by Judith Curry
Many skeptics have attempted to lay out their arguments in a broad sense for the broader public, presumably hoping to convince the uninformed or the weakly convinced. There are books, booklets, ppt presentations, youtube videos. While these may inform people that are already skeptical, and maybe catch the attention of the uninformed, I suspect that the do not make much if any headway in convincing to be skeptical those that are already convinced.
The latest example of such an attempt is by Ira Glickstein at WUWT, who states:
In this posting, I’ve summarized the main points I think are most likely to align people who are both intelligent and reasonable to the Skeptic side. My Powerpoint (with talking points for each chart in the Notes section under each slide) is available [click here] for you to use and adapt as you wish.
My personal reaction to this (and I assume I am part of the target audience here) is to yawn. My opinion is that this won’t convince the astute public who aren’t already convinced to be skeptical. Your thoughts?
Lord Turnbull’s essay
I recently came across this essay, written by Lord Turnbull, that was published by the GWPF. This is a 20 page booklet with 12 pages of main text. IMO this is the best essay that I’ve seen, that is most likely to make someone that is “convinced” to say “hmmm……” and think about it. I would characterize this essay as making the lukewarmer argument. I don’t recall ever seeing a thorough exposition of the lukewarmer position?
The essay starts with a number of points about UK Government Policy on climate/energy, designed to capture the attention of any concerned citizen, not to mention policy makers.
In terms of challenges to actual physical science, he keeps it simple: focuses on the paleo reconstruction discrepancies between the FAR and the TAR, and also the irregularities in the historical global surface temperature anomalies for the past 150 years relative to regularity of the CO2 increase. Not particularly thorough arguments, but this strikes at the heart of some major controversies. He then briefly raises the uncertainty about sensitivity and the water vapor feedback. He then states:
The problems of measurement are formidable. Even in the era of reliable instruments, which have been available for the last 150 years, there are problems of aggregation of individual readings and there are so-called heat island effects where urbanisation may have affected the time series. But tracing the history back over millennia presents even greater problems. Efforts are made to splice together records of proxies such as ice cores, tree rings, ocean sediments and also social history. But the statistical manipulations of the data required make it possible to achieve almost any result.
Also controversial is the way the IPCC, despite all the difficulties of measurement and the substantial ‘play’ in the various linkages, has made categorical statements of its findings. For example, its Fourth Assessment (2007) states:
“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely (their emphasis) due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.”
Simple arguments, but in two pages he has managed to identify what are regarded as the main achille’s heels in the IPCC case for AGW. He then states:
To summarise this part of the argument:
The IPCC view, upon which the UK Government has based its policy, and around which much of the international debate takes place, sees anthropogenic CO2 as the principal driver of the increase in temperature. It also foresees a substantial acceleration in temperature change, possibly reaching 3°C by the end of the century. An alternative view is that there has been a gentle rise in temperature as the world comes out of the Little Ice Age, with multi-decadal oscillations around the trend. The increase in temperature by the end of the century is likely to be significantly lower than foreseen by the IPCC We have experienced a faster phase of temperature rise from the early 1970’s to the mid 1990’s and we have been in one the slower phases for the past 15 years or so. In this view both the trend and the fluctuations are largely the result of natural influences, with CO2 being possibly a modest net addition.
The IPCC view is a narrowly based and over simplified one, concentrating heavily on the impact of CO2 while downplaying the role of natural forces. David Whitehouse, the former BBC Science Correspondent, highlighted the difference:
“How many times have you seen, read or heard some climate “expert” or other say that mankind’s greenhouse gas emissions are largely responsible for the unprecedented warming we have seen over the past century, and especially over the past 30 years. It is as if, to some, nature has stepped back, leaving mankind to take over the climate. In reality, whatever one’s predictions for the future, such claims are gross exaggerations and misrepresentations. Natural and human climate influences mingle and even today the natural effects dominate.”
The policy conclusions of these different viewpoints are quite distinct. One sees calamity just around the corner, producing calls for dramatic CO2 reduction. The alternative sees changes which are within the capacity of the world to adapt, leaving time to adopt measured and progressive policy responses rather than one big heave to solve the problem.
In the next section on Impacts, Turnbull neatly dismisses the IPCC WGII Report:
I can deal with Level 2 of the IPCC’s work on impacts very quickly. In my view this is where their work is at its shabbiest; lots of dramatic claims about sea levels, melting glaciers, ice, crop yields, extinction of species, eg polar bears. Much of this has been shown to have come from non peer-reviewed material, the so-called grey literature and, worse still, some of it was even drawn from material supplied by green NGOs. The InterAcademy Council (IAC), a collective of the leading scientific academies of the world, produced a report in 2010 which was critical of a number of IPCC’s procedures . It was very critical on the grey literature point, recommending that :
“The IPCC should strengthen and enforce its procedure for the use of unpublished and non-peer reviewed literature, including providing specific guidance on how to evaluate such information, adding guidelines on what types of literature are unacceptable, and ensuring that unpublished and non-peer-reviewed literature is appropriately flagged in the report.”
There has been a consistent pattern of cherry-picking, exaggeration, highlighting of extremes, and failure to acknowledge beneficial effects. By and large, humanity has prospered in the warmer periods. Plants grow faster and capture more CO2 in an atmosphere that is hotter, wetter and more CO2 rich. Cold causes more deaths than heat.
The main cause of more storm damage has been that we have put more people and property in harm’s way. The fears about the spread of malaria are largely discredited.
The IAC was particularly critical of the IPCC’s Working Group II on Impacts:
“The authors reported high confidence in some statements for which there is little evidence. Furthermore, by making vague statements that were difficult to refute, authors were able to attach “high confidence” to the statements. The Working Group II Summary for Policy Makers contains many such statements that are not supported sufficiently in the literature, not put in perspective, and nor expressed clearly”
With regards to policy options:
We should concentrate on those measures which are no regret, which improve resource productivity, improve security of supply and with it our commercial bargaining position, and which do not depress living standards. In my book these are stopping deforestation, raising the energy efficiency of our buildings and our vehicle fleet (though the effect of greater energy efficiency on CO2 reduction may be limited if consumption is sustained by lowering the effective price of energy), investment in nuclear power, an expansion of energy from waste and, if we are going to adopt CCS, and the economics has yet to be established, it would be better to attach it to new gas-fired stations rather retrofitting old coal-fired stations. It also means much less wind and solar energy, and an end to current encouragement of biofuels.
And then this brief but devastating critique of the IPCC:
At the heart of the present debate is the IPCC. It likes to portray itself as an objective and independent source of advice on climate change. It is, in fact, no such thing. Its stated role is:
“To assess on a comprehensive, objective, open and transparent basis the latest scientific, technical and socio-economic literature produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of the risk of human-induced climate change, its observed and projected impacts, and options for adaptation and mitigation.”
A body with these terms of reference is hardly likely to come up with the conclusion that nature trumps man. If you go to Barclays inquiring about setting up a bank account you are hardly likely to be advised that you should go to NatWest.
Its key personnel and lead authors are appointed by governments. Its Summary for Policy Makers may sound like independent scientists speaking frankly to policy makers but, in practice, the policy makers join the drafting sessions and ensure they get what their political masters want. This was another concern of the IAC, who commented on the difference in content between the SPM and the underlying report:
“The distillation of the many findings of a massive report necessarily results in the loss of important nuances and caveats that appear in the Working Group report. Moreover, the choice of messages and description of topics may be influenced in subtle ways by political considerations.”
There is a structural flaw in the IPCC. Far from being the distillation of the work of 2,500 scientists to produce a consensus, there is a core of 40-50 at its centre who are closely related, as colleagues, pupils, teachers, reviewers of each other’s work. The IPCC has failed to operate a rigorous conflicts of interest policy under which such relationships would be disclosed. It has managed to define a very simple AGW message and has sought to prevent alternative voices from being heard. The IAC criticised a tendency not to give sufficient weight to alternative views.
In my opinion, the IPCC and its current leadership no longer carry the credibility which politicians need if they are going to persuade their citizens to swallow some unpleasant medicine. It is therefore regrettable that the UK Government has taken no steps to find an alternative and more credible source of advice.
Turnbull closes with a statement on the sociology and politics of AGW, some excerpts:
Let me conclude with a few remarks on the sociology and politics of the AGW phenomenon. First there is the change in the nature of science. Great figures of the past such as Galileo and Darwin did not receive large government research grants and were not showered with honours. They were driven by curiosity and were prepared to challenge the established order. Nowadays our environmental scientists have jobs and research ratings to protect, as well as celebrity and airmiles. There has been a shameful failure by the grandees of the Royal Society who should have been the guardians of scientific integrity, upholding its motto “Nullius in verba,” i.e. no one has the final word.
Instead we have seen scientists become campaigners, trying to close down the debate by claiming that the science is settled, and failing to review rigorously the Climategate e-mails affair.
To conclude: The purpose of this paper has not been to plump for an alternative orthodoxy to replace that of the IPCC, but to recognize the major uncertainties that still exist and the wide range of scientific opinion. We need to acknowledge that there have always been fluctuations in our climate. Rather that writing natural forces out of the script, we need to build them into the analysis.
From our politicians we need open-mindedness, more rationality, less emotion and less religiosity; and an end to alarmist propaganda and to attempts to frighten us and our children. Also we want them to pay more attention to the national interest and less to being global evangelists.
Finally we need from our scientists more humility (“Do not claim to be wiser than you are” Romans 12), and a return to the tradition of scientific curiosity and challenge. We need more transparency and an end to attempts to freeze out dissenting voices. There should be more recognition of what they do not know. And acceptance of the Really Inconvenient Truth – that our understanding of the natural world does not justify the certainty in which the AGW views are expressed.
JC comments. The last paragraph is my bolding. I would particularly like to hear from the “convinced” regarding whether any of Turnbull’s arguments (individually or collectively) are compelling. I suspect that politicians would find these arguments rather compelling. Your thoughts?