Last night in the SOTU address, Obama made this pronouncement about climate change:
But the debate is settled. Climate change is a fact.
To that, I say this:
There’s never been any assertion that climate didn’t change, the idea that somehow this is something new to the 21st century is absurd. For example, this graph illustrates just that fact:
Click image for a full sized print (3000 pixels wide, suitable for printing) or choose the PDF below. Note the blip in the top line at the far right, that’s our climate change today. Source: Andy May
And, as science itself has demonstrated through history, it is never settled, it is always searching for new information, retesting, and sometimes discarding old ideas based on new knowledge.
Saying “the science is settled” is as ridiculous as this famous quote attributed to Lord Kelvin who reportedly said in 1900*
“There is nothing new to be discovered in physics now. All that remains is more and more precise measurement”.
* This quote is reputed to be Kelvin’s remark made in an address to the British Association for the Advancement of Science (1900). Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Thomson,_1st_Baron_Kelvin#Pronouncements_later_proven_to_be_false
Equally preposterous (now) is this statement from Kelvin:
In 1898, Kelvin predicted that only 400 years of oxygen supply remained on the planet, due to the rate of burning combustibles. In his calculation, Kelvin assumed that photosynthesis was the only source of free oxygen; he did not know all of the components of the oxygen cycle. He could not even have known all of the sources of photosynthesis: for example the cyanobacterium Prochlorococcus—which accounts for more than half of marine photosynthesis—was not discovered until 1986.
Kelvin’s pronouncement, which he believed to be true at the time based on the facts he had at hand, were later disproved by new science and obviously discarded. But, imagine if there were a panic movement then to conserve oxygen, with “oxygen taxes” applied, massive government funded research implemented, and reams of NGO’s feeding on the frenzy demanding a host of new laws and changes in human behavior to avert the crisis.
They’d look pretty stupid to us in the context of science knowledge today, wouldn’t they?