Climate Scientists Violate Own Advice: Opine On Topics About Which They Have No Expertise


Follow the money

Back on January 27, the Wall Street Journal ran an op/ed by some distinguished researchers arguing that climate change is no big deal. The op/ed, No Need to Panic About Climate Change, asserted: 

…the number of scientific "heretics" is growing with each passing year. The reason is a collection of stubborn scientific facts.

Perhaps the most inconvenient fact is the lack of global warming for well over 10 years now. This is known to the warming establishment, as one can see from the 2009 "Climategate" email of climate scientist Kevin Trenberth: "The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't." But the warming is only missing if one believes computer models where so-called feedbacks involving water vapor and clouds greatly amplify the small effect of CO2.

The lack of warming for more than a decade—indeed, the smaller-than-predicted warming over the 22 years since the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) began issuing projections—suggests that computer models have greatly exaggerated how much warming additional CO2 can cause. Faced with this embarrassment, those promoting alarm have shifted their drumbeat from warming to weather extremes, to enable anything unusual that happens in our chaotic climate to be ascribed to CO2.

If there is not all that much warming, then why is there so much brouhaha about it? The op/ed continued:

Alarmism over climate is of great benefit to many, providing government funding for academic research and a reason for government bureaucracies to grow. Alarmism also offers an excuse for governments to raise taxes, taxpayer-funded subsidies for businesses that understand how to work the political system, and a lure for big donations to charitable foundations promising to save the planet. Lysenko and his team lived very well, and they fiercely defended their dogma and the privileges it brought them.

Speaking for many scientists and engineers who have looked carefully and independently at the science of climate, we have a message to any candidate for public office: There is no compelling scientific argument for drastic action to "decarbonize" the world's economy. Even if one accepts the inflated climate forecasts of the IPCC, aggressive greenhouse-gas control policies are not justified economically.

Not too surprisingly, those accused of being bought-and-paid for alarmists were annoyed. Earlier this week, the Journal published a response from 38 of the perturbed alarmists, Check with Climate Scientists for Views on Climate. Their letter asserted:

Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

You published "No Need to Panic About Global Warming" on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

So, there! And what do "real" climate scientists believe? 

Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.

Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.

Question: How long before the short-term variation with minimal warming [PDF] suggests that there may be something wrong with the climate computer models? Just asking. 

In any case, the climate experts then go on to become the equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology:

It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.

Really? Scanning the list of signers of the letter one does not find that any seem to have any special expertise on economics and public policy. Perhaps the climate "dentists" are recommending open heart surgery to treat tooth decay. Interestingly, the op/ed to which they object does cite economic expertise in reaching its conclusions: 

A recent study of a wide variety of policy options by Yale economist William Nordhaus showed that nearly the highest benefit-to-cost ratio is achieved for a policy that allows 50 more years of economic growth unimpeded by greenhouse gas controls. This would be especially beneficial to the less-developed parts of the world that would like to share some of the same advantages of material well-being, health and life expectancy that the fully developed parts of the world enjoy now. Many other policy responses would have a negative return on investment. And it is likely that more CO2 and the modest warming that may come with it will be an overall benefit to the planet.

I will also mention that the public policy side of the Reason Foundation which publishes this website released a report back in December looking at the economics of climate change that reached similar conclusions:

"Using the IPCC's own highest emission scenario, we show that by 2100 the Gross Domestic Product per capita of today's 'developing' countries will be double that of the U.S. in 2006, even taking into account any losses resulting from climate change. Thus developing countries will have significantly more resources and better technology to cope with climate change than even the U.S. does today," Goklany says. "But these advances in adaptive capacity and what they'll mean for our ability to cope with any potential warming are virtually ignored by the IPCC when it assesses the possible impact of global warming."

The study outlines three approaches to tackling climate change: cutting emissions of greenhouse gases; focused adaptation; and economic growth. "The best strategy by far to combat climate change is economic growth," says Julian Morris, the study's project director and vice president at Reason Foundation. "Economic growth is the best way to eliminate poverty; meanwhile, the resulting wealth and technological advances  will enable people better to address all the problems they face, including any challenges that global warming may present."

For what it's worth, the climate experts asserting consensus about the reality of man-made global warming cannot, on the basis of their climate expertise, assert a consensus on the policies needed to address the problem.

 Go here to read the Reason Foundation study on the best policies to handle future climate change.