Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Copenhagen climate conference, Wimberley and Ferguson

Deputy Wimberley sent an email to all States members which included this link to a 13th March Telegraph article.

Senator Sarah Ferguson then emailed all States Members with a link to a report on a conference of climate change deniers that took place recently (sponsored by a far-right US "think tank"). These are my thoughts following.

The answer to Sarah's highly irresponsible garbage is to ask the question - what happens if her sources are wrong or what happens if the IPCC predictions are wrong? Scientific hypotheses, conclusions and predictions are forever tentative until tested by reality. It is possible to do a risk analysis on the various outcomes. Firstly, we have to remember that the climate has massive inertia. Changing emissions now will take at least a couple of decades to have an effect. If we halted all emissions now, the climate would carry on changing from the historic emissions since the 90's.

If Sarah is correct and global warming will be negligible or beneficial in the future then there will be a lot of eggs on many faces in 20 years or so but the action we would have already taken by then would have put us well on the way to transitioning away from oil and towards renewable energy (inevitable at some point anyway) so in no way would it be wasted effort or investment. If the IPCC is correct, then we are in for a lot of trouble and any delay in reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be irresponsible. If both Sarah and the IPCC are wrong and the strongest "alarmists" like Hansen and Lovelock are correct, then delaying immediate strong action to severely reduce emissions will render the delayers criminally responsible for a Holocaust of unimaginable, unprecedented proportions and the probable destruction of human civilisation. Surely it's a no-brainer as to the sensible, prudent way to go?

The deniers make a lot of deceitful noise about the computer models being just models and that the predictions they make may well be wrong or well off. They are correct! The models' predictions can only be truly tested by running the experiment to see if the outcome matches the predictions. However, the denier assumption is that any putative errors in the models will come out in our favour which is just highly irresponsible and is wishful thinking! The laws of physics and philosophy state that the validity of such thinking absolutely cannot be proved in advance of us "running the experiment" - by which time it would be much too late if the result is dangerous. An analogous risk analysis would be rather like remembering Dirty Harry and the punk, neither of whom knew for certain whether Callahan had fired the last bullet or if his gun still had one bullet left...

"I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?"

People like Sarah are hoping, without certain knowledge, that there are no bullets in the climate change gun. Remember what happened to the punk? He felt lucky (and died). Sarah has a right to her belief but she has no right to allow that pernicious and risky set of beliefs to spread and expose the rest of us to a possibly severe risk. Her duty is to keep her mouth shut and stop muddying the waters and poisoning the well.


Re Sarah's link

All you really need to know about the deniers conference (that is the subject of the link) is the bottom line.
"Videos of all conference presentations, lecture notes, and slides are being incrementally posted on the web site of the conference's main sponsor, The Heartland Institute"

Heartland is a rabid US libertarian/ultra-republican think tank source of at least misleading info - at worst, black propaganda. Now that even the oil companies do not sponsor the very small number of denier scientists, there are very few havens left for these deniers to get funding.

Remember, the vast majority of research and published peer reviewed climate science backs up the IPCC statements *AS A MINIMUM*. Some go further, like Hansen.

A useful exercise is to imagine that there are only two equally good scientists - one's work suggests that the globe is heating up, that it is primarily caused by humans and will almost certainly be dangerous. The other's work acknowledges that the globe is heating, that humans are partially responsible but it won't be a problem or may be beneficial. This last position is that of Richard Lindzen, the most credible of the denier scientists bar none - just about all of the rest mentioned are not credible to real climate scientists. The "Brussels journal" link mentions "A second keynote speaker at the Climate Conference -- Richard Lindzen, the Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology"

N.B. Lindzen the denier conference's "second keynote speaker" said this (in 2006) "We are quite confident (1) that global mean temperature is about 0.5 °C higher than it was a century ago; (2) that atmospheric levels of CO2 have risen over the past two centuries; and (3) that CO2 is a greenhouse gas whose increase is likely to warm the earth (one of many, the most important being water vapor and clouds). But – and I cannot stress this enough – we are not in a position to confidently attribute past climate change to CO2 or to forecast what the climate will be in the future. [T]here has been no question whatsoever that CO2 is an infrared absorber (i.e., a greenhouse gas – albeit a minor one), and its increase should theoretically contribute to warming. Indeed, if all else were kept equal, the increase in CO2 should have led to somewhat more warming than has been observed."

OK, so we have our two opposed scientists who are nowhere near as far apart as the deniers would have you believe. As there is an absence of certainty in any scientific future prediction, we have to use the techniques of risk analysis to decide what to do. It's like the "Dirty Harry" quote above. If we're lucky, there won't be a problem. If we're unlucky, there will be a problem. If we're very unlucky, billions will die and human civilisation will be just about destroyed. Big "ifs". We have to choose wisely based upon an uncertain outcome that cannot be definitively predicted.

As I'm sure you realise, in reality, it's not simply one scientist versus another, as in my example, but an overwhelming number, whose work supports the IPCC conclusions, versus a very small minority of frequently marginal scientists, most of whom haven't published any research in this area in recent years themselves. Also many well known deniers are non-scientists who masquerade as scientists (such as Monckton) by fooling people with rhetoric dressed up to look like science.

Not many people now believe that our States are capable of making too many sensible decisions but if the rest of the States give the "Sarahs" any credence they could pursue an incalculably destructive course out of ignorance and arrogance and ongoing delusions of their own adequacy.


Anonymous said...

Hi Nick

Thanks for this post. I am fully in agreement with you; it is better to do something and find in 50 years time that we need not have done it (though I doubt this will be the case) rather than do nothing and regret it in 50 years.
I am re-training doing an OU degree with emphasis on Renewable Energy because I believe we have a responsibility to leave the earth in a better condition than when we arrived on it and if I can help in even the smallest way I will.
Unfortunately people like Sarah just give the "head in the sand" people the voice they want so they can feel happy doing nothing.
Keep up the good work.

Julian Thorne

Nick Palmer said...

Thanks Julian. This central "risk analysis" argument is at the heart of Greg Craven's book, that I helped with some of the research on, due to be published in July.

As it is no longer possible for most people to judge the conflicting scientific opinions, such is the degree of misleading rhetoric around, looking at the consequences if either side is right or wrong offers a way for the man-in-the-street to judge the wisest way to go. He/she does not need to be a scientist or have special knowledge. Simple common sense methods will suffice.