The American public is increasingly skeptical about specious claims regarding global warming, according to the latest polling this spring by Gallup, Inc.
But don’t think for a second that this skepticism is shared in academia – or in politics. While Gallup reports that “the ranks of skeptics expanded between 2008 and 2010 due to the decline in concern about global warming as documented in Gallup's original trends. In particular, the percentage of Americans believing that global warming is caused by pollution from human activities dropped sharply in 2010,” academics and politicians see this grassroots challenge to their cherished beliefs as nothing short of heresy.
Like the heresy prosecution of Galileo by the Inquisition in the early 17th century -- which Pope John Paul II publicly apologized for, hundreds of years later – those who dare challenge the party line on global warming find their careers threatened. They are also victims of more modern humiliations, like cyber-bullying by others in academia, online gossip, smear campaigns on anonymous, and not so anonymous web sites, and must endure other scorn, as they stand up for what they believe is the scientific truth.
Such is the case of Richard Keen, who earned a doctorate in meteorology and climate science, at the University of Colorado in the late 1970s, and was affiliated with the university, as a scientist and professor, for about 40 years, before retiring at the end of 2010. Keen is the author or co-author of a number of books including Skywatch West: The Complete Weather Guide and The Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Clouds and Storms.
"Hope and (Climate) Change
In remarks this week at the monthly Republican breakfast at Randy’s Grill in Greeley, Colo., titled Hope and (Climate) Change, and in an hour-long telephone interview with LandAndWaterUSA.com, Keen discussed his love of pure research, and his concern that the politics of political correctness is making a mockery of fact-based science.
A regular speaker at the Heartland Institute’s conferences on global climate change, Keen relates that he is not a denier of climate change – as radicals have called him – but simply believes, as a scientist, the data do not add up to demonstrate that mankind is heating up the planet at a threatening pace.
“Half or more of the warming since 1995 may be due to the lack of large volcanic eruptions,” Keen is quoted, as if an apostate, on the progressive Internet site, DeSmog Blog. “The remaining climate change is presumably caused by other forces, such as solar variability, El Nino, Atlantic AMO warming in 1995, lower Albedo and maybe even a little greenhouse gas.”
Keen is also cited by other leftists on another web site called, The Climate Denier List, which seems to be an enemies list put together by would-be leaders of the people’s republic of the United States.
Keen, who is very learned, and witty in conversation, making references to politics, art and science, from this century, the last century, and centuries past, takes all the hate speech from the progressives in stride, but worries that it could impact the careers of young graduate students today who are affiliated with a professor who suddenly falls out of favor with his colleagues for going against the grain. What follows are highlights of the interview with Dr. Keen on Thursday, September 11.
LandAndWaterUSA: What do you make of all of these attacks online and elsewhere?
Keen: I call it climate dysfunction – as it is all so dysfunctional. It’s absurd.
LandAndWaterUSA: Give us an example of the absurdity in this scientific debate.
Keen: Someone recently did a study that indicated that polar bears are losing their virility. That their sexual organs, body parts, are getting smaller, due to pesticides and pollution. That study is a microcosm of the absurdity of it all. How do they know this information about the polar bears? Who measured it? How did they measure it? Why?
LandAndWaterUSA: You talked about this at the meeting in Greeley the other day?
Keen: Yes. It was a 45-minute talk that came out at an hour and a half. I called it Hope and (Climate) Change. I put a slide up with a picture of Bob Hope and a picture of climate change as background, and I talked about how climate change really isn’t changing the climate. Two-tenths of a degree of change is a very small effect. Take 10,000 molecules of air and add just one molecule of CO2. That's what we've done over the past century, and at most it's going to warm things up one or two tenths of a degree.
LandAndWaterUSA: Hard to measure change in the climate that small.
Keen: It is hard to measure. Meteorological thermometers are calibrated to one degree. They don’t measure tenths of a degree. What is more, some thermometers, used for measuring the climate, are next to airports, or other busy hubs of activity. Calculating global temperatures from inaccurate thermometers irregularly scattered across one-third of the planet is something of a fantasy.
LandAndWaterUSA: One of the progressive sites quoted you mentioning the role of volcanoes. Are we talking about "Mt. St. Helens here?"
Keen: No, these are the volcanoes in the Philippines and Mexico. Those were the big ones in recent decades. You need a real whopper to get the particles up into the stratosphere. Since 1995 that part of the atmosphere has been clear, raising the temperature of the ground a tenth of a degree. That's more than half of the total warming of two-tenths of a degree since the 1980s. That leaves very little room for impact of CO2 or sun-spots. At most, CO2 has caused a 10th of a degree of change.
LandAndWaterUSA: Why is science all bent out of shape over this global warming issue? Where did all of this start?
Keen: There are numerous forces pushing this concept in a number of different communities. Some of it goes back to Earth Day and the 1960s and wanting science to be ‘relevant’ and ‘have a purpose.’ It’s hippie speak that got into politics and science and public policy.
LandAndWaterUSA: You were finishing your training during that period.
Keen: Yes, I spent the 1970s getting my PhD. I wanted to study science to find the truth and understand how nature works. But the truth is not good enough for some people. They want to change the world and make a difference – but if the truth doesn’t make a difference it is not what they want to hear. This is a whole cultural mindset that has grown around the globe.
LandAndWaterUSA: Money is involved too.
Keen: Big money. This is Big Science vs. Small Science. This is not like Einstein doing his best work, in his spare time, when he was a patent clerk. He wasn’t getting paid to do what he loved to do. He did it for the love of the work. It’s not like that now. It’s all about government (and other) grant funding. President Eisenhower, in his 1961 farewell address in which he warned of the "military-industrial complex", also saw the dangers of federal control of science. He remarked that "a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity.", and that "public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite."
Remember also that the members of the National Science Board, National Academy of Sciences, and the head of the National Science Foundation, are presidential appointees.
These aren’t people who are interested in finding climate and weather patterns to help airplanes fly safely across the globe or save lives by forecasting tornadoes.
This is science for hire, being paid by political organizations.
LandAndWaterUSA: Big Science started with the Manhattan Project during World War II.
Keen: And it grew during the 1950s. That’s when NASA was formed.
LandAndWaterUSA: And it continues to grow.
Keen: I used to go to climate workshops and there were only 20 climatologists there. Not many people were in the business! Just a bunch of eggheads in dimly lit offices. But that changed when the charter changed. When the funders started asking scientists to study the human impact on climate – it’s a different question than say, studying the climate. So they started looking for answers, datapoints, to prove that mankind was having an impact on the atmosphere. These aren’t people who are interested in finding climate and weather patterns to help airplanes fly safely across the globe. This is political organization. That’s where the money is, so that’s where the science is.
LandAndWaterUSA: In addition to the public criticism, there have also been personal attacks on you at work, right?
Keen: Some of this is blatantly Orwellian. I was teaching a course in 2007, a climate course along with weather. This was a big class – 200 students. We went through the history of weather. The sweeping epic of billions of years of history. In the entire semester, there were only two class sessions on climate change and global warming. One was the ‘pro’ side. The other was the ‘con’ side. But in academia, balance is considered bias now.
LandAndWaterUSA: Please tell us what you mean.
Keen: Well, on the ‘pro’ day of climate change I had all of the government reports, and flow charts of infrared radiation. That basically follows the party line if you will. But on the ‘con’ day I did an assessment of the data. It doesn’t show that hurricanes are increasing or polar bears are on the decline. The university did not like that! I also showed that the smallest increases in CO2 emissions happened when Republicans, not Democrats, were president. That went over like a lead balloon.
LandAndWaterUSA: And this got around town fast.
Keen: I heard a politician speaking – a fellow who is in Congress now – at a Congressional debate/forum. He was passionate about the environment. I went up to him after the speech and told him that some of the things he said about global warming were factually incorrect.
It was like he had a shot of atropine! His pupils shrank and the wrinkles around his eyes and mouth shrank. He asked me to send the details. Within a week or two, my ‘global warming quiz’ became an issue at the university.
LandAndWaterUSA: What happened?
Keen: It became an issue within my department. They set up an investigative committee and asked me my thoughts on global warming. I said I didn’t see the data confirming it, but was not a zealot against those who thought otherwise. They stopped short of calling me a ‘denier.’ But the secret committee meetings kept happening in the department. They were decrying the ‘inappropriate political content’ in my course. Never mind that some of them had shown Al Gore's movie in their classes.
LandAndWaterUSA: That is very distressing.
Keen: They took the fun out of teaching. A year later I was coming up for a renewal on my contract with the department, but I decided to retire. I gave 30 days notice so I would get my retirement benefits by Jan. 1 of the next year.
LandAndWaterUSA: This happened when?
Keen: Oh, it began in the fall of 2008. Weeks before the Obama election. A year later I was over 64, and it was time anyhow, so I retired.
LandAndWaterUSA: You left before the vote on your contract. How did you think it would have gone had you not retired?
Keen: Well, I was not privy to the discussions. The general sense I was getting was that the faculty members against me were the good old boys who were into government grants. The ones who were supportive of me had come from oppressive countries and really appreciated freedom of thought and discussion. They knew what it was like to deal with repression. They were outsiders.
LandAndWater USA: Did they ever issue a report?
Keen: No report was issued. They had committee meetings. Closed sessions. Nothing was ever released to me and I was affiliated with the university for 40 years, on and off. After retiring I was elected to the title of Instructor Emeritus, which is an honor, so when all was said and done, the faculty appreciated my service.
LandAndWaterUSA: How do you think global warming will play out in the coming years?
Keen: Well, climate change will resolve when the insiders shift to another problem. You may have noticed that Al Gore is now already doing that – moving to another bandwagon. This time it is abuse of antibiotics, and hormones and steroids in animals.