Sunday, February 16, 2014

The New Science Deniers

John Kerry, the US Secretary of State denies science. He claims that the many current extreme weather events – droughts in California, snow in the North Eastern US, flooding in southern England – are all evidence of “the compelling and undeniable scientific case of this growing challenge that is pushing the planet towards a tipping point of no return”. Ed Miliband, who is the current leader of the British Labour Party, also denies science. He says that “Britain is sleepwalking towards disaster because of a failure to recognize that climate change is causing the extreme weather that has blighted the country". The UK Green Party leader Natalie Bennett also denies science, but goes further. She wants to police science and remove anyone from policy advice to government who denies the scientific consensus. She wants a new thought police (see here – see point 3). 

A real scientist, as opposed to a political science denier, has intervened to make clear what the science actually tells us at this time. One of the Met Office’s most senior experts yesterday made an intervention in the climate change debate by insisting there is no link between the storms that have battered Britain and global warming. Mat Collins, a Professor in climate systems at Exeter University, said the storms have been driven by the jet stream – the high-speed current of air that girdles the globe – which has been ‘stuck’ further south than usual. Professor Collins said: ‘There is no evidence that global warming can cause the jet stream to get stuck in the way it has this winter. If this is due to climate change, it is outside our knowledge.’ (here).

Roger Pielke Jnr, a real scientist whose life’s work has been to study extreme weather events, rejects the politicization of climate science. He observes that incidence of drought has not really changed for sixty years (here) and that "droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent and cover a smaller portion of the US over the last century" according to a scientific report issued by the US Government (here). The IPCC also made clear that there was a low probability of climate change being linked to extreme weather (here). Indeed, there review of the science in 2012 concluded:

“There is not enough evidence at present to suggest high confidence in observed trends in dryness due to lack of direct observations, some geographical inconsistencies in the trends, and some dependencies of inferred trends on the index choice. There is medium confidence that since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced more intense and longer droughts (e.g., southern Europe, west Africa) but also opposite trends exist in other regions (e.g., central North America, northwestern Australia).”

Deaths due to extreme weather are radically declining, global tropical cyclone activity is near historic lows, the frequency of major U.S. hurricanes has declined, tornados have dramatically declined since the 1950s, droughts are not historically unusual nor caused by mankind, there is no evidence we are currently having unusual weather.

The science of extreme weather is not at all well understood – and we are becoming less confident that we fully understand the dynamics of climate and climate change. The long pause in warming – which began in 1998 or 2000, depending on which scientists we depend on for analysis (the UK Met Office accepts both, but makes clear that the 1998 and 1999 years are complicated by El Nino and La Nina events (here) – defies all of the climate models on which most of the current understanding of climate change are built (here). The link between CO2 and surface temperature cannot be as strong as many have suggested – as CO2 continues to rise, but the surface temperature remains steadfast.

As I suggested in an earlier post (here), its time to get back to theory development driven by data from actual observations – the models are basically not giving us a picture which resembles the evidence. As Wesley Pruden writes in the Washington Times (here), “science at its best is skeptical, a community of doubters and agnostics. At its worst, it’s a community of theologians, out to protect its scams of preconceived “truth.” Garbage in, garbage out, none of it hot”. What has happened now is that the politicians have become the acolytes for the theology.

It is politically expedient for politicians to focus on climate change since they see this as a “vote button” attractive to certain voters. It also distracts from the failure of their public policies on infrastructure investments, water management, flood prevention and so on. It provides context for their desire to tax CO2 and provide new sources of revenue – taxes which will not have any impact on climate. President Obama wants a $1 billion “resilience” fund – something normally called an economic stimulus package focused on flood defenses, sea wall strengthening and improved hurricane protection measures (here). Cloaking this stimulus package with the hyperbole of climate change just might get this spending through Congress. But it is a masque – a cloak, not science.

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