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Is “climate change” real because models tell us the earth is warming?
Yes and no.
Climate change is real because geophysics tells us the earth’s climate should be increasingly changing, and, overall, likely warming; data tells us this is in fact happening and has been for quite some time; and models try to “model” this out, and help us hone our understanding of the issue and more directly provide projection ranges for the types and extent of changes we’re likely to see over time.
Yet it’s constantly claimed that anthropogenic climate change can’t be real, we don’t know enough to conclude we’re likely altering our climate, or that climate scientists “aren’t credible” because climate change models haven’t (and can’t) perfectly map the exact path of atmospheric temperature change well in advance.
This popular but wild assumption (and claim) is badly mistaken.
This insistent if also badly mistaken claim and “conclusion” it conveniently produces is also a key example of the broader pattern of so called climate change “skepticism”-a badly mislabeled socio-cultural political adherence to the desired belief that humans aren’t likely altering our long term climate in a significant way.
And which, of course, being as it’s badly mislabeled, is not “skepticism” at all – either in the scientific or dictionary sense, but is almost the exact opposite; ultimately consisting of the pursuit or acceptance of any claim, argument, criticism or notion that seemingly reinforces the often predetermined belief or heavily desired conclusion that we’re not altering our present and future climate, under of course the argument (and much convincing) that it is “objective” and “reasoned,” rather than the advocacy or a pre determined conclusion or belief – or the continuation of misinterpretations of the issue in order to keep that belief. Which, of course, as the claims with respect to simply models and predictions alone illustrate, it is.
That is, if one thinks models are what “establishes’ climate change (they don’t, though a few climate scientists reasonably imply they do, as they’re an attempt to somewhat document and more detailedly attempt to project what we’re doing rather than just grapple conceptually; an important part of our understanding on the issue; and further support for the basic climate change construct), and that when models don’t predict exactly what happens this somehow means climate change is less significant or less real, is misinformed on the basic issue.
And if someone doesn’t have the basic issue right- no matter how zealously they insist, or how popular their usually (but not always) politically far right wing site climate change “column” “news” or takes are (and which are often popular because they don’t have it right but “smartly” seem to reinforce what people want to believe) – then they probably don’t have a better understanding of it than actual professional climate scientists.
But what makes so called climate change skepticism far more belief in a desired conclusion rather than scientific skepticism of the (anthropogenic) climate change phenomenon, is that it reflects – in fact requires – adherence to a belief (i.e, we’re changing long term energy recapture, but that change in energy is somehow not altering earth’s expression of energy – aka climate), that has no real foundation.
Climate change “skeptics” confuse the entire issue and “poke holes” (or at least that is the belief – again, see below – as poking real holes, so to speak, are part of what good science is all about), in the claims and data of anything that goes against this skepticism belief. (And once again why it’s the opposite of actual scientific skepticism necessary for good science – aka the pursuit of physical truth about the physical world around us; as it doesn’t seek to objectively assess the issue, but under the guise of “being objective” seeks to refute it by any argument that might seem to work.)
But to refute a “theory” that over 97% of climate scientists deem accurate (with the few who don’t, almost to a person, being ideologues who consistently also misconstrue the very basic issue itself in order to continue their alleged “view,” again, see below) – or even 2% of climate scientists deem accurate – requires showing why it’s wrong; not cherry picking slivers of it, taking issue in ways that are either irrelevant to the issue or mischaracterize it, or that do nothing to support the contrary “skeptic” claim; which in this case is that we’re not significantly altering our climate as leading – and also the great majority of – climate scientists vehemently assert, or that there’s a good probability we’re not. Yet nothing supports this but hope (and even that is extremely weak given the basic geophysics), or unyielding fealty to a predetermined conclusion.
Hope isn’t skepticism. Hope, and unyielding fealty to a predetermined conclusion, are belief.
There’s also the complicating factor of risk, as well as the fact that this isn’t a lab controlled or even field controlled experiment, but a zero controls, decades to centuries long, global “experiment” of immense scale: And to say we are doing “this” to the climate requires knowing exactly what climate would have been in the absence of mankind’s activity, which by the nature of climate would be impossible. (And while it would show we’re changing it, it still wouldn’t address the more important issue of more systemic changes to our earth, earth surface composition, and atmospheric system that drive future climate.)
To jump from this basic physical reality to the idea that therefore the issue is not significant or we’re not even altering our climate – exactly what skeptics do, if contained in all sorts of nice sounding rhetoric – is exactly what the belief of so called “skepticism” requires.
Also, saying we aren’t “100 %” sure, therefore climate change isn’t relevant or shouldn’t be addressed, would be like saying that though we launched a boomerang asteroid that stands a significant chance of boomeranging back and hitting Arizona, U.S.A – detonating multiple square miles and ultimately changing earth’s climate by several degrees in average temperature, etc. – instead of boomeranging into a nice safe “asteroid” orbit, it’s nevertheless not an issue because we can’t say with 100% certainty that it WILL hit earth.(Although the argument that we can’t say with certainty that we are altering the climate is extremely weak, given basic energy dynamics, physics, and what climate is.)
That is, despite the mountains of misguided and always irrelevant cherry picked or issue misconstruing rhetoric that
- our politicians;
- certain ideological groups;
- “conservative,” often advocacy oriented “news” sites and channels;
- certain ideological think tanks that erroneously conflate one issue (their presumption that capitalism is valuable, and “real” growth occurs, only if we produce what most quickly explodes us with the highest quantity of material possession in an ever onward and fast as humanly possible upward spiral regardless of pollution, earth or individual health altering consequences rather than producing to improve the quality of our lives which includes both material possession, improvement and less destruction of our very own world that we rely upon in the process therein), with another (the purely geophysical risk and science assessment issue of anthropogenic climate change);
- social media and the Internet
..are near drowningly awash in, this very misnamed “skepticism” is still a belief that has no real scientific support; let alone any plausibly vetted scientific theory in support of it.
Skeptics claiming they are practicing “real science,” or attacking criticizing, mocking or impugning climate scientists, “hockey sticks,” Al Gore’s jet rides, or climate change activist claims, is not actual scientific support or plausible theory for the idea that while our atmosphere is suddenly capturing far more energy (incontrovertible) by its – by recent geological standards – suddenly extremely elevated long lived greenhouse gas concentrations, this increasing energy is somehow not relevantly increasing earth’s net energy; or if it is that increase in energy is somehow not altering climate. (Let alone that if it’s somehow not, this would have to very oddly be the case even at the same time as we’re starting to see geologically significant, long term consistent, accumulating, and increasing overall signs of just such energy shifts, and which if bizarrely unrelated to the huge ongoing and more important sudden increase in net captured energy by changes in the long term chemical structure of the atmosphere that at its foundation is “climate change,” would constitute an extremely bizarre “coincidence” on top of the even more statistically unlikely and independent fluke of just such an enormous ongoing increase in overall earth atmosphere net energy capture somehow not increasing earth’s overall energy level, and thus ultimately somehow not altering its climate. )
That is, the so called, and badly mislabeled “skepticism” phenomenon is a belief that has no support, apart from the appearance of and thus “belief in” the existence of such support, that comes from:
- Piece meal – and often highly erroneous – critiques of cherry picked aspects of climate change assessment, statements, and carefully selected and even still often misrepresented slivers of data;
- The mistaken conflation of what we don’t know with what we do;
- The mistaken conflation of the very essence of scientific discovery and pursuit – assessment, mistake, correction, adjustment – with the conclusion that therefore the basic underlying idea that is well understood and rests upon incontrovertible and often overlooked fact, is itself therefore “wrong”:
- The conflation of the idea that because things have been “wrong” in the past, that assertions that we want to be wrong now – such as “man is changing our climate” are therefore wrong now;
- The transcendence of the general over the specific: e.g; “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts” – a quote by the physicist Richard Feynman to keep us mindful that science is the pursuit of knowledge, not always knowledge itself, and a”skeptic” favorite repeated ad nausuem, almost as a “magic card” to pull out in order to simply disregard what one doesn’t want to accept or to somehow support what one wants to believe, under the fake auspices of having Richard Fenyman or “reason” on one’s side. That is, what matters is what climate change is and what we do and don’t know – the specific – not Fenyman’s quote, which can just as easily (but no more ludicrously) be used to say the earth is flat, gravity doesn’t exist, giraffes fly, or humans routinely self levitate because, if science says otherwise, well, “science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.” Ano e.g; what matters is not that huge scientific majorities can be wrong, but why they are wrong, which in the case of climate change “skeptic” claims requires getting the actual climate change issue itself wrong, or cherry picking the issue apart, which on a complex issue can always be done to reinforce any belief one wants to hold;
- The mistaken conflation of individual prediction and speculation about specific events and timelines (see, again, opening paragraph) that are inaccurate, with the conclusion that therefore the far different and otherwise unrelated basic fact we are almost assuredly and significantly altering our long term climate is as well.
- The constant conflation of the irrelevant with the relevant, and very much related;
- Basic misconstruction of the actual issue itself.
That is, the pattern referenced at the outset.
In other words, this belief in incorrectly termed “skepticism” of the anthropogenic climate change phenomenon (or slightly more reasonably, yet very incorrectly, “skepticism” that this phenomenon should much matter to mankind), is incorrectly labeled. And understanding this is important to understanding the issue, and more importantly, how the issue is presented, perceived, and discussed (and ultimately responded to), as well.
“Climate change isn’t real because [this or that] model was wrong” or, much more commonly, far more right than mere randomness would suggest but, – as predicting the exact path of future climate is a near impossible task – of course off by some degree or another, is another example of this pattern, as well as an example of the basic misunderstanding of the actual anthropogenic “climate change” phenomenon that this “skepticism” pattern attempts to refute, disregard, or argue against.
That is, “climate change isn’t real or significant” because models can’t tell us an exact global average of any generic measurement – such as ambient air temperature – or exactly what climate will be in any one region of the globe, falsely, and somewhat ludicrously, presupposes that for it to be real we would have to be able to not only predict exactly what earth’s climate will do (both regionally and globally) – or would do but for our own impact upon it – from now well into the distant future, but suddenly be able to also do so with the geologically radical increase in long term recapture of thermal radiation that we’ve suddenly occasioned within our own atmosphere.
It makes no logical sense. Yet it sounds good if one wants to believe climate change isn’t a big deal, is otherwise misled on the issue, or (heaven forbid, even though it actually includes a large proportion of the human population), confused about it -with most such confusion coming from those who are adamantly certain they are not confused about it, but in fact along with “completely objective” cohorts online are convinced they – not actual professional climate and geophysical and atmospheric scientists practicing science – are doing the real “science.”
But if a person believes an enormous ongoing additional influx of energy into a complex, global, open system isn’t very likely to change what is ultimately an expression of energy within it if man kind can’t simultaneously model out the precise future well in advance, the person either has very little relevant understanding of the actual issue (something which those who remain “skeptical” of climate change work hard to self convince of the opposite), or is simply bent on “denial” of it by any means of advocacy possible.
Nevertheless the use of model imperfection – both as self sustaining “skeptic” refutation of climate change, as well as confusion over what the basic climate change issue actually is – runs rampant throughout the western world, and yet is barely covered.
And it also, again, sits among countless other examples of the very same pattern of trying to ‘refute’ the idea that anthropogenic induced net increases to earth’s total atmospheric energy recapture will somehow not effect climate, by almost any means of advocacy that can be concocted, and seemingly reasonably presented or believed.
And in misconstruing the role of models in assessing the reality of the anthropogenic climate change phenomenon, as with all other examples of the same pattern, so called “climate change skepticism” once again couldn’t miss what the issue is by a wider mark:
That is, predicting the exact path of future climate is almost impossible.
So, again: the fact we can’t predict climate’s path well in advance and precisely – rather than generally and with margins of error, doesn’t have anything to do with whether man is severely impacting climate against our own interests. (And particularly against the interests of the world’s poorest citizens and regions – citizens and regions which also, ironically, are often those that contributed the least to this problem.)
But if precisely predicting future climate wasn’t already difficult enough, as briefly noted above, it’s been made far more difficult by this sudden large and ongoing influx of energy onto an already complex and sometimes varying global system of energy and its expression – our climate system.
This new and accumulating addition of energy is a result of a sudden increase in atmospheric levels of long lived heat “trapping” gases: Enough of an increase, geologically speaking, to almost instantaneously raise those levels to atmospheric concentrations not seen on earth in millions of years: Possibly even as long as fifteen million in the case of the “lead” greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (but more likely at least several million or so); and who knows in the more enigmatic and often very underestimated case of methane. Yet methane has at least almost assuredly risen well above – in fact, more than doubled – the highest average levels that earth has likely seen in nearly a million years (graph found at EPA; see the left chart in particular, which puts the recent rise – appearing as a sharp spike straight upward on the far right side of the left chart – in some type of geologic perspective):
Not only would this increase in the long lived gaseous particles that continually “trap” heat energy almost invariably have to affect what’s ultimately driven by net energy – i.e, climate – in the phenomenon commonly referred to as climate change – but the overall trailing geophysical picture has been heavily corroborative of just such an affect, as earth’s key longer term climate driving systems – such as our world ocean and the world’s vast ice sheets that both modulate and help determine long term climate, are starting to significantly change in response as well.
Even the long term ambient average atmospheric temperature pattern alone has been corroborative of a slowly accumulating – if, in air temperatures in particular, lagging, effect. (The effect of our actions into overall climate has a large lag because as energy accumulates it slowly changes the aforementioned stases systems that retain most of our earth atmospheric system’s energy; and which again modulate and drive long term climate. And into which most of the increase in net accumulated energy is now pouring – changing the conditions that alter not just present, but, cumulatively, future climate.)
Again, this can’t be repeated enough – a constant long term pattern of temperature increases has occurred even though there’s a large lag between this long lived atmospheric greenhouse “energy re-absorbing” gas increase and overall visible (atmospheric) climate impact, as our planet’s ongoing change in re-absorbed atmospheric heat energy continues to have an accumulating effect on its major systems that, along with the atmosphere itself, drive climate.
That is, these are systems that drive climate, along with to some extent the sun when solar output changes. Though in the modern era the effect of changes in solar output on climate has been minor in comparison to anthropogenic effect. And for the last three decades plus, the effect of changes in the output of the sun has been in the exact opposite direction from “skeptic” claims- that is, it’s been in a “cooling” direction. In other words, the effect of changes from solar output have had a slight net cooling, or climate change “mitigating” effect, so arguing that anthropogenic climate change is not real or is less real because of the sun is largely irrelevant, and to the extent it is relevant, has it opposite. Right now its somewhat”hiding” the effect (if relatively slightly.)
Note though that “skeptics” take false refuge in their desired and anti-geophysical reality (or simply convinced) belief system, and continually also assert irrelevant -and incorrect – things like “the sun drives climate!” The sun doesn’t drive climate. Earth’s energy balance, its atmosphere, oceans, ice sheets, trapped and released long term greenhouse gases, and reflectivity – that is, how much sunlight is reflected back as short wave radiation that is not “captured” by the atmosphere, versus absorbed and later re-radiated as longer wave radiation that is – shape and drive climate.
The sun is the source of energy that makes climate possible in the first place.
Climate though, as just noted, can also be changed by changes in the output of the sun, along with changes in the tilt of the earth and other external affects that change earth’s total net energy: Such as the impact of an enormous meteor. Or a sudden major change in our atmosphere’s long term molecular “trapping” of radiated energy through a geologically sudden and major release of long built up greenhouse gases from the earth’s surface – such as a fireball from space that suddenly melted much of the earth’s permafrost regions and released large amounts of trapped methane and carbon dioxide (and changed its albedo) – or, say the effect of a highly advanced species that suddenly started changing the surface of the earth and digging beneath it to release long trapped greenhouse gases as fuel and didn’t see -as part of the process of “growth” it thought it was fueling – to alter to more modern and self benefiting processes.
But it’s worth noting yet again that while the sun doesn’t drive climate yet “deniers” (or non knowers – in some cases, it is argued, willing non knowers) of relevant climate change information, and mislabeled “skeptic,”following the pattern of any kind of argument to advocate a desired position or belief, constantly assert that the sun does: as if this has anything to do with the very specific if large and broad issue of anthropogenic – or man induced, long term climatic impact upon the overall system that does exist (which gets its energy to even exist as a system rather than an absolute zero chunk of lifeless matter in the first place); when it doesn’t.
Yet changes in solar output can affect climate, and certainly temperatures. And while (very slowly and very long term), solar output is rising, again, for over 30 years – not even a microscopic pinprick of time when it comes to the length of the sun’s existence – solar output has been slightly lower than the trailing norm and receding, which if anything would decrease total net energy reaching earth.
Yet in terms of our geologically new, extremely sudden, and very sharp ongoing accumulation of net energy (what more accurately characterizes “climate change” than the overly popular but issue confusing “temperature rises) we now see significant and accelerating melt of the ice caps on both ends of the earth; radical changes in south polar area winter sea ice extent as cold runoff from increasing glacier melt both adds a layer of non saline, colder surface water and insulates it from the slightly wamer water below, and a major shift in the Southern Annular Mode wind intensities over many decades past drives more and more of the newly formed ice northward, making room for new winter melt; the ongoing march of dwindling arctic, and truly polar, summer sea ice extent; the slowly increasing signs of change to total net northern permafrost and lower glacial area coverage and land surface temperature; the increase in previously long frozen methane gas releases and the attendant warming of long stable sea bed floors; and the rampant pace of world ocean energy heat accumulation.
But again, with respect to just air temperature alone, which from the vast increases in ocean temperatures should, if anything, if earth wasn’t accumulating net energy, have been colder with so much extra net energy going into accumulating long term ocean heat, notice the last few years in the chart just below, representing new global yearly mean ambient temperature highs: With 2015 beating the previous mark by what a larger deviation above the norm than any prior record; and January and February 2016 (not included) both setting records – with February absolutely obliterating the record for hottest monthly anomaly above the norm – as with January (and December, 2015 before that, and October 2015 before that), for any month up until that point ever recorded. [Update: since then multiple months, in fact nearly every month of the year 2016 up through September, set a record for the hottest ambient global air temperatures for that month ever recorded, with again multiple anomalies records set for highest average temperature above the norm for that period ever recorded.]
All this has occurred, again, while, more significantly, the world ocean continues to gain heat energy – that is, drawing it, and massive amounts of it – out of the atmosphere on an ongoing net basis: And yet still, this in overall temperatures (chart by NASA):
On the other hand, once again, the inaccurately named phenomenon of climate change “skepticism” is the belief climate somehow isn’t being altered in any meaningful way as a result of this sudden yet long term and accumulating energy shift,* and that there isn’t even enough of a reasonable (let alone likely) chance of it to act sensibly mitigate it; or at least stop adding to it.
This socio-cultural phenomenon of mislabeled “skepticism” is also usually driven by considerations that have nothing to do with climate change itself, including widespread but likely very misplaced economic presumptions. And it is also often tied to unrelated political ideologies; which in turn is usually the driving force for the most fervent anti climate change “belief” advocacy that in turn has led to a great amount of misperception on the issue of anthropogenic climate change, as well as a sort of “self sealing” belief on the issue among many who want desperately to believe that man isn’t affecting the climate or that it doesn’t matter if man does.
And this socio-cultural phenomenon of mislabeled “skepticism” is also a belief – or, in pursuit of that belief, a claim – that anything we observe signaling overall change – that is, corroborating what basic atmospheric and geophysic theory would dictate – is largely some bizarre fluky coincidence,” because, namely, earth has changed before.
The three current leading candidates for the U.S. GOP 2016 presidential nomination, all fairly to very far right wing, adhere strongly to this general belief; well exhibited here by Ted Cruz, here by Donald Trump (though he denies that also, despite a consistent, repeated pattern), and here, explicitly, by Marco Rubio.
But again this represents a pattern of advocacy by irrelevant, miscontrued, or illogical (but logical “appearing”) arguments in order to support a belief. For – and this can’t be repeated enough, but, unfortunately, as with many such things on climate change, rarely is – the fact that earth has changed before has nothing to do with whether we’re changing it now. And the only relevance of the fact that (at times over its approximately 4,000,000,000 year history – of which the last 2oo years represents only 1/20,000,000th of its existence) earth’s climate has changed significantly or at least somewhat rapidly, is to suggest that earth’s climate can and does change.
In other words, it’s an argument supporting climate change further, since the only argument – although there is no support for it – that our huge long term changes to the atmosphere’s structure aren’t much impacting future climate is that the earth is somehow self stabilizing in a way that specifically and uniquely benefits modern man, and thus for some strange (and unknown) reason is very resistant to the effects of geologically sudden and ongoing net shifts of additional energy.
It’s also yet another telling sign of climate change skepticism that one of its main arguments – anthropogenic climate change isn’t real or it doesn’t matter because “climate has changed before” – is an illogical supposition (if earthquakes happened before and we caused one – or a thousand – now it wouldn’t make it any less relevant; nor is it related to the issue of what is happening now), and to the extent the statement itself is true – climate has changed before – it actually further supports the notion of anthropogenic climate change rather than “refutes it.” Yet its used merely because it’s a nice sound bite, a way to cling to a belief, and sounds good.
The aforegoing – if horribly poor – argument is also used because of confusion, and often poor illumination, on the climate change issue itself, as if the issue consisted of these “perplexing” set of signs of a changing future climate, and we humans were desperately trying to come up with a reason why: In which case it would be logical to consider that it may not have an explanation, or at least a relevant one or one we can do anything about, and may just be a fluke event that “happens” because “climate does change,” even though the coincidence of such signs of extensive change in our ice caps ocean permafrost methane release regional pattern changes volatility and overall global ambient air temperature creep as we are seeing right now would, for any random 100 year period of time, as best as we can tell from the geologic record, be extremely unusual for any random 100-200 year period.
But in fact the issue of climate change is exactly the opposite – though again poor focus on and illumination of this does a great disservice to good understanding on the issue, often shoved aside due to the widespread presumption that everyone should “just know” because “we all know” or “scientists tell us” or “we can see its slowly getting warmer.”
That is, it’s not the signs of change that are the issue – they are nice things to report and talk about, to help give a ‘feel’ for the issue on top of the far more important but less resonant “idea.” The signs of change simply add corroboration that is extensive. (Corroboration that, broadly, was widely predicted and expected despite yet another false skeptic meme – similarly, like all the others repeated ad nauseum millions of times until simply believed as gospel – of how “scientists predicted ice ages back in the 197os!” when even back in the 1970s, and with far less understanding of (and data on) the issue scientific papers touching the topic predicted warming over cooling by over a 5:1 margin).
The real issue is the sudden, major, long term structural change to our atmosphere’s long term molecular chemical composition, resulting in a geologically radical increase in the long term concentration of long lived thermal radiation absorbing and re radiating molecules, in essence trapping more energy long term; either being somewhat offset by a net decrease in the most common “greenhouse gas” – water vapor, which would be awful since it would only greatly exacerbate the already potentially most devastating result from climate change – increased drought and water issues as a result of geo-regional changes as well as more intense (and thus much more subject to runoff as well as flooding, waste, and intermittent periods of longer term dryness or drought) precipitation event patterns, a result which both theory and data contradict; or being augmented by, in a warming world, an overall increase in water vapor, which both theory and data support.
So again, in a nutshell, the issue is this long term structural change to the atmosphere’s long term heat or energy trapping quotient. This would increase net earth atmospheric energy, which would in turn alter earth’s climate, which ultimately is a direct reflection of energy.
The issue is not the exact opposite – wow, the climate seems to be shifting, why is that? But rather, instead “how can the climate not shift if this atmospheric change is happening, but as scientists we don’t presume, so lets keep searching to see if there is any way it can’t or won’t or might not.” (And despite the best efforts and in many cases global zealousness of the anti climate change cause, including by a few actual “‘skeptic’ climate scientists” who despite popular perception otherwise are so few in number they can almost be routinely ticked off by name, nothing has been so discovered or plausibly articulated that passes muster). And “let’s also look at the accumulated and accumulating data to see if it somehow ,despite a complete dearth of explanation why, suggests a different story.”
Not, again, “why is climate changing” (in which case the otherwise irrational skeptic argument that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real because “climate has changed before” would be relevant), but “how could it not change?” Valid theories – as opposed to fanciful, if often gussied up with tautological and issue misconstruing “logic” ones to support this, don’t exist. And they don’t for basic reasons – we’re changing earth’s energy and energy ultimately drives climate and there is nothing magically offsetting that energy.
And the data that we do see, if anything, corroborates what we would heavily expect to see.
But of course, following yet again the very same pattern of advocacy to fit a belief, and not engage in healthy skepticism of “claims” (the irony of the acceptance of claims to “refute” anthropogenic climate change by “skepticism,” as well as the absurdity if not logical “appearance” of calling believers in earth’s “Gaia like” climate self modulating to offset mankind’s own patterns for mankind’s benefit “skeptics,” is also part of this same remarkable pattern), so called “skeptics” self selectively cherry pick the data to once again advocate a misrepresentative picture to fit preconceived and desired belief.
Claiming climate change can’t be real or sufficiently reliable or is somehow less valid because models can’t, and so often don’t, predict the exact course of measurable change over a precise time period is part of this very same pattern; and once again fundamentally misconstrues what the basic issue even is. (But, see below, overall climate models do a fairly good job given the complexity of the task, and overall have a positive correlation with climatic direction that were anthropogenic climate change not real could not reasonably be explained by mere fluke alone. And not to mention the fact that climate model or individual scientist prediction “mistakes” are also routinely if irrelevantly advanced to assert some sort of refutation or rejection of anthropogenic climate change, while the the better predictions, or, more accurately projections, by individual scientists and by climate models, and of course the array of under projections of intensity of climatic and earth changes effects by both specific individuals as well as models, are, simultaneously, all completely ignored – which is yet again part of this same pattern.)
In essence, dumping a huge amount of additional energy into it our climate system, as we are doing right now, is more likely to have a longer term dramatic effect than if the long term geophysical record suggested that climate was somehow highly static. (Note that in one of the most bizarre “science” papers published in modern times (in the off topic and seemingly will accept anything Chinese Journal Science Bulletin by the way), and one of the extraordinarily rare, allegedly vetted papers claiming that climate change is relatively insignificant, a noted group of “skeptics” simply assumed that climate was very “stable,” thereby directly contradicting a main claim of climate “skepticism” because they needed to in order to create what’s best described as a non geophysical earth related but instead “closed circuit” model that was designed to support their conclusion, rather than lead to wherever it did – and the opposite of actual science. They also, and outlandishly even for a bad high school paper, simply assumed that any increase in atmospheric energy would be instantaneously reflected in climate; which defies the basic reality of earth and its geophysical systems in a way that, to put it charitably, is bizarre for scientists who ostensibly have at least some relevant knowledge of the issue – let alone to be publishing papers on it.)
And again, a random one hundred year period (say, 1915 to 2015 or 1916 to 2016) also represents only one-forty millionth of earth’s geologic history. So the fact “earth has changed before” wouldn’t be a very satisfying explanation for why it’s changing so much and so quickly now in this 100 year period – particularly in the latter end – even in the absence of any knowledge of our atmospheric changes.**
It would also be pretty remarkable for earth’s oceans, ice sheets, and even ongoing ambient global temperatures, to show the increasingly significant signs of change they’re showing – and in an upward accumulating energy direction just as anticipated – at the same time (a sort of geologic “pinprick” of time) our sudden yet major addition to earth’s “insulation layer” – which changes total net absorbed energy – was somehow not relevantly altering climate.
In short, being able to predict future regional and global climate – as if otherwise almost as easy as a three day local weather forecast – isn’t connected to the question of whether (in a sort of long term, completely uncontrolled, global experiment with, to boot, a major time lag between cause and effect) suddenly and dramatically increasing the atmospheric concentration of long lived energy absorbing molecules is invariably changing the climate and presenting a range of long term climate altering possibilities or severities (risks), and in any event very likely a long term average increase in overall temperature.
But that doesn’t mean scientists, through a solid understanding of the issue and climate dynamics, haven’t been able to come up with models that aren’t useful. And in fact, models haven’t even been that far off overall – and more importantly have been far more accurate than not – even more than previously thought. And for whatever it’s worth, their accuracy in comparison to “skeptic” forecasts, which are predictions of what people want to happen, is absolutely “off the charts.”
Thus the main basis of skepticism – as with essentially all the others – misses what the issue really is. Models aren’t climate change.
Models are supportive. That is, they help further validate and solidify our understanding of the issue, because they have not only been remarkably far from simply meaningless random predictions, overall they have been fairly accurate in terms of projecting relevant ranges; and, though scientists would always like to forecast things exactly before they happen – and continually working on and attempting to do so produces better and better understanding and projections – models realistically are ultimately just an attempt (albeit an important one) to try and approximate or project what’s most likely to happen from that impact, and approximate some range.
One of the grandfathers of serious climate change concern, and vast early knowledge of the issue – James Hansen – was even part of the large team that came up with one of the first powerful set of long term projections based on our ongoing alteration of the atmosphere – back in 1981. (More here.) They’ve turned out to be very accurate; ridiculously so if one believes the ambient temperature signs we’ve seen (forget about the more important and larger upward changes in ocean and ice sheet heat energy accumulation) to be a largely random event, at the exact same geologic time our anthropogenic actions have changed the atmospheric composition of heat trapping gases to levels not seen on earth in millions of years.
For the climate change “skeptic” who is intent on staying a skeptic, this probably won’t matter. But it’s an important part of the issue to be covered, because the confusion over models has played an extremely large role in overall perception – and more importantly – misperception – on climate change: As this fact -that we can’t predict exactly what will happen – has erroneously served as a main basis for refuting the fact that atmospheric alteration is both significantly affecting climate, and even more importantly, creating a large risk range of potential affects.
It’s a big part of the story of climate change – one that hasn’t received fair or balanced coverage. And covering the relevant arguments and facts herein would help further better understanding on, and assessment of, the issue.
*When the surface of the earth is warmer than the surrounding air, it emits thermal radiation, or heat energy. This energy is of medium wavelength, and it is absorbed and re radiated outward in all directions (and re absorbed and re radiated outward, and so on), very much unlike reflected sunlight, which is short wavelength radiation and passes through the atmosphere unabsorbed.
**Again, the process of anthropogenic limate change”skepticism” seems to also cherry pick out slivers of data to claim that earth isn’t really changing all that much, and even less persuasively: except to the hundreds of millions of people in the United States and Britain alone – including many in regional and national legislatures – who either intrinsically have this belief, or have been convinced of it through a near mountainous avalanche of just such advocacy and mis-impression.
Emissions Targets Sound Nice, and are a Way to “do Something,” but they Arbitarily (and Minimally) Address Climate Change
The market imbalance between cleaner (less polluting, and less atmospheric altering), and less clean agricultural and energy practices, has greatly skewed us toward habituation of and reliance upon increasingly counterproductive practices.
This is the basic challenge of production (or market) externalities – increasing as our population, technology, energy use, and potential for impact upon our world, increases.
These externalities don’t come with a price tag, or often even a marker alerting us to their existence (or full existence). So economists, by trying to put a tangible present day cost on intangible, long term value as well as often heavily commingled, hidden, or immeasurable (not to mention imprecise), harms, try to come up with figures or “values” for this cost; but trying to do so is often more misleading than not.
Such absolute cost value assessments also make the erroneous presumption that dollar value is absolute over time. But this can’t be the case. If it were, as total societal dollar value doubled and quadrupled and quadrupled again over time, people’s overall utility and happiness would rise accordingly. Which it does not do, and seemingly can not, do. So dollars are a way of comparing apples to apples, and putting something concrete on our exchange of perceived value. (*And they work a lot better than clamshells.)
Trying to assess the long term commingled harm to the basic quality of our world, opportunity, and health – all things which may not break down quite so much in value over time, as the present day absolute worth of a “dollar” – are like oranges, to the proverbial apples.
So in trying to compare the gain of mitigating pollution, in comparison to the “costs” (which if those costs simply represent a substitution of goods and production choices aren’t even real costs in the long run), sometimes we’re comparing apples to oranges. Even more so when it comes to the more complex, longer term, higher risk range, and unpredictability and completely uncharted territory aspect, of climate change.
That said, the basic problem of production (or market) externalities is real. And to avoid so much unnecessary counter productive long term harm, we have to find a way to sensibly and fairly address those externalities. (Typically done in the form of environmental and health regulations or policies.)
Climate change is a tricky issue. It is so inextricably global, so encompassing, so risk range oriented (a concept, on an issue which also simultaneously presents an almost assured certainty of some relevant impact as well regardless, which a lot of people struggle with). And there is so much ingrained resistance to the idea that mankind could be so fundamentally altering our very world against our own interests, and rampant economic presumption and alarmism over basic energy changes or change possibilities.
At the same time, as positive bonuses, climate change redress, or at least mitigation, would also invariably lower a lot of attendant pollution (and secondary to that, improve overall health, not to mention avoid the worst if indirect health consequences – particularly to the world’s poor – from dramatic climate change over time), as well as improve long term energy security and independence – on national, local, and personal levels.
Also at the same time, there are already many alternatives to our more traditional if more (long term) detrimental agricultural and energy practices, many of which are becoming increasingly cost effective, even without consideration of the fact that almost all of the tremendous, if immeasurable, “real” cost of more harmful practices is not presently – or even remotely, for that matter – integrated into their pricing structure. (And thus, into our decision making – and hence the huge inherent, if perhaps not so obvious, inefficiency.)
So simply capturing at least part of that real long term cost in some sort of market oriented way, along with promotion (but not imposition) of beneficial practices, would likely be enough to cause an even playing field between harmful and non harmful or less harmful practices. And as a result, sufficiently reward personal, business and even power and agricultural company transitions, to radically transform increasingly outdated, but habitually (and presumptively) clung to practices; and not only shortly stabilize total long term atmospheric greenhouse gases, but likely lead to a relevant reduction over a few more decades and thus mitigate what is right now a rather profound risk range of major to radical, if unpredictable, long term climate shifting.
The best way to do this is through some sort of user fee or tax upon long term atmospheric altering practices, most easily achievable through some sort of carbon “tax.” (A simple revenue neutral plan, which would give plenty of motive, business planning certainty and structure, and assistance with transition, is very briefly laid out here.)
On the other hand, the complexities, minor inefficiences, and seeming lack of political appeal of carbon taxation aside, setting emissions targets is a bad idea relative to a carbon tax, for three reasons:
It creates a bit more direct government control. It creates an arbitrary target with little broader market based flexibility to belp achieve the same or potentially far more successful ends, and with lower short term cost substitutions. And it fails to directly capitalize on consumer and business choice and financial motivation as additional means to evolve successful and growth oriented amelioration strategy responses and, ultimately, problem solving or ameliorating patterns, habits and practices.
In other words, and most importantly, it will likely also accomplish far less than a carbon tax, and do so with more potential imposition, real cost, and inefficiencies.
The only things it does do is avoid the seeming lack of political “appeal” for a carbon tax, and set some sort of concrete “target” – albeit, as opposed to doing nothing, a helpful target, one that is also fairly arbitrary, and likely highly insufficient. (And one that’s unduly pessimistic, as we can easily achieve far more by at least correcting some of the present day imbalances and putting the market to work to not only far more efficiently use what we have, but develop more and better ways to do so as well.)
Essentially, we know we need to “do something” (although many “skeptics” argue even with that, though when we don’t blame this human changed cause on humans, many become more accomodating to the idea of some redress).
And overall poor public assessment of and understanding on the issue – the same that has caused us to drag our feet on an amplifying problem for a few decades now – combined with, however, general support for doing “something” regardless of climate change’s supposed “cause,” lead to government decreed mitigation strategies that won’t do much to sufficiently ameloriate the situation, but nevertheless may cause a disproportionate amount of apparent short term cost and burden relative to what’s actually required.
In other words, less overall effect, and more “cost,” at least to the extent the cost is real.
But since some of the cost is being directly dictated rather than market driven, more of it, at least in the short term, likely is real. (With a revenue neutral carbon tax the idea of a cost becomes more illusionary – even if many incorrectly see such spending transitions as the gospel of real harm – since it’s merely a transference of resources and jobs and (human) energy into more benefical practices, and with all of the growth created therein, as real as the alarmist worry over growth “losses” from switching over to better practices.)
This seeming cost burden will of course be lessened by the reality that clean energy sources and better agricultural practices already available, in effect, already make transition over to longer term set targets far more trivial than they seem. And do so without even accomodating for the enormous long term hidden costs and harms of polluting sources and practices that already greatly imbalance our markets and production choices.
For instance, simply switching over a large portion of energy production to solar, all of which adds to GDP and creates jobs and income as much as any other investment and spending, and is no less real, will help make up much if not more of the set targets.
And it would do so in less time than even alloted for such targets to be met. And over such time, or even significantly less time, the transition costs will whittle down to next to nothing, as solar energy, for instance, is already fairly, if not perfectly, inexpensive at this point.
In other words, to simplify, we act as if we have a huge imponderable problem – E.g: “We need energy, too bad the only way to get it is from this black stuff (or gas) from the ground, and there wasn’t this incredible ball of energy up in the sky (for instance) – and if there is, too bad there isn’t a way to harness it.”
Yet that’s not the case. There is a huge ball of energy in the sky, as well as multiple other opportunities, already being ingeniously developed. And that’s without the mother of all performance and innovation – real, rather than abstractly perceived, need. (Need which a carbon tax both creates, and rewards.)
And again there is a way to harness that ball of energy in the sky, for instance – solar power. And, it’s economically feasible, and will over time not only continue to drop in relative price, but whatever costs there are versus different decision possibilities will will simply be integrated into our overall GDP, and facilitate the efficient allocation that is the market based pricing decision structure in the first. (Building codes, for instance, are a pain in the neck, no doubt. But within reason, are necessary. And any power utilizing dwelling roof without solar is simply a poor use of resources. So an appropriately priced building “fee” that’s waived for solar inclusion – motivation is far better than imposition – will make it even nonsensical short term not to take advantage of any such surface just sitting there, pointing to the sky, when installing roofs.)
So it’s not like it’s that big of a deal to simply decrease total net emissions, let alone over many years. Yet we’re addressing this as if it is.
Put simply, the targets are just a way of formalizing a sentiment to “emit less,” which simply moving toward better practices accomplishes on its own. And they make smaller reductions over a long time period, based upon an arbitrary and very static model or expectation of what our markets, and us, are capable of, appear as a somewhat more meaningful goal than they really are.
And they do also nevertheless still set arbitrary constraints to achieve otherwise positive ends that, with proper motivation, and the same or lower cost, and even less restriction on choice opportunity, could be exceeded up to several times over by simultaneously using the market, rather than simply dictating to the market what to do. Which, mild and very “reasonable” long term targets though such new emissions targets may be, is exactly what they do. And it’s exactly what a carbon tax – unappealing as it is to recalcitrant, business anarchy, “there are no such things as ‘hidden’ production cost” organizations such as the Heritage Foundation – does not do.
But more importantly, as most leading climate scientists aptly point out, current expressed emission reduction targets are also completely inadequate for making the kind of impact to our long term atmospheric greenhouse gas levels that sensible and non political, objective, assessment of the issue requires. Namely, stabilizing current levels and then bringing them down to something still far higher than at the start of the industrial period, but substantially below current levels.
In short, use the markets when we can. Setting long term and arbitrary emissions targets that our best scientists on the issue tell us are wholly insufficient to significantly transform the issue, doesn’t do that.
Our short term attachment to “cost,” what’s been part of the huge economic presumption impediment to sensible redress for nearly thirty years now, can also work in our favor rather than against us: by assisting both markets and consumers in their efforts, and rewarding behavior that’s more consistent with movement toward less externally damaging or counterproductive practices and patterns, while simultaneously allowing individual (business and consumer) choice, rather than arbitrary dictate to pave the way.
Moreover, the difference in real hard costs between harmful and non harmful energy and agricultural practices is now relatively moderate. And in some instances it’s slight, if even that. And, if only some of the intangible and often hidden but very real long term negative impacts of our current more broadly counterproductive energy and agricultural practices were somehow integrated into their actual pricing, our markets would shift over, based on the simple motivation of demand and reward.
Right now the balance cuts the other way – as none of the real costs of long term counterproductive practices are integrated. (And thus by comparison none of the “benefits” of cleaner, non or lesser atmospheric altering practices are integrated into their price either.) And so, resistant to change for the noble (and often refuted), idea of broader improvement alone, we think of it as a larger roadblock than it is.
A carbon tax removes that roadblock. And it rewards choice, allows for business planning, and allows us to see how much we can do. Or more precisely, allows us to do what we are capable of.
Doing what we are capable of, consistent with growth and jobs, is paramount on this issue. This is because there are no arbitrary threshold targets we “have to reach” (and scientists who suggest otherwise are speculating).
And by the basic nature of the problem – or challenge – the more we ameliorate, the less the overall long term impact and lower the worse downside risks and their amounts, and the better for us, all.
A carbon tax helps us achieve this without much government dictate, no extra government spending, and with business planning and the reward of choice. And will likely even reduce the need (and clamor for) future draconian measures if and when climate change starts to get out of hand after ice melt rates,”glacial” at first, really start to accelerate, and methane, a gas we’re underestimating, starts to self sustain and more.
In short, it’s the lowest imposition, with the highest return, for a problem which causes many to worry about imposition; and one for which we need, the highest return.
There is multiple misrepresentation and error in mainstream media climate change “refutation” pieces, regarding what climate change actually is, and why it presents a great challenge.
Additionally, “misinformed” climate change pieces are even more prevalent on the Internet and in social media – where most people get much of their information – than in mainstream media sources, and so the claims that comprise climate change “skepticism” remain well more than relevant news, since they have profound influence relative to the facts.
This, in turn, is greatly affecting general public perception on and understanding of the so called (anthropogenic) climate change issue, where a rather incredible gap now exists between what most practicing climate scientists know, and the general public perceives.
The answer to the dilemma is not to say (as some have ill advisedly, and almost anti democratcially- if as with most ideas, with “good intentions”), the media or any sources should simply stop publishing “anti-climate change” pieces and claims. Intelligent conversation – the disparate opinions required for democracy, basic liberty, and good science – require that all views and claims be available.
The answer, for better information and journalism – which better response to the problem (and one similarly needed years ago) requires (just as it required years ago), is to publish and cover misinformed claims, in the context of the relevant facts; which requires showing both the relevant facts and why they are relevant.
This, however, is not being done.
As a result, the striking pattern underlying the misinformation skewing our discussion and perception on the “climate change” issue, is simply not being given the objective, non politically biased coverage, it warrants and requires.
Take for instance pieces by ultracrepidarian Christopher Booker, whom the U.K’s Telegraph continues to publish (with the claims then republished all over the globe), and whose work serves as a striking and influential example.
Several months ago, courtesy of the Telegraph, Booker, among many others, published a few pieces claiming that international temperature data was a fraud – yes, fraud: not “wrong,” but “fraud”-purposefully perpetrated by NOAA and NASA, and with scientific community complicity.
As we’ll see clearly below, these claims are similar to, if – in level of recklessness and error – not even well beyond, the creation of climategate a few years back.”Climategate” itself was a largely made up scandal, created by (illegally) pilfering stacks of private emails, in order to try find something that out of context sounded bad.
Nevertheless, it was a (faux, but widely believed and influential)”scandal” that dominated international climate headlines for two years, and greatly undermined public confidence in climate scientists and understanding of climate change as a result.
Yet on the other hand, the far more real “climate gate-gate” – the scandal of stealing private emails to wildly cherry pick out of context phrases to create an erroneous perception that nevertheless helped to reinforce “skeptic” belief and greatly undermine public confidence in simple general, basic, climate science, and climate scientists – was barely covered.
And in almost the same way, these newest “NASA data tampering” claims now making the rounds worldwide – including in multiple media sources and thousands of secondary Internet sources – offer Booker and other skeptics another rationale to dismiss anything conflicting with their belief:
Namely, the belief that man is not changing earth’s climate: intense, now multi-million year level of atmospheric alteration compressed into an astonishingly short geological time frame, the geophysical record, the risk ranges presented, or the intense, and increasing, record of geophysical signs of beginning change notwithstanding.
Though climate is “sensitive” – in fact this idea is implicitly one of the main skeptic arguments as to why we’re not changing it; because climate changes so easily, it therefore “isn’t us who are changing it now” – this belief is accomplished in large part through the idea that climate is otherwise extremely insensitive.
Specifically, it is sensitive and changes easily; except to man’s influence. In response to man’s influence, instead, it “self regulates,” as if for our specific benefit. And it does so even though it’s not an organism with something to “self regulate,” but a ball of rock hurtling through space that reflects the geophysical forces acting upon it.
Yet when some highly influential AGW denouncers skeptics recently managed to get a paper published in a Chinese science journal (in a piece the head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for space studies called “complete trash“), they elected to simply make up and assume the direct opposite of the mainstay – and otherwise irrelevant – “climate changes” skeptic argument.
And thus, they decided to decide that climate barely changes, is very stable, and is insensitive to even major external forcings upon it. So long as, again, those forcings are human caused, that is.
It’s apparently extremely sensitive, however, to anything “natural” that can be asserted, in order to ignore the far more geologically profound – yet man caused – sudden yet multi-million year increase in earth’s long term atmospheric insulation layer.
But that wasn’t all. In addition to ignoring almost all known climate modeling understanding, and neglecting to explain why what was known was “wrong” and they were discarding it, and once again following the same pattern of using any argument possible in order to reinforce an already arrived at conclusion, the authors of the Chinese science journal paper also simply made up the idea that any climate change effect is near instantaneous, which is a preposterous assumption. (It’s the atmospheric alteration equivalent of asserting that because it’s a clear day and the sun is at 40 degrees in the sky, the temperature, wherever we are on the globe, and whenever, will be the exact same, and not a reflection of the long term acccumulation of factors that affect and drive climate.)
All of this, and more, was done in a paper absolutely “riddled with fundamental errors.” And one that, by this same pattern of machinations, naturally, arrived at the pre-determined belief or desire driven conclusion that “skeptic” authors Willie Soon, Christopher Monckton, David Legates, and William Briggs clearly needed to reach.
Booker’s claims also serve as example of the same pattern; that is, of not only practicing outright advocacy to reach a desired conclusion, but advocacy that manufactures claims flatly contradicted by the facts. Even doing so when those claims are wild accusations, which Booker is seemingly fond of. And the Telegraph, and thousands of other if sometimes lesser sources, are willing to repeat as if it’s news or information.
Not, again, the news of what Booker is actually doing – which is more important and yet essentially not covered. But, instead, the claims themselves: with key omissions, mistake, error, fraud, misrepresentation, and zealotry, all un-assessed, and largely ignored.
As for Booker’s claim of NOAA fraud he called the “biggest science scandal ever” – leading to over 30,000 comments on one piece alone – here’s the shocking reality of what was left out: The “data tampering” of which this biggest scandal consisted was routine raw data recalibration from lesser maintained and older weather stations. And not only is there no controversy in science over conducting such recalibrations, it’s considered poor science not to when warranted.
Were some of the temperature recalibrations possibly in errror? Though there doesn’t seem to be much strong evidence suggesting this – and recalibration arbitration is also imperfect – they might have been. But if so, addressing them is part of what science is: the ongoing process of learning, adjusting, correcting mistakes.
Yet a big part of what climate change “skepticism” or far more accurately, disavowal, consists of, is taking the ongoing process of science itself as a basis for arguing that what is known isn’t known either, or is incorrect or worse, or that risk isn’t real if exact outcome can’t be predicted in advance (and if it could it would no longer be “risk,” and the concept would cease to exist). Which arguments, when generalized as on climate chamge, and with the exact same semantics earnestly employed on this subject, could also be used to rhetorically invalidate any and all pieces of knowledge in existence, and make all knowledge – except the knowledge one wants to use to support what one wants to believe – useless or dimissable.
Moreover, Booker and many other hard core climate change disavowers also didn’t suggest the recalibrations were in error, nor add to the possible body of science by suggesting why and offer corrections or improvements therein.
That wouldn’t be consistent with climate change skepticism – namely, finding ways, under the belief of self reinforcing “logic,” to perpetuate the belief of skepticism, and undermine climate scientists and climate science wherever possible. So instead we have, voila, NOAA and NASA “fraud.” “Data tampering.”
And of course, the “Telegraph” – itself driven by ideology and poor climate change “awareness” – published the original claims, giving it some sort of journalistic credibility, along with countless other sources both major and minor giving further credence and global exposure to the claims. (This is not to say that looking at issues such as data recalibration, or even climate change advocacy groupthink or presumption, and of course the various uncertainties in terms of what we know, aren’t valid. But this not what climate change skepticism – a very, very, different, if extremely prevalent, and pronounced, phenomenon – is.)
Most importantly, despite the enormous global influence of the alleged data tampering scandal, most of this story, and the most relevant part of it, hasn’t even been touched by mainstream media, who continue to miss one of the biggest psychosocio cultural as well as climate change stories of the 21st century.
The most relevant part, is that the claims of fraud are not only in error – if not themselves, fraudulent – but in error on every fundamental level, and fit the same broader pattern of self reinforcing belief that constitutes the psychosocio cultural phenomenon of climate change “skepticism” – and one that should be far more accurately called “disavowal.” Because it is not skepticism, but rather its opposite – embrace of almost any idea, claim or assertion that supports the desired or pre determined belief that mankind is not relevantly changing our future climate.
(Note: psychosocio doesn’t mean “pyscho.” It refers to psychology and the psychological and sociological processes culturally at play with respect to this pure geophysical issue of climate change, which nevertheless has not only a lot of passionate feeling surrounding it, but indirect political ramificatinos, as well as a huge amount of economic connection and massive presumption.)
Temperature data recalibration is normal. And it’s considered bad science not to do it. The “scandal of the century” actually, if rather fantastically, refers to precisely this routine recalibration; and which, if done mistakenly or in error, is not being pointed out for correction or improvement as such, and as part of the process of science.
And, even if that were the case, it’s not a fraud, but a suggestion or illustration of mistake in science, which, after observation, is nearly as fundamental a part of science as there is: Yet climate change “skepticism” has literally managed to turn one of the most basic ongoing parts of science itself into a “scandal” – even, in Booker’s eyes, the “biggest science scandal ever.” (Just as climate skepticism managed to turn part of private human communications and routine data problems or imperfections, into the other “biggest science scandal” ever.)
But something else extremely key was also not only left out, but as a result the issue was falsely represented in an even more basic way:
The whole claim rests on the dual assertions that NOAA, NASA and other major parties fraudulently “changed” or knew of fraudulent change to basic temperature readings, using the process of recalibration as the excuse, and pretending that the basic process of recalibration – part of good science – doesn’t even exist. And that, moreover, these changes were only done in an upward direction.
But they weren’t done only in an upward direction. They were done in both directions. But some ideological blogger – Paul Homewood (covered in relation to Booker’s pieces part way down) – cherry picked and cherry picked until he could find seeming evidence to support his theory that climate change isn’t real. And Booker – who directly and extensively relied on this work for both of his major pieces on the issue, that were then in turned picked up by thousands of other sources – turned him into a climate change skeptic star.
And, the ensuing claims of scandal, in addition to falsely conflating basic and normal recalibration or even (if so), basic and normal recalibration error, with “fraud” -let alone “biggest science scandal ever” – falsely informed the world that temperatures were only adjusted upward. This is also patently false; yet also basic to the entire claim as well.
In essence, it’s a two part claim – both are required for the claim to have any merit – and both parts are patently false. And while the former – recalibrations aren’t routine, but fraud – can be an attributed to zealous interpretation – e.g, “your recalibration or recalibration errors (if any) must have been fraudulently done because they don’t support our views but do support the idea of warming!” What can the latter be attributed to?
(Also, while not really relevant, but interesting, had no recalibrations been done at all, total surface air warming would be essentially the same.)
Intentional, or far more likely not, Booker essentially engages in a multiple fraud – the fraud of representing recalibrations as some sort of huge scandal, with no evidence of any deliberate attempt to purposefully manipulate overall global temperatures; the fraud of representing that temperatures were only adjusted upward, when as part of the recalibration process they were adjusted in both directions; and even the implicit fraud of representing that temperature data only suggests a warming trend due to this recalibration.
And he blatantly and rather aggresively “projects” that fraud directly onto others – in this case climate scientists.
So now this month, also courtesy of the Telegraph, and in a clever but also contrived piece of, yes, projection, Booker ironically claims those concerned about climate change (not himself ), “project.” Namely, in that they project their own denial of the true “climate change facts” onto those – such as Booker – who disavow that man is relevantly changing our climate.
In other words, those concerned about climate change – whom Booker seems to like calling warmists, and conflate with prediction of imminent global catastrophe and not just increasing negative climate impacts and relevant risks of potentially major impacts – project out that others, like Booker are “deniers,” when it is they themselves who “deny.”
Not deny the fact that most skeptics largely believe what they say. (Which many climate change advocates unfortunately have a hard time believing or understanding the extensive influence of on popular discussion and assessment.) But “deny” skeptic reality “fact” that mankind’s actions aren’t relevantly impacting our long term climate or presenting a signifcant risk range of so doing.
These projectors include over 97% of the climate scientists who actually and professionally study climate change.
Though of course hard core “skeptics” have a way of rationalizing this away also, saying this fairly broad climate scientist consensus doesn’t exist by substituting in something else for it: Somewhat like a magician does with his hands; “here, see how these aren’t apples,” before, while you’re not looking, switching the bag of apples to a bag of oranges, but with climate scientist consensus. (And which is what famous and also influential climate change skeptic Ross McKittrick all but literally does here.)
What’s remarkable about this is that in labeling non climate change skeptics as “projectors,” Booker is engaging in about as classic a bit of projection as one can: He is projecting his “denialism” (or confusion over, or “disavowal” of climate change), outward onto climate scientists and those concerned about the issue.
But not only that: He is then, irony of ironies, calling it “projection” in others. And then supports his assertion by not only engaging in exactly the same pattern of cherry picking that the article he now attacks originally pointed out as the key pattern of climate change “skeptics” (or “denialism”), but by following a meandering course of prose that has almost nothing to do with climate change.
For instance, much of his article on how climate change isn’t real focuses on sporadic polar bear increases, while omitting the facts that polar bears were being hunted to extinction, and a resulting 1973 treaty signed by the five countries with land in polar bear territory essentially banned their hunting.
And to the extent it does have to do with climate change, his piece on how climate change isn’t real, remarkably misconstrues the issue: Such as, ignoring the fact that arctic ice is only one small component and extremely variable and climate change is a long term phenomenon and only imprecisely predictable, and cherry picking out large increases in arctic ice following an unmentioned 2012 record low that also demolished a record low set only 5 years earlier by almost another twenty percent, and that 2015 just set a record for lowest winter arctic ice extent ever and this summer is again tracking to be one of the lowest on record, to argue that the artic isn’t changing, and thus climate change isn’t real. (Which it would be even if arctic sea ice was the same – as the issue is total global heat energy changes, so what’s relevant is the total picture, including the fact that different regions are changing differently, or even slightly cooling.)
But it does fit a pattern, of, for lack of a better term, “denying it.” Or not getting it. Or not wanting to get it – easily reinforced by the wide spread prevalance of this pattern, and the near avalanche of cherry picked “information” and basic issue misconstruction it creates.
As well as the attendant lack of major illumination – instead mistakenly taking it for granted that this is all “obvious” to everybody – by many climate change advocacy leaders, and our mainstream media. And in the process, not just doing an injustice to decent basic coverage of the broader issues and phenomenon of climate change and our response to it, but missing one of the bigger, and more important, stories of our times.
Last Updated March 4, 2016
CLIMATE change is not air temperatures. Air temperature is one part of the pattern of increased total earth energy that constitutes climate change or “global warming.”
Air temperature is also a very variable part of the total global warming phenomenon. Other key earth systems that are directly affected by climate change – such as oceans, our near polar regions’ enormous ice sheets, and vast expanses of permafrost areas both at the bottom of the sea and atop the land – play a large role in how much air temperatures ultimately increase, and climate changes, and right now are more important than air temperature changes, though dwarfed in coverage and attention by the latter.
What mattters is the total heat accumulation of the earth – oceans, ice sheets, land surface, and permafrost areas, and our oceans can absorb an enormous amount of energy. As can ice sheets, as they slowly warm and start to turn some of their substance into water
So shorter term geologic changes in the general average rate of ambient global air temperature rise is not a “pause” in climate change or global warming, or anything of the sort. (Unless the otherwise misleading term “global warming” only and specifically refers to ambient air temperatures, and ignores the larger, far more complete, and far more important picture.)
It’s a change in ambient global surface air temperature rates; which were volatile (and unpredictable, particularly over shorter periods of time) both before anthropogenic climatec change, and even more so as a result of it.
But even the idea that more general ambient air temperatures have “paused” is itself largely fiction, as the temperature trend into the 21st century and right up to this very month continues, and is now increasing in rate again. As it had as well into the 90s, and as part of what climate change is – high and at least somewhat imperfectly predictable variability: Not this imagined phenomenon of low short term variability, and nice symetrical linear progression that superficial or incorrect analyses, soundbite news coverages, and most so called “skepticism,” implicitly frames it as.
That is, changes in the rate of temperature increase alone are as apt to be occurring as we march forward in time as not, and based upon what climate change is: Namely, a highly variable unpredictable and almost definitively non linear alteration of the climate, as total earth atmospheric net energy accumulates as a result of a geologically significant increase in long lived atmospheric thermal radiation (earth’s “insulation layer”) that’s now occurred in an incredibly short geologic period – an increase now that in the case of carbon dioxide alone has reached atmospheric concentrations that the earth hasn’t seen in millions of years. And not only is carbon dioxide not only not the only gas of concern, another may wind up being as, if not in some ways, more important in terms of the risk of potentially rapid and large shifts or lurches in climate that continue to grow.
Additionally, recent studies further suggest that the short term decrease in the rate of temperature increase alone – changes which, again, based upon what climate change is, are as apt to be occurring as we march forward in time as not – didn’t exist.
Yet adding to the confusion (and a story worthy of attention), even quasi “skeptic” sites – such as the one by this frequent U.S. congressional climate change testifier, scurried to denounce the aforereferenced study. And did so while, naturally, once again completely missing the big picture. (Notice, for example, notice, among other things, the long extensive cherry picking of an unnamed “international journalist” in order to reinforce pre existing, and fundamentally incorrect, framing of the issue.)
But the hiatus re-analysis – the fact that the slight short term average air temperature increase rate either slightly temporarily slowed or didn’t – wasn’t that relevant to the bigger issues we’re presented with.
(Update: Note that while all this misguided fuss about a “pause” was going on, 2014 set a record for the warmest air temperatures globally ever recorded. Only it didn’t last long, because 2015 shattered the mark, setting a new world record, air temperature wise, for the warmest year ever, and shattering the 2014 mark. Then for good measure, January 2016 didn’t just set the record for the hottest global January ever recorded, it also set the record for the highest deviation above the norm, or anomaly, for any month of the year, any year, ever recorded in mankind’s history. Quite the “pause.” And now, from the first set of data in – tropospheric satellite data, February 2016 has not just, one month later, beaten the previous record set in January for the hottest anomaly above the “norm” once again, for any month ever recorded, it smashed it.
On the other hand, the above referenced study suggesting no substantive decrease in the overall rate of increase of globall air temperatures in the first 15 years of this century, does add clarifying information. And it helps refine our body of knowledge regarding the process of climate and, in particular, temperature modeling.
Temperature modeling itself is something, of course, which following the same pattern of both misunderstanding on the basic climate change issue, and widespread “advocacy” against the idea of anthropogenic climate change, is in turn then itself often misunderstood, and even widely misconstrued to fit a pre determined conclusionm and erroneously used to try to refute climate change.
This process of misconstruing future temperature modeling, or projections, is itself, again, part of a broader pattern of trying to reinforce a belief or “view” by any argument possible, rather than the dispassionate, objective assessment it professes itself to be. (Here’s a good example, very similar to what runs rampant on countless “scientific” sites, to some extent among almost half of United States politicians and legislators, and of which there are probably, literally, many millions of similar examples just on twitter alone – itself a great venue for soundbite rhetoric:
Yet this pattern of trying to advocate or perpetuate a desired view by any argument, despite a fair amount of counter productive disbelief about this fact among many who are more accurately aware of the real climate change problem, not only professes itsejf to be objective, but in order to continue belief in its conclusions, also generally believes itself to be objective; and in many skeptic circles, the group – and, presumably, unlike climate scientists – practicing “real science.” By conflating the phenomenon of climate change with air temperature alone, it’s also a pattern which is often inadvertently, if mistakenly, reinforced. (Albeit less so lately now that global temperature records are sudddenly being set at a fairly rapid pace.)
Related to this, and helping to drive some of the misunderstanding that leads to incorrect if believed analyses and rhetoric on the subject, there is essentially a false idea that climate change, even now in its earlier stages, is largely air temperature, and again not the far more important net accumulation of energy that’s slowly affecting earth’s basic energy systems – including of course the ones that drive and shape future climate. This is causing a lot of misunderstanding on what the issue really is, as well as misunderstanding of the fundamental – and, in terms of amount plus speed, geologically radical – long term atmospheric alteration driving it. And it’s leading many to wrongly assume climate change is a sort of quick response to increased greenhouse gases – i.e., they go up, and voila, climate is different.
That’s not what it is.
Increased long term greenhouses gases do immediately absorb and re radiate more thermal radiation emanating off of earth’s various surfaces. But most of that increase in energy retention then goes into slowly re shaping our net earth atmosphere’s energy balance; changing our oceans, and even large swaths of permafrost, hard land surface and subsurface temperatures, ice sheet temperatures, and even ice sheets themselves.
And this, along with the atmospheric change originally driving it, increases not just the amount of potential thermal radiation to be emitted from earth’s surfaces long into the future, but also rehapes the amount of energy even absorbed in the first place, as earth’s albedo – or reflectivity – slolwly changes. And, further amplifying an ongoing process of change until a new stases is reached, long stable stores of carbon also begin to change, and release in the form of additional greenhouse gases – and in a potentially very dramatic way, powerful signs of which we are already beginning to see.
This is a simplification, of course, as ice sheets take energy and translate it into melting ice sheets, and not atmospheric or even ocean warmth.
But these in turn don’t just affect a host of processes, but slowly break down the long term stability of the climate moderating caps, ice sheets, and average global sea ice formation averages and, along with other processes such as permafrost and glacial melt, decrease the amount of solar radiation simply reflected back into space. And which, down the road, will then instead be emitted as much longer wavelength thermal radiation which is then “trapped” by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – increases and all – whereas reflected sunlight isn’t.
Ocean currents change, unpredictably; precipitation patterns change, unpredictably, as total net energy increases, the total potential for both more powerful and intense weather events increases, and both more and more water vapor is potentially evaporated from slowly increasing temperatures, with a warmer atmosphere then capable of retaining far more moisture, leading to unpredictable yet in many regions, likely almost complete shifts in not just volatility and precipitation event intensities, but precipitation patterns and weather patterns.
And so on.
It’s not just air temperatures, but a host of more complex factors, as earth’s system adjusts to the large ongoing increase in trapped atmospheric energy in an ongoing process that will only “relatively” stabilize decades to possibly even centuries after atmospheric levels of long term greenhouse gases have themselves relatively stabilized.
Thus, the goal should be to lower total long term ambient greenhous gas levels at this point, as the world’s leading glaciologists, and countless other experts, strongly suggest. Unfortunately, right now we’re still increasing long term ambient greenhouse gase levels. And, again, as permafrost regions melt and release carbon, and possiblly to likely sea floor methane eruptions start to slowly snowball, we may start to get a significant amount of amplifying help as the future unfolds; not help in reducing long term atmospheric greenhouse gas levels, but in further adding to them.
It Didn’t Take Chutzpah to Suggest “Stop Waffling” on Climate Change in 1988; Massive Economc Presumption Just Held us Back
(Updated and re-edited, 8-19-15)
The fundamental basis of what climate change is often seems to be missed.
It’s not that the earth is “definitely warming” due to human activities: although the overwhelming majority of climate scientists conclude that it is.
The fundamental basis of climate change is that we’ve altered the long term energy re-capturing capacity of the atmosphere in geologically profound ways.
The signs of encroaching climatic pattern changes are simply corroboration of what many climate scientists, for very basic reasons, have long expected and predicted. That includes these guys, who looking back even somewhow managed to get it down fairly precisely in terms of time frame as well – almost impossible to do. And one of those guys was James Hansen, who told Congress to “stop waffling” in 1988.)
And this fundamental, and so far ongoing rather than mitigated, change to our atmosphere is setting in motion major changes to the earth, and creating a risk range of additionally unpredictable, potentially radical and volatile climatic shifting.
In 1988, Leading NASA climate scientist James Hansen (and others) told the U.S. Congress to act to move off of fossil fuels.
By 1988, we had already made severe changes to our earth’s ongoing and accumulating net energy balance – and the heart of what “climate change” really is. And even back then it was clear we, and certainly the world, wouldn’t just automatically cease all patterns adding to the net long term atmospheric levels of long lived “energy re absorbing” greenhouse gases that constituted the underlying problem in the first place.
But we at least needed to start the process of reversing the trend.
We didn’t. And the problem is now greatly amplified, will have greater long term impact, and presents a far higher risk range of radical unpredictable and potentially extremely dramatic long term changes if we only very slowly respond now.
Yet, reinforced by lots of misinformation, and constituting an overall change to a system that over days (weather) instead of decades (climate) naturally on its own appears to shift far more wildly, it’s one that’s easy to dismiss:
Namely, by rhetoric that sounds great but has nothing to do with what the issue really is; by misconstruing the basic issue; by cherry picking slivers of inconseqential and often even irrelevant data; or dismissal by saying that since we can’t be certain the worse case scenarios will come to pass – or that climate has “changed before,” the fact of change itself, as well as the risk, isn’t real or substantial.
And which, in turn, is about as off base as assessment can be. (Although it is driven by a fervent desire, in large part fueled by the same economic presumption that held us back in 1988 and discussed herein, among other things, to believe that the issue isn’t significant or real. And leading to a remarkable and still not properly illuminated widespread socio cultural phenomenon of advocacy driven climate change disavowal.)
And it’s as off base, if not even more so, than the constant claim that “if there is any change,” we’re not causing it; and our sudden multi million year spike in basic atmospheric long lived molecular energy recapture – which is then in turn increasing the total net energy in earth’s entire system, where most of is going into increasing ocean (warming) and ice sheet (warming and melting) energy, is some sort of wild coincidence.
And is so, even though total global air temperature change alone over the past 100-120 years is around a 1 in 100 to less than 1 in 1000 chance for any random 100-120 year period, and the chance of that occuring while massive shifts upward in total net ocean heat and glacial ice sheet accumulation occur, is even less. Let alone, perhaps even more importantly, that the odds of that happening at the same time the even more odd fact of a sudden multi million year shift upward in earth’s insulation layer, is somehow otherwise not affecting climate, is many, many, times lower still.
As a practical matter, some other factors further supporting sensible action, even loomed large back in 1988, just as they do today:
Fossil fuel dependence was considered a national security vulnerability. And relying on fossil fuels also required sending of considerable dollars overseas to acquire a natural resource – as even with excessive ongoing environmental degradation, it was clear the U.S. didn’t have nearly enough reserves to meet its energy demands on its own.
Fossil fuels were also finite. And, although technology and its implementation has since helped a little they’re also extremely polluting; representing countless unseen long term and highly comminged hidden “costs” or harms to our and the world’s long term health and quality of our environment.
There are even also large damages often associated with much fossil fuel extraction, particularly in the case of coal – which has destroyed, harmed, or greatly altered countless mountain tops, local communities, watersheds, and local ecosystems.
And coal’s use has pumped considerable amounts of mercury in the air, likely putting nature past its naturally evolved threshold (organisms can self detoxify limited amounts of mercury, albeit it’s an exceedingly slow process), and contributing to the now counter productive and almost silly fact that one of nature’s healthiest foods – fish, filled with DHA, EPA, selenium, Vitamin D and protein – is as a result now often contaminated with this bio accumulating and infinitely lasting neurological toxin.
All of this was completely known in 1988. As was the fact our atmosphere, in terms of its basic thermal radiation recapture property, was being fundamentally and significantly changed; that this change was long term; and, from a shorter “man-centric” time frame, somewhat irreversible – at least into the foreseen future.
The problem now, just as it was then, is that the atmosphere issue and attendant “alteration of climate” issue (or “warming” and “change”), was looked at as one of discreet units of definitive effect. Linear, and near immediate: Atmospheric GGs go up, earth immediately warms.
That’s not how it works. At all. And believing otherwise defies basic geophysical reality, or at least understanding.
Nevertheless, a “skeptic” paper was actually recently published in a Chinese science journal, that formed a conclusion, then continued to make assumptions and disregard all other modeling knowledge, to fit that pre determined conclusion. And one of the assumptions, astoundingly, was not just that climate is “very stable” and completely contradicting the issue irrelevant skeptic argument that climate constantly changes. But that almost all climate change “effect” is instantaneous. (The paper, in science journal speak, is covered here, and it and its broader pattern, here.)
Climate change in effect presents not just an alteration, if a lagging one, to earth’s climate from what’s now a geologically radical level of long lived greenhouse gas molecule level shifting (effecting a change on the order now of several million years, and counting, in just a couple hundred years, with much of it occurring in the past 50). But also a high risk range of potentially almost incalculable changes.
And ultimately, despite massive presumption otherwise, it stems from a pattern of habit that in the long run may not have been any better than any other alternative pattern of habit; just easier. (Incidentally, tackling less easy things – which includes developing different habits or practices – is also part of what builds economies.) And, at one point in time at least, now long past, was seemingly the only real practical one.
And it stems from a pattern of habit that in the long run may have been no better than other alternatives, even if it didn’t have have all the issues of pollution, environmental damage, potential security exposure, net dollar export, and the finite nature of the resources attached, as well.
This same consideration – that is., it’s not clear there was some huge advantage from these specific habits and patterns regardless of all the harmful external effects as was (and is still) otherwise widely presumed – applies to the other major contributor to climate change as well. A contributor that, when its use of fossil fuels, direct and indirect are considered, is the main contributor to climate change: Namely, agriculture.
For instance, many of the same practices contributing to the atmospheric alteration problem, also resulted in degradation to and large scale erosion of the soil, less nutritionally rich foods (by some studies, depending on where and how grown), and extensive reliance upon heavy metal laced chemical macro nutrient fertilizer as well as and in some ways rather senseless life killing and similarly extensive herbicide and pesticide use. (Herbicides and pesticides are man concocted chemicals designed to kill life that we didn’t even evolve with, and it never made any sense to put them into our bodies.)
The other ongoing and counter productive impediment, still present today but less so, was – and still is -the mistaken presumption of inherent conflict between environmental “protection” and human growth or progress. That is, between the quality of our world and direct and indirect if often hidden long term impacts upon our own health and well being, and human growth and progress. When not harming the quality of our world or adding to negative impacts upon our overall health and well being, is part of human growth and progress.
Progress – including economic – means doing what improves our world, and improving our lot and our experience in it. And which provides, ideally meaningful, employment, in the process: Things which improving the quality of our world and impacts upon our long term health – rather than constantly harming them – accomplishes.
That is, improving long term health and environmental quality, not degrading it and creating increasing and needless counter productive harms, is as fundamentally a part of this creation of employment and betterment of our world as anything else. It is ultimately closer to the very opposite of some sort of inherent conflict to it, as was and often still is mistakenly assumed, even sometimes presumed as near gospel.
In short, the presumption has always been that our environment was a vast expanse to simply dump things into, and it would take care of itself – rather than a balanced system of which, as we grew, we were invariably becoming a bigger and more influential part.
Yet the view continues today, and is even frequently used as an “argument” (irrelevant as it is), as to why “climate change” is not real. To wit:
“Man is insignificant compared to the earth, and can’t really affect it.”
Or variations therein. A “speck”of existence.
In relation to the relevant issues we face, such an expression is pure semantics, and meaningless. (Much like, if not even more so, the myth of the self regulating earth for man’s climatological benefit, as if the earth would target the climatic range that happens to suit us and that we evolved under, rather than simply respond to the laws of physics and the net energy inputs upon it.)
The idea uses grand generalizations in place of simply what is, often serving unknowingly to reinforce a belief, rather than looking at something in a different or new light. Man is having the effect man is having. But seemingly philosophical (yet more rhetorical) generalizations about how man is “insigificant” in the sense of our physical impact, simply replaces the specifics of that physical impact one wants to disagree with, dismiss or trivialize, with the more meaningless general expression that therefore we simply “can’t” affect things.
“She has cancer and in order to survive needs to change some habits.”
“The human body is a wonderful organism capable of incredible feats of self regulatory homeostasis and protection and impugning this capacity by imagining it somehow isn’t or becomes ‘cancerous’ is to degrade the wonder of life itself.”
It’s nice rhetoric, but irrelevant to the fact that she has cancer.
Likewise, “man is insignificant in comparison to the earth,” whatever it philosophically means, isn’t relevant to the issue of our impact upon it, or whether that impact is productive or counter productive to what is in our best interests, or most practical for us to do based upon our various sensibilities and place here on the planet – with now the power to literally wipe out almost all of the other species if we so chose, or even all but literally blow the earth up.
But as rationalization for the continuation of some sort of ideology, believing environmental protection and health to be in direct conflict with economic growth, and wholly solved by the market (which is tautological because if so the ongoing constant harm and long term hidden health impacts – much of what is not discovered until years later and irreversible, or overly commingled with other impacts and nearly impossible to prove – wouldn’t exist and hence the constant desire to dismiss them as if they don’t, or don’t matter), the idea captures the majority sentiment of our earlier evolution as a society, and continues today.
And as adherence to an ideology, this semantic if here meaningless idea of man’s insignificance to earth still represents an inherent fall back position by which to automatically resist change – even if, apparently such change is market led based upon increased awarenessess and mechanisms (taxes, credits, regulations), for movement away from habits and old presumptions. (Though it’s not entirely clear because unfortunately in response to the antagonism often expressed by climate change skepticism toward environmental concern, less rather than more effort is put into trying to address inclusive fears and concerns in terms of practical solutions, further polarizing the problem.)
But we had it backward:
By 1988 the issue was clear. It made sense to move from fossil fuels, and improve agricultural practices anyway; for reasons of efficiency, health, pollution, environmental degradation, security and, yes, real long term, productive growth.
Engaging in a radical experiment with the basic geological energy recapturing combination of the earth, with almost no controls, and in a way that by releasing long sequestered carbon built up over hundreds of millions of years we were rapidly peeling back millions of years of climatic and earth evolution, on top of that, only means it made even more sense.
Yet instead, we looked at the issue – much like in some respects we still do today – as some sort of sacrifice.
This is because the immediate tangible concept of paying “x”, for “y” fuel, is something graspable. But the commingled hidden effects imparted by the collective actions of billions of people are seeming abstractions; even if over the long term both very real, and far more fundamentally relevant than any short term and ultimately easily market adjustable “cost basis” for “x” versus “y” set of market and consumer decisions and adjustments.
It may have been prompted by Hansen’s early belief that climate change likely presented an even more serious risk range than some other scientists studying it believed. (Though even back in 1988 the general consensus was of our long term impact, with any relevant uncertainty among actual scientists studying the issue not so much in broader, conceptual risk range terms but in more definitive, concrete, are we effecting ambient air temperatures now type of terms.) But there was nothing unreasonable, or even chutzpah requiring, whatever Hansen’s motivations, for saying – much as many others believed (and president Lyndon Johnson even articulated back in the late 1960s) – that as we were in essence radically changing the atmosphere through practices that were otherwise polluting and environmentally degrading, and there were other energy sources and better ways to farm, it was time to “stop waffling” and address it.
We’d have a different and cleaner, more efficient and less polluting and health impacting economy today, and likely wouldn’t be in the process of melting our north and south polar ice caps and looking at nearly so large a long term risk range of potentially (from our standpoint, anyway) monumental sea level rise, not to mention a host of other major risk factors and impacts.
Given the known parameters in 1988, such a view is also not hindsight. It was merely clouded at the time, as again still somewhat today, by the inherent and mistaken presumption that improving our world – not just our transitory things that we build to use, or even to keep us from having to ourselves move (thus requiring even more in health care “costs,” as well as fundamental losses in health and vigor), have fun with and or luxuriate in – isn’t similarly a part of our growth and economy, but is some sort of direct conflict to it.
This is a view still continued by some in politics, such as Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush, son of President George Bush. And, brother of President George W Bush, who in 2006 ironically said we are “addicted to oil.” (But would the Bush Administration follow through?)
And (though not nearly as radical as many of the other increasingly right wing GOP candidates, and therefore aware of the phenomenon of climate change itself), who essentially bases all of his statements about it – though as a gifted politican dresses it up in characterstically nice sounding language – in the context of climate change redress’s basic threat, rather than contributor to, the economy. Namely:
[The U.S. has a responsibility to adapt to] what the possibilities are without destroying our economy.
Not climate change’s basic threat to economy, as former superstar U.S. Treasury Secretaries Robert Rubin, and George W Bush’s very own Henry Paulson, have very clearly articulated. Rather, climate change redress.
And that we should “invest” (taxpayers dollars – so no real choice or consumer market behavior enters into the equation – to feed industry), to find solutions “for the long haul.”
Sure, a long term solution. But also a long term quest (seemingly a step along the lines of Brother George’s ultimate “let’s study more” then do nothing approach, heavily influenced not by climate scientists, but this heavy fiction novelist), for such solution, when the solution and more is – cheaply, and dropping – staring down at us from the sky. And we not only have more than enough technology, we’re already building it now.
The problem is, not even a microfraction of the benefit (in terms of the absence of pollution and climate changing effects that more traditional means create), is integrated into the price; as similarly not even a microfraction of the external harms, is built into the price of traditional or “old fashioned” energy practices; thus making the market still heavily imbalanced toward highly inefficient long term patterns, rather than efficient ones.
And the same problem – perhaps even more so because it’s more complex than simply switching a dirty polluting fuel with a clean increasing low cost virtually non polluting free energy source (sun) panel – exists with respect to agricultural practices.
Yet Jeb Bush wants to throw dollars at the problem and “study” for “solutions” to bail out industry, instead of carbon taxing to shift the markets to create business certainty and the ability to plan, innovate and respond (in part why no fewer than six major international energy companies went so far as to even ask for a carbon tax), and use the funds raised, to help those industries and employees transition in the shorter term.
Thus, more rhetoric like the “Addicted to Oil” Speech in 2006? (Still, it’s a step up for him from this recent position – so Jeb, if the U.S. does wind up with more Bush presidents than sequels to the movie “Rocky,” I do volunteer to be an adviser in your administration. You could use a conceptual strategic, non ideological mind.)
Improving our world through manufacture, sometimes for practices that are just dumb (let’s build a lot of escalators and use even more energy, so people stand around even more and move even less and then spend more energy driving to and using electric equipment o gyms or getting diabetes and lower quality of life and greatly increasr “also GDP contributing” health care costs, along with countless other examples), and sometimes not, but just, whatever they “are” to us, is all “contributing to GDP” – even when it takes great cost to do so.
But improving energy and agricultural practices, even through the production and development of new equipment, installations, grids, uses and jobs, is nevertheless destroying it because we see it as the “price” of energy, rather than simply another component of growth, and choice to be made to maximize buying power, consumer and business.
“But we need energy to run business and heat (or cool) homes!”
But again, using processes that harm our interests rather than benefit them is a separate question. So gearing the market to do so – at the appropriate level of cost relative to other practices – is simply another part of growth; as is even the key component of “cost”- which, since each dollar of production also represented a dollar of cost, at heart makes up every last dollar of our GDP as well.
The only issue is whether the cost represents value or not. As we’ve seen in the escalator example, some may not; but if we want those things, fine.
When it comes to public environmental policy, the issue is: does a cleaner, healthier, less polluted, more environmentally stable world (or at this point at least having its increasing volatility and unstability range mitigated), represent value?
This is because making a cleaner world doesn’t detract from growth. In the short run it might create some economic substitutions as we adjust to newer production methodologies, practices and energy uses. But it simply becomes a component of growth.
And in the mid to long run, as we develop and learn cleaner, less damaging processes, that have become well integrated into our cost structure (something we could have done way back in 1988, and been far past it now), it comes with no additional cost – that is, either real cost or even cost simply representing a substitution of one production emphasis over another – just as many industrial “costs” are today (and which similarly represent expenditures and investment – that if unsupportable at the same rate of production will also shift from excess use at the increased cost level, over to more efficient processes).
While on the flip side, cleaner, less damaging processes, come with the constant, continued benefit of far less pollution, atmospheric alteration, and negative external – and thus uncontrollable (and thus the most personally restrictive, even freedom affecting) – health impacts experienced: The point of improvement, and in particular, improved processes that, beyond the material “flavor” of the moment, go to more core fundamentals – such as basic environmental quality or at the very least health, and, perhaps, say, the availability of basic land and coastline (as opposed to sea bottoms, etc).
That is, shifting to better practices – far from being the “harm” to economic processes that, from the perception of immediate short term “cost” but rather abstract and hard to comprehend, and often intensely hidden long term gain, it’s assumed to be – is ultimately a net good, with little to no bad.
Yet requiring the awareness and will to sensibly and fairly address it in the first place, and make the improvements, policies or market motivations that even the playing field somewhat between overly externally harmful and non harmful processes, so better decisions, accounting for a wider range of actual real costs, can be made. That is – simply by changing our structure and not – under the belief we have to harm our world to grow rather the fact that mitigating such harm is similarly part of growth – not continuing counter productive practices that we find rationalizations to cling to.
But we didn’t in 1988. And looking back Hansen is said to have had chutzpah for making the common sense suggestion to the U.S. Congress to do something to move toward, require, inspire or (directly or through something like a carbon tax indirectly but far more efficiently), reward more productive long term practices that don’t continue to so radically alter the long term chemical composition of our atmosphere, with (from Hansen’s point of view), an almost assured range of likely negative changes, and a higher risk of major to radical ones.
Even if that process – being change to a huge, global system with enormous energy sinks (oceans) that in turn drive longer term processes, and that are starting to show their effect with increasing global temperatures now even as the oceans continue to warm- increasing melt, and acceleration of that melt, at both polar ice caps, and even warming ocean column induced sea bottom thawing leading to the increasing eruptions of a gas far more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of trapping energy, and with potentially enormous consequences – from our perspective, seems “slow.”
In other words, due to this limited but popular and even sometimes near presumed gospel economic thinking – the age old presumption that our industry and progress comes with the cost of harming our world and our health to get it, and not that progress might also similarly, and in the long run even more importantly, actually also be the protection of our health from environmental impact, and the environmental protection and relative stability of that very world – we’ve done harm to the latter. And at likely no real benefit to us in the long term, and only illusory “we’re used to it so it seems right and a loss if we stop or change” gain, in the short term.
And that’s where the problem comes in, and where it came in in 1988: The inherent and inceasingly archaic presumption that markets, economy and growth – all of which are ultimately to provide employment, opportunity, and better our world – are inconsistent with protecting the environmental quality, implicit health effects from, and stability of that world; and therefore accomplishing the latter somehow doesn’t provide employment, opportunity, and the bettering of our world, but provides a “conflict” with economic growth which is nevertheless ultimately supposed to achieve the same end: Again, employment, opportunity, and the bettering of our world.
But protecting environmental quality does provide those things. Which is why the issue with environmental protection isn’t the illusionary “do we sacrifice harm to the economy or some sort of real cost to achieve it,” but rather choice, liberty and opportunity; and perhaps the inherent rights of present and future generations to cleaner air, healthier, more ecologically sound, environs, and – if the alternative of chaos is unnecessarily being caused by our inadvertent doing – to some relative climate stability.
And not, instead, the idea that:
“Environmental protection and common area – land, bio-accumulation toxic build up, water and air health affects – is the job of markets, not government.”
Because by virtue of the uniquely common nature of the environment – what, in essence it is – the environment, the one thing we must share, along with perhaps national defense, and justice, is not only the responsibility of government to at least somewhat oversee – it is precisely the job of even the most limited of government – as government is us, collectively. And our shared environment is about the most collective thing of all.
The issue is: “how.”
And the biggest impediment to this, as it was in 1988, and what causes us today to look back strangely at calls to tell Congress in 1988 to stop waffling over what was really a simple issue even then – carbon based and long evolutionarily accumulated fuels from deep in the ground are heavily polluting, finite, increase our international exposure, radically changing our long term atmosphere, thus “stop waffling” already over sensible moves to transition to more long term productive processes – is the idea of its inherent conflict with economy, rather than its ultimately integral part of it.
That was 1988. And the case, strong then, and despite rhetoric and much self reinforcing belief to the contrary, is now in the next century essentially overwhelming now; nearly thirty years, and much advancement, but perhaps not much more awareness, later.
Updated Aug 3, 2015
Predicting the exact path of future climate is almost impossible.
Yet it’s made even harder by a geologically sudden, major, ongoing energy dump onto an already complex and highly varied global system of energy and its expression. Aka “climate change.”
Climate change “skepticism” is the belief that this will nevertheless not relevantly impact or change our climate. There are no real theories, and none that have been successfully vetted, as to why it would not. And there is no real evidence to suport it.
Yet a key, if not the key basis, of climate change “skepticism” is the idea that models are not perfect, or that they “fail to predict” what’s happened.
In fact models are far more accurate than not – and even more than previously thought. (And for whatever it’s worth, their accuracy, in comparison to “skeptic” forecasts is off the charts.) But for the reasons stated above they can’t predict exactly what climate will be, along an exact time path.
Nor is not being able to predict future climate globally and regionally – as if it was otherwise almost as easy or accurate as a one day local weather forecast – at all connected with the underlying fact that while there is a range of long term shifting from this massive long term atmospheric alteration serving as the basis for climate change, the basic phenemenon is very real.
That is, the word risk means risk, and probabilities; often imprecise. The concept of change often means a range of changes.
Yet somewhat uniquely on climate change – perhaps because of the deep passions, presumptions, fears, habits, and attendant political ramifications and worries connected to the issue – these two concepts are removed from the normal equation of strategic assessment, in order to arrive at a conclusion that, since models have not (nor can not) precisely predict exactly what’s going to happen and when in terms of such an open ended non controlled fully global experiment of ongoing anthropogenic impact upon an otherwise already existent and itself undulating system, it is somehow not significant or real.
In short, making a phenomenon a range, with uncertainty as to its precise path, does not make something not real, or somehow not significant. Yet on climate change, through a lot of semantics projected as science, on this issue it is being made to do just that.
Thus the main basis of skepticism misses what the issue really is. The basis isn’t models.
While on the other hand, models do help further validate and solidify our understanding of the issue, because they have not only been remarkably far from simply meaningless random predictions, overall they have been reasonably accurate in terms of projecting relevant ranges.
Which is what they are meant to do: Help hone our understanding, and our ability to make projections of changes and relative time frames, as best as we can.
For the climate change “skeptic” who wants to stay a skeptic, this will not matter. But it is an important part of the issue to be covered, because the confusion over models has played an extremely large role in overall perception on climate change. And thus this fact that we can’t predict exactly what will happen, erroneously serves as a main basis for refuting the fact that atmospheric alteration is both significantly affecting climate, and more importantly creating a large risk range of potential affects.
It is a big part of the story of climate change that has not received fair or balanced coverage. And covering the relevant arguments and facts herein would help further better understanding on, and assessment of, the issue.
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This piece has been edited, updated, and lengthened, and reposted here.