Category Archives: Skeptic Summaries

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Layman’s Primer on the Climate Skeptic Position

I am a “lukewarmer”, which means a skeptic that agrees that man-made CO2 is incrementally warming the Earth but believes that the amount of that warming is being greatly exaggerated.  In addition, I believe that the science behind evidence of current “climate change” is really poor, with folks in the media using observations of tail-of-the-distribution weather effects to “prove” climate change rather than relying on actual trend data (which tend to show no such thing).

I have written two articles at Forbes.com summarizing this position and the debate.

Understanding the Global Warming Debate

Denying the Catastrophe: The Science of the Climate Skeptic’s Position

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Why We Are Exaggerating “Extreme Weather”

I have written in article at Forbes.com called Summer of the Shark, Global Warming Edition.  It describes why the media, and many average citizens, are exaggerating the degree and effects of extreme weather.  Here is a preview of that article, but I encourage you to read it all

In the summer of 2001, a little boy in Mississippi lost an arm in a shark attack.  The media went absolutely crazy.  For weeks and months they highlighted every shark attack on the evening news.  They ran aerial footage of sharks in the water near beaches.  They coined the term “Summer of the Shark.”  According to Wikipedia, shark attacks were the number three story, in terms of network news time dedicated, of the summer.

Bombarded by such coverage, most Americans responded to polls by saying they were concerned about the uptick in shark attacks.  In fact, there were actually about 10% fewer shark attacks in 2001 than in 2000.  Our perceptions were severely biased by the coverage.

Similarly, every bit of severe weather now makes the news, so the American public can be forgiven for thinking that maybe such weather is increasing.  But when one actually looks at data, it’s hard to see good evidence of a shift in severe weather.  Neitherextreme wet weather, extreme dry weather, tornadoes, or hurricanes show any real upward trend.  Sure we had some 100-year high temperatures in the US in March.  But in the same month the rest of the world was at or below its average temperature for the last couple of decades.

 

Amherst, MA Presentation, March 7

I will be rolling out version 3.0 of my presentation on climate that has already been around the Internet and back a couple of times.  Called “Don’t Panic:  The Science of the Climate Skeptic Position”, it will be given at 7PM in the Pruyne Lecture Hall at Amherst College on March 7, 2013.  Come by if you are in the area.

Topics include:

  • What does it mean when people say “97% of scientists agree with global warming?”   This statement turns out to be substantially less powerful when one understands the propositions actually tested.
  • The greenhouse gas effect of CO2 is a fact (did I surprise you?) but it is a second, unproven theory of strong positive feedbacks in the climate that causes the hypothesized catastrophe.
  • The world has indeed warmed over the last century, but not enough to be consistent with catastrophic forecasts, and not all due to CO2
  • While good science is being done, the science behind knock-on effects of global warming (e.g. global warming causedSandy) is often non-existent or embarrassingly bad.  Too often, the media is extrapolating from single data points
  • The “precautionary principle” ignores real negative effects of carbon rationing, particularly in lesser developed countries.

Speaker Pledge

The tone of the global warming debate is often terrible (on both sides).  The speaker will assume those who disagree are persons of goodwill.   The speaker will not resort to ad hominem attacks or discussion of funding sources and motivations.

I Was Reading Matt Ridley’s Lecture at the Royal Society for the Arts….

… and it was fun to see my charts in it!  The lecture is reprinted here (pdf) or here (html) over at Anthondy Watts’ site.  The charts I did are around pages 6-7 of the pdf, the ones showing the projected curve of global warming for various climate sensitivities, and backing into what that should imply for current warming.  In short, even if you don’t think warming in the surface temperature record is exaggerated, there still has not been anywhere near the amount of warming one would expect for the types of higher sensitivities in the IPCC and other climate models.  Warming to date, even if not exaggerated and all attributed to man-made and not natural causes, is consistent with far less catastrophic, and more incremental, future warming numbers.

These charts come right out of the IPCC formula for the relationship between CO2 concentrations and warming, a formula first proposed by Michael Mann.  I explained these charts in depth around the 10 minute mark of this video, and returned to them to make the point about past warming around the 62 minute mark.   This is a shorter video, just three minutes, that covers the same ground.  Watching it again, I am struck by how relevant it is as a critique five years later, and by how depressing it is that this critique still has not penetrated mainstream discussion of climate.  In fact, I am going to embed it below:

The older slides Ridley uses, which are cleaner (I went back and forth on the best way to portray this stuff) can be found here.

By the way, Ridley wrote an awesome piece for Wired more generally about catastrophism which is very much worth a read.

Letter to Tom Clynes at Popular Science

I am simply amazed at the tone and lack of balance in your story called “the Battle” in the recent issue of Popular Science.  More than anything, its incredible to me that a magazine with “science” in the title could dismiss the actual scientific arguments made by skeptics in something like two dozen words, while spending thousands of words on yet another exposition on how much money the Koch Brothers sends to the Heartland institute.

Granted there are skeptics that are full of bluster or who put up tasteless billboards.  I wonder why your coverage of these types of issues in “the battle” is so asymmetric?  Did you see the 10:10 video of teachers exploding kids who questioned global warming into a bloody mess?  How about James Hansen’s arrests?  Or the threats to skeptics by RFK jr and Grist Magazine that were far more extreme than Inhofe’s list you spend about a thousand words discussing?  If there is some reason these are different, why?  And by the way, why is Heartland’s funding to interesting but funding to Tides or WWF not worth mentioning?  And finally, why do you discuss only the scientists on the alarmist side and +none of the crazy advocacy people, but on the skeptic side you discuss none of the scientists and only the crazy advocacy guys.  I understand you have a point of view, fine, but can’t you even take a shot at treating both sides symmetrically?

By the way, I thought your inclusion of the Gleason/Monnett story bordered on journalistic malfeasance.  These guys have their job threatened not by skeptics but by an audit, I believe on financial issues, by the Obama Administration (surely not a friend of the Limbaugh-Inhofe-Milloy cabal).  You were careful not to say that skeptics were involved, but by its very inclusion in an article on skeptics’ bad actions you left the reader, purposefully I fear, with that incorrect conclusion.  This story has nothing to do with “the Battle”, so why is it even here except to dish dirt on skeptics for something they did not even do?  Sure, skeptics criticized their work and had a certain schadenfreude when they got in trouble, but again the trouble comes from Obama Administration financial investigators.

Anyway, over the last two paragraphs I spent more time talking about these behavioral issues than I intended.  My core complaint is still your dismissal of the scientific part of skeptics arguments without even mentioning what they are.  In fact, you dismiss key issues as tangential.

It is the latter that causes me to ask, and seriously this is not rhetorical or smart-*ss, do you actually know the mainstream skeptical scientific arguments?   I have many friends who are people of goodwill who actually don’t, who assume the bluster of a Limbaugh or an Inhofe is all we have to offer.  If your only exposure to skeptic ideas is by reading about them at Realclimate or from Joe Romm, you can be excused, I suppose, for thinking we only have “information mssiles” and no actual science.

Here is the key point, which you dismiss as tangential:  While the world has indeed warmed over the last century, and some of that warming has almost certainly been due to man-made CO2, climate scientists are grossly exaggerating future warming in large part because they are exaggerating positive feedback effects in the climate system.  Most of the warming in climate models is not from CO2 directly but from feedback effects, and the evidence for strong positive climate feedback on temperature is very weak (to the point of non-existence) as compared to the evidence of greenhouse gas warming (yes, individual effects like ice cover melting are undeniably positive feedback effects, the question is as to the net impact of all such effects).  When we look at past warming, and take into account other natural warming effects, the warming from man-made CO2 appears to be more consistent with negative than positive feedback.

The importance, even centrality, of the feedback is not some skeptic invention but comes right from the IPCC.  According to the last IPCC report, greenhouse gasses acting alone warm the Earth about 1.2C per double of CO2 (per Michael Mann, yes that Mann).  It is hypothesized positive feedback effects that increase this to the 3.5-5.5C range for total warming/sensitivity.  This means that 67% to 80% of IPCC forecasted warming is not from greenhouse gas theory but this second theory that the Earth’s climate is dominated by positive feedback.  This means that the points you consider “tangential” actually account for the vast majority of the warming.  In fact, according to the IPCC, it is feedback, not greenhouse gas theory, that causes the catastrophe.

The is why harping on the “98% of scientists” meme is so irritating to many skeptics.  The 98% of scientists in this survey said two things:  that the world has warmed over the last century and that CO2 from man was a significant cause of this warming.  But most science-based skeptics agree with this!  We don’t deny warming or greenhouse gas theory, we deny the catastrophe, which we face only if the assumption of the climate being dominated by strong net positive feedback is correct.

The other major issue skeptics have is that the climate community has become incredibly insular and resistant to criticism and replication of their work.  Peer review tends to be by a small group of friends and close associates, and attempts by third parties to replicate their work are impossible, since climate scientists seldom release their key data to outsiders, even when, which is often the case, their work is publicly funded. In particular, climates scientists often get very “creative” with statistical methods, and often create results which don’t stand up to review by qualified statisticians outside the field.

Take this as context for the issue of “harassment” via Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and lawsuits.  Over and over in your piece we must take Michael Mann and other climate scientists at their word that these lawsuits are purely to harass them.  But, in fact, the origins of these lawsuits were to try to obtain data from Mann and others that was needed by third parties to replicate their published works, data that was collected in most cases with taxpayer-funded grants for research that was published in journals that nominally required authors to provide all data needed for replication.

Sure, some recent FOIA suits by political groups, particularly one in Virginia of Mann’s emails when we was a professor there, border on harassment; but I have yet to meet any scientist who, hearing the story of Mann’s resistance to providing replication data, has any sympathy for such a clear breach of the scientific process.

Anyway, I wrote a longer version of this at Forbes.com here:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/06/18/a-response-to-popular-ad-hominem-err-science-magazine-on-global-warming-skeptics/

Also, on the off-chance you really don’t know the science-based skeptic position and think that skeptics begin and end with the big-mouths you quote, try these two articles which are discussions of the science, absolutely free of ad hominem attacks, something Popular Science should try:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2012/02/09/understanding-the-global-warming-debate/
http://www.forbes.com/sites/warrenmeyer/2010/10/15/denying-the-catstrophe-the-science-of-the-climate-skeptics-position/

A Vivid Reminder of How The Climate Debate is Broken

My Forbes column is up this week.  I really did not want to write about climate, but when Forbes conctributor Steve Zwick wrote this, I had to respond

We know who the active denialists are – not the people who buy the lies, mind you, but the people who create the lies.  Let’s start keeping track of them now, and when the famines come, let’s make them pay.  Let’s let their houses burn.  Let’s swap their safe land for submerged islands.  Let’s force them to bear the cost of rising food prices.

They broke the climate.  Why should the rest of us have to pay for it?

The bizarre threats and ad hominem attacks have to stop.  Real debate is necessary based on an assumption that our opponents may be wrong, but are still people of good will.  And we need to debate what really freaking matters:

Instead of screwing around in the media trying to assign blame for the recent US heat wave to CO2 and threatening to burn down the houses of those who disagree with us, we should be arguing about what matters.  And the main scientific issue that really matters is understanding climate feedback.  I won’t repeat all of the previous posts (see here and here), but this is worth repeating:

Direct warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 does not create a catastrophe, and at most, according to the IPCC, might warm the Earth another degree over the next century.  The catastrophe comes from the assumption that there are large net positive feedbacks in the climate system that multiply a small initial warming from CO2 many times.  It is this assumption that positive feedbacks dominate over negative feedbacks that creates the catastrophe.  It is telling that when prominent supporters of the catastrophic theory argue the science is settled, they always want to talk about the greenhouse gas effect (which most of us skeptics accept), NOT the positive feedback assumption.  The assumption of net positive climate feedback is not at all settled — in fact there is as much evidence the feedback is net negative as net positive — which may be why catastrophic theory supporters seldom if ever mention this aspect of the science in the media.

I said I would offer a counter-proposal to Mr. Zwick’s that skeptics bear the costs of climate change.  I am ready to step up to the cost of any future man-made climate change if Mr. Zwick is ready to write a check for the lost economic activity and increased poverty caused by his proposals.  We are at an exciting point in history where a billion people, or more, in Asia and Africa and Latin America are at the cusp of emerging from millenia of poverty.  To do so, they need to burn every fossil fuel they can get their hands on, not be forced to use rich people’s toys like wind and solar.  I am happy to trade my home for an imaginary one that Zwick thinks will be under water.  Not only is this a great way to upgrade to some oceanfront property, but I am fully confident the crazy Al Gore sea level rise predictions are a chimera, since sea levels have been rising at a fairly constant rate since the end of the little ice age..  In return, perhaps Mr. Zwick can trade his job for one in Asia that disappears when he closes the tap on fossil fuels?

I encourage you to read it all, including an appearance by the summer of the shark.

Heartland Documents: Whose Biases are Being Revealed Here?

I could not resist commenting on the brouhaha around the stolen Heartland Institute documents in my column at Forbes.  The key one that is the “smoking gun” now appears to be fake.  I wrote in part:

One reason I am fairly certain the document is fake is this line from the supposed skeptic strategy document:

His effort will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain – two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.

For those of us at least somewhat inside the tent of the skeptic community, particularly the science-based ones Heartland has supported in the past, the goal of “dissuading teachers from teaching science” is a total disconnect.  I have never had any skeptic in even the most private of conversations even hint at such a goal.  The skeptic view is that science education vis a vis climate and other environmental matters tends to be shallow, or one-sided, or politicized — in other words broken in some way and needing repair.  In this way, most every prominent skeptic that works even a bit in the science/data end of things believes him or herself to be supporting, helping, and fixing science.  In fact, many skeptics believe that the continued positive reception of catastrophic global warming theory is a function of the general scientific illiteracy of Americans and points to a need for more and better science education (see here for an overview of the climate debate that does not once use the ad hominem words “myth”, “scam” or “lie”).

The only people who believe skeptics are anti-science per se, and therefore might believe skeptics would scheme to dissuade teachers from teaching science, are the more political alarmists (a good example was posted today right here at Forbes, which you might want to contrast withthis).  For years, I presume partially in an effort to avoid debate, certain alarmists have taken the ad hominem position that skeptics are anti-science.  And many probably well-meaning alarmists believe this about skeptics (since they may have not actually met any skeptics to know differently).  The person who wrote this fake memo almost had to be an alarmist, and probably was of the middling, more junior sort, the type of person who does not craft the talking points but is a recipient of them and true believer.

At the end I make a sort of bet

If the strategy memo turns out to be fake as I believe it to be, I am starting the countdown now for the Dan-Rather-esque “fake but accurate” defense of the memo — ie, “Well, sure, the actual document was faked but we all know it represents what these deniers are really thinking.”  This has become a mainstay of post-modern debate, where facts matter less than having the politically correct position.

But in the first update I note the winner may already be delcared

Is Revkin himself seeking to win my fake-but-accurate race?   When presented with the fact that he may have published a fake memo, Revkin wrote:

looking back, it could well be something that was created as a way to assemble the core points in the batch of related docs.

It sounds like he is saying that while the memo is faked, it may have been someones attempt to summarize real Heartland documents.  Fake but accurate!  By the way, I don’t think he has any basis for this supposition, as no other documents have come to light with stuff like “we need to stop teachers from teaching science.”

Overview of the Global Warming Debate

I know I have been dormant on this site of late (the perils of having a day job), but I have been thinking about and working for a while on a way to clearly portray the basic outlines of the global warming debate. I hope you will check it out in this article posted today at Forbes. Here is the opening:

Likely you have heard the sound bite that “97% of climate scientists” accept the global warming “consensus”.  Which is what gives global warming advocates the confidence to call climate skeptics “deniers,” hoping to evoke a parallel with “Holocaust Deniers,” a case where most of us would agree that a small group are denying a well-accepted reality.  So why do these “deniers” stand athwart of the 97%?  Is it just politics?  Oil money? Perversity? Ignorance?

We are going to cover a lot of ground, but let me start with a hint.

In the early 1980′s I saw Ayn Rand speak at Northeastern University.  In the Q&A period afterwards, a woman asked Ms. Rand, “Why don’t you believe in housewives?”  And Ms. Rand responded, “I did not know housewives were a matter of belief.”  In this snarky way, Ms. Rand was telling the questioner that she had not been given a valid proposition to which she could agree or disagree.  What the questioner likely should have asked was, “Do you believe that being a housewife is a morally valid pursuit for a woman.”  That would have been an interesting question (and one that Rand wrote about a number of times).

In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with.  And, we need to understand what it is, exactly,  that the deniers are denying.   (I personally have fun echoing Ms. Rand’s answer every time someone calls me a climate denier — is the climate really a matter of belief?)

It turns out that the propositions that are “settled” and the propositions to which some like me are skeptical are NOT the same propositions.  Understanding that mismatch will help explain a lot of the climate debate.

We Are Finally Seeing Healthy Perspectives on CO2 in the Media

The media loves lurid debates.  Which in the climate debate has meant that to the extent skeptics even get mentioned or quoted in media articles, it is often in silly, non-scientific sound bites.  Which is why I liked this editorial in the Financial Post, which is a good presentation of the typical science-based skeptic position – certainly it is close to the one I outlined in this video.  An excerpt:

Let’s be perfectly clear. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and other things being equal, the more carbon dioxide in the air, the warmer the planet. Every bit of carbon dioxide that we emit warms the planet. But the issue is not whether carbon dioxide warms the planet, but how much.

Most scientists, on both sides, also agree on how much a given increase in the level of carbon dioxide raises the planet’s temperature, if just the extra carbon dioxide is considered. These calculations come from laboratory experiments; the basic physics have been well known for a century.

The disagreement comes about what happens next.

The planet reacts to that extra carbon dioxide, which changes everything. Most critically, the extra warmth causes more water to evaporate from the oceans. But does the water hang around and increase the height of moist air in the atmosphere, or does it simply create more clouds and rain? Back in 1980, when the carbon dioxide theory started, no one knew. The alarmists guessed that it would increase the height of moist air around the planet, which would warm the planet even further, because the moist air is also a greenhouse gas.

This is the core idea of every official climate model: For each bit of warming due to carbon dioxide, they claim it ends up causing three bits of warming due to the extra moist air. The climate models amplify the carbon dioxide warming by a factor of three — so two-thirds of their projected warming is due to extra moist air (and other factors); only one-third is due to extra carbon dioxide.

That’s the core of the issue. All the disagreements and misunderstandings spring from this. The alarmist case is based on this guess about moisture in the atmosphere, and there is simply no evidence for the amplification that is at the core of their alarmism.

That is just amazingly close to what I wrote in a Forbes column a few months back:

It is important to begin by emphasizing that few skeptics doubt or deny that carbon dioxide (CO2) is a greenhouse gas or that it and other greenhouse gasses (water vapor being the most important) help to warm the surface of the Earth. Further, few skeptics deny that man is probably contributing to higher CO2 levels through his burning of fossil fuels, though remember we are talking about a maximum total change in atmospheric CO2 concentration due to man of about 0.01% over the last 100 years.

What skeptics deny is the catastrophe, the notion that man’s incremental contributions to CO2 levels will create catastrophic warming and wildly adverse climate changes. To understand the skeptic’s position requires understanding something about the alarmists’ case that is seldom discussed in the press: the theory of catastrophic man-made global warming is actually comprised of two separate, linked theories, of which only the first is frequently discussed in the media.

The first theory is that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 levels (approximately what we might see under the more extreme emission assumptions for the next century) will lead to about a degree Celsius of warming. Though some quibble over the number – it might be a half degree, it might be a degree and a half – most skeptics, alarmists and even the UN’s IPCC are roughly in agreement on this fact.

But one degree due to the all the CO2 emissions we might see over the next century is hardly a catastrophe. The catastrophe, then, comes from the second theory, that the climate is dominated by positive feedbacks (basically acceleration factors) that multiply the warming from CO2 many fold. Thus one degree of warming from the greenhouse gas effect of CO2 might be multiplied to five or eight or even more degrees.

This second theory is the source of most of the predicted warming – not greenhouse gas theory per se but the notion that the Earth’s climate (unlike nearly every other natural system) is dominated by positive feedbacks. This is the main proposition that skeptics doubt, and it is by far the weakest part of the alarmist case. One can argue whether the one degree of warming from CO2 is “settled science” (I think that is a crazy term to apply to any science this young), but the three, five, eight degrees from feedback are not at all settled. In fact, they are not even very well supported.

A Thought on “Short Term”

One interesting fact is that alarmists have to deal with the lack of warming or increase in ocean heat content over the last 12 years or so.  They will argue that this is just a temporary aberration, and a much shorter time frame than they are working on.    Let’s think about that.

Here is the core IPCC argument:  for the period after 1950, they claim their computer models cannot explain warming patterns without including a large effect from anthropogenic CO2.  Since almost all the warming in the latter half of the century really occurred between 1978 and 1998, the IPCC core argument boils down to “we are unable to attribute the global temperature increase in these 20 years to natural factors, so it must have been caused by man-made CO2.”  See my video here for a deeper discussion.

In effect, the core IPCC conclusions were really based on the warming over the 20 years from 1978-1998.  There was never any implication that their models couldn’t explain, say, the 1930’s or the 1970’s without manmade CO2.

So while 12 years is admittedly short compared to many natural cycles in climate, and might be considered a dangerously short period to draw conclusions from, it is fairly large compared to the 20 year period that drove the IPCC conclusions.

Here is where we stand:  The IPCC models supposedly cannot explain the 20 year period from 1978-1998 without factoring in a high climate sensitivity to CO2.  However, I would venture to guess that, prior to tweaking, the IPCC models cannot explain the 12 year period from 1998-2011 while still factoring in a high climate sensitivity to CO2.

Postscript:  I suppose the IPCC would scream “aerosols,” but even putting aside the equivocal and sometimes offsetting effects of aerosols and black carbon, I do not think one could reasonably argue their effect was much greater in one period than the other.

Lindzen Testimony

I wanted to link to Richard Lindzen’s Congressional testimony.  For slides, they are pretty easy to follow as they are mostly text.  I want to particularly point out slide 4, which I think on one page outlines the single most important point to understand about anthropogenic global warming theory.  When given just one minute to discuss climate, this slide embodies the message I give.

Here are two statements that are completely agreed on by the IPCC. It is crucial to be aware of their implications.

1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.

2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.

Given the above, the notion that alarmingwarming is ‘settled science’ should be offensive to any sentient individual, though to be sure, the above is hardly emphasized by the IPCC. 4

My Interview on Climate with Esquire Middle East

I received an email-based interview request on climate a while back from Esquire Middle East.  I have decided to include my whole response below.  The questions they ask are nearly as informative as anything I say, as they betray that the editors of the publication have pretty much bought into not only global warming alarmism, but all the memes alarmists use to discredit skeptics.  Its pretty clear all they know about the skeptic’s position is what they hear from alarmists about skeptics.  Anyway, I responded to this from a hotel room in Kentucky and didn’t give it my best but I think it may be interesting to you.  The questions are in bold, my answers in normal font.

Do you believe that global warming and climate change are a grave problem to the world at the moment ?

IF NO

What gives you reason to believe that global warming and climate change are not really happening?

I don’t deny they are happening, and neither do any other science-based skeptics.  Alarmists like to tell the public that skeptics are taking these positions, in order to discredit them.  The climate is always changing without any help from man — a good example is the drying up of North Africa over the last centuries.  The period from 1600-1800 was among the coldest in the last 5000 years, so it is natural we would see warming in recovery from this.

Is there any scientific evidence to support that global warming and climate change is not really that harmful

I wrote a 90-minute presentation on this so it is hard to be brief.  But here are a couple of thoughts1.  I don’t deny greenhouse gas theory, that man’s CO2 can cause some incremental warming.  The greenhouse gas theory has to be real, or the world would be much colder right now.  No, what I deny is the catastrophe, that temperatures a hundred years hence will be five or ten degrees Celsius higher due to man’s co2

Interestingly, I think most everyone on the scientific end of the debate agrees that the direct warming from man’s Co2 acting alone will be relatively modest – on the order of a degree Celsius by the year 2100 according to the IPCC.  Yeah, I know this seems oddly low — you never hear of global warming numbers as low as 1 degree — but it is actually a second theory, independent of greenhouse gas theory, that drives most of the warming.  This second theory is that the climate is dominated by strong positive feedbacks that  multiply the warming from CO2 many fold, and increase a modest 1 degree C of warming from man’s CO2 to catastrophic levels of 5 or even 10 degrees.

The example I use is to think of climate as a car.  Co2 from man provides only a nudge to the car.  The catastrophe comes from a second theory that the car (representing the climate) is perched precariously on the top of a hill with its brakes off, and a nudge from CO2 will start it rolling downhill until it crashes at the bottom.

When people say the science is settled, they generally mean greenhouse gas theory.  But that means only the nudge is settled.  What is far from settled is the second theory of strong net positive feedback in the climate, ie the theory the climate is perched on top of a hill.  It is unusual for long-term stable but chaotic systems to be dominated by such strong positive feedbacks.  In fact, only the most severe contortions allow scientists to claim their high-sensitivity models of catastrophic warming are consistent with the relatively modest warming of the past century.

2.  The amount of unusual climate change we are seeing is GROSSLY exaggerated.  We seem to be suffering under a massive case of observer bias in assessing any current effects of climate change.  Extreme events, which have always existed, are used by both sides of the debate as supposed proof of long term global trends.  But there is little useful we can learn about trends at the tails of the distribution, and it turns out that the means of key weather events in the US, from droughts to wet weather to tornadoes to hurricanes, show no meaningful trends.

We have this incredible hubris that by watching a chaotic system for about 20 years, we fully understand it. But climate has 30-year cycles, 200 year cycles, 1000-year cycles, etc.  We don’t even know what is normal, so how can we say we are seeing things that are abnormal.  We have seen a lot of melting sea ice in the Arctic, but we think we may have seen as much in the 1930’s, but we didn’t have satellites to watch the ice.  And Antarctic Sea ice has been higher than normal while Arctic has been below normal.

Hurricanes are another great example.  Al Gore swore that Hurricane Katrina was man-made, but it turns out there is actually a declining worldwide trend in hurricane and cyclone activity and energy, so much so that we hit the lowest level in 2009 since we started measuring by satellite 30 years ago.

Or take sea level rise.  Sea levels are rising today and glaciers are shrinking.  Sea levels are rising because they were rising in 1950 and in 1920 and in 1880 and in 1850.  Sea levels have been steadily rising 1-3mm a year since about 1820 and the end of the little ice age.  Ditto glacier retreat, which began around 1800 and has continued steadily to today, though the pace of retreat has slowed of late.

Imagine we wanted to look at customer visitation at a local restaurant that just closed after 60 years in business.  If we watched for only a few hours, we might miss the huge variability of the crowds from early morning through each mealtime rush.  Watch only for a day, and we might miss the seasonal variation, as vacationers pack the restaurant in March.  Watch for just a year, and we might have missed the long, slow decline in visitation that eventually led to the restaurant closing.  In climate, we are trying to decide if there is a long term decline at the restaurant after watching for the equivalent of only a few hours.

The reporting on whether manmade climate change is already happening is just awful.  We see something happen that we can’t remember happening in the last 20 years and declare it to be “abnormal” and therefore “manmade.”  Its absurd, and amazing to me that we skeptics are called anti-scientific when the science being practiced is so awful.  The problem is that for academics, who are always scrambling for funds, climate change has become the best source of money.  So you can’t just say you are studying acne, you have to say you are studying the effect of manmade climate change on acne.  Essentially, we have told the academic world that they can get much more money for their work if they claim to see climate change.  So is it any surprise they find it under every rock?

Are most scientists wrong?

I find judging science by counting scientists to be unproductive, so I have no idea.  I will say that a lot of folks who sign petitions in support of the alarmist position have not really looked carefully at the science, they are merely showing support because they have been told skeptics are a bunch of religious fundamentalist anti-science types, so they want to express their support for science.  It is ironic, as we found in the Climategate emails, that in fact they are supporting bad science, a small core group of scientists who have resisted normal scientific process of sharing data and replication

For some reason, we love to scare ourselves.  Or, more likely, many people, particularly younger folks, like to feel that there is some way they can save the world, to deal with their own feelings of insignificance.  And one can’t save the world unless it is in crisis.  Every generation has these crises, and they are almost always overblown.  Look at Paul Ehrlich — he has been wrong about 20 times.  He said a billion people would die of starvation by 1980.  He is just about never right, but people still lap up every thing he says.  Because folks like him give people a sense of mission.  And when you demonstrate to them that there is no crisis, they are not relieved (as one would expect someone to be when they find a crisis does not exist) — they are angry that you took their mission away from them.

What do you think is causing temperature changes on a scale never seen before?

Wow, you really are brainwashed.  You have an assumption that we are seeing temperature changes on a scale never seen before, and so skeptics must start from this.  But in fact the runup in temperatures from 1978-1998 that is the main “proof” of global warming is similar in scale and slope and duration to at least two other temperature increases between 1850 and 1950 which most definitely were not of anthropogenic origins.  See here:   http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/03/oh-maybe-ocean-occilations-are-important.html.  There are many issues with which reasonable people can disagree, but your contention about temperature increases being unprecedented is simply wrong and accepted as wrong by about everyone.

What did you think to the results of Copenhagen?

*shrug*  Copenhagen had little to do with climate and was much about lesser developed nations trying to extract money from wealthier nations.  Climate was just a pretext — do you really think Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez care about climate change?

Why do governments seem so concerned with the issue?

The fear of man-made catastrophic climate change gives government officials their best leverage since the repudiation of communism to substantially increase the power of themselves and their government.

If fossil fuels will run out anyway, surely we should move to find alternatives. Why not now?

You are welcome to.  Entrepreneurs around the world have been trying to do so for decades.  Wealth beyond measure is there for the person or company who is able to do it.  What are you going to do to speed it up if such a huge incentive already exists?  The government sometimes feels like it can just have its way and wish things into being.  It never works.If the technology is not ready, no amount of government prodding or mandating will make it ready.  All we will get is more wasted spending and more dead-end technology investments and more public funds poured into the hands of the politically connected.  Why hurry if we are not ready?  There are still fossil fuels for decades.  Why increase the costs to every consumer to hurry this transition to no purpose?

There are perhaps a billion people in the world, particularly in Asia, on the verge of emerging from poverty.  They are only able to do so by burning every fossil fuel they can get their hands on.  The alternatives that exist today are rich people’s toys, expensive sources of power that we can afford because they ease our guilt somehow.  The poor don’t have this luxury.

Even if it is not guaranteed that manmade emissions are to blame, wouldn’t it be wise to act anyway? It’s a hell of a gamble to our children’s future.

Should we spend a trillion dollars on space lasers in case of an alien invasion of Earth? Why not, its a hell of a gamble to our children’s future.  We can’t go pre-emptively fix every low-probability problem just because someone claims it might be a catastrophe.  Why fix a hypothetical environmental problem when there are 10 other real ones impacting people today that we are ignoring.

The statement you are making only makes sense if the transition if free or low cost.  But substantially eliminating fossil fuel use is tremendously expensive.  In fact, it is more expensive at this point with current technology than anything the world has ever done.  Folks who claim the costs are low are either ignorant or lying.  Every major economy will see trillions of dollars of lost output.  But forget the rich nations.  Remember the billion people emerging from poverty.  Strong world action will essentially consign these people to stay in poverty.  Do you want your kids 1 degree cooler at the cost of putting a billion people into poverty?  It is not the simple question you make it out to be.

Don’t we have a duty to protect or planet for future generations?(i.e. save it from deforestation, pollution etc)

Sure, but as I stated above, we have all kinds of duties to future generations, and not all of them have to do with the environment.  But I would argue that the current obsession with small changes to trace levels of CO2 in the atmosphere has in fact gutted the environmental movement.  Nothing else is getting done.  Take deforestation.  My personal interest is in protecting wilderness, and my charity of choice is land trusts that preserve the Amazon.  But do you know the #1 cause of deforestation in the Amazon over the last decade?  It was the Brazilian ethanol program, which is supposed to be fighting CO2, but now has been shown to do little or nothing for CO2 and it is incentivizing farmers to clear the Amazon to plant more switchgrass and other ethanol crops.  Ditto in the US, where ethanol programs are raising food prices and adding to deforestationI would argue that CO2 is not even in the top 10 worst environmental problems in the world.  Take clean water in Africa, which I do consider a top 10 problem.  The only way Africans are going to get clean water is from using cheap energy to pump and treat water, cheap energy whose only really realistic source is from fossil fuels.

My prediction– 10-20 years from now, environmentalists are going to look back on the current global warming hysteria as the worst thing ever to happened to the environmental movement.
Further comments

Again, this is very off the cuff.  I really delve into the science here:  http://www.climate-skeptic.com/2010/01/catastrophe-denied-the-science-of-the-skeptics-position.html

SOME CONCLUDING THOUGHTS
OK, so every one of these questions are probing – they are hitting at perceived weaknesses in the skeptic’s position.  Fine, it is good when the media is critical.  But compare the questions above to the total softballs lobbed at alarmists.

IF YES

How bad is climate change at the moment?
What did you think to the results of Copenhagen?
Is it increasing at an uncontrollable rate? Or is there still a chance to reduce climate change and alter its predicted course of events?
Do you have any comments on the recent e-mail leak scandal that was publicized?
What do you think about the rising levels of climate change skepticism?
How could and/or will climate change or similarly global warming affect the Middle East region in particular the Arabian peninsula?
What about other vulnerable countries?
What can the average citizen do more or less to help reduce climate change and its impact?
What do you predict will happen to major cities in the world if the problem of global warming is not addressed immediately?
How will an increase in global warming change the earth’s natural weather activities i.e. how will people and animals be affected, ecosystems, the weather….
How can we move forward on this issue?
Are you confident we can find a solution?
What are the chances of a new technology saving us? (for example, carbon capture)
Is carbon trading effectively passing the buck? Does it actually help

Only one is arguably critical — the one about the CRU emails — and look at the softball way in which it is asked.  The journalists here make no secret of which side they are one.

Elevator Speech

In business communications training, we were taught to think about the “elevator version” of the point we were trying to make.  If we were on an elevator alone with the CEO and had 30-seconds to make our pitch, what would we say.

Richard Lindzen, in his presentation at the Heartland Conference, has the best short (100-ish word) summary of the core of many skeptics’ concerns with catastrophic AGW theory that I have seen for a while:

Here are two statements that are completely agreed on by the IPCC. It is crucial to be aware of these facts and of their implications.

  1. A doubling of CO2, by itself, contributes only about 1C to greenhouse warming. All models project more warming, because, within models, there are positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds, and these feedbacks are considered by the IPCC to be uncertain.
  2. If one assumes all warming over the past century is due to anthropogenic greenhouse forcing, then the derived sensitivity of the climate to a doubling of CO2is less than 1C. The higher sensitivity of existing models is made consistent with observed warming by invoking unknown additional negative forcings from aerosols and solar variability as arbitrary adjustments.

These concerns form the core of my most recent video.

Climate Issues in Der Spiegel

I am late on this but I only finally read the entire article on climate science issues in Der Spiegel.  The article is a good but not great update on various issues and controversies in climate science, but considering its source it represents a pretty amazing watershed.  While the questions are a bit soft, they are coming from a quarter where questioning of any sort on the topic of climate science was verboten.