I’m pretty sure that somewhere along the track I have argued that putting people or ideas into categories, while it may be useful for an early stage in sorting things out, is deceptive if it is carried too far. We don’t live in a binary world, but one with multiple shades of meaning. Not only do we not have to choose between black and white, there are almost certainly more than fifty shades of grey (the book with that title I found I could not finish).
In the ‘climate change’ domain those who criticise what I call ”the orthodoxy’, a set of propositions about the importance of curbing fossil fuels, are referred to as ‘deniers, ‘denialists’ and ‘contrarians’, which suggests a binary division. I refer to myself as an ‘agnostic’ with respect to the science and a ‘sceptic’ about the virtue of carbon taxes, Renewable Energy Targets and their counterparts. But that makes me, in the eyes of the orthodox, a ‘denialist’ etc. Inasmuch as we often have to summarise our position on issues I have searched for a label that would serve my own purpose, rather than someone else’s, and had begun to think of myself as a ‘lukewarmer’.
The meaning I give to that word is that adding CO2 to the atmosphere is likely, all other things being equal, to lead to higher global average temperatures. My caveat is that other things are not equal, and that on the evidence there have been other factors that enhance that warming or nullify it. It follows that CO2 additions are most unlikely to be the sole or even the major contributor to global warming when we have it.
Further, whether or not higher temperatures are harmful to humanity and other life forms is another question altogether. On the evidence so far, the 0.8 C warming of the past hundred years seems to have been beneficial. Further still, whether or not humanity is threatened by warming is another question too. The argument for it is based on the projections of computer models that have not been able to predict the past ten years or so without appreciable warming. Accordingly there is no need to demonise fossil fuels. There is much more to it all than that, I agree, but those three basic statements seem to me to distinguish the people who call themselves ‘lukewarmers’, and I am happy to be of their number, especially as they include Judith Curry, Richard Lindzen and Matt Ridley.
As it happens, Brigitte Nerlich decided to explore the origin of the term and its current meaning, and that has enabled me to check on the appropriateness of the word for my position. You can read her account here. She found something from Stephen Mosher (who thinks of himself as one) to the effect that to be a lukewarmer is to be inside the science but at odds with the public face of that science, which is a neat and I think accurate summation. Another summary is that of Matt Ridley: Global lukewarming need not be catastrophic. He talks about a lukewarm “third way” — that climate change is real but slow, partly man-made but also susceptible to natural factors, and might be dangerous, but more likely will not be, and man-made climate change is real, just not very frightening.
I’m happy with all that, I thought, and then I started to read the comments, which added more substance. Lukewarmers think that climate sensitivity is likely to be low, and since I’ve thought so too (see here), I’ve added that to the list. Then Lucia Liljegren (see my Blogroll — The Blackboard), who is a statistician of some note, argued that lukewarmers try to distinguish themselves, in particular, from what she called the real deniers:
Lukewarmers disagree with those who:
1) Believe CO2 has no net warming effect.
2) Believe the warming effect is so small that any observed rise in measured global temperature is 100% due to natural causes.
3) Believe the measured global temperature rise purely or mostly a result of “fiddling”.
4) Believe the world is more likely to cool over the next 100 years than warm.
Yes, I’ll accept that set of statements too, though from #1 to #3 are matters where finally having decent data will settle the argument. As to #4, I simply do not know, and nor does anyone else. It is all argument and computer modelling.
The comments section, and the arguments in it, produced a response from Ms Nerlich that I found completely acceptable: Yes, labels are insidious, divisive and slippery like eels! As societies we cannot live without them, but it makes working together so much more difficult. I am puzzled as to why labels have proliferated so much in the climate change debate. I don’t think the proliferation is restricted to ‘climate change’. Labels are characteristic of our tribe. It is how we find allies and know enemies. And when people try to give us labels that we don’t like, we look for ones that we like — and that’s how I got into seeing myself as a lukewarmer!
Lukewarmers aren’t necessarily supporters of fossil fuels. Thomas W. Fuller, who co-authored ClimateGate with Stephen Mosher, argues that we need to wean ourselves off fossil fuels because their supply is limited. I am not sure about that, but agree that he may be right, just as those who argue that we will never run out of them, just as we haven’t run out of trees, may be right too. Fuller is for nuclear power; others of the same view are for power sources based on thorium. I have no objection to either, if they work. What I want is reliable and affordable electric power. I depend on it every day for nearly everything. Fussing about with wind turbines and solar arrays for grid power at the moment seems to me to be almost fatuous. How can anyone seriously support it? We do not have the knowledge yet to justify it.
But I do think that that in exploring the harnessing of solar energy we are going in the right direction, and I have supported R&D in that area for thirty years. One day we will be able to store solar energy effectively and cheaply, and when we do that a great deal of the current debate will disappear. As developments occur that can be marketed sensibly (as in the use of solar energy for hot water) the market takes them up. It is the forcible take-up of devices that cannot sustain themselves in the market without subsidies that I object to. Once a subsidy is in place, it is extraordinarily difficult to remove it, as we are seeing with the debates about the ludicrous RET.
Lukewarmer, it turns out, is a fuzzy label, and I have to retreat to saying that when I use it about myself, I mean what you read above.[Footnote: I came across a careful 12-minute video by Dr David Evans about the sceptic’s case on ‘climate change’. I thought it was quite good, though it doesn’t (and couldn’t possibly) cover everything in that time. You can view it at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0gDErDwXqhc ]