Environment/Nature

Roy Spencer calls climate scientists and activists “global warming Nazis”

Roy Spencer’s rant on climate change “deniers” vs. “global warming Nazis” indicates that his signature achievements are in the past.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

Table of most of the corrections made by UAH team to satellite record of global temperature.

There was a point when climate scientist Roy Spencer was widely respected for essentially inventing the method that scientists use to measure the Earth’s temperature from satellites. But since the early 1990s, Spencer’s reputation has suffered a number of self-inflicted injuries. For example, Spencer’s evangelical faith has led him to reject evolution in favor of intelligent design. And he’s been quick to conclude that global warming is overblown while only reluctantly accepting corrections that have nearly always shown his conclusions were biased cold. In short, Spencer has demonstrated that he is no longer able to separate his biases from his science.

But Spencer’s post calling climate experts and global warming activists “global warming Nazis” in response to being called a “denier” of global warming indicates that Spencer – who has been called to testify before Congress at least three times – has finally gone completely off the rails.

Spencer doesn’t like being called a “denier” of global warming. He feels that the comparison “indirectly equate(s)” his rejection of industrial climate disruption (the position that the global climate is changing, that human emissions of greenhouse gases are the dominant driver of those changes, and that the changes will be disruptive to human society and global ecology) with Holocaust deniers.

Unfortunately for Spencer, the word “denier” is a value-neutral descriptive term. As I’ve written previously, it’s possible to be a denier of anything:

What’s being denied can be literally anything – evolution, that Han shot first, the existence of God, vaccine safety, that Picard was the best Star Trek captain, HIV as the cause of AIDS, that Shakespeare authored his plays, or even 2 + 2 = 4.

And at as of January 2013 when I did the search, Holocaust denial didn’t even make it onto the top 5 pages of Google results for “denier,” with the first reference appearing at search result #56 – the vast majority of those 55 previous results were in reference to global warming/climate change/climate disruption denial.

I certainly understand that Spencer wouldn’t like being labeled as a denier. After all, most people would rather be labeled according to what they support rather than what they’re against. But that doesn’t change the fact that Spencer is closer to being a denier of industrial climate disruption than he is to being a “global warming skeptic.” His religion and libertarian ideology have biased him too much for him to qualify as an actual skeptic.

While Spencer’s complaint about being called a “denier” is misplaced, his labeling unnamed industrial climate disruption “extremists” as “global warming Nazis” would be offensive if it wasn’t so sad. As someone who has studied the Nazis and talked with Holocaust survivors, I’m generally easily offended by misplaced comparisons to the Nazis. In fact, I’ve written about such misplaced comparisons repeatedly here at S&R. But this time I’m not offended at all, even though this time I’m possibly in the group of people that Spencer would call a Nazi. The reason is that the examples Spencer gives to support his Nazi claim sound more like paranoid ramblings than the words of someone who should be a respected elder statesman of climate science.

First, Spencer says that “a majority of freedom-loving people” would not support policies designed to adapt to and/or mitigate industrial climate disruption, but he fails to name even a single policy while labeling them “radical.” While industrial climate disruption could certainly be affected by the radical idea of population control, I can’t think of a single leading climate scientist or activist who seriously advocates for population control. In fact, when I think of policies advocated by the bulk of climate realists, I can’t think of any that are genuinely radical. There’s nothing radical about a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system like that which has reduced acid rain in the United States. Even direct regulation of carbon emissions isn’t radical – direct regulations have cleaned the air of pollutants before, and there’s no reason it couldn’t again. If he want’s to paint climate realists as radicals deserving of the moniker “global warming Nazis,” Spencer has to be willing to describe exactly what policies he considers to be “radical.”

Second, Spencer accuses climate realists of advocating for state authority (what he calls “fascism,” in another misnomer) and getting what amounts to kickbacks into their research as a result of that support. He goes so far as to claim that climate science is as pseudo-scientific as the “Aryan superiority” research that occurred under Hitler. But this claim is so wrong as to be laughable. Climate science is based on over a century of established science. It’s based on the observed properties of greenhouse gases that are so well known that optical engineers compensate for them all the time. And the conclusions of industrial climate disruption were not driven from the top down, but rather discovered and built up into the comprehensive scientific theory it is today. As someone who has lived climate science for most of his life, Spencer should know just how absurd his complaint really is, yet he made it anyway.

Third, Spencer accuses unnamed climate realists of “pressuring scientific journals to not publish papers” and of forcing journal editors to resign. While this could refer to some of the many Climategate accusations that were subsequently disproved, it’s probably a reference to a paper that Spencer got published in Remote Sensing that was so flawed and peer reviewed only by Spencer’s associates that the editor fell on his sword in order to save the journal. There is a simple solution to this, however – Spencer could publish higher quality papers. In this case, Spencer is blaming everyone else for his own failings.

Fourth, Spencer claims that the “global warming Nazis” are anti-capitalist. There are a significant number of climate activists and scientists who are against unregulated capitalism, but that’s hardly the same thing as being against capitalism entirely. But again, without actual examples, this is just so much rambling.

Fifth, Spencer says that policies designed to adapt and/or mitigate industrial climate disruption will increase poverty. He could be right about this one. There are all sorts of policies that could hurt the poor – if they’re implemented badly. But it’s not like climate realists are unaware of the risks to the poor. Those risks are precisely why so many carbon tax proposals redistribute taxes to the poor via rebates and why there’s so much work on developing cheap solar and wind power for the developing world.

While these claims were silly and misguided, one of Spencer’s statements was offensive. Here it is in its entirety:

This authoritarianism tends to happen with an over-educated elite class…I have read that Nazi Germany had more PhDs per capita than any other country. I’m not against education, but it seems like some of the stupidest people are also the most educated.

Contrary to his words, this claim strikes me as being very much “against education,” and I find that profoundly un-American. Education is the best way to achieve the American Dream, and given the challenges that industrial climate disruption will pose to human society over the rest of this century, the more intelligent, educated people we have solving those challenges, the better.

Spencer has been honored repeatedly for his scientific achievements over the years, and he’s been called to testify before Congress repeatedly. But to see someone who once was one of the few respectable climate skeptics stoop to ranting is disappointing. Given this rant, it’s fair to say that Spencer’s best days, and his signature achievements, are now in the past.

8 replies »

  1. “First, Spencer says that “a majority of freedom-loving people” would not support policies designed to adapt to and/or mitigate industrial climate disruption, but he fails to name even a single policy while labeling them “radical.””

    I haven’t read Spencer’s article, but I would guess that he doesn’t specify who these “freedom-loving people” are and what “freedom” means. If he did, some readers might find it less appealing. If I’m right, he’s engaging in an act of rhetorical manipulation.

    “Fourth, Spencer claims that the “global warming Nazis” are anti-capitalist.” There are a significant number of climate activists and scientists who are against unregulated capitalism, but that’s hardly the same thing as being against capitalism entirely.”

    A better answer would be, So what? Whether the scientists are pro or anti-capitalism is about as relevant as whether they cheat on their spouses. The issue is the merits of the science, not the character or beliefs of the scientists. (Also, it would be hard to argue that the Nazis were anti-capitalism.)

    “Fifth, Spencer says that policies designed to adapt and/or mitigate industrial climate disruption will increase poverty. He could be right about this one.”

    Tackling climate change will be costly. Not tackling climate change will be even more costly. If climate change isn’t addressed, poverty would be increased even more. Consider food prices. Again, I haven’t read Spencer’s article, but I assume he’s doing here what conservatives or libertarians often do, i.e. holding the poor up as a shield to cover his own policy preferences.

    Spencer:
    “This authoritarianism tends to happen with an over-educated elite class…I have read that Nazi Germany had more PhDs per capita than any other country. I’m not against education, but it seems like some of the stupidest people are also the most educated.”

    In my opinion this is not an example of anti-Americanism, but rather representative of a well documented strain of American anti-intellectualism. It’s also another example of Spencer’s rhetorical manipulation. The well educated Spencer is pandering to his readers and telling them that they’re smarter than the vast majority of climate scientists. In doing so, he’s attaching himself to the anti-intellectual populist tradition that the Nazis were part of.

  2. I’ve now read Spencer’s post and my guess was correct. Also, the post is far worse than described by Brian Angliss. Spencer talks tough and concludes with the following combination of nonsense and vindictiveness:

    “NOTE: A couple people [sic] in comments have questioned my use of “Nazi”, which might be considered over the top. Considering the fact that these people are supporting policies that will kill far more people than the Nazis ever did — all in the name of what they consider to be a righteous cause — I think it is very appropriate. Again, I didn’t start the name-calling.”

    It’s indicative of Spencer’s level that what provoked him weren’t the alleged, unnamed, undocumented “policies that will kill far more people than the Nazis ever did,” but being called a denier.

  3. Thanks Philip,
    Also interesting is that Roy Spencer states :
    ““When politicians and scientists started calling people like me “deniers””
    but fails to name a SINGLE one of these politicians and scientists.

  4. Obviously, Spencer is a hysterical dick-head.

    However, I think he has a point. Denier has become perjorative. Recently in an offline exchange I called Sam Smith, head honcho of this site, a “market-denier,” and he went right through the roof. Just like Richard Sherman and Kenyon Martin argue that “thug” has become a politically acceptable term to denigrate young black men, so has denier become a term with which those of us who are more educated and science-friendly label the willfully ignorant. To claim it’s not insulting is, I think, disingenuous. Give me a single example of a positive use of the word “denier.”

    • I did not go through the roof. I rolled my eyes in weary exasperation at your attempt to get a rise out of me.

      But yes, the term is an insult. That doesn’t mean it isn’t accurate in many cases. The world of climate deniers, who fancy themselves “skeptics,” are nothing of the sort, and it is obvious to anyone who is both paying attention to their antics and familiar with the definition of the word skeptic.

      There isn’t a positive use of denier, and that’s irrelevant. It’s a term that meaningfully and accurately describes a category of people whose actions are ignorant and counterproductive.

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