Does it matter?

Published December 13, 2009 by Sean

Originally published at http://www.houlihane.co.uk/blog

First, to save the people at RealClimate (climate propaganda by the people who deny that there is any thing to worry about in the stolen private emails, which incidentally discuss the use of that very website to discredit alternative opinion) the trouble, here is some background on me and what some people are claiming is a very important issue.

I’m not a climate scientist, so I don’t understand the nuances of the argument

True, I don’t work in academia – I work in the real world. I don’t feel under much pressure to ensure that my public views conform to the consensus view. I do have a physics degree, and knowing a small amount about particle physics, I appreciate that much of science today is based on indirect measurement, inference and models. As a radio design engineer (often viewed as a black art) I am familiar with the need for a model to have a good understanding of the important parameters and a way of proving the applicability of a model for a specific task. I do understand the strengths and limitations of statistical methods, and can easily tell when a paper

  • does not use a full or (a-priori selected) data set
  • does not consider alternative hypotheses
  • does not present the error bounds on a conclusion

I haven’t published in the peer reviewed journals

Actually, I have no real desire to. I do not work in an environment where published papers are any sort of metric of skill. Patents maybe? They are ‘peer reviewed’ in a sense. It is becoming clearer that the peer review process is not as open to contrary views as one might wish. Searching the emails might lead one to suppose that the the ‘we won’t read it until it’s published in a the peer reviewed literature’ mantra and the discussions about friends and influence on editorial boards of journals.

Look at the glaciers, they prove it

(substitute any other proxy which supports your argument) Well, neglecting the fact that your glacier proxy comes with some questions:

  • Not all glaciers are retreating
  • Glacier growth also relies on rainfall
  • Glaciers seem to have been higher in Roman times
  • Some glaciers (such as Greenland) are not stable in the current climate, and are self sustaining only due to their own micro-climate, since the last cool period.

Having one good proxy does not justify extrapolating the validity of that one point to another data point which you have a strong believe must obviously be related. It is nonsense to say ‘the stalactite records are a bit inconclusive, but since the glaciers show the last 20 years were warm, the stalactites want to tell us that too. Indeed, they would if they hadn’t had such a tough life’. Each point in the argument has to stand alone, and it’s weaknesses understood – unless you have a desire to build a house from a pack of cards.

Even if we’re not sure, we must do something

Well, wouldn’t it be good to know what it is you’re supposed to be doing something about? Must it be our fault, and we thing we truly understand the whole picture? Even on CO2, we don’t know why the situation isn’t worse than we thought it should be. Even assuming that the temperature is not varying as part of a natural cycle, there is a high chance that CO2 is only half of the explanation for what we observe. Intensive farming has had a pretty significant impact on the water cycle. Transforming forest into desert does much more than remove a carbon sink. Clean air regulation is thought to have had an impact on the thermal energy balance. The most serious risk with taking action blindly to solve an imaginary problem is that we generate a different problem which might be equally hard to solve. Imagine pilling up sandbags in the face of an oncoming tidal wave. Every little helps? No. Too little action is just as bad as taking the wrong action and wasting time and resources in the process. This is why a clear open understanding of the science is important.

So many people seem to forget that the planet is dynamic. The continents move (although claim this 60 years ago, and you would have been laughed at), massive natural disasters occur (and are not on the increase, despite what the ‘talking points’ readers will say). We shouldn’t be trying to preserve it intact (preventing natural forest fires, as an example), we have to be prepared to adapt to the way it changes. From the past changes which we are now aware of, it is clear that the climate is to some extent self regulating, with some feedbacks that tend to lead to stabilisation (such as increased CO2 in the atmosphere leading to an increase in shell formation). If this was not the case, we wouldn’t be here now. This natural variation and stability lends weight to the suggestion that an urgent need to respond to a tipping point is a false claim.

What was your agenda exactly?

I was introduced to the idea of skepticism about 25 years ago at the Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth. The scientific support presented along with their exhibits was incomplete or inaccurate, their personal ideologies were clearly apparent. Green and anti-globalisation views are very interesting, but they are not science. We’ve been subjected to scare stories about over population ever since I can remember, always supported by global population projections which have repeatedly been proven false. These seem to the the latest recruits to the ‘it’s all our fault and we must fix it before we’re too late’ game. Almost always these people will deny a technological improvement on the basis that it is still not 100% sustainable, see the refusal to support nuclear as a short term alternative to coal – it’s not about emissions it’s about energy rationing. It would be a shame if this got in the way of our solving the important issue which we haven’t noticed yet.

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Comments (1)

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  1. jallen says:

    Regarding perversion of the IPCC peer-review process, Dr Philip Lloyd, a coordinating lead for the IPCC wrote this on 11/23/09:

    http://www.businessday.co.za/articles/Content.aspx?id=87726

    “I was a co-ordinating lead author [for the IPCC]… [I]t gave me insight into the flaws behind the whole process.

    The IPCC claims that it has thousands of scientists and almost as many reviewers of the scientists’ work to produce their reports. There are two problems, however. In the scientific world I move in, “review” means that your work is scrutinised by several independent, anonymous reviewers chosen by the editor.

    However, when I entered the IPCC world, the reviewers were there at the worktable, criticising our drafts, and finally meeting with all us co-ordinators and many of the IPCC functionaries in a draftfest.

    The product was not reviewed in the accepted sense of the word — there was no independence of review, and the reviewers were anything but anonymous. The result is not scientific.

    The process is so flawed that the result is tantamount to fraud. As an authority, the IPCC should be consigned to the scrapheap without delay.”

    Posted December 14, 2009 @ 3:17 am (UK)

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