Religion Dispatches posted Jacob J. Erickson’s interesting article “Falling in Love with the Earth: Francis’ Faithful Ecology,” about a week ago, and one follower, “Whiskyjack,” chastened Catholic Republican Presidential candidates for hypocrisy on the grounds that they accept his authority on abortion and homosexuality but not on climate change. I replied:
Catholic dogma holds that papal authority is only in matters of faith (doctrine) and morals. It doesn’t extend to science, economics, or many other fields. Abortion and homosexuality are matters of faith and morals; whether and how much added CO2 will warm Earth’s atmosphere and whether and how much good or harm that will do to humanity and other living things are matters of science; and whether and how much good or harm any policies to mitigate that warming will do to people and other life on Earth are matters of economics and science. It therefore is thoroughly consistent for the Catholic Republican candidates to honor the Pope’s positions on abortion and homosexuality while rejecting them on anthropogenic global warming and our policies in response to it.
Whiskyjack then launched into ad hominem attacks, common among trolls. That led to a rather fruitless exchange between him and me, in which an even more committed troll, “Evan Derkacz,” joined with even more ad hominem, making the exchange even more fruitless.
But one of my comments, in which I set forth some of the scientific reasons to reject CAGW, sparked this comment by Kevin Maier that was actually substantive:
I understand your point about us not having a model that can predict future climate conditions with accuracy. This will probably be true for some time to come.
You mentioned Thomas Kuhn earlier- the basis of his idea (as I understand it), is that we are always searching for better models to fit the data. This search does not preclude making sound judgements along the way, otherwise we cannot make progress. Your argument seems to be that 97% of published scientists (Cook et al.) are misusing science and representing false models.
My question to you is: which model are you representing? What are you standing for?
The current CO2 levels are around 400 ppm. From your earlier replies, you seem to accept this fact. Is this a starting point? Do you recognize that this is an alarming increase since 1900?
The oceans are not acid, you are also correct here. Instead, the oceans are becoming less basic- problematic? Our ecological footprint on this planet is unsustainable, and our burning of fossil fuels is unsustainable. My personal model (informed by science) leads me to worry about this. Pope Francis is also worried.
Please tell me again why we are overreacting? (“CO2 is good for trees”, as referenced in your last link, probably will not convince me).
Sensing an opportunity for civil, rational interchange, I wrote a detailed reply to each of Kevin’s points, which I split into parts short enough to be posted. The managers of Religion Dispatches, though, for whatever reason, didn’t approve most of my posts. So, as an educational exercise, I thought I’d post them here. What follows is, with very minor edits to fit the fact that it’s posted here instead of there, my full reply to Kevin:
Thanks for the reply, Kevin, and for its civil and reasonable tone. A breath of fresh air compared with some of the others. I’ll address your points one by one as best I can.
- It’s not just that our GCMs (General Circulation Models) don’t predict future climate conditions with accuracy–as if perhaps they were reasonably near but not quite precise. It’s that their errors are very large and all in one direction. The magnitude of their errors indicates that they still don’t reflect actual understanding of how the climate system works. As climatologist Dr. John Christy at the University of Alabama/Huntsville frequently reminds, if you UNDERSTAND a natural system you can model it in a way that yields at least tolerable accurate predictions. On average, the whole group of CMIP5 models simulate (= predict, but the modelers don’t like that word, though it’s used hundreds of times in the IPCC’s assessment reports) twice the observed warming over the relevant period, and over 95% simulate more warming than observed, which means their errors are not random (in which case simulations would be as frequently above and below observations, and by roughly the same magnitudes) but rather driven by some sort of bias built into the models somewhere–probably lots of different biases built in in lots of different places from model to model. Models are useful for predicting only if validated by their simulations’ matching real-world observations. These don’t, so they’re not validated and therefore not useful for predicting–and if not for predicting, then also not for policymaking.
- That’s a gross oversimplification of Kuhn, and indeed a misrepresentation. A central theme to Kuhn’s book is that major scientific reversals rarely occur because, bit by bit, scientists have accumulated more and more data that are inconsistent with a reigning paradigm. Rather, they occur because a completely new way of SEEING the natural system in question arises and, in a gestalt shift, displaces the old way. You’re right that our not having the right model doesn’t PRECLUDE our making sound judgments along the way, but the sounds judgments made often are sound not because of anything the model contributes but completely independent of the model.
- Cook et al.’s claim of 97% consensus has been thoroughly discredited. The study is so badly done that some of its critics consider it outright fraud. Three of the less technical, easier critiques to comprehend are http://www.joseduarte.com/blog… and http://www.joseduarte.com/blog… and http://www.joseduarte.com/blog…. A more technical one is http://link.springer.com/artic…, which demonstrates that the actual consensus demonstrable from the raw data with which Cook et al. worked is only 0.03%, not 97%. Similar problems have plagued other studies attempting to demonstrate strong consensus for CAGW. For brief discussion of the most important ones, see http://www.wsj.com/articles/SB…. Longer discussion of several before Cook et al. is in https://www.heartland.org/site…. Some better attempts at quantifying the degree of consensus have been done by von Storch and Bray and are introduced (with links to the full studies) at http://klimazwiebel.blogspot.c…. They find much lower consensus and much more nuancing of climate scientists’ views. Their studies are really well worth reading if you have significant interest in the question. A major survey of the American Meteorological Society yielded far less than the Cook et al. claim, too, and had some very interesting findings (e.g., that confidence that human activity is a primary driver of warming correlates very strongly with belief that there is consensus that that is so, and the authors state that this “suggests that scientists’ thinking on scientific topics may be subject to the same kinds of social normative influences that affect the general public. Rather than rationally weighing the evidence and deciding for themselves, as would be expected under more traditional ideas of scientific judgment, scientists may also use the views of a relevant peer group as a social cue for forming their own views.” See the study at http://journals.ametsoc.org/do…. Lukewarmer Judith Curry has a good discussion of that at http://judithcurry.com/2013/11…. It appears that among the AMS anyway, about a 52% consensus exists that human activity is the primary driver of recent global warming–but that doesn’t address the question whether it is or is likely to become dangerous or of course what, if anything, we should do to mitigate it and at what costs.But a really important point is that consensus is not a scientific value. Evidence (empirical observation), interpretation of the evidence, and inferences therefrom (logic) are the scientific values. Consensus is a political value, and its existence and magnitude may be interesting sociological questions, and it might give some notion of what experts think (though study after study has shown that experts, even in their own field, almost never are more accurate in predictions than laymen), but consensus is of that sociological value only to the extent that it is spontaneous. And, as (among many others) Judith Curry has pointed out, the “consensus” on CAGW was intentionally manufactured by the UN IPCC. See her paper “No Consensus on Consensus” linked for download at http://judithcurry.com/2012/10….
- I don’t “represent” any particular model. The patterns of global warming, stasis, and cooling over the past 150 years are not significantly different from patterns that preceded them; the preceding patterns were definitely not driven by anthropogenic CO2 emissions; there is therefore no reason to hypothesize a different cause for the more recent patterns. But let me expand on this just a bit. First, the GCMs are incredibly sophisticated models with millions of lines of code; they’re great intellectual achievements despite the fact that they fail so miserably to simulate the climate system. But it’s partly their hyper-complexity that makes them so prone to failure. They include thousands of variables for which we don’t know the magnitude and many for which we don’t even know the sign (+ or -), i.e., we don’t know whether they enhance or diminish initial warming. Of course, no model is true–only the thing modeled is what it is. But the simpler a model is, the less likely it is to fall prey to cascades of errors originating in wrong quantifications (or even signs) of various parameters. It stands to reason that it makes sense to try to come up with simpler models.One group of scholars that has done so is a bunch of retired NASA Apollo space program scientists and engineers. The gist of their approach is that instead of trying to assign signs and magnitudes to all the thousands of different climate feedbacks, they treat the earth as a solid with a thin veneer and approach the whole question as one about radiative heat transfer–something that we understand much, much better than we do the thousands of climate feedbacks, and something those scientists and engineers had to model properly or spacecraft would fail because their design wouldn’t allow them to maintain proper temperature. They’ve produced a pretty simple radiative heat transfer model that actually simulates global temperatures much better than the GCMs, and they conclude based on their model that CO2’s warming effect is much lower than the IPCC and other warmists have thought. You can read their report at http://www.therightclimatestuf… and about their work in general at http://www.therightclimatestuf….Another group of scholars published an article early this year, “Why models run hot: results from an irreducibly simple climate model,” in SCIENCE BULLETIN (http://wmbriggs.com/public/Mon…, that also simulates global average temperature much better than the GCMs, and also concludes that CO2’s warming effect is much less than the IPCC, etc., have thought.
I even came up with my own quite simple way of approaching the question, explained in the paper at http://www.cornwallalliance.or…, on page 7, thus: ” With no greenhouse effect, Earth’s surface temperature would average about 0° F; with it, but with no climate feedbacks, it would be about 140° F; and with both the greenhouse effect and feedbacks, it is about 59° F. Net climate feedbacks, in other words, are strongly negative [opposite the assumptions written into the GCMs], eliminating about 58% of greenhouse warming. But greenhouse gases are greenhouse gases, whatever their origin. It is highly unlikely, therefore, that the climate models are correct in assuming strong net positive feedback. The commonly calculated temperature increase from doubled CO2 without feedbacks is 2.16° F (Weitzman, 2009, p. 4), and subtracting 58% yields 0.9° F as the likely post-feedback warming from doubled CO2. That is only one sixth the midrange estimate of the IPCC and is not dangerous.” That conclusion about the warming effect of doubled CO2 is actually quite consistent with findings of a number of recent new studies of “climate sensitivity” (increase in global average temperature expected from doubled CO2 concentration after all feedbacks are accounted for), about which you can read at http://judithcurry.com/categor….
- Yes, I accept that current CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is about 400 ppm (= about 40 thousandths of 1 percent), and that is an increase of about 42% from pre-industrial times (a little less than halfway to doubled CO2 concentration). That would be alarming only if added CO2’s warming effect were high, but increasing studies are concluding that climate sensitivity (CO2’s warming effect) is at most in the very low part of the range estimated by the IPCC (1.5 to 4.5 degrees C), namely, anywhere from about 0.3 to about 2.0 degrees C. Again, you can read about those at http://judithcurry.com/categor…. The empirical estimates lead to much lower estimates of climate sensitivity than the GCMs suggest–and empirical studies are the very bedrock of science. Further, atmospheric CO2 concentration has been as much as 20 times what it now is at various times in geologic history without causing catastrophic warming. In short, no, I don’t consider 400 ppm alarming. Indeed, it’s definitely good news for plants, which grow better in a richer CO2 atmosphere. For every doubling of CO2 concentration, you get an average 35% increasing in plant growth efficiency. Plants grow better in hotter and cooler temperatures and in wetter and drier soils. They make better use of soil nutrients and are more resistant to pests and diseases, and they increase their fruit/fiber ratio. The result is more food for everything that eats plants or eats things that eat plants–and the world’s poor benefit the most. One major survey of the thousands of studies of the effect on agricultural yield of the increase in CO2 concentration over the period 1960 to 2012 found that it increased the value of crops by about $3.2 trillion and that, if projected to 2050, it will increase the value by another $9.8 trillion (http://web.uvic.ca/~kooten/Agr….
- You ask whether it’s problematic that the oceans are becoming less basic. Well, you’re the one claiming it is a problem. What evidence do you offer for that? And how familiar are you with the refereed literature in the field. I readily acknowledge I’ve not studied that nearly so much as I’ve studied the science of climate sensitivity, but I’ve read a good deal on it, and my conclusion is that the risks have been considerably exaggerated and the benefits generally ignored by the climate alarmist community. As I think I pointed out before, you can find lots of links to good refereed literature on the subject at http://co2science.org/subject/…under the subject headings “Ocean Acidification” and “Ocean Acidification and Warming.”
- You assert that our ecological footprint on the planet is not sustainable. How do you define the terms “ecological footprint” and “sustainable,” and what evidence do you offer for your assertion? I think our ecological footprint is sustainable because I think human ingenuity continuously finds solutions to problems, ways to make resources more abundant over time (as witnessed by the fact that the long-term price trend of every extractive resource (mineral, plant, and animal), whether measured in inflation-adjusted money or as a ratio of resource price to labor wages, is steeply downward. Since price is a measure of scarcity, this means the scarcity of resources is diminishing, not increasing; we’re not running out of resources, we’re getting more and more. And that confessedly counterintuitive idea rests on the fact that resources aren’t physical items but uses we get from physical items as we apply the human mind to them. If you want to learn more about that, you might read Julian L. Simon’s THE ULTIMATE RESOURCE 2, an outstanding book in the field. You might not agree with it, but it behooves you at least to understand it if you’re going to be involved seriously in discussions and activities about the environment.
- What is YOUR “personal model”? A model, remember, is a way of mathematically describing how the world, or some part of it, works. Do you have one? And how has it performed in attempts to validate it by generating predictions and then testing those against reality?
- Why are you overreacting? Because (a) the empirical data indicate much lower warming effect from enhanced atmospheric CO2 than the GCMs predict, (b) the GCMs are pretty thoroughly invalidated by empirical data, (c) you’re failing to consider adequately the benefits of abundant, affordable, reliable energy, which is indispensable to lifting and keeping whole societies out of extreme poverty, and so your exclusive focus on the (exaggerated) risks of warming driven by it is myopic, (d) you’re not taking adequately into account the risks, especially to the poor, of forcing energy costs to rise by forcing a switch from fossil fuels to wind and solar.Thanks again for the reply, Kevin, and for its civil and reasonable tone.
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