"They're not scientists. They're cranks. When virtually every major scientific organisation in the world, including our own National Academy of Sciences, says that climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank keeps insisting that it's all a fraud."
Who's Mark Hertsgaard? I'd never heard of him. Noticing the Golden Gate bridge in the background as he walked along a beach with his young daughter, I wondered at which California university he taught physics and climate science. I could imagine him scrawling the Stefan-Boltzmann equation on a blackboard, and describing the infra-red absorption characteristics of carbon dioxide molecules, and fielding questions on the quantum physics of photon emission. If he was that certain about it all, he just had to be a Nobel Prize-winning physicist. He probably even played bongo drums with Richard Feynman.
I thought I'd find out more about him. The result was a bit of a shock. Turns out he's not a scientist at all. He's a journalist and author. His best-known work is On Bended Knee: The Press and the Reagan Presidency (1988), about how the Reagan White House "deployed raw power and conventional wisdom to intimidate Washington's television newsrooms"
A bit more digging turned up a review of another book he'd written: The Eagle's Shadow: Why America fascinates and infuriates the world, in which the critic had written:
Unfortunately, the greater part of the book is taken up not with these fascinating observations but with the author's account of why he himself hates US capitalist civilisation. A hundred years ago Thorstein Veblen exposed conspicuous consumption. Sixty years later Kenneth Galbraith brought the excesses of auto tail fins to worldwide attention. The core of Hertsgaard's case today is that "the current form of globalisation has punished the world's poor and the working class majority while fabulously rewarding the rich and corporate elites". He does not mention that the US also contains the world's best universities, which publish some of the best studies of European literature and philosophy.
So, within about half an hour, my initial idea that Mark Hertsgaard was some sort of physicist or climate scientist had completely evaporated. Into his place, there stepped forward another Mark Hertsgaard, progressive left-wing journalist and writer, and critic of Ronald Reagan and American capitalism.
But I was puzzled. Why had I gotten hold of this notion that Hertsgaard was a scientist? I think that it grew from him forcefully declaring, "They're not scientists!" If you're going to make a statement like that, you have to be very sure what a scientist is. You have to be one yourself. Just like you have to be American to pronounce something to be 'un-American', or be English to say something's 'un-English'. In pronouncing the sceptics to not be scientists, Hertsgaard was implicitly claiming to himself be a scientist. And up there with the greats. And yet Hertsgaard wasn't a scientist. I'd just been fooled for a few minutes.
And everything fell into place. Hertsgaard didn't like capitalism. It was greedy and rapacious and unfair. And it polluted the world with its toxic wastes. And now it turned out that all the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere by gas-guzzling cars and trucks and factories and power stations was raising the temperature of the whole planet. Capitalism wasn't just raping the earth; it was killing it as well. All the more reason to hate what you already hated.
And this illustrates what is perhaps the biggest problem with global warming. On the surface it looks like science. But closer examination reveals that actually it's politics. Global warming is just another stick with which to beat capitalism. It's just another way to to push for a socialist state-planned society. These people come on like scientists, but in the end they prove to just be political activists.
And anyway, even if all scientists everywhere agree that global warming is 'real and extremely dangerous', are we ignorant non-scientists obliged to agree with them? Just because some scientists believe something, does everybody else have to believe it too? Is somebody really a "crank" if they don't accept the latest scientific findings set out in Nature or New Scientist? Is scientific knowledge, once discovered, unquestionable and irrefutable? If so, how does anyone ever manage to do any science, if asking questions is impermissible?
P.S. Politico poseur? Mark Hertsgaard discredits himself