Friday, May 9, 2014

The top ten skeptical arguments on global warming

This is a great article in The Guardian examining what are supposedly the top ten 'skeptical' arguments against global warming, as posted by a contrarian climate scientist, Roy Spencer:
As one of those rare contrarian climate experts, he's often asked to testify before US Congress and interviewed by media outlets that want to present a 'skeptical' or false balance climate narrative. He's also a rather controversial figure, having made remarks about "global warming Nazis" and said,
"I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government."

In other words, he sees himself not as a scientist, but as a politician determined to "minimize the role of government."

But,... wait a minute, can you imagine the uproar if one of the overwhelming majority of climate scientists said that he saw his job as increasing the size of government? Heh, heh. Heads would explode!

So how is this any different? Science is science, reality is reality, whether you want to believe it or not.

Well, scientists are still human. You can find an individual scientist who'll believe almost anything. That's why the scientific consensus is so important. If a scientist can't convince his own peers that he's right, why should you believe him?

This is an excellent article, and the 'skeptical' arguments are pathetic. That's the best they can do? This is probably my favorite:
9) Do We Look that Stupid? How do scientists expect to be taken seriously when their "theory" is supported by both floods AND droughts? Too much snow AND too little snow?

This question is a bit like asking, "Do I look fat?". Do you want an honest answer?

The warming of the atmosphere, happening especially at high latitudes, reduces the temperature difference between higher and lower latitudes. This tends to make storms move more slowly. This results in storms dumping more precipitation in localized areas, which causes more flooding in those areas and droughts outside of them. Higher temperatures also increase evaporation, exacerbating droughts and adding more moisture to the air for stronger storms. A climate scientist should understand these concepts.

Here's the conclusion:
You may have noticed some patterns in these questions. Most are based on false premises and are trivially simple to answer. These 'top ten good skeptic arguments' are frankly not very good or challenging. They also reveal a very one-sided skepticism, although to his credit Spencer did also list 10 'skeptic' arguments that don't hold water. These are glaringly wrong arguments like 'there is no greenhouse effect' and 'CO2 cools the atmosphere,' that some contrarians nevertheless believe. Interestingly, Spencer discusses the science disproving the 10 bad arguments, but there's no scientific discussion supporting his 'good' arguments.

From reading and answering Spencer's questions, we learn that the basic science behind how we know humans are causing global warming and that it's a problem are quite well-established. There are some remaining uncertainties, like how much warming is being offset by aerosol cooling, but overall we have a very strong understanding of the big picture. For quite a while now we've understood the Earth's climate well enough to know that we can't continue on our current high-risk path.

When will we stop using these trivially wrong contrarian arguments as an excuse for climate inaction? Now that's a tough question to answer.

My answer? Probably as long as we continue to deny reality we don't like. Sadly, it's just human nature to believe what we want to believe. And if you're faith-based to begin with, rather than evidence-based, it's even easier.


jeff725 said...

For me, his argument ended when he "Godwin-ed" it ("global warming Nazis").

...and the Wyoming doubles-down on the stupid:

Of course Wyoming being a coal state, it's not hard to follow that money trail.

WCG said...

Yup. Note the first words in that article: "Wyoming, the nation's top coal-producing state..."

One of the huge strengths of science is that it's based on demonstrable evidence, so it comes to a worldwide consensus on what's true and what isn't. But the president of the Wyoming Board of Education wants science standards that are "Wyoming standards."

In other words, Wyoming is just going to believe whatever the hell it wants to believe, and then call that "science." How could they be that stupid?