Saturday, December 17, 2016

Thanks to climate change sceptics I'm now a climate change alarmist!

PZ Myers introduces the above video from feminist Rebecca Watson with the following words:

An advisor to Trump and member of the transition team just bare-faced asserted that the Earth is less than 6000 years old. This was after Anthony Scaramucci tried to invalidate modern science by arguing that scientists once argued that the Earth was flat and that the universe rotated about it. Never mind that those ideas preceded modern science and were relatively rapidly dispelled as evidence was acquired

That Scaramucci's brand of thinking is found in high places and is also coupled to a president-elect who may well prove to have fascist leanings doesn't bode well for Western Civilisation.  I wonder where Scaramucci thinks the idea that the Earth isn't flat or the cosmos isn't geocentric came from? It came from centuries of scientific thinking and observation, starting with the Greek period circa 600 BC when it became apparent the Earth is spherical. The Copernican revolution, of course, dates back over four hundred years to the sixteenth century. But if Scaramucci distrusts the academic establishment so much why should he stop at climate change theory? Why not be skeptical of Copernicanism and spherical Earth theory? Or perhaps he should question whether the Sun is really a star or whether Cosmic ages are largely a delusion wrought by God upon man. After all some people are thinking along these lines and they are very likely to be Trump sympathetic fundamentalists. See here:

The kind of material in the foregoing links is hardly a recommendation for the Trump supporting fundamentalist aptitude for science.

The complex questions around climate change are not something I've given a lot of consideration to. To analyse climate change theory properly would require more time and study than I'm able to give it. But what better place to start than the de-facto "Intelligent Design" website "Uncommon Descent", a website whose contributors  are by and large very much in opposition to the academic establishment. What do they say about climate change? Perhaps they can reassure me with some of their nifty science that catastrophic climate change isn't on the way. Below I quote a UD correspondent who Barry Arrington, Uncommon Descent's chief of staff, showcases approvingly in his post here:

The thing that frustrates me is that the alarmist side does not even attempt cost benefit analysis. For example, they claim that droughts can reduce crop yields, while ignoring that CO2 increases crop yields. Crop yields are way up over the last century — there is yet no direct evidence that warming so far has caused any crop yield reduction, although it is possible technology has merely outpaced losses due to warming so far, and will eventually be overwhelmed. 

My Comment: Is this guy accepting that Global Warming is taking place? His logic seems to be predicated on it: direct evidence that warming so far has caused ...".  Given this predicate his contention is that it's effect isn't as great as the "alarmists" make out.   He also admits that crop yield increases don't prove much as we have to factor in enhancements in agricultural science. In other words he doesn't know if, as far as crop yields are concerned, whether the predicated climate warming is potentially detrimental or not. Perhaps he ought to ask himself if he is willing to take the chance!

What evidence is there that any catastrophe will occur? There is no statistically significant trend in drought, no trend in flooding, no trend in tornadoes, and no trend in tropical storms worldwide. The present represents the longest recorded period with no category 3 or greater hurricanes making landfall in North America. All belief that catastrophe will occur is based on computer models, not evidence. Even the EPA’s website says that scientists only have “medium” confidence that storms will be worse with warming.

My Comment: I'll accept (provisionally) this correspondent's claim that major trends haven't been noticed - but of course with so much chaotic background noise in the weather system it's difficult to tell one way or the other. His doubt about computer models echoes somewhat the right-wing Australian senator Malcolm Roberts who is so science illiterate as to be of the opinion that theoretical modeling isn't empirical science: But such models are constructed using theoretical constructs which have their roots in observation. True, given that theories and models can only ever be based on limited sets of data samples and have inherent simplifications they must be used and interpreted with caution. But modelling and testing models are the stuff of empirical science; if science were simply a catalog of empirically compiled data devoid of theoretical modelling it would be all-but useless. In the case of climate change, however, the experimental test bed of our models isn't a well isolated and controlled context in some laboratory but is in fact the whole of the environment on which we depend! Alarming!

The only “catastrophe” with actual evidence to support it is sea level rise affecting coastal regions, but that will occur in such slow motion that it’s not going to kill anyone. And sea level rise has been occurring for the past 12,000 years, including pre AGW, and there is yet no sign of the rate accelerating. It’s unclear what percentage of current sea level rise would have occurred anyway due to the pre-existing natural trend.

My Comment:  He's admitting to a sea level rise with evidence to support it! That sounds potentially catastrophic to me especially if I lived in a low lying area. Once again our UD correspondent isn't able to enlighten us as to the Anthropogenic Global Warming component of this rise. Interestingly, once again he seems to have taken AGW as a predicate! Alarming!

Besides sea level rise, the only observable result that agrees with computer models is an increase in average precipitation levels. It’s hard to say how the warmists can predict both increased precipitation and increased drought. I guess they are saying that drought will increase in some places, and decrease in others. The computer models themselves are at such a coarse resolution that they have no ability to simulate regional variation, so at best claims that certain regions will be worse or better off with warming are completely unfounded speculation. The computer models can’t physically simulate El Nino, oceanic cycles, clouds, storms, etc.

My Comment: So he's admitting that the computer models agree with sea level rise and precipitation increases. That's just a little alarming as it suggests that something is happening out there however crude human modelling of it may be. Our correspondent spots the obvious and likely flaw in any argument which tries to portray predictions of both increased precipitation and increased drought as a contradiction in climate change science.

Let me ask you a question — how do scientists know that the current specific temperature of the planet is optimal for life and humanity? I think we can all agree that colder is infinitely worse, such as during the last ice age when mile thick glacial ice covered the present locations of Chicago and New York. So if you were trying to decide an optimal temperature, we know that there would be a curve where cold is bad, and life gets better with increased temperature up to a certain inflection point, where further warming makes it get worse. How do we know we are at that point?

We know that in the peak of the last interglacial, temperatures were around 3 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. In prehistoric times, it has been 5 degrees warmer or more, with no ice at the poles. None of those previous warm periods resulted in runaway warming, or mass extinctions.

My comment: Yet again he seems to construct his logic based on those much despised "warmist" predicates, in this case the predicate that temperatures will increase. But in his question as to whether or not we need to be "alarmist" over this increase he's settling for "We don't know if we should be alarmed".  That sounds pretty alarming to me. On this logic I conclude that if I'm playing Russian roulette and I don't know if my chamber has a bullet in it, I don't know whether I should alarmed!

Yet scientists are saying we need to limit temperature to 2 degrees above pre-industrial. Maybe they are saying that the warming is going to be “too fast” for the planet to handle. A 2 degree temperature difference is equivalent to moving poleward around 300 miles, or up in elevation around 600 feet. Are we saying that animals won’t be able to move fast enough to adjust to that? How did animal and plant species survive the 7 degree swing in temperature at the end of each interglacial?

These are all questions I would like to ask a climate scientist…

Summing up: Given that Arrington & co are so highly motivated to find fault in the academic establishment the foregoing amounts to a pretty mild attack on climate change science! In fact those questions are fair enough if you're like me and not a climate scientist. But it hardly makes me feel any less alarmed to know that I, and perhaps even climate scientists, don't know the answers. Going on a World War II bombing mission knowing that there's a 1 in 20 chance that my aircraft will be shot down is pretty alarming!  I've often hoped that this stuff about climate disequilibrium is all wrong and that burgeoning human populations aren't in for a rough ride over the next centuries. So wouldn't it be nice if climate change skeptics could come up with their own solid science showing that climate change is nothing to be feared. But from the above alone it seems they can't do this; they are as much in the doubting dark as anyone else; climate change sceptics don't really know. But therein lies the rub; if we don't know we may have to proceed under the rule that it is better to be safe than sorry. Barry Arrington's attempt to pour oil on troubled alarmist waters has simply exposed a sceptic's ignorance of climate science. The irony is that I am now much more of a climate change alarmist than before I started reading Barry Arrington's article. Thank you Barry!

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