William Happer wants to party like it’s 79,999,999 (BC)

I’ve been seeing the name “William Happer” pop up a lot in the denialosphere over the last few weeks. Apparently this is due to Happer’s recent testimony in front of Congress on anthropogenic climate change [I couldn't find a transcript- all the docs I do find are dated to July of 2002 when Happer presumably previously testified]. Coincidentally in the process of looking for some good energy-related blogs, I stumbled across [here] this little gem:

80ma the world was a significantly different place with respect to continental configuration and thus climate and especially sea levels- it was likely free of substantial polar ice. As I was updating my links due to AMFASR’s move, I remembered a post there a while back on a recent study on sea levels during that period. Sure enough, Kim had a nice post on the topic and a link to the Science paper (here for those without access). The authors also provided the press with a nifty little graphic illustrating why Dr. Happer either doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about or is being astoundingly dishonest:

In case the message isn't clear, the dark blue areas cover some incredibly densely-populated areas

Given that he pushes the “we’re in a CO2 famine” canard and currently chairs the Marshall Institute, I know where I’d put my money.

This touches on a point that Greenfyre made re: the whole George Will flap- what’s remarkable about this is that this is their best and brightest. These guys are their heaviest of hitters. And somehow they’re still managing to hoodwink a substantial percentage of the US population.

How is that possible?

[UPDATE: I’d forgotten, but Happer was another one of the CFC-ozone depletion “skeptics” who turned out to be climate change denialists as well. He claims to have been purged from DoE by Clinton-Gore due to this when in reality he was a political appointment from the prior administration (who are routinely replaced when the new administration takes office).]

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25 responses to “William Happer wants to party like it’s 79,999,999 (BC)

  1. I feel dirty just for linking to it, but Happer’s full testimony is here.

    [I looked there, but even that PDF says "William Happer testimony to Senate Energy Committee, July 10, 2002". Obviously that can't be correct, because he says "Madam Chairman" reflecting Boxer's ascendancy to the Chair. I just want to be sure I get the right testimony before ripping into it. -TB]

    To your point about “this is their best and brightest”… this testimony is basically content-free. It’s all: Vikings! Water vapour! Trees eat CO2! Our breath contains CO2! And then the wild red herring about the benefits of reducing CO2 emissions are over-estimated… because the benefits of Prohibition(????) were over-estimated, and in fact lead to the developement of organized crime in America?

    This is the best they’ve got? And yet you’re right – a lot of people lap it up. This testimony was dropped on my desk as an example of how climate science was crumbling under the weight of new evidence…. Wha????

  2. Well, I can understand your wanting to be sure. It does, however, indicate Feb. 25/2009 on the cover, and it references the 2007 British court case regarding “An Inconvenient Truth”, and Katrina… So I am pretty sure we have the genuine goods… But you may want to verify even further. It wouldn’t surprise me that the July 2002 reference is a tip-off that his testimony was largely just a regurgitation of earlier talking points… but that’s just idle speculation…

    [That (testimony you linked to) has to be it. Could it be such a simple issue as Happer reusing the formatting from his 2002 testimony on an unrelated matter? Looks that way. -TB]

  3. Also, I do know that the Prohibition nonsense was stated verbatim in his testimony last week. Video and text evidence .

    By the way, if you are going to rip in to this, be forewarned that you will like leave the exercise stupider just for having been exposed to it… Kepler, Darwin, Aztec human sacrifice, Romans, George Washington’s doctor…

    It’s like some kind of weird jiu-jitsu… where they respond to the Keeling curve by referencing Fleischmann-Pons… and walking away declaring “Victory!”…

  4. Link above was supposed to be:

    http://www.democracynow.org/2009/2/26/member_of_un_environment_panel_warns

    There is a clip of Happer’s testimony.

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  6. He wants to go back to 80 Ma? What? I mean, sure, I would love to go back go 80 Ma (except for the dinosaurs and stuff), but that’s because I’m a geologist and would like some answers about the mountains back then. (Also, I like swimming. Though not with mosasaurs.)

  7. “How is that possible?” Well, if you happened into a contentious “scientific” debate regarding an area about which you knew relatively little – would you be so completely uncharitable as to assume that one side would so entirely intellectually and morally bankrupt as to be basing their arguments on, well, complete made-up B.S., consisting solely of regurgitated talking points from, say, think tanks funded formerly by big tobacco and now paid for by fossil fuel interests? And what if giving credence to the assertions of the other side of the debate would require a painful readjustments to the likelihood of a really nasty reality just around the corner? I think most people see a heated “he said/she said” going on and just assume that both sides must have some merit – which, of course, is the whole point of having paid-for guys like Happer to trot out and spew complete nonsense with a few sciency sounding terms thrown in, just for truthiness.

  8. Pardon me, but I think you all are missing the point about Dr. Happer’s “80 million years ago” comment:
    If the earth’s climate 80 million years ago had significantly more CO2 concentration, and it was perfectly hospitable to life and not very different than today’s, then why worry about reaching the same levels of CO2 today? The message he is trying to send is that historically, higher CO2 levels didn’t make a catastrophic difference and were instead favorable. Where the continents were is irrelevant.

    [That's a strawman argument. No one is arguing that higher CO2 levels and hotter climates (you seem to have left that part out) are a priori inhospitable to "life not very different than today's". Life during the Late Cretaceous and other periods with hotter climates had timescales of millennia and longer to evolve and adapt to its environs. We're talking about shifting the climate on the order of magnitude of interglacial-to-glacial maximum in a hundred or so years. Both the rate and magnitude of change are key. Also, even if there were no other negative consequences of a higher CO2/hotter world like the Late Cretaceous than sea levels, SLR of an amount even one tenth of those levels would be catastrophic to highly populous, low-lying coastal areas like Florida. The cost/benefit analysis of that alone would necessitate an emissions price sufficient to begin transitioning us away from carbon intensive fuels. That's before we even begin to discuss issues like hydrological cycle intensity, ocean acidification, species extinction, etc. His flippant answer, amounting to "there was life back then so unchecked emissions can't be that bad" is absurd.]

    Furthermore, the video somehow is missing his key point (which is in his text), which is a perfectly testable hypothesis that he bases his entire argument on (and could be verified): Is there a positive feedback mechanism through water vapor that amplifies the effects of increased CO2? If not, then CO2 isn’t a problem. If so, then it is.

    [That question has been asked and answered. I personally doubt that Happer is unaware of this. If he is and is still questioning the existence of a strong positive water vapor feedback out of genuine ignorance, then offering such uninformed testimony before the Committee is gross negligence on his part to put it charitably.]

    If you look around for more information on Dr. Happer, you’ll find out that he’s a very well respected scientist. He’s the inventor of the sodium laser guide-star, and a prominent advisor to the government on defense.

    [He's also the chair of a global warming denier front group and his testimony reads like a Denialist Greatest Hits compilation. Whatever his reputation in his own field is, his role in this matter will not be looked kindly upon by history. I hope he's made peace with that. - TB]

  9. Pingback: William Happer’s analogy overload, and 80 million years ago « International Journal of Inactivism — Mindless Link Propagation section

  10. tidal:

    be forewarned that you will like leave the exercise stupider just for having been exposed to it… Kepler, Darwin, Aztec human sacrifice, Romans, George Washington’s doctor…

    It’s like some kind of weird jiu-jitsu…

    Hmm… I think I’ll just call it “analogy overload”.

    bi

  11. Dear TB – thank you very much for the responses, and especially for the very current link about CO2/water vapor feedback.

    [No problem. Also note that although that Perspective by Dessler & Sherwood was published recently, the references were all published well in advance of the Committee testimony. Not to beat a dead horse, but there is no satisfactory reason for Happer to be pushing the "no one knows about water vapor" line. - TB]

  12. I was curious about the conditions during the Cretaceous period, so I did a simple Wiki…
    Interesting map of the lower US. It doesn’t do too well. Two large islands separated by a large body of water.
    And I’d think twice before taking a swim.
    Average water temperature of 37C…

  13. I’d like to draw attention to Barbara Boxer’s response in the clip: We have a society now.

    It’s not that life won’t survive (or even, necessarily, that human life won’t survive) a rise to 1000ppm or more. (TB’s absolutely right about the rate of change, but setting that aside for a moment…). The important part is that human civilization has only ever known a very narrow temperature band. Even before you look at sea level rise, what sort of society will we have without agriculture? What hope do we have for peace if water shortages are common? This is not a society that I would categorize as “prosperous”, and it doesn’t even begin to look at more direct impacts like sea level or ocean acidification.

    (A point that I don’t think is stressed anywhere near enough is that the Yangtze, Ganges, and — critically — the Indus rivers are almost entirely glacier/snowpack-fed, and the glaciers are going away. These (and other nearby) rivers feed all of the agriculture in Pakistan and northern India. There’s a complicated series of treaties between the two nations about water sharing, but those break down entirely — in favor of India — if the water dries up. Both nations are nuclear powers. You call this prosperous? ‘cos I don’t.)

  14. BrianD, exactly. As somebody said recently on this general theme, telling us “don’t worry, the earth will be just fine” is like the chef telling the lobster “don’t worry, the pot and the stove will be just fine”. The entirety of our global infrastructure, population distribution, agriculture, etc. has been constructed over centuries on the basis of the heretofore existing climate patterns. It is mindboggling that when this is pointed out to deniers who object to mitigation as too expensive and pointless, they usually reply along the lines “well, if actually it did get warmer, we’ll just move everything north” (as though that option is a quick and costless remedy).

  15. Pingback: And now, the Orgone Petition « International Journal of Inactivism

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  17. What if… The Earth doesn’t warm the way the current models indicate? The water vapor feedback isn’t an effect of CO2 content, rather just warming due to other causes (the paper doesn’t provide evidence of CO2 causing the initial warming)? Al Gore is wrong? … Check out CERN – CLOUD experiment… some really smart people are about to do some really neat experiment that may change the way you think about climate… Just a thought… The Earth was proven flat once or twice by many “scientists”, and some 60% of the population of the Earth doesn’t know that the Earth orbits the Sun…

  18. You poor dears....

    We’ve all been duped! Of course the world is warming up – we’re coming out of an ice age! But the idea that humans can appreciably reduce or reverse the global warming trend is a bogus sham! CO2 levels today are nowhere near the ideal levels for sustenance of flora and fauna! We’re spending billions of dollars fighting a battle with the environment when we should be joining together to fight the globalists who manufactured the crisis.

    Here’s another thing: move away from the coast if you’re concerned about your home being swallowed by the sea. The earth will have its way with us if we don’t listen to her. The argument that population centers will be gobbled up by rising sea levels is ridiculous – not because it’s improbable, but because the idea that we can do something other than get out of Dodge is completely misguided.

    As they have always done through the course of history, the profiteers of this new (again, manufactured) crisis are raking it in & laughing all the way to the bank (which they own, by the way).

  19. P.S. The desire to protect our population centers is not a rational argument for climate change due to human activity.

  20. we've all been duped...

    We’ve all been duped! Of course the world is warming up – we’re coming out of an ice age. But the idea that humans can appreciably reduce or reverse the global warming trend is a bogus sham! CO2 levels today are nowhere near the ideal levels for sustenance of flora and fauna. We’re spending billions of dollars fighting a battle with the environment when we should be joining together to fight the globalists who manufactured the crisis.

    Here’s another thing: move away from the coast if you’re concerned about your home being swallowed by the sea. The earth will have its way with us if we don’t listen to her. The argument that population centers will be gobbled up by rising sea levels is ridiculous – not because it’s improbable, but because the idea that we can do something other than get out of Dodge is completely misguided.

    As they have always done through the course of history, the profiteers of this new (again, manufactured) crisis are raking it in & laughing all the way to the bank (which they own, by the way).

    P.S. The desire to protect our coastal population centers is not a rational argument for climate change due to human activity.

  21. Pingback: William Nierenberg, Merchant of Doubt | The Way Things Break

  22. Am putting together a SW on Dr Happer . Could this be the testimony youre referring to Feb 25th 2009 http://scienceandpublicpolicy.org/reprint/happer_senate_testimony.html ?

  23. Pingback: Tea Party Science » Ocasapiens - Blog - Repubblica.it

  24. Pingback: Global warming deniers getting stupider | Mind of Dan

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