Sunday, May 27, 2018

Thoughts on Climate Change -- part 7: The Climate Science Mystique

When I was in high school some of my favorite classes were science classes: biology, general science, physics, chemistry, etc. And I did really well in all of them. As far as math is concerned, I aced every single class, with a perfect score in each final exam, including the NY State Regents exams. If I hadn't fallen in love head over heels with music, I might well have decided to become a scientist of some sort: a physicist, mathematician, biologist, chemist, astronomer, etc. It never would have occurred to me in a million years, however, to become a climate scientist -- that was simply off my radar. Nor can I imagine any young person of my generation with both a serious interest in science and a real aptitude for it hankering to pursue a career in climate science. Maybe it's just me, but the prospect of doing that sort of research just seems too utterly boring for words.

So why are there so many climate scientists around these days? What is it about this field that appeals to them? Physicists choose physics because they embrace the challenge of exploring some of the deepest mysteries of matter; biologists choose biology because they are fascinated by all the complexities of life; chemists choose chemistry because they love staring through microscopes and performing dangerous experiments; astronomers choose astronomy because they are fascinated by all the mysteries of the universe around us. And climate scientists choose climatology because .  .  they like to go camping????? Well, they do actually get paid for camping out. Beats working as a forest ranger. I'll give them credit for being very brave and intrepid campers, eager to tackle the most extreme environments. Here's a photo of Richard Alley, dressed for Antarctica, I'd suppose:

Here's Stefan Rahmstorf, examining some sort of strange specimen of something or other:

And here is Michael Mann getting ready to scale some formidable looking mountain:

James Hansen is also no stranger to the great outdoors:

Eric Steig, with an equally intrepid companion, is preparing to drill a hole in the formidable looking ice of British Columbia:

Not that there's anything wrong with that. There's no reason to assume climate scientists are any less capable than anyone else of pursuing challenging tasks such as pitching tents, building fires, boring bore holes, measuring tree rings, taking rock samples, launching weather balloons, sniffing out traces of rare gases in the atmosphere, such as methane or CO2. Not to mention taking the temperature  of the whole earth and determining the average level of all the world's many seas.

Of course I'm being facetious. Most climatologists (or those who aspire to that condition) do have some training in more intellectually challenging fields such as physics, chemistry and math. But their choice of profession does suggest that the more abstruse branches of science are not really their cup of tea.

What bothers me especially are not any doubts I might have as to the competence of these colorful folks when pursuing research in their own field, but the insistence of so many, along with their many ardent supporters, that their grasp of the more abstract issues associated with interpretation and meaning is on a par with that of the greatest scientific minds of history. It's not unusual, for instance, to see some supporter of the prevailing "climate change" paradigm to compare the findings of climate science to Newton's laws of motion (see the first post in this series, above), Einstein's theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, or even the law of gravity. "Isn't it obvious?" Equally common are comparisons with Darwinian evolution, as though resistance to the "certainties" of climate science is equivalent to denial of the long established tenets of natural selection.

What, I must ask, gives them the right to make such comparisons? What is the source of the overweening hubris that leads them to claim that their grasp of what they so vainly refer to as "the science" (not any science, mind you, but the science) is so certain that there is no longer any point in questioning it. The science is settled -- and anyone who  thinks differently is not only "in denial," but actually an enemy of the people.

Well, why be unfair? Why be cynical? Why be mean? Everyone has a right to pursue his or her interests, and history is filled with the claims of "scientists," both real and pseudo, who insisted against all reason that they must be right and everyone else must be wrong. Ultimately, it's just an academic question, no? Scholars and scientists of all kinds argue endlessly, often over trifles, so where is the harm?

Unfortunately, however, in this case there is an enormous amount of harm, because "climate change" has become an issue unlike any other in the history of western civilization. It's not just that a certain group of people are claiming to have made an earth shattering discovery, but they are also insisting that, based on this discovery, the whole world must unequivocally bend to their extremely stringent demands or, very literally, civilization as we know it, will come to an end.

Ordinarily this group would be easy to dismiss as just another nutcase doomsday cult. But we do not live any longer in ordinary times. One of our best known physicists, Michio Kaku, has recently come out with a book titled "The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth." This guy is actually contemplating the colonization of Mars, one of the wackiest ideas imaginable, but there you have it, he's managed to convince himself. (Gee, why not try to colonize the Sahara while you're at it, Michio?)

We are also living in an era where the head of one of the world's most successful companies, Amazon, is planning to deploy huge dirigible-based warehouses to hover over major cities, delivering items such as iphones, cologne, toilet paper, etc. by launching drones from his floating storerooms so folks will be able to receive their orders today rather than having to wait till tomorrow. I happen to be extremely skeptical of all the hoopla over self-driving cars as yet another sign of the same delusional thinking, but we need not get into that one here. What it all boils down to, as it seems to me, is an  all but total breakdown in the ability of ordinary people to exercise even the slightest degree of critical thinking to embrace ideas so nutty and off the wall that the previous generation would have laughed their heads off at the  very thought.

It wouldn't be so bad if the disease were limited to ordinary people with limited education, the sort who have gone gaga over the likes of David Koresh or Jim Jones. What's especially disturbing is the tendency for so many distinguished scientists, world leaders, politicians, etc. to buy into fantasies of every sort -- and as in the case of the "climate change" paradigm, toss all semblance of critical thinking to the winds in order to embrace what  is all too clearly a crackpot theory.

My time is limited, so I'll provide only one -- rather devastating -- example. Here's an excerpt from a conference which pitted the  well known physicist and science educator Brian Cox against Australian politician Malcom Roberts, a well-known skeptic. After Roberts expresses a demand for evidence, Cox produces the following graph, much to the delight of  an enthusiastically partisan audience that clearly sees this graph as irrefutable evidence of some sort of drastic warming trend over the last hundred years or so. Obvious, isn't it? (You'll need to skip to 53 seconds in to see him presenting this graph and hearing the delighted reaction.)

I dearly wish I'd been present at this event. If so, this is what I would have said: "Brian, if you don't mind, please let me take a closer look at your graph." Here's a closer look at a very similar graph, for the benefit of those reading here:

Now, Brian, I'm not sure if you're aware of this, but the abrupt temperature rise we see from ca. 1910 through the early 40's took place at a time when CO2 emissions were relatively modest and not likely to have had much of an influence on worldwide temperatures. This is not my opinion, but an observation widely shared by most, if not all, climate scientists. And as you can see, Brian, the following period, from about 1940 through roughly 1979, was largely devoid of any significant warming trend, and in fact began with roughly ten years of extreme cooling. This was the time when many scientists expressed concern about a possible coming ice age. Yet CO2 emissions were beginning to soar in the post-war years, from roughly 1950 on. 
Note also, Brian, that the following 20 years or so is in fact the only period depicted on this map during which temperatures and CO2 emissions rose at a comparable rate. The 21st century is not well depicted in this graph, so let's check a different graph showing twenty first century temperatures in more detail:

Here we see an excellent example of how easy it is to produce whatever trend might be to your liking by selecting the "right" endpoints. We see two trend lines, one, from 1970 through what looks to be 2012, going straight up; the other, from about 1998 to 2012, that looks very nearly level, with only a very slight upward trend. Ignoring the trend lines, what is clearly visible to my eye, at least, is the rather drastic difference between the very steep increase in temperature from the late 70's through 1998 or so, and the far more shallow temperature increase that followed. There are, of course, other graphs based on somewhat different data, and more up to date, but the picture we see on just about all tells us that in fact there has been no long term correlation between CO2 levels and global temperatures -- the only exception being the relatively brief period at the end of the 20th century when both temperatures and CO2 levels soared more or less in tandem.
So, as you can see, Brian, looks can be deceiving. And as a professional scientist you should know better than to be so deceived = and be so careless as to deceive others with a graph that tells us precisely the opposite of what you profess to believe. In fact this graph alone should be enough to sink the "climate change" dogma forever. But of course it won't because you and all the others captured by this rather extraordinary form  of NewThink will never admit you could be wrong.

All I have to say on this topic for now. Stay tuned . . .

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