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Can we trust the climate scientists? The reaction to Steven Koonin's book highlights just how toxic this debate has become

London, yesterday. Credit: Justin Tallis/AFP/Getty


July 26, 2021   8 mins

There’s a problem with writing about science — any science — which is that scientists are human like the rest of us. They are not perfect disembodied truth-seeking agents but ordinary, flawed humans navigating social, professional and economic incentive structures.

Most notably, scientists, like people, are social. If they exist in a social or professional circle that believes X, it is hard to say not-X; if they have professed to believe Y, they won’t want to look silly and admit not-Y. It might even be hard to get research funded or published if it isn’t in line with what the wider group believes.

All this makes it very hard, as an outsider, to assess some scientific claims. You can ask some expert, but they will be an expert within the social and professional milieu that you’re looking at, and who will likely share the crony beliefs of that social and professional milieu. All of which often makes it hard to disentangle why scientists do and say the things they do. Especially when it comes to scientific claims that are politically charged, claims on hot-button topics like race, sex, poverty — and of course climate.

I couldn’t help thinking about that as I was reading Steven Koonin’s new book, Unsettled. Koonin is (as it says, prominently, on the front of the book) the “former Undersecretary for Science, US Department of Energy, under the Obama administration”. The publishers are obviously very keen to stress the Obama link: “
under the Trump administration” might not have carried the same heft.

Koonin came to public attention a few years ago, after he wrote a controversial opinion piece for the Wall Street Journal headlined “Climate science is not settled”. It was a response to what he considered the widely held opinion among policymakers and the wider public that, in fact, climate science is settled. His particular concern was that we can’t yet accurately predict what the future climate shifts will be. The book itself is best thought of as the extended version of that op-ed, with added graphs.

We can break down his thesis into, roughly, three areas. One, is that despite “the mainstream narrative among the media and policymakers”, it is hard to be sure that the climate has changed in meaningful ways due to human influence. In particular, floods, rainfall, droughts, storms, and record high temperatures have not become more common, and although the climate is unambiguously warming and sea levels have gone up, it’s hard to confidently separate human influence from natural variability.

 Two, he says, climate models are highly uncertain and struggle to successfully predict the past, let alone the future, so we shouldn’t trust confident claims about the climate future. And if we do accept the IPCC’s predictions, they aren’t of imminent catastrophe. Instead, they point to slow change which humanity can easily adapt to, and, broadly speaking, to humanity continuing to prosper.

And three, he continues, there is basically nothing we can do about it anyway, partly because carbon dioxide hangs around in the atmosphere for so long, but mainly because the developing world is developing fast, and using ever more carbon to do so, and actually that’s a good thing.

These are — according to Koonin — all, by and large, only what the IPCC assessment reports and other major climate analyses say. The public conversation, which he says is full of doom and apocalypse and unwarranted certainty, has become unconnected from the state of the actual science. And he blames scientists — and policymakers, the media and the public — for that disconnection.

So is he right? Certainly he has a case when it comes to Point One: I think he is correct that the media narrative about climate change is not especially well correlated with the IPCC’s own central assessments. For instance, I think it’s fair to say that the recent floods in London, China and Germany have been held up as examples of a changing climate. But the IPCC’s most recent assessment report, 2014’s AR5, found studies showing evidence for “upward, downward or no trend in the magnitude of floods” (see p214 of the AR5 Physical Science Basis document; be warned it’s a big PDF), and concluded that they were unable to be sure whether, globally, river floods had become more or less likely. 

Similarly, I think there is a perception among many commentators and policymakers that storms, hurricanes, and droughts are all more common as a result of climate change, but the IPCC’s own report (see p.53 of AR5) has “low confidence” that those things are more common than they were 100 years ago. I know some scientists think the IPCC is overoptimistic, but it is the closest we have to consensus climate science.

That said, there is some fairness in accusing Koonin of cherrypicking. He spends a lot of time arguing about extreme daily temperatures, convincingly (to my mind) debunking a claim in the 2017 Climate Science Special Report (CSSR), the flagship US government climate science assessment, that US extreme daily temperature records have gone up. In fact, CSSR is comparing the ratio of extreme high temperatures to extreme low temperatures, and what in fact has happened is that extreme low temperatures have become less common. Which is interesting.

But the IPCC does think extreme daily temperatures have gone up globally (see p53 again). In his chapter on “Hyping the Heat”, Koonin doesn’t mention the IPCC, and the IPCC outranks the CSSR. His detective work is interesting, but he is fighting a henchman, not the end-of-level boss. Maybe the IPCC is wrong as well, but we don’t learn that here.

On Point Two, I don’t feel competent to assess the models; certainly it seems highly plausible to me that there are enormous uncertainties in predicting something as inherently chaotic as the climate, especially when to do so you first have to predict something as inherently chaotic as people. But my non-expert understanding is that broadly speaking the models have been getting it about right. 

That said, I think he is right that, if you were to ask the average person in my social circle, you would hear that climate change will lead to catastrophe in the near future. And I think that is overstating what the IPCC reports actually say. For instance, it is true that the IPCC predicts more people will go hungry than otherwise would have: it says that almost 140 million children will be undernourished, in a world where climate change goes unmitigated, compared to 113 million in a world where there is no climate change (see p730 of this IPCC report). But that is still fewer than went hungry in 2000 – almost 150 million, out of a much smaller population. The IPCC predicts that a world with climate change will be worse than one without; but not so much worse that other things, such as economic growth and technological progress, won’t broadly keep the big things, like life expectancy and human health, improving. That does seem worth saying.

And Koonin’s Point Three is worth making too. If India were to increase its per capita emissions to those of Japan, “one of the lowest emitting of the developed countries”, he says, then that change alone would raise global emissions by 25%1. Realistically, we’re not going to be able to stop India — or China, or Brazil, or Mexico, or any of the other middle-income countries — from developing, and development at the moment means carbon. 

More importantly: we don’t want them to stop developing. Richer countries have healthier, longer-lived citizens and are better able to cope with a changing climate. Even huge, swingeing cuts to Western emissions — politically unrealistic — would only go some way to offsetting the inevitable growth in the developing world. Those cuts may be worth doing, but there are limits to how much good they can do.

But even if Koonin is right about almost everything — if the best guess of the science is that we’re heading towards things merely getting better more slowly, rather than getting worse — then I think he’s missing a major point. That is, climate change models are uncertain. In fact Koonin claims they’re even more uncertain than we think. So they could easily be erring on the side of optimism.

And the one thing we should have learnt from the Covid pandemic is that it’s not enough to say “the most likely outcome is that it’ll be fine, so let’s act as if it’ll be fine.” The correct thing to say is “the most likely outcome is that it’ll be fine, but if there’s a 10% chance that it’ll be completely awful, then we need to prepare for that 10% chance.” Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world reduces the chance of some unforeseen but plausible disaster: as a happy bonus, it makes our cities more pleasant places in which to live. It will come at some cost, but hopefully not too high, because green technology is getting so cheap and effective these days.

Reviews by climate scientists have been unimpressed. “I would normally ignore a book by a non-climate scientist,” starts one review, which goes on to not ignore it. Another accuses him of cherry-picking his fights (not entirely unfairly, as I said). A third says the book is “distracting, irrelevant, misguided, misleading and unqualified”. 

But none that I’ve read really addresses the nitty-gritty of his arguments — which is hard to do in a 900-word review, of course, but still. They usually pick some line out of the first chapter or two, disagree with it, and then say the whole book is therefore rubbish. But I wanted a bit more meat to the objections. 

The third review, for instance, quotes Koonin as saying “The warmest temperatures in the US have not risen in the past fifty years,” and then asks “According to what measure?” Well, Koonin tells you the measure, at length: absolute record extreme daily temperatures. Maybe he’s wrong, but he does answer that in the book. (And your next sentence is “Highest annual global averages?” He’s talking about the US! You just quoted that bit!)

Similarly, it complains that Koonin says that the sea is only rising about a foot per century, saying “The trouble is that while seas have risen eight to nine inches since 1880, more than 30 percent of that increase has occurred during the last two decades.” But again: Koonin addresses this, for pretty much an entire chapter. His point is that most of the rest of the rise came during an (unexplained by climate models, according to him) period of rapid warming from 1910 to 1940, before human influence should have been relevant. That, he says, is good evidence that natural variation is driving the current acceleration. Is he right? I don’t know. But the reviewer is not attacking Koonin’s argument at its strongest point. 

In fact, none of them seem to: they just want to dismiss the book. They attack Koonin’s credibility and credentials, his temperament. They say he was only hired by the Obama Energy Department because of his contrarian views; they call him a “climate denier”, which seems de trop since he accepts most of the central claims of the climate consensus. The response felt more like a circling of the wagons than a serious effort to counter a serious argument. After all, it is unpleasant to hear reasons why you might be wrong about something: cognitive dissonance is painful.

I started this book confident that climate change is a serious concern, and I finished it only slightly less confident; Koonin has not persuaded me. But I’m glad Unsettled, flawed though it is, has been written. As I said at the beginning, science in a politically charged environment is very hard to assess. Scientists are as prone to groupthink and motivated reasoning as anyone else, and I know very well that there are some who feel they need to keep heterodox views quiet. The reviews, which make so little effort to engage with the substance of the arguments, do not reassure me that climate science is a uniquely groupthink-free discipline.

One thing Koonin suggests is a so-called “Red Teaming” of climate scientists: getting scientists to act as adversarial critics of the existing consensus, a method used by superforecasters, among others, to improve their accuracy by actively hunting out flaws in their reasoning. Science can only progress if assumptions are tested. Red teams in climate institutions — any institutions — seem like a good idea, and I’d support them.

Whether it’s possible or not, of course, is tricky to say. The climate debate is so highly charged, so borderline toxic, that it might be difficult for any climate scientist to take on the red-team role without making their own life more difficult. According to Koonin, one senior climate scientist told him “I agree with pretty much everything you wrote, but I don’t dare say that in public.” The old “in my emails, everyone agrees with me” line is hardly a new one, but it wouldn’t surprise me if there’s a bit of truth in it.

But if the Catholic Church was able to stomach someone advocating for the Devil, then climate science should be able to stomach one doing it for the sceptics. And in the meantime, this book does an acceptable job.

FOOTNOTES
  1.  He’s right. Japanese people emit about nine tons per capita, and Indians about two, so if 1.3 billion Indians started emitting seven extra tons a year, that’d be about nine billion tons on top of 2019’s 38 billion or so

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Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago

Interesting piece as Mr. Chivers’ biases and inability to look at the facts objectively clearly demonstrate his conformation bias.
I have actually read Koonin’s book and agree with all of it. For those who don’t know, Koonin accomplishments include a lot more than Obama’s Deputy Secretary of Energy. Koonin is not a politician. He is a very accomplishment, internationally renowned computational theoretical physicist, and his work in physics got him elected to the US National academy of Sciences at a young age. In other words, Koonin actually knows something about large scale computation, mathematical modeling and predictions. Something that Chivers seems to have little grasp of, especially when one considers Chivers’ previous articles on COVID, most of which are filled with nonsense, and certainly lack any degree of critical thinking.
The fundamental issue in so-called climate science involving modeling of the future climate is that this endeavor is not science. It’s really no different from going to a fortune teller or reading tarot cards. Why one might ask. Surely the models are mathematically highly sophisticated, and involve solving a very large number of partial differential equations. But the fundamental issue is that the output of the models is entirely dependent upon the input, and many of the parameters that go into the model are only known with very poor certainty or not at all. That includes, for example, the forcing factor. Now all of that would be fine if you could verify the models in a timely manner. But unfortunately, the people doing the modeling won’t be alive in 50-100 years to find out how close or far their predictions were. And nor will any of the politicians. Further, when the models can’t even reproduce the past, they sure as hell don’t inspire much confidence in their ability to predict the future.
Isn’t it time for the powers that be to understand and appreciate the severe limitations in this type of modeling. Hasn’t everyone learnt their lesson from Fergusson’s disastrous modeling re. Covid which led to the implementation of policies that were entirely non-productive and effectively destroyed a good deal of the Western economies.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Dr Roy Spencer explains the problem with climate models in a recent online presentation and discussion for the Friends of Science Society. The issue is that climate modellers assume that there is no natural climate variability and they tune the models to match the past climate changes. Then they introduce a sensitivity to CO2 and the temperatures increase. Another way of looking at this nonsense is that the alarmists believe that naturally occurring atmospheric CO2 has no effect on temperature and only the human released CO2 increases the temperature.
More fundamentally the alarmists ignore basic thermodynamics. There are only two ways in which temperatures of a system can be increased, by adding thermal energy or by doing work. The sun adds thermal energy and gravity does work by compressing the atmosphere. There is the energy lost from the system to consider, but this cannot increase the maximum temperature, it can only maintain temperatures for longer. This is where another fundamental error in thermodynamics is made which is not understanding how insulation works and by thinking of the greenhouse effect as insulation. Insulation does not increase temperatures, it reduces the rate of heat loss. If the atmosphere does act as insulation then it would not increase the maximum temperature but it would increase the average because the temperature would stay higher for longer. We do not see this effect, both are claimed to increase and the maximum can only increase if there is more incoming energy.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

There are some holes in your basic thermodynamics – not to mention basic common sense. It is very simple:
The sun keeps pouring in energy (gravity does not do any work as long as the atmosphere stays where it is). Energy runs out again through thermal radiation (infrared). As long as the CO2 level (insulation) is constant, the energy outflow matches the inflow and temperatures stay constant. If you increase insulation (CO2), energy runs out more slowly than before, and the temperature increases, increasing the thermal radiation until the energy outflow again matches the inflow. Back to a steady state – but at a higher temperature.

Some simpler examples:
If you put a greenouse around the rosebush, does the rosebush get warmer? Answer: yes. If you keep the furnace running and double the thickess of the house insulation, does the house get warmer?

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Crikey – sounds like you believe that heat (thermal energy) flows only one way, from warmer to cooler objects. That may be true in terms of Physics but it is heretical in the post modern era. Heat is a free being able to bypass known laws of thermodynamics, to change gender and to conspire with Haliburton, Trump and others to cook the earth like a jacket potato.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

Yes, because in climate science, the “missing heat” predicted by its models but nowhere to be found has in fact sunk into the oceans and continued to sink. The “missing heat” is deep below the surface, which remains cold. That’s why they can’t find it but it’s definitely there.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

It’s strange that the sea decided to do this recently when it hadn’t done this before!

Ray Pothecary
Ray Pothecary
2 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

@Mike Otter:
HaHaHa! Nice one!!

Last edited 2 years ago by Ray Pothecary
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You are wrong, gravity compresses the atmosphere and that is work. It is just like doing work by pumping up a bicycle tyre, which is more obvious. Work compresses the air and the temperature increases, just as gravity compresses the atmosphere and the result is the well-known lapse rate with temperatures falling with height. It is all covered by physics – the ideal gas law, PV = nRT.
You are also completely wrong about insultation. It cannot increase any temperature because it does not add thermal energy or do work. The atmosphere does not act as insulation for the earth. Insulation works by limiting convective heat loss and the atmosphere cools the earth by convection. If you think insulation increases temperatures, then try getting rid of your heating system and see what happens. If you think of a house with a traditional wood or coal fire, you are effectively claiming that the fire will burn at a higher temperature if the house is insulated, which is complete nonsense.
Your simple answers show that you do not understand thermodynamics or anything I have said. The house situation in most cases is complicated by the control systems, but you really should have understood by now that the reason for government campaigns to insulated homes is to reduce energy use. Look at the house in as a system with the temperature across the system being determined by the temperature at which the fuel burns in the heating system and the outside temperature. For the sake of this debate assume the outside temperature does not change, so there is no change in temperature across the system, but the insulation changes the temperature profile, and a lot of the temperature drop happens across the insulation, so the inner wall temperature will be warmer, and the room will feel more comfortable. The maximum temperature has not increased by adding insulation, which is the point that most people do not understand. I refer you to the coal fire example – insulation cannot make the fire burn at a higher temperature and this is why, even if the atmosphere did act as insulation, it could not increase the surface temperature. It could result in the surface being warmer for longer, but this is not what the climate alarmist claim. They claim the temperatures are increasing. You have to think through the house example, the adding more insulation changes the temperature distribution making the room warmer if there is no temperature control system, but the temperature across the system has not changed. Insulation only works when there is a source of heat. It cannot make a house without heating warmer, just as clothes cannot make a dead body warmer.
The greenhouse works by limiting the air inside mixing with the air outside and so it is a completely different issue.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe
  • For the earth there is a source of heat – it is the sunlight that comes in and is converted to heat when it is absorbed by the earth.
  • Who cares about ‘maximum temperature’? If you add insulation to a house the inner wall temperature and room temperature will increase; if you add greenhouse gases the average temperature of the earth surface and atmosphere will increase.
  • Wikipedia explains it all pretty well. As you say, real greenhouses work by a different mechanism (not by the ‘greenhouse effect’). A greenhouse reduces heat transfer by convection, whereas the greenhouse effect for planets reduce heat transfer by radiation. But the end result is the same – if the same sunlight is coming in and you reduce the transfer of heat away from the greenhouse/planet, the greenhouse/planet gets warmer.
  • You only get work done when you are changing things – like pumping a bicycle, as you say. Since the atmosphere is not changing, gravity does no work on it.

I doubt we will agree which one of us does not understand thermodynamics. Should we drop that and stick to discussing the facts? I would add that while it is perfectly plausible that I do not understand anything, it is a rather big claim that none of the world’s climate researchers understand elementary thermodynamics as well as you do.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

The gas law explains why the atmospheric temperature decreases with altitude.

Charlie Walker
Charlie Walker
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Ummm
 I really don’t want to stick my nose in here
 and I haven’t done physics since I failed my A level
. However the statement that Gravity is doing work assumes that gravity in some way needs energy. I’m not sure that gravity has ever been fully understood. Sure we all know what it does and can measure it, we know that one dense object attracts one of a lesser density (I think) but I think that gravity is a universal constant that exists without any known source of energy. If it doesn’t require energy, it cannot be doing work.
I could well have missed that lesson and that may be why I failed the exam!
I don’t require a detailed answer but if I am wrong just say “you’re wrong”!
as I say – apologies for butting in

Ian Morris
Ian Morris
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But what has been discovered is that over the history of the earth the increases in temperature have preceded increases in C02. This rather casts doubt on the current theory that C02 emissions are driving climate change. I’m no scientist but it seems entirely plausible that changes in solar activity or the earth’s orbit cause increase in temperature. As the oceans then warm more greenhouse gas ( predominantly water vapour and C02) is driven off into the atmosphere.

David Barnett
David Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

@Johann Strauss
Spot on.
It is not remotely possible to do a first principles global climate simulation, because of the vast range of scales (both temporal and spacial) that are needed to describe relevant physical processes.
The scale range problem must be finessed and the devil is in those details. It is very easy to tweak an adjustable parameter of a model to fit historical temperature data, but if your chosen “knob” (CO2) happens to parallel other things not included in the model rules, the chosen “knob” is going to be exaggerated in importance – “right” answer to the history for wrong reasons.
Human population has exploded by an order of magnitude in the last two centuries. It has doubled in the last 60 years alone. A human component to climate change seems plausible, but why explore only CO2 as the connection?
For example, the glaciers of Kilimanjaro have receded as farming has intensified on its slopes. Agriculture has a tendency to reduce the average albedo of the cultivated land (as anyone who has flown over the thermals generated by a ploughed field can attest).
Nor do the models reproduce the seasonal-lag data at all. I think this is important, because I don’t believe for a moment that the earth sheds heat into space uniformly throughout the year.
The modellers have all built essentially the same class of models, and they peer-review each other. Hardly surprising they all point the same way.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

A good reason for using CO2 and other greenhouse gases as a ‘knob’ is that it is basic physics – known and unchallenged for 150 years or so – that CO2 in the atmosphere keeps the planet warmer than it would otherwise have been, and that adding more of it will tend to warm the planet. How that plays out in secondary processes, additional warming beyond the straight physical effect etc. is indeed uncertain. But (inlike e.g. stockmarket forecasting) there is some solid scientific basis for at least the primary effect and the direction of change.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It’s the dishonesty and disingenuousness with which this “basic physics” claim is so often made that’s concerning.
Al Gore’s famous propaganda reel The Triumph of the Will A Convenient Untruth repeated the assertion that rising CO2 caused rising temperatures in the past. In fact, in the example he gave, the temperature rise happened 600 years before the CO2 rise, and caused it. Warming oceans release CO2 exactly like a glass of Coke goes flat faster in the sun than in the shade. This, too, is “basic physics – known and unchallenged for 150 years or so”; it’s called “outgassing”. Climate “scientists” knew this perfectly well but ignored it because it is off-message. They insisted in effect that wet streets caused rain, and were silent when it came to pointing out the helpful mistakes, misconceptions and untruths in Gore’s deeply dishonest film.
It’s therefore entirely plausible that the same thing is happening now. The usual ecomarxist response to this being pointed out is to shriek “heretic” and “you’re not a scientist”, neither of which refutes the point but simply seeks to prevent it being discussed at all.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Adding CO2 to the atmosphere causs less heat to escape the planet for any given temperature. Regardless of where the CO2 comes from. That fact does not depend on climate modeling or historical data, but in the basic physical properties of CO2 and electromagnetic radiation. How the complex system of the climate then reacts is indeed difficult to work out, but the starting point is that additional CO2 gives a push in the direction of warming.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The alternative starting point is that additional heat gives a push in the direction of more CO2.
Which is not being considered by climate “scientists” at all, because it’s heresy and removes their purpose.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

No. That is the whole point. The association between heating and CO2 does *not* come from fitting to historical data. The (first-order) effect of adding CO2 to the atmosphere can be calculated from the absorption and re-radiating of light by CO2, which is basic physics. You could reproduce the effect in a laboratory, setting up some kind of double-layered greenhouse-like arrangement, filling CO2 between the layers of the greenhouse, but that is not even necessary. Wikipedia says it quite clearly. Among other things, the greenhouse effect was first predicted by Joseph Fourier in 1824, and the first quantitative prediction of how much heating would occur if atmospheric CO2 doubled was made by Svante Arrhenius in 1896.

This is *exactly* where the models in science and medicine are superior to those in finance. Some of the important parameters in the model are known, reliably, independently of the model fitting. Some are not, of course, and there is still plenty of room for ignorance and chaos. But this one we do know. And, with respect, if you do not know that additional CO2 does cause (some) heating regardless of how you model the earth’s climate, people who do this full-time are not going to listen to any other arguments you might have.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Your version of basics physics is unknown to science. Radiation is not thermal energy; it is electromagnetic energy. Radiation only transfers as heat when the radiation is from a high temperature to a lower temperature. This is a fundamental law of thermodynamics and Wikipedia does at least get this correct. Radiation also transfers in any direction. It travels from the warm surface of the earth to the cooler atmosphere and causes heating, but the atmosphere is at a lower temperature. When the atmosphere radiates back to the surface it does not transfer heat. I suggest that you look up the work of Planck to understand this.
There is no greenhouse effect as described in Wikipedia and Arrhenius was wrong, so was John Tyndall who did experiments with various gases. Every modern version of his experiment has been rigged and could be classed as a magic act. The BBC did a version of the experiment with a glass tube and a candle. Look up Iain Stewart to find the video. The thermal camera he used to fake the effect was tuned to detect CO2 and of course it could not detect the temperature of the air in the tube before the CO2 was introduced.
There is also a well-known experiment carried out by Prof RW Wood to show that greenhouses do not get warmer because of trapped radiation. Prof Nasif Nahle repeated the experiment more recently and confirmed this to be true.
You of course do know that trapped radiation does not increase temperatures, because the contents of a thermos flask never increase temperature because of all the trapped radiation. Science is wonderful when you understand it.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

OK. You are saying that you know more about thermodynamics and understand better than not just all climate scientists, but most of the founders of the discipline over the last 150-200 years. I am not going to argue the point. You are entitled to your beliefs, as is anyone else who wants to share them. Let me just state, for the record, that I neither share nor respect them.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But it was only a prediction by Arrhenius – not experimental fact. I have tried to find any paper where the effect has been measured and failed so far. So i don’t believe this is ‘basic science’, just speculation.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

It does not show that there was anthropogenic warming back then, but then there was no visible anthropogenic warming back then. It does show that people understood already 130 years ago that increasing CO2 would (all other things being equal, etc. etc.) increase global temperatures. And that the calculation is simple enough and sure enough that it could be done in 1896. So when people today say that the greenhouse effect does not exist or that increased CO2 does not warm up the planet, it is fair to say that they are denying 150 years of basic science.

That does not necessarly mean that the current predictions or recommendations are correct, but it does mean that today’s climate models have at least some (though by no means all) of their inputs based on very solid science

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
David Barnett
David Barnett
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Adding CO2 makes no difference to total vertical heat transport at the surface, because this is dominated by convection in such a way as to preserve the temperature gradient.
“Greenhouse” gases are needed to provide the IR to shed heat into space, so adding CO2 can have a cooling effect at the tropopause. However, since UV heating from above reverses the temperature gradient in the stratosphere, the net flux of IR is downward at the centre of the CO2 resonance.
There is a lot more to be said about the role of “greenhouse” gases. Suffice it to say that the statement “Adding CO2 to the atmosphere caus[e]s less heat to escape the planet for any given temperature” is very far from being as manifestly true as you think.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

You mean GCSE physics

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But strangely, there appears to be no agreement on how much an increase in CO2 affects temperature. The climate models assumed it was 5C for a doubling of CO2 (based I think on a paper by Arrhenius in the 1890s which turned out to be a guess). But since the CO2 level has gone up, the temperature has not gone up according to this law. I believe the current guess is 1.5C for a doubling of CO2. My question is, if this is all ‘settled’ science, why does no-one know what it really is? Has anyone actually measured it?
The Science Guy tried to show that a CO2 rich atmosphere was warmer than a normal atmosphere using some jars, thermometers and a heat lamp. It turned out the result was bogus when someone reproduced the experiment!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Mike Smith

‘Science’ done for the cameras is always, in reality, showbiz. Can’t be helped.

As I understand it, the first order effect is clear enough – you can calculate the effect of more CO2 if nothing else changes. In real life lots of other things change. More water vapour in the atmosphere further increases the temperature. Increased melting of ice makes the earth darker and increases the temperature. Changes in weather patterns, cloud cover, vegetation, ocean currents, … could either increase or decrease heating. This is where you need a detailed understanding, things get immensely complex, and we do not really understand enough. So: simplified models, fitting to historical data, and the result is still nowhere near as good as we really need. There is definitely a lot of uncertainty in that modeling. But it is sort of relevant that we have said for a hundred+ years that more CO2 would heat up the planet, we measure more CO2, and we see the planet warming.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  David Barnett

For year the rumor persisted that smoking was bad for your health despite the mountains of scientific evidence produced by the tobacco industry to the effect that tobacco was the healthiest substance known to man.
Why did people persist in believing that smoking was bad for health and despite the scientific evidence. Could be anything to do with the fact that the scientists concerned were all in the pay of the climate change industry

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Chivers is as “science journalists” in the same way as writers in Nature, No Scientist etc. He needs to study the work of Paul Foot or Garry Bushell, or quit altogether and give his sinecure to someone more worthy.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

SO, if something is hard to forecast, is your solution to stop trying and ignore possible consequences? The consequences of a nuclear world war are surely impossible to forecast in any detail – but I would not see that as a good argument for nuking China and to hell with what happens next.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Exactly wrong. Literally 180° wrong. It’s the ecomarxists who want to nuke China just in case China wants to nuke us. The sceptics suggest that as there’s no evidence China wants to nuke us we shouldn’t be wasting resources on nuking or being able to nuke China.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think you miss the point. Incorrect forecasting and then acting on incorrect forecasting can be and usually is very detrimental, especially if it involves massive upheaval in our means of energy production. It is only especially unhelpful Government mandated adoption of technologies that re simply not ready for prime time impedes the development of new and vastly better technologies.
The fact is that none of us are going to be alive in 100 years. And the fact is that nobody has any idea what new technologies are going to come to the fore in 100 years. Just as a 100 years ago it would be very difficult if not impossible to have predicted the technologies currently available to us in 2021.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Acting on incorrect forecasting is certainly a risk, but so is wilful blindness. You do the best you can with the data you have, and try not to overestimate how reliable your conclusions are. You do not dismiss predictions out of hand just because they are not perfect and you do not like the conclusions.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Sorry but that’s nonsense. What you do is you look at the experimental (i.e. measurable facts). Somebody makes a prediction or develops a theory. If the theory and predictions don’t match experiments observation you throw it out. Don’t believe me, but at least believe Richard Feynman on this, one of the greatest theoretical physicists of all time, and certainly of the 20th century.

Here’s the thing. The actual measurements done correctly from the NOAA reference temperature stations setup in 2005 show there has been NO increase in average temperature in the 50 states of the US from 2005 to the present. Yet Co2 levels, as per NASA have increased linearly during the time period. When one parameter is a flat lie and the other is a straight line with a very significant slope, I would say there is no correlation between the two.
If we were going to fry, then we’d have an urgent problem on our hands, and it would be time to consider geo-engineering (e.g. throwing up reflective particles in the sky to reduce temperature that way – and a very effective method since this was done naturally in the 19th century after Krakatoa erupted). But right now there is absolutely zero problem. If anything the small degree of warming that has occurred in the last 150 years (only around 1 degree centigrade) as well as the increased levels of CO2 has been beneficial in terms of increased crops etc….
If one is going to do things that will have a multi-trillion dollar effect on the world economies one had better be damn sure that one is 100% correct. Otherwise you are going to basically throw a whole lot of money that could have been out to much better use down the drain.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

So, if you select the measurement, the time period, and the way of calculating the data, you can find at least one case that does not fit the theory of global warming. My guess would be that almost all scientific theories could be ‘disproved’ by that standard. Just like most drugs would have at least one clinical trial that did not show any effect. It takes more than one heavy smoker who lives till a hundred years of age to prove that tobacco is harmless. In real life you get neither perfect predictions not perfect results – which is why you bring in all the different data, all the predictions, all the alternative theories, prior science, estimates of uncertainty, and sum up what probability you have for or against each alternative. If you do it the other way, it sounds like you have a highly idealised idea of how science works – or, alternatively, your own reasons to favour a particular conclusion.

We certainly need to look at the correct data. But just like you would want to be 100% certain you were right before you did something that would cost multiple trillions of dollars, you would also want to be 100% certain you were right before you did something (like continuing as we are) that might cause an ecological catastrophe over the next 50 years. 100% certainty is not available. The best we can do is to weigh up the probabilities as best we can, and then see what we want to do.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

So, if you select the measurement, the time period, and the way of calculating the data, you can find at least one case that does not fit the theory of global warming

The measurement here is the average US temperature. The USA is very big. This seems like a fair measurement to use to judge this theory.
The time period here is a period of over 15 years. That is plenty of data over which a trend should be visible. The start date is chosen to coincide with the launch of a new network of weather stations that are designed to be as high quality as possible, so this is a reasonable choice: it’s clearly not a case of trying to chop a graph to make it look different.
The way of calculating the data is irrelevant here because there is no calculation, just a plot of what (a part of) the US government says the temperature actually is.
This objection doesn’t seem very strong. How else should global warming predictions be tested against reality, except by looking at actual graphs of temperature?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Hum. Pascal’s wager was Pascal’s business. But we are looking at a 30 year long terror campaign, everything from the Met office asserting that higher temperatures will bring back malaria to Europe (Oliver Cromwell in the Little Ice Age, anyone) to the idea that Britains industrial revolution in 1780 is responsible for global warming now, Noone explains how it is that the 1930s was a warm decade, indeed, 1910 to 1939 was warm, despite industry world wide during the Depression closing down, while the 1940s, with full industrial production, was bitterly cold (2 million Germans died in 1946-48 from the cold).. The saints in East Anglia managed to do away with climate variability with the help of Michael Mann, while Monbiot accused anyone writing the history of climate variability over the last 2000 years as a shill for the oil companies ( see his review of Ian Plimlot’s book). Belief in AGW has so far led to catastrophic decisions, and the failure of the 100s of billions spent on averting AGW since 1990 to make any difference at all. Only disaster has been the result so far of the hysterical claims of the non- deniers.

Iris C
Iris C
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But are the predictions being manipulated? It seems that the CSSR compares the ratio of exgtreme high temperatures to extreme low temperature but does that really tell much. For example, in the UK heat is the statistic recorded at Heathrow – in the south of England and in an area surrounded by houses and tarmac – and col at Tomn’Toull, the hjighest village in Scotland which is so deep in snow it is cut off for much of the winter.
We had mild weather this last summer but little sunshine and it was very dry while there was extreeme flooding across the water.
How are these differences within a measurable distance reconciled in statistics?.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I feel that’s a bit unfair to Tom. Reading the arguments of people who disagree, thinking about them carefully and weighing up debate is a large part of critical thinking, and he does all those things in this article. Just because he hasn’t arrived at the same conclusions as you (yet?) doesn’t make it not critical thinking.
Moreover, the social factors that apply to scientists apply to journalists as well. Do you think it’s easy for Chivers to talk about climatology and criticize climatologists so directly? He basically says none of their reviews of the book even meet basic standards of coherence, let alone being convincing. There aren’t many media outlets that would pay for such journalism, regardless of the truth.
Beyond your criticism of the author I feel all your points are well made.
For me, what really shook my belief in climatology to the core was the discovery that the temperature record itself is the output of modelling. Yes, you read that right. Not merely predictions about the future or truly ancient temperatures come out of models. Temperatures recorded by thermometer, in Europe and the USA, in the past 100 years or even just the past decade, are also the output of models. Although the raw data is given as an input the models proceed to heavily modify it; the outputs are then presented as “the history of temperature” without making it obvious what’s happened.
One of the consequences of this is that temperature time series often have multiple “versions”, reflecting the fact that the model software evolves over time. These new versions invariably seem to create warming when the prior versions didn’t show it. This has been going on for decades. They have a variety of justifications, all of which sound plausible on first glance, some of which seem less plausible on deeper analysis.
But. At school I was taught in no uncertain terms that in science you are not allowed to edit your raw data. All the marks for science assignments were allocated to the methodological correctness, and if you did an experiment and the data didn’t line up with the theory but what you did followed the rules, you wouldn’t be marked down (of course, in practice, if you failed to replicate a simple and famous experiment you probably did make a mistake somewhere so the distinction rarely mattered).
This was their way of teaching us that the rules are there for a reason, and that scientists aren’t allowed to tamper with their data post-facto. That’s taboo. Except, not in climatology. The risks are obvious: climatologists only really have one theory, so data that shows temperatures not going up undermines the entire community. Once the Rubicon has been crossed and model outputs are being substituted for real data, it’s very easy for people to try lots of different ways to “fix” errors in the data and then select only the ones that line up with what everyone knows “should” be happening. Over time this process keeps repeating until the theories become unfalsifiable.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

You are absolutely spot on. The manipulation of the raw data is more than problematic as it means that the data are basically corrupted. As a practicing experimental scientist, I can say that I always tell my postdocs when the data might need endless corrections that the data are worthless, and it’s far safer and smarter to redesign the experiment so as not to need post-facto corrections that are always going to be affected by conformation bias to deliver the answer one would like to see.
The interesting thing is that since 2004 NOAA introduced a reference temperature data set collection for the continental US and Alaska (not sure whether Hawaii is included) where the temperature data stations have been properly placed and measurements taken with great care, ensuring for example, that they are not impacted by trivial things like black top and population centers. The results are very interesting: https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/temp-and-precip/national-temperature-index/time-series?datasets%5B%5D=uscrn&parameter=anom-tavg&time_scale=p12&begyear=2004&endyear=2019&month=12, as anybody can check from the link and plots there has been NO rise in temperature in the US since the reference data set was started in 2004. And interestingly over this same period (2004-2021) CO2 has increased linearly as per NASA (https://climate.nasa.gov/vital-signs/carbon-dioxide/); i.e. there is no correlation between atmospheric CO2 and average temperature for the US.
As for sea level rises, there are two ways you can increase sea levels: (i) increase the amount of water, presumably from melting of fresh water glaciers (melting of sea water ice would actually reduce sea levels since ice occupies more volume than liquid water); and (ii) raising the level of the ocean floor. Both factors are operative which is why there is a lot of variation in sea level rise from location to location. For example if you look at the sea level at Fort Denison 1 and 2 in Australia since 1890, sea level (as per NOAA) has risen linearly since records began in 1890 by a measly 0.65±0.10 mm per year (that’s millimeters, not centimeters); that’s 6.5 cm in 100 years!! https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends_global_station.shtml?stnid=680-140

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

Norman: you’re spot on. A few years ago, on the now-defunct Bishop Hill blog, one poster noted the failure of the predicted warming to eventuate would surely cause the alarmists some difficulty. Another replied, Not at all; it just means the past is going to have to get colder.
We have of course seen exactly this, with the examples you give and also of course climate “scientist” Jonathan Overpeck’s infamous “we have to get rid of the Mediaeval Warm Period”.
The latter is a particular problem that ecomarxists usually deal with by asserting that it only occurred in England. Recent finds of dead wildlife miles inland in Antarctica dating from 1,000 years ago show it was in fact global.
The hysterical tone of climate alarmism stems, I think, from the knowledge that they’re in a race against time to get the damage into place before the “science” visibly falls apart.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

For some reason my reply is still waiting approval as it contained various links to NOAA and NASA web sites. But when the post eventually appears the bottom line is the following:
Per NOAA: No rise in average temperature in the 50 US states since 2005 following the implementation of the reference temperature stations by NOAA to ensure that temperatures are actually measured accurately and not messed up by incorrect location etc..
Per NASA: CO2 has risen linearly over that same time period indicating no correlation between atmospheric CO2 and temperature.
Per NOAA: sea level rise since 1890 at Fort Denison 1 and 2 in Australia has been 0.65 mm per year and completely linear. i.e. sea level rise varies from location to location because it depends not just on the amount of water but on the level of seabed which can also rise.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

I look forward to seeing your post when it makes it through the spam traps.
The most shocking example I saw is the graphs of temperature data that have been visibly altered in the last 10 years.
When I first learned this was happening I searched for explanations by climatologists, to learn what their reasons were. Many of the modifications turned out to be justified with the belief that in the old days people didn’t know how to accurately take temperature readings, e.g. the “time of observation bias” adjustments. It sounded a bit odd to me because a min/max thermometer isn’t a complex instrument, but still, they had some arguments that people weren’t reading the thermometers right and hence the data needed adjustment. Well, OK.
But when I discovered that they’re adjusting data collected very recently, my confidence in it all evaporated completely. If we cannot even accurately measure global temperature in the first place, even in a year as advanced as the 2010s, then all claims about the climate must go out the window. That’s the most basic first step!
Tony Heller’s blog has an example of this happening in Texas. In 2012 someone writing a climate sceptics blog took and posted a screenshot of graphs from NOAA showing temperatures in Texas between 1900 and 2010, with no warming trend. The same query against the NOAA database in 2021 for the same years shows a clear warming trend of 0.1F/decade. The data has been altered in the last 10 years, meaning climatologists must believe all calculations based on the previous data were incorrect, which in turn raises serious questions about all projections based on the prior incorrect data.
I’d really like Tom to dig into this problem at some point but I don’t know if he ever will.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

The idea of historical global temperature data sets was laughable from the start. Across almost the entire globe there are vast areas where no one ever recorded the temperature; not even once. That is, until the advent of satelites, 30-odd years ago. And 30 years is not significant if your trying to predict climate change.

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Your comments on Fergusson and Covid (and I assume you mean “unproductive” not “productive” is an example of a logical argument I would call “modus dumbass”
It goes roughly as follows
If we do not do X the Y will happen and Y isn’t very nice
We do X
Y does not happen
Modus Dumbass then claims “that shows we didn’t need to do X as Y hasn’t happened.
There is a lot of Modus Dumbass about.
The “Greenhouse Effect” was, in fact demonstrated in laboratory in the 1890s I learned in in A level physics in 1968. Clearly what effect this increase in temperatures might have depends on how good information might have been on, for example ocean temperatures in the year 1900 and how various countervailing forces might also come into play. But we should bare in mind the difference between stable and unstable equilibria. A marble in a saucer is in stable equilibrium, push it one direction and it returns; a marble on an upturned saucer is in unstable equilibrium, push it too far and it rolls off.
We cannot know for certain whether the rise in heat capture by the atmosphere is stable or unstable at this point. However, as there are perfectly plausible ways to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels drastically (and in the process get away from the repugnant regimes which dominate the market) there is no sound reason not to do so.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Yes and no. You’ve missed a couple of key points. For sure CO2 is a greenhouse gas but it is only 0.04% of the atmosphere. Water vapor (around 5%) is also a green hose gas and a much stronger green house gas than CO2. So it sort of strains credulity that CO2 which is 2 orders of magnitude less abundant than water, and is at least an order of magnitude less powerful as a green house gas than water, could have such a profound effect. Well of course in models it can because there is a sensitivity/forcing factor introduced with positive feedback between CO2 and water vapor.
The issue relating to fossil fuels is also more complex than one might think. First, energy is required to live decently and the increase in energy availability has dramatically improved peoples’ lives and well being. Second, mandating the introduction of so-called renewables (solar and wind) that are nowhere close to ready for prime time, cannot produce continuous energy for obvious reasons, and are not carbon neutral (given that one still has to make the solar panels and windmills, involving a lot of mining of rare earths in nasty parts of the world), is perhaps not the smartest thing to do. Much better to let the markets decide. The analogy would be desktop and labtop computers. When these first came out they were large (especially the latter), clunky and not particularly useful. But some people started using them and eventually we ended up with what we have today, where an iPhone has more computer power than a mainframe in the 1970s. Had the adoption of labtops and desktops been mandated by government, the technology would likely have been stuck at the level they reached in the late 80s. The same is true of electric cars. Right now, the electric car is pretty useless in practical terms. It’s OK for short drives and it’s OK as long as the adoption is at a low level. But when it takes 20 min to charge and the range is perhaps only 400 miles when brand new, it’s simply not practical for any long trips. However, if instead of charging one was able to just swap the battery automatically in the space of 5 min, the landscape would be completely altered, and widespread adoption would occur.

Last edited 2 years ago by Johann Strauss
Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

It would be quite difficult to reduce the emission of water vapour into the atmosphere but we can do it with Carbon gasses. The market will decide, but it will decide to go for the cheapest and most profitable options rather than the long-term good. Markets might have been able to take a 100 year view of things in the 19th Century but they don’t now.

Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Recall that CO2 hangs around for a very long time. Also recall that messing up with the economies of the West and mandating technologies that are not ready for prime time is likely to be very counterproductive.
Right now, the hysteria related to global warming is largely based on models that are simply not correct and more verifiable. The fact is that a 1 C raise in average global temperature over the last 100 years is not exactly a large amount, and if anything the effect has been beneficial. Cold is vastly more dangerous and lethal than heat.
As for modus dumbass, the COVID modeling should tell you just how wrong modeling can be, and more importantly how one can be lead down the garden path by assuming that flawed models reflect reality rather than simply provide a quantitative picture (based on a number of fixed assumptions) but which can be off quantitatively by many orders of magnitude. In the case of COVID, the models produced by Fergusson were way off base, were always off base to any thinking person, but resulted in disastrous public policies that have probably only prolonged the agony. To wit, just compare the draconian measures put in place in the UK versus the very lax ones in Sweden, and ask yourself who came out of this better. Did we overreact and the answer is yes.
Exactly the same is true of climate. It is critical not to overreact. Indeed, by overreacting we are being entirely counterproductive because we are hindering new research and developments. And if only because wasting huge amounts of money for highly flawed green policies means there is less money for other things (including research on health and for that matter climate).
And lastly, it should be self-evident that it reflect considerable hubris on the part of humans to believe they can control the global climate. What one can do, however, is be good stewards of the environment.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

The most effective thing we can do now is to make electricity cheap and bountiful. Reductions in the unit cost of electricity would transform consumer energy preferences – the green lobby would claim renewables do this, so why aren’t electricity prices falling?
At least the government should reduce electricity taxes so it is used more, instead of just raising fossil fuel taxes to the detriment of those in energy poverty struggling to pay for heating.

Stephanie Surface
Stephanie Surface
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

Humanity is only responsible for 3% of the 0.04% (0.0012%). We are even getting into smaller numbers, if just Europe is able to reduce some of its CO2. India and China will still increase their output for decades. Also I very much doubt that the US will achieve real reduction, unless there is a huge break through of new technology in the next decades. All the so-called new green Energy sources aren‘t green. Production of these energy sources produce nearly as much CO2 through intensiv mining.They are also bad for the environment as all the plastics and chemicals need to be recycled. There is a very good video on YouTube by the mechanical engineering and physics Professor Mark Mills called “Magical Thinking”. It puts all of the pie in the sky thinking into perspective.

Last edited 2 years ago by Stephanie Surface
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Good point that current green energy has its drawbacks, and that a market-based solution might work better than a government-imposed one. All you need is the right incentives. For computers each individual is willing to pay more for a better computer. For greenhouse gases, few individuals are willing to pay more to produce less carbon, when 1) it is useless if nobody else follows suit, 2) he can free-ride on the others if they all cut their emissions. If you want the market to find the best way to cut emissoiis, an obvious solution would be a global carbon tax. Would you agree?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Richard Slack

You display quite a bit of modus dumbass yourself Richard.
Nobody argues against the laboratory experiment. The claim that anyone does is a strawman argument, frequently wheeled out by groupthink upholders because they think in demolishing it they are defeating sceptics.
The actual sceptical argument is that the earth’s atmosphere isn’t a laboratory experiment with one variable. We don’t know how much CO2 we produce, there’s no observed correlation between supposed human CO2 outputs and atmospheric CO2, we don’t know what the temperature was in the distant past, those who claim to know have a documented history of dishonesty, and where there are reliable recent measured records, they show that temperatures have risen without significant industrialisation and fallen with it.
Your assumption that we need to “get away from the repugnant regimes which dominate the market” not only fails to consider whether in so doing we might be delivering ourselves into the hands of different repugnant regimes – western ecomarxists, for example – but it also overlooks whether there are any other downsides to this course. For example, what are the social costs of making private transport and home heating impossibly expensive? What are the costs of the surefire environmental, noise and other pollution caused by nonsensical eyesore technology such as windfarms and heat pumps, and so forth, versus doing nothing?
Your assumption also does not recognise that less decadent economies than the west will remain reliant on such fuels for the foreseeable future and will therefore become increasingly enmeshed economically and politically with “repugnat regimes”. That’s all OK, is it? No risks there? Further Chinese colonisation of Africa all good?

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

We do know that atmospheric CO2 must have been very much higher in the very distant past e.g. 500 Million years ago because the coal seams and oil deposits are made from carbon captured from the atmoshere by plants. The CO2 levels started falling when plants evolved and the CO2 levels fell accordingly.

michael stanwick
michael stanwick
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Further, when the models can’t even reproduce the past,…
I am not quite sure I understand this point. The interesting component in this is how the scientific method operates – what are the concepts derived from past observations, and how are they used, in order to begin to paint a picture of past climates or paleoclimates. For example, thinking back to my studies at Uni (way back in the day), I recall the use of oxygen isotopic evidence garnered from foraminifera found in oceanic floor core samples. The isotopic variation analysis produced a record of oceanic temperature changes across a period of time. Other evidence from isotope ratios of both carbon and hydrogen can also be used.
A very brief and readable account of this process can be found here
https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/features/Paleoclimatology_OxygenBalance
and in this more complex paper that has a very good analysis of the development of paeleoclimatology (I wouldn’t read the entire paper but you can dip into it to pick out the salient points)
https://orca.cardiff.ac.uk/41988/1/Pearson%202012%20Oxygen%20isotope%20review.pdf

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

A strange but unfortunately all too typical response to a very fair minded article looking at the best evidence and arguments on both sides. You of course suffer from no confirmation bias at all!

Modelling is like tarot cards or fortune telling? – this ridiculous statement undermines anything else you have to say on the subject. Of course modelling has its limitations since a fully specified model of the real world could only be the real world itself. And some of the Covid models have been pretty on the ball; they are disputed most vociferously by those who seem to almost or actually deny that covid is a very infectious disease.

I’m with the IPCC on this issue, rather than a random group of Unherd contributors.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrew Fisher
Johann Strauss
Johann Strauss
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Fisher

If you were with the IPCC you would actually agree with everything in Steven Koonin’s book which comes direct out of the information in the detailed IPCC reports, as opposed to the summaries which distort and misrepresent he real contents that are then further misrepresented by clueless politicians and activists.

Joe Wein
Joe Wein
2 years ago
Reply to  Johann Strauss

Johann-
I was going to write a note that the correct term is “confirmation bias” but then I realized that “conformation bias” is a deliciously insightful mistake. Bravo.

John Bassett
John Bassett
2 years ago

A particularly sad thing about all of the predictions of immanent apocalyptic climate change is that, while many of the adults know that they are overstating the facts for political gains, the young do not understand this at all. I had one ten-year-old student this year who was quite frank that he saw no reason to go on living when the future he was going to live in was so horrible. I tried to flag this with his parents, but they were so obsessed by their hated of the orange man that they dismissed my concerns. Yet I would not be surprised if this young child’s life did not go terribly wrong fairly soon.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  John Bassett

The tragedy here is that there is a failure of education in two ways, first the teaching of climate alarmism, rather than physics, and secondly, the failure to teach rational thinking. We cannot be experts in everything but we must question everything, no matter who says it. We must have evidence for everything we accept. There is no empirical evidence from past assessments of the Earth’s temperature and it is impossible to carry out any experiments on the atmosphere to measure changes in temperature as a result of changing CO2. The same applies to mask wearing – there is no evidence to show that they stop the spread of viruses.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

There is no gold standard evidence (double-blind, randomised trials) to prove that jumping out of aeroplanes is much safer if you first put on a parachute. Which conclusions would you draw from this blatant lack of evidence?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

How would you reorder the world to save the planet?

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

Come on, in recent millenia there is the evidence of agriculture and tree lines. 8000 years ago deciduous trees gree in Sweden. In 1300, corn was grown on the Yorkshire hills. In 250 AD , wine grapes grew in Scotland. Ice cores contain CO2, which disconcerted by showing that CO2 concentrations postdated temperature changed. Did I misunderstand your comment?

Richard Slack
Richard Slack
2 years ago
Reply to  John Bassett

I have spoken to many young people 30-50 years younger than me (I am 69) and I find them rather more rational than you seem to think. They are also aware that if Global Warming is going to produce serious changes to the natural environment then it will be them that are on the front line not me. I am quite certain that your 10 year old you refer to has a rather more urgent approach to the issue that you and I would rather urgency than apathy.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Tom’s science articles always start out quite reasonably but at some point he always has to jump the shark to justify continuing to hold his left-wing opinions in the face of the actual data and logic. The entertainment consists in seeing when that point comes. In this article it’s here:

climate change models are uncertain….So they could easily be erring on the side of optimism.

which is of course utter, utter nonsense. The entire tone and point of climate alarmism is, well, alarmism. Who would ever get funded to produce climate “science” that said Hey, things might be better than we think? You’d lose your career if you did that. It is all about making up the worst-case scenario, pushing that, and arguing that it’s all worse than we thought.
Why is this so? Because climate “science” has been completely penetrated by ecofascist activists, to the point where all the science is junk and all the rational expositions of why it’s junk are howled down. The argument against Koonin is not that he’s wrong but that he’s a heretic who’s not fit to be heard.
This is why flagrantly nonsensical and already-debunked predictions of climate “science”, such as 50 million climate refugees by 2010, all the Himalayan glaciers gone by 2035, and children won’t know what snow is, never result in any loss of credibility for the maker of the prediction. They lied, and they knew they were lying, but they lied for the left, so that’s OK.
The ultimate agenda behind ecofascism is the green goal of reducing the human population by about 97%, which means centuries of perpetual recession and a return in quality of life to that of the Renaissance, without the intellectual freedom. The leftist fellow-travellers with it who don’t get this, and who simply think it’s a great opportunity to take down ExxonMobil, are the most idiotic useful idiots in history.

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

I am naturally sceptical when certain people and organisations climb so noisily onto a bandwagon. There have been large changes in the planet’s weather in the past, it is immensely complicated, and no one can ever point to a single event such as rainfall or temperature as proof of global warming.
It is nevertheless possible that the climate might change suddenly and catastrophically for the worst, because something may become unstable, and flip. For example, the Humboldt current is subject to the phenomenon of El Niño, and I don’t believe we know why. This has probably happened in the past.
I object to school children being indoctrinated. The proper thing to do is to teach them scientific method, and I mean all. Along the way, they should become familiar with statistics and probability.

Last edited 2 years ago by Colin Elliott
Trevor Law
Trevor Law
2 years ago

It will come at some cost, but hopefully not too high, because green technology is getting so cheap and effective these days.” If this were true, the Government wouldn’t need to ban ICE vehicles and gas boilers. It is not at all clear to me that the economic and human costs of implementing green technologies will not prove far greater than the potential damage caused by any future warming (man made or not). And that’s quite apart from the fact that the models are chimerical. They don’t (and indeed can’t), prove anything (have you ever wondered why nobody has tried to build a model of the human body?)

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Law

Proof that if you repeat a lie often enough people will believe it, and the bigger the lie the more acceptable it becomes.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Law

What is usually invoked here is something called “the precautionary principle”. This is something with which we’re all assumed to be familiar and bought into, and which we are meant to assume is a long-standing keystone of rational thinking, but which Google NGrams shows only started to be used in the mid-1980s.
The problem with it is that nobody who advocates completely wrecking the economy just in case, because the precautionary principle, can ever explain why the precautionary principle should not be applied to the precautionary principle itself.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Or why parachutes aren’t compulsory wear for civilian air passengers. At least we know parachutes work.
The highly-promoted, acceptable remedies for climate change all have one thing in common: they’re not fit for purpose.

Mike Wylde
Mike Wylde
2 years ago
Reply to  Trevor Law

Human kind has built models of the human body from time immemorial, these start as tiny, single input (maybe double input) models and gradually get more complex for the next 9 months before a measurement is taken. The model then continues having inputs added for the next 80 or 90 years until the model colapses of exhaustion (or too many inputs).
The difficulty is that all these models give different results, some differences being monor but others major and hence the results cannot be predicted.

Christopher Gelber
Christopher Gelber
2 years ago

I have noticed for several years now how any challenge to the “climate change” mob always contains a bit which says something like “Hey, I too think it’s a real problem, but …”. Well I for one don’t. I’m not a flat-earther, and agree we landed on the Moon in 1969, but “man-made climate change” is nothing less than a secular religion. It has its symbols (Mann’s hockey stick) and saints (Thunberg). The hockey stick is now pretty well universally acknowledged to be an arrant fraud. But it served a symbolic purpose. Thunberg is a schoolgirl who does not think like an adult and knows very little about anything. But she too serves a purpose. Every single AGW model has failed, and every single AGW prediction capable of being assessed has proved false. That is why all such predictions now lie in the realm of multi-decades, thus rendering them unfalsifiable within all our lifetimes. I am old enough to remember when any weather event which didn’t meet AGW expectations was scoffed at with the response “There’s a difference between weather and climate, duh!” That has now fallen away, as it has become convenient to blame any unexpected or unfortunate weather event as yet more evidence of their preferred cause. AGW/CC is by a wide margin the most grotesque scam in history.
Any argument that the science is settled is a lie, as too has always been the “97% of scientists agree” claim. Check out a fairly short (300pp, give or take) book published in 2015 called “Climate Change: The Facts”, containing essays by a dozen and a half credentialed scientists, including a man called Christopher Essex who, in a 10-page contribution, rhetorically asks who is qualified to decide who is qualified if we are to accept the argument from authority, and says we all really need to be thinking about this for ourselves. Who is Mr Essex? Oh, only the then-Chair of the Permanent Monitoring Panel on Climate of the World Federation of Scientists, among other things.

Last edited 2 years ago by Christopher Gelber
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago

Perhaps climate scientists and their supporting media would enjoy more public confidence if they were swifter to correct the more fantastical alarmist scenarios rather than remaining mute and searching for “deniers”.

Saul D
Saul D
2 years ago

The key tell for catastrophic climate change over climate change (we’ve had about 1.3C of warming already since 1900) is rising sea levels.
Currently sea levels are rising at around 3cm a decade and have been for a long time, so it is a manageable change – 24-26cm by 2100. Catastrophic climate change expects sea level to rise by 1-4 metres by 2100. To do this there needs to be a massive acceleration in the rate – a minimum 3 fold increase – so a big and easily observable change. This then is the key tell.
Catastrophic climate change has been predicting the 1m+ theory for 20 years. We haven’t yet seen the step change in sea level rise. We need to keep observing, but climate model worst case scenarios have a history of being overly pessimistic.
The fixation on renewables is also slowing our time to action to decarbonise (and you have the stupid German decision to decommission functioning nuclear generators). At the scale required to go carbon free, requiring 4-5x current electric generation, nuclear power is about the only realistic option – but we keep delaying by focusing on ‘small’ solutions like windmills.

Norman Powers
Norman Powers
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

One problem with sea level rise data is that the data sets from tide gauges and satellites are both internally consistent but not with each other. Satellite data shows approx double the rate of sea level rise than tide gauges.
At some point in the early 90s the way sea levels were measured officially switched from tide gauge to satellite, and this created an apparent “increase in rate” that was never controlled for. Instead it became reported as a huge increase in rate during the 20th century.
Trying to measure sea level from space to within the span of a few millimeters is obviously a very difficult problem. It’s unclear to me why the more complex system was adopted vs simpler tide gauges, especially when they disagreed so badly. In engineering you normally try and keep things as simple as possible.

Last edited 2 years ago by Norman Powers
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Norman Powers

It’s unclear to me why the more complex system was adopted vs simpler tide gauges

Tide gauge data are probably harder to fiddle. Climate science requires that all the data be fiddled to support its pre-determined conclusions, so if a data source can’t easily be fiddled, it can’t be relied on.

Last edited 2 years ago by Jon Redman
Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Pretty much anyone living near a sea inlet can run a tide gauge. Far too democratic.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
2 years ago
Reply to  Saul D

The fact that the tide gauges also shows a linear trend show what a lie ‘accelerating sea level rise’ really is.

Jonathan Weil
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago

The central argument boils down to, “despite the fact that climate models predict not very much happening either way, we should prepare for a catastrophe, because they might be wrong.”

Relying on the assumption that the models may be worthless seems a novel starting point for advocating multi-trillion-dollar investments. The question is, if the models are as worthless as all that, why should we prioritise climate catastrophe (now being posited more or less as a guess) over anything else? We know that indoor air pollution is the world’s number one killer right now. We know that pandemics can be, er, not much fun. We know we are due a coronal mass ejection event that would likely bring modern industrialised society to its knees (and prevention of which would be orders of magnitude cheaper than net zero by 2050/35/whenever it’s meant to be now; oh, and it would actually achieve its stated goal too!) We know, for that matter, that there are things whizzing around our skies right now that display abilities millennia ahead of current technology.

If we had unlimited time and money, we could tackle everything all at once. But we don’t, and I can’t see the rationale for prioritising the prevention of something that our best guesses tells us won’t even happen, over a whole bunch of other things that are either happening right now or very likely verging on certain to happen in the near future.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Jonathan Weil

Exactly Jonathan.

why should we prioritise climate catastrophe (now being posited more or less as a guess) over anything else? 

There have been several planet-altering asteroid impacts in the past. the one that took out the dinosaurs was just the most recent but others preceded it. Another will happen, it’s just a question of when and how big. And there are no upsides to them, unlike a gradual pleasant warming of the climate. So why aren’t we building concrete canopies a mile thick over every city, and sea walls 500 feet high along every coast?

we are due a coronal mass ejection event that would likely bring modern industrialised society to its knees

which will be made massively worse by the forced total reliance on electricity.

mike otter
mike otter
2 years ago

Come on Chivers, pick up the pace! – No science is “settled”, that’s rather the point. Science progresses from paradigm to paradigm via test, refutation and new paradigm development. When an issue becomes “settled” it exits science ( ie conjecture and refutation ) and becomes “technology”. So when Messrs Young, Macauley etc established the bend and shear characteristics of steel they were doing science, albeit extending the works of Klebsch, Riccati & Bernoulli. Now when we design a bus, or a bridge or a balcony we use these methods, but as technologists, not scientists. This is very important because bad science – ie untested or unfalsified theories about warming made by communist activists, is not science, or technology, it is ideology. So it cannot be tested and allows anti science AND anti-technology players to leverage the credibility or scientific methods to do bad things: Eg Lysenko and Stalin’s purges, Boris Johnson and his Covid games, Josep Mengele and, well, lets just say Reign in Blood side 1 track 1.

Last edited 2 years ago by mike otter
Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  mike otter

Science progresses from paradigm to paradigm via test, refutation and new paradigm development.

A common view but, I think, wrong. Science proceeds via Bayesian reasoning, probability judgements based on evidence. If you do it properly there is nothing unscientific in making judgements in areas with few data and unsettled theories – you just get middling-low probabilities on your conclusions, which you need to take into account.

Jon Hawksley
Jon Hawksley
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I think it is a mix – at times science does get stuck until there is a paradigm change and it does progress by refining the evidence. The problem in getting people to understand science is their need to see it for themselves. This is particularly true in extrapolations. It is compounded by any dislike for the consequent recommendations. The emotion distorts the arguement and it is difficult to know how to bring the discussion back to weighing the evidence in a rational way. This articlle was a useful contribution on how sceptics should not be silenced but should be questioned, however the commentary has gone somewhere else. I admire your persistence, which is what UnHerd should be all about, keep it up.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Hawksley

I think it is a mix – at times science does get stuck until there is a paradigm change and it does progress by refining the evidence.

Agreed. Since theories have to fit with neighbouring theories, auxiliary hypotheses, etc. you do risk getting stuck once everything fits, and any individual change would be a mismatch to the rest.

I find it fun to compare science to the optimisation technique of simulated annealing. The key point to both is that you need to explore solutions that seem clearly worse than what you have at the moment – in order to get away from a false optimum towards what might be a better one – but that you still need to be biased against bad solutions. The worse the solution and the more secure the starting point, the more biased you should be, in order to avoid spending most of your time exploring ideas that will never lead anywhere. Simulated annealing, as it happens, is one of the most powerful optimisation techniques known.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
John Riordan
John Riordan
2 years ago

“On Point Two, I don’t feel competent to assess the models; certainly it seems highly plausible to me that there are enormous uncertainties in predicting something as inherently chaotic as the climate, especially when to do so you first have to predict something as inherently chaotic as people. But my non-expert understanding is that broadly speaking the models have been getting it about right. ”

I am reading Koonin’s book presently, and I think it’s worth pointing out that it does, too, deal with this specific point, explaining at length that “the models” actually consist of large numbers of projections possessing varying assumptions, and run by different groups of climate scientists in different countries and institutions, and that very often the models are then merged so as to produce consensus modelling. What is also made clear is that by the time this process is done, having gone through enormous numbers of curative steps and the IPCC’s process that produces the summaries for policymakers, they are really just projections divorced from the underlying models by that point, because it is difficult to attribute any specific part of any projection back to any of the assumptions programmed in at the start of the process of creating any individual model.

The crucial point is this: the raw models, when run in reverse, almost never successfully produce accurate modelling of the climate in the past. This ought to be possible, and presently is not. It is not therefore possible to say with any confidence that the models describe reality: they have not succeeded in doing this so far and have not succeeded in mapping past events.

However, this is nothing compared with the gulf between what is scientifically plausible and what the media spews out on climate change. It is here that the real problem lies: the IPCC’s scientific reports do generally report the uncertainties in the work that they describe, but almost all the circumspection, qualifications and uncertainty is removed by the time the IPCC makes its reports for policymakers, and the media does not report the science, it reports the politics.

This is why we have an ongoing problem whereby policy is made based ostensibly on the authority of scientific discipline, harnessing the apparent certainties that most people imagine apply in such a context, but in fact the policy recommendations are usually not supported by the science. Whether that means it’s politicians and journalists that we can’t trust instead of scientists is a moot point, because the damage is being done to the public reputation of scientific institutions irrespective of who’s doing the talking.

Last edited 2 years ago by John Riordan
Bashar Mardini
Bashar Mardini
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

The models, when run in reverse, DO accurately model the climate of the past…. when an appropriate fudge factor is included, to make it “fit”
A detail which is very rarely, if ever, mentioned.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  John Riordan

That all sounds very reasonable. And politicians (and scientists), let alone voters, have great difficulty dealing with uncertainty estimates on conclusions, not just in climate and COVID, but across the board. But is this kind of ‘summarising’ not exactly what we ought to be doing? The models are all imperfect in various ways, and there are important assumptions that can only be estimated roughly. So you run different models, with different assumptions, and see what range of values you get. I have no way of knowing whether they do this correctly or not, but at lest the principle sounds reasonable.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 years ago

On the issue of climate change there is actually remarkable political consensus in the West right now. Why? Because man made climate change, presents both the political left and the right, with a opportunity to achieve both their goals.

The left seeks to use the crises to attack capitalism and grant greater powers to the state. For the political right, the climate emergency allows a plausible excuse to cut back on the the state. Budgets else were will have to be cut if we are to spent all our available funds on averting climate change. The climate emergency, can be used to simultaneously justify both the big and small government, depending on what solution is being pursued, as long as the public is afraid enough of the consequences of not accepting either of these solutions.

As well as this. Clean energy is the future. Climate change may not be as catastrophic as the depicted in the media but we would be extremely unwise to do nothing at all. Climate hysteria will allow western governments to circumvent all norms of international trade and competition rules, allowing them to dominate the clean energy sector but also, impose restrictions on the developing world for failing to adopt technologies they cannot currently afford, before selling them to them, once they can.

I suspect that Koonin, Lomborg and Shellenberger are right that the dangers of climate change change are overstated; but there are too many vested interests on both sides of the political divide for something as inconvenient as the truth to stand in the way of politics.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

“Because man made climate change, presents both the political left and the right, with a opportunity”

No, its a Left thing, except as the Right says, the Left is using this issue for ulterior motives, mostly to restrict freedom.

The Left (and Liberal/Left are the worst) always seek disasters and emergency to restrict freedom and redistribute money from the workers to the Billionaires via Central Bank Debt (which ALWAYS flows to the mega rich, and is payed for by the Tax called Inflation). That is their thing, removing freedoms, imposing rules and moving money from worker’s savings to the wealthy..

Take Covid – the Left used the virus to force lockdown and so VAST money printing to then pay the wages of everyone they forced to self imprison, business they Closed, to pay for insane ‘Covid’ expenses, to provide ‘Fiscal and Monetary Stimulation’ to the economy they shut down – HUGELY increasing Debt, and causing the inevitable eventual destruction of the economy. (that looming disaster which they will then use to control every penny of everyone’s money through CBDC).

So they have this nebulous thing of CO2, something which is a complete carte blanche they may use to spend Trillions, naturally by pure debt, (as Taxes do not bring in enough to pay for things as they are) and curtail every individual freedom – naturally they LOVE it, and will milk it for every last squandered penny they can send to the global Elite, and every last chance to oppress the citizenry and curtail their freedoms. It is just what the Left do.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

The right is as much to blame. They are encouraging the use of renewable energy because of the profit it generates.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
2 years ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Always beware of unholy alliances. Nothing good ever comes

David Barnett
David Barnett
2 years ago

CO2 is a scarce resource. Life sucks up as much as it can (although only the photosynthesisers can extract it from the atmosphere).
I think we will see the greatest benefit from human added CO2 in the semi-arid regions. There, plants must balance the need to conserve water (by closing down their leaf pores) against their demand for CO2 (opening pores). Increasing the CO2 concentration allows more species to colonise these semi-arid regions, because it allows them to be more drought tolerant.

John Callender
John Callender
2 years ago

This is a very interesting essay which highlights some important matters arising in climate science.

Another highly relevant issue is the nature of scientific inference. The standard view, developed by Karl Popper, is that a defining feature of a scientific hypothesis is that we can state the empirical findings that would lead to its refutation. We are often told that extreme weather events, or climate trends, are in keeping with, or even attributable to AGW (anthropogenic global warming). We are never, in my experience, told what observations would refute AGW.

One reason for this is the so-called Duhem-Quine paradox. This is based on the idea that scientific theories do not exist in isolation but depend on a whole array of auxiliary hypotheses. It is often possible to protect a theory from refutation by adjustment of these auxiliary hypotheses.

This applies par excellence to climate change. AGW, if it exists, is only one of many factors driving climate change. Long-term factors, such as the Milankovitch cycles, medium term climate cycles, and individual events such as volcanic eruptions all have impacts on climate. If observations are out of keeping with climate models, it is usually possible to protect the AGW hypothesis by invoking one of these auxiliary hypotheses.

Therefore we seem to be stuck with an AGW hypothesis that can be neither conclusively proven, nor conclusively refuted. The controversy looks set to continue!

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  John Callender

If you push it, the ‘Duhem-Quine paradox (never heard that word before, thanks!) would mean that nothing is truly falsifiable, and therefore nothing is fully scientific, by Poppers definition. You can solve the problem by replacing Poppers ‘refutation’ criterion with Bayesian logic and probability judgements. A theory must state how probable various outcomes are, and the ourcomes we get then tell us how probable the theory is. That lets you compare rival theories complete with their networks of auxiliary hypotheses.

A big advantage would be that we no longer are limited to choose between cilmate change being absolutely,m completely proved, or totally irrelevant rubbish. We can make a sensibe judgement on how close to relaity the theory is likely to be.

John Callender
John Callender
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Thanks for the reply. The implication of Duhem-Quine is that theories strictly cannot be refuted. It’s possible that Bayesian theory can help us here. This method begins with a probability estimate of a hypothesis being true and proceeds by continual adjustment of this estimate in the light of new evidence. What counts is observations that are highly likely if the theory is true and highly unlikely if the theory is false. There comes a point at which the impact of new evidence hits a plateau i.e. further evidence does not change the probability that the theory is true, and the theory is generally accepted.

A number of problems would remain. These include the impossibility of forecasting outcomes in complex, chaotic systems; judging what counts as evidence; and assessing the accuracy and consistency of data gathered over long time frames and wide geographical areas.

A separate concern is the assumption that all will be well for the foreseeable future, if only we stop churning out so much carbon dioxide. The reality is much more gloomy. For most of the history of the planet, the climate has been extreme and incompatible with human flourishing. The present Holocene inter-glacial epoch has been exceptionally favourable to us and has allowed the development of agriculture, civilisation and our burgeoning population. In the normal run of events, this will come to an end, and will be followed by another period of glaciation, whose effects will be catastrophic.

In their book The Human Planet, Simon Lewis and Mark Maslin suggest that human actions have delayed the next ice age and created a ‘super-interglacial’. By increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, we have unwittingly stabilised the climate in its present state. If we are to maintain a favourable climate in the long-term we will have to master the science of geo-engineering and effectively take control of the climate on a planetary scale.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Who’s “we” and who’s in charge of making the “sensible judgment”?
Let me guess: the “we” is Marxist scientivists and the “sensible judgment” is whatever their ideology requires. Am I right?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

‘We’ is anyone who wants to do science and use data to find out things about the world. Completely dismissing anything just because it has not been full proved is simply not smart.

Just for an example, it has not been comprehensively proved that Trump lost the election Or, indeed, that electoral fraud had even minimal influence on the outcome. Personally I would dismiss that hypothesis until there is at least some reliable evidence of major fraud. Would you dismiss it until it was proved beyond reasonable doubt in a court of law, or would you be a little less demanding in that case?

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Another strawman argument. Nobody is suggesting that the entire western energy complex be scrapped and replaced on the basis that there’s an uncertain possibility Trump actually won the election. That’s quite an important distinction. So nice try, but no cigar.
Also, of course, “we” will not be “anyone who wants to do science and use data”. We know this because there are lots of people who fit that description – not limited to the subject of the review – and they are all dismissed as cranks, loonies and non-scientists by the church of climatology. They certainly aren’t invited now to vote for the “sensible judgment”. Why would that change?
The historical precedents for a clerisy dismissing the arguments of scientists because they aren’t clerics are surely clear to you, even if the irony is not.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

OK, “anyone who wants to do science and use data and can show a minimum of competence and good faith. Seeing that scientists are also human beings (as Tom Chivers notes) that does, yes, leave an uncomfortable lot of room for cliques to expel non-members. But science is not a democracy – it is a matter of who is right, not of who has the largest following. And, unfortunately there are lots of people in the world who have an unrealistic idea of their own competence. For instance there is one person on this page who is lecturing on how climate scientists do not understand basic thermodynamics – in a way that will see him excluded from any debate that includes people who know what they are talking about.

It is not easy, admittedly, but in science if you have good arguments it is possible eventually to get a hearing and start convincing some people. If you mainly have a chip on your shoulder and a lot of self-belief you are unlikely to convince anybody.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“anyone who wants to do science and use data and can show a minimum of competence and good faith”
Show it to whom? The keepers of the flame? How did Lomborg, Spencer, McIntyre get on? Their competence and good faith are streets ahead of anyone in climate science.
“science is not a democracy – it is a matter of who is right”
Climate “science” is. They’ve voted on the “science” and the consensus – not who’s right, the consensus – is that we’re doomed.
“if you have good arguments it is possible eventually to get a hearing”
No it’s not. Climate “scientists” delete data to avoid complying with FOI requests, try to get editors fired for publishing articles that disagree with the consensus, and obstruct the publication of those articles.
There will be an Islamic Reformation before any of this pie in the sky fantasy comes true.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Well, science is done by people. So what comes out of science clearly depends on what the people do. And the only way to come to a single view is to look for a consensus among informed people. It has its problems, but what is the alternative? So if you want to get to a single view that matches yours, you have to convince enough people that the rest can be ignored. This may take a long time. But enough people in science are willing to listen to argument that it is, in principle doable. There have been bitter fights before, and they eventually got sorted out.

If the global warming sceptics have not managed to make a dent in the official consensus, it means, pretty much by definition, that they have not come up with arguments that anybody found convincing. It does not help that a lot of climate change sceptics do not (to the specialists) demonstrate a deep understanding of the scientific issues involved, and that a lot of their work seems to be based on conspiracy theories. Doing FOI requests to get hold of people’s emails and comb them for attack lines is not going to convince anybody about the rightness of your arguments, let alone the honesty of your intentions. Particularly since climate sceptics are not known for making their own internal mails public. If your starting point is that you are obviously right and anyone who disagrees with you must be in bad faith, all you accomplish is to stop anybody from listening to you. If you think the truth is that global warming is not happening, and you are interested in finding out the truth, it should not be impossible to do some convincing science to prove it. It might cost, but if any of your backers actually care about the truth maybe they could stump up?

Just as an example, Sarendra Gupta did some COVID modelling work not long after Ferguson did his. She tried out a number of possible initial assumptions and came out with several scenarios, one of which said that the pandemic was already played out in the UK and herd immunity was already achieved. I have little respect for Gupta and the other Barringtoners, and that model has been comprehensively disproved since. But it was good work, and it did show that on the data available then the future was at the least uncertain. And cast the spotlight on which assumptions were critical and how you could check them. I would invite the climate sceptics to forget about the FOI requests, and try to do something similar. If you can.

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

The linked Paul Graham essay – “What You Can’t Say” – is very good although he unfortunately stumbles when he says

A good scientist, in other words, does not merely ignore conventional wisdom, but makes a special effort to break it. Scientists go looking for trouble. This should be the m.o. of any scholar, but scientists seem much more willing to look under rocks. Why? It could be that the scientists are simply smarter; most physicists could, if necessary, make it through a PhD program in French literature, but few professors of French literature could make it through a PhD program in physics.

In two words, the problem with this is “climate science”. Climate scientists do not ignore conventional wisdom; they evangelise for it. They do not go looking for trouble; they accuse others of causing it and try to silence them. They are not willing to look under rocks; they own rocks and they link hands around them to prevent anyone else lifting them. They are not smarter; the UEA BSC in Environmental Sciences requires just three Bs at A Level which can – in fact, must – be in dumbo subjects like Geography, Geology, Biology, or Environmental Science. A professor of French literature might not make it through a PhD program in physics, but he’d easily make it through one in “climate science”; s/he would need only to learn and parrot the dogma.
The very low intellectual calibre of climate “science” is, in my view, its fundamental problem. In 2019, 53% of Geography A-Level candidates got a grade B or better. So to read Environmental Science at UEA, you can be in the bottom half of the A Level geography class and you’d still get in.
Conformity and stupidity make a really toxic mix that should never have been allowed anywhere near public policy.

stanley cohen
stanley cohen
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

When I hear ‘computer models’…..
I know a guess is about to follow.
Such models to predict the future in the financial world
are a waste of time. Do you trust such predictions from
the Bank of England? From the Treasury? from Goldman Sachs? Or even from ‘Timeform’, the horse racing pundits?
Computer models only work if one has complete, total and EXACT information. Otherwise Chaos Theory trumps you.
And only teenagers know everything.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  stanley cohen

There is a major difference between models in natural sciences or medicine, and in finance. In sciences or medicine at least some of the basic mechanisms are reliably understood. All other things being equal, additional CO2 in the atmosphere will heat up the planet, and additional contact between people will increase transmission of a respiratory disease. That still leaves lots of room for chaos, and the result may be approximate at best, but it is infinitely better than anything possible in finance.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I would like to see an explanation of how carbon dioxide can spontaneously generate heat. Perhaps you can devise a heating system based on what you believe to help us heat our homes.
Carbon Dioxide is about 0.04% of the atmosphere and we are told that it is only the human part of that that causes the warming.
How do you think that 0.04% of the atmosphere can heat the rest and then go on to heat the oceans and land mass? Try looking up the mass and specific heat of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the mass and specific heat of the rest together with the oceans and then calculate the temperature that CO2 would have to reach to warm it all by even 000.1C.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

It is not that dfficult – if you try. The earth’s temperature is determined by the balance between a lot of energy streaming in – sunlight – and a lot of energy streaming out – thermal radiation. Atmospheric CO2 partially blocks the outflow of thermal radiation. Much like a bathtub with the taps and the drain both open, so the water level depends on the balance between inflow and outflow. If I put a plug in the drain, or even a wad of tissue paper, the water level will rise. You would not be asking me how I thought the tissue paper could generate water, would you?

Last edited 2 years ago by Rasmus Fogh
Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

But the water wont get hotter.

Mikey Mike
Mikey Mike
2 years ago

“(G)reen technology is getting so cheap and effective these days.”
Umm, what? Which green technology? I’m sorry, I meant, “which green technologies that aren’t heavily subsidized?”
The only green technology is nuclear. If the climate doomsayers were serious about reducing global emission they would all be pro-nuclear-energy activists. The fact that they’re not reveals that their true intentions have nothing to do with saving the planet.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

Trusting my own eyes- About 15 years ago while on a holiday in NZ i took an early morning run up the side of a river valley. Above me, a long way up loomed the mucky, dirty front of a glacier. I came across a marker informing that the face of the glacier stood at that point in 1830, so i deduced the retreat of this mass of ice started well before the effects of western industrialisation could feasibly be a factor ,especially as the scoured river valley extended way downstream from the marker. Ever since that day I have taken the climate change panic syndrome with a pinch of salt.
But it will not go away because Big Business ( especially the four horsemen), Big Politics, Big Government, and sadly Big Science are locked in to what they know will bring in a lora lora lora $$$. Meanwhile our children have quickly been turned into neurotic, even frightened little eco robots, all nicely on message , a farm of worker ants ready to toil and produce green lucre, so the rich can become richer.
Last year I had to reassure one of my grandsons, who is keenly interested in nature, and therefore very susceptible to the mantra serviced up to him in school, that the world would not end in 12 years time!

Last edited 2 years ago by hugh bennett
Hugh Eveleigh
Hugh Eveleigh
2 years ago

It’s unfortunate that the two ‘sides’ of this argument have not yet bridged the divide as there is no motivation to do so on the part of the catastrophists who will not consider alternative arguments. Were science to be nicely objective (which I think is impossible for humans to achieve) then we might get somewhere but meanwhile governments, pressure groups et alia mostly jump quickly onto the catastrophe side and begin collective thinking nonsense such as Accords, Net Zero etc. It is all a fundamental waste of money and human ingenuity. Man’s influence on climate is minimal – climate’s too huge and complex a phenomenon to be spun out of control by a few extra CO2 molecules which have been more numerous in past times … and yet we are still here. As it happens CO2 is just the ticket for plant growth and by extension, food production. We ought to be pleased that new opportunities can open up. As the article points out no country which is ‘developing’ is going to restrict its own use of energy because other countries say so.
Messrs Johnson, Biden, Macron and the rest were best to modify climate aims, calm down and encourage research into how we might gradually reduce the need for resources which in approximately a couple of hundred years will run out. Politicians and governments find this very hard to do as there is no kudos in slow change. One thing is certain – Net Zero in the UK will not change the world’s climate but it will ruin the already broken economy and impoverish us. And all for no gain other than a feeling of being (misguidedly) virtuous.
I won’t finish by mentioning the attractions of nuclear.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago

I regret to say my experience with some scientists (not all: but too many) has shown me that prostitution is not confined to the more traditional area but alive and well within much of scientific work thanks to fear of losing funding etc if groupthink is questioned. It’s a sad fact that some scientists are close-minded and even fraudulent these days but then, sadly isn’t almost every profession. We live in a post truth world where words like honour, decency, truth and honesty will soon be termed archaic in the OED.

Diana Durham
Diana Durham
2 years ago

Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace, in Triggernometry interview also challenges certainty of climate change. He makes one point among many that CO2 helps green the earth because plants need it to grow.

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago
Reply to  Diana Durham

The lecture he gave in 2015 at the GWPF is worth watching.

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago

The first book that my personal tutor recommended that I read was The Sleepwalkers by Arthur Koestler. It was one of the best investments of time that I have made. Turned me into a lifelong sceptic.
A bit off thread (though not entirely) he also wrote Darkness at Noon, which leads you through the mindset of the “True Believer”. True Believers will believe utter nonsense because they have so much invested in their particular brand of nonsense.

Bashar Mardini
Bashar Mardini
2 years ago

I have some disagreement about certain “politically unrealistic” propositions
For example, assumptions that higher cost of energy, restrictions on economic life, qualify of life, and so on, in the service of climate change, will not be accepted because they are “unrealistic”
I would counter, that during the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen just how far ‘enlightened’ persons are willing to go in terms of submission to authority, sacrifice, and changing their ways of life – the “new normal” if you will
Perhaps summer brownouts and blackouts become an acceptable part of life. Perhaps setting home heating to lower temperatures in the winter becomes a virtue. Perhaps limiting travel / vacations / life-enjoyment becomes one of those things that we read about in dystopian science fiction novels where people live their whole lives to make a pilgrimage to some beach
I’ve read Koonan’s book and I liked it a lot. I wasn’t a climate change denier before, and i wasn’t after. But there is clearly a communications / analysis gap between the raw data & science and the conclusions and policy.

Last edited 2 years ago by Bashar Mardini
Christopher Gelber
Christopher Gelber
2 years ago
Reply to  Bashar Mardini

A word of friendly warning: beware of loaded phrases which lack clear meaning and are intended to stifle discussion by insinuating one is a “science denier” (whatever that would even be) or a denier of the Holocaust. AGW zealots use these terms very deliberately to shut down opposition and debate. Many of us who say AGW is a fraud have perfectly sound and defensible reasons for the views we hold.

Last edited 2 years ago by Christopher Gelber
John Hicks
John Hicks
2 years ago

Indeed a “toxic debate” illustrated by UNESCO attempts last week to place, what was agreed to be “a very well managed” “best coral regrowth for decades” Great Barrier Reef on the “endangered list.” The attempt failed (this time around) but not before Norway suggested “this is not an exercise in what is fair or not;” suggesting “it was about seizing the opportunity to make an example of the Great Barrier Reef to tell the world to get serious about climate change.” (Reported by Graham Lloyd in The Australian.)
Is the issue climate science, modelling, manipulation of data, or merely marketing unbelievably believable falsehoods dressed up as science? The latter is very hurtful. “How dare you!”

pierre.piquemal
pierre.piquemal
2 years ago

I am quite puzzled by this piece, I haven’t read Koonin’s book and my reading of IPCC reports is limited to the various summaries for policymakers that they produce but these are already very informative.
With that in mind, I am not sure what conclusions we can draw from the article apart from the fact that science is uncertain and that we all have cognitive biases.
First, I don’t think IPCC scientits make any claim that climate science is settled, their statements in their reports are always qualified with “high confidence”, “medium confidence” and “low confidence” mentions. They acknowledge in their AR5 reports that they have low confidence on any claim that could be make on floods, yes, and they also acknowledge that the view expressed in the previous AR4 report on this point had to be nuanced. They also say (and it would have been worth mentioning), that part of the reason for their low confidence is lack of measurement. And in the 2018 special report on a 1.5 degree world, they say, with medium confidence, that droughts and heavy precipitations are more likely with higher temperatures. (the points about extreme temperatures are a bit misleading as well, the reports that I have seen spend more time on mean temperatures than on extremes, although yes, they do say that extreme temperatures are likely to rise (high confidence in the 2018 special report)).
So climate science is not settled, perhaps it would have been interesting to talk about AR6 due to be released next year? especially in the context of the recent leaks about its content? (of course it is a bit difficult to rely on leaks, but at least a mention in the context of this article?). Perhaps it would have been interesting for Kooning to write his book on AR6 rather than on AR5?
Now the more interesting question would have been why, from various reports (not just AR5!!) that offer complex and nuanced views (but still with a strong message that the climate is warming and that this is likely to have adverse impacts on our lives globally), we get viewpoints such as “climate change is a hoax” on one side and “life on earth will end in 10 years if we don’t change radically now” on the other side?

Dean Ethridge
Dean Ethridge
2 years ago

It’s a bit much to “worry” that the climate models might be too optimistic, given that three decades of data show the models have egregiously overestimated the actual warming. This is too clever by half. Perhaps you are just trying to blunt the hysterical “blowback”. . .

Last edited 2 years ago by Dean Ethridge
Tom Jennings
Tom Jennings
2 years ago

The headline question is ” Can we trust the climate scientists?” Let me suggest two more questions. “Can we trust economists?” and “Can we trust modelers?”. My answer to all three is ” Less and less as time goes by”. The reason for each is the same: they have been captured in varying degree by political and big money interests. In the US we have a party that proclaims itself to be “The Party of Science”. Few things worry me more than a lawyer turned politician telling me to follow the science. Two that do though are lawyer/politicians banding together as “The Party of Mathematics” or “The Party of Engineering”. The potential for mischief here is endless.

Paul Stevens
Paul Stevens
2 years ago

The most recent major Ice Age came to an end around 10,000 years ago. Over the previous 12,000 years or so the glaciers had been receding. Humans around at the time pondered how all this was happening. Early climate scientists reviewed all their data, and determined that the cause was the use of fire by tribe members for warmth, cooking and protection. Alarmed by this, tribal leaders decided to discourage fire use by taxing the members based on the number of fires they lit.
I know, it’s crazy, but it makes as much sense as what we are doing today.

Angelique Todesco-Bond
Angelique Todesco-Bond
2 years ago

Many years ago, I think I originally came across it from Graham Hancock’s book ‘The Fingerprints of the Gods’, I read about the switching of the Poles, which seems to have occurred roughly every 11,000 years, the last one being about 12,000 years ago (meaning we are overdue one). This switching of the poles led to huge changes in climate and areas that were once ice-free becoming ice-bound and vice versa.
Recently, I have seen an increasing scattering of articles about this changing of the poles and the fact that we might be at a preliminary stage of it, but that it is happening faster “as a result of human-caused climate change”. This seems unrealistic to me. I believe in the great damage caused to ecosystems by plastic and chemical poisoning, but I feel less certain about humans causing something that has occurred off and on over millions of years without our assistance. This is something I would be very interested in seeing properly discussed and explored.
I am also at a loss to understand why the solutions being proffered are better, I am no scientist, but I cannot understand ideas such as why electric cars are better, we still have to make the electricity.

Max Beran
Max Beran
2 years ago

Forget models, forget physics of radiative transfer, just ask if there has actually been any warming to date. We are told the data tell us there is but that depends on what you mean by “the data”. If you mean by “data” the observations at the met sites, then they don’t exhibit any meaningful amount of warming. But if you mean the same data after they’ve been processed through a long chain of adjustments, some aimed to redress known measurement problems which is fair enough, but a lot more aimed at “homogenizing”, reducing to anomaly form, merging with reanalyses, populating grids, and finally extracting trends then warming magically appears. How much therefore is visible in the raw numbers – not much if any; how much arises from uncertainties and biases introduced during the above post-processing – a whole lot more if not all.
The response of the professionals to anyone questioning their data “torture” is to point out that all the groups who perform these analyses get much the same answers but that doesn’t cut the mustard – most of the data comes from the same adjusted sources and employ similar algorithms for the other elements in the processing chain.
If you doubt my assertion about little if any embedded warming in the raw at-site data, then it can be fairly readily checked by counting how many months in a period were warmer than the same month 12 months previous and see which side of 50% it sums to. In fact it actually needs to sum to more than 50% if warming is for real. But you’ll need access to unadjusted data. If you put data into a pot, stir it up, and produce some unifying property that you say the world follows, then at the least you’d expect the data that went into the pot not to contradict that grand unifying property that emerges from the pot.
And not to forget the absolute primacy of warming in this business. Despite the impression that has grown up that there is some mystic fog called climate change wafting over the surface of the Earth, this is journalistic and alarmist invention. It all comes back to warming – there is no other agency other than warming to budge weather systems. Or rather there is, and that’s just the normal chaotic ebbs and flows of the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere and lithosphere systems that always have and always will account for the ups and downs of climate. .

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
2 years ago

Thanks for an excellent article! Your open-minded but sceptical attitude almost convinced me I should maybe read Konins book, instead of dismissing it out of hand

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Don’t get carried away Rasmus! Reading proscribed books can have an unsettling effect on ones belief system – That’s why they are proscribed.

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago

Covid and climate change are the same hoax. Both purposefully use faulty modeling. Your “vaccine passport” will wind up being a tracking device to monitor and ration your resource consumption. Bill Gates and his ilk will justify their exorbitant lives by offsetting their resource consumption with “carbon sinks” and providing co2 reduced foods like insects and meal worms as food to a starving public who are not allowed to do anything without governmental approval. The US public will owe Bill Gates trillions in carbon credits for his “wonderful inventions” while the rest of us go into debt with him with every breathe. Can’t you feel the totalitarianism coming?

Last edited 2 years ago by Dennis Boylon
Andrew Lale
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

‘Reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the developed world reduces the chance of some unforeseen but plausible disaster: as a happy bonus, it makes our cities more pleasant places in which to live. It will come at some cost, but hopefully not too high, because green technology is getting so cheap and effective these days.’ Stopped reading at this point. The world is powered by fossil fuels, and ceasing their use will automatically take us back to horse-and-cart levels of capability. Shifting fossil fuel use from cars and diesel trucks to vast coal and gas power stations to propel electric cars is stupidity on an epic scale. Green tech has not advanced much at all since the 1970s. Name one technology that is newer than that or has been fundamentally advanced since then. I have heard the ‘if there’s a 10% chance that it’ll be completely awful, then we need to prepare for that 10% chance’ argument before, and it is completely daft. Ask an engineer if you would ever consider designing for very low probability events.

David Lewis
David Lewis
2 years ago

An interesting and nicely written essay. However, (sorry to be pedantic) Mr Chivers must be declared king of the split infinitive. Split infinitives are not only in contravention of a stuffy old language convention, but they are inelegant to read/speak. ‘To confidently separate
.’ and ‘
to successfully predict
’ are ugly enough, but ‘
to not go
.’ Is unforgivable.
Tom, tidy up this minor flaw in your grammar and your pieces will be

.perfect!

Terry Needham
Terry Needham
2 years ago
Reply to  David Lewis

Too late. We boldly went and the rest is history.

Erlend Kvitrud
Erlend Kvitrud
2 years ago

“The IPCC (
) says that almost 140 million children will be undernourished, in a world where climate change goes unmitigated, compared to 113 million in a world where there is no climate change”.

That is not quite what the report says.

First, this estimate only includes children under the age of five. If we extend it to also include children aged 5 – 15, the number would presumably be a lot higher.

Second, the IPCC report you cited goes through 5 different papers on the topic, listing them in chronological order. Nelson et al. (2009) (from which the numbers 140 and 113 million stems) is mentioned first, only because it is the oldest paper. “No climate change” and “Climate change” is also a strange choice of scenarios to compare, with climate change being continuous variable. No information is provided about the amount of warming assumed in the “Climate change” scenario (my wild guess would be 2 degrees, which means the 3+ degrees of the ‘business as usual’ scenario would be significantly worse).

Furthermore, if we assume that most developing countries will go through a demographic shift over the next three decades (and the global number of 5-year-olds decreases), the relative number of 5-year-old who are undernourished would increase from its contemporary level, even as the absolute number falls by 10 million. I realize this is a bit beyond the point though, and might not seem as important for some as it does for me.

On the other hand, the IPCC notes that Nelson et al. (2009) did not “account for possible improvements in socioeconomic conditions between 2000 and 2050”, which seems to imply that the paper might acctually have overestimated the impacts. The follow-up paper, Nelson et al. (2010), which used “a wider range of socioeconomic and climate scenarios”, found child underweight to be only 10% higher in the “climate change” scenario. None of the other studies mentioned explicitly compare the global number of malnourished schildren with/without climate change (or if they do, the report doesn’t mention it). Two studies conducted more than a decade ago seems insufficient to draw any conclusions about such a complex issue.

Last edited 2 years ago by Erlend Kvitrud
hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

“The only victories which leave no regret are those which are gained over ignorance.”
ï»żThankyou for not giving up, and thanks to the Judge, it all restores hope that my grandchildren might yet enjoy the freedoms I have, we must never give in.

patrick macaskie
patrick macaskie
2 years ago

I think Chivers is always interesting because he is honest about his biases and those of you who routinely attack him aren’t. this makes it possible to aim off and means there is an inherent honesty in what he says

it quite possible and maybe likely that climate science is bunk and offers false accuracy. But it is also possible to win the the climate science argument and still miss the big point that the environment is pressured and economic development in china India Brazil etc will make matters a lot worse. this is visible in the soil, the water courses, the swamps of plastics, the accelerated loss of natural habitats. in Greece the only fish served in the seaside taverna, other than the odd sardine, is farmed. I think it is already too late to convince the young that none of this matters, (although they are just as culpable as the rest of us) but some good has come from the intense debate (EG cheaper renewables, vehicles and conveyances that don’t burn fuel at the point of use…which are v good for the quality of life in cities, albeit no better than an ultra efficient diesel for greenhouse gases). there are also fake solutions like bio fuel and
rather than squabble about climate science we need to focus on deeper things and ask the difficult questions. green ÂŁ need to be spent wisely and there is not much evidence they are. the capitalists need to engage on a practical level. cheap money is the biggest offender because it causes misallocation of resources and environmentally wasteful obsolescence of capital goods (at huge cost to the environment). there is the question of whether extreme consumerism brings happiness.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
2 years ago

The Red Team idea is a good one. Every den of Daniels needs a lion.

Malcolm Knott
Malcolm Knott
2 years ago

I like the idea of Red Teaming. The adversarial approach, though very expensive, works surprisingly well in the law. Indeed lawyers spend much of their working lives trying to demonstrate that other lawyers have got it wrong.

Rod McLaughlin
Rod McLaughlin
2 years ago

Thanks for this. A man who worked as Undersecretary for Science in the Obama administration says “the science” is not settled. I generally rely on unofficial sources to question “the science”. My favourite is https://joannenova.com.au. Also Climate Audit. I continue to resist the hysteria about “the climate crisis”.

Peter Hall
Peter Hall
2 years ago

The most important point in this article is to note that there is a risk of global heating developing in a very bad way. One extreme risk is that feedback loops such as methane release accelerate and increase temperatures to levels that extinguish most or all life. As a matter of risk management, when there is a chance that something very bad May happen, even if it is only a small chance, then one should buy a substantial amount of insurance to avoid it. If there was a risk one of my children was going to die I would invest heavily to avoid that risk. In fact that is the risk that we face. At the moment we don’t have information to understand how big the risk is but we should be making a more substantial and faster effort to understand the risk and mitigate it. Even exemplary action will have an effect on the outcome.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Hall

A much greater and certain ‘risk’ is the return of the next Ice Age.

Julie Kemp
Julie Kemp
2 years ago

At 72 yoa and not as a ‘scientist’ i’m inclined to think ‘we’ must have had some impact on ‘climate’. But to what degree i couldn’t say.
Somehow i think it’s faulty and injurious to dwell on the negative impact for too long as it does harm to psyches and biases thus debilitating mindfulness towards productive and Earth-Friendly technologies.
Suffice it to say though, it’s about getting wise to a lot of human practices in the realm of large scale broad acreing of crops and to go electrical – definitely not nuclear given Yukishima’s abomination of the environment way across the Pacific toxifying salmon on north west USA along with other grossly wretched residues of all kinds – even human bodies.
For me i like Tesla et al and so-called ‘free energy’ – get the ‘market’ and the ‘big men’ out of the way for the basic necessity of a freedom loving sane civilisation. Blocking water flows and digging gouging the Earth has to stop – we are seeing way too many sink-holes as it is and droughting cities and regions for the benefit of just a few who have great wealth (now) and privilege (now.)
Many fine smart tech ideas ought to be raised up. How about relooking and extrapolating Enki’s and son Thoth’s Giza Great Pyramid as a power source. Obelisks are the way to go again.
Using sound to manoevre great weights around the place really has to come out into the open again!
Cheers from the Land Downunder (not the Abzu that was Africa, nor the underground of Persephone’s fate.)

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago

This discussion would be a lot more fruitful if the posters would all be good enough to put up their qualifications for their input. I mean their degrees, work experience, peer-reviewed papers, and so forth. Otherwise it begins to sound a little cranky, doesn’t it? Or maybe that’s just me, sorry.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago

Never underestimate the innate, instinctive ability of a pleb to smell a rat…

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

It’s just you.

Andrew McDonald
Andrew McDonald
2 years ago
Reply to  Jon Redman

Ta. I knew somebody would be unable to resist.

Michael Coleman
Michael Coleman
2 years ago

I couldn’t disagree more and I have an Applied Physics Ph.D.
Evaluation of competing climate change claims is possible by laypersons and engineers/scientists in other disciplines – it simply takes time, effort, and above average cognitive skills. The most well reasoned articles I have read on CC are from engineers and scientists trained in other disciplines and not invested in the hysterical call for action (and more research!) aspect of CC.
Additionally, you are significantly overvaluing the label “peer-reviewed”. Stuart Richie’s book “Science Fictions: How Fraud, Bias, Negligence, and Hype Undermine the Search for Truth” does an excellent job describing the role of commercial scientific paper publishing in undermining confidence in reported scientific work.

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
2 years ago

I follow Michael Coleman here. What we need to do is to try and follow the argument, and this is the opposite of trying to work out which advocate we trust best, based on their credentials.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 years ago

This is a really interesting and insightful article, if it had been written in 2005. It really takes me back to discussions people were having at the time (and before as well). Zero progress has been made, which is exactly the goal of people like Koonin.

But their denial of the very existence of climate risks, and their successful fight to win over the hearts and underbellies of the masses, has cost so much time and energy that the only way to deal with the consequences of AGW will be (most probably) through authoritarianism and megalomaniac technofixes. If this is really what people like Koonin dread so much, the irony couldn’t be greater. At heart, I don’t think they dread authoritarianism at all; they just want do whatever they please, no matter what the consequence to Others. They’re just afraid that the Others will be in charge, hence the denial.

If they hadn’t denied and so successfully slowed down meaningful (non-authoritarian) responses, but instead looked at the root causes of AGW (and other global problems like the hyped up COVID-19 pandemic), the Machine might have been altered enough to stop its wholesale destruction of the environment and human culture. As it is, the Machine will now take over and ‘solve’ AGW.

Koonin should be pleased. And Tom Chivers needs to wake up and stop wasting time, if only his own.

Barbara Williams
Barbara Williams
2 years ago

You are overlooking the elephant in the room which is the ecological crisis. The ecological crisis is exacerbated by the turbulent weather created by the climate change. The ecological crisis is more advanced, because we have been exceeding the biocapacity of the Earth since the 1970s. Once our ecology is damaged to the extent that we can no longer grow crops the purchasing power of our money is lost. A review of the predictions made in the 1970s concludes that societal collapse is likely within twenty years unless we can get over our addiction to the growth paradigm. Society is right on track for a global collapse, new study of infamous 1970s report finds | Live Science

Last edited 2 years ago by Barbara Williams
Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
2 years ago

We are growing more food than at any other time in history and the increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is a factor.

Jon Redman
Jon Redman
2 years ago

Nurse!

Zorro Tomorrow
Zorro Tomorrow
2 years ago

71% of the planet is ocean, whose algae provides the majority of the oxygen we breathe and absorbs CO2. 10-11% is ice and a further 10% is desert, mountains and non arable land. We live below 1000 feet above sea level in the main. A glance out of an aeroplane window reveals huge tracts of green, farmland and trees. The planet, were it aware, would barely notice our activity. Look up in the sky. How many contrails? The recent Ice Age had ice down to the Pyrenees and before that CO2 has been found in ice core sample at 1000 ppm. Climate change is not anthropogenic, it is part of a cycle we do not live long enough to see with perspective. What is wrong is that while the weather during these times may have catastrophic effects on us we do nothing, cannot afford to do anything, can’t be bothered to do anything. We build on flood plains, like to live by the river, the sea, without a floating or stilt supported housing plan. Our road system was designed, evolved to deal with horse drawn carriages. We need to save ourselves, not the planet.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
2 years ago
Reply to  Zorro Tomorrow

The corruption (in every sense of the word) that creates prostitute scientists is the same that creates crooked planners, greedy developers and unthinking ‘ordinary’ home owners.
I agree entirely: a little commonsense widely distributed with a dash of forethought and less greed will do wonders.

X Y
X Y
2 years ago

Utter nonsense. Crop yields are hitting records while first-world countries continue reforestation. There is no increase in frequency of extreme weather (which is less deadly than it’s ever been), only an increase in time devoted to it the “news” cycle in order to frighten and control those who lack critical thinking skills. This is exactly the kind of uninformed, alarmist drivel that the book aims to stamp out. Go elsewhere.

Anna Bramwell
Anna Bramwell
2 years ago
Reply to  X Y

Yes, the earth is getting greener. Snow events in April in the N African desert show that there is more moisture in the air above the Sahara. Probably I will never see the return of rushing rivers and alligators in the Saharan desert,as was there 2000 years ago. But I would have liked to.