A correspondent sent me the following tale, which is trivial in itself, but astonishing in its implications. I’m summarising it, but you can read it all here.
One of the intellectual thorns in the side of the IPCC and the whole business of ‘combatting global warming’ has been the insistence on the part of the orthodox that climate change is caused by human activity, mostly through burning fossil fuels, making cement and clearing land. Indeed so powerful is this conviction that it is hard for a sceptic not to conclude that it is the burning of fossils fuels, not climate change, that is their real target. One is reminded of the strong disapproval by Presbyterians of sex, on the ground that it leads to dancing.
The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change twenty years ago defined ‘climate change’ as ‘a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods’. As I’ve said before, this seems to me to be a perversion of language, but even so you would think that even in this definition there is some obligation on anyone interested in doing research in this area to consider ‘natural climate variability’. How can we distinguish the one from the other? Surely that is a legitimate research question.
In fact, there hasn’t been much research of this kind. The standard orthodox line, which you can see in the various IPCC Reports, is that when scientists have accounted for all the natural variability they can find, what is left in ‘climate change’ must be the work of human activity. As time has passed, this argument from ignorance, which to me is little different from saying that it must have been witches that caused the Little Ice Age, has become less and less plausible, in particular because of the continuing pause in global warming. The longer it continues the more powerful natural variability must be, even if we don’t know what is causing it. (Some sceptics would say that perhaps the role of carbon dioxide has been greatly exaggerated, but that is akin to blasphemy, and I shan’t discuss it further here.)
Now comes the story. In the American State of Nebraska, the legislature has called ‘for a wide-ranging study of “cyclical” climate change. Funded by the state, the $44,000 effort was to be limited to natural causes – not additional speculation about manmade effects. Amazingly, University of Nebraska scientists are not just refusing to participate in the study, unless it includes human influences. One climatologist at the university’s National Drought Mitigation Center actually said he would not be comfortable circulating a study proposal or asking other scientists to participate in it; in fact, he “would not send it out” to anyone. The director of the High Plains Climate Center sniffed, “If it’s only natural causes, we would not be interested.”’
You can only regard this as bizarre. Yes, $44,000 is not a lot of money for a wide-ranging study of anything much, but it is a start, especially since the last finding of any research report is that more funding is needed to explore new and exciting aspects of the problem. The tale continues:
‘None of these Nebraska scientists seems reluctant to accept far larger sums for “research” that focuses solely on human causes; nor do professors at Penn State, Virginia, George Mason or other academic or research institutions. They’re likewise not shy about connecting “dangerous manmade global warming” to dwindling frog populations, shrinking Italian pasta supplies, clownfish getting lost, cockroaches migrating, and scores of other remote to ridiculous assertions – if the claims bring in research grants.’
One has to state again, as though to a genuinely dim student, that you can’t simply talk about the effect of human activity on climate without distinguishing it from natural causes of climate variability — those that we know must exist, because we know that there have been both very cold and much warmer periods in human history, and they can’t easily be associated, if at all, with human activity. And there is now the pesky pause of 16 years, going on 17.
As I said above, it is a bizarre position to take, that you would not want to do research work for which there is money, unless it has human activity in it. The authors of the article suggest that this is political correctness gone mad, and I can’t see anything to explain it, unless the researchers though the amount of money was trifling. On the other hand, I’ve never found any researcher, here or overseas, who would have thought that $44,000 was exactly trifling. One accepts it gratefully, supplies an interim report, and asks for more.
Now the researchers say that they don’t want to undertake work from which human activity is excluded, which is fair enough. But any halfway ambitious applicant for money should be able to design a research project in half an hour that would look at ‘cyclical patterns’, and indirectly distinguish them from the effects of human activity. They might actually find out something, too, though I doubt that the $44k will go very far.