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Phlogiston, Protoplasm, and Global Warming

Commentary by Greg Lewis / NewMediaJournal.US
February 14, 2007

You may have heard of "phlogiston" and "protoplasm." Like "global warming," they're pseudo-scientific terms used to describe phenomena scientists can't explain. Unlike global warming, phlogiston and protoplasm, although they were always inadequate and disinformational when describing natural phenomena, have become obsolete in the face of the growing body of scientific knowledge. Unfortunately, although it is a similar phenomenon, we haven't gotten to the stage yet with global warming where it is finally discredited, although it certainly appears that we're getting closer to that happy day.

Phlogiston theory, you may recall, was first posited in the late 17th century and proposed that all flammable materials contained phlogiston, a colorless, odorless weightless substance that enabled things that contained it to burst into flames. That was before we understood the principles of combustion.

And the term "protoplasm" referred, at least in my high school science courses, to the wriggling gelatinous substance surrounding the nucleus of a cell. That was back before we understood that a cell, far from being a mass of undulating, undifferentiated "living matter," is actually composed of hundreds of thousands of discrete organelles and processes that carry out the fundamental activities of life at the molecular level.

The point is that "global warming" is just such a term. It labels a phenomenon and doesn't accomplish much more than that; in other words, we know approximately as much about the global climate as scientists knew about combustion when they coined the word "phlogiston."

They knew that things caught fire, but they didn't know why. For our part, we're not even absolutely sure that the earth is warming significantly, although there does seem to be preliminary evidence that a slight warm-up is taking place. Indeed, the "fudge" factors in the computer models used to "predict" future climate changes are so enormous as to make the predictions utterly meaningless. Add to that the fact that our temperature measurements, while there are more of them available for analysis with each passing year, are at best spotty over even the past hundred years, and you've got the makings of highly irresponsible science at best.
Using the term global warming - and especially imputing it to human activity - to describe a very confined and recent phenomenon ignores the obvious: that global warming has been going on since the end of the last ice age about 60,000 years ago. In addition, it's been going on since the middle of about the 17th century, when the recent "mini-ice age" ended. Neither of these two ice ages can be attributed to human activity by any stretch of the imagination, and it's highly unlikely that our burning of fossil fuels, the oft-cited culprit by global warming alarmists, has contributed much to the current climate cycle, which may not, by the way, be such a bad thing after all.

Those alarmists have gone way over the top. One day last week, ABC's graphic headline during a Good Morning America weather segment read, "Will Billions Die From Global Warming?" Of course, the answer to that question is, "Only if we follow the advice of know-nothings like Al Gore and his cronies." Otherwise, if we listen to responsible scientists and engage in civil debate for the purpose of determining the most probable potential outcomes, there's a good chance we'll come to the realization that "global warming" is not likely to have a significant negative effect on life on earth, and it may even have just the opposite.

Part of the irresponsibility involved in being a global warming flak is that the subject has become so politicized. Over the past several decades, it's become "science in the service of a political agenda," and that's frequently been a recipe for disaster in the past.

There's a great deal of historical precedent for not proceeding precipitously into policy-making based on unproven science. To cite but one example: From the late 1920s through the 1930s, as Joseph Stalin carried out his murderous consolidation of power in the Soviet Union, Trofim Denisovich (T.D.) Lysenko emerged as the leading proponent of a scientific position that would become the basis of Stalin's collectivization of agricultural production in the Soviet Union.

Lysenko's muddy and unsupported "theory" of plant development - which held incorrectly that environment, and not genetics, was the critical factor in determining how much time it would take a plant to mature - was applied widely in an attempt to improve the productivity of then-recently collectivized Ukrainian farms. The resulting disaster saw as many as five million kulaks (as the group of peasants singled out in Stalin's brutal collectivization strategy were called) die of starvation, in no small part because of crop failures that resulted from the application of Lysenko's theories.

But beyond even the potentially disastrous results that might ensue if we follow the recommendations of global warming zealots - whose science has about as much legitimacy as Lysenko's did - there are new attempts to suppress those who responsibly advocate an opposing, or even a skeptical, position. In a nefarious reverse spin tactic, Democrats are accusing President Bush of trying to suppress their hysteria over the issue. (As if seeing those scare headlines displayed on a national telecast were somehow a sign that the global warming folks weren't getting their message out.)

In fact, it's precisely the opposite. It's the leftists and liberals, the global warming geeks, who are trying to suppress legitimate points of view on this topic. Weather Channel guru Dr. Heidi Cullen has proposed that meteorologists who don't espouse global warming be stripped of their credentials and denied the opportunity to practice their profession!

But perhaps the most alarming case of this type of suppression involves Bjorn Lomborg, who in his book The Skeptical Environmentalist has presented a meticulously researched and massively documented (the book contains more than 3,000 footnotes!) case against global warming and many other environmental disasters predicted by "science." What really matters to environmentalists and those on the left in general is to promote an anti-capitalist agenda, specifically one which says that industrial civilization is bad for the environment across the board, in the current instance because it tends to generate significant amounts of the gas carbon dioxide, which ostensibly contributes to the greenhouse effect, which in turn is going to lead, possibly within our children's lifetimes, to massive changes in the earth's climate that will render many regions of our planet uninhabitable and create unimaginable chaos in our descendants' lives.

No one has better exemplified this position than one Stephen Schneider. Schneider is a "scientist" who has criticized the overwhelming and indisputable evidence that Bjørn Lomborg amassed against the case for global warming in The Skeptical Environmentalist. Schneider has said this about what scientists need to do to convince people that global warming is real: "[W]e have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, make little mention of any doubts we might have . . . decide what the right balance is between being effective and being honest."

Schneider is not the only one who's tried to silence Lomborg and perpetuate lies about climate change. Back in 2003, shortly after the book's publication, an organization called the Danish Research Agency (supposedly a neutral observer) found that Lomborg had been "dishonest" in The Skeptical Environmentalist. Even the journal Science published an article claiming that the book had been "officially" discredited. Such is the persecutorial bent of the environmental commandos pushing their agenda.

In fact, as is becoming clearer and clearer, the likely cause of global temperature fluctuations are increases and decreases in cosmic radiation due to sunspot activity. Increases in sunspot activity increase solar wind, and the resulting increase in cosmic rays bombarding the earth results in greater formation of high cloud cover over our planet. This in turn has the effect of reflecting the sun's radiation back into space, causing global cooling.

The mini ice age which ended about 150 years ago correlates very highly with increased sunspot activity. The period from 1945 to 1975, when one would think that the earth would have been warming due to the enormous increase in the amount of carbon spewed into the atmosphere, was actually a period of cooling, very likely resulting from an increase in sunspot activity and thus an increase in reflectivity from high clouds.

Likewise, the past 30 years or so has seen a decrease in solar wind and sunspot activity. This has resulted in a decrease in high cloud formation accompanied by an increase in cloud cover closer to the earth, which tends to trap heat in the earth's atmosphere and promote warming. These interesting developments in global climate science - developments based on observation and correlation of data and not on conjectural computer models - have been purposely, one might say criminally, ignored by those promoting the false notion that human activity is the primary cause of "global warming," which in fact might simply not even be occurring at all.

You might remember Carnak the Magnificent, the turban-wearing "psychic" that Tonight Show host Johnny Carson used to play? Well, if the answer to a Carnak riddle were "phlogiston, protoplasm, and global warming," the question would surely be, "Name three theories that had people wondering if the scientists who espoused them had to get special chairs, given the orifices out of which they were talking."

 

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