Changing My Mind about Climate Change?

I've been skeptical of the claims of anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and two climate scientists who have informed my opinion are Richard Lindzen, of MIT, and Judith Curry, of GIT, both retired now. Both of them, however, still considering themselves skeptics, agree that human carbon emissions are causing some warming of the global climate. That has caused a shift in my thinking.

Science changes quickly, and we know a lot more about climate than we did 10 years ago. What we've learned seems to support the AGW hypothesis. I began questioning my own skepticism after reading up on the current state of climate science and then watching this video by Lindzen:

He presents the skeptic's case, but around 1:58 he lists things the scientists who buy into the AGW hypothesis and the scientists who are skeptics both agree on. He says both agree that our CO2 emissions should cause some warming.

I think his ideas are right. However, the admission that AGW is true and we just don't know how much warming is anthropogenic pushed me toward thinking about solutions rather than increased skepticism. It's true that the future AGW situation may not be nearly as bad as the alarmists say, but since future climate states are impossible to predict, it might be worse. We don't know. The conservative thing to do is prepare for the worst case, isn't it?

Judith Curry also agrees that adding CO2 to the atmosphere will have a warming effect. She covers this in the following video at 11:59 (where the video should start, if I've linked properly).

So, while the disagreements she notes are important, she does agree that our adding CO2 to the atmosphere will cause some warming. There are reasons to doubt the alarmists' disaster scenarios, but we don't know what will happen.

Here's a climate scientist who follows the AGW hypothesis. Note his explanations for things like long pauses in warming (where this video should start) and the replenishment of sea ice (at 10:00).

So, even the skeptics agree that global climate is warming and that human carbon emissions will cause further global warming. The AGW hypothesis proponents have reasonable arguments about pauses in warming and loss of sea ice. The facts seem to suggest that we should think about what to do about carbon emissions.

Sadly, there are a lot of alarmists who propose bizarrely unrealistic solutions. That has been another factor in my skepticism. The most recent IPCC report suggests drastic reductions in carbon emissions in the next 12 years, and then suggests solar, wind, and other "renewable" resources, which, frankly, strikes me as idiocy.

However, logically, the fact that alarmists present unrealistic solutions is not an argument to disbelieve the AGW hypothesis, nor is it an argument that we should do nothing.

The one and only realistic solution I see is to drastically increase production and use of nuclear energy. Nothing else is guaranteed to have as big an impact in the time frame proponents of the AGW hypothesis give us.

Interestingly, this could also be a political opportunity for conservatives. If we did an about face and implemented a nuclear power plan that drastically reduced US CO2 emissions in the next decade, we would steal a lot of thunder from the left.

I dunno. What do you folks think?

By the way, Judith Curry may have retired, but she is still engaged in the debate via her blog, Climate Etc. I plan to read more of her work and see whether my skepticism is reinforced.


Christopher B said...

The question has never been 'does carbon cause warming?'. That is the motte in the motte and bailey AGW argument. The question has always been 'is there a tipping point where added carbon causes explosive warming?' That is the concept of 'forcing' and is the bailey. People can present evidence that adding carbon causes warming, which is then used as evidence that, with forcing, it will cause explosive warming. Forcing, however, has never been demonstrated to occur but is critical to the whole AGW scam. Without it, our additions to carbon in the atmosphere are swamped by natural variation.

MikeD said...

And Christopher knocks it out of the park in one. Is there warming? Well, save for a pause (that depending on who you ask, did or did not occur), yes there has been an upward trend since the mid-twentieth century. Is that warming unusual (i.e. is it anthroprogenic)? Ah-HA! Now we have the gotcha. The answer varies again depending on who you ask. To me the greatest evidence that the answer is "no, this is not abnormal" comes from the fact that retreating ice in Switzerland literally uncovered archaeological evidence of villages buried under the ice for millennia. Now, if we are to believe the AGW crowd, that's simply not possible. For you see, if it is human activity (specifically, our carbon output) that is responsible for the warming that caused that ice to melt, then those villages are not possible. Because there was no industrial revolution causing global temperatures to elevate millennia ago. So is it possible (no, probable) that temperature changes are cyclical and natural, and in fact unavoidable? I think the answer is pretty clearly yes.

The Ice Age had no human cause. The "Little Ice Age" from 1645-1715 had no human cause. The periods of greater than average warmth in pre-industrial times had no human cause. In fact, no one disputes any of those facts (save for the most fanatical of AGW proponents who will flat out deny that the world climate was abnormal during those periods). But now we're told that catastrophic climate change is occurring because of the industrial revolution and our increased carbon production. There's a problem with that hypothesis. First, not a single prediction of catastrophic climate change made since the beginning of this nonsense with the IPCC has occurred. Remember the claims that Kilimanjaro would be snow free by 2016? Of course not, you're not supposed to. Nor are you supposed to remember that most of these climate disaster prophets were predicting that human pollution was causing another Ice Age in the 1970s. I remember. Hell, it was on the cover of Time Magazine. But never mind that, they "have better models now". Except that their modelling hasn't been able to correctly model the past, much less the future.

The difference between my position and the AGW crowd is that I will not attempt to bully you into accepting my word for it, nor will I shout that you're a heretic... sorry, 'denier', if you disagree with me. I would encourage you to question what I say and see if what I tell you is true. Their claims get memory holed when they fail to occur. But they're easily found on the internet. Here's but a brief collection:

Finally, ask yourself. If their predictions are so unreliable, and they insist that they cannot show you their data, and you must simply take their word for it because "consensus", ask why. Why on earth would they not be happy to share their data? Why would they have any interest in hiding their mistakes?

Tom said...

Well, I've been paying attention to this for more than 20 years, and during that time there have been a number of people who HAVE argued that human carbon emissions do NOT cause warming. For the last decade the warming itself has been challenged quite a bit as well.

Basically, radiative (or climate) forcing is the difference between the solar radiation the earth takes in and the radiation the earth emits. We can and do measure it. Now, I believe the IPCC also uses the term to refer to the specific effects on the radiative balance of the earth of different factors (like CO2), and for those it's less certain. However, note that no scientist seems to dispute the claim that increased carbon in the atmosphere will cause warming. That is radiative forcing under the IPCC's definition. So, I don't think that's the main dispute.

Or are you talking about another kind of forcing? Or effect of forcing? Maybe positive / negative feedback mechanisms? The idea that CO2 emissions are a positive feedback mechanism might be disputed; I dunno.

The real questions I've seen seem to be about certainty. The main argument of climate scientist skeptics like Lindzen is that climate is too unpredictable for high degrees of certainty. I think that's a good point, but it cuts both ways. It could be that the AGW hypothesis goes way too far and things won't be nearly as bad as it predicts, but it could go the other way. It could be worse. We just don't know.

If we don't know, then acting conservatively seems the best way to go to me. That said, actions that will have definitely negative consequences in the near future do not seem justified in trying to prevent possibly negative consequences in the long term. So, trying to convert the US to mostly solar & wind energy in the next 12 years is idiocy, for example.

Tom said...

MikeD, yeah, some of the AGW side not being willing to show their work is one good reason I've been skeptical.

Again, though, leading skeptical scientists like Lindzen and Curry agree both that the earth is warming and that human CO2 emissions will increase warming. There is no debate there, no reasonable question about those two things.

Grim said...

I remain open to argument on this issue, as with any scientific issue. My objection is always to the assertion that the question is closed, and that 'the science is settled.'

That said, I'm aware that there's an easy and cheap answer to this -- we can use weather balloons and hoses to pump reflective gases into the upper atmosphere. As long as we continue to hear that this is a non-starter, and that instead we need to 'dismantle global capitalism,' I tend to believe that there is a political issue driving the science rather than the other way around.

E Hines said...

yes there has been an upward trend since the mid-twentieth century.

There's been an upward trend for 4+ billion years: the sun has been warming, and it will continue to warm until it fails into a (smallish) red giant. Further, despite the warming coming out of the last Ice Age, we're still a couple of degrees below the geologic trend line of warming.

Beyond that, the climate models that predict AGW warming still can't simultaneously predict the past and the present--and their past predictions badly overstate realized observational data from high altitude balloons and satellites.

Atmospheric CO2 causes warming? Leaving aside the critical role it plays as plant food (and during that last Ice Age or the one just before, the concentration got down to 140ppm against a minimum for earth-type plants to survive at all of 120ppm), ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica reaching back 400,000 years indicate that rising atmospheric CO2 lags planetary warming, not precedes it.

Even the "climatologists'" arithmetic is bad, as has been pointed out a bit ago in a number of articles on Watts Up With That.

That's just a few items.

Practical effects. Say the planet warms--AGW or just from the sun, planetary rotation axis behavior, orbital mechanics, their interactions, and on and on--what's the so what? We're not as warm today (though only an Obama smidge so) as we were during the Medieval Warm Period. The last time we were significantly warmer, and atmospheric CO2 concentrations were some factors higher than today, life was lush and rich. When we were warm enough to have no Arctic ice cap, life was lush and rich.

I'm having trouble seeing the problem.

Eric Hines

Christopher B said...


My answer was from a non-scientific perspective as I've understood the arguments. Evidently I got the wording wrong using the term 'forcing' for unchecked positive feedback from the warming caused by additional carbon in the atmosphere introduced by humans that will eventually cause a unstoppable warming trend as depicted in the famous hockey-stick graph.

Tom said...

Grim, I agree that we can't say the science is settled, and I also saw the clearly political solutions proposed by various AGW proponents as a reason to be skeptical. I haven't read much about pumping reflective particles into the atmosphere, just one article. Do you have a link for that?

Eric, as I understand it, the Medieval Warm Period was only regional, and other regions at the time were cooler. Global temperatures at that time were cooler than they are now.

Sure, CO2 is plant food, and one of the points the skeptical scientists make is we just can't predict exactly how increases in CO2 will affect future climate. Fine. But they also say that they believe increased CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to some warming. Again, I was familiar with Lindzen and Curry from way back, and them saying this has a bigger influence on me than other writers at Watts's site. I don't have time to vet every climate scientist, but I have looked into Lindzen and Curry, and they seem pretty credible to me.

Also, the rise in CO2 followed the warming, but the AGW explanation, as I recall it, is that water vapor provided the initial warming, which resulted in more CO2 in the atmosphere, and that provided a positive feedback mechanism for warming.

Tom said...

Christopher, yeah, how much of a positive feedback mechanism CO2 is is one of the uncertainties. There are clearly things that mitigate it, like chemical weathering.

We didn't really know how that affected climate change until 2012, and we will learn new stuff going into the future. I may change my mind again as we learn more. However, we know a lot now that we didn't 10 years ago, and the new stuff seems to support some level of AGW.

Am I skeptical about the scientific community? Sure. I love Thomas Kuhn and he would tell us that all scientists must work within a paradigm that both guides them and limits what they are able to see. It is entirely possible that the entire climate science community is blinded to certain aspects of reality -- In fact, Kuhn would say it is inevitable that they are, but unlikely that anyone can know in what ways they are blinded.

This, of course, calls all science into question, and relativists (of which I am not one) use it all the time against facts they don't like.

Yeah, Kuhn's great. But I believe the correct lesson to learn from him is humility in what we can know, and that we just have to muddle through the best we can with what we think we do know.

Tom said...

Here's an article on pumping sulfates into the stratosphere as a possible solution for AGW. There are potential drawbacks, and again, Uncertainty rears its ugly head.

Here are the drawbacks listed:

"Skeptics of the idea, however, say it's one thing when a volcano erupts; imitating nature would be another thing entirely. While Pinatubo-like amounts of sulfur (roughly 20 million tons) pumped into the atmosphere could linger three to four years, cooling the planet within the first months, reversing sea ice melt, and possibly even promoting tree growth, the side effects are uncertain. A 2009 paper found that stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI) could lead to drought in Africa and Asia and deplete the ozone layer, and it would not stop ocean acidification.

"A miscalculation in the injections could be a costly mistake, ushering in a new ice age. And if scientists were to stop regular injections without cleaning up the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, the rebound effect could be worse for crops, animals and ecosystems than if they had done nothing. [Could Space Mirrors Stop Global Warming?]

"Beyond that, critics say, regular aerosol injections would change the sky's color, ruin astronomy for optical telescopes on Earth, and remove the incentive for nations to clean up their own acts. And in a final act of irony, with less sunlight reaching the Earth's surface, solar panels would produce less power."

E Hines said...

Tom, the major proponents of the MWP being only regional in a cooler globe are the IPCC and Michael Mann, neither of whom have any credibility. Other studies--beyond those that say the MWP was a global phenomenon--indicate that the warming was regional only in the sense that differing areas of the planet warmed at differing times, but in the same general set of centuries. With no explanation for the apparent lack of synchrony. Like, oh say, perhaps, regional effects on the Gulf Stream conveyor belt, on Pacific currents, on the cycle of El Ninos and La Ninas, and on and on.

And there's still that lack of an explanation of why we should care that the planet is warming, regardless of cause.

Eric Hines

David Foster said...

Meanwhile, the set of people who are most concerned about Climate Change has very heavy overlap with the set of people who are most against nuclear power.

France gets more than half of its electricity from nuclear, and has been doing so for a long time. Is there something special about French culture or language that gives them the unique ability to operate nuclear plants safely? Seems unlikely.

GE has just sold Egypt a set of very large turbine-generators for a new nuclear power plant. But the reactors that are to be the steam source for the plants will come from Russia. Anti-nuclear hysteria, extending over four decades, has substantially crippled the nuclear industry in the US.

If the present-day political environment had existed in Thomas Edison's day, he probably would have gotten away with his sleazy fear-based campaign to suppress AC power in favor of his own DC distribution system.

Tom said...

Eric, I'll have to get back to you later on those points.

David, yeah, I don't like that overlap. I say the answer is nukes, or new tech that sucks the carbon out of the atmosphere, or something like that. I am particularly interested in not giving international governmental bodies or our own federal government more power over our lives or economy.

E Hines said...

I have no interest in sucking the carbon out of the atmosphere. We have a long way to go before it gets dangerous.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

How do you know that?

E Hines said...

Current atmospheric CO2 is in the neighborhood of 250-400ppm (depending on who you ask). NASA has the atmospheric CO2 alarms on the ISS set to go off when it gets to 1000ppm (I'm still looking for the cite for that; I saw it awhile ago in passing. This shows how conservative that is). That's an outer bound. During the Jurassic and Cretaceous periods--44 million-200 million years ago--atmospheric CO2 was in the region of 1,000ppm, and life was lush .

And this shows pretty conclusively that there's not a lot of correlation between atmospheric CO2 and planetary temperature. Since that 2007 publication--a negligible period, to be sure--the earth has continued to not warm, despite those models' predictions.

Eric Hines

Assistant Village Idiot said...

The Little Ice Age may in fact have been caused by humans. Specifically, the massive die-off of humans in the New World (tens of millions), and the discontinuation of their yearly burning in North America and crops in Mexico could have been climate altering. That's a pretty drastic cause, however.

We have been warming since the early 19th C, slowly. I am not convinced of non-local catastrophes being convincingly predicted. Some local ones - sea level rise endangering fresh water in South Florida, for example - are possible. Increased greening has to be balanced against that.

Anonymous said...

AVI, which part of the LIA? If you use a 1300 start date, then the depopulation of the Americas and the expansion of plants (and bison) isn't a factor. And you can't use that for the previous cold phase that ended the Roman Warm Period. The end of the RWP probably stemmed from tropical volcanic eruptions plus a sun phase. I havn't looked closely at the onset of the 1300s cooling, although IIRC it also gets some volcanic credit.

Full disclosure: my research focus was/is the weather pattern shift at the end of the LIA in southwestern North America, 1820-1950. I have not found evidence of any global warming post 1998 in my follow-on work, BUT is specifically exclude urban areas because of the known heat-island effects. Also, my temp data are all from before NOAA/NCARC revised temperatures in the historic data.


Grim said...

You’ll have to look it up, Tom. It’s been a while since I read into it.

Tom said...

Grim, I found an article on it and posted the link & some excerpts above. We don't really know much about it beyond the theory; the only way to test it is to deploy it. Beyond the cooling everyone expects, no one really knows what would happen. So, we don't know if, overall, it would be a cheap or effective answer, given that we can't test it beforehand.

Eric, I'm not worried about all life on earth dying out. That earlier periods with higher CO2 levels were lush is irrelevant to how modern humans could possibly be affected. For example, small rises in sea level could end up resulting in pollution of coastal aquifers. Sure, many plants would still flourish, but that would cause problems for living things that need freshwater.

E Hines said...

Tom, all that would mean is that some humans and some animals and plants would need to relocate. How terrible. Those that live on the coast because that's where the fish are will just have new coasts to live on.

Regarding the rising sea level meme in general, the claims are highly suspicious. Some of those islands that are being inundated are off the north coast of Alaska, far from being inundated, are just moving downstream as currents erode the upstream edges of the islands and deposit the erosion silt in the lee of the downstream edges. Some of the islands in the Pacific that are being inundated are well-populated, and their pumping ground water is causing the islands to subside into the ocean. The measured sea rise also is highly localized rather than universal. Much of that is related to the fact that the earth rotates, but that doesn't explain all of the localization--and explains none of the sea rise.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

I disagree. When you lose your home, and possibly your livelihood, it is terrible. It won't be the same people who get the new coasts, or the new farm land. Their capital will be made worthless, so they won't be able to trade over to unaffected land.

When this happens as a mass change, it is a kind of natural disaster, just moving a lot slower than we normally think of them.

As for whether it's happening or not, sure, we're talking about science, not prophesy.

What I don't believe, though, is that there is some global conspiracy of climate scientists. I think if there were any slam-dunk evidence that the AGW hypothesis was wrong, it would change the scientific community within a decade or two. Instead, I see the scientific community solidifying behind the AGW hypothesis. I see holes poked into the AGW hypothesis, which sparks new research, which produces reasonable answers that fill those holes.

Even the skeptical scientists say AGW is happening, they just dispute the certainty of the models and the long-term predictions of the consequences.

I still hope Lindzen and Curry are right, and I still have some healthy doubt. I just think it's better in many ways to mitigate the risks rather than ignore them.

David Foster said...

I seriously doubt that all of the major factors, especially in the feedback loops, are known or even knowable. For example, CO2 is used by plant growth, which converts it into oxygen. So plants remove CO2 from the air at a rate which is determined not only by the parameters for growth-vs-CO2 level for each species, but also by the amount of land on which each species is planted==which is, in turn, determined by individual, corporate, and national policy choices.

Elise said...

I'm late to this but a couple of thoughts. Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) is one thing; Apocalyptic Anthropogenic Global Warming (AAGW) is something else. It reads to me like the two are being used interchangeably in this discussion which seems to make things murkier. Are we arguing that AGW is not occurring at all, or that AGW is occurring but AAGW is extremely unlikely?

There is a difference between mitigating the effects and attempting to make sure the worst doesn't happen. I think it's important to distinguish between the two. Trying to stop AGW or AAGW is attempting to make sure the worst doesn't happen; coping with it when and as it does is mitigating the effects. Preparing for it can include doing what we can to be sure society and the economy are as resilient as possible. That, in turn, might mean not taking the sorts of steps many AAGW believers demand, since those steps will weaken the economy. IIRC, Bjorn Lomborg has made similar arguments about taking the money the world is willing to spend on AAGW and using it to help people become wealthy and healthy. Then if AAGW eventuates, more people are better able to handle it; if not, the wealthy and healthy part are valuable anyhow.

All that said, I don't see why one needs to accept the reality of AAGW or even AGW to support the widespread use of nuclear power. Surely, conservatives can embrace nuclear power without giving credence to AAGW or even AGW. For example, oil is not just a fuel; it's also the basis for products we make, such as plastic. It seems prudent to prefer not to destroy that "feedstock" by burning it. Perhaps a campaign that says, "We don't believe in AAGW but we do believe oil is not an unlimited resource. We urge those who do believe in AAGW to join us in implementing nuclear power. That saves oil for future generations as well as making more oil available today for poor nations whose people need simple, cheap energy to improve their lives "

Finally, IIRC, France has implemented cookie-cutter nuclear power plants: they are all the same so once they found a design that worked safely they stuck with it and any problem found in one can be fixed in all the others. That seems sensible - perhaps utility companies could just buy the French design and even their expertise. And I have no idea what France does with their nuclear waste. Disposing of such is, I think, one of the big stumbling blocks to public acceptance of nuclear power. We'd need a good plan for that.

E Hines said...

Without getting into the A/AGW discussion (I'm not convinced AGW is in play; AAGW is only in play as a money factory), I agree that we need to push nuclear power--and reduce the idiotic regulatory/permitting regime that artificially drives up the cost of a power plant--and burn less oil, and natural gas, which are important feedstocks for the materials industry.

Disposing of such is, I think, one of the big stumbling blocks to public acceptance of nuclear power. We'd need a good plan for that.

We do have the core and most of the rest of a plan for disposing of a plant's nuclear waste. The Harry Reid Memorial Nuclear Waste Repository at Yucca Mountain is just a year or two away from opening for business, if government would only finish the site.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

I'm glad to hear Yucca Mountain is still a possibility. Now, we need a campaign to explain why storing nuclear waste there is safe and to explain how we can safely get the nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain from, say, Alabama. One of the tricky things may be that those people and communities who are most open to nuclear power (roughly, conservatives/red states) may also be those people and communities most convinced that the powers that be are not going to be real concerned if they are harmed by the plants and/or the transported waste.

E Hines said...

Power lines being what they are (once the electrical grid is upgraded, as it so desperately needs), there's no reason nuclear power plants would need to be in even relatively urbanized areas. There's lots of sparsely populated territory in our more arid West which would/could handle such plants, and those areas are closer to Yucca than, say, Alabama.

Also, don't have the trains dawdle. Freight trains really are, though, quite safe--it's usually the passenger trains trying to make speed with fatigued engineers that have most of the accidents. Of course, nuclear waste-carrying trains would be terrorist targets, so security would be a concern.

Eric Hines

Elise said...

once the electrical grid is upgraded, as it so desperately needs

Yes, perhaps implementing nuclear power could be (would have to be) a springboard for cleaning up a lot of stuff.

Tom said...

That all sounds very sensible, Eric & Elise. I hadn't thought about that last point, but there is a lot of stuff that needs cleaning up that advancing nuclear energy would push.

Also, if Trump greatly decreased the US's carbon footprint by expanding nuclear energy and improving infrastructure, headlines declaring "Trump Solves Climate Change" would be the end of the left's tenuous hold on sanity.

Elise said...

would be the end of the left's tenuous hold on sanity.

Have to admit - that made me chuckle.

E Hines said...

No, they'd whine and complain about nuclear pollution, and what if salt caverns leak. And they'd focus on Chernobyl, with its incompetent design and Russian's cavalier attitude toward safety controls (yes, it's Ukraine, but it was Russia in that driver's seat), and on Fukushima, with Japan's being caught flat-footed by an unexpected two-fer disaster.

They'd carefully ignore Three Mile Island, France's safety record, and nuclear power's near perfect safety record, even with Chernobyl, Fukushima, and Three Mile Island.

And they'd make stuff up, just like they've been doing the last few years. That part, especially, is a problem with projection.

Eric Hines

Tom said...

Oh, sure, but it would be fun, and more of the middle would be laughing at them.