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Joe Bastardi / March 20, 2014

An Enemy of the People

The question is: Am I one?

Years ago, I read Henrik Ibsen’s book about a scientist taking a stand against an entire town when he discovers the town’s medicinal spa is polluted.

The most ironic thing about this is that both sides of the climate debate can claim to be the hero against the villainous other side. While I have never thought of it that way (I have always thought of this as an issue I am acquainted with because of my use of climate as a tool for my forecasting), it seems that with books written about climate “wars” and people being on the front lines of such a thing, one can easily cast themselves as some type of hero struggling against evil, even if that evil consists of fictional strawmen or is personified by blaming someone who has the good fortune to be successful in their pursuits.

But given the recent demonizing, most vividly demonstrated by the call for jailing of man-made global warming skeptics by a Rochester Institute of Technology assistant professor of philosophy, one has to wonder if there is an effort to silence people similar to other examples we have seen in the past. This article goes into detail about a similar situation where bending science to a political agenda in the time of Stalin resulted in much misery. Rather than me demonizing this, you can read the examples that the author and many others alarmed by this have, including some pertinent history of such practices.

Several years ago, I was asked by a major college wrestling coach if I was afraid of harm to myself and my family because of the stance I took on the matter of what was then global warming. Up until about 2005, I never really gave the whole debate that much thought. It seemed so far fetched to me, that I did not think it a serious threat to our nation, or for that matter, anyone that spoke up against it being in danger. But after the hurricane season of 2005, and what I viewed as a spinning of the weather in a fashion that defied known facts, I started to speak up, simply because of what I knew to be true based on the many years I used those facts to become successful to some degree in what I do. But given the question this person posed to me in 2008 and how tough I knew this person was, I was not alarmed, but bewildered. After all, are we not all Americans? Aren’t tolerance and liberalism (as in freedom) bedrocks of the foundation of our nation? And how could one of the toughest people I ever saw on a wrestling mat – a sport that to me defines what an individual can do when they focus hard work, talent and the freedom to excel – ask me if I was afraid?

Well here we are six years or so later. I see that the coach of this team still has his team up there (the NCAA’s are this week) and his kids are tough and worthy enough to challenge the dynasty that the team I wrestled for in the 1970s, Penn. State, has become (no thanks to me). But on the wrestling mat, things are settled in competition, not with the elimination of competition. Imagine if we simply just crowned a champion because of what people thought. I have been asked that question – am I afraid? –many times since 2008, and every time I respond that, after wrestling a guy that weighed 305 lbs at a bodyweight of 170, why should I be afraid of a scientific debate?

The answer is, I should not be if it’s just about science, or this was the America I grew up in. But given what I see going on today, and the fact this may no longer be a debate about science, and people can threaten, bully, and intimidate like this, perhaps I should at least be wary.

After all, no one wants to be an “Enemy of the People.”

Joe Bastardi is chief forecaster at WeatherBELL Analytics, a meteorological consulting firm.

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