Name: Richard W. Hurst
What is your background?
My interest in science began at an early age due to my God-given inquisitive nature. I survived an operation at birth to repair a blocked esophagus that saved my life and, due to my parents’ desire to help future generations of infants with this defect, I served as a test subject until my 21st birthday for the Columbian Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. I questioned the doctors and nurses as to what they were doing. As I grew up, I loved nature, the outdoors, and had a rock and mineral collection as well as a chemistry set that I used to perform experiments in our basement. My middle and high school education only solidified my calling in science and math; the “die was cast”. My undergraduate years at Stony Brook University (“the Brook”; late 1960s) saw me major in Earth and Space Sciences with minors in mathematics and chemistry. The path I took to geology and geochemistry was somewhat circuitous, starting with an oceanography emphasis, then transitioning to a geology/geochemistry path. Why? Suffice it to say, as a result of the Apollo program, I was offered an undergraduate research position in geochemistry that gave me the opportunity to work on Apollo 11 lunar samples. I give thanks to Dr. Oliver A. Schaeffer (deceased) for the opportunity that would define my life’s course after the Brook. Graduate school at UCLA focused on early Earth history, the Sudbury Structure, a 1.85 billion year old impact crater in the Canadian Shield and the discovery/age dating of the 3.6 billion year old Uivak Gneiss Suite in Saglek Bay Labrador. My focus during this time period was on early Earth history, planetary evolution, and our place in the solar system. Following UCLA, I went on to a postdoctoral position in research and teaching at the University of California, Santa Barbara where I continued my research on early Earth history until I secured my faculty position at California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) in 1978. My life was forever changed. I taught some 30 different courses at all levels, but I was given the opportunities to develop methods to research contaminants in the environment using stable, naturally occurring isotopes of lead and strontium; my research focus shifted from early Earth history to recent environmental pollution. For the last 45 years forensic geochemistry has been my primary avenue of research and consulting. My passion has been the integration of all areas of my educational background in geochemistry (isotopic, organic, inorganic), geology, mathematics/statistical analysis, and mineralogy to address problems that impact our environment at all scales, local to global. Where multiple sources of contamination are involved, my charge is to utilize the forensic tools I have to quantify the liability of each party that is potentially responsible for the contamination. And this is where, over the years, my interest in climate change began. As I have instructed my students for 50 years, who is attempting to evaluate our true impact on climate and/or the environment? My answer to this is no one, because the “right answer” to the current climate cult is that humans are totally at fault because of our use of fossil fuels. To quote General George S. Patton: “If everyone is thinking the same, then someone is not thinking.”
Since when and why are you interested in climate change?
I was always intrigued by the explanations espoused for glaciations; as an undergraduate in the late 1960s, I heard professors refer to our solar system passing through and out of dust-rich regions of the Milky Way that absorbed/reflected solar radiation leading to Earth’s temperature variations, glacial advances and retreats. Climate change, Milankovitch Cycles, orbital, eccentricity, and axial precession cycles were rarely discussed. A quarter century later, the early 1990s, we would see the rise of concerns about greenhouse gases and their contribution to what was called “global warming and/or climate change”. However, there was still no major concern about climate even though there was some discussion of greenhouse gases and warming of the Earth’s climate. It was not until former Vice President Al Gore and the IPCC were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for their work on the “impending disaster” of climate change that my interest was piqued. What really “stuck in my craw”, so to speak, was the fact that the VP’s film, An Inconvenient Truth, was no more than any university professor’s lecture on climate change in an introductory natural science class on the topic. This to me was a sham and I began to follow the discussion, aka dictate, more carefully. I was even recently reprimanded by a colleague when I said I gave students the climate data and allowed them to formulate their own opinion. I was told climate change is a fact and that I should not teach in the matter, i.e., critical thinking. Climate change has become an agenda that will be used to control people and force them to follow paths they can ill afford. Electric vehicles (EVs) and appliances being prime examples. EVs costs are out of the range of most people with average prices pushing 60K, and reconfiguring gas appliances to all electric, likewise, is prohibitive and furthermore, places the homeowner at the mercy of the vulnerable power grid rather than inexpensive natural gas. Hence my interest in this topic stems from my desire to do the science, protect people, and come to some reasonable, collective alternative to power homes and vehicles in the future. My interest has evolved over the years and it is difficult to summarize it in a few trite sentences. Our lives and well-being are at stake.
Since when and why are you interested in climate change?
I have instructed students for half a century about the Earth’s changing climate and was introduced to this idea, albeit not at the level it is now, as an undergraduate in the 1960s. Hence, as a Professor of Geology and Geochemistry, my charge was to educate, rather than indoctrinate students as has been the case more recently. If there really was an “aha” moment, it was former Vice President Al Gore’s co-sharing of a Nobel Peace Prize with the IPCC on the matter.
Is climate change a big issue in your country and how do you notice this?
In the United States, at all levels, federal to state to local, it is a big issue as we all know. Personally, I see it daily in every news and social media outlet available to us. Today’s headline in our local, county paper focused on the addition of more EV charging stations throughout the county. Need I say more?
What would climate policy look like in your view?
First, at this time, climate policy is not a one size fits all prospect; i.e., fossil fuels and nuclear versus renewable energy. Unless those in charge wish to be in total control, which is an issue that is clearly on the table and a separate discussion, fossil fuels and nuclear MUST be a factor in our energy sources for at least the next century (unless there are some miraculous breakthroughs in this century). We cannot rely totally on an electric grid that cannot manage the demand and still relies on fossil fuels to generate electricity.
What is your motivation to sign the CLINTEL World Climate Declaration?
Since the onset of the “global warming” craze, I have been encouraging my students, at all university levels, to think critically about the evidence for and against climate change. Personally, I was very surprised to see former Vice President Al Gore receive the Nobel Prize for his video, An Inconvenient Truth, that was a basic lecture in any introductory geology or environmental science class; perhaps thousands of professors and lecturers should have also shared in the prize. Furthermore, recently I was reprimanded by the new chair of our geoscience department for not telling my students in introductory environmental science that climate change is a fact; my transgression was telling the chair that I provided them with the data and encouraged them to render their own conclusion on the matter. This was a factor in my severing my relationship with the university. I have been in front of university classrooms for 50 years, teaching courses at both the undergraduate and graduate level. My teaching has always focused on having students critically think about data sets in order to draw logical conclusions. Similarly, I have been a private consultant in forensic geosciences working to apportion liability for contamination from a diverse range of contaminants among potentially responsible parties. It was in fact the tracing of coal combustion particulate and gaseous emissions circa 1978, that led me into the realm of forensic environmental geochemistry which was, at the time, an unknown avenue of research and investigation.
How can forensic environmental scientists contribute to the climate debate?
Forensic scientists, if unbiased, can evaluate, within the available data limitations, the potential contribution of anthropogenic activities to overall climate change which includes both natural and human processes. To date, climate change has been blamed, in total, on increasing CO2 emissions which is only a small part of the problem. It is my belief that although CO2 contributes to global warming to some degree, the data collection is biased and ignores Earth’s climatic cycles. Yet policy is dictated by these models and indoctrination of the youth fuels the fire. As a civilization, we will not survive in the near term with renewables alone; it will require an eclectic mix of fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear, hydroelectric, and eventually fusion to fuel our society.