It’s a source of considerable frustration to me that so many otherwise clear thinking, charming and erudite chaps, like DK, seem to have it as an article of faith that climate change is all a big con. I have not a hope of understanding the science behind it but I think I can understand the flows of the arguments and for me it seems clear that there is a big problem, likely man made, and it is beholden on individuals to do what they can to put it right. Even if not it is far more aesthetically pleasing to me to try and leave a small footprint in what I do, to eat nice food, to not waste more than I have to and to share nicely with others.
Thanks for the compliments, James, and now onto the allegations of faith. First, and almost incidentally, I think that most people would agree that wasting energy or deliberately fouling up the environment, when we can afford not to do so, is A Bad Thing.
Second, I don't deny the theory of the Greenhouse Effect, as it seems to make sense; besides, we can do observable and replicatable experiments that demonstrate that certain gases do, indeed, act (to put it simplistically) like a greenhouse. Indeed, life on this planet relies on this effect, or else the dark side of the planet would be unbearably cold, and the light side unbearably hot.
However, I do not accept the catastrophic warming scenario and, despite what people claim, this view is shared by many scientists and climatologists. We have rehearsed the problems with positive feedback in an inherently stable environment on this blog many times, and we have also discussed the rather important matter of climate sensitivity with regards to CO2. These are not minor issues: they are absolute fundamentals in the discussion of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change scenarios.
I am a sceptic, and as a sceptic I like to depend on observable facts, so here are some:
- There are severe problems with attempting to measure the world-wide temperature, even today. Although satellites have given us a rather better picture, they have only been recording since 1979 and improvements in technology may find some of the earlier temperature readings in error.
- NASA/GISS, headed by James Hansen, seems to prefer to rely on the land temperature record. The first problem with this is that the majority of the planet is covered by water, not land.
The second problem is that there are considerable issues with the siting of the land measurement stations that NASA/GISS has absolutely failed to acknowledge as a problem.
One problem that they have failed to acknowledge, for instance, is that, whilst the Wells, Nevada, measuring station was closed in 2004, GISS still claimed to be recieving data up to at least 2006. Apart from anything else, if they are going to lie about such a big thing, how much do you trust them on anything else?
- Since we are discussing a supposed temperature rise of slightly less than 1°C over the last century, fractions of degrees matter a great deal.
- Past temperatures (and certainly from about 1896 backwards) can only be measured by observing proxies, such as Mann et al's infamous bristle-cone pine tree rings. This has provided a problem, since, in recent years, these proxies have shown considerable divergence from known conditions. That is to say that bristle-cone pine rings, for example, do not proceed in accordance with the temperatures that we know to have occurred (from electronic measurement) within the last twenty years.
- If the scientists believed that their papers were, nonetheless, written in good faith, then surely they would release the data. This is, in fact, customary when publishing scientific papers, so that other interested parties can see when the results can be replicated. There has been a distinct reticence amongst climatologists to do this (here is one example). This would suggest that they themselves are unsure that the results can be replicated, or that they are not being entirely honest.
- Computer models over the last twenty years have been proven to be, almost without exception, completely inaccurate at predicting long-term temperatures and weather conditions.
- This is entirely unsurprising since we are, with all of our technical prowess, unable to settle on an agreed figure for worldwide temperatures; trying to find a similar figure for a century ago is near-impossible.
- All predictive computer models have the same problem: if you put rubbish in, you get rubbish out. Since we are unable to obtain reliable data, rubbish is going in, so...
Even if you accept the catastrophic scenario, then you have to look at the bast way to deal with it and, at this point, one starts to cross from climate science to economics. Should we take radical action now—by reducing carbon emissions, etc.—and make everyone in the world considerably poorer than they are now (and keeping those in absolute poverty in absolute poverty), or should we carry on as we are (or, better, open up trade far more, allowing for a freer exchange of technologies)?
The latter options would allow everyone to become considerably richer and so far more able to mitigate should, as is postulated, disaster strike; some (ignorant fuckers) would say that this is a no-brainer, saying that it is equivalent to Pascal's wager. The trouble is that the point of Pascal's wager was that believing in god had no significant cost, whilst it could reap possible benefits.
And in this case, the costs of throttling back development are horrendous. It isn't that you might merely be forced to turn your stereo off, rather than on standby. It means that millions of poor people cannot, for instance, gain access to cheap electricity and this has a cost: people die. People are dying now, for lack of access to water purifying plants, or refrigeration, or any number of other things that absolutely require power. In short, the cost of this particular wager is the unnecessary deaths of millions people.
So, to summarise:
- We aren't able to reliably measure (to the necessary fractions of °C) world temperatures today, let alone 100, 1,000 or 10,000 years ago.
- Thus, we are putting rubbish into computer models and getting rubbish out. This has been proven to be the case, by the fact that climate conditions have not followed the models.
- Mitigating against a possible disaster is not Pascal's wager: it has huge costs (mainly in millions of human lives).
- These are observable facts, not opinions or "articles of faith". Nor are they predictive computer models.