Climate change Thoughts


The following editorial in the Wall Street Journal: Climategate: Science is Dying prompted this comment/response to them from me:


The sheer arrogant hubris of it all!!


Problems with the data:

In the late 60s and early 70s I worked alongside some scientists developing early climate models. The problem back then (as it is today) is the lack of good finely detailed temperature and wind data from all the points (and altitudes) over the whole surface of the earth. We only have any data at all going back maybe 150 years (and as we have recently learned even there the raw data has been irretrievably lost). We only have "good" data perhaps going back 80 or 90 years; and even that data is fairly sparse on the ground — located mostly at major concentrations of human habitation. It is only in the last 30 years or so with the rise of satellite technology that we have reasonably good data for points over the whole of the earth. Even then the graininess of the data is still unacceptably large.


Problems with the input parameters:

The Earth is an extremely complex system — no model can hope to encompass every possible variation and situation. Consequently it is quite normal in these models to adopt various simplifying assumptions that in some way encapsulate our best understanding of the underlying processes and science. Stable or "good" (useful?)models do not vary much in their predicted outcomes when small changes in these input parameters are made. Models with large, wide variations in outcomes upon small changes to the input parameters are deemed to be "chaotic". Climate models are mostly of the latter "chaotic" form. Need a "hockey stick"? I can give you a parameter that will return you that output. Want a 1° average rise in temperature over the next century — there’s a set of parameters for that too. Or suppose (mirabile dictu) you actually desire a temperature decline — why there’s a set of parameters for that as well!


Problems with the timescales:

The Earth as a scientific system operates at energy levels and timescales far beyond those of human lifetimes. We are as mayflies in the geologic scheme of mother Earth. Planet studies of our sisters Venus and Mars have shown us just how unique the Earth biosphere is. Venus could have been like the Earth, but isn’t. Climate scientists frequently like to point out that Venus is in our future, if we don’t clean up our carbon-emitting act. The fact is that in many ways the biosphere of the earth has been remarkably stable for a very long period of time (easily hundreds of millions of years — perhaps even billions). Over this very long time, the Earth has been subjected to a variety of large disturbances and shocks, yet the biosphere is still with us. Clearly there are stabilizers in the Earth system — operating on timescales of thousands and millions of years that keep things ticking over nicely. The thought that we could in our puny way somehow alter these processes (when as yet we have almost no good scientific understanding of them) is arrant nonsense.


At the end of the day what the scientists are engaged in is a statistical exercise. They take a certain amount of data, and from that attempt to project what that data might look like in the future. This is not science as we were taught it in school (in fairness given the timescales there is really nothing else that scientists can do); there are no hypotheses followed by experiments under rigidly controlled conditions with a looksee at the end of some results. I have mentioned before the problems with the data that we have. The "good" baseline data is probably only 30 to 40 years long (and even that is pretty sparse on a global scale). This baseline is good enough to do weather prediction, but not nearly long enough to do any kind of longer-term prediction of the sort that climate scientists are using as the basis of all their alarums and warnings. As I stated before: the Earth is an extremely complicated system operating at energies and time scales far beyond those of mere mortal men (sorry Superman). For us to then therefore turn around and say we can drastically modify how we live, and dramatically lower our standards of living, and thereby have some material impact on a climatological outcome is arrogant folly of the first order!


Scientists should stick to science and keep their noses out of public policy (politicians already mess this up quite nicely thank you very much)– too much of what has already transpired (as others here in the Wall Street Journal have pointed out) has been driven by a money trail whose corrosive effects are even now only dimly perceived.


Pasted from <>



I thought I had finished with this when I posted my
comment yesterday, but after reading all of the direct responses, and other posts at the Wall Street Journal, and upon
reflection, I feel impelled to add a couple of additional observations.


Much of the
discussion here has been in the form of ad hominem attacks against Mr.
Henninger, scientists in general, readers of the Wall Street Journal, and
certain individual posters to this thread. This is not at all helpful.


I don’t know
whether the climate scientists are correct or not. I wouldn’t even begin to
venture a guess as to what mean global temperatures might be 100 years hence. We
do, however, seem to be losing the main thrust of the editorial, which is that
climate scientists (and their policy allies) are arguing for a "precautionary"
action agenda. To me this is a little bit like chicken Little running off
shouting "the sky is falling" as the first nugget of hail bounces off his


We need, I think
instead, to adopt the principles used by doctors, and those engaged in medical
research (the Earth is after all our very dear, and only home): that principle
is best expressed in the Hippocratic oath by the words "first do no harm".


Climate scientists
and many policy wonks are advocating radical restructurings of just about every
facet of human existence. As several have stated here: thousands of climate
scientists all have come to similar conclusions, and they can’t all be wrong.
Well, thousands of scientists thought that the Ptolemaic view of the solar
system was the correct one and that Copernicus was wrong (and in fact the
Ptolemaic view produced better planetary predictions for many years after —
until Kepler came along). Not to demean the scientists, but I find arguments
based on the "authority" of thousands of scientists not very compelling.


Luckily, most of
us live in democracies, and I doubt that the precautionary principle is going to
get much real traction. Take the behavior of most of the signatories to the
Kyoto protocol and the emissions levels they agreed to achieve: not one of them
even came close to hitting their targets; and most European nations didn’t even
try (from a political standpoint) to put in place anything that would move them
towards their climate goals. In actual fact, the United States, which was not a
signatory, came closer to hitting their projected targets (even though they
missed them by a wide margin) than their European cousins. Politically Kyoto,
Copenhagen, and the endless stream of climate change conferences to come will
achieve nothing meaningful (other than increased funding streams for our
friendly climate scientists — which is not necessarily bad — new knowledge is
never a bad thing; and if the scientists are right, understandings grounded in
better science will lead to better policy options should they be needed sometime
in the future).


If there is a real
problem here, it is one of pollution: the pollution of too many people; but you
will find few willing to address "that" 500 pound gorilla sitting at the table.
Another point which I find consistently overlooked is the fact that, even if
global temperatures were to rise on average, the actual effects on individual
areas over the whole of the Earth would vary widely (I have even heard
projections from climate scientists saying that if global temperature rises
overall, it will nevertheless result in a dramatic cooling in many areas — one
notable example of which would be Great Britain).


I am not
advocating a do-nothing strategy here (in fact I think many "green" initiatives
will have beneficial outcomes — certainly moving away from fossil fuels is
something we ought to be doing whether the temperature is rising or not). On the
other hand I think given the timescales, the enormous complexities, the
"apparent" uncertainties, and mostly because much of this is based on computer
simulations, we ought to be a little bit humble, a lot cautious, and as I said
above: "first do no harm".

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