Mark Steyn is being awfully sweet and driving some traffic to this teutonic outpost of the dextrosphere, but I fear that he is misunderstanding one point, particularly this:
The Prussian comes to a subtly different conclusion, suggesting that, if the cause doesn’t want to go down the drain, it should send Michael E Mann down there on an express ticket
I just want to stress that ‘the cause’ for me is the business of scientific accuracy, and understanding. While I remain concerned about AGW, for reasons to be explained in this post, I have no truck with the green agenda, and I think that it is powerfully destructive to any serious effort to fix this problem, for reasons also to be explained in this post.
Indeed, I happily offer Mr Steyn an opportunity for a debate when he has a moment about the science of human caused climate change (I am indebted for his pointing me to the following assessment of the climategate fiasco, by the UK institute of physics. Be sure to read it all).
Why I think that AGW is real
To state the counter case at its strongest, would it surprise anyone to learn that:
– One of the biggest climatic changes in Earth’s history had zip to do with carbon dioxide levels?
– That the tendency of tree rings to fail to track recent temperature changes is so well established, it even has an official name, ‘the divergence problem’?
However, all of the above are facts well attested to in the scientific literature; indeed, the reference about the problems with tree ring proxy data is authored by Michael Mann (I typically don’t link the guy, but this was too ironic). Further, isn’t it the case that the IPCC’s projections span such a great range that it makes falsification very difficult, if not impossible?
-So, doesn’t that mean you don’t believe in global warming?
The first thing whenever I get this question is: “What do you mean by global warming?” If you mean the apocalyptic ‘day after tomorrow’ fantasies advanced by people like Al Gore, then the answer is “no”, and I have the scientific consensus with me on that. If the answer is “do I believe that human activity increases global temperatures worldwide?” then my response is yes.
The first reason is simply my knowledge of the scientific process. Scientists as a group are people whom it is hard to get to attend the same lab meeting. The idea of any sort of global, toe-the-line conspiracy is ludicrous. Even if we discard what Steyn calls Mann’s “tree ring circus”, we are left with a number of proxy studies using ocean sediments, pollen, ice cores etc. All of them show a suspicious up-tick in temperatures in the twentieth century.
Let me grant that looking into this, I did not see anything as dramatic as what Mann’s been putting forward, but you still see the uptick. As it has been described, it’s a field-hockey, not an ice-hockey stick.
(Digression: one piece of evidence that I can add to this is that Michael Mann is definitely a megalomaniac. If you look at his list of publications, there are a whole lot of first-author ones and very few last author ones. This stinks to high heaven, because a professor should have many of the latter, and not so much of the former, because he is supposed to be supporting his students, helping them get established. I’ve dealt with such people before, sadly, and my advice to any up-and-coming climatologists is: Do not, if you value your career, accept work under someone like Mann. He’ll milk you dry and leave you with little to advance in the world.)
There is also the matter of simple logic. We know that carbon dioxide traps heat; the idea that we could add thirty one gigatonnes to the atmosphere every year with no effect is silly. And to answer my comment about the IPCC’s ranges, what they show is a number of projections along the lines of ‘if emissions are so-and-so we’ll see this kind of an increase’. So they are falsifiable.
Skeptics/denialists are simply setting the bar too high and keep crashing into it. This is why I get annoyed with my fellows on the right who persist in this silliness – by trying to assert that billions of tons of carbon have no effect on global climate, they hand an unbeatable weapon to their opponents. Steyn may well, probably will, win his suit and his countersuit against Mann, but the overwhelming majority of climate scientists who are not of that mold will still be their and their work will still be there. The green movement, a significant chunk of which can be described as fascistic, is being allowed to stamp the mint-mark of science on its plans, and it is being allowed to do this by the default of its opponents.
– Does this mean something needs to be done?
Yes. There is this persistent evasion of the difference between climate and temperature; indeed I had a commentator ask me how a 10C increase in temperature would be a bad thing. As I have previously pointed out, the last time that happened it killed 90% of life on earth. Increase temperatures by that much, and Europe has a climate like that of central Africa. Mass extinction would be completely inevitable.
Fortunately no one seriously thinks that’s on the cards (the mass extinction mentioned was the worst in our planet’s four billion year history, and it involved a large meteorite striking one side of earth and a continent’s worth of lava exploding on the other).
[Digression the second: this evasion is by no means all on one side. As SSC points out, the people who keep telling us that an unusually cold winter is doesn’t mean AGW isn’t happening always leap to tell us a scorching summer is proof that it is].
This doesn’t mean there won’t be troubles; as temperatures increase, we should see malaria and other tropical diseases begin to march northwards. There will be more cases of heat-stroke and death among the elderly (though far fewer cold-deaths), and similar things. In the poorest parts of the world, droughts will likely be on the up. Stuff like that. And if we go beyond a certain point, things could become very bad indeed.
Let me note that this is all stuff we should think about even if we could show the process was 100% natural. No one thinks that human activity can send a meteor tumbling towards earth, but among people who study this kind of thing, building some sort of defence against a meteor impact is considered a matter of some urgency.
But even if we could show that our activities were not increasing global temperature, we should still be thinking in terms of getting ourselves carbon neutral.
Why? Two words: ocean acidification. This isn’t even debatable: more CO2 in the air means more in the oceans, means things get nasty for sealife.
So you support the whole hyper-regulation, global governance championed by Al Gore then?
This is what everyone gets wrong, and this is why we have skeptics/denialists. The syllogism presented is “Climate science is right, therefore Al Gore”. Since the conclusion is self-evidently insane, people conclude the premise is wrong.
I’ve done a long post on why we need free markets to deal with climate change. I don’t want to rehash those points, but just to show how the governmental approach is actively destructive to dealing with the problem. Steyn links to a WSJ article that describes a US lefty billionaire sinking $100 million to oppose republican candidates, based on climate change politics.
What a waste. $100 million is a lot of money. It could have funded a hundred good research groups in energy and engineering, or given out four hundred scholarships at the best universities with a rider that people taking them had to work in this field for five years. It could have supported carbon capture, or any number of other initiatives. Instead it was sluiced down the rathole of US politics. He could hardly have made less of an impact if he’d piled it up and set it on fire.
For those who still think that mandatory emissions reductions will somehow work, that an international order that couldn’t stop savages on horseback from committing genocide will enforce emissions restrictions on China and India, let me make it simple: it’s much too late for that. If carbon emissions were to stop right now, the carbon we have already released would still be in play until at least 2150. As the aforementioned article says:
Anyone genuinely concerned about the climate future might do better to get an engineering or finance degree.
That is correct. Our species is capable of great things, when it has the freedom to do so.