A Brief Summary of the Skeptic's Position

My new column is up at Forbes, and attempts a brief layman's summary of the science of the climate skeptic's position.

  • Ignoramus

    CO2 traps light and turns it into heat -- agreed. Man is increasing the amount of CO2 in the air -- agreed. Therefore, Man is warming the Earth. Ergo, Al Gore is right.

    What's left out is the "degree" of influence that CO2 has -- both directly and through knock-on effects, and most importantly ... the effects of other drivers of climate change.

    I'm writing from a spot in NYC where 10,000 years ago I'd be under a mile of ice. During the age of dinosaurs the Earth was a lot hotter and there was a lot more CO2 in the air. Obviously other drivers of climate change are at work. It's a reasonable inference that they're "stronger" than CO2 alone.

    I've always been skeptical that atmospheric CO2 can be a big driver because it has so little mass. I've hypothesized that our cutting down trees to build roads paved with heat-absorbing black asphalt is a bigger driver than man-made CO2 -- I want an Oscar and a Nobel prize.

    Until this is better understood, we have "Climate Studies" not "Climate Science." Notable here is the lack of experiment. A computer model isn't an experiment -- it's a hypothesis.

    But it's never really been about science, has it? You'd do better to call these folks out in BOLD CAPS over the politics and the shame of it all.

  • caseyboy

    An excellent article. Concise and well reasoned dissertation. Res ipsa loquitur, "the thing speaks for itself".

  • Well said, but narrow.

    When I'm making the skeptic's case (as per here), I focus on how narrow the question that is being asked is. Here's my list.

    1. Should we just listen to the experts?
    2. Is the globe warming?
    3. Is human activity causing it?
    4. Is the net effect expected to be bad or good?
    5. Can anything meaningful be done (technically) to slow/reverse this?
    6. Can anything meaningful be done (politically) to make the changes happen?
    7. Is the net cost/benefit to society more positive if we solve global warming, allow global warming, some intermediate, or some alternative?
    8. What is the opportunity cost of the results of 7?
    9. How uncertain are we about our conclusions?

    As far as I can tell, most discussion assumes 1, therefore answers 2, and doesn't address 3-9.

  • James H

    Nice brief summary, especially to highlight the straw man that "deniers don't believe in the greenhouse effect" that is so often stated. Another problem with positive feedback assumptions - if the earth has been warmer and even had higher concentrations of CO2, how did we get back to this cooler period? Wouldn't positive feedbacks have prevented this? How do we have ice ages?

    Also controversial is the residence time of CO2 in the atmosphere. I think the IPCC says that its hundreds of years, while some other sources say tens of years. Maybe it depends on how you define it, since it is assumed to be an exponential decay process.

  • James H

    Oh, I forgot to also point out that we're not even sure how much warming (if any) there has been over any real time period due things like poorly sited weather stations, undocumented moves, and all of the "quality control" adjustments that get made to "homogenize" the data.

  • Roy

    Wish Warren had noted in his several paragraphs about the .7C warming agreed upon for 20th C at least these two caveats (that he has mentioned elsewhere): 1) Tho conceding, at least for sake of discussion and to advance creation of good models (excellent point you made about doing science, Warren), still exists reasonable doubt as to accuracy of .7C. 2) What might we conclude from the part of 20th C (prior to 1940's) most of that assumed .7C change took place.

    First commentor at Forbes' site gives hint of rabid nature of AGW proponents. With no citation of sources nor discussion of data commentor supplies, insists reader accept that one data point as definitively destructive of Warren's entire reasoning.

  • caseyboy

    Warren had the good grace not to attack the motives of the alarmists as it could take the focus from the reasonable and valid points being made. However, I suffer no such restraint.

    There are a select number of elitists that have huge financial windfalls at stake. The concept of buying and selling carbon credits will drive significant volume through global exchanges where the exchange owners will take their fig. Did you know that Nobel award winner Al Gore is an owner of the Chicago Climate Exchange? Pushed by UN mandates these exchanges could transact hundreds of billions of dollars generating fees that would dwarf any seen by the US stock market traders and exchanges combined. Don't ever take your eye off the money angle. It explains why otherwise good scientists might take shortcuts.

  • paul

    In a strict sense CO2, or any other GHG, don't cause heating - they slow cooling below their spectral temperature equivalent by capturing and re-radiating less than half of their captured photons back toward the earth.

  • Ted Rado

    The only thing I would add is that to inplement the 80% reduction in CO2 by 2050, we must find alternative sources of energy and get everyone on board, including the Chinese and Indians. As of now, there are no viable large scale sources of energy, and the Indians are not prepared to destroy their economy in behalf of the AGW theory. Thus, we would destroy our economy for nothing.

  • Mercy Vetsel

    I thought the article was superb. Highlighting the utterly dishonest straw man that "deniers don't believe in the greenhouse effect" is essential because it short circuits the claim of overwhelming consensus.

    Skeptics of this political hoax need to maintain a laser-like focus on the real issues:

    1) are we causing a global warming crisis with CO2 emissions

    2) if so would any legislation proposal be a cost effective way to avoid it

    -Mercy

  • Ignoramus

    Lord Monckton is the guy who's been challenging Al Gore to debate for years, with no luck. He was disinvited to testify to Congress some years ago, but got to testify before a smaller Congressional hearing last year as a Republican invitee.

    He took Mercy's position exactly, sidestepping the He Said / She Said over the "science" of it all.

    Meanwhile ...

    Michael "Hockey Stick" Mann got $2.4 million in grant money paid for from Stimulus. I couldn't make that up if I tried.

    "Deniers" at prominent universities are hounded if they speak out -- Princeton is a notable example.

    A Rush Limbaugh-listening truck driver is more likely to have heard about Siberian tree rings than a New York Times-reading denizen of NYC's Upper West Side.

    That's the USA today.