by Judith Curry
The Center for a Better Life has published a very interesting article entitled “Task Force Climate Change: Climate Skepticism and Ways Forward,” by Cmdr. Blake McBride, U.S. Navy Task Force on Climate Change.
Climate skepticism is a good thing. Really. We should all question what we think we know and seek to refine our understanding of the truth. Skepticism is the very foundation of scientific inquiry, and climatology is a science, not a religious dogma or political tenet. I don’t accept every new idea I come across at face value. I determine the level of my acceptance of new ideas based upon the weight of the evidence that supports them, which is the foundation of scientific analysis. Consequently, true climate skeptics are rare and, I would propose, largely found within the scientific community.
Part of the scientific process is to question assumptions, challenge the work of colleagues, engage in heated debates and continuously strive to arrive at ground-truth. Because of this, science is self-correcting, meaning that vigorous debate, constant questioning and continuous research will ultimately lead to a better understanding of the nature of our world.
So, are the extreme weather events people are seeing today products of global climate change? The answer lies with the definition of “extreme,” which may be defined as “extending far beyond the norm.” When a 100-year flood happens twice in a decade – or even in a season, as occurred this year in the Midwest – then what was once “extreme” is now becoming more common. In other words, the climate (the average weather) is changing. Yet the analysis is not that simple. There are other potential large-scale contributing factors, like the El Niño Southern Oscillation and the effects of human development on the landscape, where large cities become heat islands and erosion causes less water to be absorbed by the ground and more to flow into riverine surges.
Twenty years from now people may be able to look back at 2011 and say these weather extremes were part of a new normal, the early indicators that climate was changing in dramatic ways. For most climate scientists, an expectation exists that global warming will incite more extreme weather events. Weather is ultimately a result of the atmosphere’s dispersion of solar heat from tropical regions to the Poles. Add more heat to the system, and the assumption is that weather will behave more energetically and perhaps more erratically. From that perspective, the extreme weather events of recent years are what one would expect from a warming planet.
The problem with climate change is that it is very complex, and while evidence continues to accrue detractors can, and do, pick data points out of context to challenge the entire premise. Moreover, while there is a large consensus in the scientific world that the climate is changing due primarily to human use of hydrocarbons, many uncertainties exist in the timing and severity of the changes.
Unfortunately, the issue of global climate change has become politicized. Heated debate rages on, not with skeptics but with political partisans. On one extreme, some people are inclined to challenge every bit of data that supports climate change. And they believe, rather illogically, that scientists who believe in human-induced climate change are part of some conspiracy. On the opposite extreme, others maintain an apocalyptic view of climate change and attribute every extreme weather event to global warming. In the middle are the skeptics, who stay focused on what is known, and who strive to learn more about what is not known.
This brings about a legitimate question. Will scientific objectivity keep people from actively working to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gasses and to adapt to changing conditions? If the culprit behind climate change is hydrocarbons placed in the atmosphere, then shouldn’t everyone try to wean themselves from it? Moreover, hydrocarbons extracted from the ground are not renewable and much of the supply comes from outside the U.S., which makes this country dependent on others for its vital energy supply.
The irony is there are many good reasons to break America’s reliance on hydrocarbons. As the thirst for oil, gas and coal grows in the developing world, competition for existing fossil fuel resources will inevitably drive prices up. The U.S. has already tapped the reserves that are easy to acquire. Drilling in deep water, or in frozen Polar Regions, will be much more expensive and those prices reflected at the pump. Moreover, increased production is a short-term fix since fossil fuels are not a renewable resource.
The article then discusses the Navy response, leading with this provocative question:
For the Department of the Navy, all this boils down to one question: Will a changing climate impact future operational readiness? When considering potential threats, military organizations do not have the luxury to wait until all the evidence is in. They must be prepared for any eventuality, and that means assessing available information and conducting prudent planning in order to ensure military readiness.
The region of most immediate concern to the Navy is the Arctic, and the essay includes a very good discussion of the national security issues associated with the Arctic Ocean.
The closing paragraphs:
During this century the world will face serious challenges from climate change, but those changes will likely happen slowly and will impact societies disproportionately. Throughout history humans have demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt. There is time to adapt to climate challenges, but adaptation is neither easy nor inexpensive. Climate change will affect U.S. coastal infrastructures, food production, health and security. It will interact with, and exacerbate, challenges to sustainability due to Earth’s rapidly expanding population and the spread of advanced technology. Its effects will be amplified by globalization of markets and expansion of global communications.
It has been said that humans have adapted their way into this climate change problem through their own cleverness via technological innovation. Isn’t it terribly cynical to insist that humans are unable to adapt their way back out of it? Earth’s changing climate and how the Nation responds to it needs to be part of a national discussion based on legitimate science. While some are more convinced of the threat that climate change poses, it is clear that neither a denial of the science nor an exaggeration of the challenges the U.S. faces will be productive to its way forward.
JC comment: In a word, Bravo! Read the entire article. In fact read the entire issue, here are some of the other relevant articles: