“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!