Posted by: bmeverett | April 26, 2016

More Bad Climate Logic


The April 19 edition of the New York Times includes an op-ed entitled “A New Dark Age Looms” by Dr. William B. Gail, a past President of the American Meteorological Society and a founder of the Global Weather Corporation, a weather data services company. The premise of Dr. Gail’s op-ed is that mankind faces a period in which we no longer understand weather patterns, which have been severely and unpredictably disrupted by man-made climate change. Let’s stipulate at the outset that Dr. Gail is absolutely correct on one point. It would indeed be a very bad thing for civilization if we lost our basic ability to predict weather patterns and we never knew when it would be hotter or colder or wetter or stormier. It would also be very bad for mankind if tyrannosaurs came back or if we were invaded by hostile extraterrestrials or if the Earth were struck by a massive meteor. The difference is that Dr. Gail and the New York Times are implying that, unlike these other events, A New Dark Age ushered in by man-made climate change is actually likely.

Dr. Gail makes no effort to tell us why we should believe that his New Dark Age will actually happen, other than offering the usual argument of climate activists that “scientists predict it.” At the risk of repeating the argument from many previous postings, let’s review the situation one more time. Physics tells us that carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion is a greenhouse gas that will warm the atmosphere. Physics and biology tell us that carbon dioxide also promotes plant growth and drought-resistance. Physics does not tell us how much the atmosphere will warm as a result of current and expected carbon dioxide emissions. Catastrophic scenarios such as Dr. Gail’s New Dark Age are the result of climate models which consistently overstate actual experience by incorporating “feedback loops” of increased humidity that amplify the inherent warming of carbon dioxide. If climate activists ever want to win this argument, they are going to have to demonstrate that catastrophic warming is consistent with actual data. Since they are failing badly in this area, we are seeing an increasing reliance on scare tactics as an alternative to actual argument.

My readers know that I am fond of analogies, which I think are often instructive. Let’s suppose that I claim that eating broccoli causes cancer. How could I prove my case? What should I be required to demonstrate in support of my hypothesis? Epidemiology has some clearly established methodologies for dealing with these questions. In particular, I would need to conduct a comprehensive study in which we compared the cancer rates of broccoli eaters with the cancer rates of non-broccoli eaters. The results would have to show a statistically significant correlation between broccoli and cancer. It would not be adequate to show that some cancer victims had eaten broccoli or to build a computer model, particularly one which assumes that broccoli causes cancer, or to argue that lots of people believe it’s true.

The least persuasive argument, however, would be to catalogue the terrible consequences of cancer – the sickness, fear, pain, deterioration and grieving and distraught family that would follow the onset of this dreaded disease. Nobody doubts that cancer is horrible, but that says nothing about its causation. This argument is nothing but a scare tactic and has no meaning at all in terms of establishing a connection between broccoli and cancer.

Another useless argument would be that people who deny the link between broccoli and cancer either don’t believe that cancer is real or don’t care if people get sick. They are nothing more than “cancer deniers”.

A final meaningless argument is that, even if no causal relationship has been established between broccoli and cancer, it’s smart to avoid broccoli just as a precaution. In fact, eating broccoli is good for you. It’s full of fiber and vitamins and has some protein and carbohydrate with almost no fat. Convincing people to avoid broccoli involves a cost. If we’re going to stop eating foods just as a precaution, why not stop eating bread, carrots and arugula? Which foods would you not stop eating “just as a precaution”?

Like broccoli, carbon dioxide has clear and demonstrable benefits which would be lost of we actually reduced emissions. Fortunately, the climate policies which may (or may not) follow from the recent signing of the Paris Climate Agreement will have, at best, a negligible impact on atmospheric carbon dioxide emissions. These policies, will also, however, impose a cost on the countries that foolishly decide to adopt them.

Dr. Gail’s op-ed suggests that climate activists, including the New York Times, are losing the argument over climate science. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they spend more time supporting their hypothesis and less time telling us how bad it would be if they were right?

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