Transcript of Interview by James Corbett of Professor Richard Lindzen,
November 22, 2010, interview. Audio copy available here: http://ielts-yasi.englishlab.net/Nov_22_2010_LINDZEN_INTERVIEW.mp3
Corbett: This is James Corbett of corbettreport.com and climategate.tv. It is the 22nd of November 2010 and today Iím honored to be joined on the line by Richard S. Lindzen, an atmospheric physicist and Professor of Meteorology at M.I.T. He was the lead author of Chapter 7 of the I.P.C.Cís Third Assessment Report on Climate Change and he recently gave testimony before the House Sub-Committee on Science and Technology regarding the topic of, ďA Discussion on Climate ChangeĒ Ö(corrects himself) Ö ďA Rational Discussion on Climate ChangeĒ. Dr. Lindzen, itís a pleasure to have you on. Thank you for joining me today.
Lindzen: Thank you.
Corbett: Well, I wanted to talk about the climate change debate overall but I wanted to use the basis for our discussion the testimony that you recently gave to that House Sub-Committee on Science and Technology, where you started out, I think, with the extremely useful and extremely necessary part of defining what it is exactly that we are talking about when we talk about the ďclimate change debateĒÖ because, as you point out, I think, a lot of laymen donít really understand what is and what is not ďsettledĒ in terms of what the climate change debate is really about. So, perhaps we can start from that point and you can tell us a little bit more about that.
Lindzen: Oh, sure. You know, the Ö even the hearing was trying to deal with Global Warming as though the issue were whether the climate ever changes, or whether there is a Greenhouse Effect, or whether man can contribute something to it. None of that is actually in dispute! There is a Greenhouse Effect, climate always changes. Undoubtedly man can contribute something Ė if the fluttering of a butterflyís wings can contribute something. The question, as always in science, is how much. If manís contribution is very little compared to the normal variability that people experience, then thereís not much point in trying to manipulate it because it wonít make much difference. If our contribution is large compared to normal variations, then there may indeed be something to be concerned (about) or at least interested in. And so, the issue of climate sensitivity is the primary question weíre dealing with. And as I pointed out in the testimony, there are numerous pieces of evidence, some of them quite rigorous, that (show) the current models are greatly exaggerating climate sensitivity, that in reality, itís very modest, and what weíre dealing with is the potential effect over the next century or so of a fraction of a degree and there is no evidence whatever that this is associated with catastrophe.
Corbett: Now, obviously that statement is going to be quite new to a lot of laymen out there who have been following this debate through the media and have come to know the climate change debate from the alarmist perspective. So, how would you go about de-programming someone from that perspective and disillusioning them of that um, Ö those ideas?
Lindzen: Well, you know, itís an interesting question and it depends very much on where you are. In the U.S., or I think in the U.K., or much of Europe, itís already the case that most people are skeptical about whether there is any warming catastrophe on the horizon. You know, the issue has been promoted as something that, if we donít move instantly, the world comes to an end and itís been promoted this way for over twenty years. There is a limit to public patience on this issue. Even the environmental movement is looking for other scare topics to move on to. The question youíre asking really has to do with the, Ö I suppose people who have committed themselves to it and the commitment comes in a variety of flavors. I mean, there are people who are committed to it because they will profit immensely from it. This includes investment banks looking for commissions on carbon trading, alternate energy manufacturers who are looking for subsidies, and so on. There is also a part of the public, a relatively small part, who have adopted it as a personal commitment as a demonstration of their virtue and it's almost a religious issue. Itís very hard to know how you address such people. I mean, you know, itís like any other religious issue, itís no longer objective. One can only hope that with time, and the realization that the climate is always changing but in no way differently from the way it has always changed, interest in the subject will just fade. Thatís happened before.
Corbett: It certainly has. And I think that weíve already seen the beginnings of that, but obviously thereís still quite a bit of public interest in this topic. So letís get down to some of the scientific issues. Could you speak to the issue of climate models and the danger or utility of using such models as a basis for climate science?
Lindzen: (laughs) Well, in general, I think itís not just climate science. But using models, especially models that donít test out very well, to predict long into the future beyond the time-scale for which they function, does not seem wise. I think, in the case of climate models itís almost like appealing to a Ouija board. But, what isnít realized is, the models are quite similar to each other and their agreement on climate sensitivity within a broad range hardly proves anything. It depends on rather delicate feedbacks and primarily on feedbacks from clouds. And even the I.P.C.C. acknowledges that weíre virtually ignorant of clouds and the models do a very bad job on them. So, if you understand how the feedbacks function, you realize that statement is tantamount to the statement that the models cannot be used to predict climate.
Corbett: Thatís exactly right and thatís so important to flesh out for people because I think a lot of people have heard of the idea of the ďtipping pointĒ of, I mean, positive feedbacks but not a lot of people have heard anything about the research into negative feedback.
Lindzen: Well, yeah, even Ö It took me a long time to realize what in the world people might be speaking of with, ďtipping pointsĒ. No-one has ever found any in the climate system and so, I had wondered. But there is a characteristic of feedback systems: If you start out with enough positive feedback, and you add a little more, yes, the system can go off the cliff. Virtually no natural systems behave that way. And if you have negative feedbacks, then the whole system is quite secure. One has to remember, I mean, you know, for instance, looking at the human body, which Al Gore likes to say, you know, ďThe earth is running a feverĒ. Normally, Ö normally, the human body has a thermostat and when your temperature deviates from 98.6 Fahrenheit, it tries to restore it to 98.6. Itís very unusual, or almost unheard of, to have a natural system that, when you perturb it, it tries to make the perturbation worse. That would say the earth system was sick from the origin, 4 Ĺ billion years ago, and it doesnít seem like it would have made it this long if that were true.
Corbett: Well, that is a good point. And I think that thatís something that a lot of people havenít taken the time to consider. And one thing that I think is interesting in the entire climate change debate, which has been anything but rational, I think from my perspective, for the last decade or two. It seems that itís hinged so much on carbon dioxide as the driving force behind the climate, which I think is a pretty untenable position from so many different perspectives. Why do you think thereís so much focus on carbon dioxide, in particular?
Lindzen: Oh. You know, how shall I put it? In many ways, it depends again on the party who youíre talking about. And I think the environmental movement has different considerations from other people. But, for a lot of people, including the bureaucracy in government and the environmental movement, the issue is power. And, you know, itís hard to imagine a better leverage point than carbon dioxide to assume control over a society. I mean, itís essential to the production of energy, itís essential to breathing! Um, itís a point, if you demonize it and gain control over it you, so to speak, control everything. Thatís attractive to people and itís been openly stated for over forty years that, you know, one should try to use this issue for a variety of purposes ranging from North-South redistribution (of wealth) to energy independence to God knows what!
Corbett: Unfortunately, thatís true and now weíre facing another UNFCC conference coming up in Cancun Mexico next month. What do you expect to be coming out of that conference?
Lindzen: What has come out of all the conferences?
Corbett: You tell me.
Lindzen: Nothing. You know, a profound and sincere wish to meet again. I mean, you have to realize, by now you have tens of thousands of people employed in these negotiations in one way or another, reporting on them, lobbying at them, and so on. And, although I donít include myself among them, apparently a lot of people just find it extraordinarily nice to travel to ďwatering spotsĒ every six months or a year and attend these massive meetings.
Corbett: So, would you say youíre ultimately optimistic or pessimistic about the possibility for a rational climate change debate?
Lindzen: Oh, I think the notion that it will be resolved by debate is probably naÔve. Itíll be resolved in the usual way that, you know, the science just keeps building up, that this is a phony issue, and the public loses interest, and the issue goes away, and the funding goes away, and the whole thing just retreats into a footnote in the history of science, although a bizarre one, to be sure.
Corbett: Indeed. Well, Professor Lindzen, Iím very appreciative of your time today so, finally, perhaps you could direct the listeners out there, you know, lay people in the audience and those who have passing acquaintance with the sciences who maybe arenít so involved in climate sciences Ė where can people go for reliable sources of information on this topic?
Lindzen: You know, youíre saying something that is problematic. Youíre saying, you know, ďWhich authority can I trust if I have not bothered to understand the field myself?Ē Thatís always a toughie ícause it is a matter of trust and faith. There was a book many years Ö not so many years ago, letís say ten or twelve years ago by a political scientist, Aaron Wildavsky and the name of the book is, ďBut Is It True?Ē and I think itís still in press with the Harvard University Press. He discusses in detail how a layman can deal with a technical issue. And, itís not easy but it is possible. And, his approach, which is to go to the literature, make the effort to understand it, and so on, certainly beats trusting people.
Corbett: Indeed. Well, a very astute observation. So, on that note, would you like to direct people to your own website?
Lindzen: I donít have Ö well I have a website, which has my articles on it and people can dig through those if they wish. Um, you know, anyone whoís interested can email me. You know, Iíd be glad to email them my testimony or a recent lecture or something like that. And then they can take it from there and look at the scientific literature.
Corbett: Excellent. Well, Professor Richard Lindzen, Iíd like to thank you again for your time today and thank you for all of the rational debate that youíve been attempting to bring to places like the House Sub-Committee on Science and Technology and, I think itís a needed breath of fresh air. So thank you very much for all of your time.
Lindzen: My pleasure. Good luck. Bye-bye.