Tuesday, February 28, 2017

An Open Letter to Bill Nye (aka, The Science Guy)

The following email was sent to Bill Nye (The Science Guy) in August 2015. Unfortunately to this day I have still not received a reply.

To: bnsg@billnye.com
Cc: bill.nye@planetary.org
Subject: climate change deniers

Dear Mr. Nye,

I appreciate your efforts to promote science and make it popular. However, as someone who has studied atmospheric science for the past 30+ years I feel your use of the phrase "climate change denier" is entirely inappropriate. Please read my reasoning below.

1) The 97% consensus of climate scientists is very specific and only pertains to the earth getting warmer the past 50 years partly as a result of the burning of fossil fuels. Climate change is a huge field, and there are a host of hot-button issues that are definitely not settled and are up for debate. These include the following:
  • Whether there will be stronger and more frequent hurricanes & tornadoes. Contrary to popular belief there is no observational evidence that warmer temperatures will lead to an increase in extreme storms. It's even stated as such in the IPCC reports that there is no link.
  • Whether there will be greater incidences of severe drought. So far observational evidence shows no change over time despite a huge increase of CO2.
  • Whether there will be more extreme precipitation events. So far, observations show no significant trend in precipitation extremes.
  • Whether there will be food shortages & global hunger. So far, crop yields have increased substantially despite the increase of CO2 & temperature.
  • How much warming will occur in the future. So far, climate models have over-predicted the actual amount of warming by a factor of three on independent data.
  • Whether there will be mass extinctions.
  • Whether we are currently at the optimal temperature of the Earth.
  • Exactly how to reduce CO2 emissions without causing other environmental issues or economic strain.
To state that the science is settled regarding climate change is as ridiculous as saying that astronomy is settled. There are not 97% of climate scientists who agree that there will be more tornadoes, for example. Those who refuse to recognize the fact that there is no consensus on numerous aspects of climate change and desire to kill any further debate on them (while at the same time ridiculing the opposition as "deniers") are actually the ones squashing the scientific process.

2) While I admit there are those who erroneously reject the observation that the earth has gotten warmer, on the other side of the spectrum there are extreme activists in the climate change community who continue to issue their own apocalyptic predictions that are outside mainstream opinion. For example, James Hansen (former NASA climate scientist) once predicted in 1989 that New York City will be under water by 2020. He also said in 2009 that we only have 4 years to act on climate change or we'll have passed a tipping point. Now he is predicting that some coastal cities will only have a few more decades of habitability. One peer-reviewed publication predicted that 25% of all species will be extinct by 2050 because of global warming. In 2000, climatologist David Viner said in a few years winter snowfall will become a very rare event, and of course Al Gore predicted 20-foot sea level increases in the "near future".

The media loves the hype too as these extreme views seem to get plenty of press coverage, especially after a significant weather event. However, to think that such outlandish & irresponsible predictions represent some scientific consensus view and can not be challenged without the risk of being labelled as a "denier of science" is absurd. Should those extreme views be given a free pass without contest or equal press coverage? Of course not, and in these cases the challengers are not science deniers, but rather junk science deniers which is a good thing as it preserves scientific integrity.

3) Lastly, the phrase "climate change denier" is completely void of meaning, unless "climate" and "change" are pre-defined. For example, which aspect of climate is being denied? Temperature? Precipitation? Drought? Hurricane frequency? Also, what change is being denied? Past observed changes? Predicted future change from climate models? Predicted future change from extreme activists? What magnitude of change is being denied? Only the portion from human causes or the combination of human + natural variation? The need for specifics is important, and blanket statements like "climate change denier" are hollow.

I hope you will consider these points and refrain from further use of the "D" word in the future.

Bob Vislocky

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