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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
The layman’s case for man-made global warming, courtesy of Mark Vuletic 
Saturday, March 6th, 2010 | 10:28 pm [commentary, science]
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The argument over the existence of climate change and, if it is actually occurring, the extent to which man is responsible for it, is one I’m reluctant to have. I believe there is such a thing as global warming, and I believe it’s more likely than not that man’s activity since the beginning of industrialization have made at least some contribution to it, but I’m also forced to admit whenever the subject comes up that I know jack-shit about climatology and am only able to inarticulately regurgitate the ideas of much smarter people.
 
I lack formal training in biology and cosmology, too, but arguments with creationists over the age and origin of the universe or the fact of evolution are usually within my abilities because I at least have enough of a grasp of the basic concepts to do some of my own thinking. The climate crisis (a phrase I never tire of pronouncing in a joyless, robotic lisp in the style of Al Gore) is a much more opaque topic to me, and the science is way too complicated and fluid for me, or anyone not trained in a relevant field, to have any useful understanding of it.
 
Luckily, there is a way for a reasonable layman to make up his or her own mind about the truth of global warming. That way comes, not surprisingly, from the always lucid Mark Vuletic,
who writes at his website,
 

First, let us take note of the fact that of those who do have expertise in climate science, the consensus is that anthropogenic climate change is real, and significant. I am not aware of anyone who denies that this is the consensus position. Now, as far as I can tell, four possibilites present themselves:

 

(i) The scientific consensus has it right. . . .

 

(ii) The overwhelming number of climate scientists are so stupid that they have completely missed devastating arguments so simple that even a layman can understand them. . . .

 

(iii) The overwhelming number of climate scientists are liars, publishing nothing but flimsy or fraudulent work, and giving the nod to the entirely flimsy or fraudulent work of others, in a vast, somehow globally coordinated effort either to (a) advance their own careers, or (b) push forward an even more massive ecofascist agenda of which they are only one component. Sometimes all of these scientists are even presented as part of a UN-driven religious conspiracy to control the world populace under false pretenses. . . .

 

(iv) The scientific consensus has it wrong, for reasons sufficiently subtle or technical as to currently elude their understanding, much less the understanding of a non-expert. . . .

 
In other words, given the present state of climate science, in order for you as a layman to disbelieve the claims of man-made global warming, you must also simultaneously believe that the overwhelming majority of scientists all across the globe who study the phenomenon as part of their lives’ work are either idiots or deliberately misleading the public as part of a sinister global conspiracy to do . . . something. Given a layman’s level of ignorance on the subject, believing in option (iv) would be a baseless supposition. You either trust the consensus of the scientific community, or you doubt either their intelligence or their honesty. Since I have no reason to doubt either, I accept option (i).
 
Vuletic has some other interesting observations on his four proposed options, and the global warming debate in general, so I encourage you all to
read his full article.
Comments 
Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 | 08:11 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I would go with the possible fifth option mentioned in Vuletic's notes, personally.

I like this piece from Mark Steyn, layman or not, the article provides a good chronology of unchallenged speculation moving up the ladder to consensus. http://www.steynonline.com/content/view/2893/28/ "Glacially Motivated."



Tuesday, March 9th, 2010 | 10:39 pm (UTC)
You disagree with Vuletic that that possible (v) is really just a re-statement of (iv)? Either way, it's a hard argument to swallow. You honestly believe that the vast, overwhelming majority of climate scientists are either a) that ignorant of their own fields, or b) that unabashedly corrupt?

Steyn's global warming denialism (I dislike that word, but what Steyn evinces is not rational skepticism, and I can't think of something better to call it at the moment) is based on that assumption, and on an ignorance of the evidence that is either intentional or innocent, but is certainly undeniable.

In the piece you linked, he suggests that the whole case for disappearing glaciers is based on a weak chain of, as you call it, unchallenged speculation traceable back to a single study published in New Science over ten years ago. Steyn is either himself unaware, or hoping that his readers will be unaware, of the existence of the World Glacier Monitoring Service, which has measured glaciers all over the world since the 1940s and collected overwhelming evidence that, with relatively few exceptions, the Earth's glaciers are shrinking.

To be fair, there is some argument over exactly why the glaciers are shrinking. In some cases, including the snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro that Al Gore famously claimed were vanishing due to global warming, the actual cause is more complicated and includes factors other than climate change — like deforestation, in the case of Kilimanjaro.

But the fact remains that the glaciers are melting, and the evidence includes a lot more than a single article in a popular science magazine, as Steyn claims in his piece. That, like much of what Steyn says about climate change (including his endlessly repeated claim that the planet hasn't warmed since 1998) is just wrong.

Steyn is either a liar with soap to sell or an ignoramus. Since he seems unwilling to give the majority of the world's climate scientists the benefit of the doubt and insists they are the former, I'll be kinder to him and suggest that he is the latter.

Edited at 2010-03-09 10:41 pm (UTC)
Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 | 07:28 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
I disagree with the notion that climate science is beyond the average person’s ability to grasp even the basic principles of the subject. Admittedly your own opinions about evolution and the origin of the planet have merit regardless of your lack of formal training in the respective fields. I see nothing about climate science that should rate its complexity above biology or cosmology.

To your two questions – Vuletic’s article doesn’t address how the recent scandals involving top climate experts (the same guys we’re supposed to be relying on for the facts) affect public opinion. Personally, finding out that a very influential group of experts have been caught dodging Freedom of Information requests and conveniently losing raw data, makes me a little hesitant to believe the whole lot. So, option 1 is out. Option 2 is for the know-it-all types, and 3 is for the conspiracy theorists. Does thinking that “accidentally” tossing out invaluable raw climate data in an office move sound more stupid than scientific, or worse manipulative, put me with the 2 or 3 crowd? I disagree with the part in the 4th option about it all being beyond our understanding. So, I go with #5.

Steyn isn’t the only one who keeps repeating the claim that there has been no warming in over a decade. There is some debate about that, and not just among the laymen. (yes, I followed your link but I’m not sure that it contradicts Steyn, just gives a reason for 1995 being really hot.) What about Phil Jones’ statement? Supposedly he recently said there has been no statistically significant warming in the last 15 years, too.

I’ll give you that its not an easy subject for us layman to sort through. Whether believers or skeptics we’re prone to speculate. In another post, you pointed out how some look to all the snow we’ve gotten recently as a sign that global warming is bunk. There’s a different sort of layperson out there too. The kind that argues the colder winter proves global warming. There’s also the kind that link every natural disaster, like the Haiti earthquake, to man-made global warming.
Wednesday, March 10th, 2010 | 09:40 pm (UTC)
We can at least agree on your last observation, that our fellow laypersons attempting to tie every sort of weather imaginable in as evidence of global warming is silly and doesn't help anything.

As for Phil Jones saying the warming of the past 15 years hasn't been significant, here is the relevant bit from that BBC interview:

Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming[?]

Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.


Jones reminds us that, as I said in my article about the snow you mentioned, climate change is by definition a long-term phenomenon. There's a big difference between a trend of warming since 1995 "quite close to the significance level" and the statement of "no global warming in fifteen years" that deniers claim he made.

Edited at 2010-03-10 09:40 pm (UTC)
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