Twenty some years of attempts to come up with any rational theory that would explain why major rises in long term molecular atmospheric energy recapture wouldn’t relevantly impact climate, have led to nothing but an enormous amass of misrepresentations, and a great deal of misinformation on the “climate change” issue.
It has also led to a host of super sounding theories that ultimately come down to nothing more than the assertion and belief that “it just won’t affect climate much.”
One of the mainstay arguments has been that “climate change has not been proven.”
This is like claiming that someone trying to leap from the top of a three story barn, onto a 4 foot deep bed of hay with 12 pitchforks pointed upward and hidden just below the top layer of straw, doesn’t present a major risk of injury because what will happen – or even that the move is dangerous – “can’t be proven.” But the exact effect we are having on the earth’s energy systems, and ultimately its climate, can’t be proven.
That is, our actions and their effects cover an exceedingly long time period; climate is inherently variable, and means a pattern of regional or global weather over very long periods of time – several decades; on top of the uncertainty of being able to determine what the present climate is, or, further complicating the picture, if it is changing without passing through exceeding large periods of time, there is also almost assuredly a significant lag between our actions and most of their effects; there is only one earth – one variable to measure over super long periods of time; and, most critically there are absolutely no controls (ways to replicate or remove added changes on otherwise identical systems, or planet earths).
Therefore we can have no way of knowing what the earth would be doing at any one moment, or what it would be doing climatically over long periods, in the absence of the powerful atmospheric changes we have wrought and that at a breathtakingly rapid geologic rat, we are continuing to add to.
So if a person doesn’t want to “believe” that our alteration of the long term chemical composition of the atmosphere is already impacting our climate, is likely to do so much more in the future, and presents a significant risk of major, and more rapid, climate “shifting,” that person can simply fall back on the idea that “it can’t be proven.”
This of course misconstrues issue: The greenhouse effect is proven science, and has been known for more than a century. The massive amount of increase to greenhouse gases is also somewhat incontrovertible. That these gases “trap” thermal radiation, and can’t be turned off, and that the recaptured energy (absorbed and re radiated in all directions, instead of being un-absorbed and continuing unabated upward through the atmosphere) has to go somewhere – do something – is also incontrovertibly known. And that climate is ultimately an expression of energy, and that by significantly increasing the long term molecular re-capture of energy, we are changing, increasing, earth’s net energy balance.
We would also expect to see signs of change in not just atmospheric temperatures – but as difficult as that is to prove with certainty, as distinguished from inherent, although at this point it would be statistically bizarre – randomness and “natural” (otherwise occurring) changes – changes in earth’s more basic systems as well – and specifically, the one’s that help shape and determine our longer term climate. And we have, in a fairly major, and increasing way.
In the absence of any evidence, or any knowledge, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense if an increase in long term atmospheric greenhouse gases – to levels not seen on earth in millions of years – didn’t significantly impact our climate; even if, given the inherent complex nature of climate and again, natural variability itself, if not in entirely predictable time paths and precise amounts.
Still, enough time has gone by, and more than enough change has been made to the atmosphere, that if we didn’t see what at least appeared to be some early “signs” of impact, we might wonder “hmmm, that’s odd, it would seem by this point we would see something that at least suggests some change.”
So although it does not “prove” or “disprove” climate change, lack of any corroborating sign as a practical matter would open up a lot of doubt, or wondering.
So naturally the pattern of climate change “skepticism” has sought to refute all signs of such corroboration, or present them as simple “bizarre” coincidences of a natural changing world.
Never mind the oddity that this would represent – earth changes “naturally and easily” but yet our own huge atmospheric shift that represents an enormous influx of recaptured atmospheric energy somehow would not impact it – weird enough on its own – yet at the same time that it’s not impacting it, and by even more remarkably bizarre coincidence, we would still be seeing fairly unusual indicias of change right along the lines of what we would expect to see from the change that we have made – ones that on their own would be extraordinarily statistically unlikely to have happened by sheer chance. (Let alone in combination with the fact that if they were to happen by chance it would also simultaneously mean our huge atmospheric energy shift was somehow, again at the very same time, and also bizarrely coincidentally, not relevantly impacting climate.)
It’s a bit preposterous. But nevertheless, that is in essence what skepticism is. (I suppose if the above paragraph could be expressed both as clearly and as accurately but a little more simply, I would both be a better writer, and climate change skepticism would be a little easier to point out in ways that might prompt even skeptics to marvel for a moment, before catching themselves, at the illogic of their own arguments, and there would be less of it. But the issue is complex, which is why it’s been fairly easy to promulgate skepticism, on what is otherwise, complex or not, a pretty lopsided set of circumstances.)
But rather than see the oddity of our huge atmospheric change not impacting climate, and not doing so, along side the very unusual indicia of exactly the type of (and statistically unlikely) change as we would expect, as somewhat preposterous, climate change “skeptics” would instead see the argument just offered as itself preposterous, illogical, or some such, and by the same mechanisms that – along with the massive amounts of misinformation that propels it – filter things to fit into and reinforce suck “skepticism,” rather than in fact be even the tiniest bit skeptical about it. (Climate change skepticism is remarkably non skeptical of most arguments and most individuals that seek to refute or disavow climate change.)
The basic human tendencies that make this so easy to do, which are greatly amplified when an issue is either political or is seen to have political ramifications and great interest or passion, is perfectly, if implicitly, explained in the second half of this reasonably short – and excellent – piece, by Craig Silverman.
“Proving” climate change seems somewhat akin to “proving” that if someone jumps off a 30 story building atop a city street with no safety net or other protection, they will die. We know it will be the case (or to analogize it to climate change, make it 7 stories, and thus “very likely to be the case”) but in one sense it really can’t be proven. Only deduced from what we do know.
In other words – although “proof” is a good tool to use in rhetoric if one wants to fall back on belief and desire and self convince of the exact opposite – it’s essentially irrelevant to what the issue really is, and the risk ranges that it presents and thus the issue of our best strategic response to it.
But again, in many respects the climate change issue is complex or can be construed as complex; there is a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding swirling around it; our media coverage, along with the perceptions of the majority of the population, are invariably affected in their understanding of the issue (and trust in climate scientist representation) by such misinformation, as well as its complexity; it is often communicated poorly and in a way that doesn’t really show people what the problem is rather than tell them that there is a problem, or show them the changes that are taking place as “proof” of the problem, when that still doesn’t really show or illuminate what the problem is; and it is sometimes a hard issue to both conceptualize along the many levels of risk range and probabilities that it does represent, while also boiling it down to its correct essence and what that represents, as opposed to what is often done instead:
First, the issue being only an “effect” rather than presenting a risk range of ultimate effects and impacts. And second, that the issue is one of rising ambient air temperatures, rather than the more fundamental and important changes that are taking place to the major earth systems that in fact help shape, and drive, future climate, and that are in fact starting, and in accelerating fashion, to reshape our earth’s surface in still somewhat abstract seeming, but rather significant ways.
So, for practical reasons, and in terms of helping to provide a better understanding of the basic reality of the issue – increase long term atmospheric greenhouse gases, it captures more energy and thus affects things, and we’ve increased long term atmospheric greenhouse ways in a way that is somewhat geologically radical, and have done so in an extremely short period of time – finding some sort of “proof” may be helpful on the issue.
Fine some sort of “proof” also provides a reasonable out for the less extreme climate change “skeptics,” as well as so called “lukewarmers.” (Kind of bogus and misleading term used for those who still badly misconstrue the climate change issue but know at least enough of the basics about it to recognize that the very notion that a multi million year shift in our atmosphere’s long term energy recapture wouldn’t affect climate is inane, or who may not be so inherently resistant to science reality when it goes against what they would like to believe but who have heard and been convinced by a great deal of misinformation on the topic that’s passed off as news and information, and who thus – widespread as this is – greatly misconstrue what the issue is, and what the actual known and relevant facts are.)
Not only is there nothing wrong with the concept of a reasonable “out” to help facilitate the advancement of views, it’s consistent with human nature.
Unfortunately, along with often dismissing or trivializing the real fears of both skeptics and many others who have conflicting feelings or understandings on the issue, rather than openly and honestly recognizing and addressing them, offering them an out, or even better, an “olive branch,” is something that many climate change advocates and leaders don’t seek to provide. And both of these tendencies are big errors in basic climate change communication and understanding advancement: something which itself has a long way to go before our overall societal assessment of the issue (and not the insular assessment of those in the know and who wrongly conflate that assessment with society’s in general) is anywhere close to reality on the issue.
I am sure many hard core climate change skeptics will seek mightily to “refute” any proof, and are probably working steadfastly right now on doing so; and am not sure that what has just been observed and measured actually does serve as “proof” (though again the very concept of “proof” is badly misplaced when it comes to assessing what this issue actually is, and understanding why, would do far more for understanding on the actual issue); but scientists have, for the first time, now directly measured the precise impact of the greenhouse affect and energy of, in this case temperature increases attributable directly to a rise in greenhouse gases.
In short, climate change, in some sense, has now been “proven.”
Flawed or not, it seems a fairly significant advancement, if not in our understanding of the issue, certainly in our assessment of it as – if not still complex, globally changing, long time frame and by definition imprecisely predictable – an absolute and definitive, rather than “very likely or we certainly think” phenomenon. (It essentially was before for basic conceptual reasons, more complex than but essentially similar to the case of jumping off a very tall building onto a bustling city street; but it couldn’t be measured as such, so was considered otherwise.)
And those who have been moved, even if falsely, in their belief about the issue by the so called absence of proof, can now, comfortably consistent with their own prior thought processes, become more realistic about the issue; and now contribute to the process of how best to solve this challenge, rather than instead constantly seek to refute and disavow it, as so much energy has previously, wastefully and counter productively gone into before.