American climatologist Patrick J. Michaels is among the most renowned critics of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In this interview, he is explaining why most scientists get the numbers wrong on climate change and what happens to those who refuse to join the apocalyptic gospel.
Invite Patrick J. Michaels to speak at a university, and you will likely have some students up in arms, demonstrating. Given his detailed knowledge of the matter, he is one of the foremost adversaries of the climate movement. For 27 years, Michaels, a biologist with a Ph.D. in ecological climatology, was the State Climatologist in the State of Virginia. He was also President of the Association of US State Climatologists.
In 2007, after several decades at the institution, Patrick J. Michaels was ejected from the University of Virginia. Jokingly, he says that he inherited from his mother the gift to give compelling speeches in public, which gave rise to his second career as a private academic. Until the end of last year, he was in charge of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank in Washington DC.
At our interview in Washington, we experience Professor Michaels as a calm and humorous gentleman, constantly referring to numbers, research papers and facts. On this day, even the weather gods seem to agree with him: In mid-May, the US capital is unusually chilly at about 10 degrees Celsius.
We had a pretty rough summer in Europe and the US last year. How is the next summer going to be?
No one knows. ln North America, jet stream seems to be anchored coming in from the northwest toward the eastern part of the country which would mean what you see out the window: far below normal temperatures with a lot of precipitation.
There is an impression that the weather is getting more extreme from year to year.
That's a problem. Because of all the publicity around this issue, people inflate weather events with climate.
What is wrong about that?
Surface temperature of the planet is little under a degree warmer then it was around the year 1900. We are at what I would call a warm stand of temperature. lf you've had an upward trend like this and you superimpose an El Niño event upon that - El Nino releases heat from the tropical Pacific - it's going to spike a very high temperature. You'll show record temperatures and conclude that temperatures are up near the top. But that's only true if our climate records are really reliable.
Are they not?
They only go back to the late 19th century so enough to make global averages. The surprise is actually how little it has warmed compared to what computer models say should be happening.
What do the models say?
The United Nations has 32 different families of them, totaling l think 106 single models. The average sensitivity of temperature to a doubling of carbon dioxide in those models from the late 19th century background...
280 part per million air particles...
Yes, from 280 to 560 - we are at 405 now - is about 3.4 degrees Celsius. But it's quite apparent if you look at the behavior of those models that that's too high. Interestingly enough, of those 32 families, there's one that works. lt is the Russian model. They are looking at probably the most climatically important region of the world which is the tropical lower atmosphere. That's where almost all the moisture that falls globally originates.
What is better about the Russian model?
All these models are run in forecast mode. We can put them into forecast mode, say, when the satellite starts measuring temperatures from 1979. Then you look how good the forecasts fit the measured changes in temperature. And the Russian model just does the best job. Now, if we were following best scientific practice, we would be using the Russian model for policy. Every day, a weather forecaster has a choice from about eight different forecasters. They don't take the output of all the models and average them up and say, "This is what the forecast is going to be." But that's what the United Nations IPCC is doing with climate models.
You mentioned that the atmosphere warmed just about 0.8 degrees in the last century.
There are two warming periods in the 20th century. One begins around 1910 and ends around 1945 and the slope of that warming is about the same as the next warming that occurred beginning in 1976 and either ending around the year 2000 with a pause or continuing on in a very modest way.
What happened around 2000?
There were about 60 different discussions of this in various papers in referring literature, which tells me: lf there are 60 different causes, we don't have a clue what the cause was.
What are the UN climate scientists worried about, then?
This is the way science works when it's not working really well: we change the data. They just took high latitude land data and then extended it out over the Arctic Ocean. This puts more warming in the data that would likely be there because the Arctic is evolving very rapidly. That put the warming trend back in the data where there wasn't any. I was a modeler way back in the day. I know how you play around with the parameters to get things to fit right
What does science really know about the causation between CO2 and the climate?
In October of 2016, Science magazine published a report that was breathtaking in its implications, written by a guy from the Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory at Princeton. He concluded that all the models have been tuned - in other words, parameterized - to simulate the warming of the climate of the 2Oth century. That includes that first warming from 1910 to 1945, of about half a degree Celsius. ln 1910, the concentration was only about 298 parts per million against the background of 279 parts per million. lf you got half a degree Celsius of warming or increasing the carbon dioxide by 20 parts per million, we should be so hot right now that we wouldn't be discussing this issue. lt turns out that the models have a large number of tunable parameters. By playing around with carbon dioxide and other emissions that go into the air, you could tune the models to get both of those warmings. You're probably going to make them way too sensitive to CO2.
Given that, how does one get to the idea that temperatures could increase faster from now?
The increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide is a low order exponent. The response of temperature to carbon dioxide is a logarithm, so it's a concentration that goes up and up and up. The additional amount of warming that you get is less and less. You are getting something like a straight line. Now, a constant rate of warming would be the characteristic of the models, not the glib statements of warming is occurring at an increasing rate. lf warming's occurring at an increasing rate, then the IPCC doesn't even have the mathematical functional form of the warming right. To get another curve to fit that data since 1976, it was not a straight line, you'd have to have probably a polynomial sixth order or something like that and there's no justification for that.
Let's say in the long run the atmosphere is warming at a constant rate of x.
Yes. lf you run a tram through it, it's a straight. There's a wonderful illustration not in the current IPCC report, but in the penultimate one, 2007, when they plotted out all the models that they were using in that one and put an average line in them. You can see that actually, each one of the models is linear. They just have different slopes. lf you take best scientific practice, using the Russian INM-CM4 model, and if u use a hypothesis that you can entertain - meaning that it should be a straight line - it works out to about 1.6 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century.
Why don't we adopt this answer?
Because it kills the issue. People have adapted to eight tenths of a degree of warming over the last 120 years. In the societies that you and I live in, since the year 1900, life expectancy basically has doubled. Per capita wealth in the United States has increased eleven-fold. I'm sure it's about tenfold or eight-fold in Europe. I'm not saying warming caused that but it sure as heck didn't stop it. Remember that the warming in the early 20th-century couldn't have been caused by CO2. We hadn't put enough in the air. That is a measure of the natural background variability.
ls there any greenhouse warming?
Carbon dioxide-induced warming is not a net increase in the temperature of the Earth atmosphere system. The only way you do that, have a net increase, is to somehow change the amount of solar radiation. lf you warm the surface layers or the troposphere, let's say under 10 miles orsomething like that, you're going to have to cool something above there. What cools is stratosphere. Guess what? As the surface began to warm, in the late 1960s, the lower stratosphere began to cool. That's a signature of Greenhouse warming. The question is not whether it warms from CO2. lt's how much it warms.
The policy from the Paris agreement now is to make sure warming stays under 1.5 degree Celsius as compared to the late 19th century.
There's this craziness about the 1.5 degree threshold. With all due respect, you have a half a degree left to get there. We are going to get there. You can't stop it and to say that a doubling of life expectancy or an eleven-fold increase in wealth, for another half a degree, is just going to turn around. That's childish. The problem is that we have created a global industry.
ln which sense?
We have, I think unfortunately, wedded ourselves to technologies that aren't very good at producing reliable electricity. How good is solar energy when the sun is beneath the horizon half the time? How good is wind when the wind doesn't blow half the time? Or often blows so hard you have to feather the turbine?
It's a bet on scientific progress that there might be some form of storage of these energies in the future.
I hate to say it, that's been said to be around the corner ever since I was around. There's this myth that this massive storage technology is just about there. People don't realize how massive it has to be. The electrical needs of this country, you can't put them in a battery box big enough. This is fantasy.
ln an interview, You said that the issue of global warming first came up in the era of President Jimmy Carter.
I know a person who takes credit for having created the Department of Energy, Secretary James Schlesinger. He convinced Carter to ride the global warming issue, to get nuclear power to go around the country. Jimmy Carter was a big fan of nuclear power. That was in response to the oil embargo 1973.
How did we get from there to an industry of tens of thousands of people employed, of billions of dollars of public money pouring in?
You have the environmental community. The big environmental organizations are only kind to people who do not realize the massive amount of money they are making out of this. Then, there are the green parties which have much more sway in Europe than they do elsewhere in the world, and governments. Jefferson has talked about government will aggrandize itself. You have to have checks and balances, otherwise it explodes into a Leviathan. We are a mile from Washington DC as we speak. Where there is power, power wants to create more power. lt's obvious that if you tell the world or a country that we have to completely change the way we energize our world, then you will have almost infinite power over those people. The power hungry are attracted to places like Washington. The issue is really about power, money, control and virtue signaling.
They think they're doing good, saving the planet. What do they think about somebody who's going to say, "Well, actually, the planet doesn't need saving. lt's going to save itself. You're going to adapt. You are adapting. You don't even know it." lf you say that, you're up against the largest manufactured virtue-structure in the history of the world.
You have been criticized because part of your research or publications were funded by the oil industry. lf you compare this funding with the "other side"...
It's the difference between an ant and an elephant.
Which role does the famous IPCC play in all this?
They internationalized the issue.
You have been opposing this for decades.
My life has not been that easy being the kid that went around the neighborhood, saying Santa Claus was a fake.
Why is science failing on this subject?
Ask yourself: How do you become a successful climate scientist in the first place? You're going to have to work with an established figure in the climate world. Let's ask how that figure got established. That figure got established by publishing a large amount in a reference scientific literature. Unfortunately, in the climate world, the background material for those publications is not inexpensive: Labor, computing, modeling, complicated stuff, and we only have one funding source for it, which is public federal money. lt comes with all strings attached.
Without alarmism, there is no money?
ln fact, money doesn't come out of Washington unless relevant congressional committees can be convinced that it's an important problem. Are you going to advance yourself by saying, "l don't think this is all that important a problem, would give you some of this money to study that?" You're not going to get that money.
At least in scientific publications, peer reviews that should ensure some degree of scientific quality.
lf I submit it in the climate literature, all the peer reviewers are going to be people who have successfully negotiated the system and are supporting the apocalyptic notion. lf I wrote a paper that said billions of people are going to die because of global warming in the 21st century, therefore it's the most important problem we've ever seen, the peer review on that will be white. The peer reviewers are incentivized to approve that paper.
lsn't this a cynic review or the scientific community? Aren't those honest people...
... they are honest people. But I would emphasize the word "people" more than the first word. People have ways of powering what they see and not seeing what they don't want to see. The result here is, you get a scientific literature that's pushed very far into one side. The IPCC discovered the tropical hotspot problem. lt buried it in Supplemental Chapter 10, that nobody's going to look at in an illustration that was completely incomprehensible. lt was published it in such an obscure way that only maybe 10 readers in the world are going to see it. One can debate whether that's deception. I say, it is
Policy wise, in the current administration, your arguments are winning with people like Will Happer in charge of the White House's CO2 Committee.
Yes, they are winning but no one knows whether that's going to create a concrete effect. lf you just look at the demographics of it, it's hard to believe that that is going to win for a very long.
What is going to happen?
Let's assume like most people do that Trump gets another four years and then it's going to switch again to the Democrats. All US policy and pretty much all of those policy on this issue, is permitted by a single document, which is called the Endangerment Finding by the Environmental Protection Agency in the Obama administration. I believe that the discussion that we have had over the last 45 minutes about the actual nature of what's happening versus what's forecasted is sufficient to take down the endangerment finding. Whether the administration will have the courage to have EPA reexamine it, I do not know. They certainly cannot do it in this term. lt's too big of a process. lf they got another four years, they can do it.
Couldn't a Democratic President undo it quickly?
If next year the Republicans get the House of Representatives back and maybe a few extra senators, they can legislate: "Current science indicates that EPA shall not produce an endangerment finding for carbon dioxide." Then it becomes a much heavier lift for a succeeding Democratic administration. lt would have to control both houses of Congress. And because somebody always gets hurt in this process, it will ultimately work its way to the Supreme Court. I think the new majority – particularly if it becomes the supermajority, if Ruth Bader Ginsburg retires – is going to overturn the case that empowered the EPA, which is the 2007 case called Massachusetts versus EPA. They may vote to overturn it. Remember that that court overturned Obama's Clean Power Plan. They said, "You can't do this. This tramples on the Constitution." and it was Laurence Tribe, Obama's mentor at Harvard, who said that the Clean Power Plan was "burning the Constitution."
Which was very surprising because Obama was a constitutional lawyer. He should have grasped the problem.
He also knew what power of the presidency was and he thought that no way the courts are going to reverse it. Well, he was wrong.
Even China and lndia signed up to the Paris Agreement. They are today the largest GO2 polluters.
As economies mature, the carbon dioxide with respect to one unit of GDP per capita drops. Under the Paris Agreement, lndia agreed to reduce their rate of their dropping. The Chinese say, "Oh, by the year 2030, we hope to have our emissions be constant." I can point to you Department of Energy papers from ten years ago saying that China's emissions are going to stabilize around the year 2030 anyway. That's the natural, maturing trajectory of their economies. So they agreed to do nothing.
The rest of the world also supports the Paris Agreement.
Oddly enough, among the larger countries, the one that has reduced its emissions the most is the one that dropped out of the Paris Agreement. And the rest of the world? Well, with all due respect, but the rest of the world is really not doing out much. CO2 concentration is going to continue to go up. lt's probably going to go up at the same exponent that's been on and it's going to get high enough that somebody is going to look around one day and say, "We survived." I don't know when that's going to be. I'd love to be alive when that's going to happen but I probably won't be.
ln Europe, it is really the dominant policy issue at the moment. Everybody talks about CO2 and climate change.
Great. Everybody talks about it but what do they do about it? Germany decides to rapidly phase out all their nuclear power plants. Because of a rogue accident in a nuclear power plant in Japan, where inexplicably the emergency power generation system was put between tsunami prone ocean and the reactor. Does Germany have a reactor like that? No, not at all. But well, they need power. They know that wind doesn't blow all the time. They know that the sun doesn't shine half the time. What are they doing to supplement their nuclear power? They're building lignite-fired coal plants. You want to produce a lot of CO2 for unit power? Burn lignite. lt's the least dense form of coal. lnternationally, there's a lot of talk, but not a lot of action.
There is a tendency of increasing CO2 taxation.
Here, the French "gilet jaune" lesson is there for everyone to see. We had the same happen in the United States. ln 2009, the House of Representatives passed a so called "Cap and Trade Bill" and people really objected. There was a lot of political arm twisting. At the end, it was passed by three votes on a Friday afternoon or something like that. There were some demonstrations around the country and the polling data was done and it was very good for the opposition. The Senate never even brought it to a vote, okay? Now let's go to the 2010 election. ln the House, Democrats lost 64 seats. An incredible number of those seats were from people who had voted for cap and trade.
Later this year, you are going to write a book called "Scientocracy". What does this term mean?
It's this incestuous relationship between governments and scientists we have been talking about. lt's not just in the climate area.
Where else do you see this at work?
ln almost every area of regulation. Take the regulation of ionizing radiation. A scientist at the Massachusetts School of Public Health discovered in years of research that the regulatory model the entire world uses is wrong. lt makes the fundamental assumption that the first photon of ionizing radiation causes the same damage as the millionth one or the 100 millionth one. Now, we live in a world where we're surrounded by ionizing radiation. I assure you that there are revolutionary pressures to take advantage of all of ionizing radiation, which we do. That's what we call Vitamin D. lt's what you get above a certain threshold that gets you harmed, is carcinogenic, et cetera. The model that's used is called a linearity model: there is no threshold. That's a big piece! Think about this, how do you reverse that? How many hundreds of thousands of people are involved in the environmental regulatory process around the world? Are they going to be told, "Well the model you're using is wrong, so really you ought to get a new job, there's really nothing for you to do"?
But it's not how bureaucracy works?
No, we've established it's combined bureaucracy which is supported by a virtue signaling faith.
What about economics? Economics is also very much the science also of government interference. A lot of economic research is funded by governments.
Again: Where the state can intrude, it will in its own interests. That will continue to happen. I have grave concerns about governments again because it helps then accrue power spending money that they really don't have, above and beyond what they take in in taxes.
Why do so many people think that science is better when it's funded by public money?
There is no reason for that. I have always been an advocate of the free-marketed funding where we diversify the base of funding. Sure, governments are going to fund science. But maybe another interested party, let's say some fossil-fuel company, says, "We want to fund this research too." The government then drops its total funding somewhat. Then, world wildlife Fund says, "They're going to do it, then we're going to do it." ln that way, you'll diversify the scientific output. lt's scientific diversity, in my opinion, that creates progress. lt creates dissension. lf you don't permit diversity, you get a monolith. That's what you got in the global-warming area with there's 15 or 20 prominent people who don't go with the trend.
You were scheduled to appear in September 2018 in front of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines. Why didn't you show up?
I actually completely prepared my talk. But then I was advised that it was a trap to make me look bad. lndeed, when I looked closely at it, it was.
lf one googles your name, one notices that there are substantial resources dedicated to attack you personally...
... they're spending an awful lot more money than I'm making...
... they say you were funded by big oil companies, to say you were previously associated with the tobacco industry...
… which is a complete lie by the way. That is a complete fabrication. Somebody discovered that I had been on a board of something called The Advancement for Science Coalition. I didn't do a damn thing for them.
Why is even the oil also jumping on the train of the climate change catastrophe?
I think it's virtue signaling
With shareholders money?
Yes. Every year at the annual meeting of Exxon Mobil, somebody brings up a proposition on greenhouse gases and every year it gets massively defeated.
Are there still oil companies that are not participating in this?
I don't know the answer to that. lf they're silent, they're probably sensible. Ask yourself who the silent ones are. lt's easy to see who is making noise.