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Christy Crock #1: 1970s Cooling

Posted on 8 April 2011 by dana1981

Christy Crocks (200 x 70 pixels)In the recent U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science Space and Technology climate hearing, Dr. John Christy was the main witness presenting the opinions of the global warming "skeptics."   As we previously noted, the quality of Dr. Christy's testimony was extremely disappointing, as he frequently repeated and affirmed climate myths.  Perhaps the worst example of this misinforming behavior was his response when asked about the 1970s global cooling predictions, which is currently the 9th most used myth in the Arguments Database.  First by Congressman Chip Cravaack (R-MN):

"back when I was graduating from high school I remember the "great global cooling." Is this "great global cooling" similar to the great global warming that is going on today?"

And later repeated by Congressman Mo Brooks (R-AL):

"I couldn't help but pull up the Time magazine front page article dated April 28th, 1975 where we have a penguin on the cover and it says "How to Survive the Coming Ice Age". How do you compare that global cooling claim versus today's global warming claim?"

Dr. Christy's responses to both questions were very similar.  Instead of using the opportunity to dispel the myth and ensure that our policymakers are well-informed about the many differences between the '70s cooling predictions and the current global warming predictions, he decided to promote it:

"In this sense yes [1970s cooling predictions were similar to current warming predictions], our ignorance about the climate system is just enormous"

Let's examine the many reasons why the 1970s cooling predictions were different than today's warming predictions, which an honest scientist would have discussed.


As Dr. Kerry Emanuel noted after Dr. Christy's second affirmation of this myth, only a few scientific papers in the 1970s predicted global cooling, and were subsequently amplified by the mainstream media, as noted in Congressman Brooks' question.  In fact, the majority of climate science studies at the time predicted global warming (Figure 1). 

 70s cooling vs. warming papers

Figure 1: Number of papers classified as predicting global cooling (blue) or warming (red) (Source: Peterson 2008)

Conversely, there is currently a scientific consensus that the planet will continue to warm.  Dozens of major scientific bodies throughout the world have affirmed the consensus, while no major scientific bodies predicted global cooling in the 1970s.

Understanding of Climate Science

Although it's certainly true that we don't understand all of the detailed workings of the global climate and still have much to learn, climate scientists have made great strides understanding what drives climate change over the past 40 years.

In the 1970s, there were no climate satellites and no Antarctic ice cores.  Climate modeling was in its infancy; today's extremely sophisticated climate models are run on supercomputers.  Over the intervening decades there has been an immense amount of climate-related data collected, and many thousands of climate studies published.  We have learned a great deal about the various warming and cooling effects on the climate, including greenhouse gases and aerosols.

Dr. Christy's insinuation that we remain nearly as ignorant about the workings of the climate today as the 1970s is simply ludicrous, and an insult to his climate scientist colleagues.  He's effectively pushing the logical fallacy that "we don't know everything, therefore we know nothing."

Prediction Scenarios

Quite often, the justification for the few global cooling predictions in the 1970s is overlooked.  Probably the most famous such prediction was Rasool and Schneider (1971):

"An increase by only a factor of 4 in global aerosol background concentration may be sufficient to reduce the surface temperature by as much as 3.5°K."

Yes, their global cooling projection was based on a quadrupling of atmospheric aerosol concentration.  This wasn't an entirely unrealistic scenario - after all, sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions were accelerating quite rapidly up until the early 1970s (Figure 2).  These emissions caused various environmental problems, and as a result, a number of countries, including the USA, enacted SO2 limits through Clean Air Acts.  As a result, not only did atmospheric aerosol concentrations not quadruple, they declined starting in the late 1970s:

SO2 emissions

Figure 2: Global sulfur dioxide emissions by source (PNNL)

The real similarity is that if we now limit CO2 emissions, we can also eventually get global warming under control.

Christy's Crock

Dr. Christy chose not to mention any of these major differences, or the similarity in the solutions to the problems posed by SO2 and CO2.  Instead he chose to pretend that the two examples are similar, leading our Republican policymakers to their desired conclusion: that because there was a supposed consensus predicting global cooling in the 1970s which didn't come to fruition, that there's no reason to believe that today's consensus of continued global warming will come to fruition.  This delusion of pretending that an environmental problem we solved was never a problem at all (e.g. ozone depletion, acid rain, etc.) seems to be a common strategy among "skeptics."  The reason these cooling predictions didn't come to fruition, aside from the continued acceleration of CO2 emissions, is that we put limits on SO2 emissions to solve the problem.  It's not that it was never a concern or it went away on it's own; we did something about it.  The same applies to global warming and CO2.  It's a problem and it's not going away unless we do something about it.

Christy's intellectual dishonesty while testifying before Congress under oath has misinformed our policymakers.  Once again, Christy has done his country a disservice through his Congressional testimony.

NOTE: This post has been incorporated into the Intermediate rebuttal to "Ice Age predicted in the '70s"

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Comments 1 to 41:

  1. For a more detailed look at the Global Cooling myth check out this detailed study. THE MYTH OF THE 1970S GLOBAL COOLING SCIENTIFIC CONSENSUS Thomas C. Peterson, William M. Connolley, and John Fleck’s "A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows the myth to be false. The myth’s basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then." "But perhaps more important than demonstrating that the global cooling myth is wrong, this review shows the remarkable way in which the individual threads of climate science of the time, each group of researchers pursuing their own set of questions, was quickly woven into the integrated tapestry that created the basis for climate science as we know it today." 2. RECOGNITION OF A PROBLEM: THE POTENTIAL FOR WARMING. 3. THE GLOBAL TEMPERATURE RECORDS: A COOLING TREND? 4. ICE AGE UNDERSTANDING 5. CARBON DIOXIDE 6. AEROSOLS 7. MEDIA COVERAGE 8. SURVEY OF THE PEER-REVIEWED LITERATURE "The survey identified only seven articles indicating cooling compared to 42 indicating warming. Those seven cooling articles garnered just 12% of the citations." "Interestingly, only two of the articles would, according to the current state of climate science, be considered wrong in the sense of getting the wrong sign of the response to the forcing they considered. They are one cooling paper (Bryson and Dittberner, 1976) and one warming paper (Idso and Brazel, 1977) and both were immediately challenged (Woronko 1977, Herman et al. 1978)." "As climate science and the models progressed over time, the findings of the rest of the articles were refined and improved, sometimes significantly, but not reversed. "
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  2. I just noticed my tip of the hat to Scruffy Dan, is missing from the above.
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  3. Beautifully done. Oddly, I was unaware of Rasool and Schneider (1971) until reading this. Very interesting.
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  4. I second that "beautifully done". It's hard to argue with that chart - but I doubt that will keep the usual suspects from trying. :)
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  5. Nice post - very simple - you would think Christy could understand it!
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  6. Thanks all. By the way, the study mentioned by citizen in #1 is Peterson 2008 - the study whose data is plotted in Figure 1. Albatross #3 - Schneider mentions in his book that he's taken a lot of heat for Rasool and Schneider (1971) over the years, mainly from politicians and bloggers. Keen #5 - I have little doubt that Christy is well aware of at least most of the information in this post. The term "lying by omission" comes to mind when thinking about his testimony.
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  7. Once upon a time there was a list of one line responses to each skeptic argument on this site. For the life of me I can't find it today. I suggest the following as the one line response: "There were 9 times as many papers predicting warming as there were cooling from 1965-1979"
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    Moderator Response: [DB] See
  8. Or, the accurate version: "There were 6 times as many papers predicting warming as there were cooling from 1965-1979."
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  9. Couldn't it be argued that since the last 40 million year were dominated by cooling, with the past 10,500 mostly warming, the trend has not really reversed because it would take at least that many years of warming to claim the trend has been reversed?
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    Moderator Response: [DB] The majority of your comment is off-topic here. Please use the search function to find a more relevant thread if you wish to pursue getting an answer to this. If anyone wants to reply to this appropriately, please do it on the relevant thread with a pointer here. Thanks!
  10. There's a good and relevant review of some related issues (Rasool & Schneider) written by James Hansen at This link to pdf. No pictures though.
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  11. Thanks SteveL @10, "swift boating" indeed.
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  12. I keep forgetting to ask about this. "Christy's intellectual dishonesty while testifying before Congress under oath has misinformed our policymakers." Were the witnesses asked to swear an oath? If so, Christy's actions may be actionable-- if I understand correctly it is a felony to mislead congress.
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  13. Albatross #12 - yes, I recall at the beginning one of the Democrats asked if the witnesses had been sworn under oath, and the chairman answered yes. To take action against Christy you'd have to prove he knew he was misleading Congress. He was very careful with his words - like I said, mainly lies by omission.
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  14. I was at school when the global cooling scare was publicised. From memory, it took advantage of our expected trend towards the next ice age in x thousand years to warn that particulate pollution, specifically soot and acid, was causing a cooling force that might set off feedbacks (more ice, more albedo) that would speed up the coming ice age. I seem to remember it all got a bit conflated with the risks of nuclear winter (nuclear war would kick up a lot of dust etc).
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  15. Yes Nick. Those of us a bit older than you were well accustomed to the idea of a nuclear winter. "If the bomb doesn't get ya, the starvation will" and similar cheery sentiments were quite common. My feeling is that this is what underlay the media's promotion of the cooling idea. We were familiar with this particular doomsday scenario and Whoops! you don't need nuclear war to get there. And we did live with dirty, to be honest filthy, skies so we could *see* how it could get worse. In Adelaide there was a huge difference driving towards the NW suburbs on a Friday evening compared to a Sunday evening. On Fridays as you emerged from the city level at the top of the slope the whole of the lower region was blanketed in brown murk. On Sundays, with industry having had 2 days off, the same trip was clear skies all the way.
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  16. 1. Several prominent scientists said in the 70's about global cooling. The fact that - certainly not the majority, and not having the most knowledgeable. Christy take this as an example of the theory - a wide scientific basis - which (now) has proved be wrong. 2. He says that, and currently there are (as then - the seventies), important questions to the AGW theory - models of the IPCC. How significant? This explains for example the last publication of the Christy et al., 2010.: What Do Observational Datasets Say About Modeled Tropospheric Temperature Trends Since 1979?: “Using observed trend values, the observed SRs for TLT are significantly less than 1.4, being ~0.8 ± 0.3. This suggests that on average, the model amplification of surface temperature trends is overdone, and that the observed atmosphere manages to adjust to heating processes without allowing (over decades) a temperature change in the troposphere at a higher rate than it changes near the surface.” t is possible therefore a fundamental error. How important? “We fully expect others to become engaged and produce defensible estimates of trends which may or may not support our conclusions.” May we all have so much of “humility” as Dr. Christy ... I also recommend the latest interview with Dr. Christy
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    Moderator Response: [DB] "Several prominent scientists said in the 70's about global cooling." Unsubstantiated hearsay? Name them.
  17. I listened to the interview with Dr. Christy, linked to by Arkadiusz. Head vice necessary... He basically says that the climate is changing up and down and that what they have measured over the last hundred years - just under a degree - is small. He then goes on to consciously or unconsciously repeat the relatively new denier meme that claims that even if we cut emissions tomorrow it would only cool us off by 0.1 degrees - a very small cooling effect. He quotes Tim Flannery's statement that "if the entire world cut their CO2 emissions immediately, the world together, that temperatures won't be detectably reducing for one thousand years" He also claims that if we built a thousand new nuclear power stations we wouldn't "affect the climate by more than a tenth of a degree after a hundred years" He is repeating the relatively recent denier meme that if we took the heroic/foolish efforts that the IPCC etc are mandating, that the climate would only cool off by 0.1 degrees, so therefore what's the point of doing all that to achieve so little? The deceptiveness of this meme is it "accidentally" leaves out that if we DON'T cut emissions that temperatures will continue to rise. He doesn't mention the probability of positive feedbacks or even the possibility that they exist, which is disingenuous at best.
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  18. Wikipedia: “In the 1970s there was increasing awareness that estimates of global temperatures showed cooling since 1945. Of those scientific papers considering climate trends over the 21st century, only 10% inclined towards future cooling, while most papers predicted future warming. [ 2 ]" [2]- it’s Paterson et. al. 2008.
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  19. Nick #17 - we'll be addressing both the myths that you mention propagated by Christy in future Christy Crocks. Arkadiusz #16 and #18 - please try actually reading the article that you're commenting on.
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  20. Arkudiusz Semcyszak, I am sorry but your English is so fractured that I often find it impossible to understand your meaning. Your interpretation of scientific papers suggests you have the same problem understanding normal English prose. Are you actually an English speaker? Or are you using a translation program? If the later, it is not up to the demands you are placing on it. If the former, would you please take more lessons so that we can have a coherent conversation.
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  21. I think part of the communication problem with skeptics (and the broader public) on this issue may be the difference between recognizing cooling that had occurred by the 1970s versus predicting that it would continue into the future. They're very different things, for scientifically-minded people. I don't know if trends past-to-present and predictions for the future are so different in the minds of others. You see the problem in discussions of sea level rise, human health and welfare, and also a bunch of topics that aren't very climate-related. Arkadiusz #18 might be a good example of that issue, but specific to the 1970s claim.
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  22. There was no "global cooling theory" in the 70s, there was a concern (a hypothesis) amongst some scientists that should sulfate aerosols continue to increase rapidly that the associated cooling could pose a problem. It was a conditional prediction, contingent on sulfate aerosols increasing fourfold. Two compare that hypothesis with the theory of AGW and the current situation (as some contrarians are doing) is pure folly. This has all been discussed in the main post, but apparently it needs to be repeated here again. "May we all have so much of “humility” as Dr. Christy .." Umm, not even close. Christy frequently speaks to subjects that is is not even closely qualified to speak to (see his recent testimony to Congress); it took him and Spencer years to acknowledge that their UAH data were flawed and to correct it; only in 2012 is he making his UAH code available (long after GISTEMP), and goodness' knows what that will reveal; he frequently belittles and slanders his colleagues..... Kudos to the person who finds the first statement made by Christy that qualifies as misleading congress so that someone can take this further.....
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  23. To follow up on Albatross #22, as I recall, in his testimony to Congress a few months ago, Christy commented on economic issues, which he felt qualified to discuss because he's the "Alabama State Climatologist". I didn't realize being a state climatologist made one an economics expert. In this hearing, Christy stated that he would widely re-introduce the use of DDT. His qualifications on this matter? He has lived in Africa. So I guess Africans are all experts on health and pesticide use. Kerry Emanuel did not answer the question, stating that it's outside his realm of expertise. That is humility. So I agree, "humility" is a pretty terrible descriptor of Christy.
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  24. Aw, really? Christy is a DDT nut too? As Alabama State Climatologist, where did he want to "re-introduce" DDT?
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  25. Steve L - it was a general question, but Christy was referring to DDT use in Africa.
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  26. Dana, Correct me if I am wrong, but DDT has not been banned as a pesticide in Africa, yet Christy claims that millions of people have died in Africa because it was. Tim Lambert is quite the expert on the various DDT mythss, maybe he could help out?
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  27. Albatross - DDT use for vector control is still allowed in Africa. Unfortunately the question wasn't phrased very well, since it was rather off-topic. It came up because Armstrong in his written testimony incorrectly stated that Africa had banned DDT, which he claimed had led to a lot of deaths (as an example of "an analogy to the global warming alarm"). So the congresswoman wanted to know how the rest of the witnesses felt on the issue, but phrased the question something like "would you re-introduce DDT?" (I'm paraphrasing from memory here). So bottom line, both Armstrong and Christy were speaking on issues that they haven't adequately researched, and thus made some ignorant and incorrect statements as a result. Christy said that a lof of people have died in Africa from malaria (true), and that because of this, he would re-introduce DDT (even though it was never banned), implying, but not specfically stating that the fictional DDT ban lead to millions of deaths.
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  28. The congresswoman asking the question, by the way, happened to be on another committe regarding African health, or something similar. After the witnesses answered, she informed them that malaria has largely been eradicated from Africa at this point, mainly using measures other than DDT. She made Christy, Armstrong, and Montgomery (who also answered despite having no expertise on the subject) look rather foolish.
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  29. Claiming that bans on the agricultural use of DDT have caused millions of people to die of malaria is like claiming that restrictions on the use of antibiotics in factory farms will cause millions of people to die of bacterial infections. The whole "DDT ban has caused millions of malaria deaths" is really that stupid and dishonest -- full stop.
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  30. "Christy's intellectual dishonesty while testifying before Congress under oath has misinformed our policymakers. Once again, Christy has done his country a disservice through his Congressional testimony." Every time I have referred someone on the "warming side" being dishonest or ignorant, I get a bunch of moderators nagging? But then again, rant seems to be allowed for the SkS writers. Play on your own rules if you want to be even a bit credible.
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    Moderator Response: [muoncounter] As a public figure making on-the-record testimony, Christy subjects himself to scrutiny. Unsubstantiated name-calling, on the other hand, is not acceptable.

    Do not be concerned with the credibility of this site; worry more about your own credibility.

  31. "Every time I have referred someone on the "warming side" being dishonest or ignorant, I get a bunch of moderators nagging? But then again, rant seems to be allowed for the SkS writers." No one accused Christy of ignorance-only dishonesty-a fact backed up by his false claims before the Congressional Committee. You get "nagged" by moderators because your accusations of dishonesty & ignorance are *never* backed up with actual evidence, are usually totally off topic, & are frequently serve no greater benefit than to be downright abusive. I'll tell you something for nothing, though, & that is that the tone of discussion at this site is a great deal less abusive & acrimonious than what I've seen at placed like WUWT-even on a *good* day.
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  32. @Tom Curtis It's not a question of my English, and lack of willingness to understand what I write. A props DDT - is not "of topic"- about the truthfulness of Christy. However, I recommend this book The true story of DDT, PCB, and Dioxin, professor P. Mastalerz (2005 - 226 pages). Publisher so encouraged to read this book: “This book attempts to unearth the facts about DDT, polychlorinated biphenyls, and dioxins, which are contrary to general beliefs as well as to official politics and therefore are never talked about in the media. The relevant facts are deeply buried among library shelves and are not readily accessible to the public. Their exposure may help to improve public understanding of hazards resulting from the prescence of DDT, PCB, and dioxins in the environment. The environmentalists have accused DDT, PCB, and dioxin of all possible evils, from child paralysis to male infertility. The book contains a severe critique of such propaganda and shows that environmentalist scaremongering is based on very poor science. The distinctive feature of the book is that every word of critique is meticulously substantiated with references to original literature. This should make it harder for the environmentalists to disregard this book.” Christy says the same thing as the author Mastalerz) of Africa - DDT ...
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  33. Arkadiusz Semczyszak @32, the most natural interpretation of your fist sentence is that you lack the willingness to understand what you write. This would certainly make a lot of your word choices more understandable if true, but it is hard to credit. Alternatively you are simply asserting, contrary to fact and without any supporting evidence, that there is no question about your English ability and willingness to understand your own writing. If so, it is a simple denial of what is plainly not true, followed by a complete non sequitur. Perhaps more logically you are accusing me of lacking that willingness (though the only subject in the entire sentence is you). Let me assure you that is not true. I have frequently been frustrated by your comments in that I think I disagree with you, but have simply not been able to discern your opinion clearly enough - due to the fractured English - to be clear what it is. Be assured that this is not a personal attack. I have great admiration for the multi-lingual, and the courage to tackle a complex subject in a second language is to be greatly admired. (The same admiration extends to Gilles.) But as you apparently intend to be a regular on this site, which again I welcome, I cannot simply let you assume that communication is going on when more often than not, it isn't.
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  34. Arkadiusz Semczyszak wrote : "Christy says the same thing as the author Mastalerz) of Africa - DDT ..." So Christy likes to be in the minority (and a very small one at that) and you prefer to believe those scientific minorities over the consensus ? Why is that ? Does it conform to your political views or something ? Do you also reject Evolution and the Big Bang Theory, and think that the sun is made of iron ? All minority views, so you must accept them, presumably ? And you would also have to believe that '70s cooling' myth too ?
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  35. Wow. The primary site my office is cleaning up is contaminated with PCBs and dioxins. I've never seen anybody actually try to claim that their toxicity is due to "environmentalist scaremongering". Not surprisingly, Mastalerz is also a global warming "skeptic". It always makes me wonder where the "skeptics" dig these guys up.
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  36. Arkadiusz needs to learn some basic chemistry before he starts mouthing off about PCB's & other harmful chemicals. If he bothered to check, he'd see that (a) dioxins & DDT are made up of 2 benzene rings and, as Benzene rings can easily slip between the base-pairs of DNA, they can upset DNA replication which-in turn-can lead to cancer & other mutagenic conditions & (b) PCB's have an active site that looks-& acts-identically to the female sex hormone oestrogen, thus why its linked to male infertility. So, as we see, the dangers posed by these chemicals have nothing to do with scaremongering, & *everything* to do with the basic science of how they chemically interact with living tissue. Still, I've never known contrarians to be too interested in basic science-not when it gets in the way of corporate profiteering.
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  37. Marcus see link (of Wikipedia) proposed by dana1981: “Przemyslaw Mastalerz - author of more than 120 scientific publications , three textbooks of organic chemistry ... He also wrote: "The lies of eco-warriors." And me is “a shame” that 10 years I taught students about the dangers of DDT residues - based on defective scientific papers ...
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  38. Arkadiusz Semczyszak wrote : "He also wrote: "The lies of eco-warriors."" Getting back to the subject, especially regarding Christy's intellectual dishonesty, why is it that so-called skeptics prefer to listen to people like that who have such political/religious views which guide their opinions ? It's the same with the quote above, talking about "lies" and "eco-warriors" - it's almost as if the so-called skeptics need their 'experts' to have the same opinions as them, otherwise they don't trust them. In other words, they prefer subjective opinion (using emotive, political, aggressive language) over objective fact. And that is why many of them will never be persuaded to accept the reality of AGW...until one of their preferred 'experts' decides that going along with the consensus is a political imperative which will bring more benefits than negatives, and takes all his fans with him - who will then forget what happened in the past and carry on as if they always accepted AGW !
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  39. “Przemyslaw Mastalerz - author of more than 120 scientific publications , three textbooks of organic chemistry ..." None of which makes him knowledgeable about the biological impacts of DDT, Dioxins or PCB's-an area which has been heavily researched by hundreds of experts over several decades-yet you dismiss their work as "defective", based on the non-peer reviewed work of a single individual-an individual whose book was probably bank-rolled by the very industries who stand to lose the most from a ban on these highly dangerous chemicals. Still, good to see you're sticking to the pseudo-skeptic credo of only accepting the views of those of the same ideological bent, even when said views are not backed up by *hard evidence*.
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  40. I'm not sure if this has been enough stressed on the original post, but AFAIK the "cooling prediciotns" were based in good science. It's just that the scenarios of aerosol emissions never actually happened. So first, most of the studies by that time already projected warming. Second, the cooling papers did not deny the warming properties of GHG. And third, I don't think anyone would say the emission scenarios used today will not happen in a business as usual projection.
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  41. 40, Alexandre, What I find even more frightening is that the human induced aerosols are helping us right now, by adding a strong negative forcing in concert with the positive forcing from CO2. The day we cut back on fossil fuel use, CO2 levels will still stay high for a century or more, both because of residence time, and because the ocean is becoming so saturated with it... any attempt by nature to reduce it in the atmosphere will simply result in nearly equal replacement from the ocean for quite some time. But aerosols will drop fairly quickly, and so that negative forcing will disappear, and temperatures will shoot up (or at worst continue to rise evenly but inexorably) even after fossil fuel use is reduced. We'll have to suffer through that further increase before the situation starts to stabilize. Not good. And yet Dr. Christy focused on misrepresenting this science from 35 years ago, rather than the complex and disquieting truth behind aerosols, both then and now.
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