Anything but CO2

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(Nederlandse versie hier)

When I ask my wife what kind of tea she wants, she often replies “anything but green”. (I have gradually learned to then refrain from saying that green tea is good for you). Likewise, an honest “skeptic” would reply to the question what causes global warming, “anything but CO2”. After all, that seems to be the red line in their thinking. Whereas liking green tea or not is a matter of taste, attributing part of the current climate change to CO2 is a matter of science (and that’s a different cup of tea alltogether).

Skepticism

 

Real skepticism is central to science; after all, science works on the basis of evidence, and the evidence has to withstand critical investigation. However, continuously raising doubt about scientific understanding, which has long been established as true beyond reasonable doubt, is not always useful to science. Especially not when in order to do so, scientific shortcuts are taken (i.e. cherrypicking of data, ignoring basic physics, logical fallacies, etc). People who do the latter are what I call “skeptics”. In quotation marks, because their actual attitude has nothing to do with skepticism. They typically are totally uncritical in accepting any theory that puts the blame for global warming on something different than CO2 (preferably something natural, like the sun). And they are often irrational in pushing aside the multiple lines of evidence in support of the enhanced greenhouse effect.

That of course gave rise to a whole range of other names for so-called “skeptics”, which better describe their attitude. But the fact is that in the public discussion they are still best known as “skeptics”, which is why I use that name. Besides, some other names that have been suggested, such as denier, can be offensive because of their association wiith some black pages of history. Contrarians, denialists, delayers, are other terms being used. But what’s in the name.

Scientific “skeptics”

Of course it’s not all black and white. Someone who is critical of certain aspects of climate science, can actually contribute a great deal to the field. As long as (s)he adheres to the scientific method and does not go into a knee-jerk “anything but CO2” mode. Some scientists, who were once skeptical, now turned “skeptical”, and their scientific opinion seems to be set in stone, unchangeable by evidence to the contrary. Many more scientists who were once skeptical have over time become convinced by the accumulating evidence for human induced climate change. And of course there are still scientists who are sincerely skeptical. However, they are at least as rare as the “skeptics”.

Ideological “skeptics”

There are a number of vocal “skeptics” out there who don’t appear to be the least interested in increasing scientific understanding, but rather in promoting a political agenda. They distort and abuse the science in order to use it as an argument for inaction. They are often linked to right-wing think-tanks and some of them were also involved in trying to halt anti-smoking regulation by arguing that negative health effects of smoking were not proven. Any public statement they make about science is accompanied by a statement in favor of laissez faire politics. Their opinion about climate science seems to be driven by their political opinion, rather than vice versa.

Unfortunately, they have been hugely successful in stalling meaningful regulation, despite their relatively small number. Through their anything-but-CO2 attitude, they have made themselves irrelevant to the scientific discussion. However, we keep hearing from them via the media, who provide them with a platform to sprout their disinformation, as if they have anything useful to say about climate science. Wouldn’t it be better if reporting about science reflects the current scientific knowledge? Would it make sense to keep hearing that there is no causal relation between smoking and health (despite mounting evidence to the contrary)?

Ideological “skepctics” are cheating. It would be better if they backed up their political opinion with their real arguments, rather than presenting pseudo-scientific nonsense as as reason. If there were no greenhouse effect, there would be no life on Earth. Deal with it.

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12 Responses to “Anything but CO2”

  1. Marc Morano Says:

    Bart,

    Very good essay. But forget “ideology”, the fact is that many scientists from around the globe are publicly dissenting agasint man-made climate fears.

    See this: Scientists & Activists Believe Global Warming has ‘Co-opted’ The Environmental Movement

    http://epw.senate.gov/public/index.cfm?FuseAction=Minority.Blogs&ContentRecord_id=DE6A54BF-802A-23AD-45ED-60AE6F3FEBE2
    Excerpt: It is entirely appropriate that a man who supports Gore politically may be putting the final nail in the coffin of the man-made global warming fears.

    ‘Unverified, remote, and abstract dangers’

    The global warming scare machine is now so tenuous, that other liberal environmental scientists and activists are now joining Giegengack and refuting the entire basis for man-made global warming concerns.

    Denis G. Rancourt professor of physics and an environmental science researcher at the University of Ottawa, believes the global warming campaign does a disservice to the environmental movement.

    Rancourt wrote on February 27, 2007: “Promoting the global warming myth trains people to accept unverified, remote, and abstract dangers in the place of true problems that they can discover for themselves by becoming directly engaged in their workplace and by doing their own research and observations. It trains people to think lifestyle choices (in relation to CO2 emission) rather than to think activism in the sense of exerting an influence to change societal structures.” (LINK) Rancourt believes that global warming “will not become humankind’s greatest threat until the sun has its next hiccup in a billion years or more in the very unlikely scenario that we are still around.” He also noted that even if C02 emissions were a grave threat “government action and political will cannot measurably or significantly ameliorate global climate in the present world.” Most significantly, however, Rancourt — a committed left-wing activist and scientist — believes environmentalists have been duped into promoting global warming as a crisis. Rancourt wrote: “I argue that by far the most destructive force on the planet is power-driven financiers and profit-driven corporations and their cartels backed by military might; and that the global warming myth is a red herring that contributes to hiding this truth. In my opinion, activists who, using any justification, feed the global warming myth have effectively been co-opted, or at best neutralized.” “Global warming is strictly an imaginary problem of the First World middleclass,” Rancourt added.

    [...]

    Perhaps the biggest shock to the global warming debate was the recent conversion of renowned French geophysicist Dr. Claude Allegre from a believer in dangerous man-made warming fears to a skeptic. Allegre, a former French Socialist Party leader and a member of both the French and U.S. Academies of Science, was one of the first scientists to sound global warming fears 20 years ago, but he now says the cause of climate change is “unknown.” He ridiculed what he termed the “prophets of doom of global warming” in a September 2006 article. (LINK) Allegre has authored more than 100 scientific articles and written 11 books and received numerous scientific awards including the Goldschmidt Medal from the Geochemical Society of the United States. He now believes the global warming hysteria is motivated by money. “The ecology of helpless protesting has become a very lucrative business for some people!” he explained.
    [...]

    Left-wing Professor David Noble of Canada’s York University has joined the growing chorus of disenchanted liberal activists. Noble now believes that the movement has “hyped the global climate issue into an obsession.” Noble wrote a May 8 essay entitled “The Corporate Climate Coup” which details how global warming has “hijacked” the environmental left and created a “corporate climate campaign” which has “diverted attention from the radical challenges of the global justice movement.” (LINK) Geologist Peter Sciaky echoes this growing backlash of left-wing activists about global warming. Sciaky, who describes himself as a “liberal and a leftist” wrote on June 9: “I do not know a single geologist who believes that [global warming] is a man-made phenomenon.”

    Thanks
    Marc Morano

  2. Bart Says:

    Wow, a visit from the US Senate! (http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Marc_Morano)

    If what you say is true, that many scientists from around the globe are publicly dissenting against man-made climate change, then I guess we should see that reflected in the next large scale scientific assessment, such as from IPCC. I think not though. Because many of the people dissenting are not working in the field of climate science (some not anymore, most never have).

    You don’t really respond to what I wrote, other than bringing up some laughable conspiracy theories and long disproven stories (eg regarding Allegre see http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/11/les-chevaliers-de-lordre-de-la-terre-plate-part-i-allgre-and-courtillot/langswitch_lang/de).

    Even more so, some of the arguments you use are exactly reversed: If you “follow the money”, then it’s not scientists who stand to win or lose a lot of money dependent on the outcome of the so-called “debate”, but rather certain industries.

    I appreciate your visit to my site, but next time please don’t leave a copied and pasted entry from your own blog here.

  3. Chris Schoneveld Says:

    Come on Bart, you are you serious? You are quoting Sourcewatch and Realclimate to discredit Marc Morano?

    RealClimate is run by Gavin Schmidt and Michael Mann and others and they are the high priests of the global warming fraternity. So not a very convincing venue to discredit someone. That’s like trying to discredit an atheist by quoting the pope or scriptures from the bible. I’d rather you attack Morano on substance; he quoted Allegre, Noble, Rancourt, Sciaky. Why don’t you reply to that? Sourcewatch and Real Climate are masters in ad hominem attacks and so are you. Why don’t you quote ClimateAudit for a change or Prof Roger Pielke or Prof Bob Carter or Prof. Lindzen or Prof Gray. They are reputable scientists. Of course go and consult your Sourcewatch to find some other ad hominem shit about these scientists.

    Why don’t you read and refer in your blog the following “peer reviewed” (the magic word for the alarmists like yourself) papers that question the validity of the models that the IPCC relies on so religiously.

    Hydrological Sciences–Journal–des Sciences Hydrologiques, 53(4) August 2008D:
    “On the credibility of climate predictions” by Koutsoyiannis et al:

    Journal of Geophysical Research, Vol. 112, D24S08, doi:10.1029/2006JD008229, 2007:
    “Unresolved issues with the assessment of multidecadal global land surface temperature trends” by Roger A. Pielke et al.

    International Journal of Climatology, 5 Dec 2007:
    “A comparison of tropical temperature trends with model predictions” by David H. Douglass et al.

    These are just 3 recent papers but there are many many more that are being ignored by the IPCC, especially those papers that show that the Holocene Optimum, the Roman and Medieval warm periods were indeed warmer than the 20th century and that there is nothing unusual with today’s climate fluctuations. But the real alarmism is shown by the thousands of papers that are being produced by universities claiming species loss due to climate change or other looming disasters. Never is there any paper showing any benefit from a warmer climate. This is an obvious bias since there is nothing special or particularly beneficial about the current climate.

    It is a lack of appreciation or understanding of the geological history of atmospheric CO2 concentrations and temperature fluctuations that makes the average researcher, media reporter and lay person susceptible to the notion that today’s climate change is potentially catastrophic for man and nature.

    The climate change we are talking about is a 30-year trend of gradually rising global average surface temperatures. That this trend was predated by a 30-year trend of global cooling and, before that, a 30-year trend of natural warming does not seem to raise the logical question why the recent temperature increase could also not be of natural origin. Especially since the cause of the earlier natural fluctuations is not well understood, it makes no sense to flatly dismiss a possible natural cause for the recent warming.

    Moreover, if we consider the last 550 million years during which average global temperatures fluctuated between 12 °C and 22 °C and atmospheric CO2 concentrations between 180 ppm and 7000 ppm with no obvious or consistent correlation between them, why are we so obsessed about today’s increase in both temperatures and CO2 concentrations?

    Since 1900 average global temperatures have risen from 13.7 °C to 14.5 °C and CO2 concentrations from 280 ppm to 385 ppm, levels of increase that are geologically speaking insignificant. Even if a causal relationship exists, the catastrophic consequences for life on earth are hardly evident in we consider that during the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods – when coral reefs were more abundant than today and Dinosaurs roamed the lush rain forests – CO2 concentrations varied between 1000 and 2000 ppm and average global temperatures plateaued at around 22 °C .

    So Bart, before you question the integrity or genuine motivations of the skeptics why don’t you first reply to their scientific (yes, SCIENTIFIC!! with capital letters) arguments. A good start would be to review the 3 papers I sent you or, to make it easy on you, respond to my arguments. I hope you refrain from any ad hominem tendencies.

    By the way I am a Dutch geologist with a cum laude PhD degree from Leiden University. You won’t find me in Sourcewatch but you could Google my name in combination with the word “rotation”or “porphyroblast”. I always respond to blogs with my real name and detest all the anonymous or made-up names by bloggers.

  4. Bart Says:

    Chris,

    You calling serious scientists such as the Schmidt and Mann “high priests of the global warming fraternity” gives you away. The only one that is making ad hominem attacks here is you, and yet you accuse me and the RealClimate editors. On top of that, you haven’t actually responded to my arguments, yet you ask me to respond to yours.

    Possible natural causes for the recent warming are not flatly dismissed; they are taken included in all the attribution studies. They just don’t cut it (by a far stretch) to explain the observations though (See eg my post “scientific consensus on climate change”)

    If you are challenging a causal relation between CO2 and temperature, then you are challenging some very basic physics that’s been known for over a century. Good luck.

    In between the lines, your argument sounds a lot like “the climate has changed before, so why wouldn’t it be natural now?” My response to that logical fallacy is in another post (“half truths”).

    Furthermore, I specifically noted that there are also skeptics who have genuine motivations. For example, I met Pielke Sr at a meeting in The Hague, and he, as well as Jr, strike me as examples of what in my post I named sincere skeptics (without quotation marks).

    I appreciate your visit to my blog, but next time please skip the ad hom’s and respond to my argument. Otherwise, there is always the option of starting your own blog.

  5. Chris Schoneveld Says:

    Bart,

    It’s week-end and I have nothing else at hand so here we go:

    You don’t seem to understand what the climate models entail if you think that their output is just a measure of the physical response of temperature to a certain increase in CO2 concentrations or you didn’t understand the pint I tried to make. Of course, there is a physical relationship, after all CO2 is an greenhouse gas. Nobody is denying that, but its effect is logarithmic: the impact of CO2 on temperature goes down the more CO2 accumulates in the atmosphere. And so, for a doubling of CO2 the greenhouse forcing we must have experienced so far is already about three-quarters on the way. And even this appears to be not supported by measurements, considering the absence in the tropics of a hotspot in the mid-troposphere. In other words, the so called greenhouse fingerprint for increased CO2 on temperature is lacking. It is therefore more likely that the surface warming of the last 3 decades (mainly in the Northern Hemisphere) has another cause, such as deep ocean circulations or solar activities in combination with cosmic rays and cloud formation. I don’t need to educate you on these basics, but for your readers it may be of interest to know that the whole issue revolves around positive and negative feedbacks and how these are being represented in the GCM’s (climate models), even the IPCC admits that this is the weak link.

    I you seriously maintain that Mann is a credible scientists then I suggest you have a word with Steve McIntyre or read the Wegman Report which can be downloaded here: http://www.climateaudit.org/pdf/others/07142006_Wegman_Report.pdf

    You are not going to tell me that you still believe in the hockey stick? Because if you do then we are really from different planets.

    (last part edited out)

  6. Bart Says:

    The fact that temperature is logarithmically dependent on CO2 is well known and included in all models. You forget though that currently the climate system is still out of equilibrium from the continueing rise in greenhouse gases, so we haven’t seen the full warming yet that even just the current concentration will cause (there is warming “in the pipeline”). Therefore the current warming is not three quarters of what can (eventually) be expected from a doubling of CO2; not even close.

    A fingerprint of greenhouse warming is global cooling of the stratosphere, which has (by and large) indeed been observed.

    Nobody in the scientific community denies the importance of feedbacks; indeed, they are a prime focus of current climate research.

    Natural factors have been constant for decades, so are not to blame (it’s getting repetitive, I know).

    Most temperature reconstructions since Mann et al confirm the basic feature of their findings (that the current temperature is higher than ever before in at least the past 1000 years); see eg http://www.ipcc.ch/graphics/graphics/ar4-wg1/ppt/figure06.ppt#266,11,Figure 6.10

    I live on planet Earth, where the vast majority of scientists agree that their planet is warming up primarily due to rising greenhouse gases. I have no clue where you’re from, but nothing what you have said is shaking the foundations of our knowledge.

  7. Chris Schoneveld Says:

    Bart,

    If you were to convince me that God exists then it’ would be kind of a circular argument to quote sections from the bible. Yes? Similarly, if you want to convince me that the present warming is unusual you should not quote from the IPCC report. The debate is about the credibility of and the claims made by the IPCC (and the GCM’s they rely on) versus the credibility of scientific skeptics some of whom you think are “irrational in pushing aside the multiple lines of evidence in support of the enhanced greenhouse effect” or whose “scientific opinion seems to be set in stone, unchangeable by evidence to the contrary”. Mind you, this last line applies even more so to the scientists who are AGW believers, the so called “alarmists” (since it is they who ring the alarm and predict catastrophe).

    A large reference set of peer reviewed papers explicitly dealing with the Medieval Warm Period have been listed on:

    http://www.co2science.org/data/mwp/mwpp.php

    They are subdivided in 3 levels and per region:

    Level 1 is defined as follows:

    “Studies that allow a quantitative comparison to be made between the temperatures of the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) and the Current Warm Period (CWP). These reports are very important, especially those that reveal the MWP to have been warmer than the CWP and that were published after the papers of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) appeared, because the authors of such Level 1 reports likely knew that their findings were not in harmony with the contemporary position of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which strongly endorsed the Mann et al. papers that claimed the warmth of the latter part of the 20th century was unprecedented over the entire past millennium.”

    Hence, there is sufficient ground to suspect that the IPCC, by ignoring so much research, is an organization with a bias. And if you ignore this as well, like you apparently do with the Wegman report (you didn’t acknowledge the conclusions nor that you read it), I can only conclude that your opinion is also set in stone.

    (edit)

  8. Chris Schoneveld Says:

    For you and your readers here is a very interesting recent blog entry on the failure of Hansen’s models:

    http://www.climateaudit.org/?p=3354

  9. Bart Says:

    The question what drives current climate change is a matter of science, not religion. The IPCC process is about assessing the recent scientific literature on the subject, so is the best place to go to for a complete and balanced view (see eg my post on the IPCC). You are challenging the credibility of and claims made by the vast majority of scientists working in climate science.

    My opinion is based on the science. Science evolves, but the PR from (fossil fuel funded) sites like CO2science is not going to cause a landslide change in the scientific thinking. As climatologist David Archer said: “The target audience of denialism is the lay audience, not scientists. It’s made up to look like science, but it’s PR.”

    The independent confirmation of the “hockeystick” temperature reconstruction notwithstanding, the Medieval Warm Period (MWP) doesn’t say anything about the cause of the current warming.

    Hansen’s 1988 predictions have by and large been confirmed by measurements (http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/docs/2006/2006_Hansen_etal_1.pdf, fig 2, scenario B), though many websites claim otherwise. I haven’t seen any serious attacks on Hansen in scientific venues however.

    This discussion has reached a point of diminishing return. You don’t seem to trust the majority of scientists, which is your perogative of course. The future will tell whether you are right. I hope you are. The only problem is, what if you’re not?

  10. Chris Schoneveld Says:

    If you ignore the info I sent you and instead persist to quote either the IPCC or Hansen’s own Nasa info, indeed we have reached a point of no return at all.

  11. Bart Says:

    I ignore PR, but even then, I’m glad we can agree on something.

  12. Steve Bloom Says:

    I’m late to this discussion, but for the record:

    Chris wrote: “Moreover, if we consider the last 550 million years during which average global temperatures fluctuated between 12 °C and 22 °C and atmospheric CO2 concentrations between 180 ppm and 7000 ppm with no obvious or consistent correlation between them, why are we so obsessed about today’s increase in both temperatures and CO2 concentrations?”

    It’s very odd that someone with such claimed qualifications seems entirely ignorant of the deep-time paleo literature. There’s no remaining question about the fundamental connection between global temperature and CO2 levels.

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