Conversation UPDATE: William Happer


Four years ago, Stuart went to Princeton University to interview Professor William Happer. When he interviewed him, he was aware that he was a CO2 (and its impact on climate) contrarian. Mr. Happer points out carbon dioxide is an important trace gas and an integral part of the carbon cycle, a bio-geo-chemical cycle in which carbon is exchanged between the oceans, soil, rocks and the biosphere. Virtually all of life on the plant requires CO2 concentrations to be above 150 parts per million. The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere over the past 500 million years has been as high as 4,000 ppm and as low as 180 ppm. Since 1880 when CO2 was measured at Mauna Loa in Hawaii levels have risen from 280 ppm to 413 ppm as of April 2019. Happer, as you will hear, says the impact of CO2 on temperature rise has already taken effect and he points to the logarithmic scale, which is a nonlinear scale often used to analyze a large range of quantities. According to Mr. Happer, it would take another 400 ppm to affect temperature by one additional degree. Mr. Happer is also aware of the folly of predictions. And he, like Freeman Dyson, points to the inability of models to accurately predict climate outcomes. Then add in length of day, which changes by milliseconds, transferring massive amounts of energy mostly into the oceans – causing oscillations that, according to climatologist Judith Curry, are not considered in current climate models. I must ask: is the science of climate really settled? Can it ever be? Mr. Happer’s position on climate, his scientific credentials and his role in the Trump administration have made him a very large target. He is a physicist who specialized in the study of atomic physics, optics and spectroscopy. He is the Cyrus Fogg Brackett Professor of Physics and he is the Davisson-Germer Prize winner in Atomic or Surface Physics. He is not nor could he be a climate scientist because that designation is so new that UCLA only just launched a degree program in 2018. Since that interview, Greenpeace outed him in a sting operation and President Donald Trump recruited Professor Happer to be a member of a Presidential Committee on Climate Security. However, in September of 2019, the unflinching Mr. Happer quit. According to Science Magazine, while Happer may have been unflinching, Trump’s White House isn’t. So on Sept 13, 2019, Mr. Happer resigned. Professor Happer, as you will see in this interview, firmly believes the impact of CO2 has been misrepresented.

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