Planet Gore

The Knox Report

I gave a talk last night for the Young America’s Foundation and the Knox College (IL) Republicans. Yes, the Knox College that awarded Stephen Colbert his honorary doctorate, the same type of degree awarded to Al Gore — and the sole basis for the claim to “Dr.” Tom Karl, the lead author of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program report (upon which EPA now seeks to base GHG regulation in the wake of Mass. v. EPA).


That was just a fun point to bring up in case the ritual dance played out, in which students with no real immersion in the relevant issues ignore those relevant issues while demanding to know who am I to disagree with them . . . and Dr. Gore . . . and two thousand of the world’s leading scientists? Strangely, that didn’t exactly happen. My having first detailed a few basic facts about those supposed 2,000 scientists may have helped to preclude such silliness.


There was a good crowd – which was a surprise to the organizers. First, while touring campus they showed me remnants of the event’s fliers that were mostly torn down (except in the science building). I was not surprised to see the ones announcing the “Condom Hawt-line” remained intact.


Some students informed me that the college administration had not wanted to host my lecture — a fact communicated to them by several faculty members. After all, college campuses are no place for such heterodoxy. Once it was formally scheduled, a faculty-sanctioned alternative event was slapped together to discuss the economic crisis. One student had invited the school president to my talk. He apparently vowed that he would not waste his time bothering to hear the side of the climate-change debate that he hasn’t yet heard. Sad, if not surprising in today’s academic environment. Though the administrator then noted he had of course attended a recent event touting “sustainability.”


I’m told the environmental-studies department faculty showed up, but left without participating in the discussion — which is typical. That’s too bad, because the department includes a gentleman who is a former student of Pat Michaels. His CV lists one published paper as third author with Michaels and Knappenberger, “Observed changes in the diurnal dewpoint cycle across North America.” Geophysical Research Letters (1998). From the abstract:

The nature of our finding is subtle, and is consistent with other results that show very modest (and nonobvious) responses to greenhouse changes.

After joining academia, I am told, he has modified his views. His other publications in a passionate local newspaper seem to confirm this.


From some members of the audience came the usual – if less than the usual amount of – ad hominem. Many held tenaciously to the idea that if something is a greenhouse gas, then more of it means temperatures have to go up. Ideas running counter to that idea — like the literature on temperature observations and other climate forcings like the sun, oceans, clouds, which make “all things being equal” impossible in the real world – found rough purchase. But as I have learned over many years of giving campus talks, indoctrination and dogma far outpace analysis and critical thinking in today’s liberal arts education.


Still, all in all, it was a good discussion. As I regularly do, I told the attendees: I don’t care what you think, I care that you think. Regardless of the individual outcomes on that front, I left with the sense that those who invested the time to hear things they generally aren’t told began to do just that. Which does seem to happen when you allow open discussion.

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