Chris Christie Defers to the Experts on Climate Change

By The Intersection | May 27, 2011 12:03 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action

Just a few months ago, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie proclaimed his doubt that climate change is occurring due to human activities.  At a town hall meeting held in Tom’s River, NJ, Christie made these comments:

“Mankind, is it responsible for global warming? Well I’ll tell you something. I have seen evidence on both sides of it. I’m skeptical — I’m skeptical. And you know, I think at the at the end of this, I think we’re going to need more science to prove something one way or the other.”

Yesterday, he announced that he has changed his position. I’m not sure what science has been done in the last 6 months to convince Governor Christie to make this change.  As far as I know, the science today is exactly the same as the science then.  Regardless, Christie recently met with two expert scientists, Ken Miller, a geologist with long experience documenting sea level changes, and atmospheric science Anthony Broccoli, both from Rutgers University.  I guess all politics (and now science) is local.  After holding these meetings, the Governor has apparently seen the light and has decided to defer to the experts on this controversial issue.

Here is a clip from the press conference at the NJ State House in which he explains  how he came to appreciate the role humans play in climate change:

Christie has been touted time and again for his leadership on conservative issues. So, the news of his conversion will surely send shock waves through the Republican Party, many of whom have been carrying the climate skeptics’ flag for some time now.

Is this a sign that the Republican Party may soon be “coming to Jesus” on the climate issue?  We can only hope, but Christie needs to look no further than is his own administration to find individuals who are actively undermining climate science.

It’s one thing for a politician to acknowledge an awakening. It’s another thing for him to do something substantive to respond to the threat of climate change. To be honest, he has already made a few decisions. First, he has withdrawn from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a joint cap-and-trade effort by 10 Northeastern states to address the issue of greenhouse gases at the regional level. Although this may appear to be contradictory, Christie argues that “RGGI has not changed behavior and it does not reduce emissions.” He continues, “we’re looking for broader results that benefit all ratepayers and all citizens.” Now, this sounds a lot like Bush’s justifications for pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty, however Christie backs up his words with this bold announcement,

“there will be no new coal permitted in New Jersey. From this day forward, any plans that anyone has regarding any type of coal-based generation of energy is over…. We need to commit in New Jersey to making coal a part of our past.”

Now, I have been a critic of Christie, mainly because of his support of fellow conservative Ken Cuccinelli, despite his attacks on Michael Mann, but I welcome his new voice. For now, he has my attention and I hope Republicans are listening, as well.

*Correction has been made to the final sentence.  There is no evidence that Christie supported Cuccinelli’s attacks on Michael Mann.

Comments (29)

  1. Nullius in Verba

    “Now, this sounds a lot like Bush’s justifications for pulling out of the Kyoto Treaty”

    Are you talking about the Byrd-Hagel resolution? That wasn’t Bush.

    “I hope Republicans are listening, as well.”

    Don’t you have the causality arrow the wrong way round, there? Republican voters are not sceptical because their political leaders tell them to be. It’s very much the other way around.

  2. Why are you so much more concerned with his “voice” than his “actions”?

    Christie has paid a bit of lip service to the global warming alarmists, while stabbing them in the back, and you find this to be a fair trade-off?

    Was there even any new coal plants planned for New Jersey?

    Everyone knows the coming boom is in Natural Gas, and that’s the plants that will be built in New Jersey. Coal plants aren’t being built for economic reasons, not eco-political reasons.

    Why are you lying about Bush and Kyoto? You know full well Bush could not have “pulled out of” a treaty that the United States never signed or ratified. You know that the Congress voted unanimously to reject Kyoto. Not one vote for it, not one.

    Finally, because Chris choose to bring Cuccinelli and Mann into this discussion, it should be pointed out that the University of Virginia, in a stunning reversal of its position, has now acknowledge that it both possesses Mann’s emails, and will turn them over to FOI requesters.

  3. Nullius in Verba

    John,

    Minor nitpick: I think the US signed but didn’t ratify – so of course the signature was never operational.

  4. rbelyell

    why is it either criminal or neanderthal to believe in the fact of climate change, but to not believe such change is primarily caused by human activity? as far as i know, the earth has over the course of its history drastically changed environmentally on its own, as part of its natural ebb and flow if you will. was man responsible for the ice sheets covering then receding from north america, for the emergence then disappearance of the bering strait, for the sahara changing from lush garden of eden to barren wasteland, for the last mini ice age that effected europe during the middle ages? i think its the height of hubris to think man has the power to control climatic amd environmental events that have happened naturally throughout history, the causes of which btw our truly brilliant scientific community is yet to fully understand or explain.

  5. @Nullius

    Nullius, while I humbly agree that in some circles it can be considered that the US technically signed the document, I do not consider it a legitimate signature.

    I’m sorry, but I cannot see how any rational human being can consider Al Gore’s signature of the Kyoto Document to be anything besides treason, regardless of if you believe in global warming or not.

    The Senate sent him with clear instructions not to sign a document like the one he signed. Clinton didn’t even try to send it to the Senate, knowing they had just voted down signing a treaty of exactly this nature.

    The United States did not sign Kyoto. Al Gore, who would go on to be the most controversial global warming alarmist in the world signed it, against his countries wishes. It was treason.

  6. Nullius in Verba

    #5,

    Well, I did say it was nitpicking. Legitimate signature or not, we need to be accurate about details. Signature and ratification are distinct processes.

    As for treason, I think that’s over the top. They knew perfectly well that it wasn’t legally binding on the US, that by so doing they were not binding and therefore not actually acting against their country’s interests or instructions, so in practical terms it was a complete non-event. (Had they bound the US, that might have been a different matter.) It was a political stunt, an empty symbolic gesture aimed at embarrassing the next administration, and no more ‘treason’ than any other partisan political stunt. It’s arguably unpatriotic and lacks class to expose your domestic fights in an international arena, or to play silly games at treaty ceremonies, but it debases the meaning of the term ‘treason’ to use it for merely irritating acts of political free speech.

  7. Two ignored principles of traditonal science stand in the way of the Warmists and the Worst Science that money can buy. First is thermal mass, 28 gigatons of microscopic dust in the air will NEVER tell 259 trillion cubic miles of molten rock what temperature it should be. Second, the Outgoing Longwave Radiation that CO2 is supposed to ‘capture’ is moving at the speed of light and is only delayed by at most 20 milliseconds. There is finite OLR available so the amount to be captured is not a linear relationship. Read more on this at FauxScienceSlayer.com and follow the link to the ‘Author and Dennis Miller Interview’….it’s a hoot !

  8. What is this about???

    What??? Where has this writer been? There have been NO NEW Coal plants in NJ in over 30 years. When I worked for a large NJ utility in the 70′s and 80′s I was told that NJ would never alow a coal plant to be built in NJ, NEVER. But they would buy electricity fom PA coal burners – ???

  9. bad Jim

    Whenever I manage to delude myself that there is no reason to despair of mankind’s self-destructive ignorance, a visit to the comments here puts me right.

  10. It is worth pointing out that New Jersey doesn’t actually have any coal reserves, so it isn’t like a no-new-coal policy has much bite.

    As far as I know, the utilities are still planning to string several new transmission lines to bring electricity to New Jersey from Central Pennsylvania. So the new coal plants will simply be built on the other side of the river.

  11. mkurbo

    What a shame – he had great potential. AGW is a movement that only eco freaks still belive in and for him to take this position is alarming.

  12. I wonder what the sea-level expert told Christy about Europe’s Envistat sea-level data? According to that data, the sea level today is where it was in 2004 or even a bit lower than that. And NASA’s admittedly fudged data, (for glacial rebound), shows no sea level rise since about 2006 … Funny that. Here are the graphs …

    http://stevengoddard.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/they-just-ran-out-of-colors/

  13. Frank Slojkowski

    Rather than listening to the “expert scientists” from Rutgers, the Governor would be much better served by reading the very thorough and informative essay by William Happer, the Cyrus Fogg Bracket Professor of Physics at Princeton, at
    http://www.firstthings.com/article/2011/05/the-truth-about-greenhouse-gases.

  14. JerryV

    He has listened to a couple of committed warming alarmists who falsely assure him that 90% of climate scientists endorse the CAGW theory. This is how the ball started rolling when Hansen, Mann and the other core zealots proclaimed the “incontrovertible evidence” from their skewed models, which has already produced failed predictions of disastrous results. Now that the West Side Highway is not “underwater,” as Hansen declared it would be by 2008, and there has been no statistically significant warming since 1995, and the sea level rise has slowed, and the IPCC 2007 report has been shown to have substantial false statements, and the Hockey Stick has been debunked for ignoring the Medieval Warm Period, etc…, those who declared the “science is settled” are desperate to defend their unscientific leaps onto the bandwagon. Read and listen a little more, Governor; and consider the motivations of those who have your ear.

  15. Regarding remark 13, one should not be dazzled by Happer’s position at Princeton, since some physicists who haven’t ever studied physics of climate have been able to delude themselves that they know everything, whereas they are actually quite prone to elementary errors. This is the case with Happer. Don’t just look at his title — ask where his PEER REVIEWED research on climate is. Hint: You won’t find it. I’ve known Tony Broccoli for years, and he has a very distinguished record of peer reviewed research in climate science. And when you are talking to Tony, you are not only getting Tony’s opinion, but a fair representation of the basic science that has led all the world’s major science academies to the conclusion that the threat of climate change from human-caused emissions of CO2 is a very real one that needs to be taken seriously.

    Raymond T. Pierrehumbert
    Louis Block Professor in the Geophysical Sciences
    The University of Chicago

  16. Amoeba

    Frank Slojkowski,
    The question is of course, why take the word of William Happer, [not a climate scientist],
    The William Happer article is a disinformation piece, it’s full of straw men and debunked claims and it was so wrong it featured at Anthony Watts’ climate deception site. It went down a storm with Watts’ climate zombie-idiots.

    The important question is why does Happer make such false claims when the science is clear and has been for decades that he is unequivocally wrong? Well perhaps the reason he makes false claims is that he is on the George Marshall Institute board and this outfit has been funded for decades to Interest to spread disinformation about the science. If Happer’s theories were sound, why does he not publish them in a relevant scientific journal? The answer is of course, that he knows his straw men and bogus arguments would not stand-up to scientific scrutiny and he would make himself a laughing-stock in academia.

    It’s very interesting to learn who funds the GMI.
    Exxon funding of GMI
    http://www.exxonsecrets.org/html/orgfactsheet.php?id=36

    Koch Industries
    http://www.greenpeace.org/usa/en/media-center/reports/Koch-Industries-Still-Fueling-Climate-Denial-2011-Update/

    http://www.marshall.org/board.php

    Happer’s garbage, disposed.
    Even Princeton Makes Mistakes
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/news.php?n=774

    Climate zombie-myths destroyed with the underlying science.
    http://sks.to/

  17. Nullius in Verba

    Oh, dear. Argument from Authority, and Argument Ad Hominem, springing up everywhere like weeds again.

    In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.

  18. @17: “In questions of science, the authority of a thousand is not worth the humble reasoning of a single individual.”

    It is if that thousand is well-trained in the physics of their subject, has based their claims on well-tested principles developed over a century, and has subjected their reasoning to the rigors of peer review. Especially set against that “humble reasoning of a single individual” which is SO humble it shows basic ignorance of the fundamental physical principles that govern climate.

  19. Nullius in Verba

    #18,

    I do not think this is a point on which we are likely to persuade each other. As far as I am concerned, the only thing that matters is the evidence – whether it it is presented by one or a thousand. Training is only relevant to the extent that it gives familiarity with the evidence and the means of testing it. The length of time that people have believed it is only relevant to the extent that it has survived determined and motivated challenge – the challenge being the measure, not the time. And peer review – if you mean that conducted by journals – is little more than fashionable opinion, flavoured by commercial interest. It says nothing more than that this is something worth testing. What matters is the peer review of the sceptical opponents of the hypothesis, as they attempt to scrutinise the result once it has been published. If they cannot test it, it has no worth.

    Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts. Even if a thousand scientists believe it, not one of them would rely on that fact in giving reasons to believe. Authority is a concept that belongs in politics, and is therefore vulnerable to political methods. How is it possible for us to have forgotten?

  20. Jack

    Maybe the “reason” is Rutgers wants a Federally funded “climate science” boondoggle like MIT and Stanford get.

    http://climatechange.rutgers.edu/

  21. #19: Nullius in Verba seems to have no understanding whatever of the conduct of science — not the conduct of climate science, nor the conduct of the many sciences that gave rise to the Internet over which this discussion is being carried out, or the many other technological marvels we rely on in everyday life. Science works, and though climate science is carried out more in the public eye than much other science (though no more so than medicine), climate science is carried out in the framework of principles that are no different than other sciences. “Belief” does not come into it. And experts are valued in science not because their arguments are accepted on blind authority, but because their familiarity with the subject matter allows them to formulate arguments and tests of hypotheses that can be examined and understood by other scientists.

    Nullius is also fabricating a picture of peer review that has little to do with the real thing. Peer review is not perfect, but it does provide a basic filter to assure that arguments meet some standard of scientific credibility. Not everything that passes peer review is correct, but things that have not been subjected to peer review have no basis for credibility at all.

    The science underpinning global warming has met numerous crucial tests, both in the laboratory and in observations of the Earth’s radiation budget. For an example relating to the most fundamental issue of all — CO2 and the Earth’s radiation budget, see my recent Physics Today article on radiative transfer. An open access version is available in the publications list
    of my site:

    geosci.uchicago.edu/~rtp1

  22. Chris Mooney

    @21 raypierre, we do love nullius around here for his dogged counterpoints, but i want to give you a high five.

  23. Nullius in Verba

    #21,

    We disagree on who has an understanding of the conduct of science, but like I said, I doubt that’s resolvable. Experts should only be valued because they are able to provide explanations and evidence – but it is the explanation/evidence that matters, not the expert.

    Speaking of which, I had a look at your article, and think that it’s just the sort of thing we need more of. Something that explains the science; that doesn’t just assert it. It’s a great improvement on most of those I read, and while there are a few points I’d dispute, and some topics I’d give a lot more weight to, it’s not bad. Most of it I knew, but there were a few things in it that were new to me. Of course, it’s only a part of the story, and not the most crucial part, but obviously you had limited space.

    Unfortunately, science is not always conducted the way it ought to be in theory – scientists being human – and I’ve found experts being believed and their works being passed untested even by other scientists. Sometimes undeservedly. It’s a serious problem that not enough is being done about.

    And on peer review I agree with the first part of what you say – it was exactly what I was trying to say myself. The only point of that I disagree with is the idea that things not subjected to peer review – in the journal sense – have no basis for credibility. The basis for credibility for any result is that it has survived well-motivated attack in circumstances that one would reasonably expect to find any flaws if they were there to be found. That can happen by other means than journal peer-review.

  24. Nullius is also missing the difference between science and science policy, something that Christie does understand. Scientific understanding can be (rarely) overturned by a single individual, but it would be stupid – actually, impossible – to base policy on random musings of individuals when a consensus position is available.

    Christie is a Red governor in a Blue state, and is choosing words and policies. His words reflect reality and thus are an improvement on the usual Red politicians and their nonsense. So far his policies aren’t following, but maybe there’s a chance for that in the near future.

  25. Nullius (23) thank you so much for taking time to look at my article, and I’m glad you found it informative. Climate scientists, indeed scientists in general, are nor more nor less human than the general run of people, and are subject to all the usual frailties and temptations. But on the whole, I think my article (and the articles I write, in general) are pretty typical of the general conduct of climate science. For that matter, there’s lots of better stuff out there that explains the science, like Richard Alley’s “Two Mile Time Machine,” or the recent series “Earth, The Operator’s Manual.” To say nothing of his superb work in the professional literature, particularly on the Greenland ice core record.

    Really, there’s no need to demonize climate scientists. We are a pretty sincere bunch. I have no complaints about my standard of living, but if one wanted money or power, working for a hedge fund would be a much better bet. We work hard, find out what we think is pretty important stuff, and the reward is to be ignored by people who can make things happen, and to be vilified by the ignorant who fear the implications of our work so much they can’t see the way through to a better future.

  26. Geronimo

    Ray,I’d like to ask you about the the rigor of peer review, how is it that Michael Mann’s use an unknown and hitherto unused statistical method for centering the data for dendro time series, and hone picked it up during peer review. Also Dr. Jones told the SciTech committee of the UK parliament that no one had ever asked to see his data and methodologies. It seems to me that if this is typical of peer review then it’s not nearly as rigorous has you would have us believe. I’m not saying that climate science is alone in this, just asking what you think needs to be done to sharpen the reviews up.

  27. weatherhappens

    @amoeba spoken like a true climate-change cultist! You use the standard ad hominem attacks and attack the man instead of the message. Now, deal with substance of Happer’s claims instead of emoting and fomenting. Since you know so much about the issue maybe you should debate a bone fide climate realist. Once you finished with your ad hominem rant you would stand their looking stupid as the skeptic dismantles you. Your link to GreenPeace was a sheer stroke of genius and shows a real affinity for solid “scholarship”l–now there is a real reputable scientific organization with absolutely no political agenda.

  28. Nullius in Verba

    #25,

    “Really, there’s no need to demonize climate scientists.”

    Climate sceptics too, yes?

    “We work hard, find out what we think is pretty important stuff, and the reward is to be ignored by people who can make things happen, and to be vilified by the ignorant who fear the implications of our work so much they can’t see the way through to a better future.”

    Many sceptics say something similar.

    Personally, I’d much rather we could have a sensible debate where we could talk about what bothered us, sort out what was right, and do it without all the name-calling and hostility. Teach people what they need to know to be able to enter the debate, and to take opposing views seriously. “You ought to believe because we’re a bunch of experts, and you’re corrupt oil industry deniers” (or the same sort of thing from the other side) doesn’t allow such a debate. “You ought to believe because this is how it works, here is the physics you need to know” is something that can be discussed. The first step is getting everybody to recognise it, and accept it applies to them too. I don’t deny it applies to many on the sceptic side as well.

    There has been a lot of discussion out there recently on trying to find out what is causing the failure to communicate, and whether a different approach should be tried. Personally, I think that rather than sitting in your own huddle and concocting your own theories as to why some people on the other side doubt, it would be worth asking them, and engaging with the opposition. And I think taking a less dumbed-down approach would definitely help with the more educated end of the spectrum. However, it is important that the initial aim should not be to persuade, it should be to come to a common understanding of the issues and positions.

    (Not just on the science either – trying to avoid the methodological issues raised by Climategate and the Hockeystick and pretend there’s nothing to discuss does your side no good at all – seriously, I’m saying that to be helpful. Again, the aim should not be as prosecution and defence, but to first understand what we think the issues are, and on exactly what evidential basis – besides that a panel of experts said so – you think they’re not.)

    I don’t think it will solve the problem – even if it can be done. There’s too much history, and too much at stake for people on either side to make major concessions just because of a change in tone. But it would be a step in the right direction.

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