In my previous post in this series, I reviewed how I became interested in the topic of climate change, my initial research into the topic, and my conclusion based upon the data scientists have compiled that climate change is a real phenomenon. Once I reached that conclusion, the next topic of research and inquiry becomes: Is climate change caused in whole or in part by human activities, such as burning carbon-based energy sources to fuel our modern industrial society, or is it naturally occurring and going to happen regardless of what humans do? In part three, I look at impacts of climate change activism on energy policy and some political aspects of the debate.
The Case for Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming (CAGW)
What is “CAGW”? In short, it is the belief that human activities – mostly involving the burning of fossil fuels – are causing the mean average temperatures on our planet to increase. These temperature increases are in turn believed to have various adverse effects including:
- Worse than normal wildfire seasons. For example, global warming is blamed for the severity of the 2002 wildfire season in Colorado, Arizona and Oregon. Every summer when a certain region in the United States experiences a wildfire, it seems the discussion around global warming arises. As a counterpoint, it should be noted that Colorado in 2014 is experiencing a summer with below average temperatures and above average rains, and very little wildfire activity.
- Droughts. Global warming is blamed for adverse impacts on growing crops.
- Dust storms. Global warming is blamed for destructive dust storms. It is also worth noting that the highest recorded dust storm activities in the United States occurred in the 1930s, the warmest decade of the 20th century, and were a contributing factor in the Dust Bowl aspect of the Great Depression. Carbon emissions were much lower in that era, however, and since they have been growing every decade since, one would think that if global warming were a causal factor, that dust storms would have continued to get worse in the United States. I cannot find evidence that this is the case.
- Global warming is blamed for increases in the number and severity of hurricanes. According to one source, “scientists have found that the destructive potential of hurricanes has greatly increased along with ocean temperatures over the last 35 years.” Other sources say that hurricane activity has diminished in recent years.
- Melting Arctic ice and glaciers, which in turn increases water vapor in the air (water vapor is a “greenhouse gas” or “GHG” that traps thermal heat in the atmosphere), which in turn increases and accelerates global warming, and causes the sea level to rise. I am sure everyone has seen the depiction of Manhattan under water.
- Decreases in snow cover, which also would accelerate the warming because less sunlight would be reflected back into space.
Human Caused Global Warming is Settled Belief
In my research, the preponderance of “settled belief” is that global warming is human caused, that it is bad, and that the United States is the worst cause of it. According to the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), even though the United States has only 4% of the world’s population, we are responsible for 25% of carbon dioxide “pollution” from burning fossil fuels. The NRDC also calls upon America to take the lead in cutting carbon dioxide emissions by reducing pollution from vehicles and power plants. These are both commendable goals, but are somewhat problematic in a couple of respects which I will address in Part Three of this series.
There are also other papers published by governmental, quasi- and extra-governmental bodies declaring global warming a harsh reality and lay the blame squarely at the feet of human kind. The most prominent of these are the Obama administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The National Climate Assessment (NCA) is an ongoing interagency program of the United States government (and therefore funded with taxpayer dollars). Authorized by Congress in the Global Change Research Act of 1990 it has 13 participating agencies including Defense, Energy, State, NASA, EPA, and the Smithsonian. In visiting the website, I am struck by how cool it is. It has rich blue undertones with clouds scrolling across. In clicking on the links to the highlights, the reader sees that it is the official belief and policy of the United States Government that climate change – global warming in particular – is “primarily due to human activities”. Boom. Done. No debate, no counterpoint, no presentation of alternative views. “There you have it”, as they say.
However, this conclusion omits one very relevant factor: the earth’s temperature has remained flat over the last 15-17 years. As a group of scientists who dispute the findings of the NCA write: “The NCA is so grossly flawed it should play no role in U.S. Energy Policy Analyses and CO2 regulatory processes. As this rebuttal makes clear, the NCA provides no scientific basis whatsoever for regulating CO2 emissions.”
Unfortunately, because the President “believes” that human caused global warming is “real”, there is no chance that our government will moderate, abate, shelve for further study, or otherwise back away from this position. As I will discuss in Part Three, already we are seeing restrictive new coal burning regulations being put in place by the EPA that will significantly raise energy prices, impair energy availability, and will most likely have little to no impact on the climate.
Another recently released report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says much the same thing.
Shortly after this, the report says “each of the last three decades has been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade since 1850”. Again this ignores the flat temperature trend over the last 17 years.
The IPCC definitely views carbon dioxide and fossil fuel emissions as the causal factor.
On page 15, they finally say that the “Human influence on the climate system is clear”. They also discuss how models have improved since the previous report. The models however remain fallible predictors of the future.
As I observed in Part One of this series, it is very difficult to find unbiased, objective data and analysis. It is also possible to find articles, blogs, graphs, charts, memes and other information to support just about any point of view. I will confess that if I was already predisposed to “believe” in CAGW that reading the NCA and IPCC reports would have me out agitating for everyone to #ActOnClimate like so many others.
Because these and so many other sources are ones that most people usually trust (or want to trust) it is very easy to be convinced that global warming is real, people are causing it, and we must DO something about it. These are scary reports, and as one protestor I saw recently said through his cardboard sign “There Are No Jobs on a Dead Planet”.
Enter Scientific Skepticism
One of the aspects of the whole climate change debate that I find fascinating is that so many people seem to “believe” in their view of CAGW without regard to opposing possibilities, points of view, or conflicting or contrary evidence. In this way, many climate change alarmists (and deniers, to be fair) act the same way as extremely religious people do – they have a set of beliefs that are unsupported by reason and incapable of independent verification, they are rigid in their defense of their beliefs, and they are capable of hateful behavior toward “unbelievers”. I know this first hand every time I make a joke about “weather” and “climate change” in an online forum. The climate change believers deride and denigrate those who disagree as “stupid”, “morons”, “jerks”, “idiots”, and worse; epithets that are profane and unprintable. It’s hard to have a meaningful conversation with people who call you names such as these.
It is true, and I concede, that there is an impressive body of evidence and scientists and groups of scientists who support the CAGW theory, and their work tends to perpetuate and support that view. In fact, according to many, “97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is real and man-made”.
However, at the end of the day, the debate is about a scientific phenomenon – e.g. does the average temperature of the Earth change over time and if so, what is the cause? A corollary question is: What are the effects? Many of the variables in the equation are capable of measurement in our current era and of estimation for times prior to the invention of modern measurements and equipment. The debate should be framed within the context of the scientific method, which is described as follows:
The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge. Scientific method relies on empirical and measurable evidence to support specific principles of reasoning. Scientists seek (or should seek) to let reality speak for itself, to operate objectively and with as little bias as possible. Scientific theories (such as CAGW) are not the same as scientific laws, and are subject to continuous testing, evaluation, refining, discarding and re-formulating. Because even scientific laws can be overturned, there is no such thing as a “settled scientific fact”.
In other words, catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (or human caused climate change) are THEORIES, not FACTS or LAWS, and are subject to invalidation through hypothesis, experimentation, analysis of real-world results, and discovery and integration of new evidence.
Respectable, Credible Voices Argue that Climate Change is a Natural Phenomenon
With that said, there are many scientists of high repute, trained climatologists, meteorologists, physicists and others who do not think that the evidence supports the hypotheses that human beings, through their use of carbon dioxide emitting fossil fuels, are responsible for changes in the earth’s temperatures.
They work in small groups or alone, such as Dr. Roy Spencer, and argue convincingly that climate change cannot be caused solely by human activity, that there must be some other causal factor. His website and blog make for interesting reading.
A larger group of scientists collaborated on and wrote the NCA Rebuttal I mentioned earlier. To quote from the header of their report:
“As independent scientists, we know that apparent evidence of ‘Climate Change’, however scary, is not proof of anything. Science derives its objectivity from robust logic and honest evidence repeatedly tested by all knowledgeable scientists, not just those paid to support the administration’s version of ‘Global Warming,’ ‘Climate Change’, ’Climate Disruption,’ or whatever their marketing specialists call it today.”
The document they wrote, linked here, is structured in a “fact-check” format, i.e. they present the NCA claim, then present facts to disprove it. In the rebuttal to the first claim, they allude to the fact that climate change models predicted warming in the tropics, while “…multiple robust, consistent, independently-derived datasets, all showing no statistically positive (or negative) trend in temperature…Therefore, EPA’s theory as to how CO2 impacts GAST (Global Average Surface Temperature) must be rejected.” They even present a graph showing the predictions of the models vs reality:
The second claim common to both reports (NCA and IPCC) is of “Unusual Warming in Recent Decades”. However, the NCA Rebuttal points out that as the Arctic has warmed (images of polar bears stranded on ice islands are very popular with alarmists), the tropical oceans have had a flat temperature trend, and the Antarctic has cooled. They point out that over the last 130 years the 1930s were still the years with the most state high record temperatures, and over the past 50 years more record lows have been set than record highs.
Their conclusion: “Our climate is constantly changing for perfectly natural reasons that have nothing to do with carbon dioxide”.
This group of 15 scientists includes 12 PhDs in meteorology, engineering, climate, atmospheric and environmental sciences as well as physics, geology and chemistry. Two of them are IPCC expert reviewers and one was formerly with the EPA.
Turning to the IPCC report, there are also a significant number of scientists who disagree with it. Calling themselves the “Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change” (NIPCC) they have produced five reports so far, all of them critical of the scientific “facts” about climate change.
The Myth of the “97%”
Seeking to establish that CAGW is scientific “fact” (remember, there is no such thing), the climate change alarmists like to cite that “97% of scientists agree that climate change is real”. The website for NASA boldly states: “Consensus: 97% of climate scientists agree”. Similar to the myth (long since debunked) that 40% of gun sales take place without a background check, this 97% canard is cited as “proof” that the scientific community agrees that human caused climate change is real and that it is bad.
Several questions come to my mind in critically thinking about this. For example:
- 97% of all the scientists in the world? How were they defined (PhDs only?), contacted, surveyed, results tabulated, reviewed, published?
- Was it 97% of climate scientists only? As I’ve learned in my research, many disciplines contribute to the study of climate change, including meteorology, physics, chemistry, geology, astronomy, climatology, atmospheric and environmental sciences.
- Was it 97% of scientists at a particular conference or authors of a particular report (one of hundreds or thousands produced on the subject over the years)?
- Was it 97% of the scientists in America? Or were other scientists included?
You see, if you really think about it, it is a meaningless number meant to sound impressive and perpetuate a worldview not based in skeptical, objective scientific reasoning.
Conservative professor Steven Hayward did some research into where this mythical number came from and he concludes that it came from a paper published by a Professor John Cook in 2013 wherein he claims to have studied over 11,000 climate change articles. (Not studies or peer-reviewed reports, but articles) Of these 11,000 papers…
“We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no opinion on AGW [Anthropogenic Global Warming], 32.6 endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW [33.6%], 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. [Emphasis Mine]
In other words, a minority of climate change articles endorsed AGW, but of this minority, 97.1% endorsed the consensus that humans are causing it. This is hardly as all-encompassing or commanding as those who perpetuate it would have you believe.
The final point to make here is that the authors of the articles could have been anybody, not necessarily a scientist. I’m writing a blog post about climate change, does that make me a scientist? Of course not.
As I stated in my previous post in this series, I do believe the evidence I have seen supports the view that the earth’s climate changes over time in a cyclical fashion.
Do I believe that humans are causing climate change? The simple answer is “No, I do not”. And here is why:
- The Medieval Warm Period saw global mean temperatures significantly higher and in the complete absence of the carbon emissions we’ve had in recent decades.
- Even in recent years, the 1930s were warmer and had far fewer carbon emissions. If the increasing carbon emissions equals higher temperatures paradigm were correct, it would be a lot hotter now than it is.
- The flat temperature trend over the last 17 years, plus the fact that parts of the planet seem to be warming while others are cooling.
- The models predict higher temperatures than we are experiencing.
- The fact that it is computer models that predict the global warming we are supposed to be having or will have in the future. Computer models are only as good as the data and assumptions that go into them. Models can be (and are) tweaked to produce the results desired by bosses, contributors, funders, Presidents, and whoever else. I have very little confidence in models. I prefer to see real world data, and where models are used, that those models are changed when real world results differ.
- My personal weather observations where I live in Colorado. I’ve lived through droughts and horrible wildfire seasons. I’ve seen winters that were mild and winters that were very snowy and brutally cold. It seems in the past few years that we’ve had several “arctic blasts” that plunge the temperatures to below zero for days on end, and that winter seems to last well into what should be spring. This summer has been mild and very rainy – for which I am grateful. I realize that my personal weather observations are unscientific and not suitable for extrapolation to the planet as a whole, but they do color my views.
If anything, we could be headed into a new ice age, if trends seen over recent millennia hold true. In any event, none of us will have long enough life spans to know for sure.
One last word about models: they are predictors of futures and possibilities. They are not facts. The fact that the United States government uses models to support the agenda of the political party that currently controls much of the government is cause for concern on anybody’s part.
In the final post of this series, I will discuss some of the political and economic aspects of the climate change debate, my views on stewardship of the planet and alternative/sustainable energy sources, and some final thoughts on the subject.
By Richard D. Turnquist
August 3, 2014
Link to Part Three
A final word on computer models from an article about the search for MH370: