When you read about global warming, aka “climate change,” you often hear about climate models that tell us the world will reach dangerously high temperatures if people don’t sharply reduce their use of carbon-dioxide-emitting energy sources. However, these models are built using our current understanding of climatology, which is incomplete at best. As a result, there is a lot of uncertainty in their forecasts. Specifically, they seem to overstate any warming that has actually occurred so far.
Why is that? The simple answer is that we don’t understand climate science very well, and as a result, it is hard to predict what effects human activity will have on future climate. Scientists, however, need a more detailed answer. What exactly is wrong with our understanding of climate science? Christopher Monckton, Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley thinks he has found one reason. Whether or not he is correct, his assertion illustrates how little we know about forecasting climate.
Now, of course, Viscount Monckton is not a climate scientist. He has a masters in classics and a diploma in journalism studies. He served as a Special Advisor to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and is and a well-known skeptic of the narrative that global warming is a serious problem that has been caused by human activity. Nevertheless, he has studied climate science extensively and thinks he has found a “startling” mathematical error that is common to all climate models. He is currently trying to get a paper that makes his case published in the peer-reviewed literature, but as the article to which I linked shows, the reviewers have serious objections to its main thesis.
A few days ago, I ran across an interesting study that I think is worth discussing. Like most studies that try to understand human behavior, its results are incredibly tentative. Nevertheless, they are interesting, and they also are consistent with a trend that I have noticed among my colleagues and friends.
The researchers wanted to probe how a person’s belief in human-induced “climate change” affects his or her personal behaviors. They recruited 600 people from Amazon Mechanical Turk (I had never heard of it until reading the study), and assessed both their beliefs about human-induced climate change as well as their behavior when it came to four types of “pro-environmental” activities: recycling, using public transportation, purchasing environmentally-friendly consumer products, and utilizing reusable shopping bags.
One very important aspect of this study is that the researchers didn’t just do this once. They did it seven times throughout one year. That way, they could track beliefs and behaviors as they ebbed and flowed. Unfortunately, it is hard to keep people interested in a study like this, so while they started with 600 participants, only 291 actually completed all seven evaluations. However, some participants missed just a few evaluations, so an average of 413 participants were evaluated in each of the second through seventh analyses.
Probably because yesterday was Earth Day, I ran across an article written by Ronald Bailey for Earth Day 2000. It reviews some of the predictions made by “environmentalists”* in the 1970s, when the first Earth day was celebrated. As Bailey noted back in the year 2000:
The prophets of doom were not simply wrong, but spectacularly wrong. (emphasis his)
There are a lot of failed predictions in the article, but I want to start with the one I highlighted in the meme above. Here is the full quote, which is found in the Spring 1970 issue of The Living Wilderness:
Demographers agree almost unanimously on the following grim timetable: by 1975 widespread famines will begin in India; these will spread by 1990 to include all of India, Pakistan, China and the Near East, Africa. By the year 2000, or conceivably sooner, South and Central America will exist under famine conditions….By the year 2000, thirty years from now, the entire world, with the exception of Western Europe, North America, and Australia, will be in famine. (emphasis his)
Notice how Dr. Gunter starts. He uses the consensus argument. He says that demographers (those who study human populations) “agree almost unanimously” with his grim forecast. I have no idea whether or not that statement was correct back in the 1970s, but it is eerily similar to what we hear now in reference to global warming, AKA climate change. Climate alarmists insist that we must listen to them, because climate scientists agree almost unanimously that doom is right around the corner. In light of this fact, it is useful to note that the supposed “consensus” has been spectacularly wrong before.
In 1988, the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources held a hearing on the greenhouse effect and global climate change (transcript here, digitized version here). In that hearing, Dr. Michael Oppenheimer (atmospheric physicist and senior scientist with the Environmental Defense Fund) testified about the impending doom that were are all facing if we don’t immediately curtail our greenhouse gas emissions. He said, in part:
Certain gases which occur in the atmosphere in small amounts are growing rapidly in concentration due to human activities related to industry and agriculture. Primary among these is carbon dioxide, a product of coal, oil, and natural gas combustion. These “greenhouse gases” trap heat radiating from the surface of the earth which would normally escape into space, resulting in a warming of the surface. This increase in global temperature causes a concomitant rise in global sea level as ocean water expands and land ice melts. As long as the amounts of greenhouse gases increase in the atmosphere, this process will continue unabated. There will be no winners in this situation, only a globe full of losers. Today’s beneficiaries of change will be tomorrow’s victims as the changing climate rolls past them like a wave that first sweeps you up, then drops you in the trough behind it. The very concept of conservation does not exist in a world which may change so fast that ecosystems, which are slow to adjust, will wither and die. The technical findings of the Villach-Bellagio workshops include: Global mean temperature will likely rise at about 0.6 degrees Fahrenheit per decade and sea level at about 2.5 inches per decade over the next century. These rates are 3 to 6 times recent historical rates. (emphasis mine)
Well, this prediction was made 30 years ago. That’s about one-third of the timescale that he is discussing (“over the next century”). Nevertheless, we don’t see any hint that his predictions are coming true. Examine the image at the top of the post. It shows the latest satellite-measured global temperatures, which have been recorded since 1979. Is there any indication that rate at which global temperature is rising has increased since 1988? No. In fact, you could easily argue that the rate of global temperature increase was higher from 1988 to 1998 that it has been since 1998. There even seems to have been a “pause” in temperature increase from 2002 to 2015.
What of his prediction that the rate of sea level rise would increase? Well satellites have been measuring that for a while, too. Here is what they have seen since 1993:
Notice that the rate of sea level rise is 2.8 millimeters per year (1.1 inches per decade), less than half of what Dr. Oppenheimer predicted. More importantly, notice that the rate of increase has been pretty constant, despite the fact that the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere rose significantly during that same time period.
Now, of course, these are relatively short time periods, so it’s always possible that there are some surprises ahead. However, given the fact that nearly one-third of the time that Dr. Oppenheimer was discussing has already passed, we can say that there are certainly no indications that his predictions have any chance of coming true.
Why am I sharing this with my readers? For two reasons. First, a scientific theory is judged by the success of its predictions. Right now, the theory that is guiding most climate alarmists has failed in its predictions (see here, here, and here). That should tell you something about its soundness. Second, the climate alarmists will continue to make dire predictions, regardless of what the data say. It is important for people to learn how wrong their previous predictions have been.
Sea levels have been rising since the early 1800s, and while satellites have only been measuring them since 1992, satellite measurements indicate that they have been rising at a fairly constant rate of 2.8 millimeters per year. This is concerning to many people, especially the ones who live in countries like the Republic of Maldives, which is, on average, only 1.5 meters above sea level. In fact, the country is so concerned about the rising seas that in 2009, the nation’s cabinet held a meeting underwater, where they signed a document calling on all countries to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions. After all, it is thought that rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere warm the planet, which in turn causes sea levels to rise. If sea levels rise too much, the Republic of Maldives will be lost.
Now, of course, that kind of reasoning makes sense, but anyone who studies science should understand that things which make sense are not necessarily true. A lot of Aristotle’s notions (such as the idea that objects prefer to stay at rest) made sense, but science has demonstrated them to be false. In the same way, a lot of our modern theories (like quantum mechanics and relativity) make little sense, but experiments strongly support their conclusions (see here and here, for example).
Rather than giving into the hysteria, then, it is best to see what the data indicate. Interestingly enough, the data say that while the idea that rising sea levels will destroy countries like the Republic of Maldives makes sense, it is almost certainly not true. I first wrote about this three years ago, when a group of researchers decided to study some of the islands around the Funafuti Atoll, which holds the island nation of Tuvalu. They found that contrary to the hysteria, the majority of the islands they studied have grown since 1897, leading to a net increase in the amount of land available. Well, the same research group has completed a more extensive study, which confirms their previous conclusion.
I was recently sent this article, which was written by a student. It’s about how she became a “climate skeptic.” It is definitely worth reading in its entirety, because it demonstrates how critical thinking can overcome indoctrination. In addition, it shows you what this critical thinking can cost, especially at the university level.
Rather than encouraging her to investigate and think for herself, her university “science” classes simply try to indoctrinate her. As she says near the end of the article:
I am disappointed by the quality of the “science” taught at University though — when theory is presented as fact, and computer models are regarded as gospel despite their infamous unreliability, it’s not actual science.
It’s propaganda—dogmatic as any religion.
Unfortunately, I have to agree with her. Even back when I was a university student, I could see examples of my “science” professors pushing propaganda on me. As a university professor, however, I have seen it become worse and worse.
But why did the student first decide to question the propaganda that was being pushed on her in the guise of science? Because of what she was being taught in middle school about global warming drowning polar bears. She was an animal “fanatic,” so she started reading about polar bears to learn more about them. In her reading, she found that they are able to swim 60 miles at a time. She asked her teacher how ice loss could harm polar bears that could swim so far. Her teacher simply told her that polar bears can’t swim that far (even though they routinely do) and then repeated the propaganda.
This caused her to start questioning what her teachers were telling her, and so she started investigating the issue of climate change for herself. As a result, she became a skeptic. Now I am sure that her middle school teacher wouldn’t want to hear this, but I think the teacher did a great service to this one student. Of course, the teacher has probably committed educational malpractice on many more students, but in the case of this one student, by simply denying the science and restating the propaganda, she taught the student to question the pronouncements that come from the high priests of science.
That’s probably the most valuable thing the student learned in middle school!
Nearly six years ago, I wrote about Dr. Daniel Shechtman. He had recently won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and I wanted to highlight him because had the term been popular in his day, he would have been called a chemistry denier. His own research demonstrated the existence of quasicrystals, despite the fact that the science of the day said (quite conclusively) that they couldn’t possibly exist. He faced a lot of opposition from his fellow scientists, even though all he was doing was following the data.
There is no such thing as quasicrystals, only quasi-scientists.
Despite the fact that the head of his own research group asked him to leave because of “bringing disgrace” to the team, Dr. Shechtman persevered, and he was eventually vindicated. Even though science conclusively said that quasicrystals don’t exist, Dr. Schechtman showed that they did.
I recently learned from one of my chemistry colleagues that the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote an article about Dr. Schechtman’s story. It is called Crystals of Golden Proportion, and if you have any interest in chemistry, you might find it worth the read. I certainly did.
The article discusses the ridicule Dr. Schechtman received from his fellow scientists, and then it makes this statement:
Dan Shechtman’s story is by no means unique. Over and over again in the history of science, researchers have been forced to do battle with established “truths”, which in hindsight have proven to be no more than mere assumptions…Keeping an open mind and daring to question established knowledge may in fact be a scientist’s most important character trait.
I have said the same things many times. Unfortunately, this obvious truth is lost on most people, including most scientists. If a scientist dares to question established truth, he or she is immediately labeled a “denier.” If you point out the uncertainty in our understanding of global climate, you are a “climate change denier.” If you question the “accepted” age of the earth, or flagellate-to-philosopher evolution, you are a “science denier.” As the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences admits, however, the “deniers” are right in many cases, and established scientific “truths” are sometimes just incorrect assumptions.
Science would be better served if more people (including more scientists) understood this.
One of the least understood things about global warming (aka “climate change”) is how much of it can be caused by people. Several studies have attempted to answer this question, and they produce radically different results. Some indicate that human industry is one of the most important factors in how global temperatures are changing. Other studies conclude that human industry has a very small effect on global temperatures. Who is right? I don’t know, and I honestly don’t think anyone does.
How can I say that? Because I read the scientific literature and use the information I find there to draw my conclusions. The information in the scientific literature has little relationship to the nonsense that is peddled in the media and most of today’s institutions of education. The fact is that no one understands some of the very basic aspects of climate, and a recent study highlighted this in an enlightening way.
The study is interesting in its own right, because it attempted to use artificial neural networks (ANNs) to “learn” about how climate changes naturally. I have no idea how reasonable their method is, but it did produce some interesting results. More importantly, the paper presented a table that shows exactly how little we currently understand about the way carbon dioxide affects global temperatures.
Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas, and hurricane Irma is currently pummeling Florida. In Texas, the death toll is at least 70, and so far, Irma has killed five people. In addition, two other tropical storms are brewing, one in the Atlantic ocean and one in the Gulf of Mexico. Reading social media and the less-responsible news outlets, you would think that this kind of weather is unprecedented. You would also think that it is all the result of carbon dioxide emissions causing global warming, aka “climate change.” While the human devastation is real and cannot be ignored, science tells us that these events are not unusual, and they are probably not related to human activity in any way.
Let’s start with hurricane Irma. Unlike you may have been told, it is not the most powerful hurricane that has been observed. In fact, that distinction belongs to hurricanes Patricia (2015) and Nancy (1961), which each occurred in the Pacific ocean. Their winds of 215 miles per hour are the highest ever recorded. Of course, Pacific hurricanes do tend to be pretty strong, but Irma isn’t even the most powerful Atlantic hurricane. Allen in 1980 had the highest wind speeds of any Atlantic hurricane (190 mph). Currently, Irma (with wind speeds of 185 mph) is tied for second, along with Wilma in 2005, Gilbert in 1988, and the Labor Day Hurricane of 1935.
Some people get distressed over the fact that there are those of us who don’t blindly follow whatever is advertised as the “scientific consensus.” The distress becomes so great that such people often have to come up with some kind of explanation for this non-sheep-like behavior. For example, in response to a 2014 poll that indicated Americans are skeptical about human-caused global warming, evolution, and the Big Bang, Nobel Laureate Dr. Randy Schekman said:
Science ignorance is pervasive in our society, and these attitudes are reinforced when some of our leaders are openly antagonistic to established facts.
I read and hear this idea a lot. If you don’t automatically accept what the High Priests of Science say, you obviously don’t know or don’t understand science. While such an idea might be comforting to those who don’t wish to think for themselves when it comes to scientific issues, it doesn’t have any basis in reality. Indeed, some of the most intelligent, well-educated people I know do not believe in evolution (in the flagellate-to-philosopher sense), do not think the earth is billions of years old, and do not think that humans are causing significant global warming.