Two years ago Governor Martinez appointed Harrison Schmitt, a self-described “denier” of human-caused global warming, to head the New Mexico Department of Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources. Despite the candidate’s truly heroic history as an Apollo astronaut and his past service as a US Senator, his appointment was doomed. After his views on climate science were revealed, and his association with an anti-science pressure group called the Heartland Institute became known, he withdrew.
Unfortunately, the governor has done it again. This time, the candidate is comparatively low-profile, young, and inexperienced. An engineer who served one term as a tea-party-backed New Mexico State Representative before being defeated by a Democrat in November’s election, Conrad James is the governor’s choice for the University of New Mexico Board of Regents.
There are likely to be many objections from the UNM community. One look at the candidate’s campaign page should raise some red flags about how he might govern. He has a bulleted list of three items under “values”:
- Pro-life: I believe in the sanctity of life from conception until natural death. Children are a gift and should be afforded more protection in the womb.
- Pro-second amendment: I support the right of individual citizens to bear arms to protect themselves and their families.
- Pro-traditional marriage: I support the definition of marriage as a sacred union between one man and one woman.
UNM students, faculty, and staff might want to ask some hard questions. Will he try to limit access to women’s health services and insurance coverage? Will he want to allow students to keep firearms in their dorms, or tote them into classrooms? Will he oppose efforts to provide benefits to LGBT employees who are in spouse-like relationships?
I’ve never spoken to him about any of these issues, but I did have an opportunity to converse with him on Facebook about global warming. He responded to my open invitation, posted as a “status update” to any doubters of global warming to meet with me. “Let’s have lunch,” I offered. “Let’s talk about the science.”
Conrad responded, calling himself a “card-carrying alarmism skeptic.” He told me that he believes that “we are being sold a bill of goods by advocates as opposed to being given objective science.” Among other things, he said, “I am massively doubtful of the alarmist predictions of warmer temperatures.”
I tried to explain that the predictions are based on the laws of physics and the radiative properties of greenhouse gas pollution.
Conrad’s response: “Yeah I understand the laws of physics – but how exactly do those predictions work? An equation with variables, nonparametric, etc.?”
I was a little taken aback. It’s unusual for someone with technical training to have such a strong opinion about a subject without having done any research or reading whatsoever. How can someone who is “massively doubtful” about scientific predictions have no clue about their basis?
Trying to be helpful, I offered to send references to the prediction papers, suggesting he read them and publish his rebuttal in a scientific journal.
Conrad’s response: “No thanks- climate science isn’t my field so I won’t be publishing anything, but I can always tell when someone is blowing scientific smoke.”
I suggested he take classes in physical climatology and learn the basis for the published predictions and the governing equations. I offered to put him in touch with a UNM climate scientist.
Conrad’s response: “I understand the temperature records, proxy data, CO2 forcing and the experimental side of climate science, but the modeling is the part I have always not had a firm grasp on.”
Responding to his request for more detail on the predictions, I sent him several historical papers: Arrhenius (1896) (pdf), Broecker (1975) (pdf) and the Charney Report (1979) (pdf). He never accepted the lunch invitation that started the conversation, and I never heard back from him. This was over a year ago.
There are scores of researchers at UNM who are engaged in various aspects of climate science. As perhaps the only technically-trained member of the board, the other regents would likely defer to Conrad James on issues related to science. Do we really want that position to be held by someone who is willing to dismiss an entire field of study at UNM, without having done any research whatsoever, with no clue about how predictions are made, and with no “firm grasp” on the basics?