AGW – summing up.

“If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”

I opened the first post on Monday with the sub-heading: “Certainty is perfect knowledge secure from error or doubt.” going on to write that, “Whatever your views on the effect of man’s behaviours on our planet’s climate, it’s a long way from the logical idea of ‘2 + 2‘!”

Within that very strict definition, I remain unmoved.  The argument that mankind is the cause of the present change in the climate of Planet Earth is not certain!

However, if only life was that simple! The change in our planet’s atmosphere is possibly the most emotionally-laden topic of all time.  For some reason that quotation attributed to Hiram Johnson comes to mind, “The first casualty when war comes is truth.” because the supporters and deniers of AGW are engaged in what amounts to a verbal war.

Each side can draw on much information.

For example, a very recent article in The New York Times by their Justin Gillis offered this:

The rise in the surface temperature of earth has been markedly slower over the last 15 years than in the 20 years before that. And that lull in warming has occurred even as greenhouse gases have accumulated in the atmosphere at a record pace.

The slowdown is a bit of a mystery to climate scientists. True, the basic theory that predicts a warming of the planet in response to human emissions does not suggest that warming should be smooth and continuous. To the contrary, in a climate system still dominated by natural variability, there is every reason to think the warming will proceed in fits and starts.

But given how much is riding on the scientific forecast, the practitioners of climate science would like to understand exactly what is going on. They admit that they do not, even though some potential mechanisms of the slowdown have been suggested. The situation highlights important gaps in our knowledge of the climate system, some of which cannot be closed until we get better measurements from high in space and from deep in the ocean.

As you might imagine, those dismissive of climate-change concerns have made much of this warming plateau. They typically argue that “global warming stopped 15 years ago” or some similar statement, and then assert that this disproves the whole notion that greenhouse gases are causing warming.

Rarely do they mention that most of the warmest years in the historical record have occurred recently. Moreover, their claim depends on careful selection of the starting and ending points. The starting point is almost always 1998, a particularly warm year because of a strong El Niño weather pattern.

Dan Gomez, a long-time friend of over 40 years and a regular contributor to items on Learning from Dogs, wrote in a recent email,

I’m not sure what is meant by “believer”, Paul.  The Universe unfolds as it should.  Because many have been led to “believe” that AGW is inevitable and that all the facts are the ‘Truth”, we’ve created a religious substitute, almost a new “industry” with significant “tithing” obligations, etc. (e.g. Cap and Trade). Presumptions and facts are being manipulated to fulfill the prophecy.

Interesting to note in our daily lives, that weather prediction is very good 24-36 hrs out.  This drops precipitously just a few days out.  More than 7-10 days is nearly impossible. Even though both Europe and the USA have decreased CO2 levels by multiple percentage points over the last 20 years, the rest of the world does not care and the impact is very problematic.  Recently, CO2 gas has increased overall but heat has not. In the past, warming has occurred followed by CO2 levels increasing. Global politics and redistribution of wealth schemes continue to interfere with common sense.

Let’s just deal with the facts as Science reveals its secrets. New information is discovered every day about the interaction of the  Earth/Sun/Atmosphere/Lithosphere/Hydrosphere. New information is learned every day about the Universe.  These are not closed subjects. Climatology, meteorology, geology and solar system dynamics will continue to shape the Earth’s future for millennia to come whether Man is involved or not.

There is much in what Dan writes that has me nodding my head; stimulates my recollection of what Luther Haave and Derek Alker wrote in 2009:

With the explosion of knowledge, particularly in the past 100 years, each of us has found it a requirement for being successful, and to being able to earn a living, to concentrate our knowledge in an ever increasingly narrow field. Just as we have come to expect others to defer to our expertise in our narrow area, we have come to assume that we need to defer to others who have a deeper comprehension of seemingly complex topics such as the science related to climate change. [Apologies, can’t find the web link for this.]

However, if we broaden the perspective from that tight definition of certainty to an analysis of probabilities, then it all changes for me and I can embrace the views so strongly put forward by Martin Lack.

For example, Martin left a comment on Monday, “ACD is not a matter of opinion or belief; it is a matter of probability. As such, all that matters now is the extremely high probability that the scientific consensus is real, reasonable and reliable.”  That comment included a link to a discussion on the website Skeptical Science, Is the science settled? Let me quote from that:

Some aspects of the science of AGW are known with near 100% certainty. The greenhouse effect itself is as established a phenomenon as any: it was discovered in the 1820s and the basic physics was essentially understood by the 1950s. There is no reasonable doubt that the global climate is warming. And there is also a clear trail of evidence leading to the conclusion that it’s caused by our greenhouse gas emissions. Some aspects are less certain; for example, the net effect of aerosol pollution is known to be negative, but the exact value needs to be better constrained.

What about the remaining uncertainties? Shouldn’t we wait for 100% certainty before taking action? Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties. Science comes to tentative conclusions based on the balance of evidence. The more independent lines of evidence are found to support a scientific theory, the closer it is likely to be to the truth. Just because some details are still not well understood should not cast into doubt our understanding of the big picture: humans are causing global warming.

In most aspects of our lives, we think it rational to make decisions based on incomplete information. We will take out insurance when there is even a slight probability that we will need it. Why should our planet’s climate be any different?

That, ultimately, delivers for me what truly counts.

I am not a scientist; just a Brit living in Southern Oregon trying to make sense of the world while I still have a functioning head and body – time is not on my side! 😉  The powerful common-sense in the sentence, “Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties.” is beyond argument.

In the year 2012, the total number of passengers carried by US Airlines and other carriers in and out of the USA was a staggering 815 million people. 815,000,000 people!

Remember the sub-heading from the start of this post!  “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!” Years ago I heard that from Bob Derham, a long-time friend and a commercial airline Captain since the time God was a boy!  It’s that cautious, safety-focused attitude that has made airline transport such an amazing mode of transport for all those millions of passengers.

Should we not travel with the same cautious, safety-focused attitude on the ‘vehicle’ that carries every man, woman and child; every animal, plant and living thing: Planet Earth!

The answer is obvious – more than obvious!

22 thoughts on “AGW – summing up.

  1. Paul, I find that well written and some good points made. I don’t have time for the next few days to comment much (though I’ve already spouted quite a few words of course!). For now, I will make a few points:

    There should be a clear distinction between the scientific debate and political debate. It is perfectly reasonable for decision makers, and non-scientists, to say ‘I don’t understand the scientific arguments and so will go with the majority view.’ Politicians cannot wait for ever to make decisions.

    I would be interested to hear from some of your other readers: which view do you take, and why? Is it because you have followed and understood the scientific arguments, or is it because you haven’t/can’t and decide to go with the majority view?

    The freedom of open and honest scientific debate is sacrosanct. I am not religious, but as a scientist, this for me, is core to the practice of Science. This does not seem to be the case for all scientists involved in this highly polarised debate. I agree, there is no absolute certainty in science, and we cannot wait for that before making decisions. But, again, political judgement should not be confused with scientific judgement.

    I also welcome your open-mindedness in allowing this discussion. There are many bloggers who routinely censor the views of those they don’t like, resulting in a rather grey blog that reflects only their own view of the world. That’s their right of course, but the result is they are left with a small core of loyal followers and no-one else.


    1. With the greatest of respect, Oakwood, I have demonstrated that there is no legitimate scientific debate to be had. I have also demonstrated that the political debate continues in defiance of the conclusion that further delay (in decarbonising our power generation systems) is unwise.

      The latter can only be explained by politicians gambling the long-term preservation of a habitable planet on carbon capture and storage being rolled-out globally on an almost unimaginably expensive scale. This therefore also falsifies your argument that ACD mitigation should not be our greatest priority.


  2. Anyone who claims 100% certainty is guilty of hubris, nothing is certain. Both sides of the climate change debate are guilty of hubris.


    1. As far as I can see, Alex, neither Oakwood nor I is claiming to have 100% certainty. However, I do think Oakwood’s position is unreasonable and I do not accept (as Paul has suggested to me) that saying so means I have a closed mind or lack empathy.


  3. Your acceptance of people with all kinds of weird and wonderful beliefs is indeed admirable, Paul. Furthermore, since you are entirely capable of reaching an informed decision of your own, I would not be so stupid as to thank you for agreeing with me on any of this. However, for the record:

    With regard to the NYT article, Justin Gillis is quite simply wrong. The current hiatus in surface warming is not a mystery. This is because scientists have quantified the radiative energy imbalance caused by so-called greenhouse gases trapped in our atmosphere – 0.6 Watts per square metre (i.e. equivalent to the detonation of 400 thousand Hiroshima bombs per day). Sadly, we do not have the technology to measure the ‘missing’ heat that must, since we cannot find it anywhere else, therefore be collecting in the deep ocean.

    With regard to Dan Gomez, I am fairly certain that he is no climate scientist and claiming that global warming is a new religion is just another ‘zombie argument’ (i.e. one that refuses to die no matter how many times it is refuted). Indeed, a quick Google search reveals that it is one favoured by the right-wing media (e.g. Fox News and Forbes magazine). This is also just another way of saying ‘Sceptics are like Galileo’, which is one of many illogical arguments put forward by people who appear unwilling to accept the nature of reality. For example, on the Scholars and Rogues website, Brian Angliss has started a good series of posts on this subject here. In a nutshell, climate sceptics are like the medieval Catholic Church – they are the ones rejecting all the evidence that conflicts with their beliefs.

    With regard to Oakwood’s assertion (yesterday) that the label ‘climate change denier’ is offensive because it suggests equivalence with Holocaust denial… Upon reflection, I think this too is an illegitimate line of argument. This is because, as the tagline for my blog “on the politics and psychology underlying the denial of all our environmental problems” suggests, the only point being made is that such denial is not consistent with all the available evidence. Prof. Michael E. Mann puts it this way (emphasis mine):

    The trouble is that the hockey stick graph become [sic] an icon and deniers reckoned if they could smash the icon, the whole concept of global warming would be destroyed with it. Bring down Mike Mann and we can bring down the IPCC, they reckoned. It is a classic technique for the deniers’ movement, I have discovered, and I don’t mean only those who reject the idea of global warming but those who insist that smoking doesn’t cause cancer or that industrial pollution isn’t linked to acid rain.

    Personally-speaking, I wish the Earth were at the centre of the Universe and that everything (including our Sun) revolved around it. Sadly, such fanciful beliefs belong only to childhood or back in the Dark Ages. Therefore, although you may choose to insist that ACD is not a certainty, I can only respond by saying: (1) it is as near to being a certainty as anything in science ever is; and (2) those with a vested interest in perpetuating the status quo have turned residual uncertainty into unreasonable doubt.

    Therefore – since it is almost certainly unreasonable to believe that ACD is a scientific hoax, a political scam, or a false alarm – I hope that anyone who is still undecided will at least read this excellent summary (on the Guardian website) of Chapter 4 of Michael Mann’s book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars .


  4. The Greenhouse Gas effect may be known with 100% certainty, but the sensitivity and forcing levels used in the computer models are not. In fact they are at best a guesstimate. Change these values and the model predictions will also change. In fact there is now much debate even among climate scientists if the levels used in the models are in fact too sensitive.


      1. BTW, do I think man has impacted climate and the Earth? Of course I do. No one with common sense thinks otherwise. The issue and uncenrtainity for me is the how much part of the equation. If we caused 90% of the recent rise then maybe the costly efforts would result in a real benefit. But if man contributed just 5% thent he trillions of dollars would be much better spent fighting malaria, cleaning up poluted water, etc.

        I just happened upon the blog but find it interesting. Will look forward to other articles.


      2. John,

        Thank you. To my mind, you put your finger directly on the nub of the issue.

        Oh, and hope you find the blog of interest; feedback always welcomed.



      1. Ah Paul, very good! thanks! I think thinking is not just about ideas, but also about moods.

        Communicating the mood that one should have the proper mood, relative to one’s mental grasp is fundamental for futuristic morality.

        Bringing feelings of inferiority in situation where one does not get it, whatever “it” is, is central to getting to truly understand “it”, whatever “it” is. More generally it’s safer that those who are mental inferiors feel that way, instead of feeling superior. Feeling extremely superior when one is actually extremely inferior, one could call that the Hitler syndrome.

        Not being afraid to feel inferior: a necessary step on the path to wisdom. Something Socrates tried to say.


      2. That’s one of the nicest things that has been written about me for a long time. I might go on to reflect that the huge life changes of the last 5 years, and the unsettling consequences of those changes, have ‘opened my eyes’ in many wonderful ways. Paul


  5. Great reading this Paul, and smiled with what you said “I am not a scientist; just a Brit living in Southern Oregon trying to make sense of the world while I still have a functioning head and body – time is not on my side! The powerful common-sense in the sentence, “Outside of logic and mathematics, we do not live in a world of certainties.” is beyond argument.”

    That’s half the trouble with the world… They forget to use their ‘Common-sense’ and we forget our own Human limitations too in the scheme of the Changes now ongoing around our world… Lets face it.. we can all add our two-pennies worth of thoughts… me among them… We lay-people can spout off until we are blue in the face.. And this Scientist and that scientist can tell us this and tell us that..We are all of us going upon the Data we each receive and digest as we each perceive our own pieces of information..

    What I now have come to the conclusion is, is that this world is evolving.. moving forward within its own Earthly Cycle.. We too need to move forward in our own forward motion.. But it seems like we are stuck in a groove..
    WE know there are good alternative ways of Energy out there and some of it is Free Energy!.. And yet we still keep on doing the same old same old.. Why is that?

    My thoughts are my thoughts and I never expect anyone to agree… But We do need to start and open our eyes more as to the ways of the world and those who rule and lead us.. And I would ask you if you have a spare two hours to spend some time Paul to look up a film… it explains much of what I know to be truth.. its called “THRIVE: What On Earth Will It Take? “… Please get past the first half hour if you watch and dont think this guy is some new-ager lol…. But each of his revelations are backed up with proven fact.

    I have been studying these revelations for almost 5 yrs now and its amazing how many others too are now coming out with similar information as the whistle blowers start their courageous journey in unravelling the threads of truth…

    Wishing you a good weekend ~Sue


  6. Some final comments from me:

    “If there’s any doubt, there’s no doubt!”. I don’t really agree with this statement. The world and humankind face many many problems. Mankind has always predicted the end of the world for one reason or another. We cannot just react to every prediction on the basis, we can’t take the risk of it not being true. We need to make a judgement and decide which problems and risks have the highest priority. Myself, along with many other sceptics believe the case for AGW simply is not made sufficiently to justify spending billions of dollars, and diverting the money, time and effort away from much more immediate and ‘proven’ problems.


  7. One final point to add to this debate. I note that Martin’s webiste ‘Lack of Environment’ has closed down. His published book ‘The Denial of Science’ (which sets out his views on climate science) has been a failure. His plans to undertake a PhD on this subject were given up due to a failure to obtain funding support. I don’t know Martin’s status now. I wish him well. But his AGW / ACD advocacy is a failure. In the meantime, I continue to support myself and my family as a paid and respected expert on environmental issues. I even work in partnership with WWF! Thankfully, in reality, there are much more important environmental issues than ‘climate change’. It remains a tragedy how much attention and money are diverted to the non-problem of AGW (driven by the scenario of ‘The End of the World is Nigh / We will be punished for our sins) when millions continue to die each year from real and provable problems such as lack of safe drinking water, malnutrition, poor hygiene, malaria and general poverty due to lack of afforable energy resources (ie. fossil fuels). I genuinely hope that Martin is providing more to help the worl than just more hot air.


  8. Sorry. Just one further point. I just notice this comment from Sue Dreamwalker:
    “We do need to start and open our eyes more as to the ways of the world and those who rule and lead us.”
    Does Sue really believe that scientists and engineers (all a produce of our society) have not been doing enough?
    – In abut 1860, it was discovere that many diseases, like choloera, were carried by contaminated water (not ‘nad air).
    – Disinfection by chlorine was discovered around 1900, enabling most of the devloped world to get safe drinking water
    – Life expectancy is higher than ever before in human history
    – the average standard of living is higher before than ever in human history.
    To Sue, have we been doing nothing right? In the Monty Python film, The Life of Brian, it was asked ‘what did the Romans ever do for us?. You can equally ask: what did modern civiliation ever do for us?
    Of course, we need to do things better. But that has been the case throughout human history. We now do many many things better – but there are – and always will be – other things we need to do better. Our failure to achieve perfection does not mean we have failed.


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