Writings of a techie wizard
Tue, 24 Apr 2012
In my last post I mentioned that global warming would get its own post sometime soon; it appears that now is the time. I ran across a quick update from Steve McIntyre at Climate Audit (linked to from Watts Up With That) that mentions Michael Mann's new book:
Pretty strong language, which should not be a surprise to anyone who has been following the ongoing contretemps between McIntyre and Mann. But McIntyre is not the only one commenting on Mann's book; Harold Ambler wonders how he can actually get his hands on all that funding that Mann claims is being doled out by Big Oil to climate skeptics:
And, of course, there's the continual stonewalling that's been going on for years now at the RealClimate site, as noted by Anthony Watts:
And Mann himself, apart from his book, has blogged defending his position, with plenty of strong language on his own account:
My first inclination after collecting the above quotes was to put this post in the "rants" section. After all, the battle lines are pretty well drawn by this time, aren't they? But no. This wouldn't really be worth a post just to rant, and anyway I'd be rather late to the party. And there is, actually, an issue worth teasing out from the diatribes and discussing on its own merits.
First, take a look at what seems to me to be the core of Mann's blog post:
Forget all the criticisms and diatribes for a moment. Forget the fact that the things Mann states as simple facts in the above are nothing of the sort; they are beliefs that he holds, which may or may not be justified. The question I want to start with is: does he really hold these beliefs? Is he sincere? I think he is, and so are the other climate scientists and politicians who preach alarmism about global warming; and that is what we should really be worried about.
Without getting into the whole history of the "hockey stick" and other debates that Mann has been involved in, let's just look at Mann's simple statements above and apply some basic critical thinking. First: it is true that the carbon in fossil fuels was stored there over a very long period of time (millions of years during the Carboniferous period, some 300 to 360 million years ago, if our current understanding is correct), and we are now releasing it over a much shorter period of time. However: there have been plenty of periods in between the Carboniferous period and now when humans were not burning fossil fuels--so all that carbon that's supposedly warming the planet now was not released, but stayed buried--and yet the climate was warmer than it is now, sometimes quite a bit warmer. What made it warm then, since it obviously wasn't all that carbon that was buried?
Of course, I'm quite sure Mann would have an answer to this if we asked him--though he might need some help from the other folks at RealClimate to work it into a really good blog post. But the point remains: the basic assumption underlying all of this hysteria about global warming is that CO2 released by human burning of fossil fuels is the primary driver of the climate. But it clearly wasn't in the past, so what's changed now? Do the laws of atmospheric physics somehow adjust themselves because they know that humans are now burning fossil fuels? Or could it be that there are other things that drive the climate? After all, if Mann is correct, we are releasing millions of years' worth of carbon over a few hundred years, so if all that carbon really made so much of a difference, Earth's climate should already be somewhere around where it was at the start of the Carboniferous period, right? But it isn't.
But let's put that aside and go on to the next point. Suppose the Earth does warm by another degree Celsius or so by 2100--so what? Mann asserts that this will degrade the planet--but hold on a second. The planet warmed by 0.6 degrees Celsius from 1900 to 2000, according to the IPCC. Do you feel any impulse to look back and ask why those profligates in the early 1900's left us such a degraded planet? True, things have changed since then: but we have adapted to the changes. Not only that: we have innovated. We have found new ways of doing things, and new things to do, that the people in 1900 could not have imagined. And as a result, the planet is much, much richer today. Yet somehow, all that is supposed to stop, and we are just stuck? People won't find any more new ways of adapting? That is just silly. I expect that Earth in 2100 will be a lot richer than Earth today, and to the people of the future, climate change will be a non-problem, not because it won't be happening, but because adapting to it will be cheap, the same way that adapting to changes in the weather is cheap in developed countries today.
(An aside: it could well turn out that not just adapting to climate change, but controlling it, will be cheap by 2100. That would be even nicer, just as being able to control the weather would be nicer than having to adapt to it. I can wear a raincoat and carry an umbrella, but if things could be arranged so the rain fell while I was sleeping and it was always sunny out when I had to go somewhere, I certainly wouldn't complain. But the main obstacle in the way of controlling the climate is--climate science. As long as Mann and his ilk are running this field, we will never really understand how the climate works, because they are not trying to understand it; they are trying to force it to conform to their predetermined conclusions. But that's another post.)
Mann talks about people being overwhelmed by the challenge; but it seems to me that he and his crew of alarmists are the ones who are overwhelmed, and are simply projecting their own feelings onto the rest of us. They have a sense of planetary emergency because they can't think of any ways to adapt--the only response they can come up with is alarm: stop emitting CO2 RIGHT NOW! Well, let me reassure you, Mr. Mann: the rest of us have plenty of ways to adapt. It may well turn out that we burn a lot less fossil fuel in the future than we do today--but for reasons that have little or nothing to do with climate change. Gasoline is well over $4 a gallon in the US as I write, and hybrid vehicles are selling like hotcakes. Some of those people are probably buying hybrids because they're concerned about the climate, but I expect a lot more are buying them simply because they want to save money. Or because they're concerned about their dollars going to oil-rich countries in the Middle East. But regardless of the reason, people do respond to reasonable incentives to change their behavior. What they don't respond well to is being told that their only choices are to emasculate the economy or destroy the planet.
So I'm not responding to Mann's book by writing the long, long post I could write about all the details of what is wrong with Mann's so-called research, why the hockey stick is bunk, why the climate models are worthless, and so on. (I may write that post anyway sometime, just for fun--or perhaps to go more deeply into the underlying issue of how we should be doing science--but this isn't it.) None of that really matters to the bottom line, which actually ties in nicely with my last post:
When it comes right down to it, Michael Mann isn't being investigated because he did bad science. Scientists are human, and can make mistakes; we all realize that. He's being investigated because he did bad science and then used it to justify declaring a planetary emergency. When you do that, people take notice, and if it later turns out--after you have tried your best to obstruct the investigation--that you didn't do the science right, people get annoyed. Particularly if, even supposing the problem you are worried about is real, there are other ways of dealing with it besides pushing the emergency button. The real problem with climate change alarmism is that the alarmists just can't get this; they just can't get that the whole alarmism thing is their personal thing, and most other people just don't share it. It's not that we don't want to "save the planet"; of course, everybody wants to save the planet. It's just that we don't agree that your declaration of a planetary emergency is the way to save the planet. It may even be counterproductive, since it involves committing a lot of resources that could be put to better use elsewhere.
So here's my advice to climate change alarmists: get off the soapbox. Yes, we know you're concerned, and we appreciate your concern. By all means, buy a hybrid car, support alternative energy research (and by the way, it would be nice if you would include nuclear power under "alternative energy", but that's another post), look for other ways to help reduce our use of fossil fuels. There are other good reasons to do that anyway. But we are not going to stop everything else and cripple the world's economy. You've had your say, and there are plenty of other pressing issues to attend to. Deal with it.
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