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Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence … NDIA edition …

October 1st, 2012 · 2 Comments

In the June 2012 National Defense magazine, Lawrence Farrell, Jr, the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA)’s national director asked the question: “New American Oil Boom: Will it Slow DoD’s Renewable Energy Momentum?” Farrell’s OPED laid out a reasoned case as to why it remains in the U.S. national interest — and in the Defense Department’s interest — to continue pursuing energy efficiency and renewable energy, even with shale natural gas and shale oil production increases.

Not surprisingly, Farrell’s OPED engendered responses both online and in the magazine. This all became apparent to me when picking up a copy of the August 2012 National Defense at the NDIA display table at the 2012 GreenGov conference. A few days later, I opened the issue and the following words jumped out:

The administration and Defense are all hung up on human-caused global warming ….

erroneous assumptions built into United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) models. The resulting flawed projections of global temperature, which are now challenged by a wide body of scientific authorities, do not reflect the actual global temperature history nor its steady value since 1998.

The sooner we reject the global warming theory and get on with the “boom,” the sooner Defense can develop strategic plans based on greater independence from foreign sources.

Yup, rather standard denier tripe as part of material handed out at a ‘green’ conference run, in part, by the Association of Climate Change Officers (ACCO).

Sigh …

These words came in a letter signed by Admiral Thomas Hayward, US Navy (retired), who served as the Chief of Naval Operations, Vice Admiral Ed Briggs, USN (retired), and Captain Deke Forbes, USN (Ret.). Note that term, in the letter, “authorities”. In the letters section of a military magazine, a retired four-star officer (who headed one of the nation’s military services) is a pretty serious authority who carries serious weight as an authority — a question to ask is whether this “authority” applies to the issue at hand.

To make something clear, Hayward’s letter is — in no small part — an attack on the military’s biofuels program. While I disagree with ADM Hayward, et al, about the question as to whether there is a military role in the development of alternative fuels to advance national security interests, this is an arena for legitimate policy debate, discussion, and dispute. However, this debate, discussion, and dispute should be based on facts and participants should engage truthfully in issues of such fundamental national security.

When it comes to that mandate, extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof/evidence. The three authors statements when it comes to climate change / global warming are (at best) misleading and disingenuous if not outright falsehoods.

  1. “now challenged by a wide body of scientific authorities“: What is meant by “scientific authorities”? Seeing those words, most people might think of groups and institutions like the National Academies of Science (US), the Royal Academies of Science (UK, NZ, Australia, Swedish, Irish, etc), the American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Metereological Society (AMS), American Physical Society, American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), etc … If we look to the world’s scientific institutions, they are united in backing climate science: that the globe is warming, that humanity is a driving factor, that this could have significant implications, and that we should work to reduce humanity’s impact. Perhaps the three authors believe that the world’s scientists and the scientific community are in a secret cabal to deceive people and are absolutely unethical in their science and scientific work. This is a serious charge, even if simply implied, and — as above — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
  2. “sooner we reject the global warming theory”. Sigh (again).  There isn’t a thing called “Global Warming Theory“.   Rather, there is  group of scientific findings and principles that have been well understood for decades, in some cases, centuries, that are implemented all the time by engineers, meteorologists, atmospheric scientists, and others that have to do with energy, gases, and planetary systems.  It has been known for over a century that adding CO2 to the atmosphere would warm it.  In recent decades as the warming has happened, as predicted, we’ve learn exactly what many of the effects of that warming are and we have most recently found out that some of the effects are much worse than we thought. Questioning the science of climate change by singling out a “Global Warming Theory” is like questioning our ability to build a safe and effective Nuclear Navy by singling out one of those crazy “Nuclear Decay” theories  that people who think aliens walk among us use to get around the theory of relativity and allow rapid space travel.
  3. steady value since 1998.” is a well-worn canard to confuse. No one serious about climate science says (a) that there is no natural variation in weather patterns nor (b) that humanity is the only thing that matters. 1998 was hot because of the significant 1997/98 El Nino. However, as to no warming since, the 2000s were hotter globally than the 1990s, the 1990s hotter than the 1980s, the 1980s hotter than the 1970s. (By the way, the authors’ perspective is made clear here — there are few ‘skeptics’ out there any more who continue to assert that the planet isn’t warming.) When one speaks to climate, one speaks to trends and longer periods.  One does not peg everything on a specific year as these three authors did.  That “inconvenient fact” is nonexistent if one starts at 1997 or 1999 rather than 1998.  And, well, if one uses (more appropriately) 30-year trend lines, that global warming pattern is quite clear.  The following graphic gives an understanding of the games being played by picking “1998” rather than looking for long-term impacts. (The below doesn’t include 2011 and 2012’s record breaking temperatures.)
  4. skeptics v realists v3

Perhaps the authors, all three retired U.S. Navy officers, should spend some time listening to and talking with Rear Admiral David Titley, U.S. Navy, the Assistant Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance. Prior to this post, Titley was the Oceanographer of the Navy and head of Task Force Climate . RADM Titley once was a “hard-core skeptic” until he examined the evidence and, as a scientist, was open to the evidence convincing of the reality of global warming and of humanity’s role in driving global warming.

Extreme claims require extreme evidence. While the letters’ three authors have, by their title and the careers / experiences those titles exude, established authority when it comes to issues of military operations, capabilities, and other defense programs, one must wonder whether their ranks confer them the same “authority” when it comes to scientific issues.  Considering how the assertions in their letter fly in the face of the world’s top scientific associations, National Defense‘s editors should have required the authors to provide substantive evidence to support their accusations and claims before National Defense published these misleading — if not more accurately described as false — words.

Sadly, attacks on climate science are significantly driven by political agendas. In no small part, that agenda is very closely connected to the opening of the letter: taking climate science seriously requires taking a serious look at our energy use patterns and opportunities for paths forward different than those of the past. And, those threatened by those shifts — such as fossil fuel companies — fund significant efforts to confuse the public about the realities of climate science. ADM Hayward and his coauthors provide, it seems, a good example of the success of those disinformation efforts.


  • In addition, when it comes to ADM Hayward/et al’s letter, let us be clear: Larry Farrell did not mention climate change. He spoke to other significant issues – such as the global nature of the oil market, vulnerability of those markets, and the Achilles Heel that fossil fuel dependency places on U.S. military forces.
  • RADM Titley’s TED talk follows. He said that this should be called a “reformed smoker’s brief” — of one who had moved from “hard-core skeptic” to someone convinced that climate change is one of the most serious challenges of the 21st century.

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2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 sailrick // Oct 1, 2012 at 11:58 pm

    It’s embarrasing and pathetic that Admiral Hayward et al. sound like they get their climate info from Fox News.

  • 2 National Defense … topics for next debate // Oct 18, 2012 at 6:23 am

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