Tag: Activism

Exploring the certainty of AGW!

“Certainty is perfect knowledge secure from error or doubt.”

You may wonder what this post is all about opening, as it does, with a definition of ‘certainty’.

What that definition might imply is that ‘certainty’ is a tantalising ‘will of the wisp’ creature.  Excepting for pure mathematics, of course! “Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas.” – Einstein quotation.

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‘!  So when Oakwood, a reader of Learning from Dogs, submitted a long, carefully written comment rejecting Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), the idea came to me that perhaps this comment should stand on its own two feet, so to speak, as a separate post.  I asked Martin Lack, a passionate believer in AGW, to counter the points set out by Oakwood.  Both Martin and Oakwood are scientists; both hydrogeologists.

Now please take a moment to read and assimilate the next few sentences.  The length of the ‘dialogue’ runs to two posts.  Making it without question the longest post that has ever been published on Learning from Dogs.  It is also the most important!  If there is one question above all others for these times, it is the question of whether or not mankind is changing the climate of this planet; the only one we have.

These posts are not an easy read.  They can’t be skim read. They don’t have pictures! But I hope with all my heart that you will settle down today and tomorrow and read each post carefully to the end.

Now to some background information on the two gentlemen.  ‘Oakwood’ is a nom-de-plume.  However, he and I have exchanged emails and I support his need for anonymity. This is how Oakwood describes himself:

  • I am an Earth systems scientist
  • I have followed the AGW scientific arguments on both sides for many years
  • Hydrogeology (my field) and climate science have quite a lot in common, the main one being they require some knowledge and expertise in a wide range of disciplines. It’s not a simple case of saying ‘you are an expert or not’.
  • For example, I need to know quite a bit about chemistry, although I am not an ‘expert chemist’.
  • I am experienced in studying long-time period data, and judging its credibility (this also in common with climate science). Many of the key AGW arguments are based on data and statistics.
  • There are many reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, needing many pages. I give one main example: The ‘divergence problem’ applies to tree ring proxy temperature graphs. Most (perhaps all), proxy graphs cannot reproduce modern temperature data from about the 1980s onwards (in fact the very period of detectable man-made global warming). Because of this, we cannot rely on proxy graphs to conclude now is warmer than the past. Although climate scientists claim the divergence problem is only a modern thing, and does not affect historic data, this is purely a statement or belief. There is no convincing science to back that view.
  • For that reason, I am sceptical of the value of proxy graphs to show current temperatures are unprecedented.
  • I list a number of other brief examples.
  • I do not believe in conspiracy theories and have no problem with climate scientists believing in AGW. But in view of the examples I give, I do have a problem in them saying ‘the science is settled’.
  • There are some benefits from acting on the AGW scare now, such as improved energy efficiency and reduced pollution. There are also negatives, such as wind-farms on pristine countryside and biofuels causing increased hunger.
  • Too much focus on the AGW threat (based on relatively weak scientific arguments) diverts effort and money from more immediate and certain problems.
  • I am an environmentalist who cares about the future of our planet and sustainability. My views on AGW are based purely on the science.

Martin‘s background is encapsulated on his Blog, from which I extract:

I have 25 years of professional work experience, as a geologist and hydrogeologist, in both public and private sectors.

St Albans School, Hertfordshire, 1976-1983.
BSc (Hons) in Geology (Portsmouth), 1983-1986.
MSc in Hydrogeology (Birmingham), 1989-1990.
Postgrad. Cert. in Education (Keele), 1998-1999.
MA in Environmental Politics (Keele), 2010-2011.

Professional Qualifications:
Fellow of the Geological Society (FGS) since 1992.
Chartered Geologist (CGeol) since 1998.
Member of Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (MCIWEM) since 2000.

Martin’s MA dissertation topic was “A Discourse Analysis of Climate Change Scepticism in the UK“  An abstract of that dissertation may be read here.

So two highly professional persons with diametrically different views.  Here’s the ‘debate’.



I have been posed a couple of questions [by Martin Lack, Ed.] which Paul has invited me to respond to.

  1. Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so?
  2.  Explain why you think the time to act has not yet arrived?

If I may, I’m going to treat those questions more like this:

  1. Why do the majority of climate scientists claim to believe man-made climate change (AGW)  is significant and serious?
  2. Why am I an AGW-sceptic?

Martin Lack

I am grateful to Paul for inviting me to respond to Oakwood’s thesis.

My carefully constructed question was:

Why do you think the vast majority of relevantly-qualified and active researchers in earth systems science have reached the conclusion that we need to stop pumping CO2 into the atmosphere as fast as we possibly can because it will get harder to avoid excessive climate change the longer we take to do so?

I am very pleased to see that Oakwood does not dispute the reality of a scientific consensus regarding AGW although I prefer – because it is more accurate – to call it anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD). Sadly, however, he does not appear to accept its validity. Although I asked Oakwood not to deconstruct the question, he clearly felt it necessary to both deconstruct it and re-word it (emphasis here is mine):

  1. Why do the majority of climate scientists claim to believe man-made climate change is significant and serious?
  2. Why am I an AGW-sceptic?

Right from the start, therefore, Oakwood appears to suggest that the majority of climate scientists are either being stupid, unprofessional, or deceitful. I say this because, by replacing my “have reached the conclusion” with his “claim to believe”, Oakwood would appear to think that the majority of climate scientists have reached a conclusion that is:

  1. Reasonable when it is in fact unreasonable; or
  2. Highly-probable when it is highly-improbable; or
  3. Near-certain when they know it is very uncertain.

Bearing this in mind, let us look at the arguments Oakwood then uses to justify his ‘scepticism’.


I am an ‘earth-systems’ scientist with degrees in Geophysics and Hydrogeology and around 25 years working experience in both those fields, but mostly hydrogeology.

Note: working scientists are every bit as important to our advancement as academics and researchers. Academia is a career choice available to the better scientists. (Though a few ‘duds’ manage to survive by playing the right games.) But many excellent scientists and engineers choose to work in the ‘real world’ where science is applied which often includes active research, written up in reports, but not necessarily in peer-reviewed journals. Those scientists and engineers often have a far more immediate level of responsibility in terms of the quality and implications of their work.

If an academic ‘gets it wrong’, the worst things that may happen are embarrassment, loss of research grant or even loss of job. If a working scientist or engineer gets it wrong, then bridges may collapse, planes may crash, people may be poisoned, etc. Also ‘peer review’ doesn’t mean its right, but just that it adds to the debate.

I have followed the scientific debate for many years, reading much that is written on both sides, including a big proportion of the IPCC reports.

Martin Lack

Oakwood starts by attacking academics for being detached from the real world and suggesting that some  may be “duds” that are just playing games, (although he does not say whom exactly)!

He then attacks the peer review process but fails to provide any reasonable explanation as to why only 24 out of nearly 14 thousand articles about ongoing climate change do not consider human activity to be its primary cause (unless the science is of course near certain).

Oakwood claims to have read a big proportion of IPCC reports (more than me I suspect) but, even so, fails to address the reality that IPCC reports have consistently under-reported the scale and urgency of the problems we face. The AR5 report due out later this year will also do this because it still does not include positive feedback mechanisms causing current rates of change to accelerate.


Very much like hydrogeology, climate science is a multi-disciplinary science dependent on a level of knowledge and expertise in a whole range of disciplines. For example, I need to understand quite a lot about chemistry, although I don’t have a degree in chemistry.

I have to keep learning; by reading, researching, learning from expert colleagues, etc. I also need to know something of maths, statistics, fluid mechanics, weather patterns, computer modelling, microbiology, water treatment, etc.

There are better experts in each one of those subject areas, but that’s their focus and they would not normally be able to pull things together to develop a ‘conceptual model’ of a hydrogeological system.

Martin Lack

Oakwood highlights the similarities between hydrogeology and climate science but fails to mention that both make extensive use of probabilistic computer models (of the kind used by climate scientists). These are models that deal with uncertainty in modelled parameters by being run hundreds if not thousands of times using parameter values picked at random from within user-defined ranges. This produces a range of modelled outcomes with accompanying probabilities of being realised.


There is much overlap between scientific disciplines, especially in ‘Earth systems’. Therefore, to suggest you must be a ‘climate scientist’ to understand all of the scientific and statistical arguments, is incorrect. For example, the hockey stick tree ring studies are principally statistical exercises rather than ‘climate science’, and require an understanding of how the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, which geologists are only too aware of.

As a hydrogeologist, I am very experienced in studying time-series data, and judging whether conclusions drawn from them are plausible and reliable. Of course, my conclusions may not always be correct. Others may disagree with me. But that’s how science develops.

It would take me pages to explain all my reasons for being an AGW-sceptic, so instead I will focus on one key example of where I find a key conclusion unreliable.


I will refer to a ‘typical’ paper by Michael Mann et al, 2008, Proxy-based reconstructions of hemispheric and global surface temperature variations over the past two millennia, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – PNAS.

Its main conclusions are:

Recent warmth appears anomalous for at least the past 1,300 years whether or not tree-ring data are used. If tree-ring data are used, the conclusion can be extended to at least the past 1,700 years, but with additional strong caveats. The reconstructed amplitude of change over past centuries is greater than hitherto reported, with somewhat greater Medieval warmth in the Northern Hemisphere, albeit still not reaching recent levels.

Thus, they claim their work shows current temperatures are unprecedented in at least the past 1,300 years, including the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). This is extremely important. If current temperatures are not warmer than the MWP, then there is far less reason for alarm about the current climate. For example, we don’t have records of such things as droughts, hurricanes, tornadoes, etc.,  being noticeably worse or more common during the MWP. (I know, some will respond: ‘regardless of whether its warmer now, predictions are it will get much worse’. But that is a separate argument). Thus, it seems to be very important to the AGW-case that current temperatures are unprecedented, and changing more quickly than in the past 1,000 to 2,000 years.

Despite, their stated conclusions, their work does not show that now is warmer than the MWP. On their graphs in their Figure 3, current temperatures show as warmer. But the proxy data themselves do not show this. The only data that do are the instrumental data. So if proxy data do not align with instrumental data since the 1980’s onwards, how can we rely on them to show us the MWP was cooler than now? We can’t.

They try to address this with the following statement:

The observed warming rises above the error bounds [ie., the highest possible temperature indicated by proxy data – my words] of the estimates during the 1980s decade, consistent with the known ‘‘divergence problem’’, wherein the temperature sensitivity of some temperature-sensitive tree-ring data appears to have declined in the most recent decades. Interestingly, although the elimination of all tree-ring data from the proxy dataset yields a substantially smaller divergence bias, it does not eliminate the problem altogether. This latter finding suggests that the divergence problem is not limited purely to tree-ring data, but instead may extend to other proxy records.

If you look around at other literature, despite what we hear about ‘settled science’ nobody knows the cause of the ‘divergence’ problem. There is only speculation that it might be something to do with modern air pollution or perhaps CO2 itself.

Here’s what SkepticalScience says:

The divergence problem is a physical phenomenon – tree growth has slowed or declined in the last few decades, mostly in high northern latitudes. The divergence problem is unprecedented, unique to the last few decades, indicating its cause may be anthropogenic. The cause is likely to be a combination of local and global factors such as warming-induced drought and global dimming. Tree-ring proxy reconstructions are reliable before 1960, tracking closely with the instrumental record and other independent proxies.

So, the proxies are “reliable before 1960’s”. But back until when? Around 1880, when temperatures were cooler. There is no evidence whatsoever that the proxies were reliable at other periods of higher temperatures. And we are expected to accept this as ‘settled science’.

In fact, it is possible the divergence problem happens every time it’s warmer. They certainly don’t know this is not the case. The real answer is from very basic statistics:

If the proxy data cannot reproduce the higher temperatures of today, we cannot rely on them to compare with other warmer periods in the past. I don’t care if 99.9% of climate scientists tell me this is acceptable science, I will not agree with them, unless they can produce convincing scientific evidence (not just speculation) to back it up.

(I’ve seen one very comical response more than once: ‘We don’t need recent proxy data to be accurate because we have instrumental data to tell us the temperature.’ For example, a John Havery Samuel says: “A technical concern with one proxy since 1960, when we have perfectly good temperature records already, is an irrelevance.” This COMPLETELY misses the point (and I don’t know whether through ignorance or deliberate distortion). Accurate proxy data today are needed, not to tell us the temperature, but to demonstrate that proxy data are reliable for understanding historical temperatures. That’s simple, basic science. )

Martin Lack

Much of what Oakwood writes is an attack upon the Hockey Stick graph of palaeoclimatic temperature reconstructions first produced in 1998 (MBH98).

However, the fatal flaws in Oakwood’s scepticism regarding MBH98 are as follows:

  1. MBH98 has been validated by at least 14 other reconstructions (as cited in IPCC AR4 in 2007) using a wide variety of other proxy data(see Wikipedia for relevant links)
  2. Hockey Stick-shaped graphs turn up in reconstructions of CO2 levels and temperature – now going back over thousands of years – because they are not ‘statistical noise’ –
  3. Arguments about splicing instrumental data onto proxy data only serve to challenge the extent to which the speed of late 20th Century warming is unprecedented.
  4. Such arguments do not invalidate the conclusion that it is now almost certainly warmer than it has been at any time since the last Ice Age (i.e. a period of relative climate and sea level stability that has made agriculture, urbanisation and civilisation possible).

However, this is no reason for us to be complacent because, as Oakwood must know, the 50 to 100 metres of sea level rise that will be caused by the melting of terrestrial ice sheets will necessitate the mass migration of millions of people. This makes his concerns about current poverty and starvation (i.e. the main reason he eventually cites for not believing action is yet necessary) look very trivial indeed.


Part two continues tomorrow.

Change is never easy ….

… but change is also the one constant in life.

For every one of us there is no escaping change.  It’s always been been that way; always will be.

Today, however, there’s an additional unsettling element.  I’m speaking of the growing realisation that humanity could be facing the perfect storm.  The ultimate storm of runaway climate change and the collapse of our global economy.

Therefore, when one comes across the wind of common-sense it needs to be promoted.  My reason for promoting the opening speech by Jennifer Granholm at the TED2013 conference.

Because if we are to find a way of avoiding this storm, we have to do it through innovative ways of thinking and behaving.  Each and every one of us deciding to work for a better future. (And see my P.S.)


Back in the days of dogs living as coherent packs, one of the key roles of the alpha dog was to decide a change of territory.  Then she, because the alpha dog was always a female, would lead the pack to a better place.

So we should learn from our ancient furry friends and take personal responsibility to find a ‘better’ place for ourselves and all our loved ones.

A Chomsky afterthought.

Dogs wouldn’t treat other members of their pack like this.

(I realise how the heading and the sub-heading don’t appear to have any correlation but stay with me please!)

It’s widely known, I’m sure, that the wolf, from which the wild dog and the domesticated dog evolved, lives in packs of around 50 animals.  The size of the pack offers a cohesive, stable structure for the wolf, and other pack species, ensuring group survival and well-being. In a very real sense the way that wolves live is a fabulous example of the power of community.

Just be sidetracked a moment by the following graph, presented on the Berkeley University website:

My understanding of early hominids is pretty basic but if ‘Homo habilis‘ represents the evolution of modern man then our species goes back less than 3 million years.

Compare that with canids. The website WolfWeb states,

The Dog linage began 37 million years ago in North America in predators that had distinctive pairs of shearing teeth and ran down prey. Early canids reached Europe seven million years ago.

Thirty-seven million years!  Now that’s what I call an example of  “group survival and well-being“.  The power of community.

As stated elsewhere on this blog,

Dogs are part of the Canidae, a family including wolves, coyotes and foxes, thought to have evolved 60 million years ago.  There is no hard evidence about when dogs and man came together but dogs were certainly around when man developed speech and set out from Africa, about 50,000 years ago.  See an interesting article by Dr. George Johnson.

The ten dogs we have here at home are split into two groups of five.  What we call the bedroom group: Pharaoh, Cleo, Sweeny, Hazel and Dhalia, and the kitchen group consisting of Lily, Casey, Ruby, Paloma and Loopy.  Both groups are separated by wooden fences so are more than aware of each other.

Something that is clear is that whenever one of the dogs is hurt, all the other dogs take notice. Others in the same group will come up to their hurt ‘buddy’ and offer comfort in a variety of ways.  Sadly, I can’t give you a better example than our poor Loopy who is suffering badly from the dog equivalent of dementia.

Here’s a picture taken of Loopy on Wednesday afternoon.  You will notice the strange sleeping position that she frequently adopts.  That’s an aspect of her dementia.


The other dogs in her group all give her special attention.  Such as not grabbing her sleeping bed, not pushing or shoving near her, giving her a wide space in general.  The other dogs sense there is something badly awry with Loopy and accommodate that.

So what on earth has this to do with yesterday’s post Who owns the World?  Keep hanging in there!

A recent link in Naked Capitalism‘s daily news summary was to a story in the British Guardian newspaper.  Written by the Guardian’s Kevin McKenna, it was about the likelihood of Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom.

Scottish independence is fast becoming the only option

Even to a unionist like me, an Alex Salmond-led government is preferable to one that rewards greed and corruption

It’s an interesting article and I recommend you read it directly.  But what jumped off the page at me were these paragraphs.  Please focus deeply on the words and ponder on how foreign they are to the concept of community.

Yet we conveniently overlook the fact that London has already broken away from the United Kingdom and now exists as a world super-state governed by the greed of unhindered capitalism and recognisable as British only by its taxis and bad service. As the world’s most newly minted oligarchs continue to colonise the independent state of London, it becomes almost impossible for families on less than £250k to live decently there. Poor London families made homeless by the coalition benefit cuts are being evacuated as far north as Middlesbrough.

Last week, Goldman Sachs, one of the banks with its fingers in the till when global economic meltdown occurred, awarded an average bonus of £250,000 to each of its employees. The gap between the richest in our society and the poorest stretched a little more and we were reminded yet again that the UK government, despite its promises, allows greed, incompetence and corruption to be rewarded. (How many people do you think will go to jail for the Libor rate-fixing scandal?) Meanwhile, Westminster politicians are dividing the poor into categories marked “deserving” and “scum”.

Think a dog is just a cuddly animal that gives you a chance to do some dog-walking?  Again, written elsewhere on Learning from Dogs.


  • are integrous (a score of 210 according to Dr David Hawkins)
  • don’t cheat or lie
  • don’t have hidden agendas
  • are loyal and faithful
  • forgive
  • love unconditionally
  • value and cherish the ‘present’ in a way that humans can only dream of achieving
  • are, by eons of time, a more successful species than man.

Now compare that with the last sentence in Noam Chomsky’s essay from yesterday, “As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome.

Hatred of the vulnerable“; “those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome” are not expressions that resonate with the values of loving communities.  If we humans want “group survival and well-being” we had better learn from species lupus and canid. Pronto!


Voices from the Beeline Café

The second guest post from John H.

John’s first guest contribution, Clarity of Thought, was published on the 20th September and attracted a collection of very thoughtful comments.  To give you a sense of that first contribution, it started thus,

The Passion of Enlightenment

Enlightenment includes deep grief and a passion to leave life a bit better than we found it. Enlightenment has little practical value in a growing and constantly consuming cultural demographic. Consumers tend to spiritually disconnect when faced by a need for change or when morality becomes inconvenient.

To set the scene for these musings from John, Highway 87 that runs South-North through Payson, where John lives, is called the Beeline Highway and there is, indeed, a Beeline Cafe in town.

Over to John now.

Voices from the Beeline Café

Americans are the best entertained and the least informed people on earth.

Combined commercial and investment banks have become a global casino.

No one can afford to run for political office without corporate approval.


Political campaigns are celebrity theaters devoid of content or reality.

Climate change is a planetary constant exacerbated by human activities.

A twenty-four hour media drumbeat of fear encourages human divisiveness.


Education, history and science are marginalized.

Facts are systematically denied.

People are confused.


Global totalitarianism is immensely profitable.

Corporations do not care about democracy or humanity.

Economically stressed voters are disenfranchised by corporate government.


The rule of law has lost equity and become the tool of oppressors.

Firefighters, policemen, nurses and clergy have become political pawns.

Corporate supported criminals control a majority of the nations of the world.


We have lost the rudder of human morality.

Material well-being is considered the greastest good.

War is a highly profitable form of corporate enterprise.


The flag and cross are employed to demonize opposition to corporate authority.

Politics worth supporting begin and end with service to God and nature.

God grant us each the grace to make a transformative difference.


an old lamplighter