Out of Control Policy Blog

Global Warming News Roundup, Part I

Global warming is a hot news item today, as the issue was on the front burner during Tony Blair's White House visit yesterday (sorry, bad puns). Below is Part One of a roundup of some items worth noting. There's a theme here, which I'll comment on in a bit:

(1) Bush seeks 'to know more' about global warming (Financial Times)

    At the White House after talks with Tony Blair, the UK prime minister, Mr Bush said the US would continue to lead the world on investment in technology to diversify away from the use of fossil fuels.

    However, in remarks that will disappoint environmentalists, Mr Bush appeared to suggest he still had doubts about the scientific evidence behind global warning. "We need to know more about it," he said. "It's a lot easier to solve when you know more about it."

(2) Nations told 'curb greenhouse gas to fight warming' (The Times)

    THE national science academies of all the G8 countries issued an unprecedented challenge to their governments yesterday, urging immediate action to curb greenhouse gas emissions to fight global warming.

    Scientific evidence about the causes and impacts of climate change is now so clear that effective measures to address them can no longer be delayed, the elite institutions said.

(3) Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming (New York Times)

    A White House official who once led the oil industry's fight against limits on greenhouse gases has repeatedly edited government climate reports in ways that play down links between such emissions and global warming, according to internal documents.

    In handwritten notes on drafts of several reports issued in 2002 and 2003, the official, Philip A. Cooney, removed or adjusted descriptions of climate research that government scientists and their supervisors, including some senior Bush administration officials, had already approved...The dozens of changes, while sometimes as subtle as the insertion of the phrase "significant and fundamental" before the word "uncertainties," tend to produce an air of doubt about findings that most climate experts say are robust.

As usual in the climate change debate, the key theme here is the so-called "scientific consensus" on global warming. Despite the loud claims of the environmental community and their media allies, this "consensus" is a mirage and pops like a pin-pricked balloon when subjected to deeper analysis. See here, here, here, and here for more on this.

The wise Philip Stott of EnviroSpinWatch nails it today on the difficulty of communicating global warming skepticism to the public:

    But to be a "mitigated" sceptic - like me - is even more problematic. The "mitigated" sceptic has first to distinguish 'global warming' from 'climate change'. Secondly, 'climate change' itself has to be broken down into three component and separate questions: "Is climate changing and in what direction?" "Are humans influencing climate change and to what degree?" And: "Are humans able to manage climate change predictably by adjusting one or two variables, or factors, out of the thousands involved?" Imagine trying to unravel these threads in the shoddy warp and weft of a three minute radio interview, or a five minute television debate between three people. There is no air space for the "just reasoner". Yet, as [philosopher David] Hume was at pains to stress, when we are shown the "infirmities" of human understanding, we should naturally acknowledge "... a degree of doubt and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny, ought ever to accompany a just reasoner."

    What is more deeply depressing, however, is the failure of the media, not the failure of the politicians, nor of the scientists. A critical media is vital for a functioning democracy. The media, nevertheless, can become dangerous when it 'crusades' uncritically, siding too readily with the establishment and government of the day. In such circumstances, the debate never achieves the depths of "just reasoning", but becomes ensnared by the slogans of 'the faithful', or worse, of the spin doctor and activist.

And JunkScience.com's Steven Milloy has a brilliant response to the NYT article, the intellectual equivalent of the "talk to the hand" gesture:

    If only a lot more government aides and bureaucrats were as diligent in damping unfounded hysteria and ridiculous overstatement the world just might be focussed on real issues rather than this ridiculous sideshow.

    At least a couple of times a week people write to me on the topic of global warming, either abusing me as some kind of Earth-toasting global conspirator (usually following some slur and innuendo laden article by advocates of Big Warming) or wondering why I'm less than excited by claims of looming heated catastrophe. Let me see if I can very briefly explain:

    1. We think we can figure out the global mean temperature to within a range of about 1.5 ?C (about 2.5 ?F)
    2. We think Earth may have warmed between one-third and one-half that range over the last century or so
    3. We think there might be a recent warming trend in near-surface measures but don't know if that's purely an artefact of sampling in and around cities and urban environs
    4. Neither balloon-sonde nor satellite-mounted MSU measures of the lower troposphere indicate alarming warming
    5. Our ability to model the complex, chaotic, coupled, non-linear system we call the atmosphere is in its infancy and our understanding of climate woefully insufficient to make predictions. Of 9 broad inputs the IPCC classifies our level of scientific understanding as "Very Low" for 5 of them, incredibly including solar and land use (albedo) [don't take my word for it, see table 6.12 of the Third Assessment Report]. You'd expect, given Sol is the source of planetary warmth, that very low understanding of Sol's role in driving the planet's climate, coupled with equally poor understanding of albedo (that is how much solar radiation is reflected and how much actually absorbed by the planet), would give people pause before pontificating on climatic trends - at least I so expect.
    6. Climate change is inevitable, that's what it does.
    7. We should hope that said inevitable change is for the warmer - cold is very hard on humanity and the biosphere.

    So, we don't know the planet's temperature, we think it's likely warming but not by very much, we have no useful agreement between methods of deriving the planet's temperature except those that show no significant warming and we don't understand the system well enough to make useful predictions. Oh, and on the strength of this we are supposed to spend trillions of (1990 US) dollars to 'fix' it (see IPCC's 'correcting figure 73' down-revising cost estimates by two orders of magnitude).

    I think that about covers it.

A bit lengthier than the "if they can't predict the weather five days from now, why should we trust their 100-year climate change predictions" argument, but still nicely put.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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