The suffering of the climate prophet. And lead outweighs CO2

Stephen Schneider

When considering running for a seat in the Provincial Council I started reading the complete IPCC report, however, I got stuck on page XI. The Synthesis Report 2014 turned out to be officially dedicated to Mr. Stephen Schneider, who -for that reason- can be called climate prophet.

I use that term climate prophet for the man pictured above here not as a derogatory term, but to emphasize that it is really about the highest-praised man in the world of the climate-worried. The political world of the climate-worried. The world from which reports from the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, emerge. See image (right).

The red arrows were added by me, FG.

Because of that ‘mission page’, I started looking for contributions to the ‘climate debate’, specifically from this Stephen H. Schneider (further referred to as ‘SS’), who died in 2010. One of the first contributions I stumbled upon reassured me. SS mentioned two (sets of) influences in opposite directions: one that lowers the temperature on earth, one that makes it rise. He expected that the influences causing a decrease would level off, but would still provide additional time for studying and taking action against temperature rise. This does not sound religiously hysterical.

After that, however, I came across the video from YouTube channel TreeTV, the video from which the image above this article is a ‘still’. It concerns the obviously rough, unedited version of an interview lasting more than an hour and conducted in 2006. I watched the video very carefully and was shocked.

Later in this article I will give an ‘anthology’ of rather remarkable statements from this video (if you don’t have enough time, just skip them), but below I will first give some of his statements, with which I essentially agree, and then I will address the main points of his argument on which I disagree with him profoundly. I assume that most climate realists agree with me on at least 97%.

Then I will compare SS to the ‘Most Important Scientist You’ve Never Heard Of’, the ‘scientist who determined the age of the earth and then saved it’: the sympathetic Clair C. Patterson (1922-1995), who played the leading role in ending the addition of lead to petrol, which is particularly toxic to humans. In terms of the pedestal on which Mr. Patterson belongs, he can compete with Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov.


In my opinion, when dealing with (political) dissenters, even very dissenting ones, it is important to occasionally consider the question of which things you do agree with them on. And this certainly applies to such an enormously comprehensive subject as what is increasingly referred to as the energy transition. And I am talking here about both the analysis and the proposed measures.

As long as it does not lead to throwing around of subsidies -after all, this encourages financial and even worse forms of corruption- or blindness to unintended negative ‘side effects’, we can certainly agree with people like SS that progress in the field of insulation and energy efficiency is important. We can disagree about whether and how government measures and budgets should be used to promote these things, but then it is no longer a fundamental difference of opinion that seriously matters.

It is also a hard fact that the production of fossil fuels -the word says it all- went very slowly [1]. In time, they will indeed run out. In the past, hysterics such as the infamous Club of Rome have spread panic about how short that time would be. That club suggested that fossil fuels would be exhausted by the time we live in now. Such suggestions from then (and now!) do not undo this finitude as such.

When the price of fossil fuels -for whatever reason!- increases, a larger proportion of those fossil fuels become commercially exploitable, the best known example being shale gas. This is not to say that reserves are infinite, on the contrary. It does indicate that reaching the ‘bottom’ is a long-term process. Sowing panic is not only wrong in itself, but it can also be counterproductive.

Fortunately, SS also points out in the long interview (at 43:25) that the measures against depletion of the hole in the ozone layer (when Republicans ruled) have worked. He also explicitly confirms (at 48:10) that it is true “what the Conservatives claim” about cleaner air than ever, when you disregard greenhouse gases. With people like SS, we can fully agree that (technical) innovations are useful. About 51 minutes, SS emphasizes that the criterion for assessing the dangers we face should not be the extinction of our species. Again, I completely agree, although I have great difficulty with the fact that he ‘substantiates’ this with the cry that people are like cockroaches…

At 59:30, SS points out a danger that even climate realists cannot ignore: ‘globalization’ can lead to clean production (whether it concerns actual toxic substances or substances that may contribute to an enhanced greenhouse effect) being outcompeted by less clean production. (I will not discuss the fact that he later goes down the rather racist track when he describes how Brazilians and Chinese cannot achieve ‘clean’ production without coercion and Western help.) At 24:30 SS makes the sensible remark that hydrogen (H2) is not an energy source but an energy carrier. By the way, this is something that anyone who paid attention to physics in high school, can explain.

The colossal, interrelated, differences of opinion

At 39:45 SS starts talking about the falsification principle. In an article I published in Dutch on and published on this site under the title Real science and climate science, I also wrote about it myself. This is literally what SS has to say about it:

… that is the old 19th century way of seeing science. The kind of science we do, ‘system-science’, is so complex [his emphasis, fg], that any new study, wether it confirms or denies the basic idea (!), is not going to change our opinions very much. Because it’s going to take a decade or two before we figure out wether the data was correctly collected, wether it was analyzed right, wether it really made any difference. (…) Yet some of the contrarians select out-of-context any new study that happens not to be confirming and say: ‘see it shows you don’t know anything’ (…) yet we will not claim that the studies that are confirming are 100%, they just increase our belief (!) in the likelyhood.

The enormity of these statements of the climate prophet only really dawns on you when you remember what he proclaimed 7 minutes earlier: see image.

This subtitle appears around 52:30. But this wasn’t even the most shocking thing. This was already to be found around 32:45. There, SS almost literally tells us that there is more uncertainty about local effects:

… scientists [here SS is literally pointing to himself!] have a global frame, they think about this as global long-term (…) but all politics is local. People want to know what is going to happen in the next five years in their backyard [SS leans forward now]. And that is more difficult to say with high confidence than about the global-scale things.

Now you can jump high or jump low and be called Obama, Janssen, Paul Ehrlig, Al Gore or climate-czar (Timmermans, or Kerry) but one thing is absolutely clear: results of measurements regarding local effects are BOTH more accurate and more important than global averages.

If the temperature in Antarctica rises (or falls) by 10 degrees while the temperature in Europe falls in the oppositie direction, the average global temperature does not change or hardly changes [2], but the effects are much more serious than if the ‘global temperature’ rises or falls by two degrees.

The emperor’s new clothes: there they are again

This almost automatically brings me to the promised comparison of SS with Patterson. To put it kindly: Schneider was an arrogant self-righteous jackass compared to Pattterson. In the last year of his life (1995), Patterson was interviewed extensively by Shirley K. Cohen. The result (62 pages) can be found (PDF) here. Towards the end of the interview, it is about awards given to the great scientist and about the ‘opportunity that makes the man’:

Patterson: Oh, of course. Well, everything is opportunistic and environmentally determined. Look, I’m stupid, all right? I’m not some brilliant person. I’m a little child. You know the emperor’s new clothes? I can see the naked emperor, just because I’m a little child-minded person. I’m not smart. I mean, good scientists are like that. They have the minds of children, to see through all this façade of all this other stuff that they know is stupid nonsense. They just don’t see it the way other people see it.

Now, this degree of loutishness in itself does not say very much. More important is the difference in self-perception between the ever-smiling scientist (30 times the transcription of the conversations mentions “[Laughter]”) and the climate prophet.

Cohen: What was your motivation at this point? Were you thinking in an environmental sense?
Patterson: No, I was not! Science, science, science! I wanted to know, What is this natural level of lead? I didn’t care two hoots about verifying what the contamination was. I was forced to measure the contamination in order to arrive at what was the natural level.
Cohen: So you were not being driven by environmental issues whatsoever?
Patterson: I was not. But there were friends and colleagues who were environmentalists, and they used my work. My work was used to get the lead out of gasoline. As a matter of fact, I wrote a paper on this biopurification concept [in which] I said, “We have 100 times more lead than we should have.” And that’s when I really got shot down by the oil companies. But when other people around learned about this, they seized upon that, and that was used by them. “Well, here is scientific evidence suggesting. . . .” You see, they wanted to get lead out of gasoline. So it was instrumental; this was the impetus that began providing the scientific foundation to get lead out of gasoline. Because before, all they had for evidence was people who were being poisoned in the factories. The government was taking elaborate precautions, which they forced industry to follow when they started doing this in the thirties.

Compare that to 52:30″… I have the data, I have the models… “. Not even ‘we have’ but ‘I have’. And then compare that with that rather collectivist-sounding statement of the opening image. Patterson was born in the countryside in 1922, SS in 1945 in New York. Yes, 1968, the Marxist ideology that then gathered steam destroyed more than we like.

Propaganda interview

The interview with SS is so disconcerting because the climate prophet feels unseen. In fact, he himself occasionally takes the initiative to reintroduce a text that he fears will not have the effect he intended. But… there is no more cutting or pasting at all: both versions can now be listened to and viewed one after the other! Remarkably, this is one of the least viewed videos [3] on the channel of TreeTV. This one about eating mushrooms has been viewed about 30 times as often.

The fact that the interviewers are largely unintelligible is somewhat irritating, but not at all disturbing in terms of content: after all, this is a collaborative project between the interviewers and the interviewee. At 46:43, he even asks literally: “Is that what you wanted”. At 57:45, he himself starts talking about whether he is ‘well-pictured’. Literally. At 6:58: “Did I miss something?” At 23:46, there is even a whole conversation with the interviewers about how the political message can be conveyed more powerfully.

Of the text in the introductory image, with the “public control over private activities”, SS also delivers a version 2. In it he talks about “.. government control over private industries”. The rest of that piece of text also sounds a bit less political and more scientific in the ‘improved’ version 2, but SS can’t resist and lumps CO₂ together with pollutants towards the end of that version. And at 32:15, he does the same with the use of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The anthology

Because of Schneider’s sloppy, completely unscientific way of formulating, because his approach of contest debater and activist, you have to listen very carefully. When he talks about 30% more CO₂ and 150% more methane, he does not mention absolute values –still quite acceptable in the spoken word– but he also does not mention years. More than what? “’We’ (!) go from 6 to 9 billion people and we become 5 times as rich…”. Five times as rich as?

Only later it becomes clear what time interval he had been talking about. At 36:25 he says: “we are 500% richer per person all around the world in 2102 instead of in 2100”. Bloody hell! The man thus makes it appear as if sensible predictions about economic growth, calculated all over the world, are possible for a period of more than 90 years!
Is there one serious economist -or sales associate or farmer- worldwide who would not burst into laughter when he or she hears something like this?

At 45:10 we hear “remember the developing world has not yet gotten [!] its wealth”, he brings in ‘sweatshops ‘ and claims: “we use 10 times more energy per person than China”. Half a minute of Googling yields this image. Almost at a glance, it can be seen that in the year of the interview that factor was already closer to five than to ten and is now between three and four. In the same context, he cites California as a shining example…

20:55, “Not taxing is a form of subsidy”. SS admits that food production will increase here and there thanks to more CO₂ in the atmosphere, but states that in other parts of the world food production will decrease because it is already too hot. From the way he speaks about it, it is clear that he is engaging in contest debating here. It’s even clearer at 5:45. There he also says that although CO₂ is good stuff for food production, CO₂ is also good for weeds, and “Who wins?” About 22:00 SS explains in the same style that there is positive and negative feedback. Global warming ensures that not only plants but also bacteria do better and those bacteria produce more CO₂ and methane. “Science can’t decide what will prevail: the negative or the positive feedback.”

Considerably more shameful for a scientist is the way in which he lumps predictions based on the very complex models together -in SSs’ words: the kind of science we do, ‘system-science’- with concrete, single probabilities, such as the probability of salmonella poisoning.

Even more shameful are the personal attacks on scientists with different views. He calls them contrarians, according to the dictionary: person[s] who opposes or rejects popular opinion [!].

This is rather awkward when your frame is full of accusations of populism and of “bribed by special interests”, [among] second-rate scientists. Those contrarians are (15:15) ideologically motivated to protect “individual entrepeneurial rights”. At 28:30 SS goes down the ‘we are scientists’ track. Quite daring in such a thoroughly politically coloured interview.

To underline this, he calls opponents climate deniers and at 28:45 even ‘climate monkeys’, in the sense of: “They do not see a climate, they do not hear climate, they do not talk about climate”. At 33:50 it becomes even more uncivilized. Some of his students “just can’t understand how immoral the opponents are”. Yes, long live us scientists. (35:09) “The debate is about what is more moral”. By the way, at 41:33 SS tells us on his own initiative that he himself instills fear when he – of all places- speaks to primary school (!) pupils.

At 34:55 it is about “.. droughts and floods, fires, heat waves like that, that killed 30,000 people in Europe”. At 43:35 he repeats this populist talk of lies about the hot summer of 2003 [5]. In that year, lots of old people died from a short-lived, locally high temperature. Every year, old people die especially in the summer. It is not easy to come up with an even more mendacious way to link thousands of deaths to long-term, global warming.

7:40 According to SS, the problems cannot be solved on the basis of voluntariness. Voluntariness does not work in the US. 57:18 “We need rules at government level”. But what about on a global scale? 48:45 SS talks about his hope that our ‘value leaders’ and people from the ‘entertainment industries and sports’ will help the ‘opinion leaders’. With what? Those high earners must convince ‘us’ that overconsumption is a problem…

At 64:45 he goes all Lennonist: “… if we continue to not get along with people, if we insist on our way, our values [he bragged about his own just before, fg!], our religion (!!) …”. At 53:40 SS talks about how he has been tricked by his “ecological friends”. They have led him to believe that humans evolved to run away from sabre-toothed tigers…

Very important and very topical is the story that SS brings forward at 19:25. He speaks with certainty of a 10-year payback period for insulation measures and the like. If this is true, government intervention in the market is not necessary anyway.

Insult to the climate prophet

Under that TreeTV video, I found a comment that gave me the first [‘suffering’] part of the title of this article:

A brilliant man. His too soon passing a loss for us all. I am glad he did not have to endure (!) the complete rejection of his argument by the powers that be in 2017…. I think he would have not been able to maintain the optimism he expressed here in this interview when faced with Trump and company.

In a way, that second part [‘prophet’] is even more important.

Recently, the Belgian website Doorbraak (‘Breakthrough’) published an article on solar panels, lead and cobalt as a result of a series of six broadcasts of Canvas. This is worth quoting extensively:

There is no such thing as green/renewable and sustainable energy. Every form of energy that mankind has used and continues to use has negative externalities. But for some reason, the negative effects of windmills and solar panels were hardly mentioned. (…) According to a recent German study, 11,000 tonnes of lead and 800 tonnes of cadmium have already leaked directly into our environment through those solar panels. Since 2006 there has been a ban on lead in any product in the European Union, the RoHS Directive. Not even a fishing rod should have lead dangling from it.

The only ones who got an exemption were… precisely, the solar panel manufacturers. That lobby works well and we never hear anything negative about it. (…) There are also problems in the cobalt mines in Congo. Every day, 40,000 children perform slave labour to mine this precious cobalt. There is an estimated 11 kg of cobalt in a Tesla battery. That’s right, it’s also in our mobile phone. But there is no other way to make that product work. In cars, there is, the good old reliable and ever cleaner and more economical combustion engine.

What a wry reflection of the stories of SS about special interest groups…


1. It is even questionable whether any of those fossil fuels are still being produced in our time.

2. I have deliberately not delved into how this ‘global average temperature’ is calculated from measurements of temperatures at measuring points that are not evenly distributed around the world. Satellite observations are relatively recent.

3. This interview with SS is so revealing, so painful, but so little viewed, that I downloaded the YouTube video of it to my computer, just to be sure.

5. The difference between the English and Dutch Wikipedia text is striking. In the English text we also find:

The administration of President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin laid the blame on families who had left their elderly behind without caring for them, the 35-hour workweek, which affected the amount of time doctors could work and family practitioners vacationing in August. Many companies traditionally closed in August, so people had no choice about when to vacation. Family doctors were still in the habit of vacationing at the same time. It is not clear that more physicians would have helped, as the main limitation was not the health system, but locating old people needing assistance.

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