Archive for the ‘scepticism’ Category
I concluded yesterday’s post, entitled ‘The importance of being earnestly wrong’, by quoting a wonderfully circular argument from Oakwood. This was the assertion that “…you cannot show any one of these [opinions] to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’…” In reality, the scientific consensus regarding climate science is no more the subject of legitimate debate than the consensus views that: the Universe and the Earth were not created in six days little more than 6000 years ago; the Sun does not orbit the Earth; humans did not co-exist with dinosaurs; and the Earth is not flat.
There are therefore some things about which we humans are no longer wrong (with the exception of those whose approach to science is prejudiced by their ideology or theology).
Yesterday’s post also contained a TED video of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz. This is so good – and so fundamental to appreciating the predicament that Oakwood is in – that I have embedded it here once again.
Schulz warns against automatically assuming that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false. However, she also makes the fundamental point that most people don’t know they are wrong – they are just as convinced that they are not wrong as those who are actually right. This makes it critically important that everyone be willing to accept that they may be wrong. I have done this a lot; and I still do it regularly. However, with regard to climate science, I repeatedly find myself coming back to the logical proposition that:
Doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable. This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.
Not only would such (implausible, improbable, or insidious) things be without precedent (and require an awful lot of people to be wrong or corrupt), there is also a clear precedent – in the tobacco industry – for the business-funded disputation of highly inconvenient science (which only required a few people to be corrupt in order to fool an awful lot of people).
So, then, because I think it highly instructive – and since it is impossible to breach the confidentiality of someone who chooses to remain anonymous – Oakwood’s email to me is reproduced below (entirely without permission) with rebuttals included in bold text:
“You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts.” Yes, that applies to everyone. Here are a few facts:
IPCC models did not predict the current temperature pause. If the IPCC has [now] said ‘because of what we know about the ocean’s massive heat capacity compared to the atmosphere, and the potential for aerosols from growing economies such as India and China, a 15 to 20 year pause is possible’. Of course, they didn’t say that [before], and only come up with the theory after the event. The IPCC do not do the modelling; they merely synthesise the results and summarise the implications. This is therefore statement of belief in either widespread scientific incompetence or political conspiracy. Furthermore, since (1) ice continues to melt (at sea and on land); (2) sea level continues to rise; and (3) ocean pH continues to decline, warming has clearly not stopped. See also ‘How reliable are climate models’ and ‘Global Warming Has Stopped’ on SkepticalScience (SkS).
Proxy temperature data studies cannot reproduce instrumental data for recent decades – when temperatures are at their highest. Therefore, we cannot rely on them to say anything about previous ‘high temperature’ episodes, such as the MWP. This is a complicated issue but this argument has been comprehensively and repeatedly discredited. For example, see ‘Response by Marcott et al’ on Real Climate (with links to other sources of info). As for the MWP, see ‘How does the Medieval Warm Period compare to current global temperatures?’ on SkS.
While so much is made of the Arctic’s ‘record’ low, little is said about the Antarctic’s ‘record’ high, except ‘well that’s different’. Antarctica is geographically isolated and affected by the hole in the ozone layer but, despite this, the West Antarctic and the Antarctic Peninsula are warming as fast as the Arctic. See also ‘Antarctica is gaining ice’ on SkS.
The IPCC finds NO convincing link between extreme weather events (floods, drought, hurricanes) and global warming. Their best is ‘medium confidence’ (for heavy precipitation). (More warm days and fewer cold days is not ‘extreme weather’, but simply a logical outcome of the fact temperatures rose over the 20th C). The IPCC has been repeatedly shown to understate all kinds of risk. Historical analysis of weather in the Northern Hemisphere has shown that extreme weather is becoming more frequent. Multi-decadal change like this cannot be explained without reference to human activity.
IPCC and climate scientists have no idea when the pause will come to an end. Their ‘accurate’ models cannot tell them. This does not matter. Arguing that warming has stopped requires falsification of the evidence that increased atmospheric CO2 is the dominant factor. See ‘It’s not us’ on SkS.
The 97% consensus includes most AGW-sceptics, including me. That is: CO2 is a greenhouse gas; its concentration has increased over the 20th C; it has very likely made some contribution to warming. This myth has been repeatedly debunked. This piece on the RealSceptic blog is the best source of information I have yet seen on how and why this argument is entirely bogus.
There is general agreement amongst climate scientists that a doubling of CO2 on its own will create about a 1dgC rise. CO2 is not acting alone and it is the totality of change that is causing problems. Apart from that facet of reality, this is a very misleading argument, as explained by Michael Mann himself on the LiveScience blog.
Anything more relies on the belief/assumption that positive feedbacks will significantly outweigh negative feedbacks. Ongoing change despite a pause in surface warming implies warming effects are outweighing cooling effects.
But, we’ve had all these discussions before. But you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’. No, Martin, the practice of science is not about saying: ‘If you disagree with me, you’re calling me a liar’. I have not called Oakwood a liar but, I must admit, he/she does seem to be remarkably incapable of accepting that he may be wrong.
It’s about proper open debate. The fact that the vast majority of ‘sceptics’ are libertarians and/or free-market ideologues proves that the ongoing ‘debate’ is driven by policy implications not any residual uncertainty regarding science. See this excellent essay by Stephan Lewandowsky on The Conversation blog.
While still a minority, there are plenty of climate scientists and experts who do not believe AGW is a major threat. For this to be valid the pool of “climate scientists and experts” would have to be broadened to include all kinds of scientists whose expertise is not relevant. Since we do not generally allow this when discussing evolution or cosmology, why should we do it for climate science?
Of course the answer to that final question is that, as with evolution and cosmology, some people are ideologically opposed to accepting the nature of reality.
I began my previous post by asking the question: “Must the World Bank now be added to the supposed list of environmentally-alarmist institutions seeking to use the perceived threat of climate change as a pretext for imposing global authoritarian government via the United Nations?” I followed this by observing that: “This is essentially the position of all those that dispute the reality of the 97% scientific consensus - or the IPCC’s 95% confidence - that humans are the primary cause of the climate change we are now witnessing.”
‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ is, of course, a very funny and very famous book by Oscar Wilde. Sadly, this post is neither funny nor famous (not yet, anyway). In fact, this post is prompted mainly by a TED video (embedded below) of a March 2011 talk, entitled ‘On Being Wrong’, given by Kathryn Schulz – the author of ‘Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error’.
As the TED website makes clear, in its biography of her, Kathryn is a journalist who has written articles for a wide range of newspapers and magazines and is also a former editor of the Grist blog. She was a 2004 recipient of the Pew Fellowship in International Journalism (now the International Reporting Project), and has reported from throughout Central and South America, Japan, and, most recently, the Middle East.
Anyone who automatically assumes that people with opposing views are either ignorant of all the relevant facts, intellectually incapable of processing the information, or deliberately stating things they know to be false… needs to watch this video. Although this may sometimes be true, in the vast majority of cases it probably is not.
Earlier this year, the movie ’Greedy Lying Bastards’ went on general release – and so will soon be available on DVD. Accordingly, reviews are now appearing in the media again. This one by Peter Bradshaw on The Guardian website is typical. For many people, therefore, the truth that the fossil fuel companies have financed a longstanding campaign to perpetuate doubt regarding climate science is a well-established fact – as incontestable as the fact that the tobacco industry did exactly the same for decades in order to sell as many cigarettes as possible. However, there remains a sizeable minority of people on this planet for whom, it seems, the very repetition of this fact is proof of its falsity. For these people, who generally decided what they wanted the truth to be a very long time ago, any evidence that they are wrong is proof that they are right (or that the person presenting the evidence has been duped by – or is part of – the conspiracy to perpetuate a lie).
Of course, if you try and point this out to such people, you are accused of peddling your own conspiracy theory. However, tobacco companies have been taken to court and found guilty of trying to hide the link between cancer and smoking. Climate scientists have only ever been taken to court for saying things fossil fuel companies do not want us to hear. This too will be dismissed by the factually-challenged as evidence of a wider conspiracy; now including the judiciary. However, for these people, is there no point at which the simplest explanation (which is supported by observable and documentary evidence) becomes more reasonable than an ever-expanding conspiracy (which is not supported by the vast majority of available evidence)?
This brings me back to something else I said on my previous post:
Unfortunately, for such conspiracy theorists, the truth of the matter is much more unpleasant: Climate scientists are not engaged in a global conspiracy to provide the UN with an excuse to subvert the power of national governments. Conspiracy or not, it would be bad enough if our national governments had spent the last 25 years ignoring the warnings of climate scientists. However, the truth of the matter is even more insidious: The IPCC has spent the last 20 years or so compiling reports detailing the nature, scale and urgency of the problem we face, only to have our national governments systematically neuter their reports and ignore the warnings they contained.
So, again, the question remains: What about all those people who are not being paid to misinform (i.e. the so-called ‘Merchants of Doubt)’? How do we explain their existence – and how can we tell the difference between those who are being deliberately deceitful and those who are merely wilfully ignorant? To be blunt, how can we spot the difference between someone who is just bigoted and someone who is being paid to be wrong?
I am afraid that I do not know for sure but, having spent an entire year carefully examining all the evidence, I am entirely satisfied by the scientific, historical, and observational evidence – and the logical arguments – that the burning of fossil fuels is altering the Earth’s climate. Therefore, although I can never be certain, despite everything Kathryn Schulz says in the above video, I think it is legitimate to question either the sanity or motives of anyone who repeatedly ignores the fact that their arguments have been shown to flawed; and/or repeatedly re-states things that can easily be determined to be false.
No-one should be in any doubt about this: such people are not being sceptical; they are in denial.
Sadly, I recently had to delete an entire comment on my most recent post by someone identified only as ‘Oakwood’. He or she claims a professional need to remain anonymous but spends an awful lot of time posting comments on blogs by non-experts such as Anthony Watts (WattsUpWithThat), Steven McIntyre (ClimateAudit) and Andrew Montford (BishopHill). It is, therefore, not that surprising that much of the content of what Oakwood’s comments elsewhere can be traced back to things by these non-experts (whose arguments have all been repeatedly falsified and discredited).
I therefore decided to send Oakwood an email in which I started by saying, “You are entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts…” In response, Oakwood started by saying he agreed with that assertion but, sadly, followed it with yet another re-statement of his own “facts” that are not actually facts at all… Then, as if to add insult to injury, Oakwood followed that litany of previously debunked arguments and climate myths (which I will look at in detail tomorrow), with this masterpiece of unfalsifiability:
…you cannot show any one of these facts to be inaccurate, except by appealing to ‘the consensus’ and making nonsensical statements about ‘believing all scientists to be liars’.
This is a self-sealing argument that is entirely predicated on conspiracy theory: If the consensus is real, reliable and reasonable, there is no legitimate reason to doubt the science. Therefore, doubting the science can only be justified by asserting that the consensus is unreal, unreliable or unreasonable. This does not require all scientists to be liars; but it does require the vast majority of genuine experts to be either stupid, mistaken or mendacious.
Tomorrow, probably not for the last time, I will rebut all of Oakwood’s “facts” in part two of this series, entitled: ‘The imprudence of being earnestly Oakwood’.
In the process of compiling my previous post, I was reminded of this one; and decided it warranted being re-posted in its own right… Originally posted on 7 September 2011, as How to be a climate change “sceptic”, this is probably (even if I do say so myself) one of the best things I have ever written here (because it neatly summarises the raison d’etre of this blog).
If I have not said it before, the reason sceptic is inside quotation marks is because I take the view, as do Clive Hamilton, Peter Jacques, and David MacKay, that those who deny anthropogenic climate disruption (ACD) are not sceptics at all.
As a consequence of this, my (MA in Environmental Politics) dissertation (researching climate change scepticism in the UK) included a threefold theoretical background, as summarised (on my old blog) as follows:
1. The philosophical roots of scepticism;
2. The political misuse of scepticism; and
3. The psychology of denial.
All of this leads me to offer readers this easy-to-use guide on “How to be a climate change ‘sceptic’”, as follows:
1. Assume everything you have been told by authority figures is a lie.
2. Assume, even though you are not an expert, that you know best.
3. Allow confirmation bias to prevent you from considering any information that might alert you to the fact that you are suffering from cognitive dissonance (i.e. “It is hard to convey just how selective you have to be to dismiss the evidence for climate change. You must climb over a mountain of evidence to pick up a crumb: a crumb which then disintegrates in your palm. You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals…” – George Monbiot, 10 May 2005).
4. Continue asserting your individual human rights whilst simultaneously ignoring your collective human responsibilities.
5. Maintain a utilitarian attitude to the environment (i.e. “use it up and wear it out”) despite mounting evidence to indicate that the ecological carrying capacity of planet Earth (w.r.t. humans at least) has already been exceeded.
6. Accuse anyone who asserts that there is cause for concern and/or an urgent need for radical action to mitigate humanity’s impact on the planet as being any or all of the following:- anti-human, anti-libertarian, anti-progress, anti-Western, and/or in favour of a new global socialist world government (“which is what the UN is all about, init!”).
In his book, ”Bad Science”, Ben Goldacre says that proponents of pseudoscience have succeeded in making people think science is impenetrable. However, the truth may be even more insidious because, by awakening people to the fact that they are regularly being lied to, these peddlers of pseudoscience have in fact contributed to – if not caused – a much more widespread distrust of science and all scientific authority.
Therefore, I would humlby suggest that claiming that humanity is not the cause of climate change is even more stupid – and even more dangerous – than claiming (as did Thabo Mbeki for a long time) that HIV is not the cause of AIDS.
This did not make the news today in the UK but clearly should have done.
Analysis by Brenden DeMelle is re-posted here from the DeSmog Blog:
President Obama Pegs Fate of Keystone XL On Climate Change Impact; Slams Climate Denial Flat Earth Society
“I refuse to condemn your generation, and future generations, to a planet that is beyond fixing. And that’s why today I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a global leader in the fight against climate change.”
President Obama stepped up his game today on the issue of climate change, committing to several strong actions to curb dangerous climate pollution from coal power plants, build resilient communities to deal with extreme weather events, and foster clean energy investments around the world.
The speech was peppered with notable nods to the movement-building work undertaken by the environmental community, especially the clear shout-out to Bill McKibben and 350.org with the “invest and divest” line towards the end.
And it was a rough day for climate deniers, who again took multiple shots to the chin from the commander in chief, who said he doesn’t have the “patience for anyone who denies that this problem is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.” [Salon.com notes the president of the actual Flat Earth Society accepts climate science, adding insult to injury for climate deniers.]
But perhaps the most important thing the president did today was to confirm that the fate of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will be determined chiefly based on its climate impact - whether the pipeline will produce a net increase in greenhouse gas emissions – firmly cementing the issue of climate change as the central determining factor in the president’s mind.
Here is what the president said:
I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline — the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. The State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done.
But I do want to be clear. Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.
Powerful words from a powerful leader. Now let’s see how that all shakes out in reality.
It’s too bad that the president pivoted from this great point on Keystone XL to bizarre and unfortunate cheerleading of natural gas fracking. But that’sanother story.
What is clear from this moment forward is that if President Obama intends to hold true to his word, both today and in his prior climate change commitments, there is no way that he can approve Keystone XL.
There will certainly be attempts by TransCanada and the State Department to waffle and pull technical backflips to claim that Keystone XL will not increase GHG emissions. But those would be extremely awkward public relations moves, with no basis in logic or fact.
Of course Keystone XL will increase carbon emissions. Its sole purpose for existence is to connect Canada’s filthy tar sands with export markets in Asia, Europe, and South America, leaving behind a hefty dose of pollution to impact American communities along the Gulf coast’s refinery row.
And this doesn’t even account for inevitable pipeline spills like the one in Mayflower, Arkansas that has created the first U.S. tar sands refugees who will never return to their homes thanks to toxic diluted bitumen flooding their neighborhood.
The climate action community will surely remind the president of these facts repeatedly – you can’t be a leader on climate action if you’re a willing accomplice in accelerating the expansion of one of the largest carbon bombs on the planet.
If President Obama’s words today are sincere, Keystone XL is doomed, as it should be.
This is the Gospel according to Roger Helmer MEP (and Cambridge graduate in Mathematics) – whose non-expertise in the subject leads him to conclude that the climate is not changing; and to equate people concerned about climate change with those who once insisted the Earth was flat…
I am pleased to report that the comment that featured in my previous post, entitled ‘A letter to Roger Helmer UKIP MEP’, did appear on his blog.
I am even more pleased that he decided to respond. Nevertheless, I am very disappointed by the extremely tired and pre-debunked arguments that he trots out.
But don’t just take my word for it; judge for yourself. What follows is a transcript of his reply and my response (which has also appeared on his blog). However, before you read that, see how many discredited arguments you can count in Roger’s remarks.
In response to my original comment, Roger Helmer said this:
Thanks Martin. Good question. Your are quite right that I am not “a scientist”, though you may also like to know that I have a Cambridge maths degree, and have followed a range of scientific issues that interest me. But the fact is that politicians have to make decisions and take positions on issues — and I suggest to you that I know a great deal more about science, and about energy policy, than most of the MPs who blindly voted through the disastrous Climate Change Act. I know enough about science to know that scientific questions are settled by the creation and testing of hypotheses — not by appeals to authority. The global warming hypothesis is looking increasingly threadbare. I also recall that a few hundred years ago all accepted authorities agreed that the world was flat, and you could be burned at the stake for taking an alternative view…
My reply to that load of dingo’s kidneys was as follows:
I take it you mean you have not seen enough evidence yet. If so, it would help if you looked at some (rather than relying upon anargumentum ad verecundiam of your own – courtesy of the very few people who tell you want you want to hear).
The passing of the Climate Change Act in 2008 was a landmark in cross-party co-operation at a national level, and may even have convinced the Chinese that some Western countries are actually willing to acknowledge their responsibility for the bulk of historical CO2 emissions. The Communist Party of China may now only be acting in the interests of self-preservation, but at least it is acting (rather than continuing to dispute the science).
It is interesting that you should mention belief in a Flat Earth – or that the Sun revolves around the Earth – as this is directly comparable with the disputation of climate science today. Climate change“sceptics” are not like Galileo. Galileo confronted an obscurantist Establishment with evidence that it refused to look at (such as moons orbiting Jupiter) and insisted that – as the Sun rises in the east and sets in the west – it was very obvious that the Sun goes round the Earth and not vice versa.
The only obscurantist Establishment today is the fossil fuel industry: In order to describe climate science as a threadbare hypothesis it is necessary to put your faith in a handful of industry-funded contrarians (like Roy Spencer or Richard Lindzen) who – having been theologically or politically prejudiced before looking at any data – would have us all believe that the majority of climate scientists are now behaving like an obscurantist Establishment themselves. This is, to say the very least, highly improbable.
Given the fact that theoretical heat-trapping effect of CO2 was deduced from basic principles, tested in a laboratory, and continues to be validated by events (i.e. global warming did not stop in 1998, etc), your position is simply not credible: Indeed, it is comparable to someone insisting that the Earth is only 6000 years old – which is very easy to do if you reject every piece of evidence that suggests otherwise as part of a scientific and/or political conspiracy.
I suspect that, by now, Roger has dismissed me as a self-deluded eco-Marxist. However, what he and every other Maths graduate from Cambridge who thinks he knows best need to remember is this:
Reality is not altered by what you decide your personalised version of the truth is going to be.
Addendum (for all those who struggle with the basics of atmospheric physics):
Global warming is manifested in a number of ways, and there is a continuing radiative imbalance at the top of atmosphere. The current hiatus in surface warming is [therefore] temporary, and global warming has not gone away. — From ‘Global warming is here to stay, whichever way you look at it’, by Kevin Trenberth on The Conversation website (23 May 2013).
Roger Helmer was first elected as Conservative MEP in 1999, but defected to UKIP last year. Not surprisingly, therefore, he is “sceptical” about climate science. He is, as David Suzuki has recently described it, one of many that elevate economics over the biosphere. In other words, if asked to choose between science and economics, he would choose to trust economics every time. As such, he is one of the politicians that features in my book.
On his WordPress blog, in response to yet another irrational diatribe against renewable energy and the green economy, I recently tried to point out to him that his scepticism is unwise and unjustified. However, just in case my comment never appears on his blog, I reproduce it here:
Dear Mr Helmer,
When considering the remarks that follow, please bear in mind that I am a Conservative voter.
In a speech to the European Parliament on 4 February 2009, you claimed, in characteristically robust terms, that the EU was:
…planning to spend unimaginable sums of money on mitigation measures which will simply not work, and by damaging our economies will deny us the funds we need to address real environmental problems. As a British journalist, Christopher Booker, has remarked, global warming alarmism is the greatest collective flight from reality in human history.
According to Andrew Grice in the Independent newspaper (2 Dec 2009), you have even accused the Church of England of having “abandoned religious faith entirely and taken up the new religion of climate change alarmism instead”.
Given that you are not a climate scientist – or indeed any kind of scientist – you would appear to have allowed your belief in free-market economics to prejudice your approach to the science and/or you have uncritically accepted the opinions of a handful of similarly prejudiced scientists (or indeed non-scientists) who say that climate change is either a scientific conspiracy to perpetuate research funding or a political conspiracy to install worldwide socialist government.
So far, you have the International Energy Agency, the US Department of Defense, the International Monetary Fund, and the Committee on Climate Change, all saying that further delay in the decarbonisation of power generation systems will be a false economy. Therefore, please forgive me for being so blunt but, how much more evidence will it take to convince you, a non climate scientist, that climate scientists are not “just in it for the money”…?
Martin C Lack BSc(Hons) (Geology), MSc (Hydrogeology), MA (Environmental Politics).
My book gets a 5-star rating in this review by former Science and Technology Counsellor at the British Embassy in Beijing, Professor Robin S Porter:
This book is essential reading for anyone concerned about climate change and our need to urgently address its causes. Part of the reason for the delay in doing so has been the rise of a debate in recent years in which one side has denigrated the scientific evidence for man’s role in creating the problem. This `denial of science’ by politicians, journalists, economists, people representing vested interests, and even by some scientists, is the focus of this book. Martin Lack documents the personal statements and published arguments of these climate change sceptics, deconstructing them, and finding all too often very little of substance that would undermine the now broad scientific consensus that human industrial and economic activity has contributed very substantially to the process of climate change. While the book deals primarily with climate change scepticism in the UK, the conclusions Lack draws have implications for all of us, wherever we happen to live.
As well as being a tutor for one of the modules on my MA at Keele (looking at the Environmental Politics and Policy in India and China), Robin has also had a book of his own published (via conventional means) on the recent history of China, which is entitled From Mao to Market: China Reconfigured…
As far as my book is concerned, there is still no Kindle version for sale on Amazon but an eBook version is available via AuthorHouse.com for $3.99.
So said Lord (Julian) Hunt, Vice President of GLOBE and a former Director General of the UK’s Meteorological Office, in an article published in The Times newspaper on 2 April 2013 (behind paywall). Fortunately (for me and all those without a Times subscription), the text of what appears to be the same article has been released to the media by the British Embassy in Beijing. This is presumably because Lord Hunt refers to China.
However, without further comment from me, here is the article in full:
It was the chilliest Easter Day on record, and last month is the coldest March for at least 50 years. But we are not alone in shivering. Across much of Europe, temperatures have been unseasonably cold. In Germany, this has been called a once in a “100-year winter”.
We should not be surprised. It has long been expected that climate change would bring more weird or extreme weather — not just cold but rain, droughts and heat waves — to the UK. So longer spells of colder winter weather are consistent with this. As were drought conditions around this time last year, followed by many months of heavy rain which resulted in the UK experiencing in 2012, the second wettest year on record.
Extreme weather has become more frequent across the world. Australia started 2013 with a record breaking heat wave. Similarly, a heatwave in the US in 2012 (the warmest year on record for mainland America) contributed towards widespread drought which proved devastating for many crops. Russia also experienced its second warmest summer last year. This follows the country’s hottest summer on record in 2010 with states of emergency in seven Russian regions as a result of brush fires, while 28 other regions were put under states of emergency due to crop failures caused by drought.
And then there is the steady increase in peak rainfall rates. These have doubled in South East Asia,for instance over 30 years. It is such a problem that the Malaysians have built a huge SMART tunnel (or Stormwater Management And Road Tunnel) in Kuala Lumpur which doubles up as both a motorway and a six-mile long pipe to cope with flash floods. A similar less pronounced trend is occurring in the UK, which help explains the rise in localised, incredibly heavy showers which have brought flooding from Cumbria to Cornwall. This is caused by a change in the atmosphere called “vertical mixing” in which cumulus clouds become stronger and bigger.
In the UK, the trend is likely to be towards colder winters as a large part of Arctic ice melts permanently (as now happens every summer). The winds over the ice-free ocean could then push colder currents up to Iceland and the Arctic ocean. And as a result of colder waters from the North, the northern UK, in particular, may no longer enjoy the same level of warming from the Gulf Stream as it did when the sea ice boundary was further south.
It is these colder oceans which help to rebut one of the more common arguments used by sceptics to argue that “global warming has stopped”. They often point to graphs which purport to show that Earth’s temperature has not risen in 16 years. But that graph combines land and ocean temperature. Separate the two, and you see that on land temperature is still rising — 0.3℃ over the past decade. More dramatically, in China it has risen by 2℃ over the past 50 years, and 3℃ in the Antarctic over 30 years.
The drop in sea temperature is not just taking place in the Arctic, where the ice is melting, but equally strongly in the eastern Pacific, where winds off the South American coast bring deep, colder waters to the surface. Normally this La Niña phenomenon lasts for three to five years. However, it has been active for more than a decade, caused by easterly trade winds along the equator that have been strengthened by general warming of the atmosphere. When La Niña finally falls away, some time in the next few years, the surface cooling will end. This will increase temperatures over large areas of the globe, disrupting agriculture and fisheries in many countries, and pushing up food prices.
Fortunately, even some sceptics are won round when they experience the problems themselves. The scepticism of some Russian officials has disappeared as they have seen the permafrost melt in the north of the country, and watched the effects of prolonged heatwaves and droughts.
Responsible nations are preparing for the effects of climate change. However, all governments need constant encouragement, in the face of financial austerity and the claims of sceptics, to expand programmes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical they do so, otherwise future generations will have more to worry about than a freezing cold Easter Sunday.
For all those people who have not been duped into believing in the fallacy of the marketplace of ideas, Lord Hunt is someone whose opinions should carry weight. Experts are real and so is anthropogenic climate disruption. So, then, I really do hope that climate change denial will founder on the rocks of reality (and the sooner the better it will be for everybody).
What we know is this: As a whole (including the oceans), on average, over the long term, the Earth is getting warmer; and that it is doing so at a rate equivalent to – or in excess of – that at which it emerged from the last Ice Age. Therefore, since we were already in the middle of a warm inter-glacial period, the question remains, which one of these are we now witnessing:
ACD = Anthropogenic climate disruption; or
AGW = Anthropogenic Global Warming?
One is consistent with the reality that Earth’s climate is complicated (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the fact that it can be unusually cold in one place whilst unusually hot somewhere else (whereas the other is not). One is consistent with the bulk of atmospheric physics; thermodynamics; and the Laws of conservation of Energy, Mass and Water (whereas the other is not).
Have you worked out which is which yet? If not, any or all of the following may help: