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May 21st 2014 print

Tony Thomas

Chatting With ‘A Climate Heretic’

Doing science by consensus is not science at all, says the climatologist all the alarmists love to hate. Not that the enmity bothers Judith Curry too much -- and certainly not as much as the debasement of impartial inquiry by which the warmist establishment keeps all those lovely grants coming

sweaty planetWhen climatologist Judith Curry visited Melbourne last week she took the time to chat with Quadrant Online contributor Tony Thomas. The professor and chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology is something of a stormy petrel in the climate-change community, as she has broken ranks with alarmist colleagues to question the articles and ethics of the warmist faith. This has made her less than popular in certain circles, even inspiring Scientific American, house journal of the catastropharians, to brand her “a heretic” who has “turned on her colleagues.”

Such criticism leaves Curry unmoved. If anyone needs counselling, she says, then it is those academics who continue to preach the planet’s sweaty doom despite the fact that no warming has been observed for almost two decades.

The edited transcript of Curry’s conversation with Thomas is below:

TONY THOMAS: If the skeptic/orthodox spectrum is a range from 1 (intense skeptic) to 10 (intensely IPCC orthodox), where on the scale would you put yourself

(a) as at 2009

(b) as at 2014,

and why has there been a shift (if any)?
JUDITH CURRY: In early 2009, I would have rated myself as 7; at this point I would rate myself as a 3.  Climategate and the weak response of the IPCC and other scientists triggered a massive re-examination of my support of the IPCC, and made me look at the science much more sceptically.

THOMAS: The US debate has been galvanised in recent weeks by strong statements against CO2 emissions by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. What is your view of the case they made out, and your thoughts about why the statements are now being made?
CURRY: I am mystified as to why President Obama and John Kerry are making such strong (and indefensible) statements about climate change.  Particularly with regards to extreme weather events, their case is very weak.  Especially at this time, given that much of the rest of the world is pulling back against commitments to reduce emissions and combat climate change.

THOMAS: Re the halt to warming in the past 15-17 years, has this been adequately explained to the public? If it continues a few more years, is that the end of the orthodox case?
CURRY: Regarding the hiatus in warming, I would say that this has not been adequately explained to the public, the IPCC certainly gave the issue short shrift.

The hiatus is serving to highlight the importance of natural climate variability.  If the hiatus continues a few more years, climate model results will seriously be called into question.  When trying to understand and model a complex system, there is, unfortunately, no simple test for rejecting a hypothesis or a model.

THOMAS: What empirical evidence is there, as distinct from modelling, that ‘missing heat’ has gone into the deep oceans?
CURRY: Basically, none.  Observations below 2 km in the ocean are exceedingly rare, and it is only since 2005 that we have substantial coverage below 700 metres.

THOMAS: Should there be a 6th AR from the IPCC? Why/why not?
CURRY: In my opinion, the IPCC has outlived its original usefulness.  The framing of the climate-change problem by the UNFCCC/IPCC, and the early articulation of a preferred policy option by the UNFCCC, has arguably marginalized research on broader issues surrounding climate change, and resulted in an overconfident assessment of the importance of greenhouse gases in future climate change, and stifled the development of a broader range of policy options.

The result of this simplified framing of a wicked problem is that we lack the kinds of information to more broadly understand climate change and societal vulnerability.

The first place to start is to abandon the consensus-seeking approach to climate science that has been implemented by the IPCC.  Scientists do not need to be consensual to be authoritative. Authority rests in the credibility of the arguments, which must include explicit reflection on uncertainties, ambiguities and areas of ignorance and more openness for dissent. The role of scientists should not be to develop political will to act by hiding or simplifying the uncertainties, either explicitly or implicitly, behind a negotiated consensus.

THOMAS: Since the first IPCC report a quarter century ago, what has been the most significant advance in the case that 50+% of recent warming is human-caused?
CURRY: The period of global warming from 1976-1998.

THOMAS: Similarly, what has been the most significant advance in the case that 50+% of recent warming is NOT human-caused?
CURRY: The stagnation in global temperatures since 1998 is causing scientists to take a much closer look at natural climate variability.

THOMAS: What was the main take-away point from your congressional testimony last April on climate?
CURRY:
My testimony made the following main points: The IPCC AR5 presents an overall weaker case for anthropogenic climate change [and] variations in nearly all extreme weather events are dominated by natural variability, not anthropogenic climate change

THOMAS:  Are you supportive of the line that the ‘quiet sun’ presages an era of global cooling in the next few decades?
CURRY:
One of the unfortunate consequences of the focus on anthropogenic forcing of climate is that solar effects on climate have been largely neglected.  I think that solar effects, combined with the large scale ocean-circulation regimes, presage continued stagnation in global temperatures for the next two decades.

THOMAS:  Are you supportive of the arguments of Varenholt, Svensmark et al that indirect effects of solar irradiance are seeding clouds and causing cooling in this phase of the sunspot cycle?
CURRY: It seems to me that solar effects on climate are much more complex than the sun as a source of heating, and that there are indirect effects of the sun on climate.  What these indirect effects might be is at the frontiers of knowledge – the method proposed by Svensmark and others could be important, but we don’t yet have sufficient understanding of this.

THOMAS:  Are you aware of any national science bodies that reject or have backed away from the orthodox position? What weight do you give to the fact that these bodies are virtually unanimous in support of the orthodox line?
CURRY: The major scientific societies continue in their unanimous support of the IPCC consensus.

THOMAS:  Why is academia so strongly supportive of the orthodoxy, if the orthodox case is flawed?
CURRY:  Well, that is a topic for social psychologists at this point.  The academic community has a lot invested in the case for anthropogenic climate change – substantial government funding, prestige, and political influence.

THOMAS:  There seems very little direct debate (i.e. in public fora) between orthodox and skeptic people. Why is this education tool neglected?
CURRY:  The establishment scientists who support the IPCC consensus do not debate sceptics, for two reasons.  They do not wish to lend legitimacy to the sceptics and the sceptical positions.  Secondly, the few public debates that have been held did not go well for the establishment scientists – formal, oral debate is not a format for which most scientists have experience.

THOMAS: Young people tend to follow the orthodox line. Have you seen any change in this?
CURRY:  Young people tend to have a rebellious streak that is critical of the older generation, I’m not sure if I would call that an ‘orthodox line’.  Climate-change orthodoxy is certainly infiltrating the educational system.  The most interesting thing I have seen is the emergence of Austrian social critic and rap musician Kilez More who produced and posted a climate science sceptic video.