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Thursday, June 21, 2018


Forty-five years ago Charles Fair, a resident scientist with MIT’s Neuroscience Research Program, published a book titled “The New Nonsense: The End of Rational Consensus.”

In his premise, Fair maintained that over the past 250 years America digressed from an age of reason to an age of sensation. He further contended that our founders embraced reason as a fundamental element of civilized society.

When he wrote “The New Nonsense” in 1974, Fair asserted that the element of reason as a cultural prerequisite was viewed at that time with suspicion and even contempt. The high standard of reason had given way to the intuitive, the emotional, and the gut feeling. Reason atrophied and continues to do so.

Even in an environment of scientific and technical knowledge, rational thinking does not necessarily follow. For example, the US Air Force spent millions studying UFOs attempting to establish evidence of extraterrestrials. Other federal agencies sponsored research projects or awarded huge grants to validate extra sensory perception, ghosts, psi phenomena, witchcraft, and telepathy.

That was forty-five years ago. An update or a sequel to Fair’s book is long overdue. Certainly the subject of manmade global warming would top the list.

Here’s what we know, or think we know, about global warming. First, human activity produces carbon dioxide (CO2) as a result of using different fuels including coal, oil, natural gas, and wood. By the simple biological act of exhaling, human beings contribute to atmospheric CO2.

Second, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere has slowly increased -- slightly. For every 100,000 molecules of air, 38 are CO2 molecules. Mankind is adding about 1% CO2 every 5 years. However, this contribution is variable and not absolute.

Third, CO2 is a greenhouse gas. That means its presence traps infrared radiation in the atmosphere. But, we also know that the weather has a direct and emphatic cooling effect overshadowing the warming effect of CO2. This is part of the natural atmospheric cycle.

We know to some extent the quantity of CO2 humans generate. What we don’t know is the generation of CO2 through climate variability. Without knowing that piece of the puzzle it’s impossible to determine the fractional impact humans contribute to global warming as a whole.

All of this evidence says nothing about the CO2 contributed by volcanos. Such phenomena adds more CO2 the atmosphere in one year than all human activity since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.

One of the more astute observations maintains that nonlinear complex systems like atmosphere, oceanic activity, volcanos, and their effect on climate have stymied attempts to model those systems. Although there is some evidence of worldwide warming by one degree over the last century, that number is spurious at best. Factors such as the so-called “urban heat islands” comprised of metropolitan areas and mal-placed thermometers also cast a shadow of uncertainty.

Drawing conclusions based on models and measurements of dubious reliability is premature at best. Evidence of manmade global warming is not as compelling in the scientific community as media accounts lead us to believe. This opens the door for agenda-driven government policy formulation.

The assertion that man can permanently and irrevocably change the worldwide climate for the worse is a significant departure from rationality. Belief that global warming is caused by man is more a statement of faith than scientific fact. Additionally, the first and only theory of any recent observation seldom survives forever. This is particularly true of the uncertain nature of global warming theory.

This begs the question: Why the pell-mell stampede to invoke state and federal legislation when a hypothesis hasn’t been tested or a rational premise firmly established?

Patience is very much a virtue in the search to replace fossil fuels. Nuclear power and clean coal hold some promise but will take time to replace our current energy-generating capability. Wind energy also holds some promise albeit not especially cost effective. Biofuels are not the panacea once thought and solar energy is still far too inefficient.

If we don’t exercise care in writing government policy, at best we’ll have measures that make us feel good and glorify some politicians while doing irreparable damage to our economic environment. For all of this, we’ll be no closer to reducing CO2 emissions.

Beyond the science and policy formation, confusion is compounded in a more sinister way. Many researchers are naively unaware that they have become pawns in a political power game in which mankind is the presumed enemy of the environment.

P.T. Barnum rightly observed, “A sucker is born every minute.”

I wonder if Charles Fair might have met P.T. Barnum?


Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at (JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).



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