The making of a climate skeptic – at University
Anthony Watts / 4 days ago September 7, 2017
Foreword by Anthony Watts.
This essay is written by a student at the University of Wyoming, who finds herself in the middle of a set of circumstances that are pushing her further into the realm of being a climate skeptic. It is an eye-opening read. I have verified the identity of the student, but per her request (due to the backlash she fears) I am allowing her to write under the pen name of “Clair Masters”
Guest essay by Clair Masters
The class was languid, most kids were on their phones, or surfing Facebook on their laptops. I sat with my notebook open in front of me, empty except for the lecture title at the top of the page. The professor put a slide up on the projector showing a chart relating CO2 and temperature over the course of a few million years, the one we’ve all seen by now. The CO2 curve lags after the Temperature one, and anyone’s first reading of the chart would probably be that temperature is driving the CO2 changes, not the other way around, if there is any trend at all. I perked up slightly, it was new for a professor to show alternate data, and looked around expectantly at other students, waiting for some kind of reaction—confusion, frowns, anything to show they’re seeing something that fights what we’ve been told since elementary school. I saw a few yawns, dull stares, people on their phones, though one loud girl who was a religious global warming fanatic was glaring at the slide, slouching in her seat so her hand could pet her (dubiously trained) service dog.
Besides her, no one cared, and certainly I was the only one who glanced up in surprise when our professor began to talk about the chart as if it didn’t matter, something like “This trend suggests the opposite of what we know to be true” before moving on. I looked down at my notebook—friends and family tell me my face does not hide emotions well, and I didn’t want my professor to know I was annoyed. I don’t know why he even included it in the lecture, but that’s what happens in these courses. It was incredible to me at the time, but my professors would often include evidence contrary to the anthropogenic climate change theory before quickly sweeping it aside with some short remark. It doesn’t matter this data exists, it doesn’t matter that there is debate in the climate science community—not here. This is a University, after all.
College wasn’t when I first started questioning the “acceptable” views of climate change. As far back as middle school I was a tough case for teachers trying to push global warming. It was fashionable back in 2008 to rabidly teach the “polar bears are drowning” narrative after those photographs from 2007 that showed the bear standing on a single hunk of ice. Tragic! A picture like that was all it took to have most of my classmates nodding solemnly along while our teachers taught us about our carbon footprint—about how we were contributing to the plight of the poor polar bears with our gluttonous use of electricity, by our parents having more than one car.
An animal fanatic, I spent hours paging through my Zoobooks and animal encyclopedia collections, reading all about polar bears. A number stood out to me; 60 miles. Polar bears often swim for 60 miles to get from one body of solid ground to the next. Proud of myself, I brought it up to my science teacher, and instead of getting the glowing pat on the head I was used to when I did outside research for classes, I was chastised.
“You’re wrong,” she said, looking surprisingly angry, “polar bears can’t swim that far. Global warming is melting their home, and they’re dying off.”
At the time, I thought of myself as a teacher’s pet, the good student, so her tone took me completely by surprise. I wasn’t trying to say global warming wasn’t killing the bears, as far as I knew it was. My teachers told me so, so it must be true. Her denial about the swimming capabilities of the bears is what threw me off, and for the first time I was faced with doubting a teacher. Who do I trust, the books I’ve read or this teacher? Something changed in me around that time, and that seed of doubt she unknowingly planted ended up making me who I am today—a skeptic. Not just for climate change and the like, but for everything. I abruptly stopped believing everything my teachers told me, it was a hard wake up call to the real world as I realized that adults had agendas.
This idea was reinforced when one of the books in a beloved young adult series by James Patterson abandoned the original plot and conflict to go fight against global warming—essentially like rewriting the X-Men as Captain Planet. Horrified and disgusted that the characters would rather go protect those (at this point, goddamn) polar bears than stop the original mad scientist threat, I recognized the real propaganda element of this whole global warming deal. I started fighting back in small ways, mostly in the form of asking questions; “Don’t we breathe out CO2?”, “Warmer weather will help some animals, won’t it?”. I was not popular with my seventh-grade teachers. My friends were oblivious to my small insurrection; I was always the kid who raised her hand in class anyway.
It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I finally got the scientific background to really combat the ideas that were being pushed on me. I took a high level environmental science class that pushed me to dig deep and question what I thought I knew about the way our climate works. I loved that class, and for once I had a teacher who didn’t try to shut me up. She acknowledged and engaged me, didn’t brush away my questions, and every year since my graduation from high school I’ve given a short presentation over Skype to her class about Petroleum engineering, petroleum geology, a little paleontology, and college life.
I distinctly remember two specific moments in that class that were “a-ha” moments for me. The first is when we watched that required documentary: Gasland. Some of the claims made in that documentary were beyond absurd, and like the skeptical jerk I am, I fact checked while watching it in class. On the school-administered iPad, I googled every single thing Josh Fox presented that got my spider-sense tingling. Antelope in Wyoming are going extinct? Not even close. Fracking fluid is in people’s water, letting them light it on fire? Try naturally occurring methane. At this point, I was already toying with the idea of going into some kind of geological science, and I was intrigued by the idea of fracking technology. We did a short lab in that class where we tried to get oil out of sand, and I thought it was cool. It was my love of all fields of science, not to mention the thrill of being involved in such a villainous industry, that helped me decide on Petroleum Engineering.
The other moment was when we were focusing on alternative energy, including a lengthy discussion about Hydrogen powered cars. I raised my hand quickly.
“If we’re worried about CO2 causing global warming, wouldn’t it be much worse if we were all driving cars that had water vapor as their exhaust?”
She paused, thinking it over. “I think you might be right, that’s a very interesting observation.” She said, before re-explaining to the class what I was talking about, how water vapor captures much more heat than carbon dioxide. I felt good about being able to apply what I learned about climate and our atmosphere to challenging popular “green” narratives. The best part was that my teacher was so supportive, and was willing to admit when something our textbook claimed wasn’t entirely true.
It has been a very different ride in college. Exhausting, as now I’m surrounded by professors and students who promote anthropogenic climate change predictions with such intensity, it makes the most zealous cultist fanatics look calm and reasonable. Again and again I’m surprised by the reactions of my peers to my skepticism, sometimes I even prompt truly angry reactions from people. One crunchy granola geology guy engaged me in a conversation about alternative energy, he tried to argue that hemp oil would soon overtake our need for fossil fuels. Right. Somehow the conversation got to land use, and I expressed an opinion that the states probably could deal with their environmental problems and land use better than federal agencies—he quoted something about the Koch Brothers, and I left him for class. Maybe a week later, he handed me a piece of notebook paper with “research” written up on it—mostly a series of bullet points about the American Lands Council which he somehow connected to white supremacy, right wing fanaticism, and most bizarrely of all the Kim Davis controversy. I couldn’t believe that someone who was a “scientific” person felt the need to use the guilt by association trap, the screeching leftist “Racist! Sexist! Homophobe!” nonsense in a discussion about land use. I gave up my favorite study spot after that, opting to avoid him instead of giving him the what-for I’d so like to. I don’t have time for that—I have school to worry about.
There have been plenty of times that I wondered if it’s my perspective that is wrong, I’ve done some soul searching on the topics I’m passionate about. College has challenged my views, while it seems to only confirm the ideas that the “warmists” hold. Some of my previously held beliefs have changed, like much of what I understood (or thought I understood) about climate, but I’ve still yet to be presented solid evidence for primary anthropogenic climate change that isn’t either refuted by another study, or backed with accusations like the ones crunchy granola guy lobbed my way. I’ve stopped being shocked by the way my professors obediently tow the party line—as I learned a few years ago that at least here, federal funding is dependent on a certain amount of global warming acceptance. I’m thankful for the engineering courses I’m taking, because if my geology and earth sciences were not balanced out by the dry technical calculations of engineering, I’d probably lose my mind. (Just imagine how bad it would be if I were in sociology or women’s studies!) I am disappointed by the quality of the “science” taught at University though—when theory is presented as fact, and computer models are regarded as gospel despite their infamous unreliability, it’s not actual science.
It’s propaganda—dogmatic as any religion.
It’s my 5th year since heading west for my engineering degree. This year I’m taking a handful of great little petroleum classes, and finishing off my geology minor. Of course, it’s my geology class that is giving me a headache. A mineral resource course sounds pretty straightforward… except of course our professor managed to turn it into a climate change/ humans are killing everything/ we’re all going to die class. We even have a section of the class towards the end of the semester dedicated to social justice, because that’s why I’m getting a science degree. In retrospect, I should have known what I was getting into when I looked around and saw several students with either half shaved heads or hair colors that in nature scream “I’m toxic”.
It’s gonna be a fun semester, and I’ll try to keep you updated.