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A Conversation with Prof. Richard Lindzen

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Watts Up With That?

Richard Siegmund Lindzen is an American atmospheric physicist known for his work in the dynamics of the atmosphere, atmospheric tides, and ozone photochemistry. He has published more than 200 scientific papers and books.

Prof. Richard Lindzen (in the middle), and his wife Nadine, in the company of Grégoire Canlorbe, in Paris in May 2018

From 1983 until his retirement in 2013, he was Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a lead author of Chapter 7, “Physical Climate Processes and Feedbacks,” of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Third Assessment Report on climate change. He has criticized the scientific consensus about climate change and what he has called “climate alarmism.”

A short while ago, Prof. Lindzen had a conversation with Mr. Grégoire Canlorbe, who interviewed him on behalf on the French Association des climato-réalistes—the only climate-realist organization in France.


Grégoire Canlorbe: Your early work dealt with ozone photochemistry, the aerodynamics of the middle atmosphere, the theory of atmospheric tides, and planetary waves. How do you present to the layman the several scientific discoveries you were responsible for in these areas?

Richard Lindzen: My work is mostly about ‘explaining’ rather than ‘discovering’, and I doubt that my achievements would mean much to laymen. With respect to my early work, I provided the explanation for the Quasi-biennial Oscillation of the tropical stratosphere. This phenomenon refers to the fact that the wind between 16 and about 30 km in the tropics blows from east to west for approximately a year, and then reverses and blows from west to east for about another year.

I also provided the solution to an old question about tidal oscillations in surface pressure. For tides that are forced by the gravitational force of the moon, it has been known since Newton that the dominant period should be 12 lunar hours. However, at the surface, the pressure oscillates primarily at 12 solar hours though solar forcing is primarily thermal in origin and dominated by 24 hours. The question was why the observed tide was semidiurnal rather than diurnal. I showed that diurnal tides were trapped over much of the earth and suppressed.

There was also the interesting fact that at the mesopause (ca 85 km) the winter pole is the warmest place and the summer pole is the coldest place. I showed that this was caused by the breaking of small-scale waves from below. The behavior of the atmosphere and oceans provides many interesting puzzles and I always enjoyed these puzzles.

Grégoire Canlorbe: You have sparked vehement reactions, in highlighting how futile the popular claims on increasing droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, sea level rise, and other extremes. Even modest warming, you say, should not be considered a genuine threat to human health and agriculture. Could you remind us of the data invalidating climate doomsday scenarios?

Richard Lindzen: I should point out that I don’t personally do much work in these areas, nor do I think that the ‘vehement’ reaction is primarily to my statements concerning extreme events. The time history of such matters as droughts, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and temperature extremes is well recorded by official bodies like NOAA, and display no systematic increase. Indeed, some, like hurricanes, appear to be decreasing. These trends have been documented by R. Pielke, Jr. (https://www.amazon.com/Rightful-Place-Science-Disasters-Climate/dp/0692297510/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1492721355&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=pielke+jr+in+books), and even the IPCC has acknowledged the absence of significant associations with warming.

I have occasionally noted that theoretically, warmer climates should be characterized by reduced temperature extremes. The attempt to associate present weather extremes and other matters ranging from obesity to the Syrian Civil War, with climate change is frequently hilarious (http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm). The mostly non-scientist proponents of climate hysteria realize that distant forecasts of remote problems by inadequate models are unlikely to motivate people to shut down modern industrial society. They, therefore, attempt to claim that we are seeing the problems right now. Of course, the warming that has occurred over the past 200 years or so, has been too small to have been a major factor. However, objective reality matters little when it comes to propaganda – where repetition can effectively counter reality.

The issue of sea level rise is slightly different. The proponents of climate alarm have for almost 40 years recognized that massive sea level rise and coastal flooding provide excellent graphic examples of dangers that people can react to. Such things as a couple of degrees of warming are much less effective in frightening people. Of course, carefully analyzed tide gauge data shows sea-level increasing about 20 cm per century for at least 2 centuries – with no sign of acceleration to the present. The claim that this increase is accelerating is very peculiar. Tide gauges don’t actually measure sea-level. Rather, they measure the difference between land level and sea level. At many stations, the former is much more important. In order to estimate sea level, one has to restrict oneself to tectonically stable sites.

Since 1979 we have been able to measure sea level itself with satellites. However, the accuracy of such measurements depends critically on such factors as the precise shape of the earth. While the satellites show slightly greater rates of sea level rise, the inaccuracy of the measurement renders the difference uncertain. What the proponents of alarm have done is to accept the tide gauge data until 1979, but assume that the satellite data is correct after that date, and that the difference in rates constitutes ‘acceleration.’ They then assume acceleration will continue leading to large sea level rises by the end of this century. It is hard to imagine that such illogical arguments would be tolerated in other fields.

Full interview