Climatologist Dr Judith Curry is a true black sheep of the climate science community. Curry is a tenured professor who had the moxie to question the Climate Change consensus.
In this interview from 2015, Judith gives a brief rundown on the factors, and many variables, surrounding this ‘relatively new field of study.’ Dr Curry also unpacks how much trouble pushing back against the political narrative causes anyone who actually dares to apply the scientific method to the prevailing climate change hypothesis.
Curry’s explanations separate fact from fiction, giving an insider’s perspective on the function of data, discussing its interpretation, process, application and misapplication that plagues the climate science community.
The video is also doing a slow loop around social media after it was uploaded in 2017, by The Oppenheimer Project, an American high-Alpine self-sustainability experiment run by scientists, Leah Shaper and David Mauriello. In their description, Shaper and Mauriello appear to back Curry over concerns about the political bias, shutting down of opposing viewpoints, and the ‘tribal nature in parts of the climate-science community.’
The following is a transcript from the original 12-minute interview hosted by Rich Clarke, who hints that Curry’s freely expressed thoughts contributed to her resignation, noting that “approximately one year after the release of this interview Dr Curry left her tenured position in academia forever”. You can read more of Dr Curry’s work at her website: Climate Etc.
Clarke [Intro]: Hello, I’m Rich Clarke and I’m here today on the campus of the Georgia Institute of Technology. Joining me is Dr Judith Curry the outgoing chair of the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
She earned her PhD in geophysical sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982. Then the years following she’d find herself a professor at Purdue University Penn State; ten years in the University of Colorado Boulder, before becoming chair of the Earth and Atmospheric Sciences department here at Georgia Tech in 2002. Along the way, she received numerous awards and fellowships, including the Henry G Haughton award from the American Meteorological Society, the great singer moving school forward award from the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the coveted green faculty award from the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Authoring and co-authoring almost 200 published peer-reviewed papers, and three books, she entered the climate change spotlight as co-author of the 2005 paper entitled: ‘Changes in Tropical Cyclone Number Duration and Intensity in a Warming Environment’, which was published in the Journal of science two weeks after Hurricane Katrina.
The paper made headlines around the world, shining light on the increased extreme weather events associated with a warming climate, she is the co-founder and president of the climate consulting firm ‘Climate Forecast Application Network’ and maintains her blog ‘Climate Etc.’ at JudithCurry.com.
Dr Curry thanks so much for being with us today.
Dr Curry: My pleasure.
Clarke: “So my first question for you is, according to your Wikipedia page you are part of what’s called the scientific opinion, or more commonly the 97% consensus on climate change. Yet, I’ve read on several pages that you’re referred to as a “climate skeptic” or even a “climate denier”; and when I Google your name one of the first things that comes up is an article in the Scientific American entitled, ‘Climate heretic Judith Curry Turns on Her Colleagues.’ So, why is it that people are calling you a climate skeptic or even a denier?”
Dr Curry: “Well, Climate Science has become highly politicized, and the strategy used by the climate community to influence public policy is speaking consensus to power. So over the past several decades and they work to build this consensus, and following the 2009 Climate-gate episode, I started challenging the consensus. Saying, “wait a minute, we haven’t been sufficiently transparent; we haven’t adequately characterized the uncertainties.” We shouldn’t be dismissing skeptics; I mean we have to do a better job, and I started saying things like that that I thought were completely reasonable, but I was immediately thrown out of the tribe if you will, and labeled as a “heretic”, “denier”, whatever else. So it’s just a reflection of how politicized the science has become and how silly this debate really is at this point.”
Clarke: “Speaking of debates, you hear public figures say all the time, that the debate is over and that we need to move forward. What do you what about those comments?”
Dr Curry: “Well, physicists are still debating quantum mechanics, and gravity, okay, things that we think … are relatively settled. Science is never settled; and something as complex as the climate system and in a relatively new field, climate change, there’s no way the science is settled. There’s a whole lot more that we don’t know then we do know.”
Clarke: “You talked about the politicization of the field. What do you see is the greatest danger of this mixing of politics with science?”
Dr Curry: “Well, two things. You end up with science as going off on the wrong track – I don’t know if you’ve heard the joke about the drunk looking for his keys under the streetlight? – and somebody asked, “Why are you only looking there?” “Well it’s the only place I can see.” The same thing has been happening at climate science. We’ve only been shining a light on one little piece of the problem – the part about increasing Co2 from human activities. We haven’t been paying sufficient attention to natural climate variability; and as a result we’re doing a great disservice to understanding the climate system; and as we fail to adequately understand the climate system, we have tremendous opportunity to mislead decision-makers.”
Clarke: “One thing I thought was interesting about another interview that I heard with you, was, you were talking about how, even if all the measures for carbon reduction were adopted, and then perfectly implemented, we might not see an effect from that – those measures would be maybe 50 years out.”
Dr Curry: “It’s really much worse. The commitments that people have made to the UN – in terms of their emissions reductions out to 2030 – well, if you say well how much (assuming that they keep those commitments steady through the end of the 21st century) the amount of warming that would be prevented is about two-tenths of a degree centigrade. Most of the benefits wouldn’t be realized for a longer time. We’re really talking about a minuscule amount of warming that will be saved, and because of the [lags] in the climate system owing to ocean heat storage, any emissions reductions that we do now, it’s still going to keep warming; because of the thermal inertia in the oceans. So, you know the accounting is just being done. You know, as economists are reacting to; and trying to interpret all these commitments and what it actually means. But the studies that I’ve seen suggest that we’re only accomplishing a few you know a few tenths of a degree centigrade decrease in the rate of warming, and this assumes that you actually will believe the climate models, I mean I think the climate models are running too hot. If the climate models are in fact running too hot, even less warming would be saved.”
Clarke: “So these numbers these figures of projected curbing of warming due to essentially regulating greenhouse gases, these numbers are…”
Dr Curry: “Well, they use climate models to seeing how the climate will respond to the reductions and carbon dioxide associated with reduced emissions.”
Clarke: “You know just this year there was a report released sound the alarm bells about new data with regard to sea-level rise, and this report said that “sea-level rise may occur ten times faster than originally thought, and that in forty-five years we could have ten feet of sea-level rise.”
Dr Curry: “Several weeks ago I was giving a public lecture and I was talking about sea-level rise, and one of the audience members raised his hand, and said, “wow I didn’t realize that sea-level rise you know was rising before humans started emitting fossil fuels”. This whole issue of sea-level rise is so tied to human activities that most people don’t realize that the sea level has been rising for the last ten thousand years since we’ve been coming out of the last ice age. The question is whether sea-level rise is accelerating owing to human-caused emissions. You can say, “well, obviously yes”, well it’s not obvious at all because even the most recent IPCC report published in 2013, presented a figure that showed that the rate of sea-level rise around 1940, 1950 was just as high as it is in the last few decades. So, it doesn’t look like there’s any great acceleration so far of sea-level rise associated with human-caused warming. These predictions of alarming sea-level rise depend on massive melting of the big continental glaciers, Greenland and Antarctica. The Antarctic Ice Sheet is actually growing. Greenland shows large multi-table variability, in when it’s growing and shrinking. So sorting out natural versus human cause variability and what’s going on with these ice sheets, you know it’s very difficult to do, but in any event, there’s no evidence so far that humans are increasing sea level rise in any kind of a worrying way.”
Clarke: “If it’s true that curbing carbon dioxide in here and now is going to have very minimal effects, in the here and now, what kind of solutions are you proposing or do you have any solutions your proposal?”
Dr Curry: “I’m a climate scientist. I’m not in the business of proposing solutions. So, I mean I can tell you which ones make more or less sense to me. The technologies that we currently have trying to pull this off using wind and solar, it’s not going to work. We need your energy technologies and additional research and development on new energy technologies; makes more sense than trying to implement wind and solar those aren’t up to the task. But I think the bigger issue is a real danger with climate change and variability, whatever its cause, is extreme weather events. You know the heat waves, the floods, the droughts, the Hurricanes – and trying to reduce vulnerability to these extreme weather, and climate events can help people in the here and now. Whether climate change is due to natural variability or due to humans, it can help us reduce our vulnerability to these extreme events that have always happened and will continue to happen.”
Clarke: “Right, so you’re saying that we know that we’re gonna have more extreme weather events, and we should be putting our resources into preparing more for those?”
Dr Curry: “I’m not telling; I never tell anybody what they should do, because it’s a very complex problem. There are a lot of other problems out there, so why should we spend all our resources on this problem. It’s a complex issue and I avoid telling anybody oh we should do this or we should do that. All I do is look at policy options and try to point out their unintended consequences, and whether they’ll have the intended effect.”
Clarke: “When you begin saying the things you were talking about, like more transparency in science, and in climate science, and writing about it – you are already the chair of a department at a major technical school in the United States, you had already been published at least a hundred times. Do you think that a younger Dr. Judith Curry in the kind of climate (no pun intended), but in the political climate we have now would have had a harder time doing what you’ve done?”
Dr Curry: “A number of scientists have lost their jobs over speaking out against the consensus. I’m a tenured faculty member, I’m pretty senior. So I could afford to do it. A lot of younger people who aren’t tenured, can’t afford to do it – I hear from scientists all the time who say they wish they could speak out of etcetera, but they don’t want to they don’t want to go through the kind of baloney that I’ve had to go through and I can’t blame them.”
Clarke: “And what baloney is that exactly?”
Dr Curry: “Well, Google my name! And you’ll see it. Google, Judith Curry and you’ll see what I have to put up with.”
Clarke: “That’s about all the time we have for today but I’d like to thank you very much for letting us into your office and having this interview.”
Dr Curry: “thank you, my pleasure.”