Non-Climate Scientist ‘Climate Scientist’ Sets the Record Straight

by Bill Chameides | March 9th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 9 comments

William Happer, who is a non-climate scientist, recently testified on climate in front of a Senate committee.

Have you noticed that a new kind of scientific expert has been born? It is the non-climate scientist “climate scientist,” better known in the trade as the NCSCS….

What is a NCSCS? It is someone who is not a climate scientist but is nevertheless happy to speak authoritatively about the alleged scientific errors being made by the real climate scientists. A dead ringer for a NCSCS is one who begins with words to the effect of: “I am not a climatologist, but …”

Those were the exact words spoken by William Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics at Princeton University, in his testimony to the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on February 25, 2009 (written testimony [pdf] | video).

Like former astronaut and former U.S. senator Harrison Schmitt, a fellow NCSCS, Happer is incensed about this global warming “scare.” Happer is convinced that carbon dioxide (CO2) is “good for mankind” and, based on statements made to the Daily Princetonian, appears to equate all this talk of the evils of CO2 with the anti-Semitic Nazi slur that “Jews are the scum of the earth.” He’s got to be kidding. Granted carbon dioxide, at only 380 parts per million, is a minority gas, but come on.

Let’s take a look at five pieces of climate science and the arguments advanced in Happer’s non-expert, expert testimony to see how they stand up against each other.

Happer: Water Vapor Feedback Does Not Exist

Happer recently told the Senate EPW Committee: “To get these scary scenarios that we hear about, water vapor and clouds must amplify the direct effects of CO2. In fact observations suggest that water vapor and clouds actually diminish the already small global warming expected from CO2, not amplify it.”

Really? I don’t think so. Let’s take a look at what scientific observations actually show. First, water vapor, not CO2, is the most important greenhouse gas.

An increase in CO2 in and of itself causes a relatively small warming. But that small warming from CO2 is amplified by a water vapor feedback process: water vapor concentrations increase as temperatures increase (and vice versa). We’ve all seen this temperature-water vapor dependence. It’s why dew forms at night (when temperatures cool and the air holds less vapor) and burns off during the day (as temperatures rise, allowing the air to hold more water vapor); it’s also why water beads up on a cold window pane in the winter.

So when CO2 increases, temperatures increase slightly; these higher temperatures cause an increase in water vapor, which causes an additional increase in temperatures, which causes an increase in water vapor, and so on. The result is a vicious cycle with a much larger temperature increase than would have happened if only CO2 increased.

That’s the theory, but does the feedback really exist? Happer, in his written testimony, says no: “With each passing year, experimental observations further undermine the claim of a large positive feedback from water. In fact, observations suggest that the feedback is close to zero and may even be negative.”

Wrong. In fact satellite observations show that water vapor concentrations have increased in the past decades as predicted by the water vapor theory. (See this 2008 article from Geophysical Research Letters and this 2009 article from Science.)

Happer: Global Cooling Is Here

Happer states that there has been a “slight cooling” over the past 10 years. Actually not: see this piece I just wrote for Popular Science.

Happer: But What About English Wine

Happer points out that “the Romans grew grapes in Britain around the year 100.” This is one of my favorites. It’s what is known as an ignoratio elenchi or red herring. Yes, it’s true that grapes were grown in Britain by the Romans. But what does that prove? The English grow grapes and produce wine today. Check this site out.

Happer: Past Climate Change Not Modeled

“The existence of climate variability in the past has long been an embarrassment to those who claim that all climate change is due to man and that man can control it,” claims Happer. “The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] IPCC has made no serious attempt to model the natural variations of the Earth’s temperature in the past.”

This is news to me. In the first place, I don’t recall any (real) climate scientist asserting that all climate change is due to man. In fact, climate scientists have been studying and modeling past climate changes for decades, trying to uncover the natural processes that cause climate variability.

For example, in 1976 J. D. Hays and colleagues were able to establish that climate swings from ice ages to warm periods (like today’s) are triggered by variations in the Earth’s orbit about the sun. The IPCC has an extensive discussion [pdf] about so-called paleoclimate and in fact uses the climate record to test current climate models. Suffice it to say that the sum of all identified natural processes that impact climate have not been able to explain the current warming.

Happer: CO2 Follows Temperature

Another favorite of the NCSCSes is that increases in CO2 concentrations follow rather than lead temperature increases from ice ages to warm periods and vice versa. Another ignoratio elenchi. The variations Happer refers to are not news and are most likely caused by a multi-hundred year feedback between temperatures and greenhouse gases.

Happer chastises climate scientists for not relying on observations. And
yet, like so many of his fellow NCSCSes, he appears to have come to own views without the benefit of reading the scientific climate literature let alone making any direct observations. For someone of his considerable stature, chaired professor at Princeton and all that, this is truly disappointing.

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  1. Daniel Kolomeets-Darovsky
    Mar 11, 2009

    Hi, I just came across a ‘third way’ in terms of carbon legislation and systems. This one is called cap-and-dividend, with the basic premise of honing in on carbon upstream and taking the revenue and distributing this back to the public, in a progressive way (counter to my previous post’s article from the WSJ). The author, who wrote a book about how to live a sustainable lifestyle in the Big Apple, also notes the problems with it. I thought one of the prevailing methods, as advocated by the likes of Gore et al, was to make it tax neutral, by reducing payrolls taxes, which I believe more Americans pay than income taxes (federal, I believe) and helps relieve the burden on the hardest hit (the poor). Would like to know you thoughts. Thanks. The link is here:

  2. Daniel Kolomeets-Darovsky
    Mar 11, 2009

    Interesting discussion and I’m glad there’s a term for such individuals now. I also read recently that there’s a ‘climate skeptics’ conference with the Czech President being the keynote speakers, a prominent and outspoken critic of global climate change (the Czech Rep. currently chairs the EU). Disappointing stuff but very relevant with the issues raised in Tali Trigg’s blog on the way environmentalists are labeled in the media, that that term is still one of those derogatory ones. I happened to find this article on the Wall Street Journal recently discussing in an editorial who ‘pays’ for such a system. The link is here ( As I mentioned to a friend today, in a political view, it is interesting to see the issue framed as if those for the system are going to contribute to the further destitute of the working class American and underprivileged. It turns the whole those for the middle class and average person vs. corporate America on its head, no doubt trying to paint those pushing for it as dangerous (the President, environmentalists, other proponents, etc). Among the many things that can be discussed in the piece, I find the conclusion that it just “a scheme to redistribute income and wealth” rather cliched and unimaginative, not to mention the cherrypicking of information, making it seem as the President is the opposite of who he says he is. Lacking a counter solution is also disappointing. Is a tax better? In many economic respects. But what is the real conclusion. It’s not enough to be against something, that philosophy doesn’t get one far. In any case, it discounts the idea that new jobs would be created in a completely new sector (‘green jobs’) if the push, policy and incentives are in place. Oh, and the use California’s per capita emissions is somewhat misleading – since the 1970s, with the help of decoupling of utilities and the major push for energy efficiency, it’s per capita energy use has been level while the rest of the nation, as a whole, has increased by 50%. Let’s not pick on California, for all their faults, they’ve been going what we all should have done decades ago. -Dan

  3. Jerry
    Mar 11, 2009

    I read Happer’s testimony and agree with most of it. The fact that Happer is a physicist should not disqualify him from giving thoughtful opinions. After all, climate science is heavy on physics and chemistry. Maybe you can tell me what defines a climate scientist? Is it someone who actually works on some sort of climate topic and may or may not have a climate science degree or someone with a climate science degree. I tried to find a concise curriculum for climatology. I saw some very interesting things at the University of Michigan and also at the Nicholas school. I looked at Florida State and a few others. I didn’t have all day to run this down so I thought I would ask you. But I would really like to know what is a climate scientist and how does one become “qualified” to be such. You poke at Harrison Schmidt because he is a geologist. The sense I get here is that even if you are a degreed scientist, engineer, mathematician, etc. and are well versed in the subject if you don’t agree with AGW theory (emphasize theory) you are discounted as a shill, denialist, employed by Exxon/Mobil, etc. You cite a paper by Dessler, et all about water vapor concentrations but don’t make mention work done by Paltridge, Arking and Pook which is counter to the Dessler paper. What if Dr. Steven Chu was in Happer’s place testifying and he said everything you believe. Could we not make a case that his testimony was bogus because he is not a climate scientist? Al Gore is no scientist and he gets a free ride.

    • Bill Chameides
      Mar 11, 2009

      So Gore is more credible than Happer just because he is “up on the literature?” Give me a break. He’s up on the literature that supports his closed minded views. So close minded, that he has to attack anyone who disagrees with him. Reading reports that support your position is not quite in the same league as someone with a PHD in Physics conducting research. As a scientist yourself you should cringe every time Gore states “the science is settled.” If it is settled, all of you climate scientists, the only ones we should listen to you say, should pack up and go home, find a new career, retire, or start marketing global warming survival kits. By the way, how long would the Environmental Defense Fund keep you around if you dared to contradict their agenda? For someone of your considerable stature, chaired professor at Duke and all that, this is truly disappointing.

    • Chris Winter
      Mar 11, 2009

      Personally, I don’t think someone’s testimony should be discounted merely because he’s commenting on a subject outside his career field. But the quality of the testimony itself has to be considered. I suggest you read Dr. Happer’s interview in the Daily Princetonian. Look down toward the end, where he claims the CO2 concentration has not increased for 200 years or more — contradicting not only the established facts, but his own testimony before Congress. I’m sorry to be so harsh about a scientist like Dr. Happer, but his statements just don’t hold up to scrutiny.

  4. Mike
    Mar 11, 2009

    Thank you Happer for exposing this scam and those on the C02 witch hunt. I am greatly concerned for my daughters future if these cap & trade lunatics get their way. Don’t listen to those like who say this is too complicated an issue for laymen. Don’t listen to those who say just trust us because we are the experts. I guess thegreencrok thinks Al Gore is a climate expert cause I do not see any criticism of him here.

    • Daniel Wedgewood
      Mar 25, 2009

      If I were you, I would be concerned about your daughter’s future. But, if you’re not worried, go ahead and burn those witches using coal. After all, what could be the harm? It’s not really getting warmer, is it? And acid rain is just a figment of some (actually a few thousand) over-achieving Phd’s imagination, right? All you need to do is to fill up your SUV and take your daughters to someplace tropical for a vacation – like Alaska in a few hundred years… Dan

  5. Bill
    Mar 10, 2009

    Apparently Happer was fired from his former post at DOE (he claims by Al Gore) in 1993 because he disagreed that ozone was dangerous to humans. Now we once again find him disagreeing with scientific consensus, and distorting the science to fit his right wing ideology. He strikes me as someone who simply enjoys going against the grain, and especially against Gore. He has no science to back his claims. What a disgrace to Princeton.

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