Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Believers, Sceptics and Deniers

I’ve kept a little quiet on this month’s Muppet Show Copenhagen Conference. I never really expected it to come to much, such is the nature of these things. But this piece in the Guardian is worth a read. It’s all China’s fault. Or is it? Do you actually look at where the stuff you buy is made? Mostly China, that’s where. Except for English Ale of course which is about the only thing we do still make ourselves, apart from a mess at which our politicians excel. Perhaps we should export it? The Ale that is!

Anyway, there has been a spat exchange of views in the local Wanstead & Woodford Guardian on the subject between Mark Dawes, local Green chappie and Nick Jones, local UKIP chappie. The thing is they are both wrong on Climate Change, or at least not quite right. Or it may just be a dysfunction of language or perhaps they just don’t understand how science works?

Mark’s first letter is about the role of Animal farming in the production of greenhouse gases and promotes a meat free Monday campaign. Fair enough, that is a legitimate point of view, and one you would expect a vegetarian to make, possibly even from a local BNP vegetarian councillor.

Nick, though is having none of it. He charges the greens as having an anti-capitalist agenda “seeking to undermine Western economies” and “wishing to impose a vegetarian diet on us all by demonising cows and meat production”. Over reaction or what? But this is the phrase that Mark objects to in the context of the compensation agreed by western nations “for unproven man made global warming”.

Mark responds: “He is wrong. There is now a consensus of thousands of scientists with overwhelming proof that climate change is human made.”. I won’t bother with Nick’s reply to that.

My turn. The only place round here where you will find “proof” is in mathematics. Science does not do proof. Period. The best you can get in science is “not yet disproven”. That’s the way it is. We can never be sure we have all the evidence so we can never be sure our theory or hypothesis is correct. It is always subject to the challenge of new evidence. Of course some hypothesis stand the test of time better than others, they become established but they are not, any of them, beyond being demolished by an observation or evidence newly acquired. Sorry to disappoint but that’s the way it is.

So, Nick, making a claim that a theory or hypothesis is "unproven" when it cannot be proven in the first place is a non sequitur.
"Unproven" is a whole bunch different from “not yet disproven”. The fact is we have a man made global warming or AGW hypothesis and nobody, but nobody has managed so far to put a dent in it. Not you Nick, not UKIP nor any self respecting scientist. Of course we could degenerate here into conspiracy theory where research is being
“directed” and that is a possibility, but we need evidence and not conjecture.

To Mark, right now there may well be overwhelming "evidence" that climate change is human made, but there is no "proof" and we don’t know what evidence will emerge tomorrow or the day after that.

Here is a link to an hour long lecture by a physicist, Jasper Kirkby, sent in by a respected sceptic, Judith. It is mis-titled “Climategate: Revolt of the Physicists”. It is nothing of the sort. I have sat through the whole hour and perhaps remarkably I followed it and understood it. But then I do have a physics background.

What you have to listen out for is not what you want to hear but what he says. Repeatedly he says this does not disprove AGW, it merely raises more questions that need to be addressed. That is the difference between science and politics.

All new scientific theories or hypotheses go through this burn-in stage. Where the contemporary vested interests of those who stand to gain or lose lock horns. It takes time to settle down. But this one has an extra dimension – do we have time?

Nineteen years ago:
“The threat to our world comes not only from tyrants and their tanks. It can be more insidious though less visible. The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.
Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order. It’s because we know that, that we are here today.“
Now. Who said that? Someone with a science backgound I shouldn’t wonder!'ve got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk? ...


  1. I've got a horrible horrible feeling it was Margret Thatcher, at the 2nd World Climate Conference in 1990.I seem to recall she may have also mentioned climate change in a speech the Royal Society around 1988-89. Of course at that time the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe were bigger emitters than NATO nations, and at home most of her fiercest political foes had their power base in smoke-stack industries. So being 'green' was a good right wing stance.

  2. Well spotted David, and a thoughtful analysis.

  3. Speaking as one of Britain's leading armchair scientists, I would have liked to have contributed to the AGW debate in the Woodford Guardian myself. Unfortunately, both they and the Ilford Recorder now have a policy of not printing any letters that I (or anybody else from Redbridge BNP) send them. Shame.
    As Barkingside21 remains the ONLY legitimate forum for democratic debate on life and politics in Redbridge, we would like to wish all the B21 team a very Merry Christmas and, assuming `Man-Made Global Warming` does not wipe out all human life on planet Earth over the next 8 days, a happy and prosperous new year.
    Cllr Julian Leppert - BNP

  4. Reciprocitousness.

    I'm having a bit of trouble getting my Crystal Balls working, but my predictions for 2010 should be up by the end of the month.

  5. Didn't we all just know that the much hyped up Copenhagen show was going to come to nothing? It's all well and good blaming China this time, but I have to laugh at the thought of the USA now trying to pretend they are leading the way and everyone should be following them! Kyoto springs to mind for some reason.

    I think the time might have been better spent participating in an English Ale tasting session in a brewery, but World leaders probably couldn't even organise that!

  6. Global Warming IS currently happening and the effects can be measured and compared with previous periods of global warming that are 'preserved' in tree growth, in ice and in fossils, to name but a few sources of data. The Human Race has survived quite a few of these periods.

    Next question - what is causing it?

    In most previous periods of dramatic climate change in Earth's History, the 'culprit' has been increased solar activity. Other sources of atmospheric pollutants have been volcanoes, forest fires, meteor impacts, techtonic plate movements. These are things that we Humans cannot control (although we can predict such events with increasing accuracy) but that is not the point.

    Even if we cannot control the major causes of climate change, we now have the technology to prevent it getting even worse and there is NO EXCUSE for not doing anything about it.

    We are probably stuck with carbon-based fuels for many years to come because there is a lot of it left and a lot of investment in infrastructure to support production and distribution of these fuels .... BUT we have no excuses for not investing in clean-coal technology, in "safe" nuclear power generation, not destroying rain-forests, not accepting pollution from road vehicles as a 'fact-of-life' and many other things.

    If we Humans control what we CAN control then the difference it makes may mean the difference between the Planet struggling to survive and not surviving at all.

    We do not want our bones ending up as chalk.

  7. Well said Jawal1.(Although I am a bit concerned about the comment about our bones becoming chalk, I don't think my bones will have a chance to perform this form of recycling!)
    Do we know the proportion of people who care about global warming?
    I ask because I observe so many people who don't even care about chucking their litter at the recycling centres (Craven Gardens is bad. Sainsbury's, Newbury Park, is a disgrace.)
    So many people don't give a hoot for the environment, do we think they would they care for the Planet?
    But the air is much cleaner than when I was young so, perhaps, a solution to living in harmony with nature will be found and Man will not be destroying its own home with selfish abuse of resources.

  8. Whilst it is important to be as clean and to burn as little fuel as is reasonable there is much mistruth surrounding the Global Warming debate and much political manoevring which skews the debate.
    The politicians have taken the science, which, as you say, is not certain, and mis presented it.
    What can be certain, again, as you say, is maths. Read Nigel Lawsons book for a succinct, lucid and reasoned debate.
    Using the politicians worse case scenario he calculates that in one hundred years people will be 2.6 times better off in western countries and 9.6 times better off in developing countries if we spend 5% of global GDP on tackling Global Warming. If we spend nothing our granchildren will be only 2.5 times better off and those in developing countries only 8.5.
    The arguments are huge and none should be dismissed lightly. It is not true to say there is a concensus of opinion, just that some voices are not being heard. What is true is that the politicians are not scientists and, to quote the philosopher Clint Eastwood: "a man's gotta know his limitations".

  9. Whooooaaa there, Anon!

    There is no comparison between a Mathematical Proof and a piece of wibbling Accountancy designed to increase sales of a book to the gullible. T’ching, t’ching!

    There is also the question of how to define “better off”? Lawson has merely demonstrated that he knows the price of everything but the value of nothing. That my friend, is the fundamental element of the whole problem. We are locked into an accepted conventional wisdom that does not value our environment and bio-diversity as a life support system.

    As you say "a man's gotta know his limitations". He might start by recognising when he is being fed bullshit.

  10. Point taken, but you make that point with some wibbling of your own.
    Remember, I bought the book before I read the argument so the "T'ching T'ching" comment is fatuous and arrogant.
    The definition of "better off" in this is an economic argument with the limitations that imposes. Accepted. That does not deny it as an argument and it has much more merit than the blind scaremongering that is thrown about.
    Your point about not knowing the value of anything is wrong. The book argues that it would be better to direct reaources at specific problems rather than trying to stop the sun from shining too brightly.
    Read the book. If you do not want to be caught by the T'ching T'ching I will happily give you mine.
    You are obviously not an idiot and I would enjoy your informed opinion.

  11. Ah well, Anon. That’s because I used to be an expert wibbler meself, albeit in a different subject. So, I accept the labels of “fatuous” and “arrogant” with some amusement.

    But you Anon, do seem to want to engage on a more cerebral level. I respect that. It’s not usual for an Anon. There are several angles that need addressing from our exchange which I can’t do justice to right now. I’ve been watching football and it’s late. But barring distractions “I’ll be back”! Oh that’s Arnie not Clint.

  12. Thank you for that courtesy.
    I am away for a week so don't expect replies immediately.
    I think it is an argument worth engaging.
    I apologise for being anon. I had a facebook account on which I posted nothing but with which I saw how people open themselves up to all sorts of strangers. It worries me.
    One of your coffee mornings would be better.
    Happy New Year.

  13. "In March (2009), the US Environmental Protection Agency, which has a key role in Pres Obama's plans to curb CO2 emissions, asked one of its senior policy analysts, Alan Carlin, to report on the science used to justify its policy.

    His 90page paper recommended that the EPA carry out an independent review of the science because the CO2 theory was looking indefensible, while the solar radiation and ocean currents view seemed to fit the data much better.

    Provoking a considerable stir, Carlin's report was stopped dead, on the grounds that it was too late to raise objections to what was now the EPA's official policy."

    Sun Telegraph 12 07 09

    In what other scientific fields are inconvenient new theories or propositions halted in this way?

    Sure, some of the 'top people' will try to stop developments (Semmelweiss and the introduction of medical hygiene spring to mind), but Governments, media and NGO's uniting to ridicule sceptics, enforce vast changes and impose even huger taxes must surely be a first.

  14. Contrary to the views of ‘man-made’ global warming advocates, the failure of the Copenhagen Conference indicates that at last a little commonsense seems to be entering the debate.

    There can be little doubt that global warming is a fact. Global warming and cooling has been affecting this planet since time began, long before the invention of the internal combustion engine or energy efficient light bulbs. This unequivocal fact is being completely ignored by the ‘man-made’ advocates. For every ‘eminent scientist’ you can find who prophesies that the world is coming to an end if we don’t abandon our cars and scrap all our aeroplanes, there are many equally qualified people who have ridiculed the theory.

    Compared to the awesome power of nature, it is presumptuous and arrogant to suggest that anything as puny as human action can have any effect on, or indeed halt climate changes. It is also ludicrous to imagine that the population of the United Kingdom, this tiny speck of land on the surface of the globe, can make the most infinitesimal difference to world climate by walking to Spain on holiday, by using energy saving light bulbs or driving five miles a week less.

    How many of the ‘man-made’ enthusiasts who attended the Copenhagen Conference arrived by pony and trap or bicycle, I wonder?

    Those enthusiasts are fond of referring to non-believers as ‘Flat-Earthers’. In the circumstances, I suppose the ‘man-made’ theorists could be considered to be Canutians.

    Incidentally, the only effect of using low energy light bulbs that I can see. is that we'll all be using less electricity. When this results in a significant loss of revenue for the power companies, what will happen? They'll just increase their prices again, won't they! (And continue to do so, far into the future, unless of course global warming means we'll eventually need no more artificial heating.)

  15. Not quite true. The opticians will have a good time as all our eyes fail.