Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Why I accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change

Not a year ago, I was avowedly skeptical about whether global warming was a real phenomenon at all, much less whether it was anthropogenic. I'm no longer skeptical, and I think that most people who still are, have at least been insufficiently reflective. What follows is (what I think is) my very simple argument why.

I am not a climate scientist. I do not have anywhere near the expertise necessary to understand the peer-reviewed work on which the IPCC Assessment Reports are based. I must rely on the judgment of those who do have the necessary expertise. Of those who have that expertise, the consensus accepts that anthropogenic climate change is real. There is no evidence that the members of the consensus are dishonest frauds, publishing fraudulent work and giving the nod to the fraudulent work of others, simply to advance their careers or some ecofascist agenda, nor is it reasonable to think that the members of the consensus are so stupid as to have somehow missed supposedly devastating counterarguments so simple that even a layman can understand them. Hence, it is irrational for me to oppose myself to the consensus, and likewise for anyone who shares my lack of expertise. This is simple respect for science.

Let me be clear. My analysis does not extend to true experts who disagree with the consensus. I do not begrudge them their conclusions. If they truly have expertise in climate science, they are entitled to their conclusions, for all I can say. But, my non-expert friends and I are nowhere near being in a position to adjudicate that dispute. It is well to say, "I know an honest, intelligent expert who rejects anthropogenic climate change." But, what personal expertise grounds our judgment that this one expert is so much more honest and intelligent than all of the experts in the consensus put together? It is incumbent upon the expert skeptics to convince the remainder of the scientific community, to transform the consensus from within, the way it is done in science. For the rest of us, there is no rational choice but to track the consensus.

I'm really interested in comments, particularly from those who disagree.


Francis T. Manns, Ph.D. said...

Eric Hoffer, 1951 – “The True Believer – Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements”
“When hopes and dreams are loose in the streets, it is well for the timid to lock doors , shutter windows and lie low until the wrath has passed. For there is often a monstrous incongruity between the hopes, however noble and tender, and the actions that follows them. It is as if ivied maidens and garlanded youths were to herald the four horsemen of the apocalypse.
And p.12
“People who see their lives as irremediably spoiled cannot find a worth-while purpose in self-advancement...Their innermost craving is for a new life – a rebirth – or failing this, a chance to acquire new elements of pride, confidence, hope, a sense of purpose and worth by an identification with a holy cause. An active mass movement offers them opportunities for both...” [ Is this Mr. Gore?]
and P. 13
“ It is true that in the early adherents of a mass movement there are also adventurers who join in the hope that that the movement will give a spin to their wheel of fortune and whirl them to fame and power.”

Francis T. Manns, Ph.D. said...

Climategate Forecast...
“• What is the current scientific consensus on the conclusions reached by Drs. Mann, Bradley and Hughes? [Referring to the hockey stick propagated in UN IPCC 2001 by Michael Mann.]
Ans: Based on the literature we have reviewed, there is no overarching consensus on MBH98/99. As analyzed in our social network, there is a tightly knit group of individuals who passionately believe in their thesis. However, our perception is that this group has a self-reinforcing feedback mechanism and, moreover, the work has been sufficiently politicized that they can hardly reassess their public positions without losing credibility.”
AD HOC COMMITTEE REPORT ON THE ‘HOCKEY STICK’ GLOBAL CLIMATE RECONSTRUCTION, also known as The Wegman report was authored by Edward J. Wegman, George Mason University, David W. Scott, Rice University, and Yasmin H. Said, The Johns Hopkins University with the contributions of John T. Rigsby, III, Naval Surface Warfare Center, and Denise M. Reeves, MITRE Corporation.

Mark Vuletic said...

Thank you for your comments, Dr. Manns. Hoffer's points are well-taken, and I think they apply to many laymen on both sides of the debate, the vast majority of whom I suspect embrace their respective positions for ideological, rather than reflective, reasons: between right-wing populist obscurantism, and left-wing eco-mystical fluffiness, I think there is precious little reasoned thought about climate change among laymen.

However, I believe science has built-in mechanisms that help to alleviate this kind of thing; it is not, of course, that the process is foolproof, but it seems generally to work. Scientific "revolutions," of course, can be painful and meet with irrational resistance inside the scientific community, but the point I make there is that even in such conditions, laymen are never in a position to adjudicate the matter. What would have qualified a layman, for instance, to take a stance on behalf of Wegener or Einstein -- on what basis would they be able to say that the (temporary) resistance of the consensus was based on bias rather than command of evidence? It is only in retrospect, after the scientific community has shifted, that we are in a position to make that assessment.

Regarding MBH98/99, if the analysis you cite is sound, then my presumption must be that the consensus position in support of anthropogenic climate change is not predicated on MBH98/99. If this were not the case, then where are the statements of support from the major organizations coming from, and why is there not mass revolt? I'm trying to imagine the chaos that would ensue if an unrepresentative small group in the AAAS, APS, and NAS put out a statement right now falsely declaring that there was a consensus on the nature of dark matter. The streets probably would be filled with rioting physicists, smashing windows and setting cars on fire.

C2H50H said...

I always wonder about people who append their degree to their name. Unless that degree is in climate science, then the use of it in this context is simply an example of the fallacy of misplaced authority.

As to who are the "true believers" in this case, undoubtedly there are true believers on both sides of the question -- but it is telling that those who deny the existence or significance of AGW are statistically far more likely to be also fundamentalist Christians and modern movement conservatives.

So in what population are you more likely to find people for whom ideology or faith trumps facts and evidence, those who believe that a beneficent deity will not allow humanity to destroy itself, or that "the market" will prevent a disaster, or those who read the reports and believe the consensus of the experts?

Also, Mark, this academic attitude that whether we should accept and act on the AGW theory or not is simply a matter of weighing the scientific evidence and unrelated to the issue of survival is profoundly misguided.

It is obvious to those of us paying attention, whether we are climate scientists or simply mathematicians (as I am) that we may be heading toward catastrophic consequences should we not accept as a working hypothesis, that AGW is real and act with a lot more vigor than we are currently.

You don't have to be a climate scientist to have noticed that the uncertainty in the onset of seasonal change has increased dramatically in the last several years. This will, if it continues, result inevitably in widespread crop failures.

There's been a marked increase in the occurrence of extreme weather events. This also has the potential to create widespread failures in infrastructure.

To ignore these is to court disaster.

So: while I do not accept AGW as a validated scientific theory, I regard it as absolutely necessary to accept it as a working hypothesis. Emphasis on the "working". We've got to act, and act swiftly and strongly, or there's likely going to be famine, flood, disease, on a massive scale.

I still hope to be wrong. I hope that some as-yet-to-be-discovered carbon sink will turn up that will moderate or stop the AGW. But flying into the face of disaster based on a hope of savior by some unknown agency is the height of folly.

Oh, yeah, I've got a PhD, too. In applied mathematics. So there, Francis.