Last night, the accumulated years of being called an evil-Koch-funded-anti-science-tobacco-lawyer-Holocaust-Denier finally caught up with me. I wrote something like 3000 words of indignation about climate alarmists corrupting the very definition of science by declaring their work “settled”, answering difficult scientific questions with the equivalent of voting, and telling everyone the way to be pro-science is to listen to self-designated authorities and shut up. I looked at the draft this morning and while I agreed with everything written, I decided not to publish a whiny ode of victimization. There are plenty of those floating around already.
And then, out of the blue, I received an email from a stranger. Last year I had helped to sponsor a proposal to legalize gay marriage in Arizona. I was doing some outreach to folks in the libertarian community who had no problem with gay marriage (after all, they are libertarians) but were concerned that marriage licensing should not be a government activity at all and were therefore lukewarm about our proposition. I suppose I could have called them bigots, or homophobic, or in the pay of Big Hetero — but instead I gathered and presented data on the number of different laws, such as inheritance, where rights and privileges were tied to marriage. I argued that the government was already deeply involved with marriage, and fairness therefore demanded that more people have access to these rights and privileges. Just yesterday I had a reader send me an email that said, simply, “you changed my mind on gay marriage.” It made my day. If only climate discussion could work this way.
So I decided the right way to drive change in the climate debate is not to rant about it but instead to continue to model what I consider good behavior — fact-based discussion and a recognition that reasonable people can disagree without that disagreement implying one or the other has evil intentions or is mean-spirited.
This analysis was originally published about 8 years ago, and there is no longer an online version. So for fun, I thought I would reproduce my original thought experiment on climate models that led me to the climate dark side.
I have been flattered over time that folks like Matt Ridley have picked up on bits and pieces of this analysis. See it all here.
As I have read Mr. Ridley over the years, I have found him to have staked out a position on anthropogenic climate change very similar to mine (we are both called "lukewarmers" because we accept that man's addition of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere warms the world incrementally but do not accept catastrophic positive-feedback driven catastrophic warming forecasts).
... and it was fun to see my charts in it! The lecture is reprinted here (pdf) or here (html). The charts I did are around pages 6-7 of the pdf, the ones showing the projected curve of global warming for various climate sensitivities, and backing into what that should imply for current warming. In short, even if you don't think warming in the surface temperature record is exaggerated, there still has not been anywhere near the amount of warming one would expect for the types of higher sensitivities in the IPCC and other climate models. Warming to date, even if not exaggerated and all attributed to man-made and not natural causes, is consistent with far less catastrophic, and more incremental, future warming numbers.
These charts come right out of the IPCC formula for the relationship between CO2 concentrations and warming, a formula first proposed by Michael Mann. I explained these charts in depth around the 10 minute mark of this video, and returned to them to make the point about past warming around the 62 minute mark. This is a shorter video, just three minutes, that covers the same ground. Watching it again, I am struck by how relevant it is as a critique five years later, and by how depressing it is that this critique still has not penetrated mainstream discussion of climate. In fact, I am going to embed it below:
The older slides Ridley uses, which are cleaner (I went back and forth on the best way to portray this stuff) can be found here.
By the way, Ridley wrote an awesome piece for Wired more generally about catastrophism which is very much worth a read.
I now see at firsthand how I avoided hearing any good news when I was young. Where are the pressure groups that have an interest in telling the good news? They do not exist. By contrast, the behemoths of bad news, such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and WWF, spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year and doom is their best fund-raiser. Where is the news media's interest in checking out how pessimists' predictions panned out before? There is none. By my count, Lester Brown has now predicted a turning point in the rise of agricultural yields six times since 1974, and been wrong each time. Paul Ehrlich has been predicting mass starvation and mass cancer for 40 years. He still predicts that `the world is coming to a turning point'.
Ah, that phrase again. I call it turning-point-itis. It's rarely far from the lips of the prophets of doom. They are convinced that they stand on the hinge of history, the inflexion point where the roller coaster starts to go downhill. But then I began looking back to see what pessimists said in the past and found the phrase, or an equivalent, being used by in every generation. The cause of their pessimism varied - it was often tinged with eugenics in the early twentieth century, for example - but the certainty that their own generation stood upon the fulcrum of the human story was the same.
I got back to 1830 and still the sentiment was being used. In fact, the poet and historian Thomas Macaulay was already sick of it then: `We cannot absolutely prove that those are in error who tell us that society has reached a turning point, that we have seen our best days. But so said all before us, and with just as much apparent reason.' He continued: `On what principle is it that, when we see nothing but improvement behind us, we are to expect nothing but deterioration before us.'
Check out the article for more. I am currently reading his book -- good stuff so far. He quotes both my college roommate Brink Lindsey as well as yours truly in the book. How can you go wrong?