I Was On the Global Warming Gravy Train
By David Evans
In the late 1990s, this was the evidence suggesting that carbon emissions caused global warming:
- Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, proved in a laboratory a century ago.
- Global warming has been occurring for a century and concentrations of atmospheric carbon have been rising for a century. Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit.
- Ice core data, starting with the first cores from Vostok in 1985, allowed us to measure temperature and atmospheric carbon going back hundreds of thousands of years, through several dramatic global warming and cooling events. To the temporal resolution then available (data points more than a thousand years apart), atmospheric carbon and temperature moved in lockstep: they rose and fell together. Talk about a smoking gun!
- There were no other credible causes of global warming.
This evidence was 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. Research increased, bureaucracies were formed, international committees met, and eventually the Kyoto protocol was signed in 1997 to curb carbon emissions.
|"Correlation is not causation, but in a rough sense it looked like a fit."|
The political realm in turn fed money back into the scientific community. By the late 1990s, 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; there were international conferences full of such people. We had political support, the ear of government, big budgets. We felt fairly important and useful (I did anyway). It was great. We were working to save the planet!
- Better data shows that from 1940 to 1975 the earth cooled while atmospheric carbon increased. That 35 year non-correlation might eventually be explained by global dimming, only discovered in about 2003.
- The temporal resolution of the ice core data improved. By 2004 we knew that in past warming events, the temperature increases generally started about 800 years before the rises in atmospheric carbon. Causality does not run in the direction I had assumed in 1999 — it runs the opposite way!
It took several hundred years of warming for the oceans to give off more of their carbon. This proves that there is a cause of global warming other than atmospheric carbon. And while it is possible that rising atmospheric carbon in these past warmings then went on to cause more warming ("amplification" of the initial warming), the ice core data neither proves nor disproves this hypothesis.
- There is now a credible alternative suspect. In October 2006 Henrik Svensmark showed experimentally that cosmic rays cause cloud formation. Clouds have a net cooling effect, but for the last three decades there have been fewer clouds than normal because the sun's magnetic field, which shields us from cosmic rays, has been stronger than usual. So the earth heated up. It's too early to judge what fraction of global warming is caused by cosmic rays.
There is now no observational evidence that global warming is caused by carbon emissions. You would think that in over 20 years of intense investigation we would have found something. For example, greenhouse warming due to carbon emissions should warm the upper atmosphere faster than the lower atmosphere — but until 2006 the data showed the opposite, and thus that the greenhouse effect was not occurring! In 2006 better data allowed that the effect might be occurring, except in the tropics.
The only current "evidence" for blaming carbon emissions are scientific models (and the fact that there are few contradictory observations). Historically, science has not progressed by calculations and models, but by repeatable observations. Some theories held by science authorities have turned out to be spectacularly wrong: heavier-than-air flight is impossible, the sun orbits the earth, etc. For excellent reasons, we have much more confidence in observations by several independent parties than in models produced by a small set of related parties!
Let's return to the interaction between science and politics. 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.
|"Science has not progressed by calculations and models, but by repeatable observations."|
But after 2000 the case against carbon emissions gradually got weaker. Future evidence might strengthen or further weaken it. 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 later recapture the attention of the political system. What has happened is that most research efforts since 1990 have assumed that carbon emissions were the cause, and the alternatives get much less research or political attention.
Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. Climate change has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly blames carbon emissions, to the point of silencing critics.
The integrity of the scientific community will win out in the end, following the evidence wherever it leads. But in the meantime, the effect of the political climate is that most people are overestimating the evidence that carbon emissions are the main cause of global warming.
I recently bet $6,000 that the rate of global warming would slow in the next two decades. Carbon emissions might be the dominant cause of global warming, but I reckon that probability to be 20% rather than the 90% the IPCC estimates.
I worry that politics could seriously distort the science. Suppose that carbon taxes are widely enacted, but that the rate of global warming increase starts to decline by 2015. The political system might pressure scientists to provide justifications for the taxes.
Imagine the following scenario. Carbon emissions cause some warming, maybe 0.05C/decade. But the current warming rate of 0.20C/decade is mainly due to some natural cause, which in 15 years has run its course and reverses. So by 2025 global temperatures start dropping. In the meantime, on the basis of models from a small group of climate scientists but with no observational evidence (because the small warming due to carbon emissions is masked by the larger natural warming), the world has dutifully paid an enormous cost to curb carbon emissions.
Politicians, expressing the anger and apparent futility of all the unnecessary poverty and effort, lead the lynching of the high priests with their opaque models. Ironically, because carbon emissions are raising the temperature baseline around which natural variability occurs, carbon emissions might need curbing after all. Maybe. The current situation is characterized by a lack of observational evidence, so no one knows yet.
Some people take strong rhetorical positions on global warming. But the cause of global warming is not just another political issue, subject to endless debate and distortions. The cause of global warming is an issue that falls into the realm of science, because it is falsifiable. No amount of human posturing will affect what the cause is. It just physically is there, and after sufficient research and time we will know what it is.
The Climate Debate: When Science Serves the State
by N. Joseph Potts
Posted March 2, 2005
Enron: $1 billion writedown of retained earnings, followed by $618 million quarterly loss. 21,000 put out of work in ensuing bankruptcy. CFO Andrew Fastow sentenced to ten years in prison. Jeff Skilling and Kenneth Lay arrested and charged with federal crimes.
Worldcom: $10 billion inflation of profits through failure to record expenses. CFO Scott Sullivan reduces prison term through plea bargain in which he cooperates with prosecution of former CEO Bernie Ebbers, now on trial.
Arthur Andersen: auditor of Enron and Worldcom loses accounting license in consequence of these and other scandals and is liquidated, putting 65,000 employees worldwide out of work. Sarbanes and Oxley launch Congressional initiative resulting in the eponymous act of Congress to curb future abuses of corporate trust.
United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Control (IPCC) sponsors adoption of the Kyoto Protocol by most industrialized nations around the world, with estimated costs of legally binding compliance estimated at over $150 billion per year. The chief promotional artifact in the proceedings, the "hockey stick" historical temperature chart of IPCC Third Scientific Assessment Chapter Lead Author Michael Mann, is shown to be based on a computer program that produces hockey sticks from over 99 percent of ten thousand samples of random noise fed to it. Stephen McIntyre, retired Canadian minerals consultant, demonstrates numerous other defects and distortions in both the data and statistical methodology, ultimately the subject of a front-page article in the Wall Street Journal of February 14 and a follow-up editorial on February 18.
Anyone sent to jail on that last one? That biggest one, by far? No.
Any charges? No, and none anticipated.
Lawsuits? None yet (possible reason: too many plaintiffs).
Any bankruptcies? Certainly not of the IPCC, nor of the tax-funded agencies that paid for the research that culminated in the hockey stick.
What about the auditor? There is no auditor. No audits? No, except for the self-funded undertaking of McIntyre and partner Ross McKitrick, and Dr. Mann has cut them and apparently everyone else off from further information on the mysterious process that "proved" an episode of global warming in the Twentieth Century and pointed to human activity as the guilty party.
Congressional action? Well, the US Senate has declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, but that’s about it.
Government investigation? Despite the fact that the US government funded eleven out of the twelve "Funded Proposals" cited in Dr. Mann’s curriculum vitae, it neither conducts audits of the results reported nor requires that information be made available to others for conducting audits at their own expense and initiative.
But the Kyoto Protocol remains in force and legally binding.
Government and science have found each other, and the spawn of this marriage look set to destroy global wealth on a scale that will render the greatest of history’s wars trivial by comparison. The ultimate outrage of all this is that the people who are subjected to the ravages of the wrong-headed policies promoted by these self-seekers are taxed to pay for the production of this junk science to begin with.
Scientists, like the rest of us, have among their number many members of a certain very dangerous group: those who would govern. And like the governing class everywhere, they seek to govern without the encumbrance of having to tolerate dissent from those who pay their salaries and experience the consequences of the policies they emplace.
Indeed, they resist inquiries from the unannointed into the bases of their pronouncements and, while feeding on the tithes exacted from the unwashed, insist on handing their pronouncements down as dicta that may not be questioned. The flavor of this may be discerned palpably in a visit to realclimate.org, a Web site launched early this year by climatologists and other "scientists" (today’s codeword for priest).
This Web site expresses the "frustration" felt by real scientists who have to contend with the inquiries and ignorance of non-scientists who are inflamed by their petty suspicions that they are being oppressed in the name of bogus theories. As well, it provides an eight-point set of standards for article comments (which are required to be "constructive" among other things). In "language your parents could understand," the Web site provides a "Dummies’ Guides" to its subject, and the impression that they truly regard their audience (and parents) as dummies is irresistible.
What the site does not provide in its Links section is a link to the Web site of the opposition, the more-modestly named climateaudit.org, set up about the same time to publicize flaws detected in the data and mathematics of the "hockey stick" found by semi-retired minerals consultant Stephen McIntyre of Toronto. Yes, this site does provide a link to realclimate, and doesn’t seem to qualify comments or commenters. Some of the comments on climateaudit are hostile to articles and comments on the site, while over at realclimate, things are eerily more-harmonious. I’m always grateful when the propagandist’s hand is so easily discerned.
Actually, as described in the Wall Street Journal editorial of February 18, two climatologists, Willie Soon and Sallie L. Baliunas, had the temerity to advance criticism of Mann’s article in 2003. The tsunami of protest from the academy against this suggestion that man may not be warming up his planet after all would have made Trofim Lysenko, the Soviet Union’s quack official geneticist of the 1930s, proud.
The "fact" of global warming is today as entrenched in the government-sponsored academy as ever was Lysenko’s theory that acquired traits, such as selfless devotion to the common good, could be inherited by the children of parents so indoctrinated. In the abject retraction by the journal that carried Soon and Baliunas’s heresy, Climate Research, they announce the resignations of their editor-in-chief and two other editors.
Peer review, the overrated orthodoxy-dominated system by which journal articles are supposedly vetted, has turned into a mechanism for enforcement of the ruling paradigm, if it was ever anything else. Among other things, it did not catch the errors in Mann’s seminal article. But peer review, which is not only unpaid, but highly political as well, has as a matter of practice never entailed what McIntyre calls an "audit" of the data and mathematics involved in developing the conclusions arrived at in an article.
Because of this, not only do journals not make a practice of publishing the data and algorithms behind the development of the conclusions, but peer reviewers virtually never have occasion to request the information either. A few exceptions such as the journals of the American Economic Association, have begun to appear.
Michael Crichton, whose current novel State of Fear describes a vast hoax perpetrated on a fearful world by rogue climatologists, is predictably excoriated on realclimate. Crichton stands to make a very large amount of money from acting on the skeptical side of this controversy.
But the greatest credit must go to the unpaid Stephen McIntyre and his partner in this quest, Ross McKitrick. They are the ones who first blurted out: "The professor has no clothes!"
N. Joseph Potts studies economics at his home in South Florida.
By the way, I have sent a query to a scientist acquaintance concerning some recent specific dendrochronology questions....stay tuned!