An Unfortunate Hypothesis
A Statement on Skepticism and Climate
[EDIT: May 21, 2014] – It has been mentioned that the original version of this post comes across as biased against AGW, even though what I am trying to do is promote skepticism and critical thought, instead of slavish devotion to one side or another of the climate debate as ‘gospel’. I wrote this post from the perspective of one who has been criticized, ad hom’d vigorously, unfollowed and blocked for daring to question the prevailing orthodoxy on climate issues. And the prevailing viewpoint is that climate change is real, it is caused by man, and it will be or already is catastrophic. I don’t consider this viewpoint a given, and I think not only is it open to examination, it MUST be scrutinized to ensure we properly direct our efforts to where they are most effective. After reading through my post I still think it is pretty evenhanded. I don’t make conclusions, and argue against making decisions on incomplete evidence. I stand by this position and challenge anyone to tell me why it is wrong.
However, I recognize that by concentrating on the faults of one side, I may have given the impression that I was promoting the other side. This is not the case. I think there is criticism that can be justly directed at the anti AGW forces as well. To rectify this imbalance I will lay out some of my problems with the anti AGW side in an addendum at the end of the post over the next couple of days, while leaving the original content and structure in place. I don’t want to make changes that would make it appear I am retreating from my previous position. I am not. I am adding for completeness. [END EDIT:]
I’ve been thinking of writing this blog for quite a while. I’ve resisted partly because it will be longer and more involved than my previous posts, and partly because I fully expect a lot of very negative reaction. But sometimes the status quo needs to be challenged. Sometimes it REALLY needs to be challenged…. BAD.
There is a problem surrounding the issue of climate change. It isn’t whether or not it is happening, or whether or not it is caused either wholly or in part by humans. It is the fervent religiosity of the AGW proponents. The reactions to any questions about the standard ‘dogma’… IPCC says… 97% of scientists… consensus… the ‘science is in’… is met with frothing anger, indignation, insults, and totally irrational assertions that the questioner is evil, insane, stupid, been bought off, etc, and the proponent is without question in the right and fighting to protect the planet. I’ll deal with specific claims later. First I want to provide a little background….
I am not a scientist. I’ve always been very interested in science, especially what I could experience hands-on. So as a kid my clothes were always filthy from crawling in the dirt watching bugs, and poking around ponds and ditches to see what lived there and how it lived. And I spent a lot of time reading… including frequently referencing a complete set of Encyclopedia Brittanica that must have been a hardship for my parents to afford, but was a source of wonder… of exotic places, plants and animals that I couldn’t imagine, yet were real. When I was 8 or 9 maybe… don’t really remember… my mother enrolled me in Sunday school at the local Anglican parish. I was a good, obedient kid, so I went. But right from the start it was obvious that what they were trying to teach was complete nonsense… and BORING. I had read and experienced enough already that the skeptic seed was firmly planted. I think I only lasted a couple of weeks before I told my mother I didn’t want to go anymore. So I have never been indoctrinated with set beliefs, have always had an interest in the natural world, and have always been interested in finding out for myself how things work. All of this helped make me the skeptic I am today. I question, seek alternate sources and viewpoints, and am suspicious of motives and appeals to authority.
So fast forward to 2013 and I sign up on twitter. I was initially looking at possibilities of using it as a marketing tool. I quickly found there was a thriving community of self described skeptics challenging attitudes about religion, politics, and our responsibilities to our fellow humans, and the world beyond our species and it’s environs. I labelled myself as skeptic because although I am atheist, that is just one facet of my skeptic nature. So I started following discussions… then people… but from the background at this point. I also found a community of Canadian conservatives (many of who who would still be quite ‘liberal’ by US standards) that also challenged the prevailing leftish sentiments entrenched in the corridors of power in Canada. In my insular little world people don’t like to discuss religion or politics for fear of offending someone. Now I am Canadian and like to think I am polite, but I also am not one that appreciates limits on speech, codified or not. So this was quite exciting. And I started to throw my two cents in when I thought I had something worth throwing in. Not long after this I also noticed that many of these same people that thought of themselves as mavericks or rebels did NOT appreciate the same quality in others. They questioned the orthodoxy, but didn’t tolerate questioning of their beliefs. For me this was totally baffling. How can one be a skeptic in one area (religion, politics, etc), yet tightly adhere to what would have to be considered dogma in others? As a lifelong skeptic I just don’t have the background to understand this mindset. To me it is a complete and utter self contradiction.
And moving forward again, I see from the skeptic community constant pokes and sweeping generalizations, especially at any conservative political opinions or dissenting views on climate issues. But these are not core tenets of skepticism. In fact I consider it our responsibility as honest skeptics to encourage discussion of divergent views. If we are honestly encouraging skepticism, does that not include encouraging others to question us? Just as I have some vigorous but polite running dialog with Christians and Muslims, I would encourage vigorous engagement in other areas of discussion… not attempted enforcement of some misguided atheist or skeptic ‘doctrine’. Critical thought is ALL that is required; not guidelines, group think, censorship, consensus, or mob mentality.
A few days ago I was involved in a discussion with some people from various views of the ‘climate’ debate; proponents of AGW theory, those of a more skeptical bent (including me) and others that are still digesting information. The discussion from the ‘pro’ side quickly turned to ‘OMG, you are one of them! A denier!’… When this happens you can be reasonably sure you are dealing with a zealot and reasoning won’t help. And then the torrent of insults and invective… Arguing from a position of confidence usually sees the position stand on its merit. Irrational attacks come from a position of weakness… and the reason is clear to anyone honest with themselves: Climate is an incredibly complex topic with a myriad of inputs to be processed and measurements to plot. Yet practically everyone that claims they are in the right is claiming they have special knowledge of these complexities while having ZERO time invested in study or training. There are probably only a handful of people on the planet that truly understand the dynamics. But these aren’t the people that are held up as leaders. Instead we have the likes of Al Gore, David Suzuki and George Monbiot driving the discussion… but Al Gore is a failed politician, David Suzuki is a fruit fly geneticist, and George Monbiot is a zoologist. This is not their area of expertise. They have all built high profiles and lucrative careers hyping the climate discussion, in Gore’s case to the tune of tens of millions of dollars selling carbon offsets while spreading an apocalyptic message. Others, such as Michael Mann and Phil Jones, have repeatedly become entangled in imbroglios over their lack of impartiality and litigiousness.
At the same time, actual CLIMATE scientists in the skeptic camp are commonly derided as on the payroll of ‘big oil’. Are some? Of course. Scientists need to eat too. And if you say you want to do climate research that may run contrary to the accepted view, there likely will be no government funding. That’s how effective the PR war has been. Does this automatically negate their research results. No! Private industry puts huge amounts of money into R&D. This has been of immense benefit to mankind. Research is not evil simply because it is funded by corporate interests. Do people actually believe the global climate industry isn’t big bucks? It is backed by the biggest pot of gold of all; taxpayers money. Hundreds of BILLIONS have been sunk into ‘green’ power schemes worldwide… and even worse, carbon pricing that is nothing but an arbitrary tax on an essential nutrient in healthy ecosystems, with what is collected NOT applied to environmental issues. And what we are talking about is a trace element. CO2 is somewhere between 0.0387% and 0.04% of the atmosphere. That is, at the high end, FOUR ONE HUNDREDTHS of ONE PERCENT. I grew up in the 60s and 70s. Back then there were rumblings that we were on the verge of an ice age. And if you look at the recent history of the planet… (Glaciation over last 100,000 years)… the earth has spent much of it shivering and frozen with brief warm periods between. We are currently in a warm period. Where we are in this cycle isn’t really known. Current sun spot activity is at a 100 year low and some speculate this may presage a cooling period, like the Dalton and Maunder Minimums. Contrary to the hysteria from the usual AGW mouthpieces, average global temperatures have been flat for at least 15 years. The last several years winters in much of Europe/UK and North America have been colder than normal, and Atlantic storm cycles have been slower than normal. Mouthpieces of the AGW industry may blame this on industrial slowdown (which has been more than countered by CO2 output increases as the BRIC countries continue industrial expansion), changes in ocean currents, feedback variations, etc… What this really pinpoints is how little is actually known, and how many inputs needs to be considered and factored into calculations. For anyone to claim as factual that catastrophic warming caused by humans is happening, while not being able to explain real world variations from their models, shows just how dogmatic this position is. They simply refuse to say they aren’t really sure.
So let’s now examine some of the dogma on the alarmist side…
IPCC says – The IPCC is a political organization. It’s aims are political. Impartial science (the only kind that can actually be considered science) isn’t on the menu. I found a letter from John Happ (I wasn’t previously aware of him) that I include because it includes many specifics in one place. Pay special attention to the papers and petitions listed under “Consensus is against the IPCC”, and the list of the IPCC’s own dissenting scientists. These sources can all be googled. (Edit: The above linked John Happ letter is the second of two. The original is here.) [EDIT:] The most recent IPCC report shows that real world warming has not been observed for at least 15 years. It also shows that 111 of 114 climate models they rely on for forecasting have overstated warming when compared to real world data. In other words the IPCC by their own admission has not been able to back their predictions with real world evidence, nor with modeling. The was quietly tucked into the IPCC AR5 report at box 9.2, page 769. An excerpt is here: [END EDIT: 23-Sep-2014]
97% of scientists agree – This claim comes from a text search John Cook did of papers selected because they are about ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’. Papers from authors that contest the hypothesis may not even use the terms and would so be excluded. It is NOT a scientific claim. Joanne Nova does an excellent tear down. [EDIT:] A peer reviewed analysis that shows through statistical analysis the 97% claim is rubbish (and actually just 0.3% endorsement) is found here. [END EDIT: 23-Sep-2014] Previous claims that echo similar claims are debunked elsewhere. The number itself should be an indication that something is fishy. Put 100 people in a room, scientists or not, and try to get 97 to agree on anything… especially something as complicated as climate change. I contend it isn’t likely to happen.
Consensus – It is often spouted that there is almost universal acceptance of the IPCC position within the scientific community as a whole. What we aren’t told is that 31,000+ scientists, in the US alone have made their opposition to such a statement known in the petition project, as well as others listed in John Happ’s letter mentioned above.
Dissenters are biased, on the payroll of energy companies, or otherwise heretics, unreliable and can’t be trusted – These can generally be classified as ad hom attacks meant to discredit the messenger and distract attention from their message. The most persistent claim is anyone not swallowing the story of AGW, hook, line and sinker, is a ‘denier’… intended to imply parallels with holocaust denial. Of course this is ridiculous. I don’t know ANYONE that denies climate change. What is denied is that causes are understood, that it is necessarily catastrophic, or that it is ‘accepted’ that humans are the cause. There are simply too many unknowns to make any such assertions.
Polar ice melt will flood coastlines – The volume of ice in Antarctica is growing, not melting. And arctic ice levels after several years of shrinkage are recovering to historic ‘normals’. But even if the arctic was to become totally ice free, ocean water levels would be almost completely unaffected. This is because the arctic ice cover is mostly marine ice. Put an ice cube in a glass and fill it to the top. Let the ice melt. Does it overflo? No! This is because ice only displaces the amount of water equal to it’s own volume. There is no net change in sea levels when marine ice melts. If the Greenland and Antarctic ice caps melted it would be a different story. But there is no evidence that we are in danger of this happening.
The science is in or settled – Quite obviously this is a ridiculous statement. This is the same nonsensical circular logic used to ‘prove’ the bible… It is true because it says it is. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with science understands that all theory is open to further study, possible revisions, and either continued acceptance if verified, or rejection if falsified. Without this it isn’t science… it is DOGMA.
I know there will be some that claim all these scientists, petitions, and websites, and the research and/or opinions they cite are biased. When challenged, zealots tend to dig in. But look at the reality of the situation. These are people that are largely unknown, working for a fraction of the income a Suzuki or Gore is pulling in with their apocalyptic rhetoric. They are practically guaranteeing they will be frozen out of future public research funding, and denied access to data that has been collected and compiled largely at taxpayers’ expense.
Now none of this is to say there isn’t or hasn’t been an uptick in the temperature of the planet over the last x number of years. It would certainly be true since the previously mentioned minimum periods, and is possibly true within my lifetime. But variations occur naturally, and all causes are NOT known. And it is more likely that CO2 follows warming trends then precedes them. Think about this: When warming occurs, ice and permafrost melts releasing frozen CO2, vegetation decay increases releasing trapped CO2, the ocean surface warms releasing CO2 from solution. Ice cores from Vostok in Antarctica show the same pattern: Warming precedes a rise in atmospheric CO2 levels, it doesn’t follow it.
We must beware of unintended consequences whenever we leap into something with good intentions but incomplete data. Consider the aforementioned $1 billion PER DAY spent to ‘fight’ global warming. This is diverted from other possible uses. What might that amount of money mean if it was spent on actual development and aid? The taxes and fees levied to raise this money has caused immense hardship. Gas, oil, electricity, food, transport have all become more expensive. This disproportionately affects the poor, very young, and the elderly. In the UK, ‘green’ fees are driving up already high heating costs, and are at least partially responsible for thousands of deaths. In the developing world we discourage the same fossil fuel use that developed western nations and is driving China’s growth. Meanwhile millions die every year from domestic fires and the effects of smoke inhalation from dirty indoor fires used for cooking and heating. We should help them with the technology to burn it cleanly, not keep them in the stone age to make ourselves feel good that we pretend to ‘save the planet’. Fertile farm land is being converted to growing corn for methanol, driving up crop costs. Wind and solar farms are being forced into ecologically sensitive wilderness areas with devastating consequences for bats and large birds, including endangered raptor species, and opening access roads for hunting and illegal logging.
I’ll wrap this up before it consumes consumes too much of my, or your, time. I can always come back to it if necessary. In short, consider all sources, consider possibilities and probabilities, and consider motives before jumping to conclusions you don’t understand. Beware of becoming a Dunning-Kruger exhibit: If you aren’t knowledgeable about a topic, don’t make assertions you don’t understand and can’t back up. Discuss opposing viewpoints and ask pointed questions if you disagree. You aren’t a skeptic if you have a closed mind… you will simply be ill-informed.
Addtional sources of information:
- Dr. Tim Ball – http://drtimball.com
- Dr. John R Christy – http://nsstc.uah.edu/aosc/
- Professor Ian Clark – http://mysite.science.uottawa.ca/idclark/clark.html
- Piers Corbyn – http://www.weatheraction.com/
- Judith Curry – http://judithcurry.com/
- Richard Lindzen – http://www.cato.org/people/richard-lindzen
- Patrick Moore – http://ecosense.me/
The Great Global Warming Swindle – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtevF4B4RtQ
[EDIT: 23-Sep-2014] – I have attempted a couple of times to complete this and was distracted by other things, or interrupted by zealots with irrational rants that made me need to stop and gather thoughts. After much thought, there is not a whole lot extra I would add to provide balance as was intended. The fact of the matter is the agenda, the majority of the press, funding, and national and international climate organizations and studies are solidly behind the ‘CO2 monster’ message. Even as the IPCC reports that there has been no global warming observed for at least 15 years, and that 111 of 114 models they use to forecast had overstated warming compared to observation, the prevailing message is that there is impending disaster and that we must do more faster.
That being said… I do have a couple of annoyances with the skeptic side to gripe about …
First and foremost is the tendency of some of the leading climate skeptics blogs to venture into politics, especially from the hard right. I think this is a mistake on two counts. One, the focus should be on the science, not on a political position. Otherwise there is just a continuation of polarization that is anathema to the advance of science and search for truth. And what is required IS a continued search for truth, not dogma from one side or the other of the political spectrum. The science, the data, the analysis, SHOULD be independent of what party is in power. Science should help guide decision making regardless of who occupies the throne.
Two, by mixing politics with science, they are narrowing the audience to those that endorse the same political views. This issue is too important to be targeted at Tea Party types that data shows are less educated, less amenable to self correction as science demands, more religious, and more dogmatic in their views. In fact they are the wrong audience entirely, as they are already largely in the skeptic camp, for reasons I don’t necessarily endorse. But to grow influence you target the largest accessible population segment, not the portions that are not receptive to your message under any circumstance, and not those that are onside anyway.
Finally, I once again welcome criticism or comments. I have many tweets of 140 characters or less say they disagree. NONE have backed it with an explanation in the comments when invited to do so. [END EDIT:]