The Week That Was
March 17 , 2007
Quote of the Week:
“The fact that climate change is so uncertain and so expensive is exactly why collectivists have swarmed to the cause. The scope of the problem can never be identified, its cost never quantified, and complete solutions will never be found. The perfect issue for people whose primary goal is the expansion of government control." ---Anon.
Health experts claim obesity 'as bad as climate change'
The long-awaited reply to Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth” -- in the form of the British documentary “The Great Global Warming Swindle.” After almost 4 million views on Google, see it now on: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6Wr1hcIp2U.
We will announce its availability as a DVD on TWTW. Our essay discussed the broad context and implications of the debate (ITEM #1)
A thinly veiled criticism of climate alarmism by the Royal Meteorological Society, taking aim at the Feb 2007 Statement of the AAAS (ITEM #2).
Another significant event: The skeptics win an important debate (ITEM #3).
A less-than-favorable review of Singer and Avery’s book, with some trenchant comments on post-norma science by Melanie Phillips, plus a favorable review (ITEM #4).
George Musser (SciAm) raises cautions about scientific consensus (ITEM #5).
A skeptical view of IPCC and GW from Alaska (ITEM #6).
A British journalist has thoughts on stifling debate about GW )Item #7)
NYT report independent scientists criticize Gore movie (ITEM #8).
”Part of [Gore's] scientific audience is uneasy. In talks, articles and blog entries that have appeared since his film and accompanying book came out last year, these scientists argue that some of Mr. Gore's central points are exaggerated and erroneous. They are alarmed, some say, at what they call his alarmism.
"I don't want to pick on Al Gore," Don J. Easterbrook, an emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, told hundreds of experts at the annual meeting of the Geological Society of America. "But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data." . . .
Criticisms of Mr. Gore have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists like Dr. Easterbook, who told his peers that he had no political ax to grind. A few see natural variation as more central to global warming than heat-trapping gases. Many appear to occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, seeing human activity as a serious threat but challenging what they call the extremism of both skeptics and zealots.”
Our “Unstoppable Global Warming” is ahead of Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” on the NY Times best-seller list
AP Global Warming Writer Over the Top - Again
By Marc Sheppard, The American Thinker, March 14, 2007
Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press has written another truly frightening little sci-fi piece entitled Warming Report to Warn of Coming Drought. The article, which claims to have scooped the findings of the IPCC 4th Assessment Working Group 2 (WG2), and predicts a coming eco-apocalypse, has created quite a stir since being published last Saturday. This, despite the fact that the very same author made similar predictions last month regarding the findings of another IPCC group - predictions which proved to be baloney.
The "science writer" then forewarned of a not-too-distant-future world of cataclysmic floods, widespread disease, species extinction and global starvation. We're talking devastation of Biblical proportions here, folks. Hmmmm ... Noah Borenstein - it does have a catchy sound.
Having won an Oscar for An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore is headed to Capitol Hill on March 21 to perform before an even more important crowd: lawmakers who could pass legislation that would make energy unaffordable for many Americans. See (http://www.cei.org/pdf/5817.pdf) for Skeptic's Primer on An Inconvenient Truth, a detailed yet concise review by Marlo Lewis of Mr. Gore's film and best-selling book.
A comment on Green hypocrisy: The Guardian’s Climate Summit to be held in London on June 11 http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatesummit has Shell Oil as lead sponsor:
What a wonderful choir – with no dissonant voices to mar the harmony. No climate scientists, of course. After all, isn’t the science all settled? But not even a critical observer, like Dr Philip Stott or Melanie Phillips. Only one problem: The lead sponsor of this remarkable celebration is a major oil company. I don’t know if one can trust such an assembly if the funds come from Big Oil. Surely, we all realize that such money is tainted. I pray The Guardian will have the good sense to refuse to be bought, to become a lackey to an industry that thrives on bloated profits, etc, etc.
….Now where did we read this just recently?
Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth (AIT) has met its match: a major documentary recently shown on British television. In spite of its flamboyant title, The Great Global Warming Swindle (TGGWS) is based on sound science by recording the statements of real climate scientists, including myself. AIT mainly records Al Gore.
The scientific arguments presented in TGGWS can be stated quite briefly:
**There is no real proof that the current warming is caused by the rise of greenhouse gases from human activities, such as the generation of energy from the burning of fuels. On the contrary, the evidence we have supports natural causes; the current warming is likely part of a natural cycle of climate warming and cooling that’s been traced back almost a million years. It accounts for the Medieval Warm Period around 1100 A.D., when the Vikings were able to settle Greenland and grow crops, and the Little Ice Age, from about 1400 to 1850 A.D., that brought severe winters and cold summers to Europe, with failed harvests, starvation, disease, and general misery.
**If the cause of warming is mostly natural, then there is little we can do about this. We cannot influence the inconstant Sun, the likely origin of most climate variability. None of the schemes of mitigation currently bandied about will do any good; they are all useless and wildly expensive:
***Control of CO2 emissions, whether by rationing or by elaborate cap-and-trade schemes. ***Uneconomic “alternative” energy, such as ethanol and the impractical “hydrogen economy.” ***Massive installations of wind turbines and solar collectors.
***Proposed projects for the sequestration of CO2 from smokestacks or even from the atmosphere.
Ironically, all of these schemes would be ineffective even if CO2 were responsible for the observed warming trend—unless we can persuade every nation, including China, to cut fuel use by 80 percent! Ironically also, most global warming worriers oppose nuclear power, the only realistic alternative to energy from fossil fuels.
**Finally, no one can show that a warmer climate would produce negative impacts overall; the much-feared rise in sea levels does not seem to depend on short-term temperature changes. In fact, many economists argue that the opposite is more likely—that warming throws off net benefits, increasing incomes and standards of living. All agree that a colder climate would be bad. So why would the present climate be the optimum? Surely, the chances for this must be vanishingly small.
But the main message of TGGWS is much broader. Why should we devote our scarce resources to what is essentially a non-problem and ignore the real problems the world faces: hunger, disease, denial of human rights, restrictions on human freedom—not to mention the threats of global terrorism and nuclear wars. And are we really prepared to deal with natural disasters; pandemics that can wipe out most of the human race, or even the impact of an asteroid, such as the one that wiped out the dinosaurs? Yet politicians and the elites throughout much of the world prefer to toy with and devote our limited resources to fashionable issues rather than concentrate on real ones. Just consider the scary predictions emanating from supposedly responsible world figures: Britain’s chief scientist tells us that unless we insulate our houses and use more efficient light bulbs, the Antarctic will be the only habitable continent by 2100, with a few surviving breeding couples propagating the human race. Seriously!
I imagine that in the not too distant future all of the hype will have died down, particularly if the climate should decide to cool—as it did during much of the past century; we should take note that it has not warmed since 1998. Future generations will look back on the current madness and wonder what it was all about. They will have movies like AIT and documentaries like TGGWS to remind them.
*S. Fred Singer is Professor Emeritus of Environmental Sciences at the University of Virginia and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute (Oakland, CA). He served as the founding director of the U.S. Weather Satellite Service and was Vice Chairman of the U.S. National Advisory Committee on Oceans and Atmosphere. He is the author of Hot Talk, Cold Science, and his most recent book Unstoppable Global Warming—Every 1500 Years is on the New York Times bestseller list.
Interview with Gore that appeared (May 2006) in a publication called Grist:
Q: There's a lot of debate right now over the best way to communicate about global warming and get people motivated. Do you scare people or give them hope? What's the right mix?
Gore: I think the answer to that depends on where your audience's head is. In the United States of America, unfortunately we still live in a bubble of unreality. And the Category 5 denial is an enormous obstacle to any discussion of solutions. Nobody is interested in solutions if they don't think there's a problem. Given that starting point, I believe it is appropriate to have an over-representation of factual presentations on how dangerous it is, as a predicate for opening up the audience to listen to what the solutions are, and how hopeful it is that we are going to solve this crisis.
2. CAUTION URGED ON CLIMATE 'RISKS'
By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News
Two leading UK climate researchers have criticised those among their peers who they say are "overplaying" the global warming message. Professors Paul Hardaker and Chris Collier, both Royal Meteorological Society figures, are voicing their concern at a conference in Oxford. They say some researchers make claims about possible future impacts that cannot be justified by the science.
The pair believe this damages the credibility of all climate scientists. They think catastrophism and the "Hollywoodisation" of weather and climate only work to create confusion in the public mind. They argue for a more sober and reasoned explanation of the uncertainties about possible future changes in the Earth's climate.
As an example, they point to a recent statement from one of the foremost US science bodies - the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). The association released a strongly worded statement at its last annual meeting in San Francisco in February which said: "As expected, intensification of droughts, heat waves, floods, wildfires, and severe storms is occurring, with a mounting toll on vulnerable ecosystems and societies. … These events are early warning signs of even more devastating damage to come, some of which will be irreversible."
According to Professors Hardaker and Collier, this may well turn out to be true, but convincing evidence to back the claims has not yet emerged. "It's certainly a very strong statement," Professor Collier told BBC News. "I suspect it refers to evidence that hurricanes have increased as a result of global warming; but to make the blanket assumption that all extreme events are increasing is a bit too early yet."
A former president of the Royal Meteorological Society, Professor Collier is concerned that the serious message about the real risks posed by global warming could be undermined by making premature claims. "I think there is a good chance of that," he said. "We must guard against that - it would be very damaging. "I've no doubt that global warming is occurring, but we don't want to undermine that case by crying wolf."
This view is shared by Professor Hardaker, the society's chief executive. "Organisations have been guilty of overplaying the message," he says. "There's no evidence to show we're all due for very short-term devastating impacts as a result of global warming; so I think these statements can be dangerous where you mix in the science with unscientific assumptions."
The AAAS said it would not be commenting directly on the professors' remarks. "We feel that the recent consensus statement of the AAAS Board of Directors speaks for itself and stands on its own," a spokesperson explained.
Professor Hardaker also believes that overblown statements play into the hands of those who say that scientists are wrong on climate change - that global warming is a myth. "I think we do have to be careful as scientists not to overstate the case because it does damage the credibility of the many other things that we have greater certainty about," he said. We have to stick to what the science is telling us; and I don't think making that sound more sensational, or more sexy, because it gets us more newspaper columns, is the right thing for us to be doing. We have to let the science argument win out."
The pair have contributed to a pamphlet called Making Sense of the Weather and Climate, which will be presented on Saturday at the Garden Quadrangle Auditorium at St John's College, Oxford.
3. REASON FIGHTS BACK: THE BIG GW DEBATE
Melanie Phillips, March 16, 2007 http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/?p=1473
Now we can see why the global warming truth-deniers loudly insist ‘the debate is over’. When they are forced to take part in a proper debate, they lose. On Wednesday night, reason scored a great victory over the forces of obscurantism when, at an Intelligence Squared debate in New York, climate sceptics persuaded an audience of several hundred that ‘Global warming is not a crisis’. What’s more, it was the arguments they used — or maybe the inadequacy of the arguments on the other side — which persuaded a part of the audience to change its mind. When the audience arrived, 57 per cent thought it was a crisis and 30 percent thought it was not. After the debate, 42 per cent thought it was a crisis and 46 percent thought it was not. The undecideds moved from 13 to 12.
For the motion were the best-selling author Michael Crichton, whose novel State of Fear challenged global warming, and who also happens to be a postdoctoral fellow at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies; Richard Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Atmospheric Sciences at MIT; and Philip Stott, an emeritus professor and biogeographer from London University. Against them were Brenda Ekwurzel from the national climate programme at the Union of Concerned Scientists; Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York; and Richard Somerville, a Professor of meteorology at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego.
So how did the global warmers react to the fact that the audience did not find their arguments convincing? According to Gavin Schmidt on RealClimate, it had nothing to do with any facts the other side had produced — good heavens, no. It was simply that they had been more entertaining. The audience was gulled by celebrity, you see, and a bit of ‘revivalist’ fervour. It just didn’t have the intellectual stamina to fully appreciate the manifest superiority of his own side. He concluded:
So are such debates worthwhile? On balance, I’d probably answer no (regardless of the outcome). The time constraints preclude serious examination of any points of controversy and the number of spurious talking points can seriously overwhelm the ability of others to rebut them. Taking a ‘meta’ approach (as I attempted) is certainly not a guaranteed solution. However, this live audience were a rather select bunch, and so maybe this will go over differently on the radio. There it might not matter that Crichton is so tall…
You don’t say?!
4. THE APPLIANCE OF SCIENCE
The Guardian, 14 March 2007 http://environment.guardian.co.uk/climatechange/story/0,,2032821,00.html
Politicians and the public look to scientists to explain the causes of climate change and whether it can be tackled - and they are queuing up to deliver. But, asks Mike Hulme, are we being given the whole picture?
Climate change is happening, but it appears that science is split on what to do about it. One of the central reasons why there is disagreement about how to tackle climate change is because we have different conceptions of what science is, and with what authority it speaks - in other words, how scientific "knowledge" interacts with those other realms of understanding brought to us by politics, ethics and spirituality.
Two scientists - one a climate physicist, the other a biologist - have written a book arguing that the warming currently observed around the world is a function of a 1,500-year "unstoppable" cycle in solar energy. The central thesis is linked to evidence that most people would recognise as being generated by science. But is this book really about science?
It is written as a scientific text, with citations to peer-reviewed articles, deference to numbers, and adoption of technical terms. A precis of the argument put forward in the book by Fred Singer, an outspoken critic of the idea that humans are warming the planet, and Dennis Avery is that a well-established, 1,500-year cycle in the Earth's climate can explain most of the global warming observed in the last 100 years (0.7C), that this cycle is in some way linked to fluctuations in solar energy, and because there is nothing humans can do to affect the sun we should simply figure out how to live with this cycle. We are currently on the upswing, they say, warming out of the Little Ice Age, but in a few hundred years will be back on the downswing. Efforts to slow down the current warming by reducing emissions of greenhouse gases are at best irrelevant, or at worst damaging for our future development and welfare.
This, of course, is not what the fourth assessment report of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said a few weeks ago. The report from its climate science working group concluded that it is likely that most of the warming of the last 50 years has been caused by rising greenhouse gas concentrations and that, depending on our actions now to slow the growth of emissions, warming by 2100 will probably be between about 1.5C and 6C.
The upper end of this range is almost an order of magnitude larger than the warming that Singer and Avery suggest is caused by the 1,500-year cycle. So is this a fight between scientific truth and error? This seems to be how Singer and Avery would like to present it - "science is the process of developing theories and testing them against observations until they are proven true or false".
At one level, it is as simple as this. Science as a means of inquiry into how the world works has been so successful because it has developed a series of principles, methods and techniques for being able to make such judgments. For example, we now understand the major transmission routes for HIV/Aids, that smoking injures health, and that wearing seat belts saves lives.
And so it is with climate change. Increasing the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere warms the planet and sets in motion changes to the way the weather is delivered to us, wherever we are. Science has worked hard over a hundred years to establish this knowledge. And new books such as Singer and Avery's, or opinion pieces in the Daily Mail, do not alter it.
So far so good. Deploying the machinery of scientific method allows us to filter out hypotheses - such as those presented by Singer and Avery - as being plain wrong. But there are two other characteristics of science that are also important when it comes to deploying its knowledge for the benefit of public policy and society: that scientific knowledge is always provisional knowledge, and that it can be modified through its interaction with society.
That science is an unfolding process of discovery is fairly self-evident. The more we seem to know, the more questions we seem to need answering. Some avenues of scientific inquiry may close off, but many new ones open up. We know a lot more about climate change now than 17 years ago when the first IPCC scientific assessment was published. And no doubt in another 17 years our knowledge of how the climate system works and the impact that humans have made on it will be significantly different to today. Yet it is important that on big questions such as climate change scientists make an assessment of what they know at key moments when policy or other collective decisions need to be made. Today is such a time.
But our portrayal of the risks of climate change will always be provisional, subject to change as our understanding advances. Having challenges to this unfolding process of discovery is essential for science to thrive, as long as those challenges play by the methodological rulebook that science has painstakingly written over many generations of experience.
The other important characteristic of scientific knowledge - its openness to change as it rubs up against society - is rather harder to handle. Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken.
It has been labelled "post-normal" science. Climate change seems to fall in this category. Disputes in post-normal science focus as often on the process of science - who gets funded, who evaluates quality, who has the ear of policy - as on the facts of science.
So this book from Singer and Avery can be understood in a different way: as a challenge to the process of climate change science, or to the values they believe to be implicit in the science, rather than as a direct challenge to scientific knowledge.
In this reading, Singer and Avery are using apparently scientific arguments - about 1,500 year cycles, about the loss of species, about sea-level rise - to further their deeper (yet unexpressed) values and beliefs. Too often with climate change, genuine and necessary debates about these wider social values - do we have confidence in technology; do we believe in collective action over private enterprise; do we believe we carry obligations to people invisible to us in geography and time? - masquerade as disputes about scientific truth and error.
We need this perspective of post-normal science if we are going to make sense of books such as Singer and Avery's. Or indeed, if we are to make sense of polar opposites such as James Lovelock's recent contribution The Revenge of Gaia, in which he extends climate science to reach the conclusion that the collapse of civilisation is no more than a couple of generations away.
The danger of a "normal" reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow. Singer has this view of science, as do some of his more outspoken campaigning critics such as Mark Lynas. That is why their exchanges often reduce to ones about scientific truth rather than about values, perspectives and political preferences. If the battle of science is won, then the war of values will be won.
If only climate change were such a phenomenon and if only science held such an ascendancy over our personal, social and political life and decisions. In fact, in order to make progress about how we manage climate change we have to take science off centre stage. This is not a comfortable thing to say - either to those scientists who still hold an uncritical view of their privileged enterprise and who relish the status society affords them, or to politicians whose instinct is so often to hide behind the experts when confronted by difficult and genuine policy alternatives.
Two years ago, Tony Blair announced the large, government-backed international climate change conference in Exeter by asking for the conference scientists to "identify what level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is self-evidently too much". This is the wrong question to ask of science. Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking, although science will gain some insights into the question if it recognises the socially contingent dimensions of a post-normal science. But to proffer such insights, scientists - and politicians - must trade (normal) truth for influence. If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity.
Lack of such reflective transparency is the problem with "unstoppable global warming", and with some other scientific commentators on climate change. Such a perspective also opens a chink of weakness in the authority of the latest IPCC science findings. What matters about climate change is not whether we can predict the future with some desired level of certainty and accuracy; it is whether we have sufficient foresight, supported by wisdom, to allow our perspective about the future, and our responsibility for it, to be altered. All of us alive today have a stake in the future, and so we should all play a role in generating sufficient, inclusive and imposing knowledge about the future. Climate change is too important to be left to scientists - least of all the normal ones.
• Mike Hulme, a professor in the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, is writing a book, entitled Why We Disagree About Climate Change • Unstoppable Global Warming - Every 1,500 Years, by S Fred Singer and Dennis T Avery, is published by Rowman & Littlefield (Â£21.72).
Melanie Phillips, 14 March 2007 http://www.melaniephillips.com/diary/?p=1469
From the horse’s mouth — climate change theory has nothing to do with the truth. In a remarkable column in today’s Guardian, Mike Hulme, professor in the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia and the founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research — a key figure in the promulgation of climate change theory but who a short while ago warned that exaggerated forecasts of global apocalypse were in danger of destroying the case altogether — writes that scientific truth is the wrong tool to establish the, er, truth of global warming. Instead, we need a perspective of what he calls “post-normal” science:
"Philosophers and practitioners of science have identified this particular mode of scientific activity as one that occurs where the stakes are high, uncertainties large and decisions urgent, and where values are embedded in the way science is done and spoken. It has been labelled “post-normal” science…The danger of a “normal” reading of science is that it assumes science can first find truth, then speak truth to power, and that truth-based policy will then follow."
Indeed! Facts first, conclusions afterwards is the very basis of scientific inquiry. But not any more, it seems, where the religion of global warming is concerned. Here facts have to fit the theory. Hulme goes on:
"Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking, although science will gain some insights into the question if it recognises the socially contingent dimensions of a post-normal science. But to proffer such insights, scientists - and politicians - must trade (normal) truth for influence. If scientists want to remain listened to, to bear influence on policy, they must recognise the social limits of their truth seeking and reveal fully the values and beliefs they bring to their scientific activity."
What an admission! Let’s read that one again. "Self-evidently dangerous climate change will not emerge from a normal scientific process of truth seeking." Of course not. The facts don’t support it. It’s not true. So, says Hulme, let’s abolish the need to establish the facts and the truth and impose the theory on the basis of — what’s that again — “values and beliefs.” In other words, climate change science has got to be anti-science. It’s got to be anti-truth. It’s got to be nothing more than an ideology.
Post-modernism long ago deconstructed truth. Now in similar vein, “post-normal” science deconstructs scientific empiricism and rationalism and detaches science from truth. In other words, where science fails to support an ideology, the absolute and overriding imperative of putting that ideology into practice means that science has to suspend its very essence as a truth-seeking activity and instead perpetrate lies. That is the inescapable implication of Hulme’s position. To support the bogus claim that we face the imminent collapse of civilisation from global warming, science itself has to be reconceptualised as an instrument of propaganda and justified by mendacious and obfuscatory post-modernist jargon. Hulme concludes:
"Climate change is too important to be left to scientists - least of all the normal ones."
So the true battleground has now been illuminated for us. The real fight is between scientists who believe in empirical observation and the truth, and “post-normal” scientists who believe in ideology and lies. It’s a battle between Enlightenment values of rationality and those who wish to return us to a pre-rational era where thought was controlled and truth was a heresy. The stakes could not have been delineated more clearly.
IGNORING ERRORS OF LOGIC IN GLOBAL WARMING DEBATE
Just as Galileo and Einstein transcended the "consensus" of their day, so too will a growing body of scientific evidence eventually vindicate non-alarmist views on global warming, says Fred Singer, professor emeritus of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia and president of the Science and Environmental Policy Project.
A new book co-authored by Singer and Dennis Avery entitled, "Unstoppable Global Warming: Every 1500 Years," says much of the discussion on global warming has ignored key points. For example:
o A 1997 survey of U.S. state climatologists found that 90 percent agreed with the statement that "scientific evidence indicates variations in global temperature are likely to be naturally occurring and cyclical over very long periods of time.
o One of the extraterrestrial factors frequently overlooked in global warming science is the sun itself; although it was thought at one time to be a "constant star," the sun in fact has periods of variability that impact the earth's climate.
o Satellite and high-altitude weather balloon observations show that -- contrary to what has been widely reported -- the lower atmosphere is not trapping lots of additional heat as a result of higher CO2 concentrations.
"The earth continually warms and cools," Singer writes in the book. "The cycle is undeniable, ancient, often abrupt and global. It is also unstoppable. Isotopes in the ice and sediment cores, ancient tree rings and stalagmites tell us it is linked to small changes in the irradiance of the sun."
Source: Kevin Mooney, "Scientist Calls Global Warming Theories 'Bunk,' Cites Errors of Logic," CNSNews.com, March 15, 2007. Courtesy NCPA
For text: http://www.cnsnews.com/ViewNation.asp?Page=/Nation/archive/200703/NAT20070315b.html
5. PLEASE STOP TALKING ABOUT THE GLOBAL WARMING CONSENSUS (AN EXCERPT)
by George Musser, Scientific American, 15 March 2007
…..the invocations of consensus are seen, by scientists, as expressions of humility. Yet the general public sees them as expressions of arrogance. To the man in the street, all the talk about scientific consensus sounds like: "Trust us, folks. Don't worry your pretty little heads about it. Just think what we tell you to think."
That rubs Americans, in particular, the wrong way. America wouldn't be America without its suspicion of establishments of every kind. Hollywood valorizes the lone outsider fighting the powers that be. I think this romantic view is a healthy part of our country's culture -- it's a safeguard against tyranny and an incentive for individuals to get involved in public life. But scientists can find themselves on the wrong side of the stick. They may see themselves as lone outsiders, but much of the rest of the country sees them as part of the machine. The British, for their part, really get off on puncturing pretentiousness -- God help you if you walk into a pub and act full of yourself, as many climate scientists do.
The term "scientific consensus" is counterproductive in other ways, too. It sounds like asking people to take things on faith, which is contrary to the whole point of science. It also lets skeptical scientists claim they are being muzzled. They can argue that they are estranged from mainstream science for what they say, when in fact the problem is how they say it -- their incomplete arguments or their unwillingness to apply the same skepticism to their own results that they apply to others'. Talking about consensus shifts the responsibility for their estrangement from them to the faceless wall of the powers that be.
So while I think there's a role for mentioning scientific consensus, it should be used very sparingly. Telling people that there is a consensus cannot substitute for explaining why there is a consensus. As much as climate scientists may be wearying of debate, they need to press onward and treat each question as though it was the first time they had ever heard it.
6, WHY HAS GLOBAL WARMING BECOME SUCH A PASSIONATE SUBJECT?
LET’S NOT LOSE OUR COOL “
The new IPCC Report (2007) states, on page 10, “Most observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” Their great effort in making progress in climate change science is certainly commended.
The media in the world is paying great attention mostly to the term “very likely,” meaning a confidence level of more than 90%. However, I, as a scientist, am more concerned about the term “most,” because the IPCC Report does not demonstrate the basis for the term. Natural causes cannot be ignored in the present warming trend, in addition to the greenhouse effect. This short article is my criticism of the report from the point of an arctic researcher. The Arctic is the place where climate change is most prominently in progress, compared with the rest of the world.
Before critically examining the new IPCC Report, it is of interest to review why global warming has become such a passionate subject. In order to find the reasons for the present rampant reaction to global warming, it is necessary to think back to the Cold War period. At that time in history, both the United States and the Soviet Union had a large arsenal of atomic bombs, which could have eliminated all living creatures on Earth many times over. Therefore, scientists and the general public alike urged both governments to abolish their nuclear armaments, signing statements urging this action. There was broad consensus, both amongst the public and in the scientific community, on this issue.
The fear of nuclear war subsided as the Soviet Union began to collapse. It so happened that just before the collapse of the USSR, some groups of US scientists, using supercomputers, were studying future trends in the earth’s climate. They announced in 1988 that increasing levels of CO2, if unchecked, would cause substantial warming of the earth’s temperature, resulting in various disasters. It is easy to understand why some advocative scientists, who were searching for new, significant themes, took up the grand subject of global warming as their new focus. This theme was successfully presented to the United Nations and an organization called the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988. Suddenly, the quiet scientific backwater of climate research was in the world spotlight. Perhaps, the initial motivation should not necessarily be faulted.
At the same time, many environmental protection organizations and advocacy groups were anxious; it was proving difficult to attract the attention of the general public. In addition, some government officials were also searching for new, globally significant problems to tackle, avoiding more urgent problems of African poverty and other critical problems. It is not too great a leap to infer that at least some of these groups seized the opportunity to make global warming their main theme in the hopes of attracting public interest.
Meanwhile, the IPCC mobilized a large number of climatologists and meteorologists and published several impressive, voluminous publications, one after the other. In one of them, “Climate Change 2001,” for example, a figure that became known as the “hockey stick,” was used prominently in the Summary for Policy Makers, in which the temperature shows a dramatic increase during the most recent 100 years, after a slow decrease over the first 900 years. The nickname “hockey stick” was coined because the temperature-time curve had this sudden, upward kink near the end, like a hockey stick. (Since then, this particular figure has been discredited; the new IPCC Report (2007) does not include the figure.) But with these voluminous publications by hundreds of scientists, it is therefore understandable that policy makers would trust the Summary, providing them the confidence to base major policy decisions.
Indeed, many policy makers, environmental protection groups, the press, and even some scientists took the IPCC reports to mean that all the participating scientists had come to a shared broad consensus that global warming is a very serious issue facing mankind. It is important to recognize that this consensus is of quite a different nature from the one reached on nuclear disarmament. A large number of atomic bombs did, in fact, exist; there was no uncertainty, compared with global warming, which requires much more effort to understand for the causes.
The reason for emphasizing this point is that whenever someone says there is some uncertainty in projections of future temperature increase, someone else will assert that the danger of global warming has been accurately predicted to be 3°C, as shown in the IPCC Reports, and agreed upon by hundreds of top researchers. Do all the participating scientists agree on the term “most”? If so, what’s their scientific basis?
A supercomputer, as complex and powerful as it may be, is a far cry from the complexity of our real earth! It is simply a very poor virtual earth. Actually, the modelers themselves should know best the limitations of their results as they continue to improve their models, and perhaps modelers should, at times, be a little more cautious about their findings. In any case, modeling is nothing more than an academic exercise, at least at this stage. There is a considerable difference among results obtained by different researchers. To give just one example, the predicted year when Arctic Ocean sea ice would disappear entirely in the summer months spans a range from 2040 to at least 2300. This shows the uncertainty in modeling studies. Since sea ice plays the role of the lid in warming water in a pan, it plays a significant role in climate change and future prediction.
To exacerbate this situation, the media, by and large, tend to report worst-case scenarios and disasters, for example using only the 2040 story. It is understandable that disaster stories draw more readers than stories about the benefits of global warming. Unfortunately, most reporters have little or no background in understanding debates on the simulation results. For these reasons, the initial effort of IPCC has gotten out of control.
It is also a serious problem that global warming can so easily be blamed for everything bad that happens, such as floods (which often result instead from massive deforestation or from loss of wetlands) or extinction of some species (which may result from over-harvesting, loss of habitat, invasion of exotics, pollution problems), etc. In the meantime, those who are really responsible for these calamities can easily hide under the umbrella of global warming.
Most reporters, who come to Alaska to try to find the greenhouse disasters, have little knowledge of the Arctic. They take photographs of large blocks of ice falling from glaciers at their termini and report that global warming is in progress before their very eyes. However, glaciers are not static piles of ice, but instead are constantly flowing rivers of ice. It is normal for tidewater glaciers to calve large blocks of ice from the face as they reach the sea, and they will do so regardless of how warm or cold it is. Most glaciers in the world have been receding since 1800, well before 1940, when CO2 began to increase significantly. Why do major media of the world flock all the way to Alaska, if global warming is a global phenomenon? So far, what they would find is broken houses in Shishmaref, a little island in the Bering Sea coast, because of coastal erosion that is difficult to relate to a direct result of global warming. Some of the current global warming stories, including “The Day after Tomorrow,” are based on science fiction, not science.
Some of the weak points in the present IPCC Report are:
….There was no critical analysis of the mid-century change; the temperature rose between 1910 and 1940, similar in magnitude and rate to the present rise after 1975. Further, the temperature decreased from 1940 to 1975, in spite of the fact that the release of CO2 increased rapidly. At that time, we had similar debates about imminent Global cooling (the coming of a new ice age) in the 1970s.
It is crucial to investigate any difference between the 1910-40 increase and the increase after 1975, since the former is likely to be due to natural causes, rather than the greenhouse effect.
The most prominent warming (twice the global average) took place in the Arctic, particularly in the continental arctic, during the last half of the 20th century, as stated in the IPCC Report, but it disappeared during the last decade or so. Further, the IPCC models cannot reproduce the prominent continental warming, in spite of the fact that the measured amount of CO2 was considered. This particular warming is likely to be part of multi-decadal oscillations, a natural cause.
It is also important to know that the temperature has been increasing almost linearly from about 1850, or earlier, to the present, in addition to multi-decadal oscillations, such as the familiar El Nino. These are natural changes.
Both changes are significant. Until they can be quantitatively more carefully examined and subtracted from the present trend, it is not possible to determine the manmade greenhouse effect. Therefore, there is no firm basis to claim “most” in the IPCC Report.
The IPCC should have paid more attention to climate change in the Arctic. The mid-century (1940-1975) alarm of a coming Ice Age teaches a very important lesson to all of us, including climate researchers. It is not possible to forecast climate change (warming or cooling) in the year 2100 based on a few decades of data alone.
Further, it is very confusing that some members of the media and some scientific experts blame Global Warming for every “anomalous” weather change, including big snowfalls, droughts, floods, ice storms, and hurricanes. This only confuses the issue.
At the International Arctic Research Center, which was established under the auspices of the US-Japan Common Agenda in 1999, our researchers are working on the arctic climate change issues mentioned in the above, in particular, in distinguishing natural changes and the manmade greenhouse effects in the Arctic.
We must restore respectability by that I mean scientific rigor - to the basic science of climatology. We must also stop “tabloid” publications in science. Only then, can we make real progress in projecting future temperature change. Although I have been designated by the news media as “Alaska’s best-known climate change skeptic,” I am a critic, not a skeptic. Science without criticism could go astray. In the meantime, environmental protection advocates might consider a return to their original important themes of protecting the environment from destruction, pollution, over-harvesting, massive deforestation, and habitat destruction. All these processes of environmental degradation are taking place right now before our very eyes, and they are not all related to global warming.
7. GREEN LOBBY MUST NOT STIFLE THE DEBATE
Global warming campaign called "repressive, self-righteous, and inherently totalitarian'
By Janet Daley 12/03/2007
I am sceptical about the climate change campaign because its exponents remind me so much of the people I knew years ago on the Marxist Left: repressive, self-righteous, and inherently totalitarian.
Because of what they see as the indubitable rightness, and the absolute moral transcendence, of their cause, they can justify demonising anyone who criticises or dissents from it. Back then, the comrades used to shame those of us who blanched at their ideological ruthlessness with the epithet "wishy-washy liberal": the exploitation of the working classes was the all-encompassing evil that had to be fought with whatever weapon it took. These days you are castigated for worrying about self-indulgent luxuries such as free speech and open debate when we are all about to fry - or drown, depending on where you happen to be on the stricken planet when the apocalypse arrives.
I am not a scientist. I do not have the expertise or the qualifications to adjudicate on the conflicting arguments on offer in this issue. But one thing that is quite clear to me is that there are different authoritative views on the data, and on the extrapolations that are being made from the data, on global warming - particularly on the question of whether such warming as has been identified is caused by human activity. Before I became a journalist, I was an academic and one of the things most rigorously impressed upon me during my years in academia was that intellectual progress can only come through argument and self-criticism. It is quite antithetical to scholarly endeavour, not to say the spirit of Western enlightenment, for researchers to seek to close down opposition to a theory or a thesis. But greenery is no longer scholarship: it is politics. The discussion has been taken over by politically driven forces with little interest in the value of free intellectual enquiry. advertisement
Some of the dissident voices on climate change were rounded up for last week's polemical Channel 4 documentary made by Martin Durkin, The Great Global Warming Swindle (repeated tonight on the digital channel More4). Whether or not you were persuaded by their articulate doubts, you could not help being struck by the McCarthyite persecution (up to and including death threats) which their non-conformist opinions had attracted.
Scientists with impeccable credentials, emeritus professors and acknowledged experts in the field being hounded and professionally discredited for their reservations about an established orthodoxy: not a pretty sight.
Hundreds of years after Galileo, we are apparently still prepared to suppress inconvenient intellectual opposition once political interests have become entrenched. Among those who attempted to prevent the film being shown at all was the Liberal Democrat spokesman on the environment, Chris Huhne, who, without having seen the programme, wrote to Channel 4 executives advising them in the gravest terms to reconsider their decision to broadcast it.
One respect in which the green lobby is significantly unlike the Trotskyist movement of my youth is that it seems not to give a stuff about the poor. Green taxes are regressive: they hit the lower paid, (who can actually be forced to cut back on their air travel and their heating) much harder than the affluent, who can simply absorb the extra costs and carry on living and flying as they always have.
Mr Cameron and Mr Brown both profess themselves committed to the needs of families. Who would be hit harder by increases in the cost of home heating fuel and the use of water meters: young parents who bath their children every night and use their washing machine every day, or rich singles who eat out every night and take their laundry to the dry cleaners? And, of course, the same logic applies to big business - which can easily absorb the added cost of green regulations - as opposed to small businesses, which cannot. Big corporations and retailing chains win all round: they can get political credit for going green while happily watching their small competitors driven out of business by the price of meeting environmental rules.
There is big money to be made now out of climate change, and not just by huge supermarket chains and manufacturers cashing in on the government grants and the contracting market which will be produced by eliminating smaller suppliers.
Clever entrepreneurs have seen an opening: "carbon offsetting" is a completely unregulated growth industry that offers to take your money in return for cancelling out your contribution to global warming, by all sorts of dubious means such as planting forests, which may or may not survive. Rather like the medieval papacy selling indulgences, the offset people give absolution to the better off in return for cash.
But the lower-paid in Europe will be less hard hit in the green scenario than the wretchedly poor of the developing world. One of the disturbing points in the Durkin documentary was that some of the most desperately backward areas of sub-Saharan Africa are being told that they must not exploit their oil reserves to create electricity because more use of fossil fuel would damage the planet. Without using oil to electrify the countryside, these African nations will be effectively prevented from bringing the benefits of modern life - safe water supplies, irrigation and lighting - to the mass of their peoples within a generation. Well, the green apologists say, even if our computer models are flawed, and our extrapolations prove unsound, isn't it better to "clean up the planet" anyway? Why not take the steps to reduce carbon emissions and pay the hard price just in case it is all true?
I don't know about you, but before I can feel comfortable asking people in emerging economies such as India to forgo the benefits of economic growth and mass prosperity, before I can sentence some of the poorest people in the world to living indefinitely without modern technology, before I am even prepared to ask the lower-paid of this country to give up the improvements in their quality of life to which they have only just become accustomed - I want to hear any and every argument that is to be had about this theory.
And to the comrades in the green movement, I would say this: before you slam the lid on debate, and put your invasive restrictions into place to deny people freedoms and comforts that have transformed their condition, you had better be damned sure that you are right.
8. A CALL TO COOL THE HYPE
Source: William J. Broad, "From a Rapt Audience, a Call to Cool the Hype," New York Times, March 13, 2007. Courtesy NCPA http://www.nytimes.com/2007/03/13/science/13gore.html
Criticisms of Al Gore and his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth," have come not only from conservative groups and prominent skeptics of catastrophic warming, but also from rank-and-file scientists who occupy a middle ground in the climate debate, says the New York Times.
The concern is not over the existence of climate change, or the idea that the human production of heat-trapping gases is partly or largely to blame for the globe's recent warming, says the Times. The question is whether Gore has gone beyond the scientific evidence. For example:
o The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the world's seas in this century would rise to a maximum of 23 inches --contrasting Gore's depictions of 20 foot rises in several major cities.
o The National Academies contradicted Gore's portrayal of recent temperatures as the highest in the past millennium; instead, saying current highs appeared unrivaled since only 1600, the tail end of a temperature rise known as the medieval warm period.
o Biologists have faulted Gore for his portrayal of global warming as spreading malaria, saying the claims are unsubstantiated by research.
Admittedly, says James E. Hansen, an environmental scientist, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and a top adviser to Gore, the former vice president's work may hold "imperfections" and "technical flaws," but he has the bottom line right: humans are causing catastrophic global warming.
But others disagree. "Nowhere does Gore tell his audience that all of the phenomena that he describes fall within the natural range of environmental change on our planet," says Robert M. Carter, a marine geologist at James Cook University in Australia. "Nor does he present any evidence that climate during the 20th century departed discernibly from its historical pattern of constant change."