Scientists Who Ignore Science Put All in Peril
As one with a classic physical and biological science background, it’s becoming harder and harder to stomach the degree to which a large cohort of degreed scientists are unable to see the trees for the forest and are using their short-sighted vision to guide public policy.
Take manmade climate change. We are repeatedly told that 90+ percent of all scientists agree that climate change is a proven fact, and that man’s activities related to CO2 emissions are the proximate cause of global warming. This body of consensus has precipitated a hysteria of carbon-reduction schemes worldwide.
David Laing, an Earth Systems scientist (Harvard, 1972), elegantly demonstrates in classic scientific-method fashion the impossibility of CO2 being the trigger for increasing global temperatures (https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/10/10/interesting-climate-sensitivity-analysis-do-variations-in-co2-actually-cause-global-significant-warming/).
Laing does not discount the fact of global warming, nor does he claim that man plays no role in it, so calm yourselves. Rather, he demonstrates the probability to a 0.92 correlation (i.e., very high) that what we are presently observing in world temperature increases is due to the depleting effect of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) on ozone, not manmade emissions of CO and CO2.
Further, he demonstrates that the problem is already fixed, via the Montreal Protocol that stopped production of manmade CFCs and became effective in the 1990s. The “hiatus” widely noted in increasing global temperatures since 1990 is fully explained by a combination of the slow decay of CFCs and natural volcanic activity’s effects on the atmosphere.
Or take cow flatulence. California’s regulatory and legislative elites blame cattle digestive systems for burdening the world with CO2, its closely related molecule, carbon monoxide and methane. Blissfully unaware of Laing’s work, they propose massive changes to the detriment of California’s dairy and beef producers.
Again, follow the science by asking yourself what cattle eat. Consider next that their feed — grains, grass and hay — fixed carbon in their plant tissue as they grew, taking it out of circulation in the atmosphere. As cows digest the plant matter after they feed, it ferments and releases that stored CO2, CO and methane.
Note that the cattle don’t manufacture these so-called greenhouse gasses by immaculate creation or any other deus ex machina process. It’s what proper scientists call a zero-sum game. Nothing is added that isn’t already in the system. They can release no more CO2 than their feed contains, and all it contains came from the atmosphere. In short, it’s a cycle.
At best, there is some lag between uptake and output — typically a growing season or two — in which carbon is “sequestered” in bales of hay and grain kernels before being fed to the herd. Left uneaten and plowed under, the sequestered carbon in the grass and grains would release exactly the same amount of carbon as when the cows eat and digest it.
Or take the artificial distinction between water provided by state and federal government to the environment and water used by man.
California’s water system is, for the vast majority of its rivers and streams, a highly engineered creation. A very few free-running rivers, streams and creeks can rightly be called “wild rivers.” The rest are subject to dams, diversions and human management, some dating more than 100 years into the past.
Since the late 1980s, governments have diverted roughly half of the entire developed water supply of California to so-called “environmental” uses.
These environmental uses are many, ranging from adding flows to chill rivers for fish, providing wetlands for habitat and waterfowl, helping migrating salmon, steelhead and other fish with their passage or spawning, blocking salty ocean waters from penetrating deep into the formerly naturally briny Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Estuary or underground aquifers, and artificially maintaining river flows and lake levels when aquifers no longer feed natural springs. Beneficial all.
The environmental-use category also includes river and watershed restoration projects, a concept of remediating impacted rivers in an attempt to newly establish conditions resembling those that were originally found in true wild rivers after decades of manmade impact have changed their characters.
But make no mistake. All of these uses lumped under the “environmental” heading are manmade diversions of natural stream flows, and they are just more moving parts in the highly engineered water system of our state.
The fact that water used for the environment, for fish or wildlife, or for habitat or restoration projects originates in a reservoir and is parceled out over time rather than being allowed to match nature’s cycles of floods and droughts inherently makes it “unnatural,” man-controlled and subject to inquiries about its environment-benefitting attributes.
Can water caught in December and released in August perform the same functions as would have naturally occurred in a river system that formerly flooded every winter and went dry every August? Should man ignore California’s Mediterranean Climate and pretend that our rivers flowed year-round in the recent past?
It’s nonsense. Worse, it’s not built into the evolutionary instincts and genetic code of fish, waterfowl and wildlife dependent for eons on true natural weather and climate patterns. We are confusing them at their peril with our manipulations.
All of the science, tinkering, construction and experiments in the world will not make an engineered river into a natural habitat; the best we can do is approximate an ecosystem that man designed and attempts to implement at risk to the species that inhabit the river. Man bears both risk and responsibility for these actions.
As these three examples demonstrate, public policy and traditional science are on a divergent path. There’s no reason for that split. Ample laws and regulations exist that require California’s and our nation’s public policy and actions to be based on solid science. Yet, in this — the second decade of the 21st Century — we regularly ignore science and follow a ends-justify-the-means mentality or an emotion-based agenda fostered by the loudest voices to dictate our public policy.
This post ends with a cautionary note: Ignore scientific reality at your own peril. Physical laws are not subject to man’s whims. Monkeying with chaotic natural systems — even with the best of intentions — certainly will result in unpredictable and sometimes very uncomfortable outcomes.
Caution rather than boldness should be the order of the day. It’s only proper to make incremental changes, observe and measure carefully the results over sufficient intervals to note all unintended consequences, and then progress if warranted to larger or more significant changes and interventions.
This is exactly the opposite of today’s “We must fix it or we all will die” rush to respond with public policy changes to various hyped crises.