Re: Is Climate Change Really A Scam? [March 5, 2010]

Re: Climate Change Research Flawed and Misleading. [March 12, 2010]

Science is a process – a method of investigation using observation, inference and experimentation. It is important to realize that any observation has degrees of accuracy and precision. Similarly, being a human endeavor, it involves logic, reason and emotion. Learning in a classroom, or in a highly specified field, is messy. Generally speaking, I find society has never learned, or forgets, that science is not responsible for stating truths or finding absolute proof. It is a meandering path leading humanity on a search for evidence. It is the evidence collected we must properly organize, infer and test – over and over. The process and evidence collected must eventually be verified. The ability to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ [1] directs us towards a more accurate and better understanding of our universe.  Ken Black [March 5th, 2010] describes this process and discusses recent mistakes [2,3] against the IPCC [4], as well as a small portion of climate change supporting evidence. [5,6,7,8,9].

In a rebuttal [March 12, 2010] Deborah Madill accuses Mr. Black of “minimizing mistakes” and refers to “recent news reports” to substantiate her claims that climate scientists, environmentalists, economists and politicians are “unethically advocating a theory” by “manipulation”. I would like to take some time to address difficulties with a number of the vague and inaccurate statements she posed in her letter.

It is important to realize that without an antagonist (‘the bad guys’) there is no conflict. Without conflict, there is not much of a story. News should usually report substantiated facts, but by providing equal time to individuals who want to attack these facts with nuance, straw man arguments [10] and hyperbole, a false sense of support is given to weaker arguments. Unknowingly, and without the time to substantiate false claims, the public is misled to believe there is more debate than there may actually be. We have seen this scenario on the following topics (all vindicated): smoking, ozone depletion, PCB’s, bisphenol A, and hexavalent chromium [11]. In the new millennium, the following endeavors in science are currently under attack: evolutionary theory, vaccination, and climate change. By providing equal weight to fringe groups with economic and emotional conflicts of interest, mass media has perpetuated a slow erosion of confidence in the general public towards the scientific process. It is an unhealthy distrust that confuses the general population and politicians equally. Hence important, and what should be obvious, public policy decisions are postponed, ignored or eliminated. [12]

Ms. Madill begins by referring to ‘climategate’, the recent release of private email conversations between climate scientists at the Climate Research Unit [CRU] at the University of East Anglia. Her wording of the issue suggest these scientists were acting in bad faith. It is correct that manipulating data without discussing the manner in which it has been analyzed is poor science. Accusations against these scientists, when viewed in light of the context of all the conversations, are unfounded. They are simply distractions obviously meant to cause a reduction in support for climate science and science in general. It worked. The Yale forum on Climate change and the media has a great post on this topic [13]: [my bold emphasis]

It is unfortunate, if perhaps not surprising, that the quotes from the e-mails that have gotten the most publicity from skeptics and in some media strongly distort the views and actions of the scientists in question, contributing to a perception of collusion to manipulate the climate data itself.

Nothing contained in the e-mails, however, suggests that global temperature records are particularly inaccurate or, worse, that they have been manipulated to show greater warming. The  certainly troubling conduct exposed in some of the e-mails has little bearing on the fundamental science that strongly indicates that the world is warming and that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the primary cause.

Ms. Madill also states “none of the apocalyptic predictions is actually happening”. This is another straw man argument. By using the adjective ‘apocalyptic’ to describe current climate, Ms. Madill can refute that these events have not occurred. However, IPCC predictions are for medium (20 year) and longer term (90 year) time frames. Short term predictions by the IPCC are regularly substantiated. The most obvious are continued increase in global average temperature [14].  It is fact that the past decade is the hottest in recorded history [15]. Last year was either the hottest or second hottest depending on the data used. January was the hottest on record [16]. February 2010 was the second hottest on record [17] and 2010 is predicted to be the hottest [supplanting either 1998 and 2009] [18] by both NOAA and NASA. Her statement that “overall trends of temperatures has not been upwards but down” is absolutely false. [19]

Ms. Madill states “evidence shows us that in recent years there haven been fewer droughts, hurricanes and heat waves than in earlier decades.” Climate science is clear that it is not the frequency of these events that is important. It is location and severity. Climate models quite accurately predict the changes in rainfall and temperature, hence the term ‘climate change’. Any specific location may get cooler, warmer, drier or wetter. The trend, however, will be greater global rainfall and temperatures [20,21]. Although climate models are often attacked as inaccurate, they actually perform reasonably well considering the complexities of climate modelling – one of the most difficult in science [22].

Ms. Madill continues, wrongly, to say that there is no less sea ice today. NOAA directly refutes this [23]. Although anecdotal, observations on the quality of the ice also suggest multiyear ice is being replaced with ‘rotten’ ice. [24]. She continues by attacking the graphing methodology of demonstrating the temperature trends on the last 100 years from the past two millenia. I cannot find nor refute her unsupported statement that it is “firmly debunked by two statisticians”. However, Mike Mann’s methodology has been supported by both the National Academy of Science and his employer, the  University of Pennsylvania [25,26].

Ms. Madill moves on to attack the contributors of the IPCC. She states ‘”the majority of those who contribute to the IPCC reports are not climate scientists.” This is a blatant misrepresentation, as the credentials of the editors, reviewers and contributors are impeccably strong. [27]. I cannot help but think she expects no one will examine the credentials of these dedicated scientists, or that she is simply parrotting inaccurate information from the very weak media reports I discussed earlier, which spread inaccurate information from unqualified skeptics.

Ms. Madill’s report of current carbon dioxide levels are also inaccurate. Current levels are at almost 390 parts per million (ppm). Ms. Madill is correct to state that the levels of this gas have risen and fallen over millions of years but her factor of “18 times higher” and “10 times the current rise” are not accurate. In fact, current levels of carbon dioxide surpass the entire measurable history of 600,000 years from ice cores drilled in Antarctica [2829] by approximately 30% (past max ~300, current max ~390).

Finally, Ms. Madill uses the same scare tactics she accuses climactically concerned individuals of using. By stating “calls for cuts in carbon dioxide, if implemented, will bankrupt us all and plunge us back into the Dark ages” is disappointing. She is right to state scare tactics are unhelpful by either side of the the discussion. I suggest, as many do, that society use the precautionary principle. To suggest carbon taxes, energy alternatives and innovation will bankrupt us is unsubstantiated. Rather, investment in innovative technologies has almost always lead to more productive and successful economies. There are few compelling reasons not to support alternative energies and technologies. Diversity actually increases national security by preventing over-reliance on one fuel or technology. As a nation, Canada needs to support technological research and innovation of energy efficiency and production. To rely on non-renewable energy sources without planning for their replacement is unwise. At best, Canada becomes a leader in new energy technologies. At worst, we move away from fossil fuel dependency with possible economic resistance. Difficulties of an economic nature will not cause a ‘Dark Age’.  Electrical production will still occur and our advances in technology and standard of living will continue to exist. However, if we fail to act, and the climate changes fulfill expectations, then difficulties will arise.

To be clear, the Earth will continue to exist in spite of anthropogenic global warming. However, difficulties with human migrations, food production, water availability, and species adaptation will change the structure of governmental policy and security. Individuals will not go to war over oil – that is the role of governments. Individuals will simply fight over food and water.

  27. and