Parsing the Dissent: Michael Tomlin’s Climate Change Denial


The daily newspaper in WC’s new hometown is the Idaho Statesman. Even by the standards of the region, it is a very conservative newspaper. There’s an occasional nod to reality that some of Boise, its subscription base, is pretty liberal. But generally, the Statesman is Idaho Gov. Butch Otter’s kind of paper.

Michael Tomlin Earns an "F" in Logic

Michael Tomlin Earns an “F” in Logic

So it wasn’t a surprise when someone named Michael Tomlin penned an opinion piece attacking anthropogenic climate change. Mr. Tomlin is described at the end of the opinion piece as “a writer and advocate for conservative causes. He has served in higher education as a professor of education and business management and marketing communications.” Those are credentials for climatology? Mr. Tomlin also mentions, “First, I am not a denier. I believe Barrack Obama was born in Hawaii.” WC is reassured that Mr. Tomlin doesn’t indulge in that particular conspiracy fantasy, but it’s the kind of positive claim that actually undermines the writer’s credibility.

Mr. Tomlin’s major premise is that science sometimes gets it wrong. And that, therefore, we should never trust science. Especially climatology. As a syllogism, it makes absolutely no sense:

Science sometimes gets it wrong.
Climate change is science.
Therefore, climate change is wrong.

WC can see why Mr. Tomlin went into business management and marketing and not science; he never grasped the principles of logic. Presumably, Mr. Tomlin uses a cell phone; science got all the stuff underlying cell phones right. Electronics, nuclear reactors, aircraft, automobiles, the GPS system; science, it seems to WC, overwhelmingly gets it right. That’s certainly awkward for the conclusion of Mr. Tomlin’s syllogism.

In his attempt to show that science gets it wrong, Mr. Tomlin seizes on a few specific instances. His primary example is the forecast decline in crude oil. “Look,” Mr Tomlin says, “We are awash in crude oil.” Mr. Tomlin picked a poor example. Prof. Kenneth Deffeyes, in Hubbert’s Peak, wrote about the work of geophysicist M. King Hubbert, who in 1956 predicted that U.S. oil production would reach its highest level in the early 1970s.1 Prof. Deffeyes wrote, “Absent new technology that makes presently uneconomic crude feasible, the world-wide production of crude oil is likely to continue to decline.” (Emphasis added.)

That new technology that qualified Prof. Deffeyes conclusion? It actually happened. At some cost to the environment, the cluster of technologies called “fracking” made it economic to extract crude oil that previously was not economic. The result was a very serious over-production of crude oil, worsened by a decline in demand led by China’s economic woes, and today crude oil prices are down more than 80% from peaks 18 months ago. The prices have gotten so low that fracking is no longer cost-effective. When the current oil glut has been consumed, when the over-supply has been reduced, demand will bring the price back up. Today’s crude oil prices are a consequence of new technologies and macroeconomics, not a failure of science. Which is why Mr. Tomlin chose a poor example. His primary example in support of his thesis does not support his thesis.

Now only a fool bets on a future technology. If science and technology always worked out we’d all be using pollution-free, fusion power now. Science is generally pretty bad at predicting where future technology is headed. That’s what “new discovery” means.

Mr. Tomlin parades out other examples, mostly from the health care sciences. All are flawed. But where his argument really runs off the rails of logic and into the perils of politics is his continual referral to President Obama. He recites a long list of alleged lies by the President. Apart from being gross distortions of what President Obama has said and done, it isn’t President Obama that is warning of anthropogenic climate change. It’s 97-98% of the world’s climatologists. It’s hundreds of thousands of data points. It’s the inescapable fact that we are pumping staggering amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere and even a high school physics student understands the greenhouse gas effect. But not, alas, Mr. Tomlin.

Let’s examine this new syllogism.

President Obama lies.
President Obama claims there is anthropogenic climate change.
Therefore, climate change is a lie.

Mr. Tomlin fails elementary logic again. Once again, the conclusion doesn’t follow from the major and minor premise. And, since the President of the United States has nothing to do with the facts of the science of anthropogenic climate change, we have a straw man fallacy as well.

Perhaps instead Mr. Tomlin is just shooting the messenger. That’s a reference to Plutarch’s Lives: “The first messenger, that gave notice of Lucullus‘ coming was so far from pleasing Tigranes that, he had his head cut off for his pains; and no man dared to bring further displeasing information. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him.” Perhaps Mr. Tomlin dislikes the news of climate change so much that he is figuratively shooting the messenger, the President.

Or, if you prefer, it is a cynical attempt by someone who knows better to taint the climate change issue with Idaho’s purported dislike of President Obama.

But none of those fallacies, rhetorical stunts or cynical manipulations begins to address the reality of anthropogenic climate change. It’s much more revealing of Mr. Tomlin’s political agenda than a meaningful contribution to the discussion or the reality of climate change.

 


  1. Mr. Tomlin also talks about “gas rationing” and high crude oil prices in the 1970s. He is confused and mistaken. There was no “gas rationing.” and high crude oil prices were a consequence of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries manipulation of supply. 
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