On November 11, 2017, I contacted Professor Constantin Cranganu of the Earth and Environmental Sciences Department at Brooklyn College to request an interview regarding his book (co-authored with Professor Stephen Aja) “Exploring the Earth System,” which is the required text for his core curriculum course “The Dynamic Earth.” Of particular interest to my investigation were two chapters — “Taking Sides: Climate Change Debate” and “Four Essential Myths of Climate Change: Edenic, Apocalyptic, Babelian, and Themisian” — that I was reporting on. The following day, Prof. Cranganu agreed to the interview only if my questions and his responses were published in full, “without a single word missing.” Below is the full and unaltered transcript of our correspondence, which was conducted by way of e-mail.
Ahmed Aly: As a scientist with an over thirty year career in oil and gas research, how much of climate change (which I believe, based on my reading, you do not dispute), if any of it, do you think is attributable to human activity?
Professor Constantin Cranganu: To start your questions by invoking my 30+ years research in oil and gas fields looks like an innuendo not deserving an answer. I am wondering, did you notice my other research interests: CO2 sequestration in geologic reservoirs, geothermal energy, hydrogeology, artificial intelligence, etc.?
I concede, however, that you are well intended and have no parti pris in your questions.
I do not dispute climate change, because climate was always changing on this planet since billions of years ago. I think for you climate was probably starting to change only since the dawn of Industrial Revolution, which is a gross approximation. You probably meant to say anthropogenic global warming (AGW), which was used for some time in 80s and 90s, but was then replaced by the new nom de guerre – climate change.
There are numerous natural causes of global warming, as well as of global cooling: solar system geometry, solar luminosity, global distribution of continents and oceans, orbital and solar variability, large-scale oceanographic oscillations, long ocean tide cycles, El Niño and La Niña oscillations, volcanic activity, weathering, regional tectonics, short ocean tide cycles, solar storms and flares, smaller orbital cycles, gas hydrate decomposition, meteorite impacts) and less numerous anthropogenic causes: burning of fossil fuels, cultivating rice paddies, raising cattle, using landfills, or producing cement.
From 1850 to present the average global temperature has increased by about 0.8°C. How much of these eight tenths of a degree Celsius is due to humans and how much is due to natural causes is beyond my computing capabilities, but the latest peer-reviewed research indicates that human contribution is substantial, while natural contributions are not negligible. For example, the CO2 human emissions have remained flat during the last three years, but last year (2016), natural CO2 emissions, driven by El Niño, increased the CO2 atmospheric concentration by 3 ppm. Also, I know that we are living in an interglaciation period, named Holocene, when the climate is recovering from the last glaciation. For comparison, I suggest you Google or talk to me about the immediate previous interglaciation, a period named Eemian, about 125,000 years ago. That interglaciation represents a proxy for the current one. Data available indicate that average global temperatures were 2°C – 4°C warmer than today (not 0.8°C), while the concentration of CO2 was similar to pre-industrial era (~280 ppm). So, the link between temperature increase and CO2 concentration is not clear for Eemian. Definitely, there were other natural causes at work.
AA: How would you judge the proximity of your emphasis on the “uncertainty…inherent in many climate processes” and the “limits…to climate change science” to that of the rhetoric of notable climate change “denying” institutes and organizations, such as ‘Americans for Prosperity’ and the ‘Heartland Institute.’ An example is Myron Ebell, who writes that “victory will be achieved when…the public recognizes uncertainties in climate science,” victory, of course being the fight over the expansion of government regarding environmental policy. To me the ideas appear to be remarkably similar.
CC: It is a forced proximity that has nothing to do with your allegations.
AA: Why, or why not, do you believe that the “skeptics” argument should be presented equally as the “proponents” one? (as you do present a greater body of evidence (pg. 269-270) for the skeptics); in other words, why, or why not, should anthropogenic climate change skepticism be taught in a core curriculum textbook? Also, based on my reading, it seems that, respectably, you note that politics should be left out of science; that science should be objective. Yet a significant part of chapter 21, perhaps it is unavoidable or inevitable, seems to be subjective in its criticism of “proponents,” who you write “are moving from their realm into uncharted waters of politics,” and the false claims of the IPCC, “Climategate,” and the change in social consensus over climate change, etc. Why did you feel it was necessary to point these things out when there seems to be, in contrast, very little criticism of “skeptics’ or as strong as emphasis on the famous “97% consensus?”
CC: The Romans used to say Audiatur et altera pars (Let the other side be heard as well), that is, a due process cannot be fair and complete unless both parties had the opportunity to express their opinions. Chapter 21 is titled Taking Sides: Climate Change Debate and presents many, but not comprehensive, points of view belonging to both “proponents” and “skeptics” of AGW. Extra details can be found in chapter 15: Humans as Agents of Geologic Change, which surprisingly did not attract your attention. I also presented two aspects of the current polarization of climate change debate, namely “The four ways of life” or The Four Tribes” and “The Six Americas”. The IPCC approach for managing the risks of climate change through mitigation, adaptation, and geo-engineering occupies a large portion of the chapter. Also, I draw your attention to Appendix A – Will New York be a “baked apple”? Using data sets to explore climate change (p. 297 – 304) in which students can explore by themselves the urban heat island effect, a 100% anthropogenic contribution to AGW. So, I believe the “skeptics” got enough counter-arguments.
Regarding the famous “97% consensus”: I assume you are talking about the consensus among “proponents” of AGW. Well, in science it not a good idea to invoke a consensus, because you indirectly acknowledge that science is not solid enough. I never say the consensus of scientists agrees that E = mc². I never say the consensus of scientist agrees the Earth is round and not flat.
Think about the thousands of years when consensus (probably more than 97%!) imposed that the Earth was the center of the universe and the Sun was revolving around the Earth. It took just a single brilliant mind (Copernicus) to break with that consensus.
Science is not based and does not advance by consensus; that is working well only in politics. Science is based on repeatability of facts and testing of hypotheses. According to Karl Popper, the demarcation criterion between science and pseudo-science is falsifiability: In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable; and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality. Think about falsifying climate change. Would it be possible? If yes, how?
AA: You felt it necessary to end your book on those chapters and on the idea that the climate crisis must be solved with an “imaginative idea” (that we must subscribe to a “myth”). How do you believe sir that academic institutions, such as Brooklyn College, should be propagating such “myths?”
CC: The position of “The Four Essential Myths of Climate Change” in the book’s Table of Contents is purely random (due to editorial process) and does not carry any specific meaning. In fact, the book ends with Appendix A – Will New York be a “baked apple”? Using data sets to explore climate change (p. 297 – 304), in which the “proponents” get the last word.
On the other side of your question, I would emphasize that Brooklyn College is a place where academic freedom means presenting and discussing highly polarizing issues from multiple points of view. Among these, my chapter is highlighting four ways by which climate determinism, prevalent one hundred years ago, has metamorphosed into climate reductionism, driven by tyrannical hegemony of model predictions of the future, that is, the overtaking by predictive natural science of various accounts (contingent, imaginative, humanistic, cultural) of social life and future climate imagery. If you don’t believe in those models (which many times could not predict correctly something happened in the past, but pretend to forecast correctly something that will happen in the future) you are suddenly regarded like a Holocaust denier or an academic pariah.
As a resource of imagination, climate change becomes an idea that can be successfully transposed in many areas (geographic, social, cultural, virtual) to stimulate artistic creativity, to provoke new ethical thinking about our relationships with the environment, to spur the efforts to protect population from possible climatic hazards, and many other things.
Just because the idea of climate change is so resourceful, I would finally paraphrase a famous quote: Ask not what we can do for climate change, but ask what climate change can do for us.
AA: Are you more of a “proponent” or a “skeptic?”
CC: I am a seeker of truth on either side.