Saturday, July 19, 2008

The global warming debate in a nutshell

Christopher Monckton (whose integrity, by the way, I don't have any particular reason to bet my life on) writes a paper examining the IPCC's earlier conclusions on global warming. It includes such paragraphs as the following:
Such solecisms throughout the IPCC’s assessment reports (including the insertion, after the scientists had completed their final draft, of a table in which four decimal points had been right-shifted so as to multiply tenfold the observed contribution of ice-sheets and glaciers to sea-level rise), combined with a heavy reliance upon computer models unskilled even in short-term projection, with initial values of key variables unmeasurable and unknown, with advancement of multiple, untestable, non-Popper-falsifiable theories, with a quantitative assignment of unduly high statistical confidence levels to non-quantitative statements that are ineluctably subject to very large uncertainties, and, above all, with the now-prolonged failure of TS to rise as predicted (Figures 1, 2), raise questions about the reliability and hence policy-relevance of the IPCC’s central projections.

And it goes on from there with a great many detailed arguments, all eminently suitable for refutation, which refutation I would peruse eagerly. But wait a minute -- he's not falling in line with emerging truth! So the organization that invited him to write the paper puts a label in red above the paper on their website:
The following article has not undergone any scientific peer review. [This, I presume, depends on one's definition of "scientific peer review."] Its conclusions are in disagreement with the overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community. [I've written about this before: real scientists who have evidence to hand point out flaws in the logic; dishonest pseudoscientists who can't refute arguments but have political games to play, appeal to "scientific consensus" in hopes that people will skip the whole logic part -- in which they would almost certainly get their asses kicked, which is why they're appealing to "overwhelming opinion of the community" rather than to logic.] >The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions. [Then write your own damn paper and refute his logic -- which, since Monckton's paper is one of a series of a papers in a formal debate, somebody else is presumably already doing.]

Guess what? Monckton is steamed. So he's written a formal letter in which my favorite sentence is a dry, "This seems discourteous." Here's the meat of the letter:
This seems discourteous. I had been invited to submit the paper; I had submitted it; an eminent Professor of Physics had then scientifically reviewed it in meticulous detail; I had revised it at all points requested, and in the manner requested; the editors had accepted and published the reviewed and revised draft (some 3000 words longer than the original) and I had expended considerable labor, without having been offered or having requested any honorarium.

Please either remove the offending red-flag text at once or let me have the name and qualifications of the member of the Council or advisor to it who considered my paper before the Council ordered the offending text to be posted above my paper; a copy of this rapporteur's findings and ratio decidendi; the date of the Council meeting at which the findings were presented; a copy of the minutes of the discussion; and a copy of the text of the Council's decision, together with the names of those present at the meeting. If the Council has not scientifically evaluated or formally considered my paper, may I ask with what credible scientific justification, and on whose authority, the offending text asserts primo, that the paper had not been scientifically reviewed when it had; secundo, that its conclusions disagree with what is said (on no evidence) to be the "overwhelming opinion of the world scientific community"; and, tertio, that "The Council of the American Physical Society disagrees with this article's conclusions"? Which of my conclusions does the Council disagree with, and on what scientific grounds (if any)?

The last sentence in particular is the language of a man who is not afraid of debate. The red lettering is the language of a (currently anonymous) gentleman who desperately wishes to avoid debate.

I'll be interested to see the follow-up pieces in the debate. In the meantime, that red warning perfectly encapsulates the global warming "debate" as it stands today: in response to a paper rich with detailed arguments that lend themselves (if inaccurate) to ready and devastating refutation, the global-warming alarmists' response is a typographically-enriched appeal to "scientific consensus."

If you are not yourself a scientist, and you believe, on the authority of the "scientific consensus," that mankind is on the brink of causing a global climate Armageddon, then, no offense, but you are three hundred and seventy-two different kinds of stupid. As I've said before, I don't know whether CO2 is contributing to global warming or not. But I know when I'm being lied to by people who don't give a damn what's true or not and will just say whatever they have to say in order to get you to along with what they want. And if the global warming alarmists aren't utterly dishonest shills playing the credulous public for suckers, then Paul Ehrlich was right all along and "hundreds of millions of people" starved to death during my childhood while I wasn't watching.

By the way, I am not blind to the fact that Monckton has his own political ax to grind, and, as I say, I would be interested in refutation. Here is the conclusion of Monckton's paper, in which he draws explicitly political conclusions from his scientific reasoning:
Even if temperature had risen above natural variability, the recent solar Grand Maximum may have been chiefly responsible. Even if the sun were not chiefly to blame for the past half-century’s warming, the IPCC has not demonstrated that, since CO2 occupies only one-ten-thousandth part more of the atmosphere that it did in 1750, it has contributed more than a small fraction of the warming. Even if carbon dioxide were chiefly responsible for the warming that ceased in 1998 and may not resume until 2015, the distinctive, projected fingerprint of anthropogenic “greenhouse-gas” warming is entirely absent from the observed record. Even if the fingerprint were present, computer models are long proven to be inherently incapable of providing projections of the future state of the climate that are sound enough for policymaking. Even if per impossibile the models could ever become reliable, the present paper demonstrates that it is not at all likely that the world will warm as much as the IPCC imagines. Even if the world were to warm that much, the overwhelming majority of the scientific, peer-reviewed literature does not predict that catastrophe would ensue. [That's an interesting assertion, by the way. Monckton has defended it at some length here, but it's a separate topic. -- Peril] Even if catastrophe might ensue, even the most drastic proposals to mitigate future climate change by reducing emissions of carbon dioxide would make very little difference to the climate. Even if mitigation were likely to be effective, it would do more harm than good: already millions face starvation as the dash for biofuels takes agricultural land out of essential food production: a warning that taking precautions, “just in case”, can do untold harm unless there is a sound, scientific basis for them. Finally, even if mitigation might do more good than harm, adaptation as (and if) necessary would be far more cost-effective and less likely to be harmful.

In short, we must get the science right, or we shall get the policy wrong. If the concluding equation in this analysis (Eqn. 30) is correct, the IPCC’s estimates of climate sensitivity must have been very much exaggerated. There may, therefore, be a good reason why, contrary to the projections of the models on which the IPCC relies, temperatures have not risen for a decade and have been falling since the phase-transition in global temperature trends that occurred in late 2001. Perhaps real-world climate sensitivity is very much below the IPCC’s estimates. Perhaps, therefore, there is no “climate crisis” at all. At present, then, in policy terms there is no case for doing anything. The correct policy approach to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing.

I don't know whether global warming is really a problem or not, though the more I see the less reason I can imagine to be worried about it. So farming becomes feasible in Greenland again...this is a disaster why, exactly? (Yes, I know some low-lying areas could conceivably be flooded. I have two words for you: "moving van.") But if Monckton gets nothing else right, he gets one fundamental political principle right:

"The correct policy approach to a non-problem is to have the courage to do nothing."

Amen, and amen. (But then Democratic politicians would have to get real jobs...)