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Is Richard Lindzen Credible? April 15, 2007

Posted by Jim Satterfield in Environment.
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Newsweek gave prominent AGW denier Richard Lindzen a platform to make some of his usual claims. When the letters objecting to those claims came pouring in they posted them with a reply from Lindzen and called it a forum.

Here are some links to various articles and opinions about Lindzen from Wikipedia, SourceWatch, Environmental Economics, Logical Science, Physics Web and Scientific American. Also, while I’m not going to link to everything there if you go to realclimate and search for Richard Lindzen you’ll find some interesting reading if you’re really interested in the subject. The web site is run by climatologists and really does present what I consider a balanced view. This does not mean that they go searching for deniers (I won’t give them the legitimacy of calling them skeptics.) to provide a false balance like so many general media outlets do. That would be misleading on where the science stands. But you will find people like Lindzen occasionally commenting and others who are even more shrill in their accusations against anyone who thinks that AGW is real.

Why do I question his credibility? The overwhelming majority of climatologists disagree with his opinions and can back it up with logical reasoning for one thing. His favorite publications to write for nowadays are places like the Wall Street Journal and the Cato Institute, not scientific journals. Note in the Scientific American article where Lindzen makes a claim concerning the use of tree rings for estimating temperatures in the past in a study that was absolutely false.

 Look at this exchange in the Newsweek “forum”.

Tofino, Canada: Richard Lindzen should have done his homework before writing the article. He is wrong on numerous counts. To comment on only one; sea levels are certain to rise because glaciers around the world are melting, the Greenland ice cap, for example, by as much as 200 cubic kilometers per year. And Tibet’s 147,000 claciers are receding by about 50 percent per decade. Mr. Lindzen, I’m afraid, still has the blinders on.
Since you only specifically mention one, that is all I can respond to. There is actually nothing in your comment that contradicts what I wrote. You might want to calculate how much such a discharge from Greenland would add to sea level. You will discover that it is virtually unmeasurable. The other claims, even if true, would add much less. That said, the net mass balance from Greenland changes sign from year to year, and is mostly in balance between accumulation in the center, and discharge from the perimeter. Icebergs are huge, but the ocean is much bigger. Moreover, water evaporated from the ocean contributes to the growth of Greenland and is lost from the ocean. The earth is a remarkable, huge and dynamic system; it always has been.

What’s wrong with it? It’s a very basic concept that one shouldn’t confuse a constant with a variable. The letter writer refers to the current rate of glacier melting in Greenland. Lindzen replies to the writer by referring to the rate he quoted. Reality is that anyone who follows these issues knows that the rate is in fact accelerating. Drastically. When another reader expresses doubts about even government funded research given the attitude of the current administration Lindzen flippantly claims that the agencies are remarkably isolated from the President. While I do not necessarily share the writer’s doubt about government sponsored research I notice that Lindzen doesn’t address the efforts that the administration has made to affect it as though it doesn’t even exist.

And then there’s this exchange:

Houston, Texas: As with the typical naysayers, Lindzen confuses the audience by equating weather and climate. If one assigns the controversy to professional acrimony among climatologists, and asks, “What if global warming is real? What is the present evidence?” The actual data for the last 25 years corresponds exactly to the worst possible scenario envisioned in 1990 by the IPCC. Perhaps the agreement is coincidental. However, the infrared energy (heat) radiated by the planet has decreased, as measured by satellites, which means the heat has been retained by the planet. The melting worldwide of mountain glaciers and the copious methane release by thawing permafrost in Siberia are processes too ominous to ignore, just on the personal authority of one expert.
You might want to check your claims. According to all studies including those summarized by the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change], methane levels in the atmosphere have ceased increasing at all. Similarly, global mean temperatures have not changed to any extent that can be statistically confirmed for almost 10 years. The worst predictions in 1990 predicted a great deal more than was actually observed.

While the writer may not have been as clear as he ought to have been if Lindzen really is knowledgable about what’s going on in climate research he knows that the references made to glacier melting and methane release are speaking of potential problems that would make the problem worse should current warming trends continue. But Lindzen refers to the past, not potential future problems as discrediting the writer’s point.

Do yourself a favor. If you’re really interested in hard facts about global warming take any claims from Richard Lindzen with a salt mine, not just a grain.

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