Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Global Warming

With the big freeze on it is of course a good time to talk about global warming.

In particular I want to criticise an idea that is promoted mostly by people with who I agree 90% of the time- that global warming is a 'scam', a 'hoax' or a 'con' or whatever. It is possible that global warming is an incorrect theory, however the idea that thousands of scientists are colluding to trick the public and politicians is absurd. It requires a conspiracy that is in size equal to the one posited by the 9/11 truthers, involving a vast number of people to keep the secret.

Even people who are highly sceptical of the environmental movement such as Bjorn Lomborg or Ian Murray accept that having looked at the evidence, man made global warming is real.

I suspect that the scepticism about global warming is because of a number of things.

The fact that most environmentalists are watermelons, green on the outside red on the inside and seek to use it as an excuse for imposing their political beliefs. This is true and a lot of left wing types use the environment as an excuse to promote statist solutions involving vast amounts of state control over our lives and appear hostile towards solutions that don't involve radical changes to the way we live. However they also propose vast inefficient socialist solutions to the recession, but that doesn't disprove the existence of the recession. I'm sure if a comet was heading straight towards Earth their solution would involve socialism.

Secondly a lot of lazy scientists attribute everything to global warming. So for example if the oceans are becoming less salty then climate change is to blame, yet when it turns out that actually oceans are getting more salty not less, global warming is still responsible. This is unfortunate bu again doesn't say much about the science behind AGW.

Many advocates of AGW exaggerate or make up stuff to bolster their case. The Gore effect. This is true but again doesn't explain why so many people sceptical about environmentalism also believe it. Besides which many opponents of AGW also make up stuff so it doesn't really provide a basis on which to support a policy or not. That's what people do they make up stuff.

Many advocates of AGW behave in a manner inconsitant with their stated beliefs, think of Bono booking a flight for his hat or Al Gore's collosal energy consumption. Again this is true but proves that some people are hypocrites, or just want the solutions to involve restrictions on the little people. It doesn't say anything about the science.

16 comments:

TDK said...

Let's separate some bits of your argument.

First the idea that "thousands of scientists collude". Is that a true expression of the skeptics claim or is it more true to say that we are constantly told that "virtually all scientists agree".

You yourself identify the fact that many scientists are "me too" category rather than climate scientists in themselves. The fact they they take global warming for granted and use it to explain contradictory phenomena cannot be proof of AGW.

Many very famous scientists are on the skeptic side. The question really should be how do you know that the consensus is all it is claimed to be.

Then we have to unpack what the consensus is supposed to really agree upon. Certainly everyone on both sides agrees that the world warmed up in the last part of the twentieth century. They also agree that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. What else do they agree upon?

There is remarkable disagreement about the feedback effects. Not only the magnitude but also the sign. Even the IPCC admits to uncertainty. What does consensus mean here.

Some catastrophists believe in tipping points which once reached lead to run away warming. Certainly the Gore's and the Hansen's say much to support this thesis but there is remarkably little science to back up such a view.

If it was the case that CO2 would lead to irreversible warming then why didn't the earth warm dramatically in the past when CO2 levels were over 6000ppm compared to now.

Now the truth is most people don't know the truth so it's little surprise that they default to bien pensant attitudes. That's helped by the fact that most media openly acknowledge that they filter out any news that suggest AGW is not as bad as claimed.

In my case, to the extent that I took notice I initially assumed it was real. Until I read something that coincided with my degree and my work. The hockey stick relies on some very dodgy statistics. There is absolutely no doubt that the consensus amongst statisticians is that the work is flawed or worse. Moreover in order to be true it relies upon claims that either the MWP/LIA were localised phenomena or else were non-existent. Both claims are nonsense. In itself, that wouldn't have changed my mind but the dogged defence of patently bogus work by the alarmists made me certain.

And that's the nature of this debate. The reportage simplifies it to avoid discussion - the narrative must be maintained. If the world gets warmer there must be winners and losers. People dying in heat waves gets front page coverage. People dying in cold gets none. Arctic shrinks dramatically - day to day coverage. Antarctic grows dramatically - no coverage. Dozens of studies showing Antarctica getting colder - no coverage. One study which doesn't use the instrument record but uses stats to estimate what the temperature would be in the spaces between weather stations and (what do you know) shows it getting colder - massive coverage. Hansen gives us five years to act - massive coverage. Hansen's old boss telling us that he is a skeptic - silence

This is not about conspiracy theory. This is about hysteria being fed by a media that (a) loves drama over facts (b) loves big government solutions. This is y2k but larger.

TDK said...

If it was the case that CO2 would lead to irreversible warming then why didn't the earth warm dramatically in the past when CO2 levels were over 6000ppm compared to now.

Sorry that should have read

why didn't the earth warm irreversibly in the ...

Umbongo said...

It says a lot about the science that:

1. The warmists do not wish to enter into a scientific debate but would rather (a) rest on the assertion that there is no need for a debate (ie the - as TDK says - "virtually all scientists agree" point) and, in reality prefer (b) to shut down debate entirely on the same assertion (cf Roger Harrabin et al at the BBC and also the anathemising of Channel 4 by the President of the Royal Society for showing the "Global Warming Swindle")

2. The warmists are (a) extremely reluctant to allow access to their basic algorithms (cf Steve McIntyre's endless quest for the equations behind the "hockey stick") and the basis for other "adjustments" to the basic data (cf McIntyre again) and (b) do not admit the uncertainty of much of the basic data (cf the "data" for the latest "Antarctica to become new Riviera" panic appears to be based on what data would have shown had it been available (very scientific!)

3. It is not Popperian "science" since there is no procedure for carrying out a refutation exercise. Also, in the absence of the basic algorithms and the unadjusted data (or the basis for adjusting the data) the "experiment" cannot be replicated. The warmist case appears to based on a series of computer programmes which, if you accept the work of the respectable opposition, are endlessly tweaked to "prove" the warmist contention. Also, the "peer review" procedure appears to be restricted to those peers of the warmists who are warmists themselves. Accordingly, of course, such work will always shore up the warmist assertions.

Such "science" should make a sceptic out of any sensible observer. Anyway, scientists - even warmists - should be sceptics: it's their trade after all.

Umbongo said...

You may be interested in this bit of scepticism concerning the scientific basis (or lack thereof) for the methods of forecasting climate used by the warmists.

Anonymous said...

More likely it is an incorrect theory that the environmental movement threw all their political capital at, thus they must fight with it to the bitter end.

After all they have said about skeptics, after all the maximum media exposure, if the theory turned out to be technically wrong the movement would be crushed.

Not to say I dont relish that idea...

Ross said...

"Is that a true expression of the skeptics claim or is it more true to say that we are constantly told that "virtually all scientists agree"."

The logical implication behind words like hoax or scam is that someone is deliberately misleading the public. Also whilst it may be an exageration for campaigners to say that "virtually all" scientists support the position, it is the view of a large majority of them.

"You yourself identify the fact that many scientists are "me too" category rather than climate scientists in themselves. "

Sure but many are climate scientists and a comfortable majority of them support the AGW theory. Also many scientists who are not in the "me too" camp when it comes to environmental issues accept it.

Ross said...

"1. The warmists do not wish to enter into a scientific debate but would rather (a) rest on the assertion that there is no need for a debate"

I'm not comfortable with the claims that the "debate is over", however I can see why a climatologist who has come to the conclusion that AGW is happening would rather move on to the next question of how to respond to it.

"The warmist case appears to based on a series of computer programmes which, if you accept the work of the respectable opposition, are endlessly tweaked to "prove" the warmist contention."

The case isn't dependent upon computer programmes. Besides which if it were just a case of creating climate models that fit the evidence then it ought in theory to be just as easy to construct a climate model that assumes the absence of man made CO2 emissions and that fits the data just as well.

Ross said...

"More likely it is an incorrect theory that the environmental movement threw all their political capital at, thus they must fight with it to the bitter end."

That might apply to the politicians and pundits. Scientists on the other hand tend to change their mind when the evidence is overwhelmingly against them no matter how entrenched their position was. For instance astronomers believed in a steady state universe for decades but when the evidence mounted up in favour of a big bang, they changed their minds.

Umbongo said...

"The case isn't dependent upon computer programmes."

If you believe that I suggest you read this report issued by the IPCC.

"Besides which if it were just a case of creating climate models that fit the evidence then it ought in theory to be just as easy to construct a climate model that assumes the absence of man made CO2 emissions and that fits the data just as well."

I'm not making the case for warmism - you are. You are supposed to convince me and, if I remain unconvinced or blow enough holes in your model and/or data you go back to the drawing board.

Anyway, it's fairly obvious that "climate" as a complete phenomenon is not amenable to modelling - it's just too complex. Analogously (yes yes I know "climate" and "weather" are not the same thing) weather modelling is incredibly complicated and even with the most sophisticated computer models weather prediction is not an exact science (cf the Met Office prediction for this winter as "mild").

Actually weather prediction is nearer being a Popperian "science" than climatology in that predictions are made and are (more or less) right or wrong ie the theories are actually tested. The success of weather forecasting also points up either the "correctness" of the weather model or the accuracy of the underlying data on which the prediction is based (or both). "Tweaking" of weather forecasting models is legitimate in that the tweaking will either result in better or worse forecasts. What's more the forecasts will be known in real time in hours, days or months not decades, centuries or millennia. OTOH predictions of climate using models (but not computer models apparently) is so precise that the case does not even require discussion - it's "proved".

BTW no sensible sceptic (I think) alleges that man has no effect on climate only that the effect is minuscule compared with natural phenomena (eg the sun) and/or there's nothing we can do about it anyway. Accordingly, if climate change is occurring (and it is and always will be) we would be better advised to expend our resources to accommodate (and ameliorate) the change rather than waste those resources in a futile attempt to change climate ourselves. If my understanding of the Stern Report is correct, doing nothing (and thus generating a higher global GDP to deal with the effects of climate change) will stand us in better stead than all the nostrums advocated in the Book of Gore.

TDK said...

BTW no sensible sceptic (I think) alleges that man has no effect on climate only that the effect is minuscule compared with natural phenomena

I think that's absolutely correct.

I asked you above what does the consensus agree upon. You didn't answer that. Let me expand and reinforce Umbongo's point.

The Climate Denier Trick

There are a lot of reasons not to be worried about "inaction" on global warming. To justify the enormously expensive cuts in CO2 productions, on the order of 80% as supported by Obama and Clinton, one has to believe every element of a five-step logic chain:

1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
4. The increases in world temperatures due to man’s CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies.

Climate alarmists have adopted a rhetorical trick that no one in the media seems willing to call them on. They like to wage the debate over global warming policy on points one and two only, skipping over the rest. Why? Because the science behind numbers one and two are pretty strong. Yes, there are a few folks who will battle them on these points, but even very strong skeptics like myself accept points one and two as proved.


To expand on one issue around 4. Alarmists claim a massive sea level rise - 20ft or more is imminent.

The IPCC predicts a rise with an upper limit of 59cm (all figures are from memory). We already know that the sea has risen since the end of the last ice age. Monckton tells us 4ft per century on average. Elsewhere I have read only 3.5mm/year taking the lower figures equates to 350mm/year or 14 inches per century. Thus the IPCC predicts a worse case scenario increase above normal of only 5 or 6 inches using my low estimate.

I don't think the previous paragraph is massively controversial. Scientists in general would say they agree with the IPCC range. So do I. Note the effect is not civilisation threatening. However that isn't how the issue is played in the media where the massive sea level rises of Al Gore et al are constantly repeated without question. The media allow people to get the science wrong on the alarmist side through exaggeration but not on the skeptic side. If Christopher Monkton fails to dot an 'i' someone will pick it up and use it as evidence that he is unreliable. Yet Al Gore gets crucified in court over the facts in his film, yet he wins an Oscar, a Nobel Peace Prize and free distribution to every schoolchild.

I'm sorry to labour the point. I could make the same statement regarding say the effect of warming on malaria, or on crop yields. The consensus vanishes as the predictions get ever more dire.

I could also ask the same question with regard to the filtering of news concerning mitigation options. Do you think that the effectiveness of windmills is reported accurately? Or of solar power?

So in conclusion I think you better define what you think the consensus agrees upon. In that causal chain above where do you stop? Do you agree on 4 and 5?

Ross said...

Umbongo, TDK your responses are quite long and I don't have time to answer all your points adequately right now, so I'll post a longer answer later tonight.

"1. Mankind is increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
2. Increased atmospheric CO2 causes the world to warm (by some amount, large or small)
3. The increases in CO2 from man will cause substantial warming, large enough to be detectable above natural climate variations
4. The increases in world temperatures due to man’s CO2 will have catastrophic impacts on civilization
5. These catastrophic impacts and their costs are larger than the enormous costs, in terms of poverty and lost wealth, from reducing CO2 with current technologies."


I'd agree with points 1-3, I think the impacts of AGW won't be unversally bad (there may be some positives).

My original point was that I think the idea that scientists are deliberately misleading the public was unlikely and that I personally think that AGW is likely to be a genuine thing. I haven't endorsed the idea that there we should make radical cuts in CO2 emissions without weighin gthe costs and benefits of doing so.

TDK said...

Ross

Your response indicates that you sit on the same place in the spectrum as Bjorn Lomberg, who is described as a denier.

I can't argue with that. I'm ambivalent about (3) myself. It seems to me that we might be responsible for some warming but I find it hard it accept that it is THE major influence.

The unexplained thing is why you think that you are on the other side of the barricades to me. You don't like "conspiracy theory", "scam", "hoax" or "con". Fine, what's the adjective to describe, say Climate Wars?

Umbongo said...

Ross

I'm with TDK on this one although, it seems to me, that I'm rather more agnostic about 3. If that were all we're disagreeing about here then we could agree, sort of, to disagree.

However, and I'm not asserting a Protocols of the Elders of AGW here but I think it's incontrovertible that elements in the AGW cheerleading brigade actively seek to shut down debate. It may be that the scientists themselves are not in the vanguard of these efforts although Lord Rees is doing sterling work in that field. Nevertheless certainly by benign neglect or silence (or simply careerist ambition) a significant number of the scientists involved appear content to allow a case to be made (for MMCC) which is not allowed to be the subject of public, let alone scientific, criticism. This is not "science" - as I understand it anyway.

Ross said...

"I'm not making the case for warmism - you are. You are supposed to convince me and, if I remain unconvinced or blow enough holes in your model and/or data you go back to the drawing board."

Well climate scientists have been able to convince a large majority of their peers in the scientific community.

"Anyway, it's fairly obvious that "climate" as a complete phenomenon is not amenable to modelling - it's just too complex. "

The problem with that approach is that it suggests that it is pointless to even try to model the climate. It is certainly a reason for not having blind faith in what predictions are made but not for ignoring models which explain past climate changes reasonably well.

"What's more the forecasts will be known in real time in hours, days or months not decades, centuries or millennia. OTOH predictions of climate using models (but not computer models apparently) is so precise that the case does not even require discussion - it's "proved"."

No one has claimed that Climate models are precise, they aren't they are models, imperfect reflections of reality. But when almost any model that can explain the observed results also predicts a continued warming trend the body of evidence suggest that warming is the most likely outcome.

"If you believe that I suggest you read this report issued by the IPCC."

Well there are examples of papers that predict AGW without relying on computer models, regardless of what the IPCC says.

Ross said...

"I don't think the previous paragraph is massively controversial. Scientists in general would say they agree with the IPCC range. So do I. Note the effect is not civilisation threatening. However that isn't how the issue is played in the media where the massive sea level rises of Al Gore et al are constantly repeated without question."

In that case I probably don't disagree with you to a great degree about AGW, I haven't endorsed the alarmist view anywhere, and if you look through my archives you'll see that I have critixised the media (and Al Gore's) climate sensationalism.

Umbongo said...

Ross

Well climate scientists have been able to convince a large majority of their peers in the scientific community.

- "Scientists" does not necessarily translate into "people practising science". There is a large number of scientists who aren't convinced but science is not an election. For instance these climate scientists apparently remain unconvinced.

- As I've said before, the acceptance of the conclusion of scientific papers by scientists' peers in a peer review process where the "peers" have already endorsed such conclusions is not "science".

when almost any model that can explain the observed results also predicts a continued warming trend the body of evidence suggest that warming is the most likely outcome.

Were that statement substantially accurate I would agree. Unfortunately, as I've implied higher up this thread, tweaking the algorithm as well as tweaking the underlying data appear to be acceptable practices in warmist science. An analysis of one example of tweaking and "black box" algorithms is given here.

My unhappiness with the warmists lies in the apparent lack of openness in their work. This, in turn, fuels my suspicion that their motives do not include purity of intention where scientific truth is concerned. Even so, I don't expect exact models of the complexity of climate behaviour any more than I expect exact models of the working of complex markets. Models are useful in both areas of human endeavour but neither are fail-safe or foolproof. However, I do expect a little humility and some admission of doubt by those who assert that "we're all doomed" or assert that we can actually do something about climate change (even if it were worthwhile)