by Judith Curry
Suppose it turns out that CO2 has essentially nothing to do with the earth’s climate. How will the history of this colossal mistake be written?
Mike Stopa has a provocative pair of posts on his blog.
Mike Stopa is a physicist specializing in computation and nanoscience in the Physics Department at Harvard University. His homepage at Harvard can be found here. Mike is a life-long, fiscally conservative Republican. In 2010, he was a first-time candidate for Congress in Massachusetts.
From his post What if they are wrong?
Because the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) depends on a feedback mechanism between increase in CO2 and an increase in atmospheric water – a mechanism about which there is considerable, scientifically justified doubt – it is possible that CO2 has effectively no influence on global climate.
In an interesting admission the (British) Met Office and the University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit have now admitted that the climate has ceased rising for the last 15 years.
Here I ask this. Suppose it turns out that CO2 has essentially nothing to do with the earth’s climate. How will the history of this colossal mistake be written?
They will say that a mechanism called the “greenhouse effect,” was postulated long ago (~1824 by Joseph Fourier) and gained adherents in the late 20th century. They will say that the theory was seemingly invalidated by the decrease in global temperatures from 1940-1975, but that the adherents patched this up by explaining the cooling with pollution, specifically sulfur, from industry
They will say that the theory was challenged by the noted vast gap between the amount of CO2 produced by civilization and the substantially smaller increase in CO2 in the atmosphere, but that the theory was patched up by examining the increased CO2 uptake by the hydrosphere and the biosphere.
They will say the theory was seemingly invalidated by the evidence that the atmosphere was already nearly opaque in the wavelengths that are absorbed by CO2 and so the additional CO2 could have, on its own, little effect, but that the theory was patched up by positing a feedback mechanism between the small temperature increases directly due to CO2 and the production of water vapor which is the main greenhouse gas.
They will note that the theory of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) proceeded much like any scientific theory (cf. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions) in that it was modified and patched up and adjusted to fit empirical challenges until it finally collapsed altogether under the weight of incontrovertible evidence. But, the scientific historians will have a new phenomenon to consider, and that is the social and political context of this particular scientific theory.
Kuhn describes very well the build-up of evidence that ultimately leads to the over-turning of accepted orthodoxy within the scientific community, of some particular theory. But AGW is intrinsically wrapped up with political ideology and, increasingly, with economics and government (cf. “Solyndra”).
Scientific revolutions are difficult and traumatic enough without the added inertia of government sponsorship. To put it more bluntly, scientists have difficulty enough admitting that they have egg on their faces. Throw in the Solyndras of the world and the United Nations and the entire anti-capitalist Global Left and the backing out of this theory will be nothing short of a fiasco.
Well, the truth of this issue should be apparent within about 15 years. . .
From his follow on post Global warming hysteria:
The main issue I am raising is not that the scientists who are at the front line of this research are blind or bellicose – not that they are unscrupulous or fraudulent. Most of the scientists working in the field are not trying to push an ideological position but are genuinely trying to get at the truth. If they can be accused of any moral failing, it is simply the tendencey to go with the flow when it comes to writing grant proposals and alluding to the possibility of global warming as a justification for supporting their research. Nothing horrible about that.
That does not say that there are not a few at the top and at the edges who are true believers – who think that behaving as deceivers is ethically the right thing to do given the gravity of the threat (that they perceive) and the ignorance of the masses to that threat (as they perceive).
Sound science will, unimpeded by the hysterics, lead to sensible public policy. It is my belief that the final conclusion will be that CO2 produced by humanity will be found to be of only minor importance for global climate and that it will be heavily outweighed by exchange of heat with oceans of evolving temperature and other factors such as solar-determined cloud formation. But I am open to evidence and, alas, a lot of global warming hysterics in the scientific community (and especially in the non-scientific, political community) have their ears stopped with gobs of wax.
In conclusion, global warming is an unchallengeable “consensus” only among those who deeply yearn to save the planet. The conviction of those politicians and activists and (few) scientists that debate is destructive is itself destructive. It arises from the dungeons and dragons psychodrama going on in the minds of those deluded saints – where they embody themselves as the White Wizards and the skeptics as the Morlocks.
The appropriate role for conservatives is to oppose the bias of hysteria and the “cautionary principle;” to demand every essential cost-benefit analysis and, understanding the daydreams of the holy, to insist that progress comes by first placing our feet upon the ground.
JC comments: I tagged this under ‘scientific method’, since what intrigued me particularly was the impact of the social and political context on the scientific process. Scientific revolutions are difficult enough without the added inertia of government funding and social and political factors that are reinforcing the consensus.
So, is a scientific revolution underway and/or needed for climate change? I don’t know, it is certainly possible that the existing paradigm can be embellished as our understanding of the complex climate system increases. However, as scientists, we need to acknowledge that the consensus needs to be continually challenged, and not dismiss anyone who challenges the consensus as ‘deniers.’ I think Stopa is about right when he says: Well, the truth of this issue should be apparent within about 15 years