Has the once-respected professor “gone emeritus”?
Richard Lindzen has long been the “skeptic” community's scientific poster boy. In a world stuffed with deniers for hire such as S. Fred Singer and Tim Ball, who lecture on the topic of climate change regardless that they bring little or no relevant expertise to the subject, Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences at MIT and has served (many years ago) as a lead author on a chapter in the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
But increasingly, his trenchant denial that climate change is a concern is casting him further from the ranks of people who can be taken seriously - particularly as he shows increasing willingness to say things that are simply and demonstrably not true.
Take as an example this recent radio interview, in which Lindzen tells Australian commentator Chris Smith that his country's effort to tackle climate change by implementing carbon tax is “a bit bizarre.”
Lindzen says a number of silly things (in more detail below), but he flat out lies about the state of polar ice in Greenland and Antarctica saying, “there is no evidence of any significant change.”
Isabella Velicogna would disagree. In her most recent Geophysical Research Letters paper on ice mass loss calibrated by the GRACE (Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment) satellite mission, she recorded losses on Greenland amounting to 286 giggatonnes a year between 2007–2009 on Greenland and 246 Gt/yr in 2006–2009 in Antarctica. Compared to a period five years earlier, the loss was accelerating by a trend that Velicogna described as quadratic rather than linear.
Most of Lindzen's comments in this interview amount to little more than advising children to play with matches. For example, he says that it is “bizarre” for people in Australia to try to rein in their carbon emissions because that action, “couldn't be justified by any impact that it would have on Australia or anyone.” Lindzen doesn't make any effort to justify this view, leaving us to speculate that he might be arguing that any action taken by Australia's small population would be irrelevant, especially when both population and personal carbon emissions are growing quickly in the developing world.
It's the argument you might hear from Smokey the Bear's evil cousin, who advises not that “Only you can prevent forest fires,” but: “What the hell, some guy in China might be starting a fire right now anyway; what possible difference can it make if YOU'RE reckless?”
Lindzen is only 71 years old, a little early to “go emeritus” in the sense of forgetting entirely the necessity to check your work before you open your mouth - and to restrict yourself to topics on which you have actually done some recent research. Then again, this is a guy who once testified that it was hard to make a link between smoking and cancer.
Toward the end of the radio interview, however, Lindzen said one thing that's hard to criticize. Asked to imagine what people will think when they look back on this time 40 years from now, he said, they “will wonder how science broke down.” They'll wonder how, “in a period of technilogical advance that the public could be swayed by arguments that make no sense.”
On that position, he is sure to be proved correct.