Wednesday, November 25, 2009

About being a touch sceptical about Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW)

I tend to be somewhat sceptical about CAGW, and even more resistant to the moral bullying that comes with it. There are several reasons for this.

(1) Teasing. A lot of people seem awfully certain about such matters, and such certainty is fun to prod.

(2) Resistance. I am a gay man of classically liberal orientation. The minute people start shouting at me that I have to believe something, it gets my back up. Particularly when the list of things “caused” by global warming/climate change has long since become ludicrous. Not to mention all the fun with the ever-moving ice-free Arctic prediction, and so on.

(3) Incivility. There is a lot of bullying involved in the support for CAGW and it is worth quietly resisting it. Or not so quietly, when adherents begin to stray into some politically very nasty territory. And some scientifically dubious ones, as retired climatologist Tim Ball comments in the context of the hacked CRU emails.

(4) Track record. I have seen these tactics before—the self-righteous certainty, the demonising of dissent. They never lead to good places. Particularly for public policy. Indeed, my experience from these sorts of tactics from folk of the associated ideological bent, is that they are more or less guaranteed to get things wrong in a major way, from Cold War policy, to education, to indigenous policy, to environmental policy (notably land use and water), to economic reform … The problem is precisely the cognitive blockages the tactics arise from and encourage. If you have to support X to be a “good person”, then any attempt to show, or even suggest, not-X is immediately ruled out of consideration regardless of the evidence. Monocultures are dangerous, particularly cognitive monocultures which, as this post points out, in by far the best comment I have seen on the CRU emails, is the real story of those emails.
(5) Too much of not-how-science-should-be-done. This is connected to (3) and (4) but is nicely expressed in this post on the hostility to dissent involved. His point that:
One suspects that a reason more people are skeptical of alarmist predictions is that they know enough about human behavior to distrust someone who claims to be correct but refuses to respond to or even allow questions or replication
is particularly pertinent.

(6) Qualms about the science. These include the IPCC’s remarkably silly economic modelling and issues about long-term CO2 and temperature patterns, the relatively quick saturation of the narrow wavelengths on which CO2 blocks heat, dubious CO2 in the atmosphere longevity estimates, the long-term pattern of negative feedbacks in the atmosphere, the mixed nature of warming effects, the difficulties in the temperature record, and so on. This is without even getting to the nonsense of the climate models. It is also noticeable that critics and proponents tend to talk past each other. It is much easier to get to some anthropogenic effects than to “these dominate” and “the best approach is to cut emissions” (particularly if you believe the IPCC’s assumptions about CO2 longevity). That the problematic items in the IPCC’s projections are all dubious in the same direction is a big warning sign. At its most basic, here are some simple questions:
1: What percentage of the atmosphere is CO2?

2: By how much did it warm 1900 to 2000?
(Using 5 year moving averages)
3: By how much did it warm 1979 to 1998?
(Using 13 month moving averages)
4: By how much has it warmed since 1998? ?
(Using 13 month moving averages)
5. What % of atmospheric CO2 comes from human sources?
6. What share of the atmosphere is that?
(0.04%, 0.65oC, 0.6oC, -0.2oC, 5%, 15ppm or 0.0015%: a video presents what 15ppm means) A post like this has become sadly striking in its calm sensibleness. When even the BBC is now admitting that “the scientific debate is over” crap is crap (as it always was), the problems in the science are surely no longer deniable.

(7) History. CAGW does remind me awfully strongly of eugenics. Something based on the “best science” that all the “great and the good” just had to support. (Indeed, with the demonising of “denialism” it is beginning to look a bit like the witch-craze, which was also supported by the great and the good.) Then there is the see-saw nature of climate alarmism (a young Steven Schneider, now friend and advisor to Al Gore, can be seen worrying about coming ice age here). More generally, CAGW is both an obvious gravy train and allows a whole lot of pre-existing agendas that failed on the basis of their previous “we must follow this!” levers another life. It’s sheer ideological convenience is suspect. Not to mention the commercial convenience it has now developed.

(8) Policy Implications. Ian Callinan AC QC put it well (pdf):
Emissions regulation offers government an irresistible opportunity to centralize and control every aspect of our lives; on our roads, on our travels, in our workplaces, on our farms, in our forests and our mines, and, more threateningly, in our homes, constructed as they will be compelled to be, of very specific materials and of prescribed sizes. It is not difficult to foresee a diktat as to how many lights we may turn on and when we must turn them off: the great curfew. The new regime has the capacity to make the wartime National Security Regulations look like a timid exercise of government restraint.
If the issue is so desperately important, then clearly desperate measures are “required”. It is also worth noting that CAGW takes attention away from other environmental issues.

On a lighter note, the best comment on global warming I have seen for a long time:
I love hot weather. But now climate experts are suggesting that there may be one or two decades of cold weather before the heat arrives Great, so I get to suffer the adverse economic consequences of futilely trying to stave off global warming, only to drop dead right before it warms up. And I live in Boston.


  1. I do IT support in the geology research area of a University, the academics here do actually seem to believe it. From the ones who study the atmospheric records in the coral cores to the ones who study seismic records. They seem to have read and talked to each other enough to believe it. They are not making claims to get funding because that's not how the place works.

    Personally I just don't understand enough to decide. I can only look at simplified powerpoint presentations, then I am only reacting to the speaker not the content. I did read one comment by someone who had been studying the sunspots and how it effected the global temperature. He said something to the effect that a solar effect that was causing warmer temperatures was waning, and that unfortunately it would cause enough of a drop in the observed temperature rise for people to ignore the effect caused by CO2.

    So essentially I have read enough comments that make me believe it. But I majored in mathematics at uni, so I understand enough to know that I don't understand.

  2. That there is a general warming trend is clear enough. That there may be some anthropogenic effect is certainly possible, even likely. But how much and what to do about it is much less clear.