Climate Denial, Science, and Skepticism

I’ve been a “climate denier” (even though I’ve never denied that we have climate) for a long time because I doubted that we know enough to show that global warming is (a) substantially man-made, (b) reversible, and (c) catastrophic. (It has to be all three for us to make significant policy changes to try to head it off.)

At this point, I feel pretty well-vindicated for my skepticism. From the Wall Street Journal editorial by Matt Ridley:

First the climate-research establishment denied that a pause existed, noting that if there was a pause, it would invalidate their theories. Now they say there is a pause (or “hiatus”), but that it doesn’t after all invalidate their theories.

Alas, their explanations have made their predicament worse by implying that man-made climate change is so slow and tentative that it can be easily overwhelmed by natural variation in temperature—a possibility that they had previously all but ruled out.

Pretty much. And if that’s the case, wouldn’t it be the scientific thing to reevaluate our positions in the face of the failure of our models?

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5 comments on “Climate Denial, Science, and Skepticism
  1. 30 years ago, my geology professor made a huge point of showing us how climate changes–how it has always changed–and how there is nothing we can do about it. So, to people who want to say that their tax dollar-burning businesses are going to make a whit of difference, whether we be colder or hotter, I say, fie.

    If it gets colder, we’ll deal with it. If the oceans rise, we’ll move inland or learn to live on them. We’ll manage. It’s what we do.

    • “We’ll manage. It’s what we do.”

      I tend to agree, and with a caveat, I think that’s the most important point that’s usually overlooked.

      The caveat: It’s not out of the question that we’re hurtling toward the apocalypse, and that a catastrophe could kill massive numbers of humans, as “global warmists” seem to think. We might not manage very well at all.

      But even if that’s the case — and of course I’m not saying it is — if the warming can’t be stopped without grinding our civilization to a halt, we’d be much better off keeping our economy going and devising ways to manage as well as we can when the time comes. We don’t stop tornadoes, we prepare for them.

      By making the disaster inevitable, the doomsayers’ PR people made it unreasonable to try to stop it.

      • Indeed, and a lot of science fiction offered the promise of other worlds, too, for those bold enough and tough enough and smart enough (and lucky enough) to make it there.

        With some exceptions (JCW, for one), there’s an awful lot of navel-gazing in so-called science fiction these days. It used to be the pulpit for scientific advancement–harnessed to dreams and vision.

  2. Jake,

    (a) substantially man-made

    There is no natural explanation for the warming. None. The only significant cause of warming or cooling in the natural world is volcanic activity, and volcanic activity has not gone up, it’s very much what it’s been for the last 11,000 years. Ask any vulcanologist.

    Volcanoes release about 200 million tons of CO2 annually. Meanwhile, if you measure the amount of CO2 released by human activity, it’s about 30 billion tons. That’s 150 times what nature releases.

    And 30 billion tons is just about the amount of extra CO2 that’s showing up in the atmosphere and oceans every year. There’s your smoking gun, right there.

    (b) reversible

    Probably not reversible, but preventable. We can keep from making it worse. The worse we make it, the more our kids and grandkids may suffer. May. That’s enough for me to want to prevent it if I can.

    and (c) catastrophic

    This is the part of the whole ‘controversy’ that’s legitimately open to debate. Possible consequences range from ‘not much of an impact’ through ‘tough, but we’ll manage’ to ‘collapse of civilization’. The odds of any one of those scenarios is unknown.

    However, at this point the odds of ‘collapse of civilization’ are not zero. Note that, while the odds of your house burning down are really small, you still buy fire insurance. That’s simply prudent. It is also simply prudent to prevent as much warming as we can, to lesson the odds of collapse as much as possible.

    • There is no natural explanation for the warming. None.

      “The warming” is only what, now? A degree or two Fahrenheit over a century or so? Are you so sure that we know so much about the world that there’s no combination of solar and other activity (yes, along with the Greenhouse Effect) that there’s no other accounting for it? The variability in the climate has apparently varied by much more than a degree or so Fahrenheit over the last few dozen centuries; why are you so sure that right now, it’s strictly the effect of CO2?

      There’s your smoking gun, right there.

      And this isn’t?

      Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying solar variability is the only reason for net change in global temperature.

      But you are saying that CO2 is.

      This cock-sure belief that CO2 is the only reason for net change in global temperature makes me more skeptical, not less.

      Probably not reversible, but preventable. We can keep from making it worse.

      Actually, I’ve been told over and over again that it’s not preventable — that we’re already seeing increases, we’re already on track to see increases of several degrees by 2050 (or whatever — pick your timeframe).

      So when you say “We can keep from making it worse,” we need to understand how much we’re saving ourselves from, and what it will cost to do so. If we can make it five degrees instead of six in a century, that probably wouldn’t be worth seriously hampering our economies. We’d be better off learning to adapt to the change that’s coming.

      The worse we make it, the more our kids and grandkids may suffer. May. That’s enough for me to want to prevent it if I can.

      At what cost? If “catastrophic” is open to debate, then cost must be part of the calculus. How much are you willing to hamstring your children’s standard of living on the guess that global warming will be catastrophic? Especially if part of their standard of living is adapting to climate change?

      The possible consequence you left off is “net positive”. An increase in CO2 and temperature that increases the growing ranges of various food plants might not be so bad for a seven-billion-person planet. Almost nobody discusses that one at all — why not? What are we so sure of that makes us discount that possibility?

      while the odds of your house burning down are really small, you still buy fire insurance. That’s simply prudent.

      It would not be prudent to buy fire insurance if I had to cut my energy consumption by a third to do it. I might be willing to cut my energy consumption by a third for other reasons, but not to buy fire insurance.

      It is also simply prudent to prevent as much warming as we can, to lesson the odds of collapse as much as possible.

      No: “as much as we can” is not “simply prudent”. It needs qualification. “As much as makes sense, when considering opportunity costs, level of risk, certainty of outcomes, and so on” is prudent.

      Please realize that your comment exemplifies what’s wrong with much (not all) of the discussion around global climate change: the intense belief that there are no other possibilities, the vague wishful thinking about the future, the poor analogies, the “do somehing! anything!” attitude.

      None of those are healthy. They’re neither the hallmarks of good science nor prudent policymaking.

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