Trust and Mistrust

Guest Post by Willis Eschenbach

Following up on the excellent initiative of Dr. Judith Curry (see Judith’s post and my response ), I would like to see what I can do to rebuild the justifiably lost trust in climate science. I want to bring some clarity to terms which are used all the time but which don’t seem to have an agreed upon meaning. In the process, I want to detail my own beliefs about the climate and how it works.

Figure 1. Dr Judith Curry tries to warn the greenhouse warming scientists … from Cartoons By Josh.

I don’t know about you, but I’m weary of the vague statements that characterise many of the discussions about climate change. These range from the subtle to the ridiculous. An example would be “I believe in climate change”. Given that the climate has been changing since there has been climate, what does that mean?

We also hear that there is a “consensus” … but when you ask for the actual content of the consensus, what exactly are the shared beliefs, a great silence ensues.

Often we see people being called unpleasant terms like “deniers”, with the ugly overtones of “Holocaust deniers”. I’ve been called that myself many times … but what is it that I am being accused of denying?

In an attempt to cut through the mashed potatoes and get to the meat, let me explain in question and answer format what I believe, and provide some citations for my claims. (These are only indicative citations from among many I could provide on each topic.) I will also indicate how much scientific agreement I think there is on the questions. First, some introductory questions.

Preface Question 1. Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

I bring this up to get rid of the canard that people who don’t believe the “consensus science” on global warming are evil people who don’t care about the planet. I am a passionate environmentalist, and I have been so since 1962 when I first read Silent Spring upon its publication. I believe that we have an obligation to respect the natural ecosystems that we live among. My reasons are simple. First, we have a responsibility to be good guests and good stewards here on this amazing planet. Second, I worked extensively in my life as a commercial fisherman, and I would like for my grandchildren to have the same opportunity. The only way to do this is to monitor and be careful with our effects on the earth and the biosphere.

Preface Question 2. What single word would you choose to describe your position on climate science?

Heretic. I am neither an anthopogenic global warming (AGW) supporter nor a skeptic, I believe the entire current climate paradigm is incorrect.

Question 1. Does the earth have a preferred temperature which is actively maintained by the climate system?

To me this is the question that we should answer first. I believe that the answer is yes. Despite millennia-long volcanic eruptions, despite being struck by monstrous asteroids, despite changes in the position of the continents, as near as we can tell the average temperature of the earth has only varied by about plus or minus three percent in the last half-billion years. Over the last ten thousand years, the temperature has only varied by plus or minus one percent. Over the last 150 years, the average temperature has only varied by plus or minus 0.3%.  For a system as complex and ever-changing as the climate, this is nothing short of astounding.

Before asking any other questions about the climate, we must ask why the climate has been so stable. Until we answer that question, trying to calculate the climate sensitivity is an exercise in futility.

I have explained in “The Thermostat Hypothesis” what I think is the mechanism responsible for this unexplained stability. My explanation may be wrong, but there must be some mechanism which has kept the global temperature within plus or minus 1% for ten thousand years.

I am, however, definitely in the minority with this opinion.

Question 2. Regarding human effects on climate, what is the null hypothesis?

If we are trying to see if humans have affected the climate, the null hypothesis has to be that any changes in the climate (e.g. changes in temperature, rainfall, snow extent, sea ice coverage, drought occurrence and severity) are due to natural variations.

Question 3. What observations tend to support or reject the null hypothesis?

As I show in “Congenital Climate Abnormalities”, not only are there no “fingerprints” of human effects in the records, but I find nothing that is in any way unusual or anomalous. Yes, the earth’s temperature is changing slightly … but that has been true since the earth has had a temperature.

There is no indication that the recent warming is any different from past warmings. There is more and more evidence that the Medieval Warm period was widespread, and  that it was warmer than the present.  The Greenland ice cores show that we are at the cold end of the Holocene (the current inter-glacial period). There have been no significant changes in rainfall, floods, sea level rise, Arctic temperatures, or other indicators.

In short, I find no climate metrics that show anything which is anomalous or outside of historical natural variations. In the absence of such evidence, we cannot reject the null hypothesis.

Question 4. Is the globe warming?

This is a trick question. It is a perfect example of a frequently asked question which is totally meaningless. It shows up all the time on public opinion polls, but it is devoid of meaning. To make it meaningful, it needs to have a time period attached to it. Here are some examples of my views on the question:

1 During the last century, the earth warmed slightly (less than 1°C).

2 The earth has generally cooled over the last 12,000 years. We are currently at the cold end of the Holocene (the period since the end of the last Ice Age. See the Greenland and Vostok ice records.

3 The earth has generally warmed since the depths of the Little Ice Age around 1650, at a rate somewhere around a half a degree Celsius per century. See Akasufo, the Central England Temperature (CET), and the Armagh records.

4 The largest warming in any instrumental record occurred around 1680 – 1730. See the CET and Armagh records.

5 The earth was either stable or cooled slightly from about 1945 to 1975.

6 The earth warmed slightly from about 1975 to 1998.

7 There has been no significant warming from 1995 to the present (Feb. 2010). See The Reference Frame Phil Jones.

I would say that there is widespread scientific agreement on the existence of these general trends. The amount of the warming, however, is far less certain. There is current controversy about both the accuracy of the adjustments to the temperature measurements and the strength of local effects (UHI, poor station siting, warmth from irrigation, etc.). See e.g. McKitrick, Spencer, Christy and Norris, Ladochy et al.., Watts, SurfaceStations, and Jones on these questions.

Question 5. Are humans responsible for global warming?

This is another trick question that often shows up on polls. The question suffers from two problems. First is the lack of a time period discussed above. The second is the question of the amount of responsibility. Generally, the period under discussion is the post-1900 warming. So let me rephrase the question as “Are humans responsible for some part of the late 20th century warming?”

To this question I would say “Yes”. Again, there is widespread scientific agreement on that simplistic question, but as usual, the devil is in the details discussed in Question 4.

Question 6. If the answer to Question 5 is “Yes”, how are humans affecting the climate?

I think that humans affect the climate in two main ways. The first is changes in land use/land cover, or what is called “LU/LC”. I believe that when you cut down a forest, you cut down the clouds. This mechanism has been implicated in e.g. the decline in the Kilimanjaro Glacier. When you introduce widespread irrigation, the additional water vapor both warms and moderates the climate. When you pave a parking lot, local temperatures rise. See e.g. Christie and Norris, Fall et al., Kilimanjaro.

The second main way humans affect climate is through soot, which I will broadly define as black and brown carbon. Black carbon comes mostly from burning of fossil fuels, while brown carbon comes mostly from the burning of biofuels. This affects the climate in two ways. In the air, the soot absorbs incoming solar radiation, and prevents it from striking the ground. This reduces the local temperature. In addition, when soot settles out on ice and snow, it accelerates the melting of the ice and snow. This increases the local temperature by reducing the surface albedo. See e.g. Jacobson.

There is little scientific agreement on this question. A number of scientists implicate greenhouse gases as the largest contributor. Other scientists say that LU/LC is the major mover. The IPCC places values on these and other so-called “forcings”, but it admits that our scientific understanding of many of forcings is “low”.

Question 7. How much of the post 1980 temperature change is due to human activities?

Here we get into very murky waters. Is the overall balance of the warming and cooling effects of soot a warming or a cooling? I don’t know, and there is little scientific agreement on the effect of soot. In addition, as shown above there is no indication that the post 1980 temperature rise is in any way unusual. It is not statistically different from earlier periods of warming. As a result, I believe that humans have had little effect on the climate, other than locally. There is little scientific agreement on this question.

Next, some more general and theoretical questions.

Question 8. Does the evidence from the climate models show that humans are responsible for changes in the climate?

This is another trick question. Climate models do not produce evidence. Evidence is observable and measurable data about the real world. Climate model results are nothing more than the beliefs and prejudices of the programmers made tangible. While the results of climate models can be interesting and informative, they are not evidence.

Question 9. Are the models capable of projecting climate changes for 100 years?

My answer to this is a resounding “no”. The claim is often made that it is easier to project long-term climate changes than short-term weather changes. I see no reason to believe that is true. The IPCC says:

“Projecting changes in climate due to changes in greenhouse gases 50 years from now is a very different and much more easily solved problem than forecasting weather patterns just weeks from now. To put it another way, long-term variations brought about by changes in the composition of the atmosphere are much more predictable than individual weather events.” [from page 105, 2007 IPCC WG1, FAQ 1.2]

To me, that seems very doubtful. The problem with that theory is that climate models have to deal with many more variables than weather models. They have to model all of the variables that weather models contain, plus:

• Land biology

• Sea biology

• Ocean currents

• Ground freezing and thawing

• Changes in sea ice extent and area

• Aerosol changes

• Changes in solar intensity

• Average volcanic effects

• Snow accumulation, area, melt, and sublimation

• Effect of melt water pooling on ice

• Freezing and thawing of lakes

• Changes in oceanic salinity

• Changes in ice cap and glacier thickness and extent

• Changes in atmospheric trace gases

• Variations in soil moisture

• Alterations in land use/land cover

• Interactions between all of the above

• Mechanisms which tend to maximise the sum of work and entropy according to the Constructal Law.

How can a more complex situation be modeled more easily and accurately than a simpler situation? That makes no sense at all.

Next, the problem with weather models has been clearly identified as the fact that weather is chaotic. This means that no matter how well the model starts out, within a short time it will go off the rails. But the same is true for climate, it is also chaotic. Thus, there is no reason to assume that we can predict it any better than we can predict the weather. See Mandelbrot on the chaotic nature of climate.

Finally, climate models have done very poorly in the short-term. There has been no statistically significant warming in the last fifteen years. This was not predicted by a single climate model. People keep saying that the models do well in the long-term … but no one has ever identified when the changeover occurs. Are they unreliable up to twenty-five years and reliable thereafter? Fifty years?

Question 10. Are current climate theories capable of explaining the observations?

Again I say no. For example, the prevailing theory is that forcing is linearly related to climate, such that a change of X in forcing results in a change of Y in temperature. The size of this temperature change resulting from a given forcing is called the “climate sensitivity”. In 1980, based on early simple computer climate models, the temperature resulting from a change in forcing of 3.7 watts per square meter (W/m2) was estimated to result in a temperature change of between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius. See e.g. Green and Armstrong 2007.

Since 1980, there has been a huge increase in computing power. Since 1980, there has also been a huge increase in the size and complexity of computer models. Since 1980, thousands of man hours and billions of dollars have been thrown at this question. Despite these advances, the modern estimate of the climate sensitivity is almost unchanged from its 1980 value.

To me, this lack of any advance in accuracy indicates that we have an incorrect understanding of the forces governing the climate. Otherwise, our bigger, faster and better models would have narrowed the uncertainty of the climate sensitivity. But they have not.

Question 11. Is the science settled?

To this one I would answer no, no, a thousand times no. We are just a the beginning of the study of climate. New information and new theories and new forcings are put forward on a regular basis. See e.g. Lu. The data is poor, short, and full of holes. The signal is tiny and buried in a huge amount of noise. We don’t know if the earth has a thermostat. In short, the study of climate is an infant science which is still poorly understood.

Question 12. Is climate science a physical science?

Well, sort of. It is a very strange science, in that to my knowledge it is the only physical science whose object of study is not a thing, not a physical object or phenomenon, but an average. This is because climate is defined as the average of weather over a suitably long period of time (usually taken to be 30 years.) The implications of this are not widely appreciated. Inter alia, it means that statistics is one of the most important parts of climate science.

Unfortunately, a number of what I might call the “leading blights” of climate science, like Michael Mann with his HockeySchtick, have only the most rudimentary understanding of statistics. This initially got him into trouble in his foray into the area of paleoclimate statistics, trouble which he has only compounded by his later statistical errors.

Question 13. Is the current peer-review system inadequate, and if so, how can it be improved?

There are a number of problems with the current peer-review system, some of which are highlighted in the abuses of that system revealed in the CRU emails.

There are several easy changes we could make in peer review that would help things immensely:

1. Publish the names of the reviewers and their reviews along with the paper. The reviews are just as important as the paper, as they reveal the views of other scientists on the issues covered. This will stop the “stab in the back in the dark” kind of reviewing highlighted in the CRU emails.

2. Do not reveal the names of the authors to the reviewers. While some may be able to guess the names from various clues in the paper, the reviews should be “double-blind” (neither side knows the names of the others) until publication.

3. Do the reviewing online, in a password protected area. This will allow each reviewer to read, learn from, and discuss the reviews of others in real time. The process often takes way too long, and consists of monologues rather than a round-table discussion of the problems with the paper.

4. Include more reviewers. The CRU emails show that peer review is often just an “old-boys club”, with the reviewing done by two or three friends of the author. Each journal should allow a wide variety of scientists to comment on pending papers. This should include scientists from other disciplines. For example, climate science has suffered greatly from a lack of statisticians reviewing papers. As noted above, much of climate science is statistical analysis, yet on many papers either none or only the most cursory statistical review has been done. Also, engineers should be invited to review papers as well. Many theories would benefit from practical experience. Finally, “citizen scientists” such as myself should not be excluded from the process. The journals should solicit as wide a range of views on the subject as they can. This can only help the peer review process.

5. The journals must insist on the publication of data and computer codes. A verbal description of what mathematics has been done is totally inadequate. As we saw in the “HockeyStick”, what someone thinks or says they have done may not be what they actually did. Only an examination of the code can reveal that. Like my high science teacher used to say, “Show your work.”

Question 14. Regarding climate, what action (if any) should we take at this point?

I disagree with those who say that the “precautionary principle” means that we should act now. I detail my reasons for this assertion at “Climate Caution and Precaution”.  At that page I also list the type of actions that we should be taking, which are “no regrets” actions. These are actions which will have beneficial results whether or not the earth is warming.

So that is where I stand on the climate questions. I think that the earth actively maintains a preferred temperature. I think that man is having an effect on local climate in various places, but that globally man’s effect is swamped by the regulating action of clouds and thunderstorms. I think that the local effect is mainly through LU/LC changes and soot. I think that the climate regulating mechanism is much stronger than either of these forcings and is stronger than CO2 forcing. I think that at this point the actions we should take are “no regrets” actions.

Does that make me a “denier”? And if so, what am I denying?

Finally, I would like to invite Dr. Judith Curry in particular, and any other interested scientists, to publicly answer these same questions here on Watts Up With That. There has been far too much misunderstanding of everyone’s position on these important issues. A clear statement of what each of us thinks about the climate and the science will go a long way towards making the discussion both more focused and more pleasant, and perhaps it will tend to heal the well-earned distrust that many have of climate science.

Advertisements

  Subscribe  
newest oldest most voted
Notify of
AlexB

See on preface question 1 I differ in the terms I use. I would call you a conservationist. Environmentalist I reserve for those people who have a politically focused agenda of changing the way people live rather than a strict conservation focus.

At first I thought Anthony wrote this, but then the past profession as commercial fisherman showed up.
Written by Willie Eschenbach, right?

Very, very nice article.
Mark

Henry chance

A man can bring a lamp into a room and lighten the room. He can not bring a can full of darkness into the room and darken the room.
I suspect it is possible to warm the planet a bit. I suspect that increased evaporation and clouds will cool it. I can’t pay taxes and cool the planet.
Models create nothing. Here is a site that tells us crude will be 40 dollars a barrel in 2010. It is twice that. They are wrong. Joe Romm says they are correct when they tell us how much crude will sell for in 2030 if we dabble in increadsed drilling.
Joe is not an honest person. He cherrypicks dishonest claims.
In 2005 the Energy Information Administration said crude would be 30 dollars in 2030.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/otheranalysis/aeo_2006analysispapers/wop06.html
The EIA has only proven to me they have a verified history of being wrong.
http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/aeo/otheranalysis/aeo_2009analysispapers/aongr.html
I do know that Warmist folks claim to know more and be superior to people that find glaring errors in their false predictions.
14. What action should be taken?
Tell the wackos that if they can’t get anything right, they sure can’t dictate action. I remain commited to conservation of resources. I still strongly dislike seeing people behave slovenly and that always included all the messy plastic water bottles and trash.
There are many folks on this board that get the bigger picture. The article above is a great summary of the bigger picture. Judith Curry doesn’t get it but could if she was open minded. I won’t put her on the list of people that can’t accept some wisdom. The ones that predict temps CO2 oil prices etc for 2030 0r 2090 have too large a block to wrap their minds around reality and the present.

Jack in Oregon

I scrolled down here, to find out who wrote this, after the first few paragraphs as it didn’t have Anthony’s voice. I will now go back, and finish reading it. I will say, that I wish every post was signed by every writer.
Thanks for all the words shared, who ever wrote them.
Best Regards,
Jack

William Sears

As regards question one: temperature is an intensive quantity of a system in equilibrium. You can not average the temperatures of different systems in any meaningful way. Thus the earth, which is never in equilibrium, does not have an average temperature. Energy balance as affected by cloud cover, solar insolation, albedo and so one are the parameters of importance. It has just been too easy to play games with temperature recording stations whose only use are for local weather forecasting.

wsbriggs

If Hr. Eschenbach continues this line of discussion, what are the “Climate Scientists” going to do?
The total lack of animosity, the clean, clear exposition, the lack of coulds, maybes, mights, will provoke a terminal attack of stuttering, sputtering apoplexy in that populous.
Keep it up!

Anthony Mills

Excellent exposition! But please do not give temperature changes as percentages–meaningless numbers-must give absolute values.In SI units give in kelvins(or equivalently degrees Celsius)

Les Johnson

I too, am a conservationist. But the reference to Carson is off-putting.
She is responsible for as many deaths as Stalin or Mao. Maybe more.

Pamela Gray

You forgot one.
Briefs or boxers?

PaulS

Willis, I agree with every sentiment and use similar questions to promote discussion between those who believe and those who don’t. It’s suprising how little we truly know about the way our planet works.

Interesting article, much to agree with.

Is climate science a physical science?
Well, sort of. It is a very strange science, in that to my knowledge it is the only physical science whose object of study is not a thing, not a physical object or phenomenon, but an average. This is because climate is defined as the average of weather over a suitably long period of time (usually taken to be 30 years.)

Some parts of climate science are statistics. But a large part is physics.
-Reflection and absorption of solar radiation
-Longwave absorption and emission by trace gases
-Humidity and latent heat
-Cloud formation and effect
-Rain
-Ocean currents
-Stratospheric effects on the troposphere
-Ice melting
Then there’s some chemistry especially stratospheric and ocean chemistry. Most of the climate scientists (who’ve been around a while) studied physics.
Most of what gets studied and written about is teasing out the physical processes in the atmosphere and oceans.

Henry chance

I also double checked and It was written in the style of Willis but referred to Anthony. The cartoon is signature Josh. The sand castle is signature Algore

Willis:
“First, we have a responsibility to be good guests and good stewards here on this amazing planet.”
We are not guests on this planet. We do not have a responsibility towards this amazing planet. We are not visiting this planet. You are just suffering from a mild form of Stockholm syndrome.
I quote from paper (in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine):
Maibach EW, Roser-Renouf C, Leiserowitz A
Communication and Marketing As Climate Change–Intervention Assets: A Public Health Perspective Am J Prev Med 2008;35(5):488–500
“Choosing message frames for climate change that are consistent with the values of target groups is one important way to make the recommended behaviors or policies easier to accept.” …
“Conservation messages, for example,
can use an economic frame (This is an excellent way to save money);
an energy independence frame (This is a means for our country to free itself from dependence on foreign oil);
a legacy frame (This is a way to protect our children’s future);
a stewardship frame (This is how I honor my moral obligation to protect the abiding wonders and mystery of life);
a religious frame (This is a way to serve God by protecting His creation);
or a nationalist frame (Innovative technology will keep our nation’s economy strong).
You’ve been ‘framed’ and ‘messaged’, that’s all

Tom Judd

H.L. Mencken wrote that the practical business of politics was menacing the public with a series of hobgoblins so that they’d be clamorous to be led to safety. I think that this explanation is at least partly responsible (moreso than science) for a fear of AGW. It has also been said that ‘war is the health of the state.’ But what do you do in an era of nuclear weapons that make a major war unthinkable? May I suggest that the answer lies in catastrophic global warming. When, oh when, will they ever leave average people alone to live, thrive, and survive?

B. Smith

This may be slightly off topic, but relevant nonetheless.
____________________________________________________________________
Lovelock: ‘We can’t save the planet’
Professor James Lovelock, the scientist who developed Gaia theory, has said it is too late to try and save the planet.
The man who achieved global fame for his theory that the whole earth is a single organism now believes that we can only hope that the earth will take care of itself in the face of completely unpredictable climate change.
Interviewed by Today presenter John Humphrys, videos of which you can see below, he said that while the earth’s future was utterly uncertain, mankind was not aware it had “pulled the trigger” on global warming as it built its civilizations.
What is more, he predicts, the earth’s climate will not conveniently comply with the models of modern climate scientists.
As the record winter cold testifies, he says, global temperatures move in “jerks and jumps”, and we cannot confidently predict what the future holds.
Prof Lovelock does not pull his punches on the politicians and scientists who are set to gain from the idea that we can predict climate change and save the planet ourselves. Scientists, he says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to “fudge the data”. And while renewable energy technology may make good business sense, he says, it is not based on “good practical engineering”.
At the age of 90, Prof Lovelock is resigned to his own fate and the fate of the planet. Whether the planet saves itself or not, he argues, all we can do is to “enjoy life while you can”.
http://news.bbc.co.uk/today/hi/today/newsid_8594000/8594561.stm

wsbriggs

Henry chance (17:53:42) :
I beg to differ Henry, oil could very well hit $40 a barrel in 2010. Will it stay there, probably not, but it certainly isn’t going to wing it all the way back up to $150.
The increase in drilling in the US in the Bakken Shale is bringing a lot of oil to the surface. The Iraq fields in the Kurdish areas are producing, and just short of having a substantially larger pipeline for distribution. The Brazilians have hit it big, Ghana is loaded with oil, as are the areas in SE Asia. More large companies are looking for unconventional oil in addition to unconventional gas, and they’re finding it.
Just like the nat gas price has an effective $4-4.50 cap, increased oil production will drop the price. None of the finds are themselves enough, but as a whole they show that much more oil will be found, and even before that, much more oil is going to be produced.
I won a $20 bet (made in 2005) that oil would hit $40 a barrel again – it did. I’m not looking to bet again, other than I work in O&G so that’s kind of a bet.

Willis, I really wish writers on scientific matters would avoid the word ‘believe’. I understand that colloquially ‘believe’ usually means ‘think’, or ‘it is my view that’, or ‘it is my firm, well-considered understanding’, or some such locution, but science is really not a matter of belief in the same way that religious convictions, matters of ‘faith’, are. The latter are not in principle dependent on the kind of empirical verification/falsification that propositions in science require. When you say, “I believe the entire current climate paradigm is incorrect,” and that you are an “heretic,” it casts the entire argument in quasi-religious terms. However much the alarmists resort to such language, it is to be regretted.
Otherwise, an excellent piece; your facility for writing directly and succinctly on complex topics is much to be admired.
/Mr Lynn

Does the evidence from the climate models show that humans are responsible for changes in the climate?
This is another trick question. Climate models do not produce evidence. Evidence is observable and measurable data about the real world. Climate model results are nothing more than the beliefs and prejudices of the programmers made tangible. While the results of climate models can be interesting and informative, they are not evidence.

Models have a lot of flaws – see Models On – and Off the Catwalk, but my criticism of the statement is more about what we could call “evidence”.
Most scientific theories have some equations and they need to be solved in one way or another. If the solution to the equations matches observation then this is evidence for the theory.
For example, to demonstrate that CO2 produces downward longwave radiation in accord with the few equations that govern the process (the radiative transfer equations) you have to calculate a (computer intensive) numerical solution of these equations.
The results do match the measurements, so surely this is “evidence” (see CO2 – An Insignificant Trace Gas? Part Six – Visualization )
It’s not really different from the theory of gravity. The model is the equations and the observations need to be matched to the solution to these equations under certain conditions. Correct match = evidence.
So not a trick question.

Mark S

Excellent article! Thanks for publishing this.
I noticed a typo in question 10. “obervations” should be “observations”.

geo

Let’s get Willis’ name up at the top there. . . I had to infer it from the link to the response to Curry.
Back to reading. . .

Lon Hocker

Lovely!
I like your answer to question 1, and the data seems to support it.
http://www.2bc3.com/warming.html
The regulating mechanism is offset by the fact that the regulation is based on the CO2 level at the equator and heating is caused by CO2 at the higher latitudes. This makes the warming attributable to CO2 proportional to the rate of production of CO2, not the absolute amount in the atmosphere.

Willis Eschenbach

My apologies for the lack of the signature, it’s fixed now.
Regarding the use of the word “believe”, nothing in science can ever be proven. It can only be falsified. And certainly, at this point in climate science, there are very few aspects of it that go much more than a “preponderance of the evidence” kind of certainty.
Onwards,
w.

geo

I’m neither entirely comfortable nor entirely uncomfortable with the null hypothesis as a basis for action.
I’m more comfortable with it as a basis for not remaking the world economy on a rapidly accelerated basis.
I’m not comfortable with it if it is used as a basis to not take a keen and heightened research effort. Not being able to exclude a reason for change is not the same thing as being able to prove it is the reason.
As to the precautionary principle, the opportunity cost has to be considered. If you spend trillions, you *will* kill people by lost opportunity cost. A great many of them. Count on it. The insurance cost better be pretty reasonable.
I’m more comfortable with the precautionary principle re energy security, except of course most of the people who cry out for it hate nat gas, hate drilling, and hate nuclear. And if you say “clean coal” to them you better scurry out of spittle range. They only really want “energy security” if they can flash it now and then for color, and then quickly send it back to hiding before you start poking holes in how it doesn’t fit so very well with an anti-carbon agenda.
But sure, I’m ready to spend a lot of money on conservation, also on nuclear, also on transitioning to more nat gas usage.
My latest favorite bon mot is “Sure, I trust science. . .but only in multi-decadal time frames”.

Wayne Delbeke

“Silent Spring” affected a lot of people including David Suzuki. I wrote my second year engineering paper on Malathion use as a result of reading the book and went into the “Water and Pollution” discipline of Civil Engineering when it was first offered in British Columbia in the 1960’s; and I took classes from Suzuki.
But an Engineer graduates from “Applied Science”. Engineering work is often based on empirical science and tested hypotheses. And that is where I see problems with many of the Climate Scientists … they fail to apply science appropriately or adequately test their results against reality.
In ancient Babylon there was the Code of Hammurabi = if a building fell down and killed people, the designer would be put to death. Engineers have a responsibility to the public and they have learned to test their hypotheses and apply appropriate safety factors.
A great deal of what I read about climate “science” is not testable, has no factor of safety built in, and there is a lack of consequences to those who are suggesting we spend billions on unproven theories.
Good article Willis.
Wayne Delbeke from Canukistan.

David Alan Evans

I have problems with the whole climate monitoring thing.
I been saying for some time that temperature alone means nothing and Max Hugoson brought the same thing up recently on another thread.
I will in the following example refer to what I call mass balance, the concentration of H2O in terms of kg H2O/kg air.
Starting at 28°C & 63%RH you get an enthalpy of 66.6J/g
After an increase to 29°C maintaining the same mass balance you get an RH of 59% & an enthalpy of 67.3J/g
To maintain roughly the same enthalpy, the mass balance has to reduce giving an RH of 58% Enthalpy 66.7J/g
Without a minimum of RH, temperature means nothing.
I guess I must be an heretic too.
DaveE.

TerryBixler

All this interest on a subject, primarily because the governments of the world have decided to act on unfounded ‘science’. A new religion to be followed, led by people with the gift of sight of an ephemeral reality always favoring their inner belief in sin. Only to be slaved by penitence of other people.

DirkH

“scienceofdoom (18:17:29) :
[…]
It’s not really different from the theory of gravity. The model is the equations and the observations need to be matched to the solution to these equations under certain conditions. Correct match = evidence.
So not a trick question”
It depends. Solving an equation is one thing, iterating millions of simulation steps with an imperfect simulation of physics is a different thing. Even in the absence of deterministic chaos any robotics scientist can tell you that his simulation of a robotics cinematic will be good only for so many steps and then the errors accumulate enough to lead to significant deviations from the real thing.

SidViscous

Excellent piece as always Willis.
But why did yo have to mention “cut through the mashed potatoes and get to the meat” now I want pot roast and alls I have is beans and hot dogs…..
😉
And PS if you ever get tired of lounging in paradise and get over to the East Coast I’d like to buy you a beer, or other suitable adult libation.

Louis Hissink

Willis
Zounds, being a heretic has a nice sound to it – and I urge people here to get Thomas Sowell’s latest book about Society and Intellectuals – Climate Science is essentially an intellectual contrivance, a science of an abstraction and it’s no wonder it has been so comprehensively embraced by those who sincerely believe in post normal science, pseudoscience I mean.
Seems I must be a heretic as well as I, along with Willis, reckon they have the physics basically wrong – it’s the plasma folks.

nc

Great article, but, “I am a passionate environmentalist, and I have been so since 1962 when I first read Silent Spring”, Think of Silent Spring and Gore’s power-point. The above article can also be applied to Silent Spring.

DirkH:
I agree there is a huge quantitative difference. But it’s still not a trick question. If climate models could match observations then I believe we could call it “evidence” of something.

AlexB

RE: Willis Eschenbach (18:35:36)
Totally agree. I must say I was very impressed with the honesty and understanding you conveyed by the use of the word belief. The difference between belief and theory is that the two words are spelt differently. It is impossible for humans to know natural laws. Science is simply made up of various degrees of belief. There is a mysticism around science where people think that it is absolute when it is anything but.

Willis Eschenbach

scienceofdoom (18:17:29) : edit

Does the evidence from the climate models show that humans are responsible for changes in the climate?
This is another trick question. Climate models do not produce evidence. Evidence is observable and measurable data about the real world. Climate model results are nothing more than the beliefs and prejudices of the programmers made tangible. While the results of climate models can be interesting and informative, they are not evidence.

Models have a lot of flaws – see Models On – and Off the Catwalk, but my criticism of the statement is more about what we could call “evidence”.
Most scientific theories have some equations and they need to be solved in one way or another. If the solution to the equations matches observation then this is evidence for the theory.
For example, to demonstrate that CO2 produces downward longwave radiation in accord with the few equations that govern the process (the radiative transfer equations) you have to calculate a (computer intensive) numerical solution of these equations.
The results do match the measurements, so surely this is “evidence” (see CO2 – An Insignificant Trace Gas? Part Six – Visualization )
It’s not really different from the theory of gravity. The model is the equations and the observations need to be matched to the solution to these equations under certain conditions. Correct match = evidence.
So not a trick question.

ScienceOfDoom, I reformatted your post to what I think you intended.
Regarding math and models, if all a computer program is doing is solving simple, independently provable equations, sure, that could be evidence.
But a GCM, with dozens of parameters, unproven convergence to Navier-Stokes, a huge gridcell size, no clear understanding of the underlying phenomena and millions of iterations with no estimate of the propagation of errors? GCMs that are attempting to model one of the most complex systems we have ever tried to model, a system which is known to be chaotic and which operates on physical scales from the molecular to the planetary and temporal scales from microseconds to millennia? GCMs with no V&V or SQA?
The results from those as far from evidence as a man can get.

Bill Illis

How about the example today (or tomorrow) when Nature publishes a study about how Glacial Lake Agassiz drained (uphill) through the Mackenzie River Valley into the Arctic ocean and the fresh water from the event shut down the Gulf Stream.
They only had to check the elevation maps to know that Agassiz drained south to the Mississippi River through the Warren River/Traverse Gap to the Gulf of Mexico. It is only about 500 feet lower than any other possible outlet of the time.
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/03/100331141413.htm
There are dozens of these “Gulf Stream shuts down from Lake Agassiz fresh water” studies now and it is ridiculous that a fact known already 150 years ago is just ignored. “Nature” is publishing this stuff.

Willis Eschenbach

William Sears (17:59:33) : edit

As regards question one: temperature is an intensive quantity of a system in equilibrium. You can not average the temperatures of different systems in any meaningful way. Thus the earth, which is never in equilibrium, does not have an average temperature. Energy balance as affected by cloud cover, solar insolation, albedo and so one are the parameters of importance. It has just been too easy to play games with temperature recording stations whose only use are for local weather forecasting.

Yes, you are correct, you can’t average intrinsic variables. However, that’s where the debate is centred now, and it won’t change by ignoring it. Heat content of the ocean is probably the best metric, but it is very, very hard to measure. So we’re stuck with surface air temperature.
And although you can’t average an intrinsic variable, the statement “the average temperature is colder in winter than in summer” obviously has practical real-world meaning. So … not much we can do but fight the fight where it is going on.
Thanks,
w.

p.g.sharrow "PG"

I have been a conservationist for nearly 60 years, ” waste not , want not”, an old time rural attitude. “Preservationists” and “Ecologists” hate people and want to waste the worlds resources through none use. Conservationists believe in moderation of use, preservationists and ecologists are absolutists, where the ends justifies the means.
AGW has been proved false, next question.

Urederra

It is just me or Josh used hockey sticks as flag poles.
BTW, well balanced article. I missed the term empirical when you talk about computer models, but that is just me being picky.

Doug in Seattle

Thanks Willis. I am in broad agreement with you, with one notable exception – Silent Spring. In that I agree with Lee above.

gbaikie

“”Environmentalist” – short definition.
A counter-culture or a sub-culture, a person, well-meaning, and varied in degrees of dedication towards the theorized problems on Earth and the environment.
What most environmentalists have in common is a communal, casual concern through an individual to almost religious zeal, roughly based upon the 1960’s industrial and cultural backlash. Such persons can be as moderate as a person who occasionally donates to an environmentalist fund and generally agrees with such notions, to extremists such as Greenpeace and the Earth Liberation Front, which have a history of interference and even endagerment of it’s opponents. Many environmentalists are classified as being “liberal” or “democrat,” in the United States, with a few fringe groups on the contrary to that generalization. ”

“There is a small U.S. political party dedicated to generalized environmentalist organization, the “Green Party,” known as “Greens” and “Greenies,” headed by Ralph Nader.

Worldwide, they currently have to battle politics, science, and opinion based upon cabinets and legislation, and private-sector funding which battles both sides of any given issue. Their biggest enemies are industry and economics from mining, fishing, ranching, farming, and oil production, right-wing politics and the so-called “science community.” ”
http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=definition+of+environmentalist
I would say that being a environmentalist is sort of like believing in climate change- it doesn’t have any meaning. Who doesn’t want a clean environment or when has climate not changed.
An environmentalist doesn’t care for the environment [though may do various rituals which “demonstrate they care for the environment”]. An environmentalist is someone who believes in environmentalism-
“political and ethical movement that seeks to improve and protect the quality of the natural environment through changes to environmentally harmful human activities; through the adoption of forms of political, economic, and social organization that are thought to be necessary for, or at least conducive to, the benign treatment of the environment by humans..”
Or in other words humans need to controlled by govt because humans do harmful things to nature.
I contend that “environmentalism” has done nothing to improve the environment, and similarly that unions have done nothing to improve labor conditions.
Instead what has actually caused change is an improved standards of living- rather than some vague “change of awareness”.
Ie: China will have better “pollution controls” when it’s people have a better standard of living

p.g.sharrow "PG"

Pamela Grey; Observation, perhaps you need to elevate your point of view. 😉

Willis Eschenbach

Les Johnson (18:02:32)

I too, am a conservationist. But the reference to Carson is off-putting.
She is responsible for as many deaths as Stalin or Mao. Maybe more.

Carson wrote what was believed to be true at the time, and was the first one to bring these issues to public view. Like any trail-blazer, not everything she wrote was right.
However, the fact that her early (and true) claims that DDT was being misapplied and overapplied by many farmers were used by unscrupulous politicians like William Ruckleshaus to make points by banning DDT based on inadequate and exaggerated claims is their fault, not hers. There were many scientists who opposed the ban, but Ruckleshaus saw political gain, and banned it anyhow.
Not Rachel’s fault …

Gary

SidViscous (18:53:47) :
But why did yo have to mention “cut through the mashed potatoes and get to the meat” now I want pot roast and alls I have is beans and hot dogs…..
So now we are talking human induced methane, eh?

FijiDave

Excellent post, Willis.
I knew you were a good bloke when I saw that you had been a commercial fisherman, as I was, and can therefore understand your conservationism. Most of the fishermen I knew were the same, much to the consternation of those who see the industry as a bunch of pillagers of the planet.
Thanks

Willis Eschenbach

scienceofdoom (18:06:00)

Interesting article, much to agree with.

Is climate science a physical science?
Well, sort of. It is a very strange science, in that to my knowledge it is the only physical science whose object of study is not a thing, not a physical object or phenomenon, but an average. This is because climate is defined as the average of weather over a suitably long period of time (usually taken to be 30 years.)

Some parts of climate science are statistics. But a large part is physics.
-Reflection and absorption of solar radiation
… [good stuff snipped]

In general you are right. My point is that while solar radiation is physics, as are the other things you mention, solar radiation is weather. Climate would be the thirty year average of solar radiation.
Averaging raises big, subtle problems. For example, you’d think that the average cloudiness would tell you something about the temperature, particularly on a short timescale like a given day. But in the tropics, the sky is usually clear in the mornings when the sun is weak and cloudy at mid-day through the afternoons, when the sun is strong. If those were reversed, the effect on the temperature would be huge … but the 24-hour average cloudiness would be unchanged.
The same is true of say temperatures and tree growth. A single frost, which might not change the monthly average temperature in a measurable way, can stop the growth of some trees for a long time … how do you factor that into a tree ring reconstruction of past temperatures?
Just another part of what makes climate math so frustrating …

AlexB

RE: scienceofdoom (18:17:29)
I think that Willis is referring to GSM which are very complicated and deal with the interaction of systems. A model is not just a model. In fact the simpler the model the more scientific it is. When models become complicated they become more and more prone to error. This is especially true for trying to simulate complex systems (the earths climate) from basic laws (the greenhouse effect) where there are a number of processes involved and the interactions among processes can have greater effects than the processes themselves. You can’t conclude that because you can calculate the downwards flux of various molecules that CO2 is a super greenhouse gas that if any extra is added to the climate system by man it will cause a huge warming feedback cycle that send us on a runaway path to destruction. You have skipped a heap of steps. You can’t reference a simplified model and use it to argue proof of a complex model. Science lends itself to simplicity because simple models have a high empirical content whereas complex models do not. Your model cannot depend on as many variables or more than the measurements you are trying to make. To put it simply I can’t prove that something follows a linear trend if I have only made two observations. That is the fundamental scientific principle that Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen are trying to instil in climate science. As they demonstrate by that approach you can’t argue that CO2 is a super greenhouse gas.
Also please top referring to the theory of gravity to try and prove theories by proxy. There is no provision in science to do that.

GaryT

Another What’choo talkin’ ’bout, Willis? moment:
#14 – “I believe that the earth actively maintains a preferred temperature.”
Would you please explain what that even means?

There must be something wrong with this article, because I agree with everything Willis says.*
And: Urederra (19:34:58) :
“…I missed the term empirical when you talk about computer models…”
That’s because one is not the other.
[*I keed!]

I think this video explains why most breakthroughs in a field of study come from people with lots of experience outside of that field.

stumpy

“Also, engineers should be invited to review papers as well. Many theories would benefit from practical experience”
As an environmental engineer I would love the oppurtunity to comment on scientific papers, often scentists seem to be unable to see the big picture or are practically minded enough to see the elephant in the room, and they often hold onto sacred cows that need to be slaughtered!
I often review the work of scientists in the fields of hydrology and hydraulics (we employ a number of specialist scientists to support us) and am often amazed at their poor grasp of how things work in the real world or even how to analyse rainfall data correctly, and on other ocassions they reinvent the wheel! The scientific peer review process often fails to see these problems, because the reviewers are like minded. Hence, when I am involved I manage to spot those serious flaws that were missed and in some cases I put an end to their research proposals as their just wrong from the outlay!