Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Climate Change Checklist

Climate change, or more specifically catastrophic anthropogenic global warming (CAGW), seems to continue to pop its head up from time to time. Labels of "alarmists" and "deniers" are thrown around. Now I am a hardcore advocate of liberty and freedom. I will start any conversation that advocates the necessity of massive govt intervention with skepticism. This is not an anti-science position, this is a pro-freedom position. Now, I may be able to be convinced, but to do so there are a series of things that must be demonstrated as fact to my satisfaction in order for me to even consider supporting the types of "solutions" currently being proposed.

Process Improvements

First, some changes need to be made regarding some process/method issues:

  1. Full audit of surface temperature stations and remediation
    1. Inspections of over 80% of surface stations in the US show that over 70% have a likelihood of over 2ºC of error. That's in the US - how does the rest of the world look?
    2. The adjustment process that supposedly "cleans" this data is not sufficient.
    3. We spend billions of dollars a year on climate research. We can spend a couple million to refactor the vast majority of these stations.
  2. Both raw and adjusted temperature data (with adjustment process) must be available, transparent, and open.
    1. It invites skepticism when the advocates of global warming take raw numbers, adjust them in various ways, release only the end adjustments and leave it at that. 
  3. Scientific studies, papers, models, etc that are published must be reproducible and methods must be made available to the public. 
    1. If we are to have faith in the scientific process on a topic that many advocate for significant changes to our economic system, data, methods, algorithms, etc cannot continue to remain secret and proprietary.
I'm not saying these affect every study or all data but they are prevalent enough to invite skepticism.

Facts Needed

Now, some actual facts that I need demonstrated to me clearly:
  1. The Earth is continually getting warmer
    1. There is currently some question of this due to a plateau over the last 15-17 years.
  2. This warming is NOT simply the continuation of warming that has been happening for the last 400+ years.
  3. The primary driver of the new warming is CO2
    1. Since all the proposed solutions are focused on CO2, then that HAS to be the predominant driver.
  4. The primary driver of the new warming is HUMAN ADDED CO2
    1. Since all the proposed solutions are focused on reducing HUMAN added CO2, then it must be shown that HUMAN caused CO2 is the predominant factor and driver of heat gain.
    2. Don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming that man has NO impact on the climate. Clearly we do. The critical question is whether the anthropogenic CO2 is the PRIMARY driver of climate change.
  5. The result of continued warming will be significantly net negative
    1. Since most proposed solutions advocate significant economic costs, we must be positive that the result from warming will be not just somewhat inconvenient, but significantly bad. 
    2. While a lot of research has gone into the negative consequences of continued warming, I've not seen much of any research into what positives may take place. I am extremely hesitant to believe that there would not be new farming land or expanded migratory patterns in a slightly warmer climate - yet the amount of research into such positives and how they balance out against negatives seems limited.
    3. In addition, a lot of the "negatives" seem ... a little strained. For every story of rising sea levels, there are others that simply allude to the greater proclivity of athlete's foot, jock itch and poison ivy. 
  6. The planet and people cannot adapt to the changes 
    1. I'm hesitant to support massive global economic intervention if it turns out that the changes will take place gradually over hundreds of years. Consider where we were 100 years ago with limited air conditioning, refrigeration, health care, construction practices, access to travel and communication, etc. Now if we are not going to see more than a 1-2ºC increase or most of the significant warming consequences for 100-200 years, then I'm not convinced that we cannot adapt to these changes as they come. 
  7. A free market approach is not viable (i.e. Only potentially viable option is massive govt intervention)
    1. Before we start pushing for coercive govt intervention, I need to be convinced that the free market cannot satisfactorily adjust and mitigate the causes and problems from this process. As the potential consequences become apparent, the money to be made from mitigating them becomes significant.
    2. And I don't accept the explanation that says "We need govt because ... externalities [or tragedy of the commons]." and simply stop. The concept and definition of externalities is insufficient to dismiss the viability of a non-coercive approach to mitigation.
    3. What if someone finds a way to extract CO2 from the atmosphere? What if someone genetically develops a tree that extracts/stores 20 times the standard amount of CO2? 
  8. Massive govt intervention will stop warming
    1. It also needs to be demonstrated that the proposed solutions would actually work. Most of the studies I've seen on the various proposals show virtually no difference in temperature increase over the next 100 years. That's not acceptable.
This last point is key. If the scientific community fixes the process issues I described above and the first 7 facts on this list are demonstrated to me, then I would be convinced that consequences will be dire unless govt intervenes. But if govt is going to intervene, then it better do whatever is necessary to actually effect change. I do not want a significant new tax or a complicated emission trading scheme that places a significant burden on the economy, yet only reduces the rate of warming by 3%. I don't want to advocate for the implementation of a system that will undoubtedly encourage corruption and manipulation if the end result in 100 years is warming only 0.1ºC less severe than had we done nothing. If we believe the consequences are going to be dire if we fail to act, then we need to act in a way that will effect significant change. If the only option is that we all go back to an agrarian society or most of the population will die, then I don't want that reality sugar coated. I don't want to be advocating for some approach that may significantly curb economic growth and prosperity for 100 years but won't actually mitigate the consequences of the warming.

Why skepticism?

Some people ask why we can be skeptical in the face of overwhelming evidence. Well firstly, as I said, I am a hardcore advocate for liberty, so I am going to be hesitant of any call for govt coercion to be expanded. So whereas those that believe that we need to limit growth or think consumerism is bad or that corporations just plain make too much money, who may already advocate for govt intervention for other causes, may need little convincing to get on board with an approach that even may only possibly avoid some calamitous outcome. I and those like me will likely need much, much more convincing because you are asking us to support a policy that directly contradicts our principles.

I'm not going to go into the science debate between the standard CAGW theory and the contrarian views. It would create a huge back and forth dialogue that already exists out there. I will only point out two things: Firstly, there are scientists who perform research that either disproves, questions, or challenges the standard CAGW theory. Some of their research is significant, some of it less so. But the dismissal and "paid by the oil companies" type demonization discredits the opposition to these contrarians. And secondly, the predictive models on CAGW are consistently revealing themselves to be inaccurate - sometimes minorly, sometimes wildly. But the point that skeptics make is not that we know everything about the climate and have proven global warming wrong, but that humanity doesn't know as much about the climate as it thinks it does and the inaccurate models demonstrate that. So before we start putting draconian economic restrictions in place, perhaps we should take off the alarmist hat and gather more data.

In addition, part of the reason that many people are skeptical of CAGW is that it seems very politically driven. Scientists and advocates have been calling on govt to massively intervene in the economy for 60 years for various reasons. Hole in the ozone, rainforests, global cooling, energy crisis, etc. Plus, there is a significant overlap between those that advocate economic intervention for the purpose of social justice or anti-capitalism/anti-consumerism and those that advocate economic intervention in the name of dealing with global warming. It often looks more like a power grab for those in power and a desire to restrain capitalism by others than it does an honest attempt to mitigate a potential problem. 

Also, massive amounts of money are being offered, and as such an entire market has been created, to study the negative consequences of global warming. So we are neither surprised nor convinced that virtually every study finds some bad thing that can be connected, however tangentially, to potentially higher temperatures. Plus, when scientists that question or challenge even some of the most extreme of the global warming claims are shunned, fired or forced to resign from their positions, it creates the impression not of an open arena of debate, but of a closed, self-reinforcing echo chamber. 

Lastly, the advocacy to deal with CAGW often invites skepticism itself. It seems contradictory at times: We have extremely hot/dry summer - it's global warming. We have extremely cold/snowy winters - that's just episodic/localized weather.  A study shows that global warming causes avalanches to increase in one place, but another study shows them to decrease in another. Renaming "global warming" to "climate change" seems strained so that it includes even events that don't have anything to do with warmer temperatures. Plus, some of it is ... well, "alarmist". Countdowns, timers, and counters like the one on the right all come across as over-the-top. I remember reading about how the Green Bay Packers football team, who has a notoriously cold/snowy field through the winter, were going to lose their home-field advantage if global warming continued, and so we must push Congress to act. When advocates stretch to find some connection (or even just some potential connection) to global warming, it starts to seem desperate and lacking credulity. 

Summary and Final Question

So when you put it altogether, you have many advocates of liberty whose default position is skepticism toward calls to support policies that directly contradicts their views. Then, when making the case, there are some scientific processes that have some issues and facts that aren't sufficiently demonstrated. There are also contrarian scientists that challenge or flat-out reject the standard CAGW and issues with models that have struggled with accuracy. Plus you have what seems like a lot of politically driven advocacy and money that may influence scientific work. In addition, you have what appears to be a closed-shop mentality that discourages dissent. And finally, you have a lot of advocacy that seems contradictory or overblown and based on extremely tenuous connections to changes in the weather. No single element may be sufficient to create the skepticism that many feel, but altogether these types of issues cause a lot of the science and advocacy to actually create more skepticism than they allay.

Finally, taking the opposing position, let me also ask you: What is the falsifiability of CAGW? If we see 20 years with continually escalating CO2 levels but no appreciable warming increases, would that, if not prove CAGW wrong, demonstrate that there's something wrong in the models, feedback weights, variables, calculations and in general our understanding of how climate works?

That's really where I feel most skeptics are: Something's not right here and I can't get behind draconian economic measures until it is.