Professor Folkens’ tilted windmill. –Robert M. Shelby, 12-20-10. [910 txt wds]

A marine mammalogist and former teacher of “science communication” at U. C. Santa Cruz, Pieter Arend Folkens exposé of climate controversy (Benicia Herald Forum, Sunday, 12-19-10) opens by alluding to Don Quixote. Let’s see if his choice of figure reflects back upon him. He feels that anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is an idea on its way out because natural climate cycles determine earth temperature and atmospheric CO2 content far more profoundly than does human activity worldwide.

Everyone is aware that sudden vulcanism can jar atmospheric balance and change amounts of solar radiation absorbed or reflected back into space for protracted periods, having relatively brief effects that overshadow atmospheric impact of human activity. Still, human environmental impact has been more definite than negligible.

Two groups oppose each other on the issue of global warming, pro and con.  On one side, with Prof. Folkens, are the “cons” or backwardists (stand-patters,) and on the other side are the “pros”, or forwardists, with former Vice President, Al Gore. The cons can be called backwardists because, regardless of facts, their position falls into historic alliance with the energy status quo, consisting mainly of oil and coal producers and their investors. The pros can be termed forward lookers because, whatever the facts may be, their posture begets movement toward alternative energy sources and reducing the grip on world economy held by non-renewable, carbon fuel-burning industries.

Between and above the two opposed groups some number of honest scientists valiantly strives to test claims and sift facts in order to arrive at whatever truth the current state of our information allows. The clearer assessment of reality a science reaches, the better research projects it can devise. However, we lay-persons need not make too fine a thing of it, for certain things are perfectly clear. No matter its cause, warming is measurably  happening and whether or not it will escalate and stay permanently, our major weather patterns are being disrupted. We see changes. Folkens claims a cooling cycle is now  in effect that will last another thirty years. If it is a micro cycle, what other cycles interact with it to strengthen or weaken it? What macro cycle may it be a temporary blip within? (There are cycles stemming from solar system mechanics.)

In any case, Folkens seems less concerned with climate than with feared redistribution of the world’s wealth by policy manipulation, which he views as the goal of a vast conspiracy, starting as early as 1971, perhaps whirling around and issuing from John Holden, whom he claims is Obama’s “senior science advisor,” whatever that may mean, and involving the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change, its Convention on Climate Change and a Commission on Global Governance, with many other individuals. This plot to shift our wealth to the Third World, perhaps by Cap & Trade rules, involves dark strategies including secret “sterilization programs” and other measures to control population (which one might suppose includes AIDS and other dire diseases, as if starvation from drought and deaths due to other catastrophes were not enough, and as if bad ideas never pop up in brain-storming sessions.)

Folkens tags the “forwardists” from Holden to Gore and beyond as “progressives” and “alarmists.” But, for whom will it be a bad thing if humans worldwide turn toward and develop alternative energy sources so as to reduce emissions and polution? Might it be of some interest to know how much Prof. Folkens has invested in just which energy companies? Or how much he is paid on retainer by which private interest? Even if he holds no stock in oil, coal or gas, he sets himself before us as a “backwardist” or “con” in spite of his good information from ice core studies on historic CO2 levels. Like many conservatives, Fulkens seems to imply that forward-looking “pros” have an ideological agenda which makes them less honest than himself. He classes all output from “forwardists” as propaganda, but leaves unmentioned whether or not his own statements are only another mode of propaganda. Of course, we do not expect liars to expose themselves that way.

What ground is there for questioning Folkens honesty? Just this: he writes, “When AGW alarmists declared that a melting Arctic ice capwould cause sea levels to rise, did they not realize that that Arctic ice is over an ocean and melting ice on water does not raise the water level? This is basic high school science.” Evidently, Folkens did not himself reach high school nor ever study the ethics of communication. Any high schooler who remembers geography knows: far more of the world’s ice lies deep on land not only in Greenland, the Canadian Islands, Antarctica and the great snow packs and glaciers of many mountain ranges. Most of the world’s glaciers are retreating. Only a few special cases remain static or growing due to particular local conditions. If all the land-supported ice melted, sea level would rise, disastrously flooding the lowlands.

Folkens’ dishonesty is not in what he wrote but in what he concealed by not writing it. This calls into question not his pastiche of facts but his whole outlook. His posture is not that of a climatological scientist but that of an ideological warrior. He is not wrong about everything except his premature and unwarranted conclusions. Still, we can and should appreciate what information he has put before us. We can sift out and salt away his opinion — like a dead mackerel.

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