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December 06th 2010 print

Peter Smith

Sceptics losing clarity

There is no substitute for clarity of thought and communicating the results plainly and consistently. The sceptics are not doing that. They might have truth on their side. It is being lost in the blather.

Inaccessible unconvincing global warming scepticism

I am not a climate scientist therefore I have no first hand knowledge of, or insight into, the scientific evidence. I am in good company, neither does does Julia Gillard, Greg Combet, Bob Bown, Christine Milne, Tony Windsor, or Rob Oakshott comprising the Climate Change Committee or three of the four experts advising the Committee – Ross Gaunaut, Rod Sims and Patricia Faulkner. But that is by the way. Some scientists seem to be absolutely convinced that warming is man made and others convinced that the evidence is simply not there. I read an amount of climate stuff to try to become informed; to no real avail.

I recently read Bob Carter’s Climate: The Counter Consensus. I found the last half of the book on the politics of global warming facinating. The first half was on the science. Quite honestly it lost me at critical times. Is that me? It could be. How would I ever know. I have tried to understand quantum mechanics from books written for the layman.They all defeat me in the end, as a glimmer of understanding is dashed by some (to me) convoluted piece of reasoning or arcane experimental result. What I am saying is that it might be my own deficiences which deny me access to the font of climate understanding. On the other hand, I am sufficiently immodest to think that if I don’t understand, at least a fair proportion of the population and most politicians won’t either.

My inclination is to believe that man-made global warming is bosh on the basis that if Bob Brown believes it I don’t. In my rational moments, I realise that this is a flimsy basis on which to hold a view. One of the problems I have in forming a determinedly sceptic view is that that the sceptical scientists and commentators skip around. The warmists tend to be consistent. The earth is warming. A significant element of this is man made. The ice is melting. The sea levels are rising. The weather will get awful. Oh God we are doomed!

When I read a range of the sceptical stuff I am left often not knowing what exactly they believe is happening. For example, sometimes I read that the land temperature record has beeen compromised. Other times I read that the warming we observe is simply a product of coming out of the little ice age. Well which is it?

Presumably if the earth is warming it will cause some melting of glaciers and rising seas levels. Carter, in discussing ice levels provides a mind-numbing array of different intepretations – some have ice going up; some down. Among other things, we are told (page 140) that estimates of ice disintegration are exaggerated because they “fail to account for the fact that major ice sheets are located in bedrock depressions”. It all might win some arcane academic debate but it leaves hearts and minds unmoved. Sometimes I read that ice is melting and seas levels are rising but this is ‘normal’. At other times, I read that it isn’t happening. Which is right? Can the sceptics please get get their story straight. Maybe they should rent a big auditorium and decide on their line. Otherwise they will surely lose the debate as they are most assuredly doing.

Let me give another example. There is a Doomed Planet essay, “Truth in observation”, written by Alex Stuart, chairman of the Australian Environment Foundation. He comments as follows on satellite temperature data collected by the Earth System Science Center at the University of Alabama, Huntsville (UAH): “the smoothed running average for October [2010] was level with the 1998 figure – showing that for the past 12 years, there’s been no global warming. Yet in those same years carbon dioxide in the air rose by 6%. So what’s going on? Either the warming influence of man-made CO2 has been offset by unspecified cooling – or the man-made global warming theory must be questioned”.

The problem I immediately had with this is that everyone knows that 1998 was an outlier. Using 1998 as a reference point devalues the case. To my mind, it is so easily dismissed that it will not contribute one iota to dislodging the global warming conventional wisdom.

I went to www.drroyspencer.com and had a look at the UAH temperature data – the graph is reproduced here:

It is clear by looking across peak to peaks or troughs to troughs (excluding 1998) that temperatures seem to have been trending up. Whether this is statistically significant I can’t tell. Clearly the time period is short on climatic scales. If the temperature rises are significant, it may all be consistent with coming out of the little ice age. It may be due to factors outside of the emission of carbon dioxide. And even if it were due in part to carbon dioxide, deliberately crippling economies by investing in grossly inefficient energy sources is unlikely to be an appropriate response. All that said, temperatures since satellite data have been collected (1979) show an upward trend to the naked eye. What is the point in not acknowledging that evident fact? It is plain silly in my view and detracts from the sceptic’s case.

There is no substitute for clarity of thought and communicating the results plainly and consistently. The sceptics are not doing that. They might have truth on their side. It is being lost in the blather. I invite sceptical scientists to write under four headings – temperature, sea levels, quantity of ice, and untoward weather events; to compare notes; to write in an accessible way; and to leave peripheral things out. Please let us all know if that is too hard because then we can prepare for Bob Brown and company driving us back to a more primitive age with their global warming mantra.

See also:

Bob Carter responds in "Science is about testing hypotheses"

Alex Stuart responds in “Debating physics

Peter Smith replies in “Climate riposte

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