Posted by: bmeverett | May 22, 2013

Same Old, Same Old from the New York Times

For the last 20 years or so, the Climate Community has predicted that scientific evidence would provide ever increasing support for the catastrophic climate change hypothesis. After gleefully trumpeting the rising atmospheric temperatures of the 1990s, they have been baffled by the last 15 years when global temperatures have not risen at all. On May 10, the Times published a front-page article rehashing the same old climate change arguments. The article by Justin Gillis was entitled “Heat-Trapping Gas Passes Milestone, Raising Fears”. I agree with the Times on one point: the Climate Community’s arguments offer fear, rather than science, as their primary motivation for taking action.

Although I have addressed these arguments in many previous posts, I feel obligated to repeat the arguments whenever the Times drags out these leftovers. Here goes one more time.

NYT: “The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.”
Reply: The “long-feared” milestone of 400 parts per million of carbon dioxide is entirely arbitrary. Millions of years is a long time in human history, but a very short time on a geological scale. Measurements show atmospheric carbon concentrations of 4,000 parts per million at various points in the Earth’s history. An interesting set of questions is (1) how did carbon concentrations reach such levels when there were no humans to burn fossil fuel, (2) how did carbon concentrations fall back below 200 parts per million before there were any human beings to institute carbon mitigations policies and (3) do high carbon concentrations cause temperature increases or do temperature increases cause high carbon concentrations. The troubling fact is not so much that the Climate Community has no answers to these questions, but that they have no interest in these questions.

NYT: “Indirect measurements suggest that the last time the carbon dioxide level was this high was at least three million years ago, during an epoch called the Pliocene. Geological research shows that the climate then was far warmer than today, the world’s ice caps were smaller, and the sea level might have been as much as 60 or 80 feet higher. Experts fear that humanity may be precipitating a return to such conditions — except this time, billions of people are in harm’s way.”
Reply: Some but by no means all experts believe this to be true. The Times defines an expert as someone who supports the catastrophic climate change hypothesis and then cites these experts as the definitive authority. This fallacy is known in logic as the “No True Scotsman” fallacy, which goes as follows. A Scottish politician claims that no Scotsman opposes independence from Great Britain. When someone points out that opinion polls show 59% of Scotsmen oppose independence, he restates his proposition as “No true Scotsman opposes independence”, thus reducing his statement to a tautology. If “experts” are defined as scientists supporting the catastrophic climate change hypothesis, then it is indeed true that all experts support the hypothesis. True, but meaningless.

NYT: “Countries have adopted an official target to limit the damage from global warming, with 450 parts per million seen as the maximum level compatible with that goal. “Unless things slow down, we’ll probably get there in well under 25 years,” Ralph Keeling said. Yet many countries, including China and the United States, have refused to adopt binding national targets.”
Reply: Lots of countries, particularly in Europe, talk a lot about reducing carbon emissions, but none has taken any serious steps in that direction. If you ask Europeans, they will point proudly to their successful implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, the European Carbon Trading System, their extensive subsidies for renewable energy and their even more ambitious targets for the future. Sounds great, but European carbon emissions have declined by 7% since 2000. The US, which the Times casts as the laggard, has reduced its carbon emissions by exactly the same amount.

NYT: “Climate-change contrarians, who have little scientific credibility but are politically influential in Washington, point out that carbon dioxide represents only a tiny fraction of the air — as of Thursday’s reading, exactly 0.04 percent. “The CO2 levels in the atmosphere are rather undramatic,” a Republican congressman from California, Dana Rohrabacher, said in a Congressional hearing several years ago. But climate scientists reject that argument…”
Reply: Seriously? How can a journalist write a sentence like that? Most climate change contrarians are in fact distinguished scientists themselves, not Congressmen. Check, for example, the writings of Professor William Happer of Princeton. Oh, I forgot. They are not “true” climate scientists.

NYT: “Scientists say that unless far greater efforts are made soon, the goal of limiting the warming will become impossible without severe economic disruption.”
Reply: I guess once again the Times means “true” scientists. In fact, the cost of even a small reduction in US carbon emissions today would be very high and, given China’s huge emissions growth, would contribute nothing of any significance to the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere.

NYT: Research shows that even at such low levels [those prevailing today], carbon dioxide is potent at trapping heat near the surface of the earth.
Reply: This statement is untrue. Projected levels of carbon dioxide emissions would by themselves cause only modest warming of around 1º C over the next hundred years – similar to the warming we have seen over the last hundred years. The catastrophic climate change predicted by the Climate Community is based entirely on assumptions regarding the indirect effects of warming on cloud cover, ocean absorption and other components of climate. Catastrophic scenarios assume that all feedback effects amplify rather than reduce the warming effect of carbon. In fact, the argument here is at the basis of many ecological arguments. Environmentalists often assume that ecosystems are extremely fragile and will collapse when disturbed. In reality, ecosystems – and the climate as well – are quite robust and can reestablish a new equilibrium. This tendency is known in science as Le Chatelier’s principle. The catastrophic climate hypothesis may be true, but it is not supported by any research, only by the opinions of some climate advocates.

One of my very best Fletcher students recently commented that climate science will sooner or later have to be replaced by actual science. Now would be a good time.


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