A Climate-Change Lukewarmer’s Ten Tests

By February 5, 2013Other

Tests for what? Well, new data that would cause one to accept ‘that current climate policy makes sense’. The tests have been devised by Matt Ridley, a science writer whose stuff is always readable. I think I’ve written about all ten of his tests at one time or another, but to have them in one place is useful. I’m simply summarising them here and adding a bit of my own. That’s appropriate, because I would call myself a lukewarmer too.

1. I would want to be much more sure about the reliability and validity of temperature records, that all the adjustments that have been made to them are appropriate, and that the difference between urban and rural measurements is understood. I feel that far too many people love to play around with temperature data mathematically without looking hard at the data first.

2. There hasn’t been much warming anyway — about 0.1 per cent per decade since 1979 (if you accept the figures). The IPCC says that because of ‘climate sensitivity’, water vapour will amplify the effect of carbon dioxide threefold. There is no sign of this amplification. Why not? It is at least as likely that clouds formed from more water vapour will moderate warming.

3. Model predictions and actual observations over the last 34 years are at odds; and sulphate aerosols and ocean heat uptake aren’t good explanations. Again, negative cloud feedback is on the face of it a more plausible explanation — that is, in the short run the climate system tends to return to the status quo: warming is followed by cooling, and cooling by warming.

4. What about soot? It can be argued that the melting of Arctic sea-ice, which has occurred, is due to there being more soot from coal-fired power stations (in China, especially) and from diesel engines on ships. If that is an explanation (and it is being put forward), then that further reduces the sensitivity of the atmosphere to more carbon dioxide.

5. The failure of temperature, however measured, to rise in harmony with carbon dioxide accumulation over the last 16 years plainly says that there are natural factors (‘natural’ meaning simply that humans aren’t responsible, even if we don’t know what these natural factors are) that are as powerful as greenhouse gas emissions. We need to know a lot more, and not make simplistic assumptions that because we have no other explanation, the culprit  must be carbon dioxide (the IPCC position).

6. All the evidence is that the warming of the past fifty years has been accompanied by an increase in food production, global vegetation cover, more rain, thicker forests and lengthened growing seasons. These are good outcomes for humanity. Where is the evidence that a further increase of the same kind would be harmful? Where is the evidence that somehow there will be a much faster growth in warming?

7. Humans are good at adapting: we do learn, and we are committed now to finding out and doing something about our environment, as about everything else. Why would we not be able to cope with the less-than-desirable consequences of climate change, whether caused by humans or not?

8. Why then should we be trying to pay now for the costs of warming that are not yet visible and may not even occur? We don’t have the necessary knowledge, and subsidising wind farms and PV systems is impoverishing some at the moment — with no change of any discernible kind to greenhouse gas emissions or to temperature.

9. It is not even clear that renewables are likely to cut emissions. If that were genuinely the goal, then we should be using gas to replace coal and going nuclear. But both these strategies are opposed by environmentalists, which makes you wonder what their real agenda is.

10. The precautionary principle applies to both sides of the equation: we should be wary of doing things that will reduce economic growth, keep people poor, and prevent developing countries from producing cheap electricity, the basis for all development now.

Ridley’s summary is short and punchy: ‘At the moment, it seems highly likely that the cure is worse than disease. We are taking chemotherapy for a cold.’

The ten ‘tests’ do capture the reservations I have had since I started looking at all this in 2007. It does puzzle me that so many people have taken up the global warming cry as though we know all about it, and it is coming to exterminate us. And the scientist-activist-prophet is a new species for me, and one about which I have great apprehension.

I know it is hard for anyone who feels that he or she has discovered something, whose consequences are dire, not to go public at once — and today’s news media are there, ready and waiting, to give them a platform. And I know that bad news sells. But surely ordinary common sense would cause people to ask an inconvenient question or two, and this has been going on for years now.

Why does it bug me? Because I have been a great supporter of the research paradigm all my working life. Research is good for us, both as individuals and as a society. I hate to see it perverted, and fear that one outcome  of the global warming hysteria will be that as a society we begin to abandon it. There is a lot more that I could say about the way our society uses knowledge, but this post is already long enough. I leave that for another time.



Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • christine says:

    An important distinction in research is the fact/interpretation distinction. A fact is (usually) an empirical piece of evidence that everyone can agree on – while interpretation is more fraught because it requires extrapolations to be made from the data. It is more concerned with evaluations of consequences and causation.
    It would perhaps be helpful if this difference was made clearer in media reports, because of course policy formulation is very dependent on the interpretation of the data.
    It is often policy which results in disagreement in the public arena rather than the facts.

  • […] mentioned the writings of Matt Ridley before, here and here. As Lord Ridley he spoke out in the House of Lords against the Conservative […]

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