Friday, September 15, 2017

How long will BBC R4 Today argue that the climate skeptics' parrot is just pining for the fjords?

I'm looking forward to next week, when I should get a reply from the Assistant Producer of the Today BBC morning programme, since it is a month ago that I sent this to them. They usually allow a month to turn their correspondence around.

[Update 22/09/2017] Today's email: Dear Mr Neal

I do not seem to have received a reply to my email of one month ago. If your reply has somehow gone astray, then I would be grateful if you would send a copy, because this is a very serious topic that has been dragging on and very much needs to be brought to a final conclusion, so that we can all move on.

Many thanks

Richard Lawson

Original email:

Dear Mr Neal

Thank you for your email of 21/8/17.

You argue that "you may disagree with the position Lord Lawson takes on this issue, but his stance is an important one and is reflected, for example, in the current US administration which has distanced itself from the Paris Agreement." There is no merit to this argument. You would not give airtime to an advocate of sexism on because President Trump is a pussy grabber, or a Nazi on because the President thinks that many Nazis and are fine people. This is no  justification whatsoever. President Trump has no credibility in this or most other matters.

Your central argument is that of "balance".

You do not bring on a creationist every time evolution is mentioned. You do not bring on a denier of the smoking/cancer link every time that link is mentioned. Why not? Because the debate is over in those two cases. The vested interests (Church and tobacco companies) put up a brave fight, deploying the same techniques that the fossil fuel lobby is now deploying - playing up the uncertainties within the science. The pro-creation and pro-smoking campaigns delayed acceptance of the truth for a number of years in both cases, but in the end their hypotheses were overthrown by the science. As you know, science does not "prove" things, it disproves them.

It is time now to accept that the hypothesis of the climate change deniers is false.

Their hypothesis is that continuing to add vast quantities of fossil CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security.
The basic facts of the core science are these:
  1. The greenhouse effect is real. Without it, the average surface temperature would be -15*Celsius, instead of the present +15*Celsius.
  2. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, the second most important after water vapour (WV). WV has a dwell time in the atmosphere measured in days, but CO2 is measured in centuries.
  3. CO2 is known to be increasing in the atmosphere, and this increase is known to be due to our burning of fossil carbon.
  4. Our burning of fossil carbon has increased the level of CO2 in the air by 40%.
  5. Already science can attribute the observed increasing frequency of heatwaves, extreme precipitation and powerful hurricanes to the human-caused component of global warming.
The first four of these points are firmly established on fundamental physics. The fifth is an emerging picture, well founded on evidence that increases year by year.
Together, these five points refute the idea that continuing to add CO2 to the atmosphere will not damage the ability of present and succeeding generations to live in comfort and security. However, if you put these facts in a methodical way to a GWPF member, other denier or lukewarmer, you would almost certainly find that they would dodge, obfuscate, counter attack or otherwise deviate from the question.

In the case of lukewarmers, you would find that they might reluctantly, and with qualifications, accept the five points above, but argue that doubling natural levels of CO2 (which is due to at sometime around 2075) would lead only to 2*Celsius of warming at worst. This is an important figure, since it is agreed by both sides; it is at the high end of the range of probability of the lukewarmers, and the low end of accepted range of the scientific community. It is also important as the threshold that scientists say we should not cross. Since are seeing adverse climatological effects at present, about 0.9*C above pre-industrial temperatures, 2*C would definitely not be the trivial change that the lukewarmers try to make out.

It is important to note that the 2*C figure is not a place where warming ends, even in the lukewarmers' belief system; all they are aguing is that serious impacts on the planet will take longer to come about. They are arguing in essence that their policies will make our grand children's lives intolerably miserable, rather than the lives of our children. This is not a defensible position.
There are many other points that can be made to show that the lukewarmers' and deniers' position is refuted by the facts. In the end, theirs is not a scientific position at all. Science creates a coherent picture of what is happening in the world, using the method of discarding disproven claims, and using consilience, the coming together of many different lines of evidence. Climate change deniers present an eclectic range of criticisms and objections, each of which they loudly proclaim as  "the final nail in the coffin of global warming". They have some 50 talking points, which come in an infinite number of variations.

If you insist that is your bounden duty bound to give airtime to climate change deniers like Lord Lawson, please use it actually to test their hypothesis in a systematic and informed way. After all, climatological science has been subject to intense criticism from the deniers for some four decades. Now would be a good time to turn things around and challenge the deniers' hypothesis that further increasing  the greenhouse effect will in no way endanger human security.
I look forward to your considered response to these points. Thank you.
Best wishes

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