Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Is AGW "proven?"

A reader asks (in a comment below on the Is Climate Change Man Made post):

Doc - I am not a scientist, rather a regular Joe concerned that we are uprooting our entire economic system due to unsubstantiated research. If any reasonable person with an open mind should accept the argument that scientists have put forth......why are there so many credible scientists that make strong and logical arguments discounting your claim?
You really do sound like an anti-capitalism - political activist versus a pure scientist.

How do you explain all of the DRASTIC climate changes our planet has experienced before humans?

I am like many other average citizens that do not know who to believe. I just know it has not been proven that man is THE ONLY EXPLANATION for GW.

Hi Skeptical Joe

Good question.
"So many credible scientists". Well, not so many actually. There are a few. Lindzen is a skeptical climate scientist. There are a few others. There are some petitions of scientists, like the Manhattan Declaration people, but if you look at the back story, you find that the list withers away like a snowball in a warm kitchen. George Monbiot has just done this, well worth a read.

Much of the skeptical stuff is just sand thrown in the air. It is highly effective, and they are having huge success just now, so the journalists are saying "the scientists manipulated the data". The facts are otherwise.

The stock in trade of the skeptics' armoury is to pick up one point - Medieval Warm Pariod, Ice Age Lag, Hockey stick, emails, any inconsistency, and announce "This proves global warming is not man-made" - as if their one piece of data overthrows the whole mass of evidence that the community of climate scientists have been putting together over the last 30 years. It does nothing of the sort. To refute the theory, they need to show how modern temperatures can be explained without the input of anthropogenic (man-made) greenhouse gases. This they have not done. If they were serious scientists, they would have done so by now. They only have to input valid data into the models. There is even a model on-line that they can play with.

I just know it has not been proven that man is THE ONLY EXPLANATION for GW.

What the general public - and quite a few scientists - do not understand is that science is always in a state of amendment. That is normal for science. They take a lot of convincing. It took 20 years and 20,000 scientific papers to "prove" that smoking causes lung cancer. In fact, everyone is surprised to know that there is no "proof" in science. The best any theory can achieve is "not-yet-disproven". There comes a time when the theory is so durable, such as evolution, or smoking causes lung cancer, that there is no point in anyone, even scientists in the pay of the tobacco lobby, arguing any more. AGW is now in that position.

Your statement is not correct. Anthropogenic is the only satisfactory explanation for the temperatures that we are experiencing today.

Why then do the skeptics persist? Well, the tobacco saga is a good model. The tobacco industry did exactly that the oil industry is doing now - they put up a series of skeptics, and kept the scientist busy for years, thus delaying the political clampdown on tobacco - health warnings &c.

Which brings us onto your statement:
You really do sound like an anti-capitalism - political activist versus a pure scientist.

I am a political activist. I am trained in the science of medicine, and have an amateur (in the sense of someone who loves) interest in philosophy.

I am not anti-capitalist in the rock-throwing sense, and I am happy for people to use their capital to set up enterprises (so long as they do no harm), but the market has to be guided, not free to do as it Carter-Rucking well pleases.

What happens is this: scientists try to establish a reasonable approximation to the truth.
When the scientific community has consensus on a topic that is of importance to humanity, they brief the politicians. When the politicians are persuaded, they make policies designed to address the problem. Standard stuff.

There comes a time when decisions have to be made. That time is now.

The reason that the skeptics are so persistent is that they are driven by the ideology of the free market. They cannot accept AGW, because what flows from AGW is action of the kind that is slowly, painfully slowly, forming up at Copenhagen. Global agreements to put an environmental price on carbon. This cuts across their profound belief in the free market. They cannot abide a guided market. Therefore AGW is wrong. From this flows their obsessive critique of the science, and their claim that every detail that they can cherry pick disproves the whole body of scientific work.

So, yes, I am a glad to have a political ideology that takes as its starting point humanity within nature - the ecological world view. Although it has few official adherents in the global community of Green Parties, it is a philosophy that has many many adherents, though most do not know one end of philosophy from another - most people work on gut feelings. That's OK.

There is an ideological clash brewing behind the free market fundamentalism and the ecological world view.

Final point: even if AGW should be shown wrong, decarbonisation is still the best option, on a blind choice basis.

I could go on, but that's enough. I responded in full because you sounded as if you are genuinely seeking clarification. Please take time to click on the climate change tab below to cover all the other aspects.

Thanks for commenting.

18 comments:

Adrian Windisch said...

For your entertainment;
Sara Palin reveals her sceptical thoughts here
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/12/08/AR2009120803402_pf.html

John Redwood here
http://www.johnredwoodsdiary.com/2007/03/09/the-global-warming-swindle/

Kaihsu Tai said...

What a wonderful post: balanced yet insightful, comprehensive yet concise, and getting right to the heart of the matter. Congratulations, Richard, and thank you.

DocRichard said...

Thanks Adrian. I began to look at John Redwood, but got interrupted by the affairs of meat-space (or should that be vegetable space). I was interested to note his extensive knowledge of, and interest in, conditions on Mars.

Khaisu,
Thank you. One bouquet is worth more than 1,000 brickbats. And I have had about that number of ad homs on the Daily Mail list.

Who else in the Party is out there countering the skeptics on the discussion boards? It is very educational. It's a bit like being the school boy who played 2 Grand Masters at chess simultaneously, and beat one of them, because he copied the moves of one of them onto the other one. They go off to the skeptick boards, and bring out the objections - I see the Mastodon in the Tundra is the current factoid that overthrows thousands of scientific papers.

The key to debating with climate sckepticks is ride above the ad homs. Love Your Enemy is the biggest challenge of all.

At least one factor behind their aggressiveness is fear, sense of threat. Their human right to drive their 4x4 is not secure. Actually, I dont think that is among the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Have to look it up.

I suspect that the antipathy between the two groups is actually holding back the science; not just in the sense of diverting them from their studies, but also in blinding them to such valid points that come from the sensible critics.


Khaisu, do you get Philosophy Now? There is a Dutch philosopher writing in it regularly, or was a couple of years ago, forget his name, who did epistemology, created the idea of "warrant". I never did understand that.

Must go

R

jtylerb said...

You say that evidence has been collected for 30 years but it was barely over 30 years ago that scientists were scaring people about the coming ice age. You also say that even if AGW is proven wrong "decarbonisation" is still the best option. Is it when it could cost the world, mostly the Western world, trillions of dollars? Is it when it could ensure the thirld world stays that way? I could go on and on. This is a religion for the AGW faith. AL Gore says the ice pack will disappear in a decade and that a few kilometers under the earth's surface is a "few million" degrees. Come on already. This is all about money, greed and power. Follow the money, there is no science. If there was science than the AGW faith would be disproving other ideas and there is no concern for that evidently. What about the fact that historical warming lags CO2 increases, what about the fact that measurement devices have been plagued with urban sprawl heating, what about water vapor, what about deep ocean currents, what about the fact that you use polar bear population decline when it has grown five fold in twenty-five years? On and on and on. You don't bankrupt the world on bias and politics. Why don't you AGW folks stop having children if you are soooo concerned? You don't want your own life to change but that of the other billions of people around the globe. If you are right than presumably we all day and the earth restores itself. I would think that might make your faith happy, a natural cleansing.

Charles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Charles said...

You mention that this science has been around for 30 years. The fundamental basics of calculus took centuries to be established and agreed upon. You also mention that skeptics can just plug numbers into models online. We do not believe you are lying about what your models predict, we believe that your models are entirely flawed, both mathematically and scientifically. When you say that skeptics throw sand in the air and merely pick one thing to show how the entire science is faulty, that is not so. We merely do things one step at a time, and the point is not to show that the science is faulty. The point is that if a "scientist" can support the hockey stick graph, especially when it is contradicted by the man who created it, the cannot be think rationally, logically, nor scientifically. If they fail to bow to reason in one area, why should they be expected to do it elsewhere.

I too am interested in Philosophy. Hopefully, you have also read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or have at least heard of G.K. Chesterton (writer of "Orthodoxy". If so, you are familiar with the idea that there are always an infinite number of possible hypothesis. Fortunately, in the area of climate science, we do not have to check every possible hypothesis to say that anthropogenic global warming is the only option, because it is not. There are many other explanations for global warming that can account for the same data, and these options do not hold the same number of inconsistencies. To believe otherwise is self-denial.

Lastly, there is one thing you said that is quite true. Skeptics as a group are quite afraid. Afraid not for our unalienable right of liberty (the right to drive a 4x4), but that the psuedo-scientific-political movement behind AGW will dismantle the world economy, debilitating the progress of all countries and harming all people, by forcing a lie down the throats of all those believed by "scientists" to be stupid, ignorant, bigoted, and naive (a.k.a. people like me). You should also feel a similar fear, because the majority of people disbelieve which, if you are correct, would destroy not only humanity, but the world. From your calm demeanor and patronizing tone, I take you to be very smug, possibly fanatical as well.

Dangerous doug said...

First time I have seen your site, and thought your answer to the poster was balanced and respectful to the inquirer. I to saw the nature of the inquiry, and thought it worth your reply. What is sad is some of the comments who still cannot see their position objectively. For instance, where did one bloke get the idea of polar bears increasing fivefold? The heartland group? I, and you, of course, and some of your other commentors, could go on, because these peoples ignorance is so frustrating. Here in Australia we have the CSIRO, and numerous other organisations, yet so many people rely on the ies of Ian Plimer. Sheesh!

Aaron Freed said...

I like that decarbonization point you made. I figure we can start by decarbonizing the political class first, since they pollute things so much. Isn't it time they take one for the team!

P Fincher said...

Doc,
You say that skeptical scientist like to pick and prod at one point to shoot down the AGW theory but the last time I checked it only takes one hole in a theory to have it disproven. Also you state that they cannot explain the rise in global temperature with including man induced carbon emission even though there are several other theories that do just that; solar influence and cyclic effect. I do not profess to have more knowledge than you on this subject but it seems from an outsiders perspective that these changes for which you lobby will lead to a dramatic shift of both power and wealth. In the case of you political persuasion , the result of such statues will result in a power shift. In the case of former Vice President Al Gore, he will become very wealthy from this which will also lend itself to him being a more power and influential man in the world. From a personal perspective this seem unethical. I do not want it to seem as if I am putting down the way in which you live your life and would not want to interfere with that choice . All that I ask is that you have the same respect for those who do not share your belief, that is all that it is right now, by forcing us to lower our standards of living and bare the burden of the cost for the changes that you feel need to be made.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charles,

I'm a post-graduate in the field of Psychology from Lewis and Clarke in Portland, Oregon (greenest city in America, yay, not saying much but a point never the less)...

But I have only one question to really pose to that whole notion of "liberty and rights" you brought up.

What gives you the right to consume all limited resources with reckless abandon in the name of consumerism all the while waving the flag of personal 'liberty' in everyone's face? Furthermore, everyone (and in most cases including the consumer) know that this will be at the sake of countless generations of human existence in the future.

This is peripheral to the AGW point at hand, but reflects the mentality of the environmentalist vs consumerist.

One's focus directed towards 'others' (earth and future generations) and the others is purely self (self, current human culture and consuming lifestyle).

The issue at hand is that I have a hard time seeing a valid argument behind a lot of skeptics or consumerists because for the most [art they are solely caring about themselves or their lifestyle when in debate. There's a classic case of a vested interest in this scientific debate.

A lot of skeptics even go to great lengths accusing environmental scientists of being self-serving or somehow using it as a 'cash cow' for financing and grants.

It goes to show how convoluted consumerism is as a mentality: People that embrace it cannot see past being 'wealthy' or 'the best' and 'bigger' then the next guy... Ironically enough, they also refuse to believe that any other human, organization or country could possibly have a different agenda, and attack it as a desperate masquerade in disguise to collect what they hold most dear - money.

That is a self-serving bias if I ever saw one.

What this all boils down to, is that environmentalists in principle care for more then themselves or current lifestyle, and that in my book gives them far more credibility in this science debate then consumerists.

-Tim Lewis

Anonymous said...

Sir - Thank you for your relatively non-inflammatory article, but you lost me on "the market has to be guided, not free to do as it Carter-Rucking well pleases".

With all due respect, Milton Friedman I and disagree with you, for one very basic reason: Who will "Guide"?

Do you seriously think that any politically appointed committee or politically elected representative can can even POSSIBLY look after the welfare of numerous individual actors better than they can themselves? Do you further think that such a body or person could possibly have the RIGHT do so so, under threat of force????

Is freedom a lost cause????

Charles said...

First off, I would like to apologize. Although I still believe everything I said, I also think that I was rather rude, when so far this has been a rather respectful blog.

In response to Tim Lewis, you say that environmentalists are not selfish, and that consumers are. This is not true in the slightest; you yourself, in the first several sentences, brag about living in the greenest town. Although I will admit that there is nothing wrong with that, you have good reason to feel proud, the fact that you feel proud at all indicates that you receive some satisfaction from being green. Because you don't just live there, but want to tell other people that you live there, that indicates that you, on some level, want to receive something from others in order to feel gratification. True, just mentioning something like that as you did is of little importance to the entire "environmentalist" movement, but that sort of behavior is typical. It can be found in bumper stickers, t-shirts, commercials, and much more. Being green is not entirely selfless.

On another level, environmentalism is not really about the environment. The earth will still exist, no matter what we do as humans. In the worst case scenario, we destroy most life, kill our entire species, and ruin the landscape. At that point, the world would be as it was many many millennia ago. Some species would survive, and, by necessity, evolve, carrying life in a new direction. This, by itself, is neither positive or negative, unless human morals and desires are applied. If Global Warming escalates as predicted, it means only the end of OUR species, and the end of the world as WE know it. Don't get me wrong, I don't want to see the human species disappear, but the earth, life, and time do not care. Only we care.

As such, skeptics are disagreeing with helping humanity, we do not believe that AGW is a true threat to humanity. Furthermore, we believe that the AGW movement itself is an even more alarming, credible, and ominous threat.

Also, Liberty is the founding principle of this country. It is in the first sentence of the Declaration of Independence, next to life and the pursuit of happiness. It is not commonly taught, but in the early drafts of the Declaration, and in other works that inspired it, the pursuit of happiness was actually written as "property". Liberty is defined as the ability for one to act according to his will, and a 4x4 most certainly counts as property. So, according to the Founding Fathers, I have the right to drive an SUV. I would agree though that there is a line that should not be crossed, where pursuing one's "Liberty" infringes on the freedom and health of others. Consuming all the limited resources of the planet with reckless abandon would certainly cross that line; however to think that I, or anyone else for that matter, is doing so is to assume a great deal about me, everyone you accuse, and the resources that exist, and to assume only makes an ass out of u and me.

In reality, I am an Eagle Scout who cares much about conservation, and community service. I am a Catholic, who believes in selflessness and humility (although I will admit quite readily that I am far from such characteristics). So far, I have not seen any proof of AGW, and most times that someone presents to me new evidence, that evidence makes the science seem all the more ridiculous. I have, however, seen staggering evidence to the destructive force of erosion, over hunting, and under hunting. I also have observed much proof in many places of the danger in thinking humans can control and manage nature.

DocRichard said...

Jtylerb

You say that evidence has been collected for 30 years but it was barely over 30 years ago that scientists were scaring people about the coming ice age.

RL: arising from the cooling global temperatures now attributed to aerosols. The scientist behind that scenario had the grace to admit he was wrong.


You also say that even if AGW is proven wrong "decarbonisation" is still the best option. Is it when it could cost the world, mostly the Western world, trillions of dollars?

RL: The investment will be in the order of the bank bailout. The big difference is that rather than shovelling money into a black hole caused by gambling debts, we will be investing in technology that will be a boon to future generations.

Is it when it could ensure the thirld world stays that way?
RL: Au contraire. Most TW countries are hot, so solar technologies will
improve their economies.

This is a religion for the AGW faith.
RL: I need to address this one. ON my ToDo list.

This is all about money, greed and power. Follow the money, there is no science. If there was science than the AGW faith would be disproving other ideas and there is no concern for that evidently.

RL: Not sure what you are saying. Exxon is threatened by decarb, so pays its lobbyists. Governments want the best advice, so pay the climate scientists. IPCC advisors work for nothing.


What about the fact that historical warming lags CO2 increases,
RL: http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2009/11/durkins-great-global-warming-swindle.html

what about the fact that measurement devices have been plagued with urban sprawl heating,
RL: http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/darwin-airport-skeptic-point-rebuttal.html
what about water vapor, what about deep ocean currents, what about the fact that you use polar bear population decline when it has grown five fold in twenty-five years? On and on and on.

RL: what you have are a myriad of cherry picked discrete points, many (your bear point, and the volcano point) erroneous.

What the scientist have is a broad, integrated, tested picture based on thousands of scholarly papers.


You don't bankrupt the world on bias and politics.
RL: And you do not wreck a world on the basis of corporate profitability and a "Hear no evil" attitude to science.

Why don't you AGW folks stop having children if you are soooo concerned?
You don't want your own life to change but that of the other billions of people around the globe. If you are right than presumably we all day [die] and the earth restores itself. I would think that might make your faith happy, a natural cleansing.
RL: I know, you are angry. Nearly all skeptics are. These concepts are threatening, and there are parts of the science (like tipping points) that I would rather not know about. Believe me, I wish you were right, I really do. But the facts are otherwise.

DocRichard said...

Charles

There are an infinite number of hypotheses, but only one planet. We have been conducting a huge experiment on the planet. Scientists have detected what is going on by observations.

There comes a time when doctors have to stop the diagnostic process and start treating.

For the vast majority of scientists and leaders, that time has now come. For a tiny minority of dissident scientists and a vociferous minority of commentors, that time will never come, because a meaningful response to global warming is incompatible with the ideology of free market fundamentalism.

DocRichard said...

P Fincher
Also you state that they cannot explain the rise in global temperature with including man induced carbon emission even though there are several other theories that do just that; solar influence and cyclic effect.

RL: not so
http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/sunspot-theory-fatally-flawed.html

This debate really is about economics, not science. I will deal with that in a blog soon.

Thanks to all commentators.

DocRichard said...

P Frincher
Doc,

You say that skeptical scientist like to pick and prod at one point to shoot down the AGW theory but the last time I checked it only takes one hole in a theory to have it disproven.
RL: No, the theory may be modified in the light of new evidence. Only if the evidence is overwhelmingly incompatible with theory is it overthrown.


Also you state that they cannot explain the rise in global temperature with including man induced carbon emission even though there are several other theories that do just that; solar influence and cyclic effect.
RL: Interested to hear that. Please give us a reference. I have been looking for just that. I would have thought that it would have been included in their letter to the uN.
http://greenerblog.blogspot.com/2009/12/agw-skeptics-dec-9-un-letter-rebuttal.html

DocRichard said...

To Anonymous "freedom a lost cause??
I will address this in a blog bpost. Stick around.

To Tim Lewis:
Right on!

DocRichard said...

Charles, thank you for the apology. I am so used to ad homs on the Daily Mail board that I no longer notice it. Not on the board anyway. I tend to react more in meat space.