Don’t forget climate change: The Science section

So that’s one whole section complete of a very odd book.

Intro, Ch 1, Ch2, Ch3, An Aside, Ch4, Ch5, Ch6,…

The first 6 chapters of the IPA’s book “Climate Change: The Facts 2014” was ostensibly about the science of climate change. It is fair to say that it was short on facts. We had numerous mini-lectures on science history and methodology, we had some interesting challenges from Richard Lindzen and we had outright credulity from Abbott and Marohasy.

The two main messages were:

  1. science is a thing
  2. don’t trust climate models

I feel like I need a little science history tale to add to what we’ve had so far: Tycho Brahe. I’ve discussed Brahe before. In the wake of Copernicus and Galileo and the rising enthusiasm for the heliocentric theory Brahe had his doubts. He developed his own model and his reasoning was not without merit. He had some of the best observational data available and he had cause to be doubtful due to his observations of distant stars not showing the amount of parallax that he expected.

He was, of course, wrong.

The shift of understanding that underlies the anthropogenic global warming hypothesis has not been sudden. The physics that underlies the greenhouse gas properties of CO2 have been known for many decades and are absolutely solid science. Yet climatologist earlier in the twentieth century were less inclined to suggest that anthropogenic global warming was a possibility because other climatic influences were more substantial. We can sum up this notion as what I’ll call ‘Business as Usual’ or BAU: CO2 is a greenhouse gas and increasing its concentration in the atmosphere should lead to some nominal warming but this will be small and not noticeable compared to other factors.

More than one author referred to Khun’s notion of paradigm change in science – where rather than a gradual change in understanding one old consensus among experts is replace by another primarily through social factors in the experts themselves, such as older experts retiring in a given discipline.

In this case, the ‘old’ paradigm would be BAU (above) and the new would be AGW if we are going to go down the simplistic model of shifting paradigms. What we see in these chapters is a kind of rear-guard action in favour of the older way of looking at climate. Although there were various calls for a ‘new paradigm’ of climate science, the thrust was continually for a twiddled version of the old consensus. The quality of the twiddling was very variable.

The most Brahe-like was Lindzen but even he didn’t have a workable model. Lindzen’s iris effect hypothesis is not well supported empirically and lacks a strong theoretical basis. Ironically the only recent support for it has been from the kind of climate model disparaged by other contributors.

More generally we’ve had:

  1. it might not be happening because the temperature record has errors
  2. climatologists are ignoring water vapour
  3. climatologist are placing too much emphasis on positive feedback from water vapour
  4. its natural cycles of some kind
  5. its the sun or it is natural solar cycles
  6. climatologists are ignoring other factors
  7. climatologists are cheating by considering other factors

Collectively it is a mess of contradictions but presented as if each author was contributing to a single edifice of argument. Beneath the FUD you can make out the shape of something. That something is people struggling with trying to deny the science while limiting the extent to which they may end up rejecting science. At one end of that spectrum, is Lindzen’s chapter and at the other is Abbot & Marohasy’s.

What can we infer from the way each author structures their argument around something: it is getting warmer – there was only limited attempts to claim this isn’t the case and more revealingly was multiple attempts to suggest alternate mechanisms that might cause warming.

  1. it is getting warmer – there was only limited attempts to claim this isn’t the case and more revealingly was multiple attempts to suggest alternate mechanisms that might cause warming.
  2. CO2 really is the most likely culprit – even Lindzen arguing relatively cogently for a possible lower level of climate sensitivity to CO2 needed a mechanism by which likely warming would be less.

Only one chapter in this science section when completely off the rails (chapter 6) but overall the section was still short on science and high in vague uncertainty.