Professor: Skeptics of Man-made Climate Change Aren't a Fringe Group
For nearly 20 years George Taylor, former Oregon State professor of climatology, has been one of the more vocal skeptics of man-made climate change.
Like other climatologists, such as Patrick J. Michaels in Virginia, Taylor lost his title as a “State Climatologist” in 2007 after refusing to jump onto the man-made climate change wagon. Taylor was also actively involved with the American Association of State Climatologists, which ran afoul of the U.S. Congress and lost funding for not going along with climate alarmists.
When asked once by a reporter whether the Earth's temperatures would be warmer or colder in 5,000 years, Taylor pointed out that by that time we'd be headed back toward the next ice age.
“It will almost certainly be colder,” he explained.
That was the sort of politically incorrect answer that has gotten Taylor in trouble with the man-made climate change crowd for years. About three years ago Taylor, now 63, left his post as Oregon State University professor and is now a private-sector climatology consultant.
Capitol Confidential interviewed Taylor via telephone on Aug. 1. The following are excerpts from that interview.
CC. There are those who describe climatologists who don't believe in man-made climate change as being on the fringe. Is that true?
“Absolutely not. It's very much in the mainstream now. There are many, many climatologists who are skeptical about it (man-made climate change). I don't know if it's more than 50 percent or not. But in science that really doesn't matter. Science has nothing to do with who has a consensus or a majority.
CC. That's true about science but not politics and this has all become very political hasn't it?
Yes, it has. By the way, I'm a minimalist. I do believe that human activity might affect the climate a small amount, but whatever that is it's vastly overshadowed by natural forces. There are many, many people who feel like I do.
I'd be willing to change my mind if the science indicated that I should. But the science doesn't suggest that.
CC. Is it frustrating to deal with the way climatologists like you are characterized by some segments of the news media?
“Yes; very frustrating. As a scientist my job is to give an accurate assessment. In return I was getting back a lot of personal attacks – even ones that tried to impugn my integrity. They've claimed that I'm working for the oil companies and all sorts of things. OK, if you don't happen to agree with me then say so but to resort to these personal attacks . . . Then Ellen Goodman said (in 2007) that global warming deniers were on par with Holocaust deniers. It was unbelievable.”
“I guess it's like an attorney friend of mine says: 'if the law is on your side pound on the law - if the facts are on your side, pound on the facts – if the facts aren't on your side, pound on the table.' So the other side pounds the table. But I have to say that now, as more and more people have been willing to say they agree with my point of view, I feel a lot more comfortable about it.”
CC. The various charts that show the history of climate change over the past 2,000 to 3,000 years; is there much dispute about them? Don't they all show basically the same history of changes – the spike of the Medieval Warm period and the Little Ice Age we've been climbing out of?
“They'd show that about a thousand years ago it was a lot warmer than it is now. That was the Medieval Warming period. Then around the 1300s it started to cool as the Little Ice Age began.
“But I guess we'd have to say this was all still in dispute. Michael Mann came along and drew the Hockey Stick graph for Al Gore, which completely changed modern climate history. It didn't have the Medieval Warming period or the Little Ice Age on it.
“He used tree rings and proxies to support this. Of course this goes against almost every other piece of historical evidence.”
(Note: Taylor is referring to Dr. Michael Mann of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Massachusetts and his contentious chart. Click here for more information.)
CC. Aside from the scientific evidence, wasn't there also direct historical evidence of the Medieval Warming period, such as the Viking expansions, written evidence from that time and art from that period?
“Yes, there are those examples, such as the Vikings settling in Greenland, which shows how much warmer it was back then. And there were no internal combustion engines to blame the warmer temperatures on.”
CC. Do you think most people in your audience are even aware of this historical context?
“What do you mean by my audience?”
CC. The people you talk with or to whom you make presentations.
“For the most part my audience is made up of intelligent lay people. My experience has been that usually they see it from my perspective. But as Richard Lindzen has pointed out, a lot of very smart people believe in man-made global warming. My experience has been that a lot of very smart people buy into it but most normal people don't.”
(Note: Dr. Richard Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. For more click here.)
CC. To what do you attribute that?
“When I say real smart people, I'm referring to people like university professors and so on. I think they tend to buy into it because generally they're liberals who look to government action to address problems. Meanwhile the average, normal person is likely to be a little more conservative. Ultimately, I think that's what makes the difference.”
CC. When climatologists write about man-made climate change, they often pay lip service to it - saying how important continued studies are and so on. However, looking closely, often they don't come out and say whether or not they actually subscribe to the theory. Are there really that many who believe in it, or has there been an effort to make it appear that more believe in it than actually do?
“I absolutely believe that is one of the things the other side has done. They trot out agencies like the American Meteorological Society. I'm a member of that society, but a small group within that society came up with a statement supporting the other side. None of this is science. It's all aimed at the court of public opinion, which has nothing to do with science.
“So it all ends up being very political. Now I believe in conservation. Real conservation is always good. I ride a bicycle and I believe there are many things we can do in terms of conservation that make sense. But what I see more and more is these climate claims being used to justify insidious changes in energy policy. Some of these changes could have huge negative effects.”
CC. Another observation about stories claiming “70 percent of climatologists believe in man-made climate change” etc., is that the headlines might say “climatologists” but in the stories often only refer to “environmental scientists.” What's an environmental scientist?
“Basically, I'd say they are people who have gone through environmental or ecological programs. I would consider it very soft science, as opposed to studies like meteorology, which is a hard science where you need to have to learn applied calculus and so on.”
CC. Do environmental scientists conduct experiments?
“I really doubt that they do.”
CC. Would you consider sedimentology to be a hard science?
“I'm not sure. I presume they'd need to have a degree in geology, so I'd say yes.”
CC. In Michigan about a decade ago environmental groups were claiming lake levels were falling in a manner that wasn't normal. This actually resulted in legislation. At the time the leading Great Lakes lake level expert, Todd Thompson, senior scientist and sedimentologist at the University of Indiana-Bloomington, claimed the levels were exactly where they should have been, based on an overall 38-41 year cycle that could be traced back to beginning of the Great Lakes system. He even predicted that high (not low) water levels would be the problem by 2016. As the water levels have been rising, the issue has quieted down.
“I did something similar. In the 1990s there were claims that we'd seen the last of the snowpack in the mountains out here. I said it was about a 45-year cycle and things would change. Now the snowpack has been piling up and I'm glad I said what I did in the 1990s. It feels awfully good to be vindicated.”
CC. Are you upbeat about eventually being proven right about doubting man-made climate change?
“In the end I believe the evidence will show that I was right.”
CC. But will that be enough. Even if the evidence supports you, that doesn't mean the politics of the issue would automatically change.
“I think the truth is coming out. Whether or not people choose to believe the truth is something I can't do anything about.”
CC. To what extent did you feel like you were standing alone in resisting the man-made climate change theory back in the 1990s?
“It was difficult. I knew that many of my colleagues at the Association of State Climatologists agreed with me. But many of them wouldn't say anything because they were worried about losing their jobs or just plain having their professional lives made difficult. Frankly there's a lot more money supporting the other side. Things would be easier if you just go along with them.”
CC. “You'd say that now there's a lot more money supporting the man-made climate change side of the issue than there is on the side of the skeptics?
“Oh yes, it's been that way for a long time.”
Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.