I have come across two important essays on aspects of climate change, which I bring to the attention of readers. Each is by an eminent scientist of a sceptical bent. I can’t summarise them here, and that would be wrong anyway, because each is well-written, clear and sensible. They are worth reading in full.
The first is almost ten years old, and was written by Richard Lindzen, then the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at MIT. It was written in 2008, and you can read it in full here. I can give you much of the Abstract, which should whet some appetites, and I break it into paragraphs for easier reading.
For a variety of inter-related cultural, organizational, and political reasons, progress in climate science and the actual solution of scientific problems in this field have moved at a much slower rate than would normally be possible. Not all these factors are unique to climate science, but the heavy influence of politics has served to amplify the role of the other factors.
By cultural factors, I primarily refer to the change in the scientific paradigm from a dialectic opposition between theory and observation to an emphasis on simulation and observational programs. The latter serves to almost eliminate the dialectical focus of the former. Whereas the former had the potential for convergence, the latter is much less effective.
The institutional factor has many components. One is the inordinate growth of administration in universities and the consequent increase in importance of grant overhead. This leads to an emphasis on large programs that never end.
Another is the hierarchical nature of formal scientific organizations whereby a small executive council can speak on behalf of thousands of scientists as well as govern the distribution of ‘carrots and sticks’ whereby reputations are made and broken. The above factors are all amplified by the need for government funding. When an issue becomes a vital part of a political agenda, as is the case with climate, then the politically desired position becomes a goal rather than a consequence of scientific research.
Nothing much has changed since 2008. The orthodoxy is hanging on to its dominance, and making even more extreme statements about weather, especially recently. Simulation and ‘climate models’ are doing well in the climate science world, though their predictive power seems less and less impressive. Not only that, their predictions (projections), or at least the scary parts of them, have now been pushed well ahead into the latter part of this century, or next century. No one now alive will be alive to point out any inadequacies.
Lindzen has some cogent things to say about what has happened to the relationship between governments and science. He points out, to repeat, that in organisations hierarchies are necessary and are powerful: … positions and policies are determined by small executive councils or even single individuals. This greatly facilitates any conscious effort to politicize science via influence in such bodies where a handful of individuals (often not even scientists) speak on behalf of organizations that include thousands of scientists, and even enforce specific scientific positions and agendas.
Lindzen provides a dozen or so cases of the way in which individuals with no or little claim to scientific expertise somehow came to be not just the spokespersons for scientific bodies, but even the presidents of those bodies, apparently because of the great power of what I see as the contemporary religion for Westerners who are not Christian but want something ‘spiritual’ and virtuous — environmentalism.
He sets out examples of where … working scientists … make special efforts to support the global warming hypothesis.… Data that challenges the hypothesis are simply changed. In some instances, data that was thought to support the hypothesis is found not to, and is then changed. The changes are sometimes quite blatant, but more often are somewhat more subtle. The crucial point is that geophysical data is almost always at least somewhat uncertain, and methodological errors are constantly being discovered. Bias can be introduced by simply considering only those errors that change answers in the desired direction. The desired direction in the case of climate is to bring the data into agreement with models that attempt to account for the observations by means of greenhouse forcing, even though such models have displayed minimal skill in explaining or predicting climate.
I have seen many examples myself. Lindzen supplies more. In the nine years since this paper was written I have seen nothing that bolsters the case for AGW’s being potentially disastrous for humanity now, or in the lifetimes of ourselves and our children/grandchildren. I would be pleased where those who support the orthodoxy on this issue were able to point out to me where Lindzen (or I, for that matter) are wrong.
The second paper is a little longer and more recent. Dr Roy Spencer, who is no less eminent than Lindzen, and is the father of satellite temperature measurements, was so put off by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power, his latest attempt to show the world that he was right all along in his movie An Inconvenient Truth, that he has written a book about it — An Inconvenient Deception. I bought it on Amazon Kindle, and you can, too. Its sub-title is How Al Gore Distorts Climate Science and Energy Policy, and it has 24 chapters, which just about cover, lightly in some cases, the field of climate science.
His book offers two principal themes about Gore’s warnings. First, Most of his claims about weather disasters, melting ice sheets, and rising sea levels are either untrue, or the result of Mother Nature rather than human activities.
Second, Wind and solar power remain expensive, and so governments’ mandating their use as a way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions will make their citizens poorer and more vulnerable to real threats.
He goes to say that there is at least the possibility that humanity could suffer some harm from our greenhouse gas emissions. But I also believe that the benefits of more CO2 in the atmosphere will outweigh any harm. Published research demonstrates the Earth is undergoing global greening and increased agricultural productivity due to the fertilization effects of more CO2.
Amen to all that. Spencer‘s book is just as easy to read as Lindzen’s paper, and it is full of little points that I had forgotten, such as Gore’s remark at the launch of his first film that “Within the next ten years, the world will reach a point of no return”. What happened in the next ten years? Nothing much — perhaps a little less cooling than warming, the warming periods associated mostly with el Nino events.
He made other predictions too. There would be an increase in the number and intensity of hurricanes. There wasn’t, at all. Hurricanes Harvey and Irma were the first of great force since Gore’s announcement eleven years ago.And Harvey is not even the most powerful hurricane to hit that part of Texas. Gore: more and worse tornadoes. No. Summer sea ice would disappear in the arctic by 2014. Nope. Mt Kilimanjaro would lose its ice-cap. Not that one either. His primary tactic, says Spencer, is first to see something in nature that could be worrying, then to say it is unprecedented, then to assert that it is manmade. He does it again and again, and so do other members of the orthodox brigade.
Spencer reminds us that the production of icebergs is a natural process: snow falls, turns to ice, the ice moves down the glacier path and eventually arrives at the sea, where it will finally break off. It does this all the time, and has done it since there was ice on mountains. It does not require ‘global warming’.
Gore’s film was to a degree focused on the 2015 Climate Accord conference in Paris, with Gore pictured as the major player endeavouring to get India on board. Indian delegates seem to have no record or memory of his role, and Spencer reminds us (i) that the Paris Accord didn’t require most nations to do anything at all save to wait for the money the Accord sort of promised; (ii) that even if everybody did everything there would be no measurable effect on global temperature by 2100; and (iii) the cost, if everyone actually did everything, would be of the order of $1 to 2 trillion a year.
Gore has made a lot of money out of his crusade, and that makes me wonder how serious he is about the notion of ‘truth’, let alone ‘truth to power’. I haven’t seen either film (though I have seen plenty of clips of the first one), so I am not a competent judge of the visual stuff. But Spencer did see both, the second in a 750-seat cinema in which he was one of an audience of three. His account is not just a critique of the film, but a good account of the uncertainties in the great field of climate science.
I recommend both the Lindzen and Spencer texts — easy to read, thoughtful and important in understanding the climate issue.