What do I believe about global warming, anyway?

Every now and then someone will say to me ‘OK! You are a sceptic about climate change. Well, what do you think really is the case?’ Or something like that, as in the title of this post. It’s not really an easy question to answer in a sentence or two. Not for me, at any rate. I came across an engaging post in Watts Up With That that exemplified just how difficult it is. One guy had a go at setting out what he believed in, and then others added their bit, while some added things they didn’t believe in. It was good fun, and well worth going to.

As some earlier posts will have made clear, I’m someone who doesn’t think ‘belief’ is what this issue ought to be about. For me the whole issue is about argument and evidence, and my position could change if some compelling new evidence came to the fore, or I encountered what I thought was a really powerful new argument. Given the sheer amount of stuff in that WUWT post, I felt challenged to develop my own list, which looks like this. Readers of the WUWT post will notice some similarities.

My current position on ‘climate change’

1. CO2 is a ‘greenhouse gas’ (not a term I much like, but it is so widely used that I’ll employ it here).

2. Greenhouse gases have the capacity, other things being equal, to have a warming effect on the atmosphere.

3. Human activity of various kinds has very probably added to the carbon dioxide in the Earth’s atmosphere.

4. It is possible, perhaps likely, that the Earth’s atmosphere has warmed somewhat over the past century.

5. It is possible that sea levels have risen a little over the past century, as they have done in centuries past.

6. Our consumption of fossil fuels is rising and there are constant warnings that we may be ‘running out’ of them.

7. Research into alternative energy is a good thing, as is energy efficiency.

8. The price mechanism is the best guide to the supply of and demand for energy of all kinds.

9. The environment I live in is important to me, and I act to conserve resources where I can, and to leave a light footmark. Moderating the environment is not inherently a bad thing, and humans have been doing it for ten thousand years. We are learning how best to do this.

10. On the whole, very cold weather is much more to be feared than hot weather: it seems to kill more people, it reduces food supply, and it is more expensive to deal with.

11. Given all the above, I can see no obvious evidence at the moment that the current level of warming (none of any significance in the last decade and a half), the current proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere, the current pH of the oceans, or the current amount of sea-ice, ought to be of concern to me or governments generally. Indeed, warming seems to have been a good thing.

Some things about which I have what I think is ‘reasonable doubt’

1. That the science is settled about climate.

2. That the debate is over; it’s time for action.

3. That global warming causes ‘climate change’, ‘extreme weather’, and their synonyms like ‘weird weather’.

4. That because of increased CO2, the oceans are ‘acidifying’ (another term I object to).

5. That carbon taxes will affect climate in any discernible way, let alone a good way.

6. That the world would be a much worse place if the average global temperature were 1 or 2 degrees warmer than it is now.

Some caveats about the whole issue

1. The temperature data, both present and past, are very rubbery. They have been affected by ordinary error, measurement error, adjustments of various kinds, and various kinds of statistical manipulation.

2. The global temperature anomaly is a mathematical abstraction that bears no relation to anything human beings actually experience.

3. The world is a very large place, and we have very little information about most of it.

4. I am not opposed to models, which are embedded into our daily life in a good way. But the general circulation models (GCMs) on which so much of ‘climate science’ relies have been neither validated nor verified. What is more, it seems highly likely that climate is inherently chaotic, not linear. If that is the case, we may never be able to model climate relationships properly at all, and the projections about future climate are nothing more than ill-educated guesses.

As you can see, this is a moving feast. Feel free to add to it, or subtract, or modify.



Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Alister says:

    Our consumption of fossil fuels is rising and there are constant warnings that we may be ‘running out’ of them.

    So what do you think??

    You mig add

    The Precautionary Principle is insane?

    • Don Aitkin says:

      Yes, I could add that the Precautionary Principle always cuts both ways, and thus is not a useful basis for policy.

  • John Morland says:

    I also do not like the term “greenhouse gas”. This term refers to the “Greenhouse Effect” which is a wrong terminalogy when describing global warming (allegedly) caused by infrared (IR) absorption properties of certain atmospheric gases.

    The three main methods how energy (in the form of heat) is transferred are: radiation, convection, conduction. (There are others, such as latent heat, but these are not relevant to this discussion).

    Of the above, convection is the most efficient method when dealing with temperatures under approx. 1 million degrees – hence the Convection zone in the Sun. (This is not the whole story but it will do for this post). Conduction is the slowest and least efficient.

    The inside of a greenhouse is warm (despite being cold outside) because the glass stops the inside heat (from to the Sun’s radiation) being convected away, not due to “back radiation” from the glass. Proof? Go into a warm greenhouse and then slide open a ceiling glass (or 2), the inside temperature will rapidly drop to almost the same as the outside temperature, despite the opening is less than 5% of the total area of glass still reflecting “back radiation”.

    Hence the glass allows solar radiation in which heats inside but stops convection dissipating the heat out, thus leaving it to the glass’ s conduction properties to dissipate the hea – a much slowee, less efficient method

    This achieves a higher inside temperature equilibrum.

    Certain atmospheric gases (eg CO2, Methane, Ozone, Water Vapour) however do absorb certain IR wavelengths (either radiating from the Sun or from the Earth’s surface, and the corresponding energy of the particular wavelength absorbed (calculated by the formula E=h x mu where h is Plank’s Constant and mu is the frequency of the particular IR wavelength) is then either re-emitted downwards (to eventually Earth’s surface), or upwards (eventually into space) or transferred to other gas molecules through collisions (ie conduction) which eventually we feel as heat (as they, in turn, collide with our molecules on our skin and this energy is conducted to our nerves just below our skin which signal our brain to register it as “warmth” or “hot”).

    So, as you can see, nothing to do with a greenhouse.

    • DaveW says:

      Hi John,
      I don’t know that any atmospheric scientist really likes the term ‘greenhouse gas’ or ‘greenhouse effect’ (less arbitrary – the effect if not the cause are similar). Analogies to clothing (re Roy Spencer recently) or blankets don’t work either. But although resulting from a flawed and confusing analogy we do seem to be stuck with it and we should be grateful that whatever we call it, we have a habitable planet.

  • Judy Ryan says:

    I disagree with points 1 to 3. The greenhouse effect was only ever a theory. It was diisproved in 1909 (Woods et al) Nafle ??? Replicate woods study 2011 and again found no evidence to support the Greenhouse Effect. NASA has a short film that show s that CO2 acts as a coolant in the outer atmosphere.

    • John morland says:

      Hi Judy I had a look at Prof. Nahle’s expriment replicating the Wood’s experiment. At first I thought, yeah right, down goes the “greenhouse” theory.

      Later I had another look at it and now I am not so sure, I think all he did was to prove that a greenhouse has nothing do to do with the “Greenhouse effect” – as I have explained above.

      I think a better experiment would be a thin polymer plastic cover on 5 boxes (ie no IR absorption) and fill one box with CO2, another with Methane, another with saturated water vapour and another with Nitrogen and final box with air. Put each under a hot sun and measure the temperatures. The thin polymer film will cut out convection but each gas will have its alleged absorption properties (Nitrogen will have nothing) and then take the temperature readings over say an hour at 5 minutes interval.

      Now that would be interesting.

  • Peter Kemmis says:

    I think I’d have a longer list of what I don’t accept of the arguments supporting anthropogenic global warming, than I’d have for what I do accept. Also, I draw a distinction between a belief and an acceptance of evidence with associated argument.

  • Gus says:

    Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, factorem cæli et terræ, visibílium ómnium et invisibílium. Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei unigénitum, et ex Patre natum, ante ómnia sæcula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero, génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: per quem ómnia facta sunt. Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem descéndit de cælis. Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine, et homo factus est. Crucifíxus étiam pro nobis sub Póntio Piláto; passus et sepúltus est, et resurréxit tértia die, secúndum Scriptúras, et ascéndit in cælum, sedet ad déxteram Patris. Et íterum ventúrus est cum glória, iudicáre vivos et mórtuos, cuius regni non erit finis. Et in Spíritum Sanctum, Dóminum et vivificántem: qui ex Patre Filióque procédit. Qui cum Patre et Fílio simul adorátur, et conglorificátur: qui locútus est per Prophétas. Et unam, sanctam, cathólicam et apostólicam Ecclésiam. Confíteor unum baptísma in remissiónem peccatorum. Et expecto resurrectionem mortuorum, et vitam ventúri sæculi. Amen.
    A wonderful example of simple Latin. It’s really quite easy to read and understand, and it was meant to be so. This is no Ciceronic Latin.
    Now, the bit about “Filius Dei unigenitus”, meaning “the only one Son of God,” is something Jesus never really said about himself (you won’t find it in the Gospels) and, on the contrary, he said clearly that we were all children of God, which is why, on Jesus’ own advice, we should pray “our Father who are in heaven.”
    But I digress…The Credo is a beautifully redacted text to which some of the most wonderful music was set, from Middle Ages to modern times, from Gregorian Chant, through Palestrina, Bach, Mozart, Rossini, to Britten and Hummel.
    So, here is an idea: let’s set the statements of Faith, so beautifully framed by Don to music as well. The opening Chorus “CO2 is a greenhouse gas”, with much counterpoint, timpani and trumpets, to be followed by an air “Human Activity,” then a duet “The Atmosphere Has Warmed and the Sea Levels Have Risen”; the sea levels would be sung by a baritone, and the atmosphere by a mezzo-soprano. There’d be much similar stuff in the middle, then we would close with a grand fugue “The Models are True…” Amen.
    I can envision, almost with tears in my eyes, the audience standing up during special moments, perhaps a chorus about “Hockey Stick.”

    • Mike O'Ceirin says:

      Well Gus that was a surprise I think you had better lay off whatever you are taking. Perhaps you will take the idea and create EXTREME WEATHER THE OPERA. Tell me when and where it will be on so I can make sure I am not anywhere near.

    • Peter Kemmis says:


      That’s absolutely delightful. I’m not so keen on Britten, but the others are indeed great. However, what about Ramirez’ Misssa Criolla? Great rhythms in tune with the modern musical age, has the South American connection with all those lovely affirmations from the Rio Earth Summit, and could use a chorus selected from any of Bill McKibben’s 350.org parishioners. I gather that all that has been missing from his recent crusade around the globe has been a bit of decent swinging music in which we could all join.

      My wife who knows how to tickle the ivories somewhat, and for her sins
      also enjoys singing; when I drew her attention to your proposal and my suggestion of the Misa Criolla, she immediately burst into song, extemporising in full voice. I think you’d be on to a winner. Only problem might be copyright, in which case we might have to fall back to Palestrina.

      But I still have ringing in my ears that glorious sound of the chorus – “hockey stick . .. .. hockey stick . . . hallelujah, we shall save the earth!!”

      • Mike O'Ceirin says:

        Maybe I was too hard on Gus and I hope I did not offend. I like classic music, particularly Beethoven and your link also but not as much as “Ode To Joy” B9 symphony. My experience though is that the idea presented inevitably produces something not fit for man or beast. I have endured some awful things that still make me shudder. If the credo of CAGW is put to music then perhaps I could do the critic!

        Don Nigel Lawson has recently revealed more of himself with this http://www.standpointmag.co.uk/node/5541/full

        Here is a group that might do the lyric

  • DaveW says:

    In a comment on a previous post I detailed what I think the data say and where I have qualms about the climate change paradigm. It was a useful exercise, but been there, done that. What I was left with after was the question “Why is there a Catastrophic Anthropogenic Global Warming Paradigm?”.

    Nigel Lawson has an interesting essay apparently published in full at WUWT that I would encourage everyone to read:

    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2014/05/01/nigel lawson-cool-it/

    where he reviews CAGW and then proposes and elaborates on a hypothesis on its origin:

    “So how is it that much of the Western world, and this country in particular, has succumbed to the self-harming collective madness that is climate change orthodoxy? It is difficult to escape the conclusion that climate change orthodoxy has in effect become a substitute religion, attended by all the intolerant zealotry that has so often marred religion in the past, and in some places still does so today.”

    As I and others here have said, this hypothesis would seem to explain much of what we have seen of the climate change movement over the last 30 years. What it does not explain is why so many scientists seem so willing to engage in ad hoc modifications of their hypotheses, ignore how ridiculous many of their findings are, and suspend the scientific method when dealing with CAGW.

    I have a simple hypothesis to explain the rise in ‘scientific’ support for CAGW. In Australia, as in most Western societies, government funding of scientific research has increasingly come with strings attached. In Australia both Labor and the Coalition have been equally guilty in this regard: both have increasingly demanded that research be direct towards perceived problems. Pure research does get token approbation, but money flows to ‘priority’ areas almost entirely determined by political goals. We pay
    for what we get.

  • nofixedaddress says:

    Dear Don,

    There is a certain type of movement occurring whereby some folk are looking for spokespeople to step up and be prepared to face the press.

    As an example of what I refer to I would appreciate if you could check this web site… http://thepointman.wordpress.com/2014/04/24/get-real-get-organised-and-finish-it/

    It will refer you to the WUWT survey.

    My primary impetus came from http://geoffchambers.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/a-bird-in-the-ear-of-the-episcopal-rhinoceros/

    I wish to ask and find out if you would be prepared to be the Australian spokesperson for such an organization as detailed in the above referenced web sites.

    Kind Regards
    Dumb Boy from the Bush

    • Peter Kemmis says:

      Hi nofixedaddress (aka not so ‘Dumb Boy from the Bush’)

      I support the idea of some organisation to serve as a focus for good science and sceptical opinion. As you and others have pointed out, discussion of the science itself just doesn’t make any impact in either the media or the public’s understanding. Why? Because it gets too technical. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong, or that those discussions and arguments shouldn’t happen – limited as the exchanges may be, it’s critical that they occur.

      But the pointman is right, that if we want change, we need to do far more about it. One of the first places to start is to get simple explanations of the science out in the public arena, that people can understand. That’s easier said than done, but we do have a great tool in the internet.

      Now the public at large doesn’t get on to any of those good sceptical sites, and we shouldn’t expect that to happen. Gus has offered one good idea in chuckling at the emotional enthusiasm surrounding CAGW, as a way of getting people to look a little at themselves somewhat. (I have visions of 350.org scenes, charismatic enthusiasms, even old hat Billy Graham crusades, with if not a Credo, at least a “we shall overcome {the denialists}” theme.)

      But the other useful approach is to put up a series of other youtube snippets of education about climate, attractively and preferably humorously presented. These should be short, each seeking to explain one simple concept. These could include for example, actual observations covering a range of timescales compared to predictions and the timescale of the models concerned; they could address geological time scales and methods of derivations of temperatures; others could look at what our written history tells us; the list is extensive. But that is what is needed, simple stuff, really well done with the best of expertise.

      Meanwhile, spokespersons and political weight should also be brought to bear, as pointman argues.

      I’m personally prepared to put my effort in to this. Talking among ourselves helps reduce the angst, but it doesn’t do much to changing what is around us.

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