For climate change alarmists, science is way too slow
Reader feedback at end.
(E minus 29) One often sees claims of an overwhelming scientific consensus that a carbon dioxide buildup in the atmosphere (currently over .04% vs. some .03% at the start of the Industrial Revolution) due to the combustion of fossil fuels is causing dangerous global warming. The time for discussion is over, it’s said, and action must begin at once and continue for decades to replace the energy infrastructure of the countries of the world and thereby save the planet. What right minded person could possibly disagree?
But opinion polls show that many people harbor doubts about manmade global warming (aka climate change). While not necessarily rejecting the MMGW theory, they aren’t convinced that scientists fully understand the causes of global warming let alone knowing what if anything should be done about it. Pew [Research Center]: Most Americans don’t believe in “scientific consensus” on climate change, Lauretta Brown, cnsnews.com, 10/4/16.
•According to the survey, only 27 percent of Americans agree that “almost all” climate scientists say that human behavior is mostly responsible for climate change, while 35 percent say that “more than half” of climate scientists agree on this. An additional 35 percent of those surveyed say that fewer than half (20%) or almost no (15%) climate scientists believe that human behavior is the main contributing factor in climate change.
•When it comes to the causes of global climate change only 28 percent say climate scientists understand them “very well” while 31 percent say the scientists understand them “not too well” or “not at all.”
•Only 19 percent say climate scientists understand very well the best ways to address climate change, and 35 percent say the scientists understand this not too well or not at all.
Frustrated by such lukewarm public support, MMGW alarmists tend to dramatize and oversell their case. Climate change expert: public perception lags, Jeff Montgomery, News Journal, 12/10/13 (scroll down).
According to Katharine Hayhoe, the “global science of human-caused climate” is getting better all the time, but the public’s understanding of the topic “is definitely a worry.” In terms of scientific certainty, we’re down to the decimal points, but “in public opinion, we could be advancing by tens of percent” through outreach and better communication.
We think the general public has shown sounder instincts about global warming (a general trend over the past two centuries, albeit with periodic reversals) than the politicians and “experts” who are pushing for costly efforts to combat it. The following report will (A) demonstrate how a supposed scientific consensus about MMGW keeps coming up during this political season, (B) argue that no such consensus exists, and (C) suggest that other problems are more deserving of attention.
A. Scientific consensus claimed - Here are several recent examples in which a scientific consensus in favor of the MMGW theory has been claimed or assumed – as though the existence of such a consensus is so well known as to be beyond question.
#Last fall, as the presidential primary campaigns were warming up, Secretary of State John Kerry ridiculed comments of some GOP leaders about ripping up the Paris climate agreement that was being negotiated without congressional input or support. Believing in climate change – a litmus test to run for president, Mack Stetson, politicaloutcast.com, 10/23/15.
[W]hen I hear a United States senator say, “I’m not a scientist so I can’t make a judgment” [about MMGW], or a candidate for president for that matter, I’m absolutely astounded. *** And to suggest that when more than 6,000-plus peer-reviewed studies of the world’s best scientists all lay out that this is happening and mankind is contributing to it, it seems to me that they disqualify themselves fundamentally from high public office with those kinds of statements. And I think the American people will decide that this year, because the American people are overwhelmingly in favor of doing something about climate change.
#Among the Paris agreement doubters was Donald Trump, who went so far as to characterize MMGW as a hoax on several occasions. When accused of doing so in the first presidential debate, however, Trump (for whatever reason) denied it. Transcript (NPR, annotated), 9/26/16.
CLINTON: *** Donald thinks that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. I think it's real.
TRUMP: I did not -- I do not say that.
The next day, Trump’s campaign manager and running mate were asked (in separate interviews) to explain Trump’s position. Kellyanne Conway said Trump did not think climate change was a manmade phenomenon; Mike Pence suggested that a Trump tweet about global warming being a hoax wasn’t intended to be taken literally.
What Donald Trump said was a hoax is that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., can control the climate of the earth and the reality is that this climate change agenda that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton want to continue to expand is killing jobs in this country.
Whew, good recovery by Pence (implied the reporter), because otherwise the VP candidate would have been joining in a battle with the global scientific community. Mike Pence appears at odds with Trump on climate change, Tom Kludt, cnn.com, 9/27/16.
There is near universal consensus in the scientific community that climate change is man-made.
#Speaking at a recent White House event, film star Leonardo DiCaprio was emphatic about the existence of a scientific consensus on MMGW. Listeners presumably took DiCaprio’s remarks as aimed at Trump and anyone who might share Trump’s views on the issue.
The scientific consensus is in and the argument is now over,” DiCaprio said in his opening remarks. “If you do not believe in climate change, you do not believe in facts, or science, or empirical truths. And therefore, in my humble opinion, should not be allowed to hold public office.
For his part, the president advocated that laggards in the migration away from fossil fuel energy be penalized or taxed because “we are in a battle against time.” He also said gun owners and people of faith should welcome the administration’s position on this issue due to their love of the environment. Obama, with co-star DiCaprio [pictured sitting with the president and Katharine Hayhoe], says climate change skeptics should pay penalty, Fred Lucas, dailysignal.com, 10/4/16.
Many prior instances could be cited in which the president has asserted that the experts agree global warming is a huge threat, while classing those who think otherwise as in denial. See, e.g., remarks on the impact of climate change (the Everglades, Florida), whitehouse.gov, 4/22/15.
The world’s top climate scientists are warning that a changing climate already affects the air that our children are breathing. The Surgeon General and I recently met with doctors and nurses and parents who see patients and kids grappling with the health impacts. The Pentagon says that climate change poses an increasing set of risks to our national security. *** So climate change can no longer be denied. It can’t be edited out. It can’t be omitted from the conversation. And action can no longer be delayed. And that’s why I’ve committed the United States to lead the world in combatting this threat.
Some observers have gone so far as to link specific weather events to global warming and suggest that the Paris climate agreement (now scheduled to become effective in early November) was designed to provide protection. NBC’s Ron Allen thinks climate deal is “designed to stop” storms like Hurricane Matthew, Curtis Houck, newsbusters.org, 10/5/16.
. . . it’s very interesting that this [announcement of formal ratification of the Paris climate agreement] is happening [on] a day when there’s a hurricane bearing down on the United States and in the Caribbean because these severe storms, beach erosions, intense weather episodes that we’ve had are perhaps the most practical example of what the president was talking about as the threat that the planet faces and this is what this whole climate agreement . . . is designed to stop.
B. No scientific consensus – Let it be noted at the outset that science is a search for truth rather than consensus. The specific number of scientists who do or don’t attribute global warming to the human use of fossil fuels is immaterial; the question should be what evidence they can muster to support their position. Many cases could be cited in which a widely accepted theory has been upset, e.g., it’s now accepted that the Earth revolves around the Sun rather than vice versa. Thank you, Galileo!
That being said, the scientific consensus claim has been used so often as an excuse for ridiculing (or worse) critics of the MMGW theory that it’s natural to consider whether the claim is valid. And the Heartland Institute has published a detailed and informative analysis on this point. Why scientists disagree about global warming: The NIPCC report on scientific consensus, Craig Idso, Robert Carter & Fred Singer, 11/23/15.
By way of introduction, the NIPCC (Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change) was organized as a counterweight to the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). Both organizations have published voluminous reports about the MMGW theory, amply supported by peer-reviewed scientific studies. (We suspect that the bulk of their respective reports are read by very few people; and one of the criticisms of the IPCC is that the executive summaries of its reports are written by bureaucrats with an agenda rather than by scientists.)
To assess whether there is an overwhelming consensus in favor of the MMGW theory, one must first define this theory. Most scientists really do agree about certain points, notably (a) global temperatures have generally been rising since about 1800 (but with periodic reversals), (b) combustion of fossil fuels has contributed to rising atmospheric levels of CO2, and (c) higher CO2 levels tend to have a warming effect. But if that is all there was to the theory, it wouldn’t have great significance.
Here are some points on which scientists differ: To what extent is the warming trend due to other factors, such as fluctuations in solar activity, which aren’t linked to human activity? Will the warming trend continue or reverse in the future? If continued warming is experienced, will the net effects be positive or negative?
Quite possibly, as suggested by the NIPCC, the warming trend since 1800 has been primarily a function of natural climate variability. The warming trend may not continue as predicted by the MMGW theory; note that satellite readings of global temperatures haven’t shown any significant increase in the past 18 years. And the net effects of modestly rising global temperatures should be relatively benign, so it might make sense to devote society’s resources to tackling other problems (of which there are many).
As for studies purporting to demonstrate an overwhelming scientific consensus, it turns out that the methodologies employed have been so seriously flawed as to be almost laughable. For example:
Oreskes, 2004 (survey based on abstracts of published scientific papers, concluding that 97% supported MMGW) – Failed to distinguish between articles that acknowledged or assumed some human impact on climate, however small, and articles that supported IPCC’s claim that human emissions are responsible for more than 50% of the global warming observed during the past 50 years. Literature review “overlooked” hundreds of articles by prominent global warming skeptics.
Doran and Zimmerman, 2009 (master thesis claiming 97% agreement of climate scientists that mean global temperatures have risen since before the 1800s and humans are a significant contributing factor; sent a two-minute online survey to 10,257 Earth scientists working for universities and government and evaluated the responses) – The survey omitted solar scientists, space scientists, cosmologists, physicists, meteorologists, and astronomers. The questions asked were too general to support meaningful conclusions. Only 1/3 of the subjects responded.
Anderegg et al., 2010 (sought to identify views of the most prolific writers on climate change, concluding that 97-98% of 908 scientists supported the MMGW theory and that credentials of supporters were markedly superior to credentials of skeptics) – Among other things, “scientists whose work exposes gaps in the [MMGW] theory or contradicts claims that climate change will be catastrophic” weren’t counted as skeptics in this study.
Cook et al., 2013 (another exercise in abstract counting, which again found a 97% consensus) – This study was critiqued by [David] Legates et al., 2013. “Only 41 papers – 0.3 percent of all 11,944 abstracts or 1.0 percent of the 4,014 expressing an opinion, and not 97.1 percent – had been found to endorse the standard or quantitative hypothesis.”
None of this is meant to assert that we (or the NIPCC for that matter) understand what drives climate change. That’s a very complicated question, and no one can be sure what answers will ultimately emerge from the scientific studies that are underway. But it seems premature to declare that the debate is over and the time has come to invest trillions of dollars in addressing a problem that may well prove to be nonexistent.
By the way, there is an informative documentary available re the efforts to stampede the public into supporting a drastic cutback in the use of fossil fuels. Climate Hustle is worth seeing, catch next time if you missed it, John Greer, 5/4/16. Here’s a link to check out the trailer (2:00) and, if you’re so inclined, order the DVD.
C. Other issues – Without belaboring the point, it strikes us that several major issues are more immediate and deserve more attention than global warming in this election season. The list includes chaos in Syria, illegal immigration, and the longstanding fiscal problem.
#Middle East – The population of Aleppo in Syria, previously the largest city in the country, is being decimated by bombing attacks of the Russian-backed Assad regime. And having invited Russia to become involved in the situation, the US now seems to have no viable options for ending what has developed into a true humanitarian crisis. A ceasefire negotiated with the Russians collapsed within days, and the US was reduced to walking away from the bargaining table because “there is nothing more for the United States and Russia to talk about with regard to trying to reach an agreement that would reduce the violence inside of Syria.” US-Russian tension escalates as Putin ends nuclear cooperation, Dave Boyer, Washington Times, 10/3/16.
US military options in Syria are limited, especially now that Russia has installed an advanced air defense system. Russia warns US not to intervene in Syria, threatens to shoot down any airstrike attempts, Patricia Reevell, abcnews.com, 10/6/16. And at home, the Russian government is warning that a nuclear war may be near. Russia tells citizens “nuclear war with the West could happen soon,” Rob Waugh, metro.co.uk, 10/4/16.
Meanwhile, most of the campaign discussion about the international situation has been focused on defeating ISIS.
#Illegal immigration – If US immigration laws mean anything or there is a serious interest in screening who is coming into this country, the current surge of illegal immigrants across our porous southern border seems unacceptable. Questions might be in order as to why the administration isn’t doing more to stop it. Border cops: US elections drawing new immigrants, Pete Kasperowicz, Washington Examiner, 10/8/16.
•The last few months have seen a dramatic rise in apprehensions of illegal immigrants, on a scale that rivals 2014, when members of both parties agreed it became a humanitarian crisis. That crisis abated in 2015, but the numbers have spiked again . . .
•Sheriff Leon Wilmot of the Yuma County Sheriff's Office told the Washington Examiner that illegal immigrants are still not facing any real penalties for crossing over to the United States, which is making the problem worse. "Apprehensions here are up considerably because of this belief that they will not be deported and will be allowed on public assistance and will not be deported," he said. "With no repercussions or consequence. .. they are rushing here to beat the elections."
# Fiscal problem – As previously noted, neither party has stepped up to the plate this year with a real plan for balancing the budget. See, e.g., Kicking the fiscal can down the road, 9/5/16.
The most recent failure came during the VP debate on October 4, when moderator Elaine Quijano asked both of the candidates an admirably straight-forward question. If the two VP candidates ignore the $19 trillion national debt, will it cease to exist? Maria Jeffrey, conserativereview.com, 10/5/16.
According to the nonpartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, neither of your economic plans will reduce the growing $19 trillion gross national debt. In fact, your plans would add even more to it. Both of you were governors who balanced state budgets. Are you concerned that adding more to the debt could be disastrous for the country?
Sad to say, both of the candidates ducked the question (ibid), and very little was said about the matter after the debate.
Is global warming really a bigger deal than balancing the budget? Not in our view, and here’s a cartoon from the SAFE archives that makes the point.
Debunking phony theories is difficult. If the models and such do not fit the data then that is not sufficient to deter those who need Federal funds for "research" to continue on. Politics is not based on fact; politics is based on persuasion. – SAFE director
Good synopsis, which convincingly refutes claims about a scientific consensus in support of the MMGW theory, but it might be possible to go further. Some studies strongly support the null premise that global warming and cooling has been and remains a function of natural climate variability. Dr. Willie Soon has charted temperature change with observed changes in solar radiation, for which observations exist for hundreds of years, and the correlation is nearly perfect. While correlation doesn't prove causation, correlation to this degree is compelling evidence of the overwhelming influence of solar activity on the earth's climate, coupled with the earth's elliptical rotation around the sun and tilt on its axis. The charts show a rise in temperature, coupled with an increase in CO2, after increases in solar activity. – SAFE member (DE)
Kudos for the global warming piece. The cartoon was a favorite of Bill Morris; it was drawn by his daughter Stephanie Harmon – SAFE member (DE)
Yes, I would agree that we do not have a very complete understanding on how climate varies and changes ... but we have made quite a bit of progress, and what we do know is that atmospheric CO2 is a very minor player for changes on multi-decades to century timescales. All the solar climate evidence and papers we have published including one with Dave Legates documented far more than mere statistical coincidence --- we discuss and explain all the observed empirical correlations with real physical connections ranging from something as simple as more incoming solar radiation can cause more atmospheric vapor as well as changing the equator to Arctic temperature gradients --- so in this sense we do have far more understanding than IPCC and all the pseudo-scientific hand waiving out there. – Willie Soon