I’m back again, after several days, to begin to tackle the rest of the December editorial in the Daily Herald titled, “Warming theories cooling off” (click here to read the article) The next few paragraphs of the editorial report that one man has proven thousands of scientists who have implicated carbon dioxide as the main greenhouse gas causing global warming wrong:
Meanwhile, in the wake of the Climategate scandal — which alone ought to signal climate hysteria’s death knell — new information is bubbling to the surface. The latest research undercuts the whole greenhouse gas theory, a linchpin of the warming hypothesis, even for those who believe in it.
Professor Qing-Bin Lu of the University of Waterloo in Canada has revealed data indicating that changes in global climate may be caused by Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) in the atmosphere, not by CO2. These are substances that were once widely used as refrigerants but have been largely phased out since 1978 because of their damage to the ozone layer.
Lu found that CFCs began to decline in the atmosphere around 2000 — just when global temperature also began dropping. According to his findings, this cooling trend could go on for decades.
As of yet, I haven’t read the paper by Quing-Bin Lu. It appears in the journal Physics Reports (vol. 487, issue 5, pp.141-167), which the Utah Valley University Library doesn’t carry, and it will take a day or two for me to get it by interlibrary loan. I’ve read the abstract, though, and the journal does appear to be peer-reviewed, which means that Lu’s article has been read and, presumably, scrutinized by at least a couple other scientists. And the journal is published by Elsevier, which is a reputable academic journal publisher. So far so good for the death of CO2.
The problem is that this is one article by one scientist in a sea of scientific discourse containing thousands of articles demonstrating the link between the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide and global warming. Like most of you readers out there, I am not a physicist trained in climate science, and I probably won’t understand much of the article even when I do get my hands on it. Like Barry, though, I am a trained scientist, competent at rational thought and privy to the culture of science that is the context for this paper.
So this is how I would approach this new information. I can choose to either (1) follow the conclusions of this paper written by one scientist I have never heard of even though they fly in the face of everything that most scientists thought they understood about the importance of carbon dioxide in forcing earth’s climate or (2) dismiss decades of research done by thousands of scientists (I’m not exaggerating) and jump on the cart (I won’t even call it a bandwagon yet—there’s just one guy pulling it) of CFCs as the new proven greenhouse gas. I think most rational people would adopt a wait-and-see attitude when something so controversial comes up.
One of the most important underpinnings of science is that scientific information is falsifiable. Does that mean that it is wrong? No. It means that scientific information, if it IS wrong, can eventually be shown to be so. No one needs to take any facts on faith. Such a provocative finding, that CFCs may be more important than CO2 as a climate-warming greenhouse gas, will surely come under scrutiny of other scientists. It will surely capture the curiosity of some. This idea, if it is important, will be explored. If it is correct, it will catch on. Personally, I am skeptical—VERY skeptical. Though I am not a physicist trained in climate science, I know a fair amount about carbon dioxide, its effect as a greenhouse gas, and its emission from the burning of fossil fuels. CO2 is a proven greenhouse gas, its presence in our atmosphere has been demonstrated by climate models to keep Earth livable (instead of an ice ball, which it would be without any CO2), and the correlation between climate warming and CO2 emissions is not only remarkable to the layperson but demonstrated by complex computer climate models.
So in this case, I am a fan of “wait-and-see,” (which I would be a lot of money is going to turn into “ignore -and-forget-about”). Yet it is ironic that the same climate skeptics who are so quick to latch onto a SINGLE paper by a SINGLE scientist (many papers are published by pairs or groups of scientists), are very happy to espouse “wait-and-see” when it comes to the rest of the thousands of scientists and their decades of research who have claim to be “very certain” (meaning, in technical terms, sure with greater than 90% confidence) that human beings are causing global warming through their actions, primarily the burning of fossil fuels. This just doesn’t make sense. It’s not rational; it’s not honest.
I’m not claiming that the editors of the Daily Herald are dishonest; I bet if I were to meet with them face-to-face and have a conversation with them I would find them to be well-intentioned people who pride themselves in their honesty and who, by most standard measures of honesty, are actually very honest. What I think happens is that people get swept up in their beliefs. They become so sure that they are right that any “fact” or argument that goes against their beliefs must be wrong. And if it is wrong, they can discredit it.
This illustrates the difference between scientific thinking and ideological thinking. Scientists base their conclusions on foremost on observation and reason. Ideologists base their thinking on beliefs. I’m not knocking ideology; it has its place. I am a thankful and patriotic citizen of the U.S. who benefits from several tenets of our constitution, such as freedom of speech, which are fundamentally based on a belief about the way things should be or are. But when it comes to inventing the television, curing cancer, constructing a bridge that won’t collapse, and understanding climate change, scientific thinking is the proven route.
So let’s wait and see if this idea of Wu’s catches on, if his conclusions stand the test of further scientific scrutiny. In the mean time, I’m going to keep driving over bridges built on decades of sound science because experience has shown me that they won’t collapse.