Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principle 5: Observation on Environmental Issue Stakeholders

This one of a series of background posts for my perception of pragmatic environmentalists.

Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York Principle 5: The more vociferous/louder the claims made by a stakeholder the more likely that the stakeholder is guilty of the same thing. This observation was also described by Gary: “My experience is that the things people complain about loudly are so very frequently the same things of which they also are guilty. The inability to see oneself realistically is a fascinating human trait.”

The poster child for this particular behavior is Dr. Michael Mann, Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science, Penn State University and Director, Penn State Earth System Science Center. On March 29, 2017 he gave testimony before the Committee on Science, Space and Technology that illustrates this phenomenon in three ways.

I prepared a table summarizing Michael Mann testimony with general categories for the contents. There were 26 paragraphs. Dr. Mann used 4 paragraphs to describe his background. Thirteen paragraphs described either “anti-science” attacks on him or Dr. Thomas Karl and his rebuttals to those attacks, two paragraphs attacked other scientists and seven of the 26 paragraphs addressed the science of climate change.

The first example of Principle 5 is the matter of personal attacks which are bad if they directed to him but OK if he is doing the attacking. The majority of his testimony addresses what he characterizes as “anti-science” attacks on him. He notes that “Science critics will therefore often select a single scientist to ridicule, hector, and intimidate.” However, his testimony then ridicules three out of the four individuals at the hearing because they “represent that tiny minority that reject this consensus or downplay its significance”. I think it is reprehensible and clear intimidation to label Dr. Judith Curry as a “climate science denier” equating her views of the consensus on climate change as equivalent to those who deny the Holocaust. He notes “I use the term carefully—reserving it for those who deny the most basic findings of the scientific community, which includes the fact that human activity is substantially or entirely responsible for the large-scale warming we have seen over the past century”.

The second example is the scientific debate on climate change. Dr. Mann invokes the 97% consensus argument that “of scientists publishing in the field have all concluded, based on the evidence, that climate change is real, is human-caused, and is already having adverse impacts on us, our economy, and our planet”.  But then goes on to say “there is indeed a robust, healthy, and respectful debate among scientists when it comes to interpreting data and testing hypotheses”. Obviously no debate is possible interpreting any data or hypotheses that climate change is human-caused. I am also troubled by his lack of qualifiers for what the referenced 97% consensus actually referred to.

The third example is the proper channel for scientific debate. Dr. Mann states “True scientists are skeptics—real skeptics, contesting prevailing paradigms and challenging each other, in the peer-reviewed literature, at scientific meetings, and in seminars—the proper channels for good faith scientific debate.” However, he “proves” that James Hansen famous predictions from the 1980’s and 1990’s were successful by referencing the Real Climate blog. In Congressional testimony he mentions “the huge potential costs if the impacts turn out to be even greater than predicted, something that appears to be the case now with the potential rapid collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet and the increased sea level rise that will come with it.” His citation is a newspaper article “Climate Model Predicts West Antarctic Ice Sheet Could Melt Rapidly” by Justin Gillis, New York Times, March 30, 2016. Two examples of precisely the improper channel he was alluding to in his description of good faith scientific debate.

One final point regarding this testimony. Dr. Mann notes that he coined the term “Serengeti strategy” to characterize his attackers. He describes this as when special interests “single out individual scientists to attack in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd”. He is blissfully unaware that his moral of the story “In numbers there is strength, but individuals are far more vulnerable” may not be the whole story. My impression is that the lions single out the weakest link in the herd: the old, the sick, the young and, dare I say it, the one with the weakest arguments.

Author: rogercaiazza

I am a meteorologist (BS and MS degrees), was certified as a consulting meteorologist and have worked in the air quality industry for over 40 years. Originally I worked for consultants doing air quality modeling work for EPA and then went to work with electric utilities where I was responsible for compliance reporting and analyzed the impact and efficacy of air quality regulations. I retired from working for one utility company full-time in 2010 and then worked part-time for most of the New York utility companies as the Director of an environmental trade association until my full retirement at the end of 2016. Environmental staff in any industry have to be pragmatic balancing risks and benefits and I hope my blog (https://pragmaticenvironmentalistofnewyork.blog/) reflects that outlook. Jokingly our job description is to bring the companies we represent to the table so that they are not on the menu. Any of my comments on the web or posts on my blog are my opinion only. In no way do they reflect the position of any of my past employers or any company I was associated with.

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