Monday, May 28, 2007

A climate skeptic's guest post: Why David Evans bet against Brian Schmidt over global warming
...This evidence was good enough: not conclusive, but why wait until we are absolutely certain when we apparently need to act now? So the idea that carbon emissions were causing global warming passed from the scientific community into the political realm, and actions started to happen. Research increased, bureaucracies were formed, international committees met, and eventually the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 -- with the aim of curbing carbon emissions.

And the political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990's, lots of jobs depended on the idea that carbon emissions caused global warming. Many of them were bureaucratic, but there were a lot of science jobs created too. I was on that gravy train, making a high wage in a science job that would not have existed if we didn't believe carbon emissions caused global warming. And so were lots of people around me; and there were international conferences full of such people. And we had political support, the ear of government, big budgets, and we felt fairly important and useful (well, I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet!

But starting in about 2000, the last three of the four pieces of evidence outlined above fell away or reversed....

...A credible alternative suspect now exists. Clouds both reflect incoming radiation (albedo) and prevent heat from escaping (greenhouse), but with low clouds the albedo effect is stronger than the greenhouse effect. Thus low clouds cause net cooling (high clouds are less common and do the opposite). In October 2006 a team led by Henrik Svensmark showed experimentally that cosmic rays affect cloud formation, and thus that

Stronger sun's magnetic field

=> Less cosmic rays hit Earth

=> Fewer low clouds are formed

=> Earth heats up.

And indeed, the sun's magnetic field has been stronger than usual for the last three decades. So maybe cosmic rays cause global warming. But investigation of this cause is still in its infancy, and it's far too early to judge how much of the global warming is caused by cosmic rays.

So three of the four arguments that convinced me in 1999 that carbon emissions caused global warming are now questionable....

...By 2000 the political system had responded to the strong scientific case that carbon emissions caused global warming by creating thousands of bureaucratic and science jobs aimed at more research and at curbing carbon emissions. This was a good and sensible response by big government to what science was telling them.

But after 2000 the evidence for carbon emissions gradually got weaker -- better temperature data for the last century, more detailed ice core data, then laboratory evidence that cosmic rays precipitate low clouds. Future evidence might strengthen or further weaken the carbon emissions hypothesis. At what stage of the weakening should the science community alert the political system that carbon emissions might not be the main cause of global warming? None of the new evidence actually says that carbon emissions are definitely not the cause of global warming, there are lots of good science jobs potentially at stake, and if the scientific message wavers then it might be difficult to recapture the attention of the political system later on. What has happened is that most research effort since 2000 has assumed that carbon emissions were the cause, and the alternatives get much less research or political attention....

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Greenhousers Strike Back and Out
I began this series of critiques of the greenhouse fearmongers with an evocation of the papal indulgences of the Middle Ages as precursors of the "carbon credits"-ready relief for carbon sinners, burdened, because all humans exhale carbon, with original sin. In the Middle Ages they burned heretics, and after reading through the hefty pile of abusive comments and supposed refutations of my initial article on global warming I'm fairly sure that the critics would be only to happy to cash in whatever carbon credits they have and torch me without further ado....

...The greenhousers endlessly propose that the consensus of "scientists" on anthropogenic climate change is overwhelming. By scientists they actually mean computer modelers. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and their computer-modeling coterie include very few real climatologists or atmospheric physicists. Among qualified climatologists, meteorologists and atmospheric physicists, there are plenty who do not accept the greenhousers' propositions. Many others have been intimidated into silence by the pressures of grants, tenure and kindred academic garottes.

Peer review, heavily overworked in the rebuttals I have been reading, is actually a topic on which the greenhousers would do well to keep their mouths shut, since, as the University of Virginia's Pat Michaels has shown, the most notorious sentence in the IPCC's 1996 report ("The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate") was inserted at the last minute by a small faction on the IPCC panel after the scientific peer-review process was complete. Here's how Dr Fred Goldberg describes the probable culprit, Professor Bert Bolin, a politically driven Swede who was the first chairman of the IPCC, from 1988 to 1998. Goldberg's very interesting paper is entitled, "Has Bert Bolin fooled us all concerned climate change caused by humans?":

"In 1995 IPCC presented its second report: The Science of Climate Change". In this report a large number of researchers work through hundreds of scientific reports and delivers a comprehensive report where they conclude that there is no evidence that human beings have had an influence on the climate. This conclusion is of course very important for politicians and policymakers around the world. But what happened? The editor of the IPCC ­report then deleted or changed the text in 15 different sections of chapter 8 (The key chapter concerning whether human influence exists or not) which had been agreed upon by the panel of contributors involved in compiling the document. In practice politicians and policymakers only read the so-called Executive Summary for Policy Makers. In this document consisting of a few pages it is clearly stated that humans have influenced the climate, contrary to the conclusions of the scientific report.

"Professor Fredrik Seitz, former chairman of the American Science Academy, wrote in the Wall Street Journal already the 12th of June 1996 about a major deception on global warming: "I have never before witnessed a more disturbing corruption of the peer-review process than the events that led to this IPCC report." He gave many examples of changes and redefinitions and finished by demanding that the IPCC process should be abandoned.

"Had somebody subordinate to Bert Bolin within IPCC made these changes it is reasonable to think that Bert Bolin himself would correct the errors. That he has not done is why I draw the conclusion that it must be Bert Bolin himself who is responsible for the changes and no subordinate person has dared interfere with his boss."...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Gore Outrage on Larry King: Some Inconvenient Facts
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Vice President Al Gore, what issues caused by climate change globally are likely to affect the United States security in the next 10 years?


GORE: You know, even a one-meter increase, even a three-foot increase in sea level would cause tens of millions of climate refugees.

...FACT 1. There is not one shred of evidence in the refereed scientific literature speaking of a three-foot increase in sea level in ten years. The best estimates from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change range from 0.8 to 1.7 INCHES.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Measuring the political temperature
Today’s ‘global warming story’ – where the moral is always that we should calculate every bit of carbon we use – owes more to the anxious zeitgeist than scientific findings.

...But there is another way to approach this question, which is to look at the political circumstances in which climatic science is produced, a process that also has its own laws and patterns. It is strange, at a time when the social construction of science is an established idea (Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes science’s progress through ‘paradigms’, is on every undergraduate’s reading list) that nobody thinks to look at the social construction of global warming theories. Global warming science is being produced in highly febrile times; and history tells us that the more the political temperature rises, the more science’s view of nature is distorted....

...Yet global warming also plays a teleological role: it provides a decisive point towards which history is heading, and provides an overall meaning for events. A decade-and-a-half after Francis Fukuyama announced the ‘end of history’, environmentalists have apparently found an occasion to which we must rise. The impending ‘climate crisis’, and our need to respond, is the first post-political narrative that has aroused significant passion or conviction. It is the first post-political notion of an historic task, a decisive future event that will determine humanity’s fate. It is perhaps the only way in which today’s society can discuss the idea of the judgement of the future, or the condition of life for our children. Hence, the dramatic sweep of the campaign against global warming throughout the elite – especially members of the political elite who spent periods in the cold. This is Al Gore on what global warming means to him:

‘The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence; the opportunity to rise…. When we do rise, it will fill out spirits and bind us together. Those who are now suffocating in cynicism and despair will be able to breathe freely. Those who are now suffering from a loss of meaning in their lives will find hope.’ ...

...Here’s the rub: when an environmental problem becomes a generational mission, nobody wants very much to solve it. Lynas criticises the notion that ‘the white knight of technology will come riding to the rescue’ – this is in fact ‘the most pervasive and enduring form of denial’. There is no ‘miracle energy cure’, says Lynas. Indeed, you often hear environmentalists say that the hopes of a ‘silver bullet’ to solve global warming is merely ‘avoiding’ the question. Avoiding how? What they mean is that it is not energy production that must change; it is us. Global warming is not a problem to be solved; it is a lesson to be lived. Lynas writes: ‘The faith in a “techno-fix” evades the need for any serious behavioural change.’

Global warming is so often talked about as a result of our selfishness that we do not see quite how absurd this is. Imagine telling 1950s Londoners that there is no techno-fix to the problem of air pollution, and that they need to monitor and cut their coal use. Smokeless fuels would just allow them to continue in their destructive behaviour, without reflecting on the harm caused by their actions. Their warm sitting room is killing children, and they must take responsibility for that.

Think about that quote from Gore: ‘The climate crisis also offers us the chance to experience what very few generations in history have had the privilege of knowing: a generational mission; the exhilaration of a compelling moral purpose; a shared and unifying cause; the thrill of being forced by circumstances to put aside pettiness and conflict that so often stifle the restless human need for transcendence….’ Global warming offers us the chance to experience what few generations have had the privilege of knowing. It is a thrill, no less. Global warming is our Cold War. And just as American strategists worried at the end of the Cold War about the loss of the Red opposition, so environmentalists have a kind of attachment to global warming.

Of course, they talk about it being ‘inconvenient’, and they wouldn’t have wished it upon the world. Lynas says that his collapse scenarios are a ‘reluctant conclusion’; in his book Heat, George Monbiot says that it pains him greatly to conclude that people will have to stop flying. But the more that society defines itself in relation to global warming, the less willing it is to let go. Global warming is now not so much a problem to solve, as an issue around which to reorganise society. This is more Noah’s flood than Clean Air Act, and the lesson is in the sins of hubris and consumerism. Global warming is sent to show people that (in Lynas’ words) they are ‘wasting their lives commuting to work in cars’. His proposed solution – to ‘cut our need for energy by living less consumptive lifestyles’ – will apparently form the basis of a new and happier society.

I have a question: if there was a ‘miracle energy cure’, would Lynas use it? I suspect that a straight ‘yes’ would not be the reply. Which is insane, really, because if global warming is a problem, it is only a techno-fix that could solve it. All the arm-twisting in the world is not going to stop India and China flying, a fact shown by recent figures showing a massive boom in air travel. Daily media guilt-mongering has not stopped British people from enjoying weekends in Budapest or Prague, and nor should it. Governments, we can hope, will still be elected in 2050, and while that is the case carbon rations would still be ‘politically unrealistic’. Unless we live under a dictatorship of some Global Commission for the Environment then energy use will continue to rise dramatically; the only question is whether this energy comes from fossil fuels or some other source. And if it needs to come from some other source, we need a techno-fix.

Techno-fixes are not some airy-fairy notion, some leap of faith. This is otherwise known as innovation, the only way that environmental problems have ever been solved or new energy systems produced. I am not aware of a major environmental problem successfully tackled by the mass of people consciously and systematically abstaining from some or other desirable activity. The lesson of history is that techno-fixes happen, and they happen fast in societies that are looking for solutions. There were only three years between the first controlled nuclear chain reaction and the dropping of a bomb on Hiroshima in 1945; only five years separated a nuclear reaction successfully lighting a lightbulb in 1951 and the first nuclear power station in 1956. ...

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Global Warming, Global Stifling
... Most of the theses in the Grand Theory are packed with morally charged concepts. If an epidemiologist says, "The chance of bird flu becoming epidemic is growing significantly," she is making a narrowly scientific statement. If she says, "Bird flu is about to explode catastrophically! We have to stop it now!", she is going beyond science to make a moral and a policy judgment. That isn't a problem if the economics and morality are obvious — if, say, the cost of inoculation is trivial compared to the costs associated with a disease that has a mortality rate of nearly 50%. But when the economics is complex (with costs and benefits hard to measure, the range of options large, and the chances and scale of an anticipated event hard to estimate), or when the moral case is unclear (say, when the moral values being balanced are incommensurable with one another), such value-laden language is dangerous.

Mike Hulme, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change, an eminent specialist who is favorable to the Narrow Theory, made this point well in a recent interview with the BBC. He said, "Why is it not just campaigners, but politicians and scientists, too, who are openly confusing the language of fear, terror, and disaster with the careful hedging which surrounds science's predictions? . . . To state that climate change will be 'catastrophic' hides a cascade of value-laden assumptions which do not emerge from empirical or theoretical science."

The second distinction I want to make is between general agreement, at least among the scientists in a given field, and a complete convergence of opinion. When the majority of scientists agree that a theory in their domain is true, there is general agreement. But general agreement means that a significant minority of scientists still dissents. When a theory has survived repeated tests (i.e., has predicted with great accuracy phenomena that are then confirmed empirically) and has been tremendously fruitful in guiding research, then virtually all scientists active in its domain agree, and there is complete convergence. Ask physicists whether quantum theory is true, and 99.99% will say it is. You would see the same virtual unanimity if you asked biologists whether all life on this planet evolved from one original form.

There is general agreement about the Narrow Theory — though there are varying degrees of this agreement, depending on the particular thesis being considered. The summary of the UN study just released (the Fourth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or "IPCC") reports that its panel is over 90% certain that the "observed increase in globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is . . . due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations." This means that a significant minority of the rele-vant scientists continues to doubt part or all of the Narrow Theory — perhaps a larger minority than is apparent, since the summary is often more "confident" than the actual study, and even more since the report's contributors were selected by politicians whose desire for scientific objectivity may not have been paramount. And although the highest percentage agrees that temperatures have risen (Thesis 1), there are prominent dissenters. Atmospheric physicist S. Fred Singer questions Thesis 1. So do eminent climatologist Timothy Ball, and Neil Frank, former director of the National Hurricane Center. Climatologist William Gray of Colorado State University actually predicts global cooling — which, remember, was the dominant climatological prediction of the 1970s.

Fewer scientists agree that the rise was caused by human activity (Thesis 2), or that the potential ecological damage will include such threats as increased storm activity (often cited by supporters of Thesis 3). Much of the disagreement about Thesis 2 surrounds the question of whether the global warming posited by Thesis 1 is primarily or only partially caused by human fossil-fuel use. After all, methane is a greenhouse gas, and is emitted by cattle in large quantities, so it is caused by man, but not by the burning of fossil fuel. Then again, volcanoes and other natural processes create copious amounts of CO2.

Some scientists, such as Dr. Willie Soon of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, believe that the rise is caused by a rise in solar radiation, a cyclical pattern that they see going far back in geologic history. This explanation has the advantage of providing a reason for periods of global warming (and cooling) before human existence. Other climatologists point out that the geological record shows that some past rises in CO2 were preceded by temperature rises, and thus could not have been causes of those temperature increases. There must have been a different cause (such as increased solar radiation). Another recent theory is that temperature fluctuations may be caused by increased cloud formation resulting from increased cosmic radiation. And prominent Narrow Theory critic Richard Lindzen (a meteorologist at MIT) disputes whether rising temperatures will increase storm activity.

I am not a climate scientist. I do not know if complete convergence among climate scientists will ever occur, or if it does, whether it will be convergence on all three theses, or fewer. But I don't have to be a climate scientist to see that there is at present nothing approaching complete convergence on the Narrow Theory.

Turn to the Grand Theory, and things get very curious. While there seems to be a preponderance (though nowhere near a complete convergence) of opinion on the Narrow Theory, there isn't even anything approaching a consensus on the Grand Theory. For instance, an NREP (National Registry of Environmental Professionals) survey of licensed environmental specialists shows that only 66% consider the rate of global warming a serious problem facing the planet (with roughly the same percentage believing that the U.S. should do more to address the issue), and that only 39% consider regulation of carbon emissions as the most important tool in addressing global warming.

Nevertheless, it appears that many climatologists give evidence for the Narrow Theory — usually by showing that the carbon dioxide building up in the atmosphere has a human stamp — but then essentially assume that all the other theses of the Grand Theory follow automatically.

This doesn't surprise me, because, again, most of the other theses of the Grand Theory are economic or even moral, hence not in the climatologists' domain of expertise. Such things frequently happen with multi-domain metanarratives. Because the experts in one field (say, atmospheric physics) don't know much about another field (say, agricultural economics), they can't agree or disagree with the experts in that field in any meaningful way. This is why these metanarratives are more often put forward by advocacy groups than by groups of scientists reasoning as scientists....

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Climate messages are 'off target'
Alarmist messages about global warming are counter-productive, the head of a leading climate research centre says.

Professor Mike Hulme, of the UK's Tyndall Centre, has been conducting research on people's attitudes to media portrayals of a catastrophic future.

He says strong messages designed to prompt people to change behaviour only seem to generate apathy.

His initial findings will be shown to a meeting run by the British Association for the Advancement of Science.

"There has been over-claiming or exaggeration, or at the very least casual use of language by scientists, some of whom are quite prominent," Professor Hulme told BBC News.

His concern is that these exaggerations have given the green light to the media to use the language of fear, terror and disaster when covering scientific reports - even when those reports are much more constrained in their description of the course of likely future events. ...

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Jesus ‘Love-Bombs’ You
There is a false, but effective, fiction that one has to be born again to be a Christian. The Christian right refuses to acknowledge the worth of anyone’s religious experience unless—in the words of the tired and opaque cliché—one has accepted “Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

The meltdown, often skillfully manipulated by preachers and teams of evangelists, is one of the most pernicious tools of the movement. Through conversion one surrenders to a higher authority. And the higher authority, rather than God, is the preacher who steps in to take over your life. Being born again, and the process it entails, is more often about submission and the surrender of moral responsibility than genuine belief.

I attended a five-day seminar at Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where I was taught, often by D. James Kennedy, the techniques of conversion. The callousness of these techniques—targeting the vulnerable, building false friendships with the lonely or troubled, promising to relieve people of the most fundamental dreads of human existence from the fear of mortality to the numbing pain of grief—gave to the process an awful cruelty and dishonesty. I attended the seminar as part of the research for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” Kennedy openly called converts “recruits” and spoke about them joining a new political force sweeping across the country to reshape and reform America into a Christian state. ...

... The new ideology gives the believers a sense of purpose, feelings of superiority and a way to justify and sanctify their hatreds. For many, the rewards of cleaning up their lives, of repairing their damaged self-esteem, of joining an elite and blessed group are worth the cost of submission. They know how to define themselves. They do not have to make moral choice. It is made for them. They submerge their individual personas into the single persona of the Christian crowd. Their hope lies not in the real world, but in this new world of magic and miracles. For most, the conformity, the flight away from themselves, the dismissal of facts and logic, the destruction of personal autonomy, even with its latent totalitarianism, is a welcome and joyous relief. The flight into the arms of the religious right, into blind acceptance of a holy cause, compensates for the convert’s despair and lack of faith in himself or herself. And the more corrupted and soiled the converts feel, the more profound their despair, the more militant they become, shouting, organizing and agitating to create a pure and sanctified Christian nation, a purity they believe will offset their own feelings of shame and guilt. Many want to be deceived and directed. It makes life easier to bear.

Freedom from fear, especially the fear of death, is what is being sold. It is a lie, as everyone has to know on some level, even while they write and rewrite their testimonies to conform to the instructors’ demands. But admitting this in front of other believers is impossible. Such an admission would be interpreted as a lack of faith. And this too is part of the process, for it fosters a dread of being found out, a morbid guilt that we are not as good or as Christian as those around us. This dread does not go away with conversion or blind obedience or submission. This unachievable ideal forces the convert to repress and lose touch with the uncertainties, ambiguities and contradictions that make up human existence. ...

Friday, May 04, 2007

What next, a Committee on Un-Scientific Activities?
A group of scientists and science communicators has written an open letter to WAG, a TV production company, insisting that it make changes to its film The Great Global Warming Swindle before releasing it on DVD.

The 38 signatories include Bob Ward, the former spokesman for the prestigious Royal Society in London, as well as former heads of Britain’s academy of sciences and the weather office. They argue that Martin Durkin’s film, which claims that global warming is not man-made and which caused a storm of controversy when it was shown on Channel 4 in Britain in March, contains a ‘long catalogue of fundamental and profound mistakes’, and these ‘major misrepresentations’ should be removed before the film hits the DVD shelves later this year. ‘Free speech does not extend to misleading the public by making factually inaccurate statements’, the letter-writers claim (1).

What next, a House Committee on Un-Scientific Activities, where this self-selected group of scientists and communicators could officially sit in judgement on anyone who says the ‘wrong thing’ about global warming? Last year, when he was working at the Royal Society, Bob Ward wrote a letter to ExxonMobil demanding in hectoring fashion that the oil giant cut off its funding to groups that have ‘misrepresented the science of climate change by outright denial of the evidence’; now he says films that go against the ‘truth’ of global warming should be chopped and changed before release (2). Perhaps any new House Committee on Un-Scientific Activities could begin by forcing those who appear in its hallowed halls to swear ‘I am not, and never have been, funded by oil companies’, before instructing them on what is the correct thing to say in public about climate change. All others shall be silenced.

These scientists ought to be ashamed of themselves. They are behaving in a fashion that does not befit intellectual scientific debate. When they claim that they are not being censorious, but rather are standing up for facts and ‘for the public interest’, they protest way too much. From Torquemada to McCarthy, virtually every censorious group in society has claimed merely to be protecting what is true or right or correct, and thus saving the public from allegedly dangerous ideas. Torquemada wanted to save humanity from religious heresy; McCarthy said he was protecting Americans from reds under the bed. Now some want to shield our eyes from allegedly oil-funded ‘climate change deniers’ lest they warp our minds and make us behave in a carbon-irresponsible fashion.

Even worse, the scientists’ demand that information be ‘corrected’ from on high so that it does not sow confusion and controversy amongst the public speaks to a profoundly anti-intellectual outlook. They seem not to appreciate how important controversy is. Controversy is not, as they seem to believe, a bad idea; nor is it, as others argue, something that’s simply fun or sexy, a ‘good idea’ in a democratic society. Rather, controversy is crucial to the development of human thought – especially in the realm of science. ...

...Indeed, it was striking that around the same time that the 38 scientists wrote to WAG to complain about The Great Global Warming Swindle, the British government announced plans to send a copy of Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth to every secondary school in the country. Some very serious scientists have raised questions about the scientific accuracy of Gore’s movie. Don J Easterbrook, emeritus professor of geology at Western Washington University, said: ‘ I don’t want to pick on Al Gore… But there are a lot of inaccuracies in the statements we are seeing, and we have to temper that with real data.’ (4) Yet Gore’s allegedly inaccurate claims will be used to ‘stimulate debate about climate change’ amongst schoolchildren (in the words of UK education secretary Alan Johnson) while Durkin’s allegedly inaccurate claims are labelled unfit for public consumption.

This is really about the moral message of the films rather than their scientific underpinnings. Because Gore’s movie has the ‘correct’ moral outlook (global warming is manmade, and we must all take individual responsibility for changing our behaviour and lowering our horizons), it is sanctioned by the authorities and even used to reshape children’s understanding of humanity and our relationship with the planet. Because Durkin’s movie has the ‘incorrect’ moral outlook (global warming is not manmade, and demands that we limit carbon emissions are proving disastrous for the developing world), it is vilified.

Some are in effect using claims of scientific authority to copperfasten what is in fact a deeply moralistic campaign dictating what people should expect from life today. The consequences of using science in this way are as ominous as they are far-reaching. It is bad for political debate because when certain positions are said to be scientifically verified then they are also considered to be beyond interrogation. It is bad for science, too, because the use of scientific data to confer authority on explicitly political positions will surely pollute the morally neutral aim of science to discover new things, while also potentially firing up public cynicism with science. ...

Ocean currents to blame for warming: expert
William Gray, a Colorado State University researcher, also said the Earth may begin to cool on its own in five to 10 years.

...He said little-understood ocean currents were behind a decades-long warming cycle, and disputed assertions that greenhouse gases could raise global temperatures as much as some scientists predicted. ...