Guest essay by Leo Goldstein
A few days ago the leftstream media ambushed the public with some survey results, insinuating that scores of meteorologists had converted to Climatism. Even some climate realists took the bait, although correctly pointed to the fact that only 67% (rather than the absurd quote of 97%) of the responding meteorologists agreed that “the climate change that has occurred over the past 50 years” was mostly anthropogenic. But the “sensation” stems mostly from semantic confusion. Climate change means different things to the surveyed meteorologists and to the consumers of the LSM. “Mostly anthropogenic” global warming of about 0.5°C is in line with the mainstream skeptical opinion. The LSM, however, presents “climate change” as an apocalyptic event, some combination of hellfire and the Biblical Great Flood.
IPCC should have admitted its scientific defeat in the Third Assessment Report (appropriately abbreviated as TAR). In the 1990s most climate research was real science, performed by honest and competent scientists. Not surprisingly, their research refuted exaggerated claims of anthropogenic impact on the climate, and confirmed the benefits of CO2 release. A number of luminaries, including Richard Lindzen, were among the Lead Authors of the TAR Working Group I. Even the hockey stick, hurriedly procured by IPCC from Michael Mann & Co, could not help the alarmists.
IPCC TAR (2001): redefining climate change from ‘anthropogenic’ to ‘any’
Since it couldn’t win with science, the IPCC resorted to Newspeak. In its First and Second Reports, the IPCC used the definition of climate change equivalent to anthropogenic climate change, as defined the UNFCCC text:
“Climate change” means a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods (UNFCCC, also referred to by IPCC FAR and IPCC SAR).
TAR (2001) pretended to re-define climate change to include natural variability of the climate:
Climate change refers to a statistically significant variation in either the mean state of the climate or in its variability, persisting for an extended period (typically decades or longer). Climate change may be due to natural internal processes or external forcings, or to persistent anthropogenic changes in the composition of the atmosphere or in land use (IPCC TAR, Appendix I Glossary).
The IPCC honestly admitted this change of definition even in the Summary for Policy Makers:
Climate change in IPCC usage refers to any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This usage differs from that in the Framework Convention on Climate Change, where climate change refers to a change of climate that is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere and that is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods (IPCC TAR SPM, p. 2, footnote).
This trick was performed by the IPCC leadership behind the backs of some scientists who had worked on the report and who used the earlier definition, since parts of the full report obviously referred to the previous definition of climate change as anthropogenic climate change. Of course, ordinary citizens, politicians, journalists, and even many scientists continued to think of climate change as anthropogenic climate change. When the meaning of a technical or scientific term becomes established by usage and understanding by many parties, it cannot be re-defined. Giving such a term a conflicting meaning is incompetence or worse. In other words, the IPCC does not own our language, or any part of it. But it got away with this semantic coup d’état. Then Climatists used the definitions as they pleased, and exploited the resulting confusion as an opportunity to split and humiliate their opponents.
In a stroke of a pen the IPCC turned a defeat into a victory. Far from a miracle, this travesty became possible through a collusion of the transnational environmental clique and Al Gore’s appointees in American scientific institutions. The 9/11 terrorist attack by al Qaeda provided an additional distraction. The post-9/11 aspirations of the George W. Bush administration for unity at home and with the United States’ allies go a long way toward explaining why the new administration left Gore’s intact the anti-scientific, alarmist and enviro-radical network, established by Al Gore in the government and government funded scientific institutions. Focused on the “war on terror”, Republicans allowed this network to consolidate its positions and even accepted its marketing of alarmism as true science.
Words combination Climate Change lost scientific meaning and is used as a label
The IPCC has been using the altered definition of climate change since 2001. That makes many of its conclusions irrelevant to the subject of the influence of anthropogenic CO2 release on the climate, and even to the broader topic of anthropogenic influences on the climate outside of population centers. Notably, by altering the definition of climate change the IPCC has also re-defined itself –the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – and thus expanded its “mission”. I would say the IPCC has done so illegally, but since the IPCC is a UN organization, it is not clear whether the concepts of law and legality are applicable to it at all. The IPCC repeatedly broke even its own rules without repercussions.
Most of public understand climate change as man-made climate change, but most scientists and experts rely on its definition as any climate change. Thus, the public is being deceived. In everyday Climatist usage, the phrase climate change suffers further abuse. For example, it is frequently used as a label. The funny side to this usage is that the alarmists cannot decide how to apply this label. Some of them say they are against climate change (e.g., Campaign Against Climate Change), and some of them are for climate change (e.g., Tuvalu puts up fight for climate change, With a strong community youths can fight for climate change.) I almost sympathize with them – being used to receiving instructions with precise wording, they must feel at a loss. A more sophisticated abuse entails making up an open-ended definition. This is typical of the government agencies. The new “definition” of climate change by the Department of Defense is just one example:
Variations in average weather conditions that persist over multiple decades or longer that encompass increases and decreases in temperature, shifts in precipitation, and changing risk of certain types of severe weather events.
I will not criticize this gibberish, including “increases and decreases in temperature” and “shifts in precipitation,” because that would be like taking candy from a baby. But more broadly, scientific definitions are established in order to demarcate boundaries of concepts, rather than to open them up with words like “include” or “encompass.”
The Newspeak of Climatism has developed to allow the alarmists to brand any other position as “anti-science.” But means to the end were opposite of what Orwell dreaded. Orwell predicted that Newspeak words would have a single and narrow utilitarian meaning. The terms of Climatism are exactly opposite to that – vague, slippery, and devoid of any utility.
On proper definitions and semantic tricks
Moving away from outright abuse, giving a proper definition of anything defines a set (a taxon), not a particular object. Sometimes the set can contain only one object, or none at all. This holds true for definitions of climate change as much as for definitions of a cow. Even when a dishonest party does not change the definition outright (like replacing cow with mammal), it can still switch the object (like replacing a brown cow with a red cow). Even if everybody uses the same reasonable definition of climate change, like the one from the UNFCCC text, an infinite range of phenomena fall under that definition. Climate change over the past 50 years is different from climate change over the past 150 years, and both are different from climate change over the period 10,000 – 3,000 years BP. Future climate change is not the same as past climate change. Another dimension is opened up by moving between observed climate change, computed climate change, computed conditional climate change, etc. Further, each region has its own climate, and can have its individual climate change over a given time frame. Even if we replace climate change with the much narrower concept of average global temperature change, having arbitrarily selected the averaging method, and then look only at time periods of equal length and consider only the temperature change from the start to the end of the period, we encounter a number of different phenomena. For example, the temperature change from 1975 to 2000 was substantially different from the temperature change from 1970 to 1995, and very much different from the temperature change from 1950 to 1975. This problem usually does not arise in scientific research because a research study defines a specific context, defining what particular object or objects are investigated. But the climate alarmists are notorious for taking fragments of scientific papers and presenting them in the completely different context of ordinary life, thus deceiving politicians and the public.
Scale and Significance
Beyond these semantic tricks, Climatists use the same ploy that has been the bread and butter of many environmental groups for decades. Modern chemical analyzers can detect miniscule concentrations of chemical elements, and scientific studies find trace amounts of various elements everywhere. Enviros and sensationalist media use such detections to incite fear: Arsenic in your food! Mercury in your water! Ozone in the air! Usually, the concentrations of the trace elements or compounds are too low to cause any harm, and may even be beneficial. But outside of the context of scientific research, arsenic and mercury are mentioned only when their amounts or concentrations are sufficient to cause harm or even death, so the deceived public gets scared and financially rewards fear-mongering activists, journalists, and lawyers.
In the field of climate science, a tiny climate trend, such as global warming of 0.01°C per year, may be measured and researched by scientists. But it cannot be felt by a person (even if this person is a scientist), it has no consequence for an individual or the society, and it is justifiably below the threshold of the interest of the public. Thus, even moving a statement like ‘there is global warming’ from a specific scientific context into the context of general public discourse is already deceitful. In the context of general public discourse, when there is an annual temperature increase of 0.01°C, it is more accurate to say that there is no global warming than to say that there is dangerous or even serious global warming. This is simple math: 0.01 is closer to 0 than to 0.05, which might actually be worthy of concern in the long run.
But there is a difference between the climate alarm and other enviro-alarms. The chemical composition of the things we use or eat can be measured very accurately. In contrast, the supposed climate changes are so small that they can be barely detected or quantified, even by the most advanced devices and methods. As is frequently the case, Climatism has turned this weakness into strength. Referring to measurements of change below the margin of error, Climatists routinely replace the proper term insignificance with “uncertainty”, referring to the unwise language of UNFCCC Article 3, p.3: “The Parties should take precautionary measures to anticipate, prevent or minimize the causes of climate change and mitigate its adverse effects. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures …”.
Richard Lindzen has been referring to semantic issues in the climate debate for more than twenty years. For example, he wrote in 1995:
Global warming, as a public issue, is a semantic quagmire. First there is confusion over the use of the expression ‘global warming’ ( Science and Politics: Global Warming and Eugenics, 1995).
Commenting on one tortured statement from the IPCC’s SAR, essentially stating that the IPCC had been unable to quantify the magnitude of natural or anthropogenic global warming, Lindzen remarks:
It has been a remarkable example of semantic distortion that this weak and unsupportable statement has encouraged environmental advocates to claim that this report endorses various catastrophic scenarios (Statement Concerning Global Warming, Presented to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, 1997).
Again, in his Senate testimony after the IPCC TAR SPM release:
Some problems with the IPCC would appear to stem from the media and advocacy groups. … The misuse of the IPCC summaries, however, is not entirely accidental. The IPCC does a number of things which encourage misuse. [some bullet points are omitted]
· Use a summary to misrepresent what scientists say.
· Use language which conveys different meaning to laymen and scientists.
· Exaggerate the authority of undistinguished scientists.
Finally, consider the title of a 2015 article: A recent exchange in the Boston Globe clearly illustrated the sophistic nature of the defense of global warming alarm.
Climate alarmism had already lost all its scientific ground before 2001. Since then, it has been fighting exclusively in the power structures and in the media, using semantic trickery, lies, bribery, threats and abuse of power.