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Saturday, March 12, 2011

A climate change challenger

Since this blog is in part an online presence of my column Catholic Ecology, it’s only right to also post letters to the editor that critique me, or the issues about which I write. The following was in response to my column on climate change and how we must carry our crosses. The letter ran in this week's Rhode Island Catholic under the title "science is about facts, evidence, not emotion."
There were several inadequacies in Mr. Patenaude's editorial (Catholic Ecology) last week. First, the methodologies used to support the claims about global warming are specious and speculative.

As a chemist, I'm always struggling to actually see the science. Were there really armies of scientists making hyper-accurate temperature readings at a global level in 1750? Are ice-core readings truly accurate to 0.01 degrees? Can such temperature readings really be gleaned from measuring tree-rings? Can NASA truly measure sea-level changes to 0.01 inches using satellites when the most accurate reading I can get for this morning's tidal report is to 12 inches?

The answers are "of course not". What's likely happening is that statistical methods are being used to generate numbers that are more hyper-accurate than the instruments used to make the measurements. So the question becomes, is the manipulation deliberate? Science isn't science anymore. It is faith. It is the ultimate of ironies that in this modern, scientific age, the only requirement for belief in the next theory is the saying, “Scientists say ...”, and it is so.

Second, it's not just that "some climate researchers made phony claims", it's that they, as the gate-keepers to the scientific journals, stifled any contrary evidence. There are many scientists who dispute the claims of "global warming,” or "climate change,” or whatever the terminology du jour is. Reputable scientists such as Ian Plimer (at the University of Adelaide) and Richard Lindzen (at MIT) aren’t debated; they are simply ignored.

Third, assigning god-like status to government agencies is never a good idea. Just because NASA says-so, doesn't mean its claims are scientific fact. When NASA readily sites the IPCC, the UN agency mostly responsible for the “Climategate” fiasco, then the claims by NASA become suspect. Furthermore, this is the agency that ignored the performance specifications of a simple rubber O-ring and launched the space shuttle Challenger to an explosive death. This is the same agency that ignored a simple equation of physics and concluded that a piece of foam insulation couldn't damage the shuttle Columbia, thereby causing the deaths of another crew. Claims don't become fact simply because they come from some multi-lettered government agency.

As a teenager I remember the horrific and frightening claims in the 1970's that the Earth was entering a new ice age. We were all told that by the year 2000, we were all going to freeze to death ... or starve to death because of massive crop failures due to freezing temperatures. We knew it was going to happen because Time Magazine and the New York Times said so.

But the most deceptive aspect of the editorial was that it was a weaving of ambiguous science with emotion and faith. The leap from blindly accepting claims about global warming to a Christian’s duty to carry one’s cross was disappointing. In reality, the crosses we will carry will not be from having to accept massive social changes to prevent climate change, but of living the consequences of being duped by con artists.

Sally Recuas 
I encourage such letters as this one. They encourage dialogue--which is always a good thing. If you’d like to respond to Ms. Recuas yourself, you're welcome to send in a letter to the editor to the Rhode Island Catholic at

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