,” says Lindzen, “in the absence of any [industrial] greenhouse gases, embarrasses those holding that present warming could only be accounted for by the activities of man.” 


Among his fellow meteorologists, he says, “At least half do not regard global warming theory as implying great danger.” The same cannot be said about the public or the media. A recent USA Today survey has 76% of Americans saying global warming is happening and will seriously harm future generations if nothing is done to stop it.

Moreover, the New York Times and Newsweek have run stories questioning motives of those who deny climate change. In 2007,  Ellen Goodman went so far as to suggest that global warming deniers are similar to those who deny the Holocaust. Lindzen has been called  a paid shill for the coal and oil industry, a charge he says he could refute if he went through “the considerable expense of lawyers and court.”

Regardless, Lindzen has persevered, continuing to write papers and provide interviews. With his colleague Yong-Sang Choi, Lindzen uses the latest satellite radiation measurements to argue that the climate is much less sensitive to increasing greenhouse gases than models suggest. A doubling of the gas, which might take a century, would raise worldwide temperatures not more than one or 1.5 degrees Celsius, “of little significance,” Lindzen writes.

A time for cold, and a time for warmth – it does sound as familiar as Ecclesiastes. Lindzen’s science is at odds with many colleagues because it suggests limits to human influence. With startling ingenuity, man fashions thermometers in satellites to measure weather and the climate, but Nature itself dwarfs our achievements and even our mistakes. The earthquake in Japan of 2011 moved the main island, its land, cities and citizens, eight feet. Religion recognizes our strengths and – just as important -- our limitations. Lindzen’s synagogue is in Newton. 



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