A look at the science and politics of global warming
There are few more important global public policy issues today than if and how to address Anthropological Global Warming (AGW). Not only might it require public investments on a scale not seen except in wars, but efforts to control AGW will clash with preparations for peak oil. The combination of could be catastrophic, in many ways. This post gives a brief review of the debate.
An important new paper, well-worth reading
Some comments on AGW, the process of the science
The campaign to warn the world about AGW
1. An important new paper, well-worth reading
I strongly recommend that you read a new paper on the issue, by one of the key participants in the debate.
“Was 1998 the Warmest Year of the Millennium: What do We Really Know?“, presentation by Steve McIntyre at Ohio State University (16 May 2008).
It is somewhat technical. Even if skimmed, it gives a flavor of the dynamics and politics of climate science.
2. Some comments on AGW, the process of the science
First, like peak oil, the issue itself is often misunderstood. Peak oil is not about “running out of oil.” AGW is not about global warming (GW), it is a subset of GW. If the world is warming, how much of this warming results from our actions? This is a critical and often overlooked distinction, as we have little ability to influence natural climate trends.
Second, I believe that, as with nuclear winter, the social dynamics within the community of scientists plays a big role in determining how this research is conducted and presented. Eventually the mills of science grind out the truth, but that takes time. Science is a social process, not a divine mechanism, and works much like other community functions: more or less well, in fits and starts.
3. Nuclear Winter
Carl Sagan’s nuclear winter theory, and its associated campaign, were perhaps a key element and rehearsal for AGW. It was in some respects a consensual fraud by the scientific community – propaganda to force changes in public policy.
For example, the scenarios selected were represented as likely “base case”, but were actually a worst case — nuking of every medium- and large city on the planet. Also, the calculations exaggerated the effects. Most important, like with AGW, critical examination was discouraged in the scientific community as socially undesirable – encouraging nuclear war.
For a balanced discussion of the Nuclear Winter debate – and the intermixing of science and policy, read “Nuclear winter: science and politics“, Science and Public Policy, Brian Martin, Vol. 15, No. 5, October 1988, pp. 321-334. It has an excellent background description and bibliography. Martin is Professor of Social Sciences in the School of Social Sciences, Media and Communication at the University of Wollongong (profile).
4. The campaign to warn the world about AGW
The campaigns to promote AGW has operated in a similar fashion but on a larger scale.
First, the debate has been marked by frequent refussal to provide critics with supporting data and algorythms, making replication impossible except by known supports. See this discussion about the IPCC: UK Met Office, Climate Research Unit, Ammann. Here is an even more stunning example:
“We have 25 or so years invested in the work. Why should I make the data available to you, when your aim is to try and find something wrong with it.”
(Phill Jones’ reply to Warwick Hughes, 21. February 2005; confirmed by Phill Jones)
A slide Hans von Storch, GKSS Research Centre, presented to the National Academies of Science (see link below)
There have even been rumors of retaliation against scientists publishing data critical of AGW. One of the best known examples of the latter is Dr. Lloyd D. Keigwin. He published a climate reconstruction based on analysis of Sargasso Sea mud in Science (“The Little Ice Age and Medieval Warm Period in the Sargasso Sea”, v274, 1996). The backlash was formidable, especially when Exxon ran an advertisement mentioning his work. Fortunately for his career and continued research funding, he wrote a public letter to Exxon rebuking them for using his work to criticize the AGW paradigm. (No word yet if upon mailing the letter he muttered that “The mud does not lie.”). For a brief description of this episode see the article in the March 22, 2001 issue of the Wall Street Journal (online subscription required): “Exxon Mobil Uses Scientist’s Data As Evidence of Natural Warming“, Wall Street Journal (22 March 2001) — subscription only.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of this story is the success of the propaganda campaign to convince the public of the danger and need for drastic remedial action — in which the public’s knowledge of natural climate cycles has probably decreased from that of a generation or two ago. Ask a well-educated believer in AGW about past climate fluctuations and one will often get to watch their astonishment when learning about their magnitude and frequency. The role of climate cycles in Europe, the medieval optimum and the little ice age, has been almost erased from the public consciousness. Replacing it is the false idea of planetary homeostasis, in which even the small climate variations predicted for the 21st century are considered extraordinary.
Also indicating that the campaign has moved from education to propaganda: warming is almost exclusively described as causing harm, seldom providing benefits. It should have some benefits, even if the net effect is harmful. This is esp. odd as warm periods of history have usually been considered benign, with cold causing famine and disease.
None of this affects the underlying issues of climate science, but has made the process of verifying current theories run slowly. This is esp. unfortunate given the stakes.
Please share your comments by posting below (brief and relevant, please), or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information about global climate change
- “SURFACE TEMPERATURE RECONSTRUCTIONS FOR THE LAST 2,000 YEARS“, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, NATIONAL RESEARCH COUNCIL OF THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES (2006) — aka The North Report.
- Report of the “Ad Hoc Committee on the Hockey Stick Global Climate Reconstruction”, commissioned by the House Committee on Energy and Commerce (July 2006) — aka The Wegman Report. Also note this excerpt from the Q&A session of the Dr. Edward J. Wegman’s testimony.
- “The role of statisticians in public policy debates over climate change“, Richard L. Smith, American Statistical Association – Section on Statistics & the Environment Newsletter (Spring 2007) — One of the too-few reports by statisticians on the climate change literature.
- A timeline of the science and politics of climate science.
- A Bibliography by year of climate science research
If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.
Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).
For more information from the FM site
To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:
- Posts about Science, Nature, and Geopolitics– this lists not only posts on the FM site, but also a wide range of other online sources.