Global warmism needs a fisking
- Ivo Vegter
- 10 Aug 2010 07:56 (South Africa)
Fisking is the refutation of an article (or in this case, video) on a point by point basis. The term, coined in the pre-history of blogging, is derived from the name of journalist Robert Fisk, whose writing presents a particularly soft target for such treatment. Luckily, Fisk says doesn't read the internet, so it doesn't bother him that half the world shreds his articles for entertainment.
Here is the video in question:
It was made by James L. Powell, an "author, scientists and non-profit executive", who is about to publish a book entitled, "The Inquisition of Climate Science". I can't wait to buy it, if only for the photos of torture and executions.
The video's tagline says, "Is global warming true? Look at the evidence and decide for yourself."
So, let's look at it.
From its first words, the film is disingenuous. It implies that sceptics deny that global warming is happening, that humans are the cause, and that it's dangerous. Truth is, most accept the first, question the extent of the second and doubt the last assertion.
Most sceptics accept that the 40-year (and 100-year, and 300-year) temperature trend is rising. However, they doubt the accuracy of the data, that this is "warming on an unprecedented scale", that human activity is the most important cause, that the future has only warming in store, and that this would involve only dangers. They also question the motives of climate scientists and the green industries that have grown up around them.
That may be why the film has to appeal to Sudan and Zimbabwe to make up the rather low number of 33 national science academies that support man-made global warming claims. Besides, they're government institutions, so they're not exactly unbiased in this matter. Colour me sceptical.
The hardly-legible list of organisations that believe "global warming is true" includes several outfits that were founded on this explicit presumption. Some are outright political lobby groups. Agreed, however, that few, if any, organisations of scientists in the world say "global warming is not true". But neither do most serious sceptics, if that's how you're phrasing the question.
Then we get to "climate scientists". This is a self-selected group, of course. They are predisposed to claim that climate change constitutes a crisis. If you were a bright kid with a bent for mathematics and science and you had to choose a field of specialisation, but you didn't think climate change is a crisis, and it would be worth building a career to study this field, wouldn't you rather be a physicist, or a molecular biologist, or a statistician, or a genetics researcher, or a mechanical engineer? Would you devote your life to a field in which you don't already believe? Aren't you likely, once you've chosen a field, to defend its raison d'etre against all comers?
Why insist on this narrow definition of scientists eligible to theorise on the subject of climate change? The earth's climate is a vast, complex system, and requires a wide-ranging, multidisciplinary research approach, so why quote only scientists who have signalled their preconceived ideas by defining their field so narrowly?
This does not mean there's a conspiracy. Alarmists often use this dismissive term to discredit the idea that the global warming lobby argues its own vested interests. It isn't a conspiracy that all shopkeepers in a town try to make a profit and promote the virtues of shopping, either, but they do all act alike. All act independently in their own interest, just like climate scientists do. Billions of dollars worth of research grants – whole institutions and entire careers – are dependent on the notion that global warming is a crisis that needs our urgent attention.
That's not to mention the corporate interests in green technology, of which Al Gore's Generation Investment Management is merely one high-profile example. Billions of dollars in speculative investments are at risk. All of these investors would greatly benefit from environmental regulation and subsidies, while many would stand to lose their shirts if climate change didn't turn out to be a grave crisis. Again, this does not constitute a conspiracy theory. This is merely how companies operate: each independently seeks the advancement of its own interests, and tries to lobby government to pass laws that benefit them and disadvantage their competitors.
That climate scientists say climate change is a crisis is like quoting priests on the evil of sin. Most would claim there's too much of it about. That green technology companies agree is like asking wealthy televangelists for a second opinion.
So far, we have only transparent rhetoric, full of appeals to authority and consensus, neither of which constitute "evidence".
The film continues equally disingenuously, with a primary-school lesson on the greenhouse effect. Does he mean to imply sceptics dispute the existence of the greenhouse effect? Surely not. Sceptics are far more likely to argue that more CO2 in the atmosphere has a progressively smaller impact on warming. Or that there have been times when CO2 concentrations were many times greater than they are today, yet this did not result in runaway global warming, which prospect alarmists now warn is very possible.
Moreover, sceptics claim there are other greenhouse gases that are far more abundant and influential than CO2, not least of which is good old water. In fact, humans contribute only about 0.3% of the total greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. The behaviour of water in the atmosphere, and in particular the effect of cloud formation, is not at all well understood. In all, they conclude that there is scant cause for believing that human activity is the primary cause of global warming.
Sceptics are also worried by chart manipulation. Take the triple-chart that anchors the video. The scales for the three overlaid elements are arbitrary. They are chosen to make them look like perfect matches. Most glaring is that each scale has a different base (only one of which is zero), and measures in different units. This is a classic trick in the arsenal of those who manipulate statistics to make a political point, and makes whatever follows appear suspicious.
Even the temperature chart itself suffers from this scale problem. It is the Michael Mann hockey stick chart, the most widely-promoted "evidence" that 20th-century global warming is unprecedented. It has been convincingly debunked by Ross McKitrick and Steve McIntyre, but keeps cropping up. Instead of using the same proxy data (tree rings) for the entire chart, it switches to instrument measurements around 1960. Where they overlap, they disagree. However, scientists appear to simply ignore that contradiction, instead of wondering whether the tree ring data in question – data which has itself been challenged because of highly selective sampling – is a good proxy for temperature. Even if it were, there is no way of determining the proper scale for the proxy series, so it cannot be compared to the instrumental series in order to deduce a trend. The same problem appears in the subsequent charts, where ice cores and other proxies are used for the historic temperature record.
It would have been nice to have a modern thermometer planted in the middle of the Little Ice Age or the Medieval Warm Period to add scale to the proxy data. Without it, sceptics question whether it is possible to draw firm conclusions from a comparison of historic proxy data with contemporary temperature data. Maybe it once was warmer, maybe not. We cannot say.
This is a basic scientific error, so the continued insistence that the hockey stick chart is credible can only be attributed to a desire to perpetuate a false result.
Even if the scale of the two series is correct, the scale of the overall chart has been chosen to exaggerate 20th-century warming. It doesn't, for example, show clearly that there was significant variability throughout the century, with a 30-year decline sandwiched between two rising trends, despite our CO2 output rising consistently.
Nor does it show that the 1998 high was in the continental US at least, comparable to the highs of the 1930s dustbowl years, or that the charts show a decade-long plateau since then that may well signal a trend reversal. This oddity is not addressed at all in the video. Warmists explain it away by attributing the 1998 peak in temperatures, which used to be cited as "evidence" of global warming, to a particularly strong El Niño. Such inconsistencies undermine the narrative of exceptional, man-made, runaway warming, so it is dangerous to show them if you're asking viewers to make up their own minds.
Sceptics are also wary of cause-and-effect assertions, when data merely seems to be correlated. There's some clever rhetoric in the video about this problem. If you don't believe the chart shows cause and effect, the narrator says, you have to accept two things we don't know. Note that they are not two things we know to be false, and in fact, neither are particularly implausible. Moreover, we do not know the alternative to be true. The entirety of his argument is: just accept it, because we can't think of anything else. Scientists once accepted all sorts of strange untruths on this basis.
By contrast, we do have reason to suspect that the cause-and-effect explanation has some holes. Historically, for example, temperature trends appear to precede changes in CO2 concentrations by several centuries. This is a fact that Al Gore, in his film, An Inconvenient Truth, found too inconvenient to mention. He glossed over it by calling it "complicated".
No surprise. If true, this fact – like a few others that are too inconvenient to be covered in the video – would conclusively scupper the entire theory of CO2-induced global warming, all by itself.
The observation does supports some alternative theories, however, such as those involving oceans as heat sinks and stores of CO2. Of course, this would mean finding an alternative cause for temperature changes, too. One candidate is the effect of solar activity upon our atmosphere. Effects are not limited to direct heat output irradiating the earth, but also how its changing magnetic field affects cosmic rays, which influence events in the atmosphere such as rain and ice formation.
Unlike warmists, sceptics do not claim such theories as proven truth, just because they seem plausible and explain a lot. However, there is at least as much correlative "evidence" for them, and they have the great advantage that temperature changes occur a few decades after the apparent cause, rather than before it. Ironically, this is also the rather weak basis upon which warmists dismiss this theory: a lack of correlation over just the last three decades, which happens to equal the observed lag between cause and effect.
This guy does worse, however. He avoids any explanation of the solar variation theory, dismissing it brusquely: nights have warmed more than days. Citing this as a falsification of solar theories of climate change stretches credulity.
One of the pieces of "evidence", regarding oceans having warmed steadily since 1970, actually contradicts the theory of man-made global warming. Ocean temperature changes happen on long time-scales, so their warming is unlikely to have been caused by industrial activity of the last half-century. They are more likely a cause of global warming, than an effect.
The video then goes into a long list of apparent effects of warming. Since the warming trend itself is not in dispute (depending on the date range under consideration), neither are these effects.
Observe some curious anomalies, however: in the 1970s, it appears a lot more glaciers than usual were advancing, and fewer were retreating. Why, if temperatures were rising? And if the temperature has been rising until 1940, declining until 1970, and rising most precipitously since then, why has sea level rise been so consistent, since before we began to emit a lot of CO2? And where are the metre-scale rises that threaten to inundate entire countries?
None of these charts are relevant to the argument, however, so it is not worth wasting time on them. Presenting such observations is merely another neat rhetorical trick to distract from the real issue: does human activity causes temperature changes, should we expect warming to continue, and if it does, will it reach disastrous levels?
And with that, we have reached the end of the "evidence".
None of it addresses the issues that sceptics raise: that the anthropogenic contribution to warming is speculative and exaggerated, while natural causes are played down; that computer models are inconsistent, contain built-in assumptions about "forcing" to make them fit predetermined conclusions, and fall far short of adequately modelling the atmosphere and oceans; that measurement networks are patchy, inaccurate in many cases, and the actual data is a disorganised mess; that scientists are well aware that some climate research relies on selective and incomplete data; that measures proposed to curb warming will be extremely costly and will be surprisingly ineffective; that there are better ways of investing these resources.
And all of this, before we add the Climategate revelations, which, as I've written before, fell short of proving scientific fraud, but did show gross incompetence in handling the large datasets involved, the use of clever tricks instead of sceptical inquiry to varnish over inconsistencies, disregard for both law and the public interest in handling information that is being used to justify far-reaching policy measures, and active efforts to subvert the peer-review mechanism to exclude legitimate science that contradicts man-made global warming theory.
This isn't a plot, or a conspiracy theory. This is simply bad science, conducted by scientists whose careers are on the line, paid for by investors with a stake in the outcome and politicians who want the moral cloak of playing saviour in a crisis.
Clinging to received dogma, by repeating hoary arguments unilluminated by new facts, demonstrates an abdication of critical thought that is not conducive to credible science.
- Fearful Fukushima fiction fatigue
- Do we tolerate private sector corruption?
- In defence of a lion killer
- Save the rare wine and endangered craft beer
- Forever blowing bubbles: shale gas economics
- Promotion and Protection of Investment Bill: When “certainty” means “wait and see”
- This land is my land: a revolution
- The launch of SA's Libertarian Party: herding cats in time for 2014
- The African case against the ICC
- The fossil fuel subsidy myth
- Think of the little fishies!
- The hilariously misunderstood libertarian
- The sickly history of sweeteners
- Pants on fire, but they’re not mine
- The obstructionism of shale gas activists
- How mind-numbing numbers whip up fear
- Why pick on Khanyi Dhlomo?
- Half-measures will fail the rhino
- Malema’s righteous anger... and naïve confusion
- Lottery licence to go to one lucky winner
- Vaccinations: when the state stabs the people
- Do reusable shopping bags kill people?
- The long walk to serfdom
- The Karoo desperately needs development
- The trials of Samson Shuttleworth
- The girl who kicked the hornet’s nest
- Raping the discourse about rape
- Who is the reasonable man?
- Fracking: Debating a big deal
- Who needs the Queen’s English?
- Electric cars: Taking from the poor to give to the rich
- Business Licensing Bill: An indefensible defence
- Red-tape tourism
- The Big Business Bribery Bill
- On Thatcher and society, Vavi and the market
- Extinction: Let’s make up numbers and panic!
- Feeding the world is getting easier
- Stop talking shit: Build your own toilet
- Climate change is pseudo-science
- Anti-competitive competition law
- The Department of Less Government
- An open letter to President Zuma
- In defence of Kim Kardashian
- The world’s weirdest wildlife sanctuary
- Boycott calls are simple-minded
- In defence of vegans
- The population explosion implodes
- Environmental backpedalling picks up pace
- How Mangaung can help and hinder entrepreneurs
- The elusive libertarian enclave
- The Gathering: Ivo Vegter
- The hidden overemployment crisis
- The case for constructive environmentalism
- Privatise the Western Cape's shacks
- Tenders: Not open to employees or their families
- Hurricanes fuel climate sensationalism
- Next: Gross-out warnings on food
- No new deal: The failure of Zumanomics
- Benoni has a bright idea
- Was I wrong about acid rain?
- Public food gardens: Where dumb ideas thrive
- Rethinking the costly food label madness
- Give hunting a chance
- Fracking gets green light, but here's the risk
- Socialists, bless 'em, visit Cape Town
- Buy a 1Time ticket now
- Give the ANC credit where credit is due
- The myth of the competent apartheid government
- It's a disaster that 'peak oil' is not a disaster
- No Gravy: a label for sustainable business
- This lightbulb's going to blow
- Smokers? Get 'em up against the wall!
- Inflating the obesity scare
- Bring a Shotgun to School Day
- GMOs: Hacking genes to feed the world
- The hidden dangers of charity
- Fracking: the unread paper debated
- Fracking: The “U-turn” paper nobody has read
- Eco-cronyism is as dangerous as any other
- SKA: Be grateful Karoo residents didn't object
- Energy: Get cracking on fracking
- Fair trade, unfair trade-off
- Casual labour is only bad for Vavi's unions
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- 'Externalities', the catch-all justification for regulation
- How do we fix our dismal education?
- Barter: the rebirth of sound money
- Rights are not entitlements
- Debunking 'limits to growth' inanities
- Tax: Why align with "most other countries"?
- Newspaper sensationalism doesn't help rhinos
- Rolling Stone reprises Gasland's fracking fantasies
- Cosatu's manipulative march move
- Why do 16 million people not constitute an economy?
- The age of smear politics
- Does fracking cause earthquakes?
- The Chinese model is morbidly obese
- Green tech: doubling down on a losing bet
- Rape, pornography, and hell's grannies
- Petrol taxes won't hurt the poor
- Jailtime mooted for bad weather warnings
- Let's ban bans, and start with CITES
- In defence of overpaid sport stars
- On the death of Kim Jong-Il
- COP17: Let's ban fire
- Cancer gets you when nothing else can
- COP17: The 'party on' agenda
- COP17: The Blue Line of Death
- New seven natural inanities
- Occupiers' anger is all that makes sense
- The Luddites and Technocrats live on
- Malema marches for economic slavery
- Profitable purveyors of pudendal prettiness
- Sense? Us?
- If they want rhino horn, let's sell them some
- "Stimulate" economy by ending telco abuses
- Executive pay makes nobody poorer
- Malema's real persecution
- Mogoeng: Lock up your daughters
- Don't mandate insurance, deregulate healthcare
- I sympathise with Malema's persecution complex
- Short selling: panicked pols ban proof of failure
- Don't blame those who saw it coming
- What's obscene about profit?
- In defence of Bombela
- Dear president Zuma, you are not above the law
- The economics of love
- Treasure the Karoo? Ban the SKA!
- Malema is right, you know
- Gautrain's PPP: political patronage profiteering
- Kumi Naidoo is no hero
- LeadSA fails to lead when it matters
- No logo means carte blanche
- The drug war: dopey but dangerous
- A response to fracking critics
- Don't vote. It's your right.
- Welcome Walmart
- If you're happy and you know it clap your hands
- Buy local, support poverty
- Ubuntu, the free-market way
- Karoo fracking scandal exposed!
- I'm ashamed for my profession
- The bill of bunkum
- Being gay: a brand new concept!
- Who's afraid of the nuclear wolf?
- The nationalisation canard
- Ogilvy should grow a spine
- The new robber barons
- A classy revolution: Why we cared
- Bombastic Bombela balks
- Liberty is more than mere democracy
- Gautrain has a law unto itself
- The irony of 'services for all'
- How to hire a hitman in SA
- Arrive alive and neurotic
- The oppression of taxis
- Protection of Information Bill and why WikiLeaks is so dangerous
- Fifa, Russia and Qatar deserve each other
- One day, we'll all hate WikiLeaks
- The cycling mafia strikes again
- What Julius got for Christmas
- Let's return the beads
- Away with fascist seat belt laws
- Tintin Mbeki in the Sudan
- How the ANC can make everyone happy
- Currency: the race to the bottom.
- Hurrah for national healthcare!
- Give Zimbabweans citizenship
- Carte Blanche has no carte blanche
- That finger-licking, lip-smacking taste
- Bomb the barbaric lot already
- Green tax: another raid is coming
- Do strikers deserve anything?
- The media will lose this battle
- Global warmism needs a fisking
- A glass half-full
- Go ahead, have a baby
- Stop the handouts - end xenophobia
- The right to fire
- FIFA's heart of darkness
- Have some self-respect
- I ordered an orange skirt
- Secretly, Match blames South Africa
- The stupendous Gautrain: a rare marvel!
- The Fifa conquistadors are coming!
- What's wrong with everyone?
- Leave poor BP alone
- The destructive power of government
- The bonsai economy
- The darkness of Africa
- Who is ripping off whom?
- Anatomy of a whitewash
- While FIFA takes over, we fight
- The pointless pretence of Earth Hour
- Ten reasons to reject climate alarmism
- Really, boycott the FIFA farce
- The climate dominoes fall
- Lessons in ethics from Dick Cheney
- Screw the consumer
- In defence of bankers
- Break the banking cartel
- Julius Malema, the walking contradiction
- Boycott FIFA
- Climate clarity
- In defence of Boney M
- Pray Copenhagen fails
- Capitalism is not unkind
- Climate fraud kills people
- Pop goes the hot air balloon
- Peace, love and schadenfreude
- The irony of the left
- Too late to cool it?
- Going cold turkey