A Few Things Ill Considered

Consensus or Collusion?

This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


Objection:

More and more the models share all the same assumptions, so of course they all agree! And every year fewer scientists dare to speak out against the findings of the IPCC, this is a clear indication of the pressure there is to conform.

Answer:

The improving agreement of model results and the increasingly similar physical representations of the climate system from model to model may well look like just sharing code, or tweaking til things look like everyone else. But it is also perfectly consistent with better and better understanding of the underlying problem, an understanding that is shared via scientific journals and research. This understanding is coming very fast as we gather more and more historical and current data, all of which provides more testing material for model refinement.

Looking at the increasing agreement among the climate models and the climate scientists and seeing collusion instead of consensus is quite a dramatic take on what is really just the normal course of scientific investigation. I suppose that fewer and fewer scientists disagreeing with the status quo is indeed consistent with some kind of widespread and insidious suppression of ideas, but you know, it is also consistent with having the right answer.


This is just one of dozens of responses to common climate change denial arguments, which can all be found at How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.


“Consensus or Collusion?” was first published here, where you can still find the original comment thread. This updated version is also posted on the Grist website, where additional comments can be found, though the author, Coby Beck, does not monitor or respond there.

Comments

  1. #1 John
    May 15, 2009

    No global warming agreement means no funding for anyone in the climatology field. No one is putting people in jail for disagreeing, just depriving them of their livelihood. The political and economic pressure is huge, because so many people have staked their political reputation on global warming, and want to delay the inevitable conclusion that they are hypersensationalists.

    What everyone does agree on is that 1. in the laboratory, increase CO2 increases trapped heat, 2. There is more CO2 in the environment due to our burning of fossil fuels. What is not agreed upon is 1. what if any (other than marginal) effect on CO2 emissions human efforts will have, 2. How much the earth will warm if at all, and what effects it will have(clear for 15 deg, not so much for 1.5 deg), and 3. Is it economically viable to derail our world economy to act on fanboy global warming predictions that are often wildly inaccurate and exaggerated.

    The only thing we know is that in the laboratory in a controlled environment, CO2 traps heat. It is scientifically irresponsible to represent that you have accurately extrapolated this to our infinitely complex global climate, then make unfounded extreme predictions, and then trick the politicians into representing these conclusions as absolutely unassailable.

    I do plasma physics research, by the way, and i don’t politicize science to advance my point of view.

  2. #2 coby
    May 15, 2009

    John,

    What would you accept as solid evidence that a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere will raise global temperatures around 3oC?

  3. #3 Chris
    May 16, 2009

    I can’t speak for John, but I’m pretty sure the only answer to that question for a real scientist is: “a 3oC rise in global temperature that can be shown to be the direct effect of a doubling of CO2.” Or, in lieu of that, (though even this is non optimal) a large set of experimental data: global temperature change vs global CO2 concentration, whose trend (assuming there is one) can be extrapolated to get the above result. Like anything, CO2, as our independent variable, must be isolated. That is, nothing else can be changing.

    Right now, we have no ‘evidence’ for what you have posted, Coby. There are guesses and estimates, all well intentioned and reasoned. But there are many many unknown factors in climate. Those we do know about undoubtedly interact in ways we do not currently appreciate. We may have incorrectly taken some of those factors in to account. The extreme degree of coupling in these natural systems makes isolation and analysis of a single factor nearly impossible. Does this mean we shouldn’t try? No. But what is going on today is nearly farcical.

    Let me put it this way: AGW, as a theory, has failed. A scientific theory, to be accepted as true (or approximately true) must explain past phenomena, predict future phenomena, and be falsifiable by experiment.

    The extent to which AGW theory explains past phenomena is debatable. It certainly did not provide an immediate sense of new understanding, as do other new theories that turn out to be right. I will not discuss this point in detail now, but it would be misleading to say that AGW theory has allowed us to better understand past climate. All its really done is attribute the observed changes in temperature to a different factor.

    AGW theory has, so far, been a poor predictor of future phenomena. Many of its more popular predictions have failed to come about in the real world. Hurricanes have not gotten worse, sea level rise has not accelerated, etc. Perhaps these are just things the media hyped. Still, none of the dire predictions have materialized, and few if any of the mundane ones have.

    And that brings us to the third point: falsifiability. To the extent that AGW can be falsified by current measurements, it has been. Of course over the next ten years temperatures may rise sharply and prove me wrong and the theory, if not right, in a little better standing. But so far that has not happened. CO2 has risen steadily, and temperatures have not. Is this just weather noise? Perhaps. It becomes less likely with every passing day though. It is disturbing to see that so many people choose to believe that their ‘true’ theory is currently hiding behind noise, instead of modifying or abandoning what appears to be a (currently) untenable hypothesis. What’s even more troubling is that nobody has, as far as I know, advanced an explanation for our current cooling. Nobody can explain it. The models didn’t predict it, though they’re really not built to. Why not pour money in to developing short term climate models? Something that can predict five to twenty years out? Why not try and explain the ‘noise’ that’s making skeptics out of new people every day? It would certainly help your case, Coby, if people like Gavin and Mann over at RC could explain cooling as well as warming. But this is not done. It is almost certainly because the mechanisms behind the observed cooling are not well understood. This is a large blow to the theory, because it suggests that there are other significant processes in the climate system that we are unaware of or take improper account of.

    Could AGW theory be correct? Maybe. But with the evidence at hand, it looks doubtful. The theory can only have a chance at survival if temperatures swing up sharply. Even then, I would need to see some very convincing studies to believe that we have isolated CO2 increases as the main cause.

  4. #4 Frank Paolino
    December 23, 2009

    I write software now, but I did study Chemistry, and I know that water vapor is a greenhouse gas that contributes between 50% and 800% more than CO2. So isn’t it 1/2 to 8 times more dangerous? Why is this not discussed?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greenhouse_gas

  5. #5 Dappledwater
    December 23, 2009

    “Why is this not discussed?” – Frank Paolino

    Discussed plenty in the IPCC reports. Water vapor discussed here too:

    http://scienceblogs.com/illconsidered/2006/02/climate-scientists-hide-water-vapor.php

  6. #7 PaulinMI
    December 24, 2009

    Well here’s one which does not conform >

    Would one of you more knowledgable folks care to enlighten the rest of us?

    My specific curiosity:
    How does this get into a peer reviewed journal when it seems to say that CO2 has no role in the current warming?

    Based on other comments here, (and the fact that it’s not found elswhere in the press) I would surmise that the journal cited, (Physics Reports) isn’t really a respected publication.

    full disclosure, I found it here:
    http://insciences.org/article.php?article_id=8012

    (Don’t know the leanings of this site)

    WATERLOO, Ont. (Monday, Dec. 21, 2009) – Cosmic rays and chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), both already implicated in depleting the Earth’s ozone layer, are also responsible for changes in the global climate, a University of Waterloo scientist reports in a new peer-reviewed paper.

    In his paper, Qing-Bin Lu, a professor of physics and astronomy, shows how CFCs – compounds once widely used as refrigerants – and cosmic rays – energy particles originating in outer space – are mostly to blame for climate change, rather than carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. His paper, derived from observations of satellite, ground-based and balloon measurements as well as an innovative use of an established mechanism, was published online in the prestigious journal Physics Reports.

    “My findings do not agree with the climate models that conventionally thought that greenhouse gases, mainly CO2, are the major culprits for the global warming seen in the late 20th century,” Lu said. “Instead, the observed data show that CFCs conspiring with cosmic rays most likely caused both the Antarctic ozone hole and global warming. These findings are totally unexpected and striking, as I was focused on studying the mechanism for the formation of the ozone hole, rather than global warming.”

  7. #8 Marco
    December 24, 2009

    @PaulinMI:
    Physics Reports is a high-impact journal, but is a review journal. It’s a bit odd to see something like this presented in a review journal, considering it is the first time Lu (or anyone) links the CFC-ozone breakdown mechanism to global warming.

    I’m presently unable to get the article, so I can’t really see his reasoning. However, I am skeptical, to say the least, since Antarctica has generally not shown much warming, while the arctic has shown most warming. When the ozone hole is somehow responsible for more warming, why is that reflected least right below the place where the ozone hole is worst?

    Moreover, this mechanism doesn’t explain the temperature increase of the interglacials, whereas CO2 + feedback does. The Laschamp excursion shows that GCRs are not a good explanation either.

  8. #9 skip
    December 26, 2009

    I couldn’t get it either, but I would pose this rhetorical question:

    Lets assume these guys have identified a plausible counter-explanation for climate change besides CO2. Should we jump on board and base policy on it?

    I can’t speak for you, Paul, but what I’ve seen with deniers in my experience is what I call the I’ll-believe-its-anything-but-CO2 mentality. Hundreds of studies and an overwhelming consensus among students of climate agrees with the fundamental premise of AGW. But if *one* study suggests otherwise (“Expert X says its cosmic radiation! How you like them apples?”) it is believed without question.

    As for Lu et al: I *hope* they’re right. I would love nothing more that to see a paradigm shift in our understanding of climate in which the overwhelming consensus says, “Relax. Its not that bad. We were wrong before. Atmospheric CO2 is harmless or negligible in its effects.”

    But until that happens, I’m going to still want taxes on fossil fuels and proactive investment in renewable alternatives (I personally think we have a shot at doing big things in solar, but its for a different thread.)

    The moral: Lets *always* invite countering opinions, lets *always* be open to reinterpreting the evidence on AGW, but in the mean time we need to act based on the best evidence we have.

    All of us on the AGW side of the debate have pet peeves. Coby hates the guys who piss and blather about Kyoto or Copenhagen but don’t offer alternatives. I fear Dhogaza might kill the next person who thinks they have the “goods” on the hockey stick.

    But one I really, really personally hate is the inane logic I get from so many deniers that is based on a complete misunderstanding of scientific uncertainty: “Since the AGW position is not absolutely proven, we should make policy on the assumption it is *dis*proven.” Its total bullshit logic and a de facto heads-I-win-tails-you-lose posture. If the consensus showed that CO2 is harmless, no doubt this fact would be parroted by every Exxon-Mobile funded Unthink Tank and neo-con Ayn Randian wannabe, but since it shows the opposite these ideologues retreat into the fog of scientific “uncertainty”.

    The problem with this, of course, is that AGW is either real and dangerous or it isn’t. So cherry picking a handful of dissenting “studies” and “experts” is avoidance and double-think, pure and simple.

  9. #10 Das Boese
    January 13, 2010

    @John:
    No global warming agreement means no funding for anyone in the climatology field.

    That’s a common sentiment among the denier crowd, and one that always leaves me scratching my head.
    Climate science, like many other fields of science (including plasma physics) is basic research, it’s being done regardless of the outcome because it better helps us understand how the world works. It would receive the exact amount of funding it does now if climate scientists found the earth was cooling, or temperatures were stable, because regardless of the nature of its findings, climate has a tangible impact on human life and the global economy.

    Now, that the scientifically illiterate and your average information-deprived laymen don’t know about the nature and organization of scientific research is something I lament, but ultimately understand. Why somebody who’s supposedly doing research in a similarly complex and important field doesn’t get it is beyond me.

    “No one is putting people in jail for disagreeing, just depriving them of their livelihood.”
    Coal/Oil and energy corporations are more than happy to throw boatloads of money at anyone with minimal scientific credentials who can make a covincing case that they can prove AGW wrong, or even disprove some of the expected consequences.

    “The political and economic pressure is huge, because so many people have staked their political reputation on global warming, and want to delay the inevitable conclusion that they are hypersensationalists.”

    As most climate scientists (or just scientists in general, really) have no political aspirations whatsoever, so political reputation is of little concern to them.
    The matter is of course entirely different for politicians, though one arguably might make the case that being an AGW denialist -or even a bible-thumping, anti-science creationist lunatic- is not at all detrimental to a successful political career.

    What does matter to scientists though, including climatologists, is scientific credibility, and that is why they are some of the most cautious, anal-retentive people in the world when it comes to publishing their research.

    What everyone does agree on is that 1. in the laboratory, increase CO2 increases trapped heat, 2. There is more CO2 in the environment due to our burning of fossil fuels.
    These are facts.

    “What is not agreed upon is 1. what if any (other than marginal) effect on CO2 emissions human efforts will have”
    You’ve acknowledged in your previous statement that humans are resposible for increasing atmospheric CO2 levels due to the burning of fossil fuels.
    It stands to reason that stopping to burn fossil fuels will cease to introduce additional CO2 into the carbon cycle.

    “2. How much the earth will warm if at all, and what effects it will have(clear for 15 deg, not so much for 1.5 deg)”
    Some local effects are not quite certain because there are a lot of variables that play into those. However, there is unequivocal agreement that climate change is expected to result in at least 2 degrees of warming within the century, which will have severe implications especially for the poorest nations, but also industrial countries.

    “and 3. Is it economically viable to derail our world economy to act on fanboy global warming predictions that are often wildly inaccurate and exaggerated.

    Two poblem here is, even if some regional consequences of global warming aren’t known to a high degree of certainty due to poorly understood effects on local weather, is that climate change presents a global risk-benefit scenario that is quite certain:

    The benefits of decreasing the use of fossil fuels, even if man-made climate change does not exist, by far outweigh the risks needed to do so.

    “The only thing we know is that in the laboratory in a controlled environment, CO2 traps heat.
    I don’t know how you think science works, but in the real world, a test “in the laboratory in a controlled environment” proving your predictions is pretty much the holy grail.

    “It is scientifically irresponsible to represent that you have accurately extrapolated this to our infinitely complex global climate”
    It’s not infinitely complex, just very complex. Climate scientists know this, that’s why all of the reputabe “predictions” from climate models you see sport error bars.

    “then make unfounded extreme predictions, and then trick the politicians into representing these conclusions as absolutely unassailable.
    Those “extreme” predictions are actually the least serious ones. As mentioned above, scientists in generally are very cautious folk who tend to lowball their predictions. At this point in time, there is no debate that man-made global warming occurs. The debate is wether the effect will be merely bad or truly catastrophic.

    I think we can bot agree that “tricking” politicians into believing anything is merely a matter of money. This sort of straddles the very first argument you made, though very subtly. Doesn’t make it anymore right though. Unfortunately, neither are climate scientists extremely wealthy, nor do they stand to any personal gain from convincing people of their POV. Unlike the currently existing oil/coal/energy corporations and their paid shills.

  10. #11 mandas
    January 13, 2010

    Das Boese
    Welcome onboard. Nice to see a new contributor who makes thoughtful comments.
    Only one criticism though – some posts in these threads are quite old. Best to check the date before responding to someone.
    Cheers

  11. #12 crakar24
    January 26, 2010

    This might not be the right place but here goes:

    First we had climate gate, then we had the farce at copenhagen, then we had Glaciergate, then we had Panchuri (rail road engineer) gate, now we have Amazongate, when will it all end?

    It would appear that the IPCC AR4 report is riddled with non peer reviewed studies, a lot coming from WWF who just so happen to profit from the “end is nigh” mentality. Does any of this trouble you guys or is it all just like water off a ducks back?

  12. #13 Maverick
    November 28, 2011

    “No one is putting people in jail for disagreeing, just depriving them of their livelihood.”
    Coal/Oil and energy corporations are more than happy to throw boatloads of money at anyone with minimal scientific credentials who can make a covincing case that they can prove AGW wrong, or even disprove some of the expected consequences.”

    This is horse caca… Coal/Oil companies still rake in billions. Consumption of Fossil fuels is not decreasing.. its INCREASING.. they could care less about proving AGW a lie, their still making record profits.