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  Columnist: William B Stoecker

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Keepers of the faith

Posted on Wednesday, 3 October, 2012 | 2 comments
Columnist: William B Stoecker

The phone rang. My wife answered it and handed it to me…it was a friend of mine, an interesting individual who reacted to a fundamentalist Christian upbringing by becoming an agnostic verging on atheism, and had become fairly active in a Sacramento skeptics group calling themselves “SORT,” which stands for “Sacramento Organization for Rational Thinking,” which, as I figured out some time ago, means conventional thinking. He had, over the years, become a bit disillusioned with these people and considered them to be a bit narrow minded…he had, in fact, become rather skeptical of the skeptics. SORT and several other groups of freethinkers were having a big meeting, and he invited me to attend in order to provide some balance with my opposing views. For those not familiar with the term “freethinker,” which sounds positively quaint today, understand that “freethinkers” are people who invariably think and believe whatever the government, academia, and the elite media tell them to think and believe. Skeptics are the ultimate true believers, and atheists are people who believe fervently in nothing and detest anyone who does not share their views. Looking forward to the sheer joy of irritating such people, I accepted.

The true believers were a mix of all ages, predominantly White, with a few representatives of other ethnic groups. They appeared quite normal, even rather pleasant. I should mention here that in the past I had attended a couple of SORT meetings, and was not mistreated in any way. I noticed another old friend of mine was also present at the meeting. The faithful were assembled before not one high priest but an entire panel of them…several were academics, representing the very institutions that tell these good and obedient people what to believe. Each of the panelists spoke at some length, explaining their disdain of conspiracy theorists (they cannot say or write “conspiracy” without appending to it “theory” or “theorist). They warned of the dangers of health supplements, and, to be sure, there are dangerous charlatans in the supplement industry, and mega-doses of even familiar vitamins and minerals can be devastating. Of course, they had little to say about abuses committed by Big Pharma, and were not about to admit that smaller doses of many vitamins and minerals have been shown to be beneficial. With these people it is status quo all the way. They all believed fervently in man-caused global warming, and detested global warming skeptics (but wait a minute…I thought these people were supposed to be the skeptics). They then opened the meeting up to questions and answers, giving many of the laymen present an opportunity to go on and on about themselves, and the panelists could then give long winded answers to the questions. Nevertheless, to their credit, they allowed even me to ask a question.

Innocently, I asked: “During the Holocene Optimum, were the high global temperatures caused mainly by coal-fired power plants or internal combustion engines?” Most of the people in the room got the joke (there were no cars or coal-fired plants ten thousand years ago) and, rather than tearing me limb from limb, they laughed. It appears that many of these people do indeed practice the tolerance that they preach…but not all of them.

One of the panelists was visibly angered by this heresy. Coldly, he informed me that the present year was the hottest in all the entire 650,000 years of the Holocene Epoch. Now, there are just a few problems with this. First of all, truly precise measurements of the Earth’s temperature are next to impossible to achieve. We have a vast atmosphere in constant motion; we have ice sheets, glaciers, and snowfields; we have rivers, lakes, and oceans with currents flowing, rising, and sinking. All store heat. Not long ago, many of the weather stations in Siberia and Canada and in high mountain areas were closed due to budgetary reasons, while stations near cities were overtaken by urban sprawl, and, becoming engulfed by urban “heat islands,” showed higher average temperatures. The global warming true believers pounced on these distorted measurements as “proof” of man-caused climate change. Meanwhile, however, satellite measurements, which are the most accurate means yet devised of measuring the Earth’s overall temperature, showed a slight decline in recent years. Measuring temperatures in the past is much less precise, and we must rely on ice cores and tree rings and studies of ocean sediments, and, pulling all these together, try to estimate temperature. And of course some areas of the world may get warmer while others get colder. But many researchers believe that during the Medieval Warm Period the Earth was warmer overall than at any time since; certainly it was warmer in Europe, where wine grapes were cultivated far to the north of today’s limits. And at the end of the last ice age the Earth continued to warm, until, by about ten thousand years ago and extending on to about five thousand years ago, it was, aside from a few cooler periods, much warmer even than during the Medieval Warm Period…this was the Holocene Optimum. It is a little known fact that, since warmer temperatures increase evaporation of sea water, forming more clouds, the Earth overall has more rainfall…and, during the Holocene Optimum, deserts shrunk and the Sahara was mostly grassland, with montane, riverine, and coastal forests. This is pretty strong evidence of overall warmth…yet the seas did not rise above their current levels, the dreadful event predicted by the Chicken Littles. So for the “skeptic” to claim that this year is the hottest in 650,000 years is a bit presumptuous, to say the least.

And there is another problem with the claims made by the panelist. The Holocene did not begin 650,000 years ago. I knew that it began about 12,000 or so years ago, but I checked again. Per Wikipedia it began about 12,000 years ago; New World Encyclopedia says 11,430 years ago, plus or minus 130 years; the University of California Museum of Paleontology site says 11,700 years ago. The panelist was off by a factor of over fifty to one; 650,000 years is several ice ages ago, well back into the Pleistocene Epoch.

So when a skeptic tells us anything, we should be, well, skeptical.

Article Copyright© William B Stoecker - reproduced with permission.

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