Posted by: Barry Bickmore | May 25, 2014

Deseret News: Who are the “Alarmists”?

I wrote an op-ed for the Deseret News with the headline, “Who are the ‘alarmists’ here? Real conservatives value evidence,” in which I roasted a couple so-called Conservative commentators for their anti-Conservative determination to do nothing about climate change.  Here’s the money quote:

So who is being “hysterical” and “alarmist?” On one hand, we have people using all the best scientific, political and economic analyses — complete with estimates of uncertainty and risk — to come up with recommendations on how to solve a pressing problem in the most cost-effective manner. On the other hand, we have self-proclaimed “conservatives,” supposed champions of personal responsibility, neglecting to obtain even a cursory familiarity with the best scholarship on the topic, blaming our inaction on what they assume (without evidence) China will do, extolling the unlimited capacity of humans to solve problems while excusing the present generation from even trying, and shrieking overwrought, nonsensical warnings about what serious climate action will cost.

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Responses

  1. I’ve long thought the real alarmists are the climate science contrarians who think responding to AGW will destroy the economy and take us back to the stone age. As one of the responders in the Deseret New pointed out they made the same predictions about our response to ozone depletion and acid rain and it never came to pass. Instead the investment in new technologies will probably be an economic boon.

  2. […] and shrieking overwrought, nonsensical warnings about what serious climate action will cost. Deseret News: Who are the “Alarmists”? | Climate Asylum Sign in or Register Now to […]

  3. If Dave wants to laud response to ‘acid rain’ I suggest the Sourcewatch nexus on coal ash : scrubber debris piled up in insecure sites by waterways, an unstable pile of radioactive toxins stored in degrading and ineffective ‘containment.’ Nor does the ‘climate change’ debate honestly come to grips with the idea that a carbon levy is a global tax payable to the UN…which distributes all the intergovernmental scaremongering about the ‘manmade’ problem we must ‘solve.’
    If you doubted the severity of effects on trade it would be interesting to note that the first thing Australia did was to suppress open debate on the economic effects of their taxation. The wildest forum has to be that of the Carbon Farming community – which recommend turning away from farming so as to sequester carbon.

    • So, are you saying that Dave is wrong about how regulating coal-fired plants to address acid rain didn’t break the bank? (Because he isn’t.) Or are you saying that regulators should come down even harder on coal-fired plants, to make them follow the rules about coal ash disposal? (Because I would agree with that.)

      Regarding your comment about Australia suppressing open debate on the carbon tax, I assume you are talking about the idiotic assertions made about how the Gillard government asked for public comment on the tax, and then only published 70 out of the 4500-odd responses. News flash. Not publishing something is not the same as “suppress[ing] open debate”.

      And can you point out any carbon tax proposal anyone ever made in the USA that specified the money would go to the UN? I didn’t think so.

  4. Barry,

    You start your article with the premise: “As the scientific case for human-caused climate change becomes even more compelling..”

    Can you give me an example where the case has become “even more compelling”? It appears to me that there is a growing disparity between IPCC predictions and observations and the explanations for the “hiatus” have been pretty weak.

    • Hi Steve,

      You say the explanations for the “hiatus” have been “pretty weak”. Well, there appear to be a number of different things going on, so of course some of them are going to be weak, because some effects are fairly minor. Fo instance, solar activity has been down. Well, that shouldn’t make that much difference, but it does contribute. The most compelling explanations, for me, have to do with the El Niño (ENSO) cycle, because this seems to be the main thing going on, and on how temperature records are constructed.

      1. If you statistically remove the effects of ENSO, solar variation, and variations in volcanic output, most of the year-to-year noise goes away, and you get a trend that has been quite constant over the past few decades. Climatologists have known for a long time that global variations on decadal timescales are dominated by ENSO, so this is not some radical idea.

      2. The “hiatus” probably isn’t a “hiatus”. It’s more of a “slight slowdown”. When you make a global temperature record, you have data points where there are temperature stations, and you have to do some kind of spatial averaging and interpolation to get a proper global average. The most problematic areas are the polar regions, because there aren’t many stations there, but those are some of the most important areas to get right because warming trends get amplified significantly in the Arctic. Cowtan and Way recently showed that the way the groups doing the major global temperature records estimate polar temperatures aren’t ideal. They showed that if they used a hybrid statistical procedure employing satellite data to fill in the gaps, you get a significantly higher global warming trend over the last several years. They tested the robustness of their procedure vs. the others by removing station data from various regions, using the different interpolation procedures, and seeing which ones did the best at mimicking the real data. Their hybrid procedure won, hands down.

      3. ENSO is really about fluctuations in how heat is stored in or released from the deep ocean. We are getting better and better observation networks for deep ocean temperatures, but you can imagine that this is quite a bit more difficult and expensive than just measuring surface temperatures. However, with what we have, it appears that indeed, more heat has been stuffed into the deep ocean lately, which is exactly what you would expect, given that La Niña conditions have been dominating the last decade and a half. This can’t go on indefinitely, and if we end up with a moderate to large El Niño event over the next year, it’s almost certain that we will have a new record for mean annual global surface temperature.

      So why do you think evidence like that is “weak”?

      • Barry,

        Thank you for that thorough reply. You might be right about these. In fact, based on what I have read and of what little I understand, I think ENSO is probably the major player here. However; if ENSO (natural variability) is the primary cause for the “slight slowdown” then isn’t it just as likely that natural variability was at least in part responsible for the warming? I’m not trying to change the subject here but I couldn’t help but notice the implications of that reasoning. The subject/question was; what makes you say the case for anthropogenic global warming is “even more compelling”. If these 3 explanations are some of the strongest answers to that question; in my limited understanding of the science, I would say they are weak.

        I might not understand your meaning but it seems to me that the rational suffers some problems. You refer to these ideas as “evidence” but it seems to me that these notions simply suggest theories related to attribution. Again they may be correct but not what I’d consider evidence. Another rationale problem I see is it seems to re-paint the target after the shots have been fired. In other words, It doesn’t prove or disprove the models that point the finger at human CO2 production as the cause of global warming.

        As for the individual theories:
        1. I’m skeptical of our ability to accurately cancel out the affects of ENSO to a single significant digit when I don’t think the heat transfer in the ocean is an exact science. Furthermore, it worries me when we apply some complex formula to modify the data to fit the expectations.

        2. If I understand the implications of this point as: the statistically modified data is better and sort of cancels out some of the “slowdown”. You mention the work by Cowton & Way 2013, but the National Center for Atmospheric Science published an updated to that comparison (http://www.climate-lab-book.ac.uk/2013/updates-to-comparison-of-cmip5-models-observations/) and It looks like it’s indistinguishable from the “slight slowdown”.

        3. I think you alluded to this in your answer, the data itself seems weak. The ocean doesn’t seem be gaining energy consistently and I don’t know what mechanism would have turned on ocean heat sequestration at the turn of the century.

        As for the original question; I don’t understand how 1)ENSO, 2)“better” data collection, or 3) OHC explains how AGW is “even more compelling”. For now, my bias is that you are too confident in human attribution.

        I’m not a scientist and I have stolen some thoughts from Judith Curry but they seem to be logical questions. So with that admission, I recognize that I don’t have a full understanding of the science and maybe you don’t consider it very scientific but I think I’m reasonable and you might enlighten me.

        • Hi Steve,

          I actually got a minor in philosophy, focusing on history and philosophy of science, and have published a couple papers about teaching the nature of science to introductory science classes. The title of the program I developed was, “Science As Storytelling”. My point is that when Judith Curry goes on about “The Uncertainty Monster” and “unknown unknowns” (or however she puts it), you won’t find me disagreeing, at least in principle. Clearly, scientists should always hold out at least the bare possibility that we might find out something that makes us rethink what we thought we knew.

          One problem with Judy’s perspective (in my opinion) is that most rational people don’t make decisions mainly on the basis that any rational decision could end up being wrong. You just assess the best available information, and go with the odds. If the data quality and quantity isn’t as great as you would like (and it never is,) you try to fill in the gaps, but you still have to make decisions about what to do in the meantime.

          In this case, we think we know what the main natural global climate drivers are: changes in solar radiation, changes in volcanic aerosols, and changes in greenhouse gases. Paleoclimate data can generally be very nicely explained by this combination of factors, and so the scientists are generally reasonably confident that they have the 800 lb. gorillas identified. On top of this you also have short-term fluctuations due to quasi-periodic behavior in atmosphere-ocean heat exchange, but this all has to average out over time. ALL of the natural factors we know of have been pushing toward minor cooling over the past 1.5 decades (and longer if we exclude El Niño), or so, and the only factor we know of that could be causing the observed warming is the increase in GHGs. (And the evidence that this is human-caused is as good as it gets. I’ll explain later, if you want.)

          But what about those fluctuations in atmosphere-ocean heat exchange? We know El Niño affects things on year-to-year and decadal time scales, so what about longer-period oscillations? Well, sure. It’s just that we have no particularly good evidence that such a thing has had a big effect over the last century. For instance, in one paper of Judy’s that I read, she performed a “spectral analysis” (which finds periodic behavior) on the global temperature record over the last century+. She found that there was a hump at a frequency corresponding to a periodicity of about 40-70 years, and pointed to that as possible evidence that one of these long-period ocean cycles is affecting the record. But anyone who does spectral analysis (or even looks it up and thinks about it for a few minutes) can tell you that all you need is a couple jogs one way or another to get a peak at such a low frequency when your entire data set is only a bit longer than a century. Such features are called “spurious low-frequency noise”. (Think about it–how can you find behavior with a 70-year period in, say, 120 years of data?) Could it be a real feature, rather than a statistical artifact? Sure, but there is no way of knowing, or even giving an educated guess, without a substantially longer time series.

          So how can we address the problem of the phantom oscillations? Well, given the physics of how such things work, it’s impossible for them NOT to average out over hundreds of years. Paleoclimate data (which has it’s own set of problems, but not the same ones) can be used to see what the longer-term response to climate forcing is like. And, well, it turns out that the range of “climate sensitivity” estimates you get by playing that game has about the same range as you get from sophisticated climate models, and about the same “most likely” value (about 3 °C for forcing equivalent to a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere.) The conclusion most of the scientists involved draw is that the climate models probably incorporate a reasonable approximation of the real physics, and can at least be trusted to get us in the ballpark.

          Here is an article about climate sensitivity estimates by various means, if you’re interested.

          http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-sensitivity-advanced.htm

          That said, there is still a fairly broad range of values that the present climate sensitivity could be, but the fact is that almost none of the probability lies in the range where doing nothing about it is wise. And the probability distributions are skewed to the high side, so it is actually more likely that it would turn out worse than the middle-of-the-road estimate than better.

          • Again, I might be mistaken but this response sounds like you have embraced the global warming paradigm because you think it’s pragmatic to do so and that we have no better explanation for warming than human produced CO2. I think that sounds dangerous. Call me an alarmist. This sounds a lot like the cholesterol “consensus” of 1980’s that taught us to eat low fat diets and the world just got fatter – people died – are still dying. But we now know the “scientific consensus” was less than reliable. These decisions are not without consequences and many of the proposed solutions to climate change are no less benign.

            In your article you say, “we have people using all the best scientific, political and economic analysis – complete with estimates of uncertainty and risks – to come up with recommendations on how to solve a pressing problem in the most cost effective manner”. Considering this administrations repetitive inability to execute a plan efficiently or even well; I find your perspective inconsistent with your political ideology and, in my mind, not very reasonable.

            I’m all for protecting the environment and being a good steward of the earth. The global warming crowd claims catastrophe, you said “pressing problems” but that isn’t how it’s typically stated by the global warming crowd. And what is concerning is that they claim pending disaster using models and correlations that are clearly flawed or incomplete at best. Why can’t we just promote environmental responsibility using facts? Facts that are unimpeachable not shrill and I think we’d build better consensus. It worked for cigarette smoke.

            I’m sorry if I sound a little disappointed but in your articles and videos, you generally talk as though there is little to no uncertainty in the climate concerns and that there are no legitimate questions that human generated GHG is the cause of the past warming when in reality there doesn’t seem to be much actual evidence/proof to that affect and there remains lots of valid questions that even a well informed person might ask.

            I understand and don’t challenge the influx of GHG being human sourced as well as the physical nature of CO2 as a GHG. I read “skeptical science” but I don’t stop there. I have tried to have a cursory familiarity with the best scholarship on the topic. That scholarship isn’t one sided and doesn’t always favor the warmists view. I was just hoping that after all these years, models and predictions that there would be some better evidence than simple correlation and ever changing hypothesis. It’d be nice if we had models that demonstrated a real understanding of the climate and incorporated ENSO, AMO, PDO, sun spots and volcanoes and acknowledged natural variability – but maybe that’s not possible. I don’t know. But not knowing and pretending that we do because we think it might be better than doing nothing seems, to me, alarming. But to be clear here, I’m alarmed, I’m not the one raising the “Alarm”.

            • Hi Steve,

              Your reply about how my reliance on imperfect theories and models instead of “facts” is dangerous, etc., might sound very pragmatic and iconoclastic to you, but to someone like me it sounds like you either 1) don’t have a clear idea how science actually works, or 2) want to absolve us from using science to inform policy decisions at all. Scientific conclusions are always tentative to some degree, and there is no such thing as a “scientific fact” about what will happen in the future. To make projections into the future, you have to use models, and as the statistician George Box put it, “[A]ll models are wrong, but some are useful.” The climate theories and models have been tested well enough that we can at least count on them to provide “in the ballpark” answers, which (in my opinion) should be “useful” for trying to decided what to do.

              Would it surprise you to know that we still don’t know exactly how cigarette smoke causes cancer? It’s quite clear that it does, and we have some good ideas about how that works, but all the details haven’t been worked out. In fact, the debate about climate change has been working out pretty much exactly how it went down with tobacco. (See a book called “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway, who are both respected science historians. You can find some good talks by Naomi on YouTube, too.) In fact, what YOU are doing is exactly what the tobacco people did–raise the standard of proof beyond anything science is likely to be able to provide, and then act like those who disagree are just not living up to the scientific ideal.

              For what it’s worth, climate models do incorporate some of the things you listed. One problem is that, the way the calculations are set up, things like ENSO, PDO, and AMO have to be a consequence of the physics, not something you “include”. Some of them are actually pretty good at simulating ENSO (although they can’t predict exactly when the oscillations will happen, but I’m not sure about the AMO and PDO. Another problem is that while the models can and do incorporate solar variation and variation in volcanics when simulating past climate changes, there’s no way to predict exactly what those will do in the future.

              So, in fact, the models DO “acknowledge natural variability” and try to simulate it as much as possible. In fact, the whole point of paleoclimatology is to sort out causes and extent of “natural variation”. In fact, the basis for our understanding of what human GHG emissions are doing involves what we know about what GHGs have done naturally in the past.

              [Note: As for the PDO, I did a very thorough critique of Roy Spencer's claims about it being a major climate driver. Click on the Roy Spencer tab above, and look up Part 3 of my book review. Apparently, if you want to make the PDO a big player, you have to construct a model that can give you any desired answer.]

              Finally, you say that my attitude is “inconsistent with [my] political ideology”. How so? Aren’t conservatives supposed to be cautious about performing giant social experiments? Couldn’t there be “unintended consequences” to artificially jacking up GHGs to levels we haven’t seen in millions of years, and faster than has probably ever happened? Compared to THAT, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is just another day at the office. Isn’t it irresponsible to try such an experiment, and leave our children and grandchildren to deal with the consequences? We make the same argument about the national debt, after all. We get all kinds of free stuff by borrowing money (Yay!!!), but we insist that we shouldn’t leave our posterity to clean up the mess.

              So, my perspective is that “conservatives” would try to deal with the problem. “Wacko ultra-libertarians masquerading as conservatives” are the ones who want to foist our responsibilities on others.

            • Well, you’ve concluded that I must fall into one of two camps and that there couldn’t possibly be another answer. That sounds a lot like saying, if it isn’t the sun or… then it must be CO2.

              Maybe I don’t understand how science works. (Does anyone these days? -kidding) I do, however, understand the difference between publishing a paper with methodologies and statistical errors to a professional audience and taking a public position and presenting one-sided sound bites as a subject matter authority. (I don’t mean that to sounds too harsh – I think it’s good to be engaged)

              There are major differences between the tobacco debate and global warming debate from a statistical correlation perspective and I’m pretty sure you understand that. The mechanism of carcinogenesis isn’t known completely, true but that doesn’t’ mean we can’t produce good correlation statistics. A careful reading of my previous post will reveal that I’m not against using science to inform policy decisions.

              Originally, I just wanted to know why you were confident that the “case for human-caused climate change” has become more compelling. I thought you might have something that I was unaware of and you gave me a bunch of theories and asked why I thought that “evidence” was weak.

              Having looked at the best science I can find; and of course that includes you, I’m going with the odds that I think there is a good chance that you are wrong about attribution and I think there is a good chance that a carbon tax is more likely to be counterproductive than productive. I think economic success strengthens our fitness as well as advances our ability to care for the planet.

              I’m a BYU alumni with a masters in the life sciences. I appreciate that you have taken the time to try and answer my questions however; you are a master of inference to denigrate without legal implications and you proudly published an article to showcase that expertise. I’m not interested in that type of a dialog.

            • Steve,

              If you are talking about my pokes at Mark Steyn, I am merely making fun of his insistence that he has the “right” to publicly and falsely accuse (without any qualifiers) people of specific crimes. If you have a problem with how I dialogue with you, please let me know what you object to.

              Consider the following quotations from your last two posts.

              You said:

              “I was just hoping that after all these years, models and predictions that there would be some better evidence than simple correlation and ever changing hypothesis.”

              And you also said:

              “Why can’t we just promote environmental responsibility using facts? Facts that are unimpeachable not shrill and I think we’d build better consensus. It worked for cigarette smoke.”

              But when I pointed out that we don’t understand completely how cigarettes cause cancer, you suddenly think “correlation” is good enough!

              “There are major differences between the tobacco debate and global warming debate from a statistical correlation perspective and I’m pretty sure you understand that. The mechanism of carcinogenesis isn’t known completely, true but that doesn’t’ mean we can’t produce good correlation statistics.”

              What, exactly, do you think is the difference? CO2 is highly correlated with temperature over decades, centuries, millennia, and millions of years. There is an extremely well developed theory about why that would be, and it can be tested in the laboratory, and by looking at absorption spectra of sunlight going through the atmosphere. There is a less well developed theory about how all the different climate system feedbacks play into it, but it’s still decent. You are simply wrong that “correlation” is all we have.

              Let’s suppose, for the sake of argument, that the climatologists haven’t properly taken natural variability, such as would be associated with the PDO and AMO, into account. And let’s further suppose that the natural factors are pushing toward warming, instead of cooling (which ought to be treated as equally likely). Paleoclimate studies over long periods (millennia or longer) wouldn’t be affected by that, and we can still use that to estimate climate sensitivity (where the climate will eventually end up). What would mainly be affected is estimates of how fast various feedbacks kick in. That’s great if they are slower, but if a change of several degrees occurs 50x, rather than 100x, faster than it ever would naturally, odds are we are still in it deep.

              Please look up one of Naomi Oreskes’ talks. Maybe you didn’t like my comparison with the tobacco folks (especially since I assume you are a Mormon), but I was quite serious about it.

            • BTW, please also look up the Roy Spencer critique I mentioned. You think it’s “one-sided” to not mention that there are a number of suggestions out there about natural causes of warming, but to me it seems like you just aren’t looking hard enough to see that one side is really dominated by unbelievably bad science. Just because two positions exist doesn’t mean the truth must be right in the center.

              I actually used to be a climate change doubter like you… until I took the time to dig into it much more deeply than I had. I was appalled by how badly I had been duped. So I hope you don’t feel like I look down on people who are doubters, because I don’t.

            • Barry,

              I “suddenly think correlation is good enough” I understand your confusion.

              To me it seemed pretty obvious about correlation so please forgive me for not explaining. When I was talking about the correlation as it relates to CO2 I really meant that simply because we know that CO2 is a GHG, and humans are producing a lot of it and that CO2 is getting into the lower troposphere – or where ever, then if the planet warms 2 degrees, it must be human caused – correlation (probably a misuse of the term maybe I meant relational deduction or something) – though the statement might be true, its not sound logic.

              On the other hand.. when I think of statistical correlation, such as those typically done in tobacco studies, we take a large group random sampling of smokers and follow the incidence of cancer in that population over time. Through some fancy math, we get a percentage or probability that if one smokes they increase their chances of cancer – to some degree of certainty/error. However; and here is the difference, if a smoker goes to the doctor and has cancer – the logic does not follow that the cancer came from smoking; it may be probable but not conclusively causal.

              Correlation only allows us to deduce so much. Now you might say, but it doesn’t matter, for all practical purposes it’s so probable that it came from smoking why explore other options. I don’t think we should subscribe to those fallacies when the stakes are so high.

              So sure, we know CO2 is a GHG, I’ve said this before, GHG’s cause the planet to warm. But simply because the CO2 concentration increase and the temperature rises by 2 degrees, does not logically result in the deduction of causation.

              I’d be happy to read those articles/ book / videos some time, I’ve read a lot of that. Spencer is a “straw man” in your defense but he is not without valid question. This isn’t about any one man, paper or experiment. You seem to discredit Monkton, Spencer and others as if you are discrediting/dismiss a witness but this isn’t a court of law – we are trying to get to the truth and simply because someone proposes a preposterous idea, makes mistake or comes to some illogical conclusion does not make everything or notion from that mind incorrect or without value. I would agree that even Michael Mann gets it right every now and again.

              I read and enjoy James Hansen, Isaac Held and others in your camp and there are some interesting concepts and research going on right now. I’m interested to see what happens with this years El Nino event and still hope the “hot spot” research clears up the existing confusion on the topic. I think it’s entirely possible that there might be some clarity to attribution in the near future and who knows, you might be right. But my money’s on nature.

              As for the dialog; I catch the insinuations. It’s a little funny and I’m not offended, I just don’t find it interesting, representative of good decorum or “being scientific”. (“Wacko libertarian”, Judy and rational people, your “Money Quote”….)

              Well it’s late I’m tired and I only intended to make a brief comment – I’ve hastily written this so please excuse the grammar, spelling and probably some faulty logic, but most of all, please take no offense, no offense is intended here.

  5. Very interesting exchange, gentlemen.


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