MacCracken v. Happer: The Real Truth about Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change – Government Accountability Project

In “The Real Truth about Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change: Paragraph-by-Paragraph Comments on an Article by Dr. William Happer,” Dr. Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs at the Climate Institute in Washington, DC, takes on the prominent ‘skeptic’ Princeton physicist and Marshall Institute board chairman with a detailed and illuminating rebuttal.

Full text of the article: The Real Truth About Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

MacCracken’s introduction:

Dr. William Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, who also serves as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Marshall Institute in Washington DC, has been a prominent and outspoken critic of the science of climate change, its impacts, and proposed policies to deal with it. In the June/July 2011 issue of First Things, Dr. Happer published a summary of his views: “The Truth About Greenhouse Gases: The dubious science of the climate crusaders” (see The paper is so misleading that, in my view, it merits a paragraph-by-paragraph response. Indeed, being an alumnus of Princeton University and having devoted my career to study of climate change science, preparing a response almost seemed an obligation.

In offering these comments, my intent is to present the findings and perspectives of the national and international science community, illuminated with insights gained over more than four decades of seeking to improve understanding of how the Earth system works and is affected by natural and human events. In contrast to Dr. Happer’s view that the science of climate change is like a house of cards (i.e., find one flaw and the whole sense of understanding will fall), I have tried to give a sense of why, as Professor Henry Pollack of the University of Michigan has put it, the science of climate change is like a rope hammock (i.e., with lots of interconnections and linkages, such that weaknesses or failure of any particular detailed finding does not weaken the overall strength of scientific understanding).

Unless footnoted, the views I have offered are primarily drawn from IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report and/or from perspectives on climate change that are summarized at and references, including a review paper, that can be downloaded from that site.

The full set of points made by Dr. Happer is included below, in paragraph-by-paragraph order, with my comments on each paragraph immediately following. To assist in referring to Dr. Happer’s various paragraphs, I have numbered the paragraphs sequentially, and my response is provided in italics. To provide a sense of the issues covered, the table gives a sense of the questions that an independent moderator might ask that would lead to the exchange regarding each paragraph, and the reader may want to use this to jump to comments and responses on a topic of particular interest.

A key to Will Happer’s assertions and Mike MacCracken’s responses:

1. Is the climate change community really off on a “climate crusade”?

2. Is CO2 a pollutant or a vital molecule for life on Earth—or both?

3. On what basis is EPA moving to regulate CO2?

4 through 7. Isn’t CO2 a nutrient for plants? Don’t we really want to have a higher CO2 concentration? Wasn’t the CO2 level actually nearly too low? Won’t more CO2 be beneficial?

8 and 9. How high can the CO2 level be without impacting human health? What is the optimal range for the CO2 concentration?

10 and 11. Is the increasing CO2 concentration really having adverse impacts?

12 and 13. Will increasing CO2 really cause warming? Is it really human activities causing the warming?

14 through 17. What does the history of Earth’s climate tell us over centuries to tens of millions of years? Hasn’t the Earth’s climate always been changing? So what makes the present warming significant?

18, 19, and 20. Has the IPCC really considered what has been learned from the study of Earth’s climatic history?

21 and 22. Is the “hockey stick” curve indicating recent warming really solid? Don’t the hacked emails show that climate data were manipulated?

23, 24 and 25. Has peer-review been compromised? Isn’t it biased?

26. Will the warming in response to the rising CO2 concentration be significant? How fast will these changes be occurring?

27. Will shifting to renewables enrich a few with political ties at the expense of the majority?

28, 29 and 30. Are computer models reliable enough to depend on? Aren’t they tuned and therefore unreliable? Can they really be used to project into the future?

31, 32, and 33. What has led to climate change being seen as so controversial? Has the science been co-opted by politics? How large is the funding for climate change research?

34 and 35. Are the views of those who are critical of the climate change results being suppressed? Aren’t their reputations being impugned?

36, 37, and 38. Are professional societies being corrupted by the climate change proponents? Has the American Physical Society misrepresented the views of its members?

39, 40 and 41. Is the public getting a balanced picture of climate change science? What is the trend in public understanding and viewpoint? Is the public just being rushed to judgment?

42 and 43. Aren’t there other environmental problems more deserving of emphasis than climate change? Where should the attention lie?

From MacCracken’s conclusion:

Building a better future can only be accomplished by facing up to the impacts that increasing CO2 emissions are having on the climate, on sea level, and on ocean acidification. That Dr. Happer is slowing this down by putting forth scientific statements that indicate so little understanding (presumably, because of reading too narrowly or with too closed a mind) is very disappointing. In the years that I was at Princeton and the grading system went from 1 (high) to 7 (low), I regret to say that Dr. Happer would have earned the 7. This grade was actually hard to get because it indicated “flagrant neglect” in one’s studies. For his generally uninformed and limited discussion and understanding of climate change science, however, I very much regret to say that Dr. Happer seems clearly to have earned that designation.

Full text of the article: The Real Truth About Greenhouse Gases and Climate Change

Mike MacCracken has been a guest contributor at Climate Science Watch and we have cited his work on several earlier occasions. A few of these include:

MacCracken federal court Declaration defending EPA Endangerment Finding

Climate Progress interviews Christopher Field and Michael MacCracken on climate change reality

Michael MacCracken: The Achievable Path to Climate Protection

Michael MacCracken’s review of Roger Pielke, Sr.’s May 14 climate talk to the Marshall Institute

Michael MacCracken’s analysis of errors in Robinson, Robinson, and Soon 2007 contrarian article

Climate Institute home page

MacCracken bio at Climate Institute website