I wrote an essay on something like this subject a few years ago, but I don’t seem to be able to find it. I felt the need to write another one, anyway, and if I can find the earlier one, I’ll be able to see whether anything much has changed. Because I have been a data-monger since my early twenties I regard good data as the essence of any attempt to assess the value of a proposition, accompanied by good and relevant argument. What I see as the lack of both good argument and good data in the domain of ‘climate change’ made me a sceptic about the domain almost from the beginning. So here goes. The process, as I put it down, is temporally linear.
- The planet is warming in an unprecedented way
Is it warming? There seems general agreement that it is. The late and much respected Professor Bob Carter said it all depended on what time scale you were using. He argued, with evidence, that there has been a slow and steady cooling since the high-point of the post-glacial period we are in. The trouble is that the data are awfully spotty. There are virtually none for the oceans until very recently, and virtually all the land data come from the northern hemisphere. The satellite data are only forty years old.
Unprecedented? I don’t think so. There is abundant historical evidence of warm and cold periods in the last two thousand years and more, the Danube and Thames both froze (at different times), Breughel was painting frozen canals in Holland that he actually saw, and grapes were being harvested and turned into wine in the Middle Ages some three hundred km north of the general limits of viticulture now. What caused these movements from warm to cool ? There is no widely accepted explanation.
- The current warming has been caused by greenhouse gas emissions, notably carbon dioxide
Again, I have not seen a paper that shows this step convincingly. I think that it there were one I should by now have seen it, and its lead author would have won some sort of top prize. Increases in carbon dioxide are argued to have a logarithmic effect on temperature, and if this is correct, then the effect of CO2 increases will diminish quickly. To bolster their argument, the warmists/alarmists/orthodox invented a concept called ‘climate sensitivity’, which disposed of the logarithmic effect, so that a doubling of CO2 would increase temperature by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius (the IPCC’s official view). A lot of work has been done on CS, and there is now a range of estimates of its effect from virtually none to nine degrees Celsius. My view is that if CS is low, then the whole ‘climate change’ scare is without foundation. I find it hard to see that the present warming is caused by human activity in burning fossil fuels, though we may have had a slight effect.
- The warming is going to be very bad for all living creatures and eco-systems
One of the great problems of the future is that it doesn’t yet have any data. So all the fuss about what will happen in the future is based on models, both climatic and economic. The models have to take account of what we already know, about which, as I have pointed out, there is some dispute. So the models are also disputable. I am not enamoured with them at all, and the further out they go with predictions the less I accept them. There is just too much uncertainty about the climate data, and too much uncertainty with likely levels of human population, GDP, conflict, let alone human ingenuity. Closer to the present there is no evidence to show that the increase in carbon dioxide has made things difficult for the planet. Indeed, the planet is greener, and food production has increased. Nor is there good evidence to show a link between greenhouse gases generally and ‘climate disruption’. It is all to come, apparently. But not so far.
- The seas will rise and flood vast areas of the planet, putting coastal cities at desperate risk.
There is good evidence that the seas have been rising steadily and slowly for a long time. The tide gauges show a slight rise over the past century or so, though the amount varies around the world. The situation is complicated by land falls and rises, which can accentuate or modify apparent sea level changes. Recent satellite measurements are larger than tide gauges, but of course it is completely wrong to suggest that the satellite measurements show a sudden acceleration in sea-levels, just because they are larger. We have no idea what they might have been in the past. Closer to home, there is no evidence that Pacific islands are under threat from rising sea levels, though their political leaders say so, while Bangladesh is expanding its territory out to sea. There is extensive development in the Maldives, where the Cabinet once held an underwater meeting to tell the world how serious its situation is. I feel much the same about the proposed ‘acidification’ of the oceans. There just isn’t good evidence about any of these threats. A final thought here: if the planet has been warming for the past hundred years or so, then the oceans will have been releasing a certain amount of carbon dioxide. How much is not clear. It seems to me more likely than the small amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is having the capacity to warm the oceans, which are incomparably larger in scale.
- We must change our way of life to avoid disaster, especially by moving to alternative sources of energy.
I came into this domain because of my interest in public policy. Good public policy has to be based on good data and good argument. Of course, there is public policy that flows from a government’s believing that policies X or Y will get them returned at the next election, even when the data and the argument are woeful or at least threadbare. The move to demonise fossil fuels, especially coal, now has a long history, and has been picked up by governments and UN agencies. The high point was around 2009, and the Copenhagen Conference. Ten years later much of the heat has gone from the issue, but governments can’t easily get out of it.
There seems no likelihood of a concerted global effort. The Paris meeting is not proving to be any kind of resolution, India and China and ignoring it all, alternative energies in wind and solar are not free, and contribute in their own ways to more greenhouse gas emissions. The notion that Australia has some kind of moral duty to show the way seems preposterous to me, and nothing we do will have any effect at all on the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Why on earth are we doing these things?
Those are my doubts about the orthodox view, and the doubts make me sceptical. Of course, I could be wrong, and warmists right. If the data and the arguments improve, then I will be most interested. To be a sceptic is to doubt, not to deny.
We will have to wait and see.