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December 07th 2010 print

Peter Smith

Climate riposte

Politicians have found it too difficult so far to agree on worldwide measures to materially reduce emissions. However, that seems more to do with economics than it does to any scientific recanting.

Let me say that all of my reasoning and intuition says that Bob Carter and Alex Stuart are right about the science. I agree with them. Unfortunately that doesn’t count for much. It is not evident to me that the scientific community whose view counts is dismantling the consensus of man-made warming. Sure politicians have found it too difficult so far to agree on worldwide measures to materially reduce emissions. However, that seems more to do with economics than it does to any scientific recanting.

The Royal Society was forced into being a little more equivocal recently but still remains fairly unequivocal.

There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the dominant cause of the global warming that has taken place over the last half century. This warming trend is expected to continue as are changes in precipitation over the long term in many regions. Further and more rapid increases in sea level are likely which will have profound implications for coastal communities and ecosystems. From “Climate Change: A Summary of the Science”, September 2010. 

I agree with Professor Carter that the null hypothesis should be that nothing untoward is occurring. I don’t think that is the position we face. We have a witch trial and the witch has to prove she ain’t a witch. If this is characterisation is accurate, Professor Carter and like-minded scientists can only win the scientific and public debate by conclusively and plainly showing that global warming is not a serious man-made problem. Otherwise, we can look forward to more windmills. Arguing that the other side has not sufficiently established its case will not be enough. 

I agree also with Alex Stuart that we cannot expect to have some ‘authoritative and definitive summary’ of the counter position. I simply asked for more consistency and clarity. On the 1979-2010 satellite temperature record, the 13 month moving average has not fallen below, and has been generally above, the 1979-98 average since around 1995. That seems like warming to me. Though, the better view may be that the satellite record is too short to draw conclusions, when many natural influences can send temperatures higher or lower. Leave the cherry picking to the alarmists and take the high ground. 

Maybe it will all turn out well if windmills give way to nuclear power. Then ‘global warming’ will have served the purpose for which Margaret Thatcher apparently thought it up in the first place. Or is that an urban myth? It will also prevent gnashing of divine teeth. Holy Moses, I gave them Einstein to unlock the secrets of the atom and they are building windmills?

Previous exchanges:

Peter Smith’s “Sceptics losing clarity” here…

Bob Carter replied “Science is about testing hypotheses” here…

Alex Stuart replied “Debating physics” here…

Peter Smith, a frequent Quadrant Online contributor, is the author of Bad Economics