An overview: Understanding the Global Warming Debate

Guest post by Warren Meyer

Likely you have heard the sound bite that “97% of climate scientists” accept the global warming “consensus”.  Which is what gives global warming advocates the confidence to call climate skeptics “deniers,” hoping to evoke a parallel with “Holocaust Deniers,” a case where most of us would agree that a small group are denying a well-accepted reality.  So why do these “deniers” stand athwart of the 97%?  Is it just politics?  Oil money? Perversity? Ignorance?

We are going to cover a lot of ground, but let me start with a hint.

In the early 1980′s I saw Ayn Rand speak at Northeastern University.  In the Q&A period afterwards, a woman asked Ms. Rand, “Why don’t you believe in housewives?”  And Ms. Rand responded, “I did not know housewives were a matter of belief.”  In this snarky way, Ms. Rand was telling the questioner that she had not been given a valid proposition to which she could agree or disagree.  What the questioner likely should have asked was, “Do you believe that being a housewife is a morally valid pursuit for a woman.”  That would have been an interesting question (and one that Rand wrote about a number of times).

In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with.  And, we need to understand what it is, exactly,  that the deniers are denying.   (I personally have fun echoing Ms. Rand’s answer every time someone calls me a climate denier — is the climate really a matter of belief?)

It turns out that the propositions that are “settled” and the propositions to which some like me are skeptical are NOT the same propositions.  Understanding that mismatch will help explain a lot of the climate debate.

Full essay here at Forbes (well worth your time, Anthony)

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Peter Miller

A good, balanced article – the only bit of BS being the 97% figure for all scientists agreeing about ‘global warming’, but that is probably because no one explained how that goofy figure was arrived at.
As for geologists – the guys who really understand historic/ancient climates, the figure would probably be a mirror image 3% – excluding those who work for government, who are told what to think in regards to climate change and lose their jobs if they disagree.

This has been covered before, but I do like the reminder. With “push polling” you can get whatever result you want.

ScuzzaMan

Thinking about the idea that all the observations show warming during the last century, and getting really moving in the post-war period, it occurs to me to ask if the UHI effect really took off after the advent of nuclear power?
The widespread (in the West) installation of nuclear power stations, and competing coal, hydro, and oil stations, must have translated into a significant net increase in human heat production – wouldn’t you think?
And since the non-satellite temperature readings are all clustered around the same (mostly) western industrialised urban areas … well, is it too radical to question the very first proposition, that warming has in fact occurred at all?

RHS

Best quote I think I’ve ever heard to summarize such a divided opinion:
At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another; at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues.

Really excellent article — well balanced and reasonable. It lays out almost perfectly the rational skeptical position on CAGW. If anything, it is too nice to “warmists” as it completely leaves out the political subtext of vested interests in the warmist crowd, especially in the IPCC itself which simply wouldn’t exist (and soon will very likely not exist) if it weren’t for a plausible “C” in CAGW with all sorts of strong positive feedbacks.
rgb

Oldseadog

A bit of information is missing: how many people were asked the question to which 97% answered one way and 3% the other, and what were their qualifications?

Mydogsgotnonose

Who says doubling [CO2] causes temperatures to rise by ~1 k? The ‘consensus’ of course, but it has to be wrong. I’m not the originator of this argument but the assumption of 100% direct thermalisation of of quantised intramolecular vibration in asymmetrical molecules to symmetrical molecules is plainly impossible: there is no mechanism; the energy can only be passed to other GHGs in one tranche.
In reality, another excited molecule will emit the same energy photon in a random direction, restoring the Local Thermodynamic Equilibrium. So why did Tyndall and the PET bottle experiments measure higher delta T for CO2? Easy to explain: they were at constant volume so because CTE for CO2 is higher than permanent gases, they measure the temperature rise due to compression. Unscrew the PET bottle cap and delta T falls significantly showing it’s from scattered IR thermalised at the bottle walls.
This is but the first of five major scientific mistakes in the IPCC claims. It’s a joke to any professional scientist with sufficient advanced physics willing to piece together how since 1997 this pseudo-science has probably been based on systemic deception.

Latitude

I was just thinking, if these ultra low temperatures during the winter start occuring more often, we will have to emit more and more co2 while heating ourselves, which in turn wil make the global warming even more severe :))).

Nick Shaw

Yer right, Anthony. It was well worth the time.

pittzer

Well done, sir!
Totally devoid of hyperbole, well-reasoned and easy to understand.

matthu

I agree – really well-balanced article. And if you follow the links at the end there is a slide pack and/or a video and/or a DVD available as well.

John

“In a similar way, we need to ask ourselves what actual proposition do the 97% of climate scientists agree with.”
They were asked:
“Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”
So I guess then that he ‘deniers’ as you call them were denying that human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global.

jlc

Thanks, Warren. This sums up exactly where I stand

kbray in california

Warren Meyer also wrote this summary about Mann in another article linked to the one above…
“Postscript: You will notice that I wrote this entire article without once mentioning either the words “hockey stick” or “Climategate.” I have never thought Michael Mann’s hockey stick to be a particularly compelling piece of evidence, even if it were correct. The analysis purports to show a rapid increase in world temperatures after centuries of stability, implying that man is likely the cause of current warming because, on Mann’s chart, recent temperature trends look so unusual. In the world of scientific proof, this is the weakest of circumstantial evidence.
As it turns out, however, there are a myriad of problems great and small with the hockey stick, from cherry-picking data to highly questionable statistical methods, which probably make the results incorrect. Studies that have avoided Mann’s mistakes have all tended to find the same thing – whether looking over a scale of a century, or millennia, or millions of years, climate changes absolutely naturally. Nothing about our current temperatures or CO2 levels is either unusual or unprecedented.
The best evidence that the problems identified with Mann’s analysis are probably real is how hard Mann and a small climate community fought to avoid releasing data and computer code that would allow outsiders to check and replicate their work. The “Climategate” emails include no smoking gun about the science, but do show how far the climate community has strayed from what is considered normal and open scientific process. No science should have to rely on an in-group saying “just trust us,” particularly one with trillions of dollars of public policy decisions on the line.”
Perfect comments for Mann’s book over at Amazon…

DirkH

How the “97% of all climate scientists” number was arrived at
http://opinion.financialpost.com/2011/01/03/lawrence-solomon-97-cooked-stats/#ixzz1A5px63Ax

Kev-in-UK

I thought it was well written, but a bit too soft on the warmista. And he uses ‘deny’ a lot – (thought that was now taboo?).
But anyway, I don’t think it is sufficiently simple and well written for the Average Joe (too many long words and sentences, no disrepect intended, but there are many folk who simply will not bother to read slowly, re-read, and then understand stuff, they are too busy trying to earn a crust! – they need quick sound bite type cartoons and graphs!), and it’s far too simplified for those that have followed the CAGW debate, IMHO.
He hits the nail on the head wrt the seemingly ideological/dogmatic stances of the warmists (i.e. always running back to the basic theory, earth is warming stance, and not accepting any real discussion of the implications) – but doesn’t explain that the D…’rs are not really the ones being ideological/dogmatic. Skeptics in science are to be applauded and listened too – and if they get converted (by a new theory), then you are likely on to a winner with ones theory – if they aren’t, your theory is likely full of BS. That’s the way science generally works, and so, IMO, the ideological/dogmatic stance of the theory and it’s ardent suporters, should be exposed as a weakness, especially, as Meyer explains, that it’s largely the subsequent ‘use’ (or rather misuse!) of the theory that is being exploited and that use is the primary part that the skeptics deny.

John from CA

Warming is a trend that isn’t supported by the data in the linear fashion reflected in their conclusions — ergo their conclusions are Null.

Regarding the “97%” of climate scientists, I understand that the actual numbers were 77 out of 79 climate scientists who had, within the past 5 years, had 50% or more of their publications related to climate science, answered yes to both these questions:
1. When compared with pre-1800s levels, do you think that mean global temperatures have generally risen, fallen, or remained relatively constant?
2. Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?
However, when we look at the numbers of the polling of these scientists we find they represent 0.75% of all earth scientists (10,257) who were originally sent the questionnaire, and just 2.4% of those who responded (3146).
Further, the 77 were only 24% of all climate scientists who responded (268).
When was the last time you saw a headline saying “97% of 2.4% of all earth scientists agree AGW is real,” or, “When Does 24% = 97%?”
Samuel Clements’ lies, damned lies and statistics should be used as a disclaimer on the reporting of the 97% figure.
It appears global warming has extended the cherry picking season as well…..

kwinterkorn

Excellent article. I am impressed by the clarity of Meyer’s writing.
A followup article discussing in depth the positive benefits of rising CO2 (plant food) and moderate global warming (longer growing seasons, 20 humans die from cold for every death due to heat, etc.) would be valuable.
Another article discussing the various rents that the CAGW’s seek would also be valuable.

David Wells

The argument would not exist if there was a technology that could replace coal oil gas and nuclear and by omission Warren forgot to mention that other dirty sordid word “hard cash” who in their right mind would pay Al Gore $120,000 a hit if all he said was “gee folks everythings just fine” as one contributor said last week if you want to know why all the hype then just follow the money.
The claims had to be hysterical John Houghton said “it has got to be dark and catastrophic otherwise no one will take any notice” the greens are to climate change what Bernie Madoff was to ethical behaviour.

John from CA

I agree with Robert Brown and good for you to post it on Forbes where it will have reach and an immediate benefit!!!
Best,
John from CA

I read the article and found the following
“While some of the talk-show-type skeptics have tried to dispute this greenhouse theory, most of what I call the science-based skeptics do not, and accept a number circa 1C for the direct warming effect of a doubling of CO2.”
I, for one, do not accept this number. It can NEVER be measured, so how anyone can claim it is valid I have no idea. It is a hypothetical, and completely meaningless number. It is based on the assumption that it can be estimated by ONLY looking at radiative effects, neglecting conduction, convection and the latent heat of water. The assumption that “the structure of the atmosphere does not change”; i.e. the lapse rate remains constant.After reading that, I did not take too much notice of the rest of the article. Sorry, Anthony, the article is not really worthwhile reading.

BioBob

Peter Miller says: “…the guys who really understand historic/ancient climates…”
Peter, You should know better ! ALL propositions about the geologic past are based on our understanding of PROXIES. For instance, stratigraphy, examination of fossils in those rock layers, etc are all proxies from which climate inference is made. As is the case in ALL science, our understanding is only as good as those inferences, which can and generally do contain errors.
My overall point is that geologist’s “understanding” is only an approximation of “truth” and no geologist worth his salt would conclude that we really understand everything/anything about ancient climate in more than general terms. No precision to plus or minus 1 degree C, so sorry !
Humans have real perspective issues with timescales in millions of years.
.

MarkW

John says:
February 9, 2012 at 9:49 am

The problem is the word “significant”. It is undefined and hence left up to the reader to define.
In some fields, as little as 5% can be considered “significant”.

Eric (skeptic)

Jim Cripwell said: “I, for one, do not accept this number. It can NEVER be measured, so how anyone can claim it is valid I have no idea. It is a hypothetical, and completely meaningless number. ”
Jim, your criticism is valid, but the article is not flawed by maintaining 1C. First the 1C can be simply calculated in radiative column models in clear and cloudy conditions, followed by some sort of averaging. There are flaws with that, with the 1C we will get circulation changes particularly convection which will change albedo, latent heat transfer, etc. But the gross concept is sound because 1C is not a drastic warming so drastic circulation and weather changes should not be anticipated.

I’m surprised there was no link to Warren Meyers site http://www.climate-skeptic.com, although he doesn’t seem to post to it as often as he used to. This was the first site I visited when I decided to open my eyes to the whole GW issue, and it was a link there that led me to the wonderful here.
Seeing his graph showing the temperatures superimposed on the PDO was what made it all click into place for me.

Well balanced article. Pity about the glaring error ” (a phenomenon we can hear with loud feedback screeches from a microphone).” The feedback screeches from the speakers, not the microphone. You have to wonder if that something that obvious can slip past.

Theo Goodwin

Meyer writes:
“But the science of this positive climate feedback theory is far from settled. Just as skeptics are probably wrong to question the basic greenhouse gas effect of CO2, catastrophic global warming advocates are wrong to over-estimate our understanding of these feedbacks. Not only may the feedback number not be high, but it might be negative, as implied by some recent research, which would actually reduce the warming we would see from a doubling of CO2 to less than one degree Celsius. After all, most long-term stable natural systems (and that would certainly describe climate) are dominated by negative rather than positive feedbacks.”
Right, Mr. Meyer, but you leave out the most important point. Climate scientists have produced no well confirmed physical hypotheses that explain “feedbacks,” such as the effects of rising CO2 on cloud behavior, and they have no plans to do so. Without such well confirmed physical hypotheses, they have no science of feedbacks. They should readily admit this. They should claim that they have some rational reason for believing that feedbacks exist but that it is not science.
Also, genuine scientists would find their faces turning beet red if they talked about “feedbacks” the way climate scientists do. “Feedbacks” is just a hand waving term that hides the fact that there are no well confirmed hypotheses that can be used to explain and predict the phenomena in question.

R. Gates

An excellent summary. One specific bit to quibble with however is the lack of a distinction between fast and slow “earth system” feedbacks. The planet has not yet found an equilibrium point to the current level of greenhouse gases, so it is huge misstatement to give any specific increase to 390 ppm, as even if somehow the CO2 level suddenly stopped rising, there are still decades worth of warming ahead until all the Earth system feedbacks have caught up to reach equilibrium. Mind you, I am a warmist, but not a believer in “catastrophic” AGW, but I do understand the reality of fast and slow feedbacks, and the fact that it takes decades for a system as large and complex as the Earth’s climate to reach equilibrium once all feedbacks have fully acted.

R. Gates

Theo Godwin said:
Also, genuine scientists would find their faces turning beet red if they talked about “feedbacks” the way climate scientists do. “Feedbacks” is just a hand waving term that hides the fact that there are no well confirmed hypotheses that can be used to explain and predict the phenomena in question.
——
This is a very ignorant statement, and indicates that you obviously know nothing of the field of medicine or biology where feedbacks play a vital role in nearly all aspects, and are talked about in much the same way as climate scientists do. In this regard, the paradigm of viewing the Earth as a single living organism with all the same complex feedbacks as any organism has is quite valid.

Darkinbad the Brightdayler

Proud to be a 3% er

Ernest

This is an outstanding high-level summary of the problems with the CAGW position. Thank you for drawing the article to our attention.

DirkH

R. Gates says:
February 9, 2012 at 11:31 am
“An excellent summary. One specific bit to quibble with however is the lack of a distinction between fast and slow “earth system” feedbacks. ”
Radiative exchange of energy (absorption and re-emission) happens in milliseconds. Thousands of such processes happen within seconds.
Absorption and re-emission near the surface happen after an average free path length of about 30 m.
So much for “slow”.

Rob Crawford

“R. Gates says:
February 9, 2012 at 11:40 am”
Did you intentionally misunderstand him? He was referring specifically to the use of the term “feedbacks” as it’s used by “climate scientists”. He was not referring to biology or medicine.

kwinterkorn

I am not a warmist, but agree with R Gates’ entry at 1140 AM.
I would add that a complex system such as the Earth’s Air/Oceans system with its continuously changing inputs on multiple timescales is never at equilibrium—–this is part of what will always make good climate science difficult. At every moment the system is settling toward some equilibrium, but the changing inputs continuously change the equilibrium, so the system never gets there. Since we never get to see the equilibrium, empirical studies can never measure it, and models can never be verified.
Models, however, can be refuted if the real world does produce measurements that are inconsistent with the models. We know that the CAGW models circa 1990 have all been refuted by the failure of the climate to warm anywhere near the level predicted by those models as measured CO2 has continued to climb.

Eric (skeptic) writes “Jim, your criticism is valid, but the article is not flawed by maintaining 1C. First the 1C can be simply calculated in radiative column models in clear and cloudy conditions, followed by some sort of averaging”
I respectfully disagree. Any number which can NEVER be measured has no meaning in physics. Second, no model, unless it has been fully validated, can ever “calculate” anything. It can only”estimate”. By the way, if you have a reference to how this “calculation” is actually done, I would be grateful. TIA.

andyd

Wow, the pedants are clearly out in force today. They should try actually reading the article in question at the source.

Joachim Seifert

To Warren Meyer……please:
Warming does not only produce “many” effects….but, a good list has been
compiled, please see
its time….. we buy our tumbstone soon……
JS

Joachim Seifert

The list disappeared, again:
http://www.numberwatch.co.uk/warmlist.htm

Coldish

Thank you, Warren Meyer, for this clear and well-balanced essay. It deserves to be more widely circulated. I have noticed a few minor points which you might consider when preparing a future edition. However there is one point where I think you may have unnecessarily laid yourself open to criticism. The ‘97%’ figure for support of the consensus in the Doran paper is indeed meaningless as both the leading questions would be answered in much the same way by sceptical scientists as by adherents of the orthodoxy. The Doran paper is thus irrelevant to the climate debate. However the figure 97-98% appears in another recent publication which I think may be cited by your critics; namely the Anderegg et al (2010) paper ‘Expert credibility in climate change’ (PNAS, Volt 107, 12107 – 12109). This paper, which is not hidden behind a paywall, may, along with the discussion it has given rise to, deserve more attention than the Doran paper. As far as I know PNAS papers are not subject to conventional peer review, which may itself reflect on the credibility of the Anderegg et al paper. I still think it deserves a mention.

Eric (skeptic)

Jim, the estimates rely on spectral broadening calculations like this: http://www.john-daly.com/forcing/hug-barrett.htm Those calculations assume “all other things being equal” which, as you point out, may not be true. I believe it is true enough for purposes of a crude estimate.

Eric (skeptic)

R Gates, when you say “there are still decades worth of warming ahead until all the Earth system feedbacks have caught up to reach equilibrium.” do you mean thermal inertia? Or more ice and tundra melting? Those do not seem to be very significant since the ocean warming may be deep (i.e. not part of the short term equilibrium) and the tundra also has depth that will take more than decades to warm.

Dodgy Geezer

@RHS
“…Best quote I think I’ve ever heard to summarize such a divided opinion:
At best, this is a function of the laziness and scientific illiteracy of the media that allows folks to talk past one another; at worst, it is a purposeful bait-and-switch to avoid debate on the tough issues…”
Actually, the worst is a lot worse. What is entirely left out of this essay is the question of WHY people are avoiding debate. The initial reason was probably scientific arrogance, but now it is more likely to be because a lot of jobs and money are riding on the debate, and in a fair debate they will lose. So at worst this is a conspiracy to defraud and enslave the world’s taxpayers – it probably didn’t start that way, but that’s what it has become…

Bruce

Now that “volcanoes” are now being blamed for the Little Ice Age (to divert attention from solar minimums) it is nice to see the warmenizers are admitting that there was a global Little Ice Age.
Since there was an agreed upon global Little Ice Age, I await the day when the sane warmenizers (a small percentage) agree than any 20th century warming is just a bounce back from the global Little Ice Age.
Did you know some January’s were 10C colder than the warmest ones?
http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/hadobs/hadcet/mly_cet_mean_sort.txt

R. Gates

Eric (skeptic) says:
February 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm
R Gates, when you say “there are still decades worth of warming ahead until all the Earth system feedbacks have caught up to reach equilibrium.” do you mean thermal inertia? Or more ice and tundra melting? Those do not seem to be very significant since the ocean warming may be deep (i.e. not part of the short term equilibrium) and the tundra also has depth that will take more than decades to warm.
______
Certainly there is some “thermal inertia” (I really hate that phrase) in the oceans, in that at least some of the energy has gone into the deeper ocean through the THC, and it will alter patterns in climate for centuries. However, the earth system feedbacks specifically I’m referring to are related to changes in the cyrosphere and biosphere. The cyrosphere is still reacting to 390 ppm, and will for several more decades. Unfortunately, over that time period we’ll be seeing 410, then 420, 430, etc. ppm. But even if somehow we stayed around 390, it would take many decades before the cryosphere settles in to some equilibrium just from 390 ppm (not to mention the higher amounts of methane and N20. Thus, in the shrinking of ice cover, summer sea ice cover, glaciers, etc. more heat is still being absorbed as these shrink, meaning the thermal equilibrium temperature is still higher from here. In terms of the biosphere, the response of plants and animals to the warming we’ve already seen will take decades to fully complete. These changes (such as species migration) alter the amount of energy absorbed by the system (plants now covering formerly ice covered rocks in Greenland for example). These are long-term slow feedbacks, that mean the actual equilibrium temperature from the amount of CO2 we currently have is still many decades out. To state that the world has warmed only 0.7C from the 390 ppm we currently have is to miss the underlying warming that is still going on from the 390 ppm, such that even if we stayed at 390 ppm, we might very well still see 1 to 1.2C of warming just from these levels after the slow feedbacks have completed. Of course, we’ll never know as higher higher we go in CO2 for the next several decades.

R. Gates says:
February 9, 2012 at 11:31 am

An excellent summary. One specific bit to quibble with however is the lack of a distinction between fast and slow “earth system” feedbacks. The planet has not yet found an equilibrium point to the current level of greenhouse gases, so it is huge misstatement to give any specific increase to 390 ppm, as even if somehow the CO2 level suddenly stopped rising, there are still decades worth of warming ahead until all the Earth system feedbacks have caught up to reach equilibrium.

Yeah I agree Mr Gates. When the sun rose this morning, I didn’t feel it’s warmth, what I felt was the warmth from the sun that rose many decades ago.

R. Gates

Rob Crawford says:
February 9, 2012 at 12:18 pm
“R. Gates says:
February 9, 2012 at 11:40 am”
Did you intentionally misunderstand him? He was referring specifically to the use of the term “feedbacks” as it’s used by “climate scientists”. He was not referring to biology or medicine.
_____
And my point was that it is equally as valid for climate scientists to talk about feedbacks as a biologist would. They are both dealing with complex systems with multiple interacting feedbacks. In this sense, CO2 additions to the atmosphere should be viewed more like any change in input to a biological system.

R. Gates

DirkH says:
February 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm
R. Gates says:
February 9, 2012 at 11:31 am
“An excellent summary. One specific bit to quibble with however is the lack of a distinction between fast and slow “earth system” feedbacks. ”
Radiative exchange of energy (absorption and re-emission) happens in milliseconds. Thousands of such processes happen within seconds.
Absorption and re-emission near the surface happen after an average free path length of about 30 m.
So much for “slow”.
_____
Suggest you read a bit more about the changes going on to the biosphere and cyrosphere, and stop trying to give me schooling on basic radiational physics.

Belvedère

Thanks for the read. I guess i am a sceptic..