Reg and Syd: Aurora Borealis

“Welcome back, Reg. The club seemed empty without you holding court in your regular spot.”

“Thank you, Syd. But it was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up.”

“Something in the Middle East?”

“Straightforward arms deals. I left that to Simon, he’s capable. No, I took the private jet and headed north. Took in the northern lights.”

“They have been spectacular, I hear, though with our winter weather being all too typically cloudy and rainy, no way we’d ever find out about it. But I didn’t think they would interest you. I’ve never known you to go in for natural phenomena. Some au naturel ones, maybe …”

“I’ll introduce you to Danielle sometime. When we aren’t, ah, busy. As for the auroras, I thought it’d be worth my while to observe what we’re investing in.”

“Investing in the northern lights?”

Energy, my dear Syd. Energy. Specifically, energy from the Sun that causes the northern lights, and also causes the atmosphere to heat up. It’s the Sun that’s in charge of global warming, and that takes the wind out of the sails of the carbon-dioxide nuts and their assault on our profits.”

“But I thought the scientists had proven that changes in the Sun’s energy did not account for global warming?”

“Tut tut, Syd. Didn’t you know, nothing’s “proven” in science? The scientists themselves will tell you that. It’s all about balance of evidence, and the longer we can keep people thinking about that balance, the better for us. There’s always a scientist or two out there who thinks he’s smarter than the rest. A few thousands sent in his direction, and we keep them all busy arguing for years. Meanwhile, the businesses that the nuts would shut down if they could keep going, strong and profitable.”

“I suppose that’s how come there’s news items about the current worldwide aurora displays everywhere you look.”

“Indeed. What people can see, they will believe. And I make sure that people see. A small outlay for big returns. That’s business smarts, the kind of smarts that really matters. You don’t see any of those AGW scientists who are members here, now do you?”

“No, indeed not.”

*     *     *     *     *     *     

Some scientists have proposed that previously unknown natural causes could be responsible for global warming, such as a decrease in cloud-producing galactic cosmic rays. Others have proposed that the climate may be responding to the heat-trapping effects of carbon dioxide by producing more clouds, which reflect away sunlight and offset the added heat-trapping gases.

These theories have little support among actively publishing climate scientists. Despite public belief that climate scientists are divided about the human contribution to our changing climate, polling data show high agreement among climate scientists that humans are significantly affecting the climate. A 2008 poll of actively publishing climate scientists found that 97% said yes to the question, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”

In my personal experience interacting with climate scientists, I have found near-universal support for this position. For example, I am confident that all 23 climate scientists and meteorologists whom I am personally acquainted with at the University of Michigan’s Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Science would agree that “human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures.”

It is good that we have scientists skeptical of the prevailing consensus challenging it, though, because that is how scientific progress is made. It may be that one of the scientists making these challenges will turn out to be the next Einstein or Galileo, and overthrow the conventional scientific wisdom on climate change. But Einsteins and Galileos don’t come along very often. The history of science is littered with tens of thousands of discredited scientific papers that challenged the accepted scientific consensus and lost.

If we rely on hopes that the next Einstein or Galileo will successfully overthrow the current scientific consensus on climate change, we are making a high-stakes, low-probability-of-success gamble on the future of civilization. The richest and most powerful corporations in world history, the oil companies, have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to push us to take this gamble, and their efforts have been very successful. Advertising works, particularly when your competition has little money to spend to oppose you.

               – Dr. Jeff Masters, 27 January 2012

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