Dr. Christy is the distinguished professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville and he has also served as a lead author on the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview after I read his recent article, titled “Why we argue: Settled science isn’t necessarily so,” which piqued my interest about climate change and motivated me to try and find the truth on the subject.
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Jeremy Beaman: Firstly, please indicate briefly what it means that our climate is changing. How much has it warmed and what is the notable time interval?
Dr. John Christy: The climate system is forever changing, but in the past decade “climate change” is used as shorthand for “human-caused climate change.” The global temperature has warmed a bit in the past 37 years (period of satellite measurements) but not nearly as much as predicted by climate models.
JB: It appears that part of the reason this issue is so complex, and so hotly debated, is that people mean different things when they say “climate change exists.” For example, in saying that, many mean both that the climate is warming and man is the cause. Others mean merely that the climate is warming, and make no claim to its cause. You seem to indicate in your writing and in your research that you recognize the warming trend, but you are skeptical of the premise that man is causing it by burning carbon-based fuels. Is this your position, and can you make any claim, with any level of confidence, to climate change’s cause?
Christy: Because we can find instances in the past of warming and cooling that occurred without the influence of extra greenhouse gases, that is evidence that the current modest warming could be natural. In other words, if you were trying to convict CO2 of the crime of causing warming in the past 37 years, the defense attorney could demonstrate that such events have occurred many times in the past when extra CO2 was not at the crime scene. Therefore a very plausible alternative explanation is readily available to explain the evidence.
JB: I’d like to know how you respond to claims that the scientific community unanimously agrees that climate change exists and is anthropogenic in origin. What are the dissenting opinions, and who holds them?
Christy: Opinion polls are simply that. I base my views on evidence. The basic issue is how much of the recent changes are due to extra greenhouse gases? No one knows and evidence is available for pretty much any opinion you might encounter. One of the main evidences for me is the fact the theory (as embodied in climate models) does not match the real observations. So, the only conclusion one must have is that the theory is deficient and is overestimating the impact of CO2.
JB: Likewise, how do you, as a part of the IPCC, respond to its Climate Change 2014 report that states it is “now 95 percent certain that humans are the main cause of current global warming”?
Christy: I don’t think the evidence backs that claim. See my attached congressional testimony.
JB: In your column, you state “we do not know why these changes [in the climate] occur.” As for the scientists who do recognize humans as the cause for rising temperatures, how do they reach that conclusion? Is it simply by deduction or is there evidence supporting the anthropogenic premise?
Christy: There is a lot of “belief” in that conclusion, not evidence. Scientists are only people, and people believe what they want to believe. When I ask someone with that belief to “prove” their view, they cannot, just as I indicate in the column. If they offer climate model output as proof, I show them that the models have been invalidated by real data. If they start talking about extreme events, I show them the numbers on those (see testimony). In truth, they have no “proof” of their view, only inferences.
JB: How would you suggest that lay citizens, so to speak, who do not have the ability to understand the nuances of the science, approach this issue?
Christy: Be skeptical of doomsayers. We’ve had them throughout history.
JB: Finally, why is this such a partisan issue? How did it become so politicized?
Christy: There is money and belief involved. If you are able to get the government to force people to buy your product, you have great incentive to influence legislation or regulation toward your product, be it wind turbines, solar panels, electric vehicles, etc. Add to this the environmental religionist who believes humans are an infestation on the planet, and you have the makings of a movement. This is explained extremely well in Dick Lindzen’s short video.
The moral issue is incredulous. I’ve lived in Africa. Without energy, life is brutal and short. Those who advocate expensive, intermittent energy are dooming people, especially the poor, to more and more suffering.
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TCC wishes to thank Dr. John Christy for his willingness to speak with Jeremy Beaman and comment on this very important issue.