I was feeling guilty about taking so long to give this spectacular Comment of the Day by Ryan Harkens the exposure it deserves, but I am glad I did. I’m pretty sick today, and getting a fourth post up was really going to be a challenge; Ryan’s profound essay is better than anything I was going to be able to produce…indeed, it’s better than most of what I write here.
Ryan’s’ topic is science, and climate science in particular. I’m honored that he vewed this forum worthy of such thoughtful and profound work.
Here is Ryan Harkens’ Comment of the Day on “Climate Change Media Hype, 2022”:
In the analysis of any phenomenon, there are several layers to peel back:
1. Is the phenomenon real?
2. Is the phenomenon being measure accurately?
3. Is the phenomenon on a whole beneficial or deleterious?
4. Are the causes of the phenomenon understood?
5. Are there solutions to the phenomenon?
6. Do those solutions cause more problems than the phenomenon?
7. How should those solutions be applied?
We have to understand that science is about creating hypotheses about the real world and testing them. Science collects data, analyzes data, makes predictions about the data, and then observes whether those predictions come true. Thus science can help to a certain degree with the first 6 items on the list, but it has much less to say on the 7th. But even for the first 6, science does not necessarily provide definitive answers, certainly not enough to say that any “Believe the science!” mantras should be heeded. In more detail:
1. Science can offer a tentative answer to whether a phenomenon is real. Upon testing and retesting, it can assert with a certain degree of confidence (never 100%) that a phenomenon is indeed real. But there could always be further data discovered that shows the phenomenon was not real, or at least what it was was much different that was proposed. In the case of climate science, we have observations since the 1970s that show a general warming trend. It seems very reasonable to accept that we’ve seen a general warming trend since then. However, even now there are some factors that could still upset that conclusion. The urban heat index could be greater than we imagined; the fact that most of the temperature gauges we’ve used around the world are located in first world countries, leaving much of the world unmeasured; and the reliance on satellite data (while currently of high confidence) might have some undiscovered error that invalidates 50 years of data collection. (I’m not saying this is the case or I have any evidence satellite data is flawed, just that that would be an example of how even our belief that the world has been warming could be in error.)
2. Science can only measure to a certain degree of accuracy. Again, the issues of urban heat index and the location of various temperature gauges could skew the data, and while global warming could be a real phenomenon, the degree to which the world is warming can be misrepresented by poor measurements. Similarly, efforts to reconstruct historical climate patterns based on ice core samples, tree rings, and other methods could be helpful, but still inaccurate, and thus lead to different conclusions about current warming or cooling trends. Furthermore, there is the question of whether we are truly measuring the right things? We need to measure air, land, and water temperatures at a variety of elevations, and we have to properly measure the incoming energy in the earth’s systems, as well as the outgoing energy of the earth’s systems, and this leads to literally hundreds of thousands of data points for one timestamp. Multiply that by years of data, and we are talking about an enormous amount of data, and we could still be missing a crucial measurement that we didn’t think we would actually need to measure.
3. Global warming and cooling are known, to a certain degree of confidence, to have occurred over a variety of eras to a variety of degrees. Temperatures were hotter when the dinosaurs ruled the earth. Temperatures were colder in depths of the various ice ages that have happened since. We do know that there are problems with a climate that is too cold on one end, and too hot on another end, for the suitability of human life. Climate change alarmist keep propagating claims that weather events will become more frequent and more damaging in a hotter global climate. The evidence thus far has been to the contrary, and on the flip side, a warmer global climate leads to wetter (not drier) temperate zones, longer growing seasons, and fewer cold deaths. At some point, these gains would vanish — too hot a climate would make it difficult for humans to survive (except for the crazies who live in Phoenix…), but that would be far hotter than the 1.5 degree, or even the 5 degree Celsius models the IPCC have proposed.
4. Science fundamentally seeks to understand causes of phenomena. It is founded on a principle that the universe is ordered, that effect follows cause, that creation is fundamentally intelligible. So it is well within the purveyance of the scientific methodology to propose one or more causes for a phenomenon. We have observed the world warming. Why is it warming? It would have to be due to a larger difference between energy in and energy out. The earth has a certain amount of trapped heat, some of which is stored in the oceans, some in the atmosphere, and some beneath the crust. The earth receives heat from solar radiation, and the earth loses heat by emitting it out into space. So what scenarios do we have to consider?
a. An increase in the solar radiation.
b. A decrease in the heat emitted into space.
c. An increase in heat emitted from the earth’s oceans or molten interior.
d. Some other mechanism we have not identified.
e. Some combination of all four.
The proponents of anthropogenic climate change essentially focus on case b. They propose that dramatic increases in carbon dioxide have trapped and will continue to trap additional heat in the earth’s atmosphere and oceans, continuously heating the earth. While they may consider a variety of other contributors to the observed global warming, they propose that man-made addition of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is the primary driver. Critics largely suggest that fluctuations in the solar radiation are fundamentally responsible for the earth’s warming and cooling climate. Given that the globe does continue to warm, but that the warming is far below all projections, it seems that while many of the causes are known, the relative weight of each cause is still unknown.
5. We can use science to produce solutions. If we understand causes, then we can propose actions that will counteract those causes. And so, there are a number of solutions to global warming, from the radical to the expensive to the practical. There doesn’t seem to be much we can do to increase or decrease the sun’s emitted radiation, but there are some hypothetical means of reflecting more of the sun’s radiation back into space, from a solar shade to seeding the atmosphere with large amounts of chemicals that reflect the sun’s light. In terms of decreasing the heat emitted into space, by far the biggest proposition is reducing all man-made carbon dioxide to as close to zero as possible. But the question is how much of a decrease is needed, or even possible? Certainly one way to eliminate all man-made carbon emissions is to eliminate mankind altogether. Others have proposed not the extinction of mankind, but the reduction of mankind to a few million that will live in some carbon-free, solar/wind/battery/organic/vegan-driven utopia. Still others have proposed massive spending to build sufficient “renewable” generation that today’s standard of living and population could be largely maintained. Other pursuits look to bypass the batter problem by seeking other storage mechanisms, such as the generation of “green” hydrogen. I’m not going to touch on the Paris Accords or other non-binding legislation that just seeks to move money around, because those are obviously not solutions to global warming. But there are some other proposals on the flip side, which largely boil down to adapting to the warming climate and not seek to curtail the warming.
6. Science can help further by evaluating the consequences of implementing those causes by making predictions of how the phenomenon of global warming will unfold under certain scenarios. That is what the IPCC has tried to accomplish, laying out the “business as usual” case against a partial decarbonization against total decarbonization. However, science requires observation and repeatability. Without actually implementing the changes proposed, science can only hypothesize. And this is where the science begins to reach its limits. If the science is actually uncertain what the causes of the phenomenon are, then any solution proposed could either do nothing, actually help, or exacerbate the problem. Worse, those solutions would probably have additional consequences that are not directly related to the problem. Using the cold logic of Skynet, the easiest way to eliminate man-made problems is to eliminate man. Done. However, that does carry the undesirable side-effect (for some of us at least) of extinction. Of the more realistic proposals, such as building solar panels and wind turbines to replace fossil fuels, there is a very high cost of implementation. Calculations show that for scores of trillions of dollars, at the cost of unearthing an unprecedented amount of rare materials, and by blanketing the countryside, it could be feasible to decarbonize the earth’s power generation. Is that good? Is that bad? Science can only offer facts, not value judgments. It is it better to beggar mankind to prevent further warming, or is it better to let warming occur and risk letting that warming spiral out of control? Does that change based upon the uncertainty of how effective each solution is? It would be crippling to beggar mankind, but it would be far worse if mankind were beggared to no effect. What about the green hydrogen? It has some merit on the surface, but compressed hydrogen is extremely dangerous. Hydrogen doesn’t like to remain hydrogen. That’s why we don’t find pure hydrogen in the wild (on earth, I mean — stars are different stories). Is the risk of handling such a compressed, volatile material in unbelievably large quantities a better idea?
7. This leads us into our final layer, where science can only inform, not recommend. Science deals with is, not ought. A variety of solutions, some more clever than others, could be very attractive to those who are running the models and conducting experiments, but even so, science only goes as far as informing. Anything beyond that is not informing, but advocating, and that is no longer science.
However, the picture is far murkier than that would suggest. In order for science to inform, it has to both present reasonable information, and it has to be trustworthy in its presentation. The breakdown in past decades of the peer-review process; the scandal of money driving research toward a preconceived policy, rather than letting the science speak for itself; the proliferation of junk science in academia in order to reach tenure has greatly eroded the trust science once held. Add onto that the censorship, not just from the media, but within academia itself, of contrary analyses and inconvenient data, and the call to “Follow the science!” is no longer a reasonable mantra, but blind trust.
A policy-maker would be more inclined to a course of action if that action solved a problem, but the action would have to be proportionate to the problem. Right now, with global warming in no way keeping up with the climate models, it would be lunacy to direct the entire resources of the human race to the narrow-minded vision of “decarbonization”. All the yammering about the extreme weather has nothing to do with science: the data shows no increase (but does show a decrease) in extreme storms. Droughts are no worse now, and various dry areas of the globe are greening. Snow is still around. Glaciers are still around. And each warmer year we get currently saves about 100,000 lives (since cold-related deaths each year number around 4.5 million, and heat-relate deaths about 600,000). The world continues to produce ample food to feed the entire human population (with only distribution issues being the main reason people don’t have the food they need). And we still have a healthy population of polar bears.
In the meantime, we continually have groups of anthropogenic climate-change skeptics, such as Anthony Watt’s Watt’s Up With That and Paul Homewood’s Not A Lot of People Know That that analyze all the new papers and proposals, call out misrepresentations in the press, and really do seem to be “following the science” noting just how badly the climate science is being conducted and presented to the public. They are prolific and erudite in their commentary.
Paul Homewood did in fact point out someone who tried to resurrect the “the current cold spell is further evidence of global warming” argument.