By John McClaughry
As world leaders meet in Glasgow to seek agreement to make Earth’s climate stop changing, the news media has delivered a continual tsunami of alarming reports: “Climate change is already ravaging the world,” “climate change-induced disasters,” “climate crisis,” “climate emergency.”
President Joe Biden informed delegates at Glasgow that “there’s only a brief window” before we are confronted by “an existential threat to human existence as we know it.” The network news shows feature endless images of dead cattle, calving glaciers, confused polar bears, desperate refugees, and hurricane wreckage.
Could we calm down a minute and get a grip on this subject? Here are eight useful thoughts, and my conclusion.
First, “climate change” is not a thing. It’s a shorthand description of a host of observable events. There is no metric for “climate change,” any more than there is for, say, “addiction.” No scientist can say “in 1940 the planet’s climate stood at 106.5, and today it’s 172.1.”
Second, we must recognize that science welcomes and depends upon skeptical inquiry. It proceeds by “show me” — disproving the null hypothesis.
Third, correlation is not causation. For example, if the mortality rate among people with white hair is higher than that of people with dark hair, it doesn’t mean that white hair is a cause of death. Also, weather is not climate, and positive feedbacks can’t go on forever.
Fourth, planet Earth is a non-linear dynamic system that warms and cools in many cycles, influenced by variations in the earth’s orbit, the tilting and precession of the axis, solar irradiance, cosmic ray flux, oceanic decadal oscillations, solar magnetic fluctuation, cloud cover variations, and terrestrial emissions of water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, aerosols, and volcanic ash. As such, it is not possible to create a model that can reliably predict events likely to occur in 2100 — or even next month.
This is not just my opinion. Steven Koonin, a senior professor of computational physics at CalTech and now NYU, devoted a lengthy chapter on this point in his valuable new book “Unsettled.”
Fifth, climate models are not scientific evidence for anything. They are projections based on assumptions and parameters selected by the modelers, mindful of the reception their model will get in the current politicized climatology world if it fails to predict a crisis. Climatologists “tune” their models so that they describe past, known climate activity — if they did not, the models would have no predictive value.
Sixth, pay attention to the source of data. The United Nations IPCC relies on (“tuned”) surface temperature reports to support its recurring pronouncements of an approaching climate crisis. But the NASA-UAH microwave satellite sensing projections, whose data is not subject to “tuning”, has proven far more accurate, and far less alarming.
Seventh, no one should believe any climate predictions made by a coal company. Similarly, no one should unthinkingly swallow the frenzied conclusions put forth by climatologists in the employ of political bodies (i.e., governments) whose leaders are preaching the climate emergency gospel to distribute trillions of dollars in subsidies.
Finally, dismiss any presentations claiming “the science is settled,” shamefully denouncing honest skeptics as “climate deniers,” and contending that “97% of climate scientists agree.” These are falsehoods created to stop legitimate debate.
What can you believe? You can believe, with Dr. Koonin (and me), that “there is no question that our emission of greenhouse gases, in particular CO2, is exerting a warming influence on the planet.” The question is, how much of an influence, with what accompanying disadvantages and benefits, and whether spending trillions of dollars in purportedly remedial efforts would yield a positive return.
Put another way, global mean temperatures (a tricky concept) have risen by 1 degree C in the 170 years since the Little Ice Age ended in the mid-19th century. How many economic resources should we earthlings divert away from human well-being in a probably futile attempt to prevent another very modest 1 degree C rise by 2100?
The flood of hype issuing from the UN IPCC, government-funded researchers, politicians, and climate change activist organizations, amplified by the scientific ignorance or complicity of major news organizations, does not accurately reflect the scientists’ reports; and (per Dr. Koonin) “the science is insufficient to make useful projections about how the climate will change over the coming decades, much less what effect our actions will have on it.”
Yes, climate change, whatever that is, is real, whatever that means. There are good arguments for conserving energy, improving efficiency and resilience, and reducing our reliance on environmentally harmful fossil fuels, especially coal, with Generation IV nuclear plants, hydro, wind and solar in certain favorable locations, and, possibly, geothermal and fusion. But frantically spending trillions of dollars to thwart a supposedly looming “climate crisis” is not one of them.
John McClaughry is vice president of the Ethan Allen Institute.