Thursday, July 29, 2010

Continuing the Debate

I thought about responding to this piece in the Toronto Star, but then I decided against it. Honestly, anyone who simply repeats the warming orthodoxy now is starting to sound delusional.

Here is my response:

These authors do a serious disservice to their readers by attempting to sweep all meaningful questions about climate science under the rug.

Have the authors of the “Climategate” e-mails been exonerated? In a technical sense, yes, but the “studies” involved have been almost unbelievably cursory, not to say careless. There is obviously a great deal of money at stake for governments and universities—and there are reputations and careers at stake for scientists. It is fair to say that the establishment is doing its best to close ranks.

A large part of the e-mails has to do with the use of proxy data to estimate temperature and climate before the era of widespread use of thermometers—in other words, before about 1880. The famous “hockey stick” graph purports to show with great clarity and precision that there was little temperature increase for thousands of years before the 20th century, then a dramatic and steady increase in that century, and then an even more dramatic projected increase is shown. To say the least, many questions have been raised about the methodology behind that graph. Remarkably, its famous authors have made it a policy to refuse to share their work as much as possible. What finally made their efforts more visible was that they were trying to avoid complying with Freedom of Information legislation. The e-mails confirm these efforts; the reports that seem to exonerate the scientists do not come to grips with the issues.

The authors refer to some statements in the latest IPCC report that have already turned out to be mistaken, or may do so soon. Hilariously, most of the examples they give are statements that (they claim) understate the warming threat that is facing us. Setting aside the statement about the exact year that the Himalayas are likely to be ice-free (wrong), is it true in general that the world’s glaciers are all retreating, and in a way that correlates well to the increase in man-made CO2? No. Is it true that both poles are rapidly losing ice? No. Is there solid evidence that sea level is rising at rates beyond what one would expect from a gradual retreat from an ice age? No. Is there solid evidence that the Amazon is so sensitive to drought that 40% of the trees there could be killed by even a moderate decline in precipitation? No; apparently that statement made it into the IPCC report with no backing from the peer-reviewed literature at all. If some of the warming scenarios come true, are humans in general likely to have less access to potable water, or more? There was a peer-reviewed source that said humans with more access would outnumber those with less, but the IPCC chose to report only on those who were predicted to have less. Has there been an increase in either the frequency or severity of extreme weather events? Probably not: the IPCC chose to refer to a second-last draft of a paper saying that 20% of the increased costs of such events result from global warming, rather than the final draft which stated that no effect of global warming can be discerned.

Part of what is refreshing in the “Climategate” e-mails is that the scientists, e-mailing among friends, admit that they know very little about temperature before about one hundred years ago, they do not understand all the significant forces that are at work in shaping climate, and they don’t know whether there was a medieval warming period (at least roughly as warm as the twentieth century—and presumably not because of man-made factors) or not. I for one thought until recently that at least the twentieth century temperature record must be pretty solid, but it turns out there are significant questions even about that. We have been told that it is not a temperature increase of, say, 2 degrees Celsius per century that should concern us, but one of, say, 6 or 7 degrees. There seems to be no solid evidence of any such increase, and in fact the official warming trend seems to have levelled off (barring “warmest ever” records of a few tenths or hundredths of a degree warmer than the previous record), since 1998.

If every specific component of the official theory is at least somewhat questionable or uncertain, then I believe it is logically impossible to say with certainty that the temperature is going up in a way that sane people would worry about, and the increase is man-made. Distinguished researchers should at least acknowledge these issues in their attempts to enlighten the public.

By the way, I am not paid by big oil, and I don’t think I am in any way similar to the tobacco companies fighting off anti-smoking legislation. In any case, big oil and the banks are finding a way to make money from government “green” grants, carbon credits trading, etc.

Kerry Emanuel continues (h/t Bishop Hill) in the same vein as the Star piece-sweeping issues and questions under the rug, suggesting that only skeptics have questionable motives and agendas. He says the warmists such as himself say there is a range of possible outcomes, ranging from innocuous to catastrophic. The so-called skeptics are the narrow-minded ones, suggesting that the only possible outcome is innocuous.

I don't think the IPCC authors are known for saying: maybe the outcome will be innocuous. Distortions, gaps, silences and mistakes are all on the warming side, never on the side of "calm down, this is normal." The ranks of skeptics certainly include people who believe that temperature increase is a problem, and that man-made CO2 contributes to it. I personally think very real events such as the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Haitian earthquake, the killing frost in Mongolia last winter, and various volcanoes, are much more of a threat than climate change, man-made or not. The climate, of course, does change constantly, and may do so in a surprising way in the next 50 to 100 years. But it doesn't seem likely.

By the way, Antarctic ice is not shrinking. That's why it's not in the news.

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