This is my Wed., January 8, 2020 guest op-ed in The Pilot newspaper, as printed:
Column: On Climate Change, Speaker Offered Mostly Misleading Mischief, Hysteria
Here it is as submitted, except with hyperlinked references added:
by Dave Burton
On Dec. 5, I attended the Ruth Pauley Lecture by Prof. Michael Mann, in Southern Pines. I was disappointed to hear him make many misleading claims.
Climate science is so politicized and commercialized that much of what you hear about it is nonsense. For instance, you've heard there's a scientific consensus that CO2 helps warm the planet, and that's true. But do you realize there's no consensus that it's harmful?
But Prof. Mann didn't say that. Instead, he fanned the flames of irrational climate hysteria, by blaming a litany of problems on climate change, none of them supported by evidence. By the end, I half expected him to blame the heartbreak of psoriasis on climate change.
The best evidence is that manmade climate change is modest and benign, and CO2 emissions are beneficial, for both mankind and nature. I'm one of over 30,000 American scientists who signed a “petition” attesting to that fact.
CO2 is “plant food!” All plants and animals are “carbon-based life,” and the carbon comes from CO2. That's why commercial greenhouses use “CO2 generators” to raise CO2 levels, about eight times more than outdoor levels have increased. Extra CO2 makes plants much healthier and more productive.
When I was young there were often terrible famines, in places like Bangladesh. Until recently, famine was one of the great scourges of humanity, the third Horseman of the Apocalypse.
But famines have become rare, and CO2 is one of the reasons. CO2 emissions have improved global crop yields about 20%, and mitigated drought impacts. Now Bangladesh and India have food gluts, every year!
CO2's harms are just hypothetical, and mostly implausible. But the benefits have been known to science for over a century, and measured by thousands of studies. In 1920, Scientific American even called CO2 “precious air fertilizer.”
CO2 does have a modest warming effect, but mostly at frigid high latitudes, and it's not harmful. We could get at most a little over one additional degree Celsius of warming by 2100. That's like moving about 70 miles south. Farmers could fully compensate by planting a week earlier, and benefit from a slightly longer growing season.
Prof. Mann blamed hurricanes on climate change, but hurricanes, tornadoes and typhoons haven't worsened. America's worst and deadliest storm was the Galveston hurricane of 1900, and North Carolina's worst was Hazel, in 1954. In fact, searching the scientific literature finds titles like, “Recent decrease in typhoon destructive potential,” and the frequency of strong tornadoes has sharply declined.
Mann blamed sea-level rise on climate change, but coastal sea-level trends haven't detectably changed since the 1920s. He even blamed Tangier Island's sea-level rise on climate change, though he surely knows their problem is subsidence.
Mann also blamed droughts on climate change, but droughts haven't worsened, and drought impacts have declined. America's worst drought was the 1930s “dust bowl.” NASA satellites show the Earth is “greening,” especially in arid regions, and National Geographic reported that even “the Sahara desert and surrounding regions are greening.”
Mann even blamed forest fires on global warming. But the worst & deadliest wildfire in American history was in chilly Wisconsin, in October, 1871. Fire trends are driven mostly by land management practices, not climate, and NASA's MODIS satellite instruments have measured a 25% global decline in annual acreage burned from 2003 to 2019.
Mann attributed pushback against climate alarmism to stupid Republicans and evil fossil fuel companies. But it actually comes mostly from scientists like President Obama's Undersecretary for Science, Dr. Steve Koonin, who examined the evidence and discovered the truth.
Mann even hinted that the Climategate scandal was unjustified persecution. It was actually the worst scientific scandal since Piltdown Man, and the revelations about Mann's own scientific malpractice shocked me. (Canadian Prof. Tim Ball's reaction was that Mann belonged in the “state pen, not Penn State;” Mann recently lost a defamation lawsuit against Prof. Ball, over that remark.)
CO2 emissions are harmless, but there are things we should do for energy security. NCSU has a top-five nuclear engineering program, rated better than any California school. We should support that work, and encourage development of innovative nuclear power technologies, like thorium, and molten-salt reactors, for reliable, affordable base-load power generation, to free the world from its reliance on fossil fuels – which wind and solar energy can never do.
David Burton is a member of the CO2 Coalition, an IPCC Expert Reviewer,
an NC-20 board member and science advisor, and creator of the SeaLevel.info web site.
He lives in Cary.
109 Black Bear Ct, Cary, NC 27513
These are my notes from Prof. Mann's lecture, and a copy of the letter that I distributed to attendees that evening: