Proof: Part 1

The figure above is the first exhibit in a new memorial to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp where I spent two years between 1943 and 1945 (see my previous blog for relevance).

It shows the superimposition of two aerial photographs, showing the camp “then” and “now,” to try to convince the skeptics that the camp was in the same place. The rest of the exhibition tries to document the atrocities that took place in the camp through testimonies of survivors, detailed documentation that was kept by the perpetrators and the various artifacts that were associated with the period. The aerial photographs are there to “prove” that all of this is real. Deniers have an impact – there are not many Holocaust deniers around, but the availability of modern communication tools amplifies their voice. A significant fraction of the extensive Holocaust teaching that takes place is targeted at a response.  Sixty-seven years have passed since I was liberated by the American army at Farsleben.  Simple arithmetic indicates that almost all the survivors today were children during the Holocaust, and our numbers are dwindling. Denying the Holocaust today, with all the available factual information, requires denying of all of history. There is no question that the deniers deserve their label.

But most of our history is based on flimsier evidence, and climate change deniers like to say that using scientific “theories” to explain climate change is not really “proof.”  We use scientific theories all the time to explain phenomena that we know exist but can’t readily “see” –  like gravity, for example.  We know gravity exists because we can feel its effects; we can also see climate change’s effects, but the deniers continue to insist it isn’t really proof.

Examples of this refusal to use scientific theories and current climate change evidence abound, unfortunately.

A student of mine at Brooklyn College in a general education course on Energy Use and Climate Change forwarded to me a letter that was published in the on-line publication Business Insider (April 11, 2012). The letter was signed by 49 former NASA employees that included seven Apollo astronauts and two former directors of NASA’s Johnson Space Center calling NASA to move away from climate model predictions and to limit its stance to what can be “empirically proven.” The letter specifically targets James Hansen – Director of NASA Goddard Institute (GISS) (Hansen and the GISS have been acting as the “the canary in the coal mine,” warning, for years, about the consequences of relying on fossil fuels as our main source of energy.) The letter states that, “We believe the claims by NASA and GISS, that man-made carbon dioxide is having a catastrophic impact on global climate change are not substantiated.”  The reason for the doubt includes that.”NASA is relying too heavily on complex climate models that have proven scientifically inadequate in predicting climate only one or two decades in advance” and that “There’s a concern that if it turns out that CO2 is not a major cause of climate change, NASA will have put the reputation of NASA, NASA’s current and former employees, and even the very reputation of science itself at risk of public ridicule and distrust.” This is backwards; it’s the letter that should be held up to public ridicule.

A recent program on Discovery Channel – “Frozen Planet” – shows beautiful photography of the clearly melting poles, disruptions to the life cycle of penguins, and the misery of polar bears trying to cope with the unseasonal melting of their environments. Unbelievably, the reason – the scientific reason – for these changes is not being discussed. Why the omission? The program’s producer (reported by Brian Stelter in the NYT, April 21 2012), is quoted as saying that “including scientific theories would have undermined the strength of an objective documentary, and would then have become utilized by people with political agenda.  I feel that we are trying to educate mass audiences and get children involved, and we didn’t want people saying don’t watch this show because it has a slant on ‘climate change.'”  How can this program, which shows such devastating scenes, fail to mention the probable mechanism for the destruction and science supporting it?  And how does refusal to mention “scientific theories” qualify as education?  What’s going on here?

Consequences of man-made changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere result in changes in our energy balance with the sun that leads to climate change. This is “simple” physics that doesn’t need sophisticated computer work. Future impact is always uncertain.

But, if the climate change deniers have their way, by the time that we find out “for certain” whether the IPCC, NASA, GISS, the World-Bank, NSF and other credible organizations that issue detailed reports about the consequences of climate change, are right in every detail, most of the people who are now discussing these issues will be dead. Our children and grandchildren will live to face the consequences. Business -as-usual- scenarios have a high probability of leading to major disruptions that will lead to loss of life on a global scale -a self-inflicted genocide (see my first blog for a Webster definition).

We know what needs to be done to lower the probability of such consequences. We also know how long such a transition will take. Ignoring the issue for the reasons that the Discovery Channel producer used will lead to very dangerous, expensive and unnecessary inaction.

More on this in Part 2.

About climatechangefork

Micha Tomkiewicz, Ph.D., is a professor of physics in the Department of Physics, Brooklyn College, the City University of New York. He is also a professor of physics and chemistry in the School for Graduate Studies of the City University of New York. In addition, he is the founding-director of the Environmental Studies Program at Brooklyn College as well as director of the Electrochemistry Institute at that same institution.
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62 Responses to Proof: Part 1

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  17. Truthseeker says:

    No one denies climate change. Climate always changes. It always has and it always will.

    What has not been proven or even supported by any actual observable evidence is that humans are having any measurable effect on the climate. What has not been proven or even supported by any actual observable evidence is that a slight rise in temperature is anything other than beneficial to everyone.

    Why did the “message” change from “global warming” to “climate change”? It changed because the satellite data shows no statistical significant warming for over 15 years. Also, since the climate is always changing, there is always something to be alarmist about to try and use guilt to make a money grab.

    Using the term “denier” is a purely political and self-serving attempt to demonise any one who you disagree with. You wouldn’t know good science if it got up an bit you on the nose.

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  20. Moishe says:

    Professor, do you know what Godwin’s law is?

    Comparing climate change to the Shoah is a very dangerous thing. Holocaust denial is based on an emotional hatred for Jews; challenging the so-called phenomenon of climate change is based on science and facts.

    Why are you trying to stifle dissent by comparing climate-change-deniers to holocaust deniers? Why does a scientist need to resort to emotion and name-calling? Why does a scientist who claims to have the facts on the side need to demonize the opposition?

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  23. climate hawk says:

    They are not challenging science. They’re systematically and knowingly generating false statements for the purpose of lying about the science. Big difference.

    The science is settled and people who claim the contrary aren’t duly qualified experts in the field. The aggregate of duly qualified experts in a field are the ones who adjudicate what is and is not valid science. That and the system of reputable peer reviewed journals is how science is done. That’s what science is and that’s where the scientific debate regarding greenhouse gases played out for the past one hundred years.

    If no one invited you, that’s because you’re not qualified and no one, quite rightly, cares what you think.

    It is completely normal science for a very small minority of scientists to remain skeptical despite overwhelming evidence against their skepticism and their own inability to formulate a competing a theory which explains the phenomena and which their peers find convincing.

    So in the case of AIDS, we still have researchers who deny that the HIV virus causes AIDS. In the case of evolution, we have a small cadre of scientists who deny that. In the case of the age of the earth, there are a small number of geologists who will assert that the earth is only 5000 years old.

    These scientists are not engaged in a real scientific debate any more than I am engaged in a real debate if I claim the sky is purple and not blue. A debate isn’t over when every single person with a baseless theory concedes they’re wrong. A debate is over when the vast majority of scientists who are duly qualified experts in the field agree that it’s over.

    The trifling possibility that things could be some way other than they appear to be is always with us. We do not make policy or law around such possibilities. I cannot go into a court room and claim that I killed you because moments before I did no, you turned into a dragon and charged me. Courts deal with that kind of crap all the time, ‘and science deals with all kinds of crackpots all the time.

    The mythical lone-scientist who stands for truth against his peers and the mass of humanity who are too timid to truly question the received wisdom of the day is just that- a myth. Galileo was not fighting against science, he was fighting against an irrational belief system called the Catholic Church. Now science has the upper hand in society and heroic truth tellers being suppressed are not being suppressed by the scientific community, they’re from the scientific community being hounded and harassed and prosecuted by the likes of the AG of Virginia Ken Cucinelli or the yellow journalistic sources like Forbes or the Wall Street Journal or Rush Limbaugh none of whom know jack shit about science.

    The science is settled. The last remaining of the duly qualified deniers, Richard Lindzen has given up denying that man made climate change is real and also a potential civilization deconstructor and has instead asserted that clouds will change their formation in response to man made climate change and repel enough energy from the sun back into space to keep things relatively stable.

    The only problem is, no one believes him and his inability to answer the theory destroying criticisms coming from his peers has meant that his papers are being rejected for publication in serious peer reviewed journals, which has led him in turn to go venue-hunting for a place to publish.

    Hounding after applause opportunities means nothing in science if you can’t answer your fully qualified peer critics and when you’re reduced to speaking engagements at denial-generating think tanks and luncheons, you’re pretty well done in your field.

    So deniers don’t decide when the science is settled, the majority of scientists do. That’s how science is done, just the same way as everything in the world else gets done and decided. If one day a new theory emerges that the world really is 5000 years old and that theory wins over critics then that will be interesting . But such theories have to account for ‘the mountain of overwhelming evidence against them. If they’re unable to achieve that high bar, then the people espousing those theories are not doing science, they’re just talking for some other reason.

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  46. Marco says:

    MarkM, have you ever tried to challenge your own beliefs? If you did, you probably did not do a very good job, because none of the original data is lost. The temperature data is kept by the original data owners, the National Meteorological Services, and for a large part even available online. The paleodata is also available at the original data owners (or online).

    Let’s start here and see if you can take in inconvenient information, before any of us try to point out the mistakes in the rest of your post.

  47. Marco says:

    I’d say that challenging theories is fine, but do so without making so many stupid mistakes, obvious confirmation bias, and make testable predictions.

    I, for one, am not an AGW believer. With whole my heart I wish it was wrong. But the evidence keeps on dragging me kicking and screaming to continuing verification that AGW is real, and that it will have highly undesirable consequences.

  48. Mark M. says:

    Shameful comparison really.

    The problem is not, as you blithely characterize, the ‘poor’ polar bears, who have never been more numerous, and who swim up to 300 miles, hence their name, Ursus Maritimus, or the penguins who only live at THE SOUTH POLE, where the ice pack has been growing for the past 10 years, not shrinking as you claim.

    You’re problem is with applying the scientific method, namely the lack of REPEATABLE EXPERIMENTS THAT PRODUCE CONSISTENT DATA. As East Anglia CRU leaks 1 & 2 prove beyond any reasonable denial, the original data is either lost or inconsistently scrubbed. The heavily massaged data samples that E.A. CRU still has are highly suspect, being both out of sync with actual temperature measurements of the last 150 years, and extremely difficult to reproduce despite multiple attempts by friendly scientists that admit as much in their emails. Several speak of multiple attempts before achieving the goal. That is not the scientific method, and an honest scientist would have published EACH AND EVERY ONE OF THEIR FAILURES so that others could evaluate what they got “right” and what they got “wrong”. The ‘models’, which were passed off as ‘experiments’, were SECRET and PROPRIETARY. How does one repeat an experiment which is secret? The reviewers that were allowed into the inner sanctum are obviously biased, even to the point of whining that their critics might only use the evidence to actually disprove their pet theories.

    None of this is in keeping with the scientific method. Peer review among like minded friends is not synonymous with repeat-ability at large: I’m sure there were phrenologists that peer reviewed each other’s work. Proprietary, secret software programs written by software amateurs are not the same as experimentation: First, the secrecy precludes finding the mistakes in the model by software professionals. How do we know they are amateurs? Professionals use source code versioning, which preserves all changes in both the code and the data for posterity, and they don’t structure their code so poorly that an intern has to gripe about how hard it is to decipher what is going on despite a year or more of trying to use what is after all a highly readable form of source.

    Real scientists publish everything involved in their decision, including things which might color their perception or be used against their conclusions. That’s called professional integrity, and these “scientists” at East Anglia and Michael Mann of Penn State repeatedly admitted in these emails that they do not have any.

    There is a name for such a phenomenon, coined by a world renown scientist. If anyone hasn’t read it, I encourage you to read the speech in which he coined the term, as it is a bracing reminder of the difference between science and the trappings of science:
    Richard Feynman’s 1974 Caltech Commencement Address

  49. Toby says:

    I’m with Holly Stick.

    Denial is form of avoidance. Holocaust deniers cannot confront their own anti-semitism. Evolution deniers cannot deal with our descent from a lower order of life. Climate science deniers cannot face the apalling vista of unpalatable actions that will have to take place to mitigate or avert it.

    Easier to argue about the decimal places of climate sensitivity, and accuse scientists of malfeasance, than deal with unpleasant realities. Once again – get over it!

  50. Holly Stick says:

    Wow, I wonder where all these commenters came from? It seems to me that if people deny the Holocaust took place you can call them Holocaust deniers, and if other people deny something else against the available evidence, then you can call them other kinds of deniers. Someone who refuses to accept the evidence for evolution could be called an evolution denier, and someone who refuses to accept the evidence for AGW can be called an AGW denier. Nobody owns the word “denier”: it is merely a description of a kind of behaviour. Get over it.

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  52. Barry Woods says:

    The evidence for the Holocaust is overwhelming..

    I’m like any parent, concerned for my childrens future..

    Especially, one where rhetoric,like denier is casually used to deny people a voice. As an example..

    The environmentalist,Mark Lynas, was recently called a chernobyl death denier!

    For thinking nuclear power must be considered as part of a solution to climates change..

    By the same sort of people that would call Willis a denier..

    Mark also critised the IPCC renewables report for a blantant conflict of interest, and said then he too was a denier like Steve Mcintyre.

    The irony here being, Mark a few years ago made a very similar comparison with respect to Holocaust denial and man made catastrophic climate change sceptics

  53. Willis Eschenbach says:

    Professor, by your use of “denier” in reference to one side in a scientific dispute, you are cheapening and denigrating the term. I implore you to please restrict its use to Holocaust denial, because if you use it for a scientific debate, it will lead to it being used for any kind of disagreement.

    The existence of the Holocaust is beyond dispute because of both physical and eyewitness evidence, including testimony from members of my own family. A “denier”, reasonably, is someone who denies that mountain of physical and other evidence.

    In the realm of climate, however, there are a number of people who are trying to ram their ideology down everyone’s throats with very little evidence of any kind. On the other side there are folks like myself who, for a host of what we see as valid scientific reasons, don’t accept that ideology.

    For you to use the term “denier” to describe people like myself is a great mistake. It is a mistake because it does not apply, and it angrifies my blood mightily to be called that by someone who should know better. But that’s not the main issue. more importantly, it means that when you next use the term “denier” to refer to those who deny the Holocaust, it will no longer have any weight, because you have debased the currency by using it both trivially and incorrectly.

    Please, I invite you to reconsider your cheapening of the term, and to disavow its use in a scientific debate. There is no place for that term in science. Let your use of “denier” be reserved for those who deserve the term, those who deny the Holocaust.

    Because I can assure you, although I am one of the people you are describing, the term “denier” does not apply to me, not in a thousand years.


  54. ironargonaut says:

    I have a theory on climate. My theory is it gets warmer in the northern hemisphere due to man. From roughly April to Sept it is warmer than the rest of the year. During this time period humans wear less cltohing causing it to heat up. Using your standard of proof, since I can feel and see it get warmer as my theory proposes it is afact.
    If you deny this fact than you must be no different than a holocaust denier.
    So, I ask you is my theory a fact? Or are you claiming it is not really “proof” just like the climate change deniers?

  55. B-737 says:

    I’m absolutely convinced of the historical veracity of the Holocaust. My father told me his own stories late in life (he was a combat infantryman in the ETO) about encountering newly liberated concentration camp inmates wandering around Germany seeking food and shelter during the last days of the war and after VE Day.

    But long before that, my own study of history had convinced me that only a fool (or a charlatan) would ever claim that the Holocaust never happened.

    Climate change is a horse of a different color. I’ve been a pilot for almost 40 years (major U.S. airline and corporate), have an engineering dgree and have had extensive training in advanced mathematics, thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, heat transfer, meteorology and atmospheric physics. I view the matter through the prism of my education, professional training and the experience of many thousands of hours of flight time recorded over a period of several decades.

    I’ve studied this issue extensively for many years, keep up with the literature and have listened with an open mind to both sides of the debate. My conclusion is that the climate is indeed changing and human activities definitely do influence the climate. But so do many other natural factors, including some that we currently appear to know very little about (cosmic rays, for example). I have also concluded that there has been a great deal of alarmist exaggeration about the threat of climate change, the rate at which it is occurring and the means available to humanity to influence the climate. Jim Hansen’s catastrophist screed in today’s New York Times is an excellent example of what I’m talking about.

    The Climategate E-mail revelations (I’ve read them) have also done nothing to improve my confidence in the objectivity of many climate scientists. It is perfectly obvious to any neutral observer that many climate scientists have become overzealous advocates for a cause they deeply believe in. Careers, reputations and research grants are at stake. Their corrupting influences are plain. Many individuals with climate science pedigrees can no longer claim to be dispassionate analysts of the scientific evidence.

    I find efforts to suppress debate about this issue profoundly disgusting, as do most people who love and respect science and the power of the scientific method. Equating well-meaning people who hold legitimate, well informed and skeptical views about the causes and effects of climate change with lunatics that deny the Holocaust is disgusting beyond words. It is the same kind of repulsive smear tactic that the Nazis themselves often used against dissent. It has no place in science and no place in America.

    Holocaust deniers are rightly regarded as kooks. The reason, of course, is because of the overwhelming weight of documented evidence on the side of the truth. If AGW advocates ever hope to convince an increasingly skeptical public of the truth of their arguments, the first thing they must do is reject and condemn the use of the type of smear tactic embodied in this piece. The second thing they need must do is concentrate on building a far more convincing case for their claims. That includes engaging in a meaningful debate with scientific skeptics, not calling them names and equating them with lunatics.

  56. Arno Arrak says:

    Professor Tomkiewicz, you are mixing apples and oranges when you draw parallels between concentration camps and climate change. Holocaust deniers are driven by remnants of Nazi ideology that tries to suppress all information unfavorable to them. But you are wrong to accuse climate change “deniers” as you call them of using holocaust denier tactics. Exactly the opposite is true: it is the climate change establishment that is using these Nazi tactics to demonize your the “deniers” and you have fallen for that. They use unfounded accusations of being bought off by Big Oil, they prevent their scientific work from being published by control of print media, they hound their personal lives by listing them on such outrageous web sites as DeSmogBlog, and they publish phony information about past climate to make their dogma look good. How would you like it if as a physicist you suddenly found that major physics journals will no longer accept any of your papers because you got yourself blacklisted by that gang? It has come to this with scientists who are considered opponents of global warming dogma. You complain that the “Frozen Planet” documentary by the Discovery Channel did not include your global warming propaganda by stating that “Unbelievably, the reason – the scientific reason – for these changes is not being discussed. Why the omission?” I enjoyed the program very much and I salute them for keeping a documentary a documentary and not a propaganda piece. I actually doubt that you have any idea of what these “scientific reasons” are that were not discussed so allow me to fill you in on what is going on in the Arctic. We all have heard of Greenland glaciers melting. polar bears in trouble, the Northwest passage opening and so forth. They are all cited as proofs that anthropogenic global warming is real. Unfortunately that is totally false. It turns out that Arctic warming is a fairly recent thing, having started at the turn of the twentieth century. Before that there was nothing but a linear, slow cooling for two thousand years. So how come that it suddenly started to warm at that point? The rate of warming was close to half a degree per decade, quite high. The warming paused in mid-century for thirty years, then resumed, and is still going strong. As a physicist you should appreciate that a sudden warming requires an equally sudden cause. If this was greenhouse warming laws of radiative transfer require that there had to be a parallel, sudden increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide to account for it. Unfortunately this did not happen – carbon dioxide took no notice of the change of centuries. The only other possible way to bring warmth north is by means of ocean currents and this is very probably what happened. Most likely a rearrangement of the North Atlantic current system at the turn of the century started bringing warm Gulf Stream water north. It is easy to see that the warming pause in mid-century could be caused by a temporary return of the previous flow pattern of currents. It is impossible for greenhouse warming to act that way. In a confirmatory way, a scientific cruise into the Arctic in 2010 confirmed that the water temperature of currents reaching the Arctic now is higher than anything for the last two thousand years. This means that none of the observations of Arctic warming can count as evidence for the existence of anthropogenic global warming. As a matter of fact I cannot think of any recent warming that qualifies for that, can you?

  57. Alec Rawls says:

    I find it amazing that someone who spent two years in Bergen-Belsen would liken denial of the holocaust to scientific disagreement over facts that he is so glaringly ignorant of. Professor Tomkiewicz betrays no hint of awareness that there are COMPETING theories of what caused 20th century warming. Only one of these theories is supported by the “empirical evidence” that Tomkiewicz thinks we should not be too concerned about, and it isn’t the CO2-warming theory.

    A very brief history of solar-magnetic activity and temperature, starting in 1610 when Galileo first started counting sunspots:

    The Maunder Minimum (virtually no sunspots from 1645-1715), coincided with the bottom of the little ice age, then as solar activity sprang back up, temperatures warmed rapidly until 1800.

    The Dalton Minimum of solar activity in the early 1800’s coincided with a substantial dip in global temperature.

    The less severe solar lull of 1900 coincided with a less severe dip in global temperature.

    The Modern Maximum of solar activity, an 80-year “grand maximum” that began in the early 1920s, coincided with 20th century warming.

    The brevity of the observed sunspot record makes this part of the evidence for a solar-magnetic driver of climate anecdotal, but the evidence has expanded dramatically, especially in the last 15 years, as scientists have figured out how to use cosmogenic isotopes from geologic archives to reconstruct solar activity going back many thousands of years. Comparing to temperature proxies, literally dozens of careful empirical studies have found a very high degree of correlation — from .4 to .7 — between solar activity and global temperature. That is, solar activity “explains,” in the statistical sense, 40-80% of past temperature change. (See the second section at my link for a list of 2 dozen such studies, and there are MANY more.)

    But the IPCC refuses to account ANY of this evidence. It does not even appear in IPCC reports. Instead, the reports express their discontent with the theories that have been offered of the mechanism by which solar activity could be affecting climate, and use this as an excuse to not even report the now overwhelming evidence that there is SOME such mechanism at work. I thoroughly documented this “omitted variable fraud” in my expert review of the first draft of AR5 (at my link), and I invite Dr. Tomkiewicz to examine this expose for himself.

    In an exact inversion of the scientific method, the IPCC is using theory (their dissatisfaction with the theories of how solar activity could affect climate) as a rationale for dismissing the evidence for a solar driver of climate. Pure, definitional, anti-science. There is indeed a massive cover-up of known facts going on, but it isn’t being perpetrated by the people Tomkiewicz is accusing. It is being done by the CO2-alarmists who he is supporting. If he really understands that systematic evasion and suppression of the facts is a bad thing, I’d like to hear from him. (alec at rawls dot org)

  58. jim karlock says:

    What actual evidence convinced you that man’s CO2 is causing dangerous global warming?

    And we both know that correlation is not proof of causation, that weather is extremely variable with little ice ages and Medieval, Roman, Egyptian warm periods being warmer than today, that Al Gore’s ice cores actually show temperature leading CO2 by about 800 years and Al’s hockey stick was fatally flawed by misapplied math.


  59. geronimo says:

    Professor, it’s a shame that you should sink to the level of comparing people who challenge scientific theories with those who deny the holocaust. Denial of the holocaust is denial of readily available historic records and is based on the hatred of Jews. Challenging scientific theories is the very basis of science, that there aren’t more scientists challenging the CAGW prognostications is a result of the type of behaviour the Nazis indulged in in silencing their critics. That you can’t see the parallels is dispiriting.

  60. TexCIS says:

    We’re already practicing “self-inflicted genocide” . . . it’s called abortion. Sixty million and counting, in the U.S. alone.

  61. Denial is one thing, stupidity is an altogether different animal. In the case of the climate deniers, it must be a case of pure selfishness or yea… no brains. If anyone takes a careful look at the global warming possibilities, it would make sense to plan for the worst. Where it concerns big business that is allergic to climate change, they need to seek, discover and exploit the new ventures that global warming will unveil. The seemingly inevitable warming of our climate needs to be approached from a win-win perspective, rather than how it is presently being seen from the eyes of winners or losers.

  62. Wyo says:

    You are so right. The “do nothing” attitude of those who say there is no climate change attributable to our own actions will result in potential catastrophe. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of those deniers are hooked into the right wing of this country and others.

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