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August 1, 2008

Is Global Warming a Hoax?

Category: Big Things,Climate Change,Editorial,Observations – Tom Harrison – 2:42 pm

Yes. Global Warming is a hoax, and I can prove it. Please take a moment to carefully read numerous postings from the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC). More come every day. Each is backed with a link to an article by a scientist, showing why various claims are wrong, or pointing out flaws.

For example, Professor Bob Carter asserts in The Age that a green paper published by the climate minister of Australia has seven scientific errors.

The first sentence of the opening section of her paper, entitled “Why we need to act”, contains seven scientific errors — almost one error for every two words.

Here is the sentence: “Carbon pollution is causing climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, more droughts, rising sea levels and more extreme weather.”

The article continues, enumerating the seven errors. It’s worth reading, I think, as I think it helps me understand why there continues to be a debate amongst scientists about the realities of global warming and the veracity of claims made by various bodies.

Did you read the article yet? I’ll bet you didn’t. How about the Green Paper? No.

I’ll be honest, like most people I haven’t read all of the papers published by scientists on the both sides of the debate. There are a lot of them, they are long, and it’s kind of hard to keep up.

But I did read these two items (actually, I only read the 34 page summary of the complete green paper).

A Linguistic or Semantic Critique

After reading the Green Paper summary, I concluded that it was a proposal on how the Australian Government implement a cap-and-trade program. The item quoted by Professor Carter is a cover letter signed by the Prime Minister, Treasurer, and the Green Paper’s author, Penny Wong, explaining the motivation for the paper.

Professor Carter selected the first sentence to critique. He parsed the sentence into words and short phrases.

He asserts “the debate is not about carbon, but human carbon dioxide emissions and their potential effect on climate”. So that’s the first word, “carbon”.

The next word is “pollution” (carbon dioxide is natural, to be sure).

The next is a counter to the assertion that human carbon dioxide emissions are causing dangerous global warming.

And so on.

An Alternate Interpretation


I had a different read of this first sentence. I believe that the authors are recapitulating what they believe to be a reasonable statement based on the position of the Australian government as a whole, based on a widely accepted global consensus. The cover letter does expand upon this first sentence, and the green paper uses more technically complete language, as far as I can see.

Comparing the two, Professor Carter writes 810 words, the majority of which are focused on rebutting the semantics of the first sentence of 19 words, of a preamble to a document that is a proposed response to the government’s position. His article, to be fair, is a newspaper piece, but it does not back up any of its assertions of error. The green paper, in its summary of the main impacts of global warming on Australia are supported with data all of whose primary sources are footnoted.

Professor Carter is a geologist. Apparently he also has some expertise with linguistics.

I do agree with the professor on his last statement, that it is time for some due diligence.

Too Much Information

Even those who are scientists, or even have a degree of understanding, circumspection, and diligence cannot truly keep up with the mass of information that is available. I spend a lot of my waking and sleeping hours thinking about topics related to global warming; I have a reasonable scientific education and skill at interpreting scientific and economic data; I have read a lot.

But there’s simply no way I could begin to pretend to have actual first-hand knowledge, or even the ability to carefully asses the validity of data that relates to climate change. And I don’t think there is any person who could assimilate all the information, asses it’s validity, pertinence, and the conclusions drawn by those who analyzed and reported on that data.

Oh, and the scientific process never claims to be “right” (well almost never, except in the case of laws — all the rest are hypotheses or theories or findings). Very little is conclusive in the sense of being a “proof”; it’s not black or white, just a shade of gray. Instead, we gradually arrive at consensus. Is consensus always right? No. It is simply what people who do know think to be the most likely outcome.

Unless there is indeed a large conspiracy, everything that I have read suggests that scientists have reached consensus. I have tried to delve past the headlines and new articles, and actually read some of the layers closer to the actual data and findings. I am very willing to believe that scientists often “want” to arrive at a particular finding, and human nature may encourage them to ignore conflicting data. But I also tend to think the process of peer review tends to weed out the egos, and identify the facts. Nothing I have read indicates conspiracy.

So, unless we mainly ignore the information, we need to listen to someone who has rolled up their understanding of the facts and drawn a (tentative) conclusion. I think Professor Carter would agree with this. The Australian government has accepted the conclusion, and is now working as quickly as it can to take steps based on that conclusion.

Being Skeptical is Good

Few of us have the luxury, ability or resources to be good skeptics. But questioning what you hear is a very, very important thing to do. I am sure there are people, probably other scientists out there who can convincingly rebut some of the claims being made by scientists about their predictions. In fact, the best scientists go to great lengths to identify the possible holes in their own work, qualify, and if possible quantify the uncertainty of their assertions, and identify paths other can take to validate findings, and so on.

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which recently published is recent assessment, publishes guidelines on how scientists should address the inherent uncertainties of their findings.

So the International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC), which Professor Carter is affiliated with, would seem to be a healthy foil to the IPCC. Now it should be pretty easy to find fault with a panel created by the United Nations, and the ICSC links numerous articles that raise objections to the conclusion of the IPCC as being flawed in one of several ways.

One of the sound bites of the IPCC reports is that 90% of the 2500 scientists who peer-reviewed the primary sources of evidence supporting the various components of global warming, concurred with the finding of the study. And the real sound bite is “2200 scientists can’t be wrong”, or something similar.

Several of the criticisms of the process seem valid to me. Others I have not been able to confirm.

Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

But, like the work of Professor Carter, it’s quite easy to understand the conclusions that the ICSC scientists are promoting, but more difficult to determine just how significant their criticisms are to the more general conclusion, if they are indeed valid.

In one example, Lawrence Solomon reports that a respected scientist had a complaint (perhaps valid) about the methodology of one of the results of one of the studies related to the rate of temperature rise in the 20th century.

Ok, so let’s say it is true that this finding is wrong.

Are there other findings that support the corrected finding? What other conclusions depend upon the incorrect finding? Does the error in this one finding create the likelihood that there are many other findings that are similarly flawed?

It would seem that Solomon thinks the answers to all of these are yes, because in a speech to the Petroleum Club, he states:

The fears of cataclysm over global warming are unfounded. There is no consensus on climate change, despite what Al Gore and the UN’s Panel on Climate Change would have you believe.

As I understand, this conclusion is based on the possibility (or let’s even say, certainty) that one scientist, Edward Wegman, found an error in one study. From there, Solomon says

In other words, Wegman believes that much of the climate science that has been done should be taken with a grain of salt — although the studies may have been peer reviewed, the reviewers were often unqualified in statistics.

So the claim of the IPCC that 90% of the 2500 scientists who peer-reviewed the main studies that show global warming exists, is caused by human activity, is not just part of an historical cycle, and we can do things to reverse it, and so on are therefore “unfounded”.

Solomon has 10 articles, which I think are now a book, each presumably pointing to flaws in the science behind the general conclusion that global warming is real, humans caused it, the impact will affect us, and we can do something about it if we act. I haven’t read all of them yet, but after the first, I believe based on Solomon’s statistical methodology I need not read any others since a possible flaw in one invalidates the body of work.

Without many more facts, I am unable to see how we throw out the whole IPCC finding as “unfounded” based on information like this.

Is there really still a debate amongst scientists about global warming?

I should certainly hope there is still a debate. It would indeed be junk science unless some people were questioning findings, and refining analysis, learning, rethinking the assumptions, and so on.

The “debate”, it seems to me, is amongst a great deal of repetition of several points of consensus, frequently taken out of context by the media. This isn’t a “conservative vs. liberal” thing; this is just how the majority of us tend to consume what the media feeds us.

Whereas scientists arrive at consensus after diligent review of distinct studies around a larger area, the rest of us tend to believe that which is repeated frequently. Reporters and news outlets are very conscious about appearing balanced in their reporting. So if one thing is being repeated, news stories tend to seek out contrary viewpoints (even if they use them as shills, or straw-men in their reports).

For example, right after the IPCC report, the Boston Globe reported:

Some, though, are sticking to aggressive tactics, even contending they are gaining momentum. And they have influential allies: some scientists, conservative think-tank pundits, a minority of Republicans in Congress, and a sympathetic White House…

And it is this kind of reporting, even if from the clearly liberally biased Boston Globe, that tends to keep the notion that there is still a debate alive. And it creates a wonderful market for Professor Carter, Lawrence Solomon and the ICSC alive.

Is there still a real debate about the general conclusions:

  • Global warming exists
  • It is being caused by human activity
  • It may be worse as a result of historical patterns
  • We can take action to help resolve the problem

No.

8 Comments

  1. Recently I read “Deep Economy”. While commenting on the book to my wife she asked “With what did you disagree?”

    Questioning and critical thinking have always been important but are more important today than at any time in history — in my opinion.

    Comment by Paul L — August 2, 2008 @ 1:32 pm

  2. If global warming is measured by “permanent” ice melting, I believe we’ve been globally warming since the ice age, and I doubt it’s all been because of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

    I think what a lot of the conversation of this theory is missing is context. Yes, given facts are true. In context, they mean things. Since I have better things to do with my time than study global warming (being not a scientist or political celebrity, no one would listen to me anyway), I will accept two global facts:
    The earth is warmer than it once was.
    Taking care of the environment is greater than a warming planet.

    I will continue to read your discussions and readings on the topic.

    Comment by Ann Hartter — August 3, 2008 @ 12:33 pm

  3. @Paul L — I salute you wife’s question. I wrote this post because I want to work on looking at how the various forces that hold various views, many different than mine, understand global warming, or any of the other crises we seem to be facing today. True critical thought, discourse, and nuance lead to understanding … hopefully a unified understanding upon which we can all generally concur such that we can move forward.

    It doesn’t mean we all must move forward, nor all agree. I am still seeking disagreements, or alternate views that have some solid basis upon which to disagree or propose an alternate view.

    I know several very, very smart people whose views on the topic I wrote about are different than mine — I don’t think their views (or mine) are based on dogma, nor on intellectual laziness, or capacity, or upon the belief that the issues around global warming are some vast conspiracy, or on personal interest.

    Instead, I think we honestly see the same thing differently. In several cases, they have cited the arguments I wrote about here, perhaps not from the same source, but the same line of thought. At first, I said “What? You believe what?” then realized that I may have not done sufficient work in understanding why they hold their views. I dismissed their views, at first. That was wrong, and this post is a first attempt at seriously seeking a basis for an alternate view. I didn’t find that basis, but I will keep looking.

    Instead after much learning, reading, following and researching their alternate viewpoint, I was left feeling that I was in a hall of mirrors. I questioned both my own knowledge and understanding, and theirs. In at least this case (that I wrote about here), I was not able to find anything tangible or solid to grab on to.

    Instead, I found lots of rhetoric, and some statements and arguments that were, in my view, “dressed up” to look like fact, but which didn’t really have anything other than a thinly supported assertion behind them. While there was much denial of what others have said (mostly by recent IPCC findings, lately), there was very little actual information supporting what is true. I am still looking, and will continue to look, critical of both my own views and others’.

    @Ann — thanks for your comment. I am not quite sure I understand your view, but I certainly agree that in many cases, arguments from both sides have been presented without context. This may be because of the complexity of the problem; few of the findings of people studying global warming result in out-and-out “facts”; instead, the method, the veracity of the data, the relevance of the finding, the motivations of the researchers, and so on can all be questioned. And they should be; it is how we have come to understand the world around us.

    So for those of us left to ponder conclusions such as the IPCC’s recent, which might be summarized as “we’re very sure”, there’s still a certain amount of uncertainty. I do think there’s enough information for curious minds to see and read to come to a conclusion that is consistent, in large part, with the findings that is gradually coming to be accepted as “our best guess as what is true”.

    One need not study global warming to critically interpret the various sources of information readily available, and dig a little to get the necessary context, and feel confident that some fundamental findings are reliably true enough for us to decide to act.

    I think that global warming cannot be seen only as an environmental issue. Protecting the environment is important, but so is understanding how many other aspects of our life, society, economy, and the decisions we make individually and collectively are increasingly important. That is, we need to make the right choices starting now. We need leadership to help unify and direct us; we need businesses to think for the longer term. We need to listen to the news … and understand it more deeply than is possible from CNN or USA Today. Otherwise, we need to accept the “wisdom of the pack” and accept the prevailing wisdom.

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 3, 2008 @ 6:15 pm

  4. Tom, I agree with your statement that “True critical thought, discourse, and nuance lead to understanding…”. The problem as I see it is that there is little “true” critical thought and discourse. It appears many of us (myself included) have opinions that originate from peer groups, personal values, fear, pride and other emotions. I think we need leaders and individuals like you who discuss global warming and other subjects with a sincerity that avoids inflammatory language and personal attacks.

    Comment by Paul Lambert — August 3, 2008 @ 8:49 pm

  5. Paul —

    Thank you for your comment and generous words. I think we all have opinions that originate from the sources you enumerate. We’re all human, and this is an instinct (or so I understand) that has kept us going strong for many years. So I forgive myself the occasional nasty, destructive barb or pointed comment, even when I write it in this semi-public place.

    True critical thought and discourse was said to have occurred in places far, far away from here (Plato and the like). My cynical side suspects it was only the part anyone bothered to write down, as we do tend to blot out the less flattering parts of our human behaviors in our writings.

    Still, I took a look at your blog, Wondering!, and it seems like perhaps there are pockets of it left :-) Thanks for your inspiration.

    I’ll recall your objectives and ideals next time I have a more base instinct. Leadership, it seems, may not only be a “many to one” phenomenon :-)

    Regards,

    Tom

    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 3, 2008 @ 9:27 pm

  6. Here’s an article Theresa found in the Boston Globe on a similar topic as this post: Convincing the Climate-Change Skeptics.

    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 4, 2008 @ 8:25 pm

  7. Here’s a very good link from Andrew Revkin pointing out, far more eloquently than I one aspect of what is going on here. Climate Experts Tussle Over Details. Public Gets Whiplash..

    Revkin points out that scientists are constantly debating, but in most cases refining the smaller details. Yet journalists leave out the nuances and the public hears “two sides” of the story, when in truth there tend to be two variants of the same general conclusion.

    My additional point in the post is that this phenomenon may being exploited by those with an interest in one outcome or the other. Just repeating that there is ongoing debate creates the kind of uncertainty that kills momentum and creates friction.

    We have to let the scientists lead us. It’s really, really important that we start taking real action now.

    If you’re on the fence, you have an obligation to get off. Either side is fine, but you need to back up positions that dissent from the real consensus. Either read the facts and become involved in the actual debate. And for the vast majority of the rest of us, let’s avoid the whiplash and let the people who know better advise us on how to save our butts!

    Comment by Tom Harrison — August 5, 2008 @ 10:39 am

  8. […] Science is equivocal by nature. There’s always a debate. I won’t characterize that debate here; you can read my previous post. […]

    Pingback by Global Warming: Act Now or Wait? | Five Percent: Conserve a Little Energy — August 5, 2008 @ 5:16 pm

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