Why I Remain Uncertain about Global Warming and Climate Change

This informal paper outlines my own personal thinking about global warming and climate change as reflected in my own efforts to attempt to deeply understand the phenomenon, the data, and the science over the past decade. In all honesty, as much as I have looked into the matter, I cannot find a body of evidence or sound reasoning to believe that the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change is a certainty or not. The theory may be true, or it may not be true. Literally, that is as definitive as I can personally be.

Put another way, I could not argue strongly in favor of or in opposition to the theory even if my life depended on it.

Personally, I do not know with any great confidence whether the theory of human-generated carbon dioxide causing global warming and climate change is true or not. None of the science I have personally seen persuades me that the theory is definitively true beyond all shadow of all doubt or even beyond reasonable doubt. On the flip side, I personally haven’t seen any scientific evidence or sound reasoning that persuades me convincingly that the theory must be false. In short, maybe the theory is true, or maybe it is false; I just don’t know.

So many people seems so dead-set certain that global warming and climate change are either absolutely true or absolutely false, while I have no solid idea what the truth of the matter is.

I am not persuaded that very many people at all have the specific knowledge needed to safely conclude the matter one way or the other. For the most part, I believe that most of the people on either side of the debate are simply accepting the judgments of others.

For my own part, my loyalty is to science, hard science, physical science (primarily physics and chemistry), so rhetorical, political, ideological, emotional, and moralistic arguments mean nothing to me, other than in a negative sense that the unwillingness of so many climate science proponents to speak in terms of actual science to me speaks volumes. Where’s the actual science? I keep asking, but all I get is a combination of silence, huffing and puffing moralistic indignity and outrage, and a recitation of the same tired old rhetorical, political, ideological, and moralistic talking points.

This informal paper is neither a formal paper nor a simple essay. It’s a hybrid mix, neither true science nor pure opinion. It certainly doesn’t have the structure, detail, or formal citations for a formal paper and certainly doesn’t even remotely aspire to be considered at the same level as real science, but it does endeavor to provide a fair amount of specific detail and reasoning, with a fair number of links to relevant information, real data, and actual science. That said, it won’t attempt to provide explicit citations for every detail that is discussed.

I do include a fair amount of science in this paper, not so much to impress you with my knowledge, but simply to indicate the extent to which I have considered significant aspects of the science of climate in my own deliberations over the past decade.

I won’t be trying to cover all aspects of climate science. I’ll focus on areas that I have personally focused attention on over the past decade or so.

My focus is on the science of the causes of global warming and climate change rather than on impacts or mitigation of impacts

I include a lot of questions and concerns that I have. They may have answers that I simply haven’t found yet, but either way, I need to have all of my questions and concerns addressed to my own satisfaction before I can even consider having any significant confidence in in the theory of global warming and climate change.

Also, I recently authored a companion paper which proposes an energy policy that is equally valid no matter where you come down on the issue of global warming and climate change:

Unfortunately this paper is too long for Medium to support, so it is broken into four (4) parts. This is Part 1. At the end you can jump to Part 2. Or you can jump to the other three parts of this paper now:

My apologies

My apologies in advance for my stream of consciousness presentation style. I prefer to think and express myself in crisp, succinct, relatively small sections, rather than any lengthy narrative prose. I do try to present material in some sort of rational order, building on previous sections, but too often I find that I simply have a lot of points to make but I cannot find any precise order to express those points.

I should also apologize that there are no pictures, diagrams, charts, or tables in this paper. I’m a text guy. That’s my thing. I do provide a lot of links to external material which does have such visual material though.

I also apologize for so many links to the Wikipedia. My preference is to link directly to the true source for information, preferably a scientific organization, but frequently there is no clearly obvious better source than the Wikipedia.

Too long, I know, but thorough

I also have to apologize in advance for the extreme length of this paper — 236 pages, so far. What can I say — there’s a lot to say.

And the length should serve to evidence the amount of time, energy, and effort I have put into trying to understand as much as I can about global warming and climate change.

And I have a propensity for being thorough.

Work in progress

This paper is a work in progress. I considered it complete at the time I published it, meaning I didn’t have any additional material to include at that time, but new material and thinking can come up at any time and will be incorporated as seems appropriate.

Focus on causes of warming and climate change rather than impact of climate change

Many of the projected major impacts of climate change are too far down the road — decades, a century, or more — for me to be concerned with here. This paper will focus on causes of climate change, causes of warming, and any near-term impacts only.

That is not to suggest that climate change is not important, less important, and of less interest, but simply that the issue at stake here, in this paper, is whether human-generated carbon dioxide is the proximate cause of global warming. You can’t get to human activity as a cause of climate change without first establishing that global warming is the proximate cause of climate change and that human activity is the proximate cause of that global warming.

Yes, scientists are doing the best they can

I don’t doubt that scientists are doing the best they can.

I don’t doubt that scientists are good people.

I don’t doubt that scientists have the best of intentions.

But is all of that good enough?

Maybe for some people, a lot of people, but unfortunately, no, it’s not good enough for me.

This informal paper will detail my reasoning, but rest assured that none of it is intended to disparage the many good, competent, hardworking scientists in any way. I just want better.

Yes, I have very high standards

Is that against the law — to have very high standards? If so, then I am guilty as charged.

I am very concerned that the science community and their non-science public proponents does seem to have as high standards as I would normally expect in any field of science.

I see no valid excuse that climate science should have lower standards than any other field of physical science. Maybe their standards are higher than social science, but that’s a very low bar, far lower than I would accept.

I collect puzzle pieces, tidbits, and fragments

I make no claim to having a complete and detailed knowledge of all aspects of climate science and all details needed to fully and deeply comprehend the theory of global warming and climate change.

Rather, my method and style is to collect puzzle pieces, tidbits of information, and fragments of knowledge, gradually fitting the pieces together over time.

I really do think that I have enough of the pieces of the puzzle assembled to have a reasonably good view of the whole picture. Not complete, for sure, but enough to speak at least semi-rationally about the matter. And certainly enough to be able to ask what I believe are very reasonable questions and to raise very legitimate concerns.

That said, I’m always on the lookout for additional pieces of the puzzle.

Persuasion?

It is not my intention to persuade anybody about anything with this paper.

My only goal is to clearly expression my reservations about the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

I’m not attempting to persuade anybody that the theory is necessarily wrong.

The closest I will come to persuasion here is to attempt to persuade the reader that I have considered as many aspects of the theory as is humanly possible for someone in my situation and with my abilities. Not that I am right about anything, just that I have diligently looked under as many rocks as I could find.

Terminology: Global warming and climate change

Are we talking about global warming or is it climate change? Or both? What is the proper terminology that fully and correctly refers to what we’re talking about?

The main topic areas or questions are:

  1. What is global warming?
  2. What causes global warming?
  3. What is the role of human activity in causing global warming?
  4. What is climate change?
  5. What causes climate change?
  6. Does global warming cause climate change?
  7. What are the impacts of climate change?
  8. What are the impacts of climate change on human activity?
  9. What can we do about global warming?
  10. What can we do about climate change?

Generally, global warming and climate change are treated as rough synonyms by most people even though they are not exactly the same, as shown in the list of questions above.

This paper will use the compound phrase global warming and climate change to fully encompass the full ranges of questions given above.

Further, to be technically correct, we are talking about the theory of this matter, so this paper will also commonly refer to the theory of global warming and climate change.

I wish there was a shorter term that was technically correct, but I am unaware of any.

Global warming vs. climate change

Global warming and climate change are clearly connected, at least in the minds of those who support the theory of global warming and climate change, but the two are conceptually distinct:

  1. Global warming is strictly about the heat and temperature of the atmosphere and oceans of the Earth, distinct from what impact that heating might have.
  2. Climate change is strictly about the impacts of atmospheric and ocean heating, regardless of how that heating occurred.

But, as is common in the looseness of vernacular in modern America, the two terms are frequently used as synonyms

Anthropogenic global warming (AGW)

Just to clarify the terminology a little further, in popular parlance we casually refer to global warming, but the technically correct scientific term is anthropogenic global warming, or the acronym AGW.

Anthropogenic? That simply means that the source or cause is human activity — it is human-generated.

This paper may use AGW on occasion, but generally it will stick with the casual usage of global warming.

To be clear, when this paper refers to global warming, it will be referring to anthropogenic global warming (AGW.)

Anthropogenic global warming and climate change

Just to make it crystal clear, when this paper refers to global warming and climate change it is referring to anthropogenic global warming and climate change, emphasizing the role of human activity.

And when this paper refers to the theory of global warming and climate change it is referring to the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

Sometimes I’ll be fully explicit, but it will vary with context.

What exactly do people really mean when they use the term “climate change”?

At least the semantics of the term “global warming” is clear — a rise in temperature (or heat.)

But “climate change”, what exactly does that mean?

Sure, of course, the climate is changing — the climate is always changing. The climate has been changing since the first prehistoric moment when the Earth had enough of an atmosphere to be considered an atmosphere with a climate.

So, of course I personally believe that the climate is changing — in that prehistoric, eternal sense.

But, of course, the proponents of the theory of global warming and climate change are implicitly referring to a model of climate change where it is the effects of human activity that are forcing climate to change.

So, why don’t they just call it anthropogenic climate change, to be explicit and clear? Actually, scientists (or at least some scientists) do, to their credit. But most people and even most scientists don’t bother.

One possibly minor nit: maybe some aspect of human activity might be causing climate change, but is it combustion of fossil fuels and emissions of carbon dioxide that is the proximate cause or some other aspects of human activity?

For me personally, that’s the big rub.

It’s one thing to suggest that heat produced from factories, cars, and power plants could be heating the atmosphere, but the real question is whether it is human emissions of carbon dioxide that are the source of the problem.

Adding to the complexity of the discussion and theory, there are other forms of human activity besides combustion leading to a rise of carbon dioxide, and there are other greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide that lead to global warming. Details to come later in this paper.

In summary, generally, the term climate change is referring to anthropogenic climate change. And that is the intended reference in this paper.

Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming

Just for a baseline reference this section reflects the official federal government posture with respect to global warming and climate change, as reflected on the main government climate change consensus web page:

Scientific consensus: Earth’s climate is warming

Multiple studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals show that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities. In addition, most of the leading scientific organizations worldwide have issued public statements endorsing this position.

The rest of this paper will detail my concerns as to why I am unable to completely concur with this so-called consensus at this time, including a closer look at the infamous 97% of climate scientists number.

The web page also quotes from a Statement on climate change from 18 scientific associations:

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.

Again, my purpose here in this section is not to endorse or deny such statements, but to provide them for reference, and to evidence that I am well-aware of them.

To be clear, the statements constitute positions rather than science per se. I’m far less interested in the positions of organizations and governments than I am in any actual science that may be used to justify such positions.

Positions don’t constitute science. Or even amount to evidence of science.

I accept the national and international political consensus, that global warming and climate change are real

As a practical matter, I accept the national and international political consensus, which presumes that global warming and climate change is real.

That’s a political or sociopolitical reality. Science is not the issue when sociopolitical considerations are involved.

But my acceptance is a political reality rather than a scientific fact that is beyond dispute.

And my acceptance does not constitute a belief on my part, or a claim on my part that I feel that the national (and international) political consensus is fully and thoroughly justified by actual science.

But I remain uncertain concerning the science behind the theory of global warming and climate change

When it comes to science, global warming and climate change is a theory, rather than a fact. Theories and facts are rather different.

The bulk of this paper will elaborate, describe, and detail my objections and the nature of my uncertainty.

Whose consensus?

Is there really a national or even global consensus on global warming and climate change?

It depends on how you define consensus.

I would say that any consensus generally is a personal or group matter. Various groups, whether they are scientists or members of a political party will have their own particular consensus. Individuals also decide what group they feel aligned with, or whether they feel more attached to a group or their own views.

Back to how you define consensus, of course you shouldn’t insist on absolute consensus, but where do you draw the line? 99%? 90%? 80%? 75%? 66%? 51%? Is there any science to where the line should be drawn, or is it only arbitrary, maybe a matter of political power or even mere personal preference?

Personally, I don’t think even 75% would be a true consensus. But once you get well above three out of four (75%), like 85% or so, or even 90%, then the word consensus seems to become warranted.

A recent Gallup poll, from March 2017, gives these numbers:

  1. 71% Say most scientists believe global warming is occurring.
  2. 68% Believe global warming is caused by human activities.
  3. 62% Believe effects of global warming have already begin.
  4. 45% Worry a great deal about global warming.
  5. 42% Think global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetime.

So, what exactly is the consensus here?

Is my own 85–90% threshold unreasonable?

This Gallup poll doesn’t even reach the 75% level of consensus.

A follow-up report from Gallup in June 2017 reported an additional data point from that March poll concerning Americans who worry a great deal about climate change:

  1. 66% of Democrats.
  2. 45% of independents.
  3. 18% of Republicans.

If even a full third of Democrats aren’t so worried, what does that say about the consensus? That’s moderately short of even a weak 75% threshold and well short of my 85–90% threshold.

Pascal’s wager

Mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal theorized that it would be better to bet on the existence of God even without proof since the downside of the bet was minimal and the upside was very large, and the downside of betting wrongly against God’s existence would be catastrophically negative.

In other words bet just in case the prospect is the reality.

One could take the same approach with global warming and climate change.

Fair enough, but I would quibble that the downside of betting in favor of geoengineering could also be catastrophically negative since removing too much of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere could cause catastrophic global cooling that harms us all.

Personally, I don’t completely buy Pascal’s wager, but I can’t argue too heavily against it. Even on the geoengineering front, I would bet more heavily that any geoengineering would be on too small a scale to come even remotely close to the desired scale rather than any significant chance of overshooting and removing too much greenhouse gas.

I would offer a weaker variant of Pascal’s wager applied to global warming and climate change:

  • Modest to moderate efforts to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases is not likely to cause any significant harm, so if people really want to do that, I won’t object too strongly, provided that the economic cost is minimal.

And I would argue that my own personal proposed energy policy effectively does just that, so that’s my substitute for Pascal’s wager.

That’s as far as I personally would be willing to bet, at least at this time.

The Precautionary Principle

Plainly put, the Precautionary Principle requires that a course of action be scientifically proved to be harmless before that action is pursued.

As per Wikipedia:

The precautionary principle (or precautionary approach) to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public, or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus (that the action or policy is not harmful), the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking that action.

The principle is used by policy makers to justify discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from making a certain decision (e.g. taking a particular course of action) when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.

The Precautionary Principle could be applied in the area of global warming and climate change in two ways that I can immediately think of:

  1. Ban use of fuels and forms of human activity unless and until they can be scientifically proven to be harmless to the environment, especially the climate.
  2. Ban mitigation measures, such as geoengineering, unless and until they can be scientifically proven to be harmless to the environment, especially the climate.

Some consider the Precautionary Principle to be too extreme and too impractical, while others consider it essential. The debate has not been settled.

I would suggest that a watered down version of the Precautionary Principle might be simply to do a relatively cursory scientific study or form of due diligence to see if there might be at least some cursory evidence that the proposed course of action might have some plausible reason for concern. The political judgment of policymakers would then determine whether any plausible concern is real enough for them to accept the consequences of not taking the course of action.

I am not a scientist, but…

Big disclosure up front:

I am not a scientist.

But…

While I am not a card-carrying scientist (no PhD in a relevant field such as physics, chemistry, or earth science), I do have very strong analytical skills and a lot of background that should allow me to comprehend and access any science that is needed to make sense of the theory of global warming and climate change.

My background…

My primary career background is computer science and software development in particular.

I’m semi-retired and no longer actively involved in any software development efforts.

These days, mostly I focus on reading and research, and writing, semi-technical informal papers, such as this one.

My most recent software efforts had been in the areas of database technology, search engines, and Big Data. And looking at data science and analytics as well.

Looking closely at data series with a fine-tooth comb is a natural for me, either with algorithms and code, or examining the data directly with the unaided eye.

I do have the skills to look at a graph and make sense out of whether it makes sense or not. Like… does it have error bars? Is a margin of error expressed explicitly for each data series or even each data point in the series?

My professional career, on LinkedIn:

My history with science is as follows:

  1. I was always interested in science as a child.
  2. Science was my favorite class in high school. Until I discovered computers, that is.
  3. I went to an engineering and science college.
  4. I received a Bachelor of Science (BS) degree, although my focus was computer science rather than physical science.
  5. I also received a Master of Science (MS) degree in Computer Sciences from the Electrical Engineering department, simultaneous with my undergraduate degree.
  6. I took some science classes in college — two years of chemistry and two years of physics, including labs.
  7. As a freshman in college I actually had a professional-grade K&E Keuffel & Esser slide rule for labs and taking tests in science classes. Electronic calculators were still too new that year.
  8. I was never strongly interested in numbers and math per se, preferring computer science and processing of symbols and text.
  9. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s a took an interest in radiation, chemistry of nuclear materials, aerosols, and health physics, in large part due to the fact that I lived in Boulder, Colorado, ten miles from a major nuclear weapons plant. I learned a lot about the science, on my own.
  10. I’ve had a strong interest in space, space travel, stars, and astrophysics for many years.
  11. I’ve had a strong interest in understanding the science behind global warming and climate science for over a decade now, inspired in large part by the hysteria that arose on both sides in response to Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear in 2005, in addition to what I felt was a distinct non-scientific tone in Al Gore’s movie An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. Both efforts inspired me to understand the science better.
  12. In recent years I have taken a strong interest in physics, especially quantum mechanics.

In short, science is not my specialty, but it isn’t some completely foreign language that requires a science communicator for me to understand what’s going on.

Is global warming and climate change a hoax?

No, I do not hold the belief that global warming and climate change is a hoax.

I wouldn’t use that kind of language in the first place.

Yes, it is a theory, and whether it is an accurate account of reality may be in dispute, but any dispute is not a matter of being a hoax.

Is global warming and climate change beyond dispute?

As a matter of principle, I don’t believe that any theory or belief, scientific or otherwise is ever beyond dispute. Or beyond debate.

I simply consider that to be inappropriate language. And unprofessional as well.

All beliefs and theories will always be subject to dispute. And debate.

To attempt to ban dispute and debate is contrary to the scientific method and… downright un-American. It’s the method of a dictatorship. It’s very inappropriate. And unfair.

Am I a climate change denier?

This gets a little trickier, so I have to give multiple answers?

  1. No, I do not believe that climate change is not happening.
  2. No, I do not deny that the climate is changing.
  3. No, I do not believe that the theory of global warming and climate change must be false.
  4. No, I do not hold a strong belief that the theory of global warming and climate change is false.
  5. But… I do not hold a strong belief that the theory of global warming and climate change is true either.
  6. I do hold a weak belief that the theory of global warming and climate change might be true. Yes, I think it is possible.
  7. Yes, I deny that I have a strong belief that the theory of global warming and climate change is true.

So, some may consider me a climate change denier, but they’re probably evaluating me from a sociopolitical perspective than for my analysis of actual science.

Yes, the theory of global warming and climate change could be true

That’s my bottom line position at this stage, that there is not strong science either way, but since there is no strong science proving that the theory of global warming and climate change must be false, I am forced to accept that the theory could be true.

To be more explicit, I have a weak belief that the theory of global warming and climate change could be true. But as of this date, I do not have enough evidence and sound reasoning in my own hands to hold a strong belief that the theory of global warming and climate change is likely to be true.

In short, maybe it is true, and maybe it isn’t true, but it could be true.

I believe there is a 20% to 60% chance that the theory is true

Given what I do know, I would say that there is between a 20% and 60% chance that the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change is true.

The midpoint of that range is arithmetically 40%. That’s below 50%, but doesn’t necessarily mean that I have a firm belief at that arithmetic midpoint.

That’s the best I can do, at this time.

If a substantial fraction of my questions and concerns from this paper could be addressed in a positive manner, I could have my belief shifted above 50%.

But if the response to my questions and concerns is as negative or weak as I believe is likely, my belief would shift more firmly below 50%.

I am a denier of the certainty of global warming

Although I recognize that the theory of global warming and climate change could be true, I nonetheless feel compelled by reason to deny that the theory is as true and certain as its proponents assert.

But as the science evolves and as new evidence appears, my view could well change.

I am by no means wed to the proposition that the theory must be false.

Could there be global warming without human activity and carbon dioxide as the cause?

One of the core difficulties of the theory of global warming and climate change is that beyond simply asserting that the planet is warming and the climate is changing, it places three very significant hurdles or assertions in the way of accepting the theory:

  1. That only human activity is to blame for the vast bulk of the warming.
  2. That only carbon dioxide is to blame for the vast bulk of the warming.
  3. That only combustion of fossil fuels by humans is to blame for the vast bulk of the warming.

Yes, the full theory recognizes other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide, and other pathways for generation of carbon dioxide than combustion, but the above assertions still hold, generally.

Instead of simply first asking people to accept that some sort of warming is occurring which is causing some sort of climate change, the theory requires people to swallow the whole horse in a single gulp. That’s a lot to ask. Too much to ask, in my opinion.

I could easily accept the following:

  1. Some degree of warming is occurring.
  2. Human activity is responsible for some portion of that warming.
  3. That warming is causing some changes in the climate.

I readily concede that those three assertions could well be true and are quite believable, even without any significant scientific evidence being required.

Note, I said could be true.

Human activity could add heat to the environment by any number of pathways, without necessarily implying that only one is the dominant pathway.

Even with these weakened, minimal conditions, I am still skeptical and have significant questions and concerns. It is a huge leap from could to I am convinced and reasonably certain.

But then on top of those weakened assertions you need to layer the demands of the three big assertions given at the beginning of this section. The result is one big mess, in my opinion.

Could there be anthropogenic global warming without carbon dioxide as the cause?

Now I will rerun the previous section but with one key difference: an acceptance that there is anthropogenic global warming, but without demanding that carbon dioxide or the combustion of fossil fuels is necessarily the cause.

One of the core difficulties of the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change is that even if you accept that human activity is the cause (the anthropogenic part of anthropogenic climate change), beyond simply asserting that the planet is warming due to human activity and that the climate is changing because of that human-induced warming, it still places two very significant hurdles or assertions in the way of accepting the theory:

  1. That only carbon dioxide is to blame for the vast bulk of the warming.
  2. That only combustion of fossil fuels by humans is to blame for the vast bulk of the warming.

Yes, the full theory recognizes other greenhouse gases besides carbon dioxide, and other pathways for generation of carbon dioxide than combustion, but the above assertions still hold, generally.

Instead of simply first asking people to accept that some sort of human activity is causing global warming which is causing some sort of climate change, the theory requires people to swallow the whole horse in a single gulp. That’s a lot to ask. Too much to ask, in my opinion.

I could easily accept the following:

  1. Some degree of warming is occurring.
  2. Human activity is responsible for some portion of that warming.
  3. That warming is causing some changes in the climate.

I readily concede that those three assertions could well be true and are quite believable, even without any significant scientific evidence being required.

Note, I said could be true.

Human activity could add heat to the environment by any number of pathways, without necessarily implying that only one is the dominant pathway.

Even with these weakened, minimal conditions, I am still skeptical and have significant questions and concerns. It is a huge leap from could to I am convinced and reasonably certain.

But then on top of those weakened assertions you need to layer the demands of the two big assertions given at the beginning of this section. The result is one big mess, in my opinion. Not as big a mess as in the previous section, but still quite a mess.

Could human activity be heating the climate directly?

Even if you accept that human activity is causing the planet to warm, could that warming be occurring without the necessity of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases as the primary cause?

Could human activity be directly heating the atmosphere and possibly even the ocean?

How could that happen? What would be the pathways?

Let me suggest a few:

  1. Combustion of fuels, whether fossil or not, generates heat, a lot of heat.
  2. We use some of that heat as energy, to drive our electricity, lighting, machines, air conditioning, and heating within our homes and buildings.
  3. The process of generating electricity and energy is not 100% efficient. A lot of energy is lost, in the form of heat released into the environment, whether up a stack or through poorly insulated walls, directly into the atmosphere, or via heated water into rivers that flow into the ocean.
  4. And even when electricity and energy generation is efficient, that electricity and energy is used by lights, motors, air conditioners, and heaters, and in the process is turned into heat which is in turn released into the atmosphere.
  5. Factories use lots of energy, releasing heat into the environment.
  6. Wastewater released into rivers tends to be warmer than the current water temperature, then either evaporating and transferring heat into the air, or flowing into the oceans.
  7. Cars, trucks, buses, trains, planes, boats, and ships are all releasing copious amounts of heat into the atmosphere.

Where would that released heat go?

Sure, some of that heat released into the atmosphere may in turn be radiated into space, but all of it?

It is a known fact of climate science that warmer air can retain more water vapor before the water vapor precipitates out of the atmosphere.

So even if the human-generated heat is eventually radiated out into space, in the meantime it is warming the air, which enables the air to hold more water vapor.

And it is a known fact of climate science that water vapor is a greenhouse gas, regardless of whether it came about due to a natural process such as evaporation from a body of water or transpiration from plants or is generated directly by human activity.

Regardless of whether additional water vapor comes from a natural process or human activity, it still exerts the same greenhouse warming effect.

Now, whether this pathway is significant or not is unknown, to me at least.

Still, it is an idea worth considering.

So, we have two categories of pathway to consider concerning human activity:

  1. Heat released directly into the atmosphere and waterways (and hence the oceans.)
  2. Greenhouse effect warming caused by the combination of heat directly released by human activity and additional water vapor that that direct heating enables.

At a minimum, the IPCC should carefully consider these two pathways and report what fraction of global warming is due to each relative to the net, total global warming.

And the IPCC should be careful to distinguish and segregate out global warming that is:

  1. Direct from carbon dioxide or other non-water vapor greenhouse gases.
  2. From additional water vapor due to warming directly attributable to carbon dioxide and other non-water vapor greenhouse gases.
  3. From additional water vapor due to direct heating of the environment by human activity.
  4. From direct heating of the environment by human activity.

It would be interesting to closely examine an infrared heat map that shows exactly how much heat is being pumped into the environment by areas of human activity. It would be interesting to see how much heat is flowing into the oceans from rivers, although it may be difficult to attribute how much of that riverine heating was from natural runoff vs. human activity.

It would quite interesting to have these ideas carefully examined by climate scientists. Whether they have an interest in doing so, or have the willingness and resources to adequately conduct such an examination is another matter.

In any case, I remain unpersuaded that climate scientists have done an accurate and comprehensive job of understanding the planet and its climate.

Am I an employee of an oil (or coal!) company?

No, I am not employed by any oil (or coal) company or any other company involved with the production, distribution, processing, or consumption of fossil fuels of any sort.

Am I a shill for the oil companies?

No, I don’t any sort of connection to any oil company or any company that has interests in fossil fuels.

Do I have investments in oil companies?

No, I don’t have even a single penny invested in stocks or other financial instruments related to oil companies or any company that has interests in fossil fuels.

I am a Tesla shareholder

I do own stock in Tesla, the electric car company. Part of that was an investment in Solar City, which was merged into Tesla in 2016.

So, if anything, I have a vested interest in non-fossil, non-hydrocarbon energy.

I am a First Solar shareholder

I do own a very small amount of stock in First Solar, which manufactures solar power modules and panels, and operates solar power plants.

Again, if anything, this shows that I don’t have a vested interest in fossil and hydrocarbon-based energy.

Do I have any motivation for disproving global warming or climate change?

No, I don’t have any motivation for disproving the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change. Not the slightest.

I’m only interested in the truth.

In fact, if the evidence were to become more robust and more extensive, and address all of the questions and concerns that I have raised in this paper, I’d be perfectly happy to come out as a true believer in the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

I have no stake in the debate

As I just noted, I have no vested interest in whether the theory of global warming and climate change is eventually proven to be true or eventually proven to be false.

I have no stake in the theory.

My only stake is in the truth.

Science communicators

Sure, the general public really does need science communicators, and science writers to gain some vague understanding of science, but I’m not one of those people who needs such translation or interpretation.

Technically, science communication and science communicators are not precise synonyms.

Scientists can engage in science communication but not have the practiced skill of communicating with the public with the same skill as a theatrical performer.

One does not need to be a scientist to be a science communicator.

I would also argue that true science communication implies that you are presenting on behalf of a scientific organization or organization dedicated to science communication.

That’s fine for the general public, but give me the raw science.

Seriously, I actually do want to look at raw data. Not exclusively, but closely enough that I can make my own judgments as to whether the data is sufficient to justify claims made about the results of any calculations, modeling, or even direct presentation of the data.

Yale actually has an entire program dedicated to communication about climate change:

Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

We conduct scientific research on public climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences, and behavior, and the underlying psychological, cultural, and political factors that influence them. We also engage the public in climate change science and solutions, in partnership with governments, media organizations, companies, and civil society, and with a daily, national radio program, Yale Climate Connections.

Two science communicators: Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye

Two of the highest profile and most popular science communicators are Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist, author, and science communicator.

At least Neil is a card-carrying scientist, although still not a climate scientist.

Bill Nye “the Science Guy” is a science communicator, television presenter, and mechanical engineer.

Bill’s training was as a mechanical engineer. Nothing related to climate science.

I don’t doubt or disparage their skills as science communicators. I simply note that popularized science is rarely a faithful representation of the actual, underlying science.

Both of these guys are certainly entitled to their opinions and views, but their roles as science communicators doesn’t given them any special authority overall the truth of the matter of the actual, underlying science.

Science communicator emeritus: Carl Sagan

Probably no single individual has epitomized the role of a science communicator to the degree of Carl Sagan, “astronomer, cosmologist, astrophysicist, astrobiologist, author, science popularizer, and science communicator in astronomy and other natural sciences. He is best known for his work as a science popularizer and communicator.

He actually did talk somewhat about global warming back in the 1980’s and 1990’s. In his book Cosmos he wrote in 1980:

The principal energy sources of our present industrial civilization are the so-called fossil fuels. We burn wood and oil, coal and natural gas, and, in the process, release waste gases, principally CO2, into the air. Consequently, the carbon dioxide content of the Earth’s atmosphere is increasing dramatically. The possibility of a runaway greenhouse effect suggests that we have to be careful: Even a one- or two- degree rise in the global temperature can have catastrophic consequences.

I was too busy doing other things at the time to listen to him or even watch television or read his book.

My aversion to emotional rhetoric and moralistic preaching

If there’s one thing that bugs me more than anything else, it is lofty, emotional rhetoric and fiery, moralistic preaching for matters which should be focused on simple facts and sound, rational, dispassionate reasoning.

That makes global warming and climate change very problematic, since so much of the public discourse, even from scientists, has a tone that is distinctly offensive to me, resorting primarily to extreme, emotional, moralistic preaching.

Basically, all of this rhetoric is simply so much noise that clouds the senses, making it so much more difficult to discern the essential science, which is all that I care about.

I’m appalled by politicized scientists

Scientists are supposed to be special, kept separate from the messy, dirty, confusing, and distorted world of politics, and focused on reason rather than passion, emotion, and religious, ideological, political, or moralistic posturing.

To their credit, many scientists do in fact manage to maintain that separation of science from politics.

But, unfortunately not all of them do. And even more unfortunately an increasing fraction are falling off the wagon.

Not that scientists cannot become politicians if they so choose, but… once they cross that line they lose all of their credibility as scientists. They risk tarnishing the reputation of science in the name of furthering political ambitions.

Even partnering with politicians is highly suspect. A pact with the devil.

To my mind, scientists speak best when they limit their speaking to the domain and language of science, and refrain from trying to speak the language of politics.

The scientifically illiterate pontificating on matters of science

I’m no scientist or expert on science, but I do consider myself scientifically literate, meaning that I know more than a little about science, I read a lot, I understand data and analysis, and can navigate my way through charts, tables, raw data, and an occasional scientific paper.

I am appalled by individuals who seem to know next to nothing about actual science, and certainly a lot less than me, who wrap themselves in the flag of science, pontificating about science and purported scientific fact as if it were some divine, given truth.

When pressed, they are unable to answer any of my questions, but still insist that the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change must be true.

I concede that they are within their rights to accept this or any theory they choose, but they are way out of line in pontificating to others the truth of any matter for which they are unable to marshall a sound justification.

They are entitled to their faith, but science should never be a matter of faith.

They treat science as if it were a religion, when it should be anything but.

If anything, science should primarily be about skepticism, not belief.

Global warming and climate change is now 99.99% a sociopolitical matter and only 0.01% about science

Sadly, what used to be strictly a matter of science has now been so politicized that is is overwhelmingly a sociopolitical matter and very little of the actual science is even relevant anymore.

Sure, you can try to talk about the science, but these days, even if someone seems to be speaking about the science, there is no longer a clear way to discern whether they are really speaking about the science or simply abusing the science as a cover for sociopolitical posturing. Even when it is a scientist who is speaking.

Can any science ever be “settled”, “indisputable”, “beyond dispute”, “beyond debate”, or “unequivocal”?

Those are sociopolitical characterizations, not scientific characterizations.

“Consensus” is a fair term, but even then should be qualified.

“Virtually certain” — nothing in science is ever that certain, so why claim it?

Characterizing science using the language of sociopolitical affairs only sullies the reputation of science.

The fact that even scientists feel compelled to use such language suggests that something is very, very wrong.

To be very, very clear, the mere use of such rhetorical language destroys whatever scientific credibility those who use it would have had had they stuck with strictly unemotional, dispassionate, rational reasoning and plain language.

Seriously, plain language is a very powerful and grossly undervalued resource.

I mean, if the science can’t stand by itself, then there probably really is something wrong with that science.

The mere fact that even scientists are resorting to noisy rhetoric seriously concerns me.

To be clear, I cannot have any significant level of confidence in any scientist who resorts to noisy rhetoric.

So, scientists have a choice, to pander to politicians and activists with noisy and passionate rhetoric, or to appeal to me, strictly using cold, hard, dispassionate evidence and reason.

Rhetoric, emotion, passion, fear, anger, and morality

I am vehemently opposed to any public policy that is based in any way on:

  • Rhetoric
  • Emotion
  • Passion
  • Fear
  • Anger
  • Morality

Unfortunately, much of the public discourse on global warming and climate change is heavily driven by rhetoric, emotion, passion, fear, anger, and morality.

Generally, I will reject any arguments of narrative that rely even to a moderate degree on rhetoric, emotion, passion, fear, anger, or morality.

My passion for dispassionate reason

I don’t believe that all matters can be reduced to strict mathematical logic per se, but I am focused intensely on reason. Dispassionate reason. Stripped of any rhetoric, emotion, passion, fear, anger, or morality.

In short, if you want to get my attention in a positive sense, make sure your points are focused on dispassionate reason and devoid of rhetoric, emotion, passion, fear, anger, and morality.

My dispassion for narrative and storytelling

Many people thrive on storytelling and narrative, but I’m not one of them. I want facts and dispassionate reason, not passionate rhetoric and narrative.

In short, if you want to get my attention, set rhetoric and narrative aside, focusing on cold, hard facts and dispassionate reason.

If you try spinning any amount of narrative around me or any form of storytelling, that will guarantee that I will not accept anything that you might have to say.

Narrative rather than evidence or reasoning

In short, I consider that narrative, dense with emotional and moralistic rhetoric is a poor substitute for solid evidence and sound reasoning.

The narrative serves a sociopolitical agenda, obscuring any underlying science.

Posturing

I have found that a lot of public comments about global warming and climate change are mere posturing, tending more to stake out a sociopolitical position than to enlighten others with true science.

Even when they utilize the language of science, I have found a lot of public comments to be more focused on defending their position and their sociopolitical posture and on attacking others than enlightenment or even any apparent real interest in the science itself.

Weaponizing science

Science should be a source of truth and enlightenment, not social and political power.

I find it shocking and downright offensive when I observe people weaponizing science, using it more as a club to beat people over the head than as a source of enlightenment.

My loyalty is to science, not scientists

Having an analytical background, I have an intense appreciation for carefully-reasoned principles, data, and hard-core analysis.

What I don’t have any appreciation for is rhetoric, emotion, passion, and moralistic preaching.

As long as scientists and non-science proponents of the theory of global warming and climate science stick to their science, I’ll get along with them just fine. But as soon as they cross the line and begin compromising the integrity of their science with sociopolitical ideology, they will lose me in a heartbeat.

My loyalty is to the science itself, not the scientists.

That’s what makes science so special, the separation of truth from the human frailty of the individual, and the separation of truth from the passion of the mob as well.

Science — Actual science, real science, natural science, physical science, hard science

When I use the term science, I mean traditional natural science, physical science. What I call hard science. That consists primarily of:

  • Physics
  • Chemistry
  • Thermodynamics
  • Biology
  • Physiology
  • Astronomy
  • Geology
  • Oceanography
  • Classical meteorology
  • Mathematics
  • Statistics

I don’t mean:

  • Social science
  • Medicine
  • Psychology
  • Sociology
  • Modeling
  • Computer science
  • Speculation separate from empirical validation

Where it gets mushy is earth science.

Geology and oceanography are reasonably solid.

Measurement and remote sensing are reasonably solid.

Classical meteorology is reasonably solid. Directly observing and measuring weather and climate is reasonably solid.

Non-classical meteorology is not so solid.

Climate modeling has gotten out of control, with way too much speculation and very dubious empirical validation.

Three requirements for scientific theories

Regardless of the field of science, a scientific theory has to satisfy three essential requirements:

  1. It must fully explain the phenomenon under study.
  2. It must fully account for past observations of the phenomenon.
  3. It must be capable of predicting the outcomes for future instances of the phenomenon.

That’s my summary and understanding.

For further discussion:

Explanation alone is not enough.

Modelling of the phenomenon is not enough.

Empirical validation of the explanation and model is needed.

As a scientific theory, I find the theory of global warming and climate change too vague, loose, and sloppy to give me any great comfort as to its validity.

Empirical validation

The greatest theoretical explanation in the world is worth nothing without empirical validation.

The theory of global warming and climate change is no exception.

Although scientists and other proponents of the theory of global warming and climate change claim that their predictions about climate change have come true, I am not persuaded. As long as you don’t look to close, their predictions may seem satisfied, but the closer you look the weaker, vaguer, looser, and sloppier those predictions look.

The core problem is that a lot of the predictions are quite subjective and not so easily objectively verified.

Or in some cases it is not so easy to definitively conclude a causal link between the actual outcomes and the environment that preceded the outcomes. If you cannot establish causality, even perfect correlation with the theory is not proof of the theory.

Anecdotal evidence is not proof

Anecdotes can certainly help to illustrate a principle, theory, or proposition, but do not constitute proof of a principle, theory, or proposition.

Unfortunately, the public discourse over global warming and climate is peppered with attempts to do exactly that, claiming that all manner of anecdotal incidents, such as particular storms, icebergs, etc., are proof of the theory of anthropogenic global warming and climate change.

For more discussion:

My model of models

I’m no card-carrying scientist, but from my own technical and analytic background I have firm ideas about the general structure of any modeling effort. I see any model as requiring these components:

  • The phenomenon being studied and modeled.
  • The science that explains the phenomenon.
  • The model being proposed that represents the phenomenon and satisfies the science.
  • Assumptions that are needed.
  • Assertions that are being made.
  • The math needed to define the science.
  • The math needed to define the model.
  • The algorithms needed to perform the math given input data.
  • The software code needed to implement the algorithm.
  • The results of running the software code over given input data.
  • A quality assurance (QA) effort to validate that the results confirm to the algorithm, math, model, and science.
  • Analysis of the results. What does it show? Is everything expected? Any new phenomena indicated?
  • Empirical validation of the results. Past actual measurements comport with modeled data. Predicted data comports with new measurements.
  • Publicly accessible datasets. All data used in analysis should be publicly accessible.

Open science process

Private, hidden, or proprietary science is not the preferred approach to any science. And it is not acceptable if the science is to be used as the basis for setting public policy.

In particular, all of the following must be publicly available, both to other scientists (all scientists) and the public at large:

  1. The full narrative description of the phenomenon under study, including its scope and context.
  2. The full description of the science being proposed.
  3. The full description of any models being proposed.
  4. The assumptions made.
  5. The assertions made.
  6. The math used.
  7. The algorithms used.
  8. The computer software used.
  9. Records of the genesis, rationale, proposals, requirements, specifications, and process used in development of all of the above. No private communications; records must be kept of all communications.
  10. Test data used.
  11. Records of QA, testing, and development of the math, algorithms, and software.
  12. Records of iteration in the development of all of the above.
  13. All datasets used at any stage of the process.

This information serves two distinct purposes, both essential:

  1. To allow other scientists to reproduce the results.
  2. To allow the public and any interested parties to examine the process to understand how the science was developed in order to achieve some level of confidence in the science.

There were some recent scandals over how certain research groups performed their science. This would not happen if a strict open science process were used.

There should never be any secrets in science.

That’s my formulation of the requirements for an open science process.

For more discussion:

Open science is the movement to make scientific research, data and dissemination accessible to all levels of an inquiring society, amateur or professional. It encompasses practices such as publishing open research, campaigning for open access, encouraging scientists to practice open notebook science, and generally making it easier to publish and communicate scientific knowledge. The European-funded project Facilitate Open Science Training for European Research (FOSTER) has developed an open science taxonomy as an attempt to map the open science field.

Open science began in the 17th century with the advent of the academic journal, when the societal demand for access to scientific knowledge reached a point where it became necessary for groups of scientists to share resources with each other so that they could collectively do their work. In modern times there is debate about the extent to which scientific information should be shared. The conflict is between the desire of scientists to have access to shared resources versus the desire of individual entities to profit when other entities partake of their resources. Additionally, the status of open access and resources that are available for its promotion are likely to differ from one field of academic inquiry to another, as OpenScience blog indicates.

Transparency of science and data

Transparency is essential for credibility and confidence. It allows those of us outside the process to assess for ourselves what is going on behind closed doors.

An open science process is the best method for achieving transparency.

Short of that, the more of any secretive or confidential science processes that can be made publicly accessible will at least enable some limited degree of credibility and confidence in the process and the resulting science.

A lot of climate science is published and freely available on the Internet, but not all.

IPCC makes their reports freely available, but their process, especially deliberations before assessment reports are published is for the most part strictly behind closed doors.

The resulting datasets for most climate science is publicly available, but a lot of the process behind that data is not. A lot of fragments of the process and processing is available, but a lot of the details, as pointed out by this paper, are either not available or not easy to find.

My loyalty is to hard science

I am not persuaded by:

  1. Social science
  2. Rhetorical argument
  3. Narrative
  4. Emotional appeals
  5. Moralistic lecturing
  6. Appeals to faith — even to faith in scientists

Only hard science can persuade me.

Appeals to faith — even faith in scientists

I continue to be amazed at how many people seem to reject reliance on reason, their own reason, leaning very heavily on faith, even if it is faith in scientists, but more commonly it is faith in environmental and sociopolitical ideology.

So often, too often, usually, people I encounter are simply true believers and are unable to marshal any deep understanding of the actual science of global warming and climate change.

Instead, they resort to pointing to their sources of their truth, their belief, their faith.

Unfortunately for them, I myself am unable to relate to their sense of faith.

Curious that there are no major universities with climate science or climatology departments

How can this be? Not a single one of the major, top universities in America has a standalone department focused on climatology or climate science. I mean, if climate science were as significant as proponents claim, surely it would warrant its own department.

You do find centers, programs, and multidisciplinary programs and initiatives, but no standalone departments of climatology or climate science.

Yes, some of the smaller and state universities have climate science departments, but none of the BIG, major universities in America.

Generally, climatology and climate science is embedded within the Earth science department. Some schools call it Earth Science, but some call it Earth and Environmental Sciences. Embedded, with a variety of other disciplines that have little to do with the physical and chemical science of global warming.

Even then, a lot of the so-called climate science is focused on impacts of climate rather than the science of causes of climate itself, the physics and chemistry of the atmosphere, ocean, and biosphere.

Climate science or climatology does not appear to be a distinct, recognized field of science

Maybe that’s the reason that top universities in America do not have a standalone department of climatology or climate science — that it isn’t recognized as a standalone field.

From the Wikipedia article on Climatology:

This modern field of study is regarded as a branch of the atmospheric sciences and a subfield of physical geography, which is one of the Earth sciences. Climatology now includes aspects of oceanography and biogeochemistry.

Okay, so climatology is a subfield of physical geography, whose Wikipedia article says:

Physical geography is that branch of natural science which deals with the study of processes and patterns in the natural environment like the atmosphere, hydrosphere, biosphere, and geosphere, as opposed to the cultural or built environment, the domain of human geography.

That article on physical geography then goes on to define Climatology:

Climatology is the study of the climate, scientifically defined as weather conditions averaged over a long period of time. Climatology examines both the nature of micro (local) and macro (global) climates and the natural and anthropogenic influences on them. The field is also sub-divided largely into the climates of various regions and the study of specific phenomena or time periods e.g. tropical cyclone rainfall climatology and paleoclimatology.

One takeaway is that climate science is spread over so many areas that it is not credible to assert that any individual climate scientist could be fully knowledgeable in all areas of climate science.

That would also make it even more unlikely for a scientist from a field outside of climate science to be fully knowledgeable about all areas of climate science.

Claims that 97% of climate scientists believe in the theory of global warming and climate science, even if true, could not be used to infer that these 97% of scientists actually know the truth of the matter. And that’s what matters to me, the truth of the matter, not professions of belief.

How knowledgeable is the average climate scientist about all of climate science?

Individual scientists may indeed be very knowledgeable and maybe approaching absolute certainty in their specific, narrow area of expertise, but how much do they know about all of the many other areas of climate science?

For example, how knowledgeable is an oceanographer about the chemistry and physics of greenhouse gases?

Or how knowledgeable is an atmospheric scientist about deep ocean heat?

And how many scientists active in climate science are truly comprehensively knowledgeable about all areas of climate science?

Even if we have perfect theories for each of the narrow specialties of climate science, who and how many have the encyclopedic knowledge to assure that those individual, narrow theories actually do integrate into a comprehensive, consistent, and correct theory? And is it really possible to empirically validate such a grand theory?

I remain skeptical.

But for the purposes of this paper the narrower concern is about global temperature and measurements of specific greenhouse gases.

Even there, how many of the scientists in areas not requiring expertise in temperature and gases actually have the detailed knowledge to pass judgment on whether the science underlying the models which perform the calculations driving assertions of global temperature and greenhouse gases is truly valid?

Do these other scientists know the truth of the matter, or are they simply accepting on faith that the science of their fellow scientists must be valid?

Even if 97% of scientists believe in the theory of global warming and climate change, how many of that 97% are actually in command of the knowledge about the data and skills needed to actually prove that which they believe?

I remain skeptical.

Physics and climate science

I find it disturbing that so little of the discussion fails to link climate science and climatology to physics, which is where the real science, the behavior of gases, liquids, and movement of energy, belongs.

The bottom line is that much of so-called climate science has very little to do with the actual, hard, natural science that underlies climate.

So much of climate science has to do with the superficial characteristics and impacts, rather than the underlying nature and causes.

Is it climate science or climatology?

Why do we have two separate terms for the same thing? Are climate science and climatology the same thing or are they different in some way? Are the two terms exact synonyms or not? There are no good answers that I can find.

As far as I can tell, the two terms are effectively and practically synonyms, and the fact that both terms get used in such a cavalier manner is testament to the lack of status as a distinct, standalone field.

For what it’s worth, Wikipedia has an article on climatology. Attempts to reference an article on climate science redirect to climatology. This suggests that climatology is the proper or at least preferred term and climate science is more of a casual and popular term.

I’ll tend to stick to using climate science to emphasize its more popular aspects and to refrain from implicitly giving it a higher scientific status than it may technically deserve, which is what climatology would do.

Two guys: Al Gore and Michael Crichton

Besides the many individual scientists involved with the theory of global warming and climate change, I’ll oversimplify the debates down to two individuals:

  • Al Gore — promoted the theory as U.S. Senator and Vice President and featured in the movie An Inconvenient Truth.
  • Michael Crichton — criticized the theory in his novel State of Fear.

I’ll discuss both.

Michael Crichton’s State of Fear

I do have to admit that Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear did have a significant impact on my own thinking.

For reference:

Yes, I did read his book.

It influenced my thinking but did not define my thinking.

Nominally, it was a novel, a work of fiction.

What it did was to inspire me to commit more of my own time to trying to understand the science behind the theory of global warming and climate change.

To be clear, I don’t simply accept any beliefs, facts, or conclusions stated in what at heart and intent is simply a novel, a work of fiction, but science in science, even if prevented in the context of a theatrical work of fiction.

But it also incorporated a lot of science. Even to the point that it had an extensive bibliographic appendix of scientific paper citations. It was quite impressive.

The bottom line is that it drew attention to the simple fact that a lot of the science is not as settled as the noisy rhetoric insists.

I personally neither blindly accept nor deny any of the specific scientific assertions made by Crichton in this book. It was all simply food for thought for me, all requiring further evaluation.

Yes, I am aware of various rebuttals of Crichton’s science claims and citations, such as:

But a rebuttal does not necessarily establish fact or refute fact. Sometimes there are simply alternative views and interpretations.

The bottom line is that this book inspired me to start looking at actual data and skip all the noisy rhetoric.

Anybody have any problem with that?!!

To be crystal clear, I do recognize that his book was a work of fiction, so any science was incidental to the main story.

That said, it is not at all uncommon for writers to pen fictional stories with an intent of using them as a vehicle to promote their views or agenda. Otherwise known as… propaganda.

Still, facts are facts and science is science, regardless of what it is wrapped in.

To be clear, it wasn’t Crichton’s narrative or even specific facts that I accepted, but simply that his work inspired me to investigate the underlying science on my own.

Al Gore

I have such mixed views on former Vice President Al Gore.

He is indeed an honorable and well-intentioned individual.

But he’s not a scientist, so any science-y positions he may espouse don’t have the credibility of actual science.

I was generally supportive of him before his movie came out.

I was generally supportive of him when he was in office, as U.S. Senator and Vice President, and even as candidate for President. I even voted for him in 1992, 1996, and 2000.

I fully accepted the carbon dioxide global warming thesis back in the 1990’s.

But I accepted it on faith, not because I had looked at the science at all. I was too busy doing other things at the time.

His movie, An Inconvenient Truth, changed my mind, but not in a positive manner — I realized he didn’t have a sound science basis.

For reference:

Yes, he had passion.

Yes, he had conviction.

Yes, he is a great storyteller.

Yes, he had a great grasp of the lingo of science.

But actual science? His grasp seemed very limited, dubious, and superficial at best.

I probably would have continued accepting his story as gospel truth, just as I had in the 1990’s, if I hadn’t encountered Michael Crichton’s book State of Fear first. But to be clear, as I said in the previous section, its wasn’t Crichton’s narrative or even specific facts that I accepted, but simply that his work inspired me to investigate the underlying science on my own.

Gore didn’t seemed very interested in connecting viewers with the deep underlying science, but simply to accept his narrative and superficial representations of the actual science.

As such, his approach in the move was completely offensive to me.

Oops… to be clear, the movie was not his movie. He was the featured subject of the movie, but wasn’t director, producer, or any of that. He was simply part of the cast. So it was his movie in the sense that it was about him, as a documentary. That said, my comments are about the subject matter portrayed in the film, specifically Gore’s narrative and approach to the underlying issue of global warming and climate change.

This notion that you must believe, that you have no choice, and that you shouldn’t question the science is just a horrific mentality, to my way of thinking.

To my tastes, Gore lectured people too much, and was far too preachy and moralistic for my taste.

If you want me to say no to whatever you’re selling, lecture me and be preachy and moralistic. That’s what Gore did, and it worked — he turned me off to whatever message he was selling. I’m interested in the science, just the science.

In contrast to Crichton, who merely raised my awareness of the need to look more closely at the science, Gore completely flipped me, converting me to an opponent of his blatant politicization of what should have been solely a matter of science.

To be clear, I don’t oppose the theory of global warming and climate science, but I do oppose the blatantly politicized approach taken by Gore and others like him.

Two more guys: James Hansen and Bill McKibben

Dr. James Hansen is a true climate scientist, known for his work on global temperature and global warming at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and a professor at Columbia University.

I have great respect for his actual science, but his public opinions and advocacy do not constitute science per se.

Bill McKibben is an environmentalist, educator, and author, focused on global warming and climate change. He is a Distinguished Scholar and member of the Affiliated Faculty of Middlebury College in their Environmental Studies department, but not a full professor. I wouldn’t classify him as a climate scientist.

His views and advocacy get a lot of attention, but he is not a true climate scientist. He’s not any kind of scientist. To be fair, he doesn’t claim to be. But is does pontificate on the theory of global warming and climate change, as if he did have some expertise.

I mention both here simply for convenient reference, completeness, and to indicate that I am aware of their work in global warming and climate science.

I’m with Freeman Dyson

Back in 2007 I read an essay entitled “Heretical Thoughts About Science and Society” in Edge written by Freeman Dyson, Professor Emeritus at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Study. A theoretical physicist and mathematician. A really smart guy. Never got a Nobel, but got plenty of other prizes. The essay raised several interesting questions about global warming that got me thinking.

I do accept his views, but on their merit, not as an act of faith or reverence for someone of exceptional talent.

His views reinforce my views, but are not in any way the source of my views.

His most apt comment concerns limitations of climate models:

My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models.

Later he says “I am not saying that the warming does not cause problems. Obviously it does. Obviously we should be trying to understand it better. I am saying that the problems are grossly exaggerated.

Although he does accede to one key aspect of the theory of global warming and climate change: “One of the main causes of warming is the increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere resulting from our burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal and natural gas.” Although I would note that he doesn’t offer any significant argument to buttress that assertion, kind of simply acceding the point. And he does say “I will discuss the global warming problem in detail because it is interesting, even though its importance is exaggerated.

Later, in 2014 he expressed some thoughts in a conversation published in Wired:

I have strong views about climate because I think the majority is badly wrong, and you have to make sure if the majority is saying something that they’re not talking nonsense.

What I’m convinced of is that we don’t understand climate, and so that’s sort of a neutral position. I’m not saying the majority is necessarily wrong. I’m saying that they don’t understand what they’re seeing. It will take a lot of very hard work before that question is settled, so I shall remain neutral until something very different happens.

These are words that I could have written: “I’m not saying the majority is necessarily wrong… I shall remain neutral until something very different happens.” Amen to that.

And in an interview published in The Register in 2015:

An Obama supporter who describes himself as “100 per cent Democrat,” Dyson says he is disappointed that the President “chose the wrong side.” Increasing CO2 in the atmosphere does more good than harm, he argues, and humanity doesn’t face an existential crisis. Climate change, he tells us, “is not a scientific mystery but a human mystery. How does it happen that a whole generation of scientific experts is blind to obvious facts?

Again, I don’t accept his words as a matter of faith or reverence, but I agree with them.

Indeed, the mad rush of the lemmings we are seeing with so many scientists on the matter of this theory of global warming and climate change is… quite baffling.

Is human activity changing the climate?

Maybe. Possibly. Hard to say.

Certainly a lot of people have a very passionate belief in anthropogenic climate change.

But in my experience, very few people have the grasp of science in general to know with certainty that human activity is in fact dramatically changing climate.

A big part of the purpose of this paper is to work through my own beliefs and experiences on this matter.

To be clear, I don’t personally take a strong position that human activity is absolutely not affecting climate, but by the same token I cannot justify a strong position in favor of a belief that human activity is affecting climate in a significant way.

And even if it is human activity, is it emissions of carbon dioxide that are the proximate and dominant cause of global warming and climate change?

Hasn’t climate always been changing?

Again, just to highlight the semantic confusion, that so many people are not being clear when they should be referring to anthropogenic climate change due to emissions of carbon dioxide from human activity.

Technically, it is emissions of any greenhouse gases, but carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas of primary concern.

Is climate changing?

Just to capture all these thoughts concisely in one place.

Is the climate changing?

Yes… the climate is changing and has always been changing.

Is climate changing due to human activity?

It is difficult to say for sure. Directly attributing any particular change in climate to specific human activity is a fool’s errand.

Might climate be changing due to human activity?

Sure, maybe.

Is climate likely changing due to human activity?

Possibly, but not for certain.

What fraction of climate change is absolutely attributable to human activity?

No way to tell.

To what extent is carbon dioxide changing climate?

No way to tell.

To what extent are carbon dioxide emissions from human activity changing climate?

No way to tell.

Sorry I can’t be more definitive, but that’s the whole point of this paper — to elaborate why I am unable to be more definitive.

Is it science or a matter of faith?

Invariably, when I ask someone why they believe in climate change they usually have some other answer than to refer to actual science.

What I have found is that for most people it is more a matter of faith than actual science for them.

Faith in scientists, maybe, sometimes, but more commonly it is a faith is some partisan political dogma or an ideological environmental basis.

Granted, the faith thing works both ways. A lot of climate deniers know little of the actual science as well, taking on faith the narrative that they are accepting from political or sociopolitical commentators.

Since when is the truth of science determined by polls?

At least when I was in school, polls were never cited as a rationale for accepting a scientific law, proposition, fact, or other form of truth.

So why is climate science the only science that requires and even demands that a belief be accepted as a result of a poll?

As per NASA:

97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree: Climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.

Seriously, I know of no other form of science where the truth of the matter is derived primarily from polls, surveys, or similar techniques.

Is it 97% of scientists or 32%?

Here’s part of the abstract from one of the papers that is touted by NASA as supporting the assertion that 97% of scientists believe in global warming and climate change, from 2013:

We analyze the evolution of the scientific consensus on anthropogenic global warming (AGW) in the peer-reviewed scientific literature, examining 11 944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’. We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW, 32.6% endorsed AGW, 0.7% rejected AGW and 0.3% were uncertain about the cause of global warming. Among abstracts expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming. In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%).

There you have it: 97.1% “endorsed the consensus position that humans are causing global warming.

But… that was 97.1% of “abstracts expressing a position on AGW”, but only 32.6% “endorsed AGW”, so that is really 97.1% of 32.6%, which is only 31.7%, call it 32%, less than a third.

Just to be clear, two thirds (66.4%) of the papers did not express an opinion of anthropogenic global warming: “We find that 66.4% of abstracts expressed no position on AGW.”

Curiously, later in the paper, in Table 5, they indicate that 36.9% of papers “Endorse AGW” even though their own abstract clearly says “32.6% endorsed AGW.

Is it 97% or 63%?

That cited paper discussed a second part of their work where the authors of papers self-rated their belief about anthropogenic global warming (AGW):

In a second phase of this study, we invited authors to rate their own papers. Compared to abstract ratings, a smaller percentage of self-rated papers expressed no position on AGW (35.5%). Among self-rated papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.2% endorsed the consensus. For both abstract ratings and authors’ self-ratings, the percentage of endorsements among papers expressing a position on AGW marginally increased over time. Our analysis indicates that the number of papers rejecting the consensus on AGW is a vanishingly small proportion of the published research.

Not getting the results they wanted, the investigators decided to load the dice by prompting scientists.

But even then, over a third (35.5%) still did not “express a position” on AGW. That means that less than two thirds of even self-rating scientists endorsed AGW! I find that rather surprising since we are told by the media the significance of the 97% number.

To be more precise, according to Table 4 of that paper:

  • 62.7% of all papers endorse AGW.
  • 35.5% of all papers take no position on AGW.
  • 1.8% of all papers reject AGW.

A minor technicality to note is that the numbers are for papers rather than scientists, with some scientists writing multiple papers and many papers being written by multiple scientists, so that number was 62.7% of papers, not of scientists. Similarly, the 97.2% number was of papers, not scientists. The table does have a column for respondents rather than papers:

  • 62.7% of all respondents endorse AGW.
  • 34.9% of all respondents take no position on AGW.
  • 2.4% of all respondents reject AGW.

I presume that it is mere coincidence that the two columns of the table come up with the same identical 62.7% number for endorsements of AGW, one for papers, and one for respondents.

Is it 97% or 9%

Notice that not all scientists responded to the survey:

We emailed 8547 authors an invitation to rate their own papers and received 1200 responses (a 14% response rate). After excluding papers that were not peer-reviewed, not climate-related or had no abstract, 2142 papers received self-ratings from 1189 authors. The self-rated levels of endorsement are shown in table 4.

Yikes, only 14% response rate! Actually, that’s considered very good for a direct mail campaign. But… that means that the 62.7% number is really only 62.7% of 14% or 8.8%, call it 9%. Okay, technically, you don’t have to do such brutal math for mere surveys, but the simple fact is that they only have that 8.8% number.

The real number is 1,342 papers out of the original 11,944 papers, which is 11.2%.

The paper does tell us in Table 4 that 746 respondents “Endorsed AGW”, but we don’t know how many individual scientists wrote the 11,944 papers. Out of 1,189 respondents, they represent the 62.7% number cited in Table 4 of the paper, and the source of my 63% number used in the title of the previous section.

Other polls and surveys of scientists

I won’t bother delving into other surveys and polls of scientists. One was enough for my purposes.

This paper is the current best word on such efforts:

Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming

The consensus that humans are causing recent global warming is shared by 90%–100% of publishing climate scientists according to six independent studies by co-authors of this paper… We examine the available studies and conclude that the finding of 97% consensus in published climate research is robust and consistent with other surveys of climate scientists and peer-reviewed studies.

I continue to cringe at this phrasing of “97% consensus” when as I have previously shown, the issue is 97% of what.

Does an opinion count as science?

Hey, scientists are people too, so they are certainly entitled to have their own opinions, but does an opinion count as science just because the holder of that opinion is a scientist? I don’t think so.

If a scientist has evidence and sound reasoning to justify a claim, they can publish a peer-reviewed science paper to establish their views as actual science, but until then it is only their opinion.

Note the language in the originally cited paper above: “abstracts expressing a position on AGW.” That’s the key word: “expressing a position.” That sure sounds like an opinion to me!

So, I am taking the position that an opinion doesn’t count as science.

If the matter under discussion is supposedly science, show me your science, and keep your opinions to yourself.

And when I say opinions, I mean polls and surveys as well.

Final word on the 97% consensus

Just to summarize my concerns on polls and surveys and so-called climate consensus studies in general:

  1. What field of science ever required “consensus studies”?
  2. Seriously, what % of scientists are qualified to judge fields outside of their own niche?
  3. It’s easy to say they believe or take a position, but do they offer scientific justification for such a belief or position? Are they proving that position or simply accepting it?
  4. What % are true climate scientists, rather than having a peripheral interest in the area?
  5. What % of so-called consensus has anything to do with the core issue of causal relationship between carbon dioxide and warming?

In short, I don’t find the notion of a 97% consensus very persuasive at all.

At best, it is merely a distraction from actual, real science.

Maybe this mass-consensus notion reminds me of some true wisdom I learned sitting in a chemistry lecture hall in college. Carefully engraved in the wooden desktop were these relevant words:

Eat shit — 10 billion flies can’t be wrong.

The science itself has to make sense, not just how many people believe it.

Okay, I’ve said my piece on that aspect of the matter.

Scientists are people too

Scientists certainly have a special expertise in their area of specialty, but they are people too:

  1. Subject to human nature.
  2. Capable of error.
  3. Capable of getting carried away by enthusiasm.
  4. Capable of bias.
  5. Capable of being bullied.
  6. Capable of being conned.
  7. Have egos.
  8. Huge very strong egos.
  9. Have hubris.
  10. Can be embarrassed.
  11. Can be arrogant.
  12. Can be elitists
  13. Entitled to have personal opinions.
  14. Entitled to have political beliefs.
  15. Entitled to pursue sociopolitical agendas.
  16. Entitled to pursue protection of the environment “at all costs”, if they choose.

All of these qualities have to be expected even for the most elite of scientists.

But as far as I’m concerned, any time a scientist steps across the line and thinks, speaks, or acts outside their specific area of scientific expertise, such as promoting sociopolitical views, their scientific credibility goes to zero, absolute zero, in my book.

Concern about egos and embarrassment

As noted previously, scientists are people too, so I have concerns that their egos and risk of embarrassment may be getting in the way of their objectivity.

Especially when I hear language such as beyond dispute and beyond debate.

My confidence in the credibility and validity of the theory of global warming and climate change won’t rise significantly until I can see some very strong evidence that the science community and its non-science public proponents are able to get their egos in check and that their public bravado is not simply a cover for underlying embarrassment that the actual science isn’t as strong as the very bold public statements.

I’m not holding my breath.

I’m not even optimistic.

But as I once heard a federal judge say, hope does spring eternal.

Scientists believe…

One last time… I don’t especially care what scientists may believe. Matters of science should be about science, not belief.

Polls of beliefs won’t tell me anything about the science.

The scientific method does not involve polls.

Politics and science don’t mix without completely debasing science. Even the tiniest hint of a political component poisons all 100% of the science. One rotten apple really does spoil the whole barrel.

Science and environmentalism are generally a toxic mix as well. Environmentalism is essentially moral, political, and ideological. The science needs to stand on its own.

Political activation of scientists damages their credibility

Society needs science and scientists, but it also needs them to stick to their science, and to refrain from either using their science to pursue political aims or sociopolitical agendas, and to especially refrain from allowing political agendas and sociopolitical aims from poisoning or otherwise undermining their science, their only source of credibility.

In short, when it comes to science and the work of scientists, political activation is the kiss of death, in my book.

Public opinion polls

I don’t put much faith or value in public opinion polls in general, and certainly not in terms of whether they validate any particular scientific belief.

A typical, and about as reasonable as any public opinion poll could be, poll is this one from Pew Research Center:

In fact, from my own perspective, I would feel obligated to answer “I don’t know” to many of the questions. I don’t believe in opinions for what should be technical or scientific questions. Either you know or don’t know. Opinion has no empirical value for matters of science, in my view.

A typical question and the possible answers respondents are permitted to give:

Which of these three statements about the Earth’s temperature comes closest to your view?

— The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as

burning fossil fuels

— The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural patterns in the

Earth’s environment

— There is no solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer

— Not sure

— No answer

A variation of that same question:

Even if you are not sure, which of these three statements about the Earth’s temperature comes closest to your view?

— The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity such as

burning fossil fuels

— The Earth is getting warmer mostly because of natural patterns in the

Earth’s environment

— There is no solid evidence that the Earth is getting warmer

— No answer

The simple fact that these kinds of questions are being asked at all speaks volumes about the credibility of both our political process and science itself.

I seriously doubt that the average respondent will have the scientific background to have a credible opinion on such a matter.

In short, whether an average citizen believes in global warming or climate change is essentially immaterial to what the truth of the science may or not be. The science can, should, and must stand on its own.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) as the central clearinghouse for science and narrative on the theory of global warming and climate change

For some people, former Vice President Al Gore is the central proponent of the theory of global warming and climate change. But from a technical, scientific, and governmental policy perspective, it is instead the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which is the gold standard source for science and narrative on global warming and climate change — or what they call an assessment. In fact, I personally look to their assessments as a first source of information.

They are chartered by the United Nations and have members from many countries around the world. They were created in 1988, so they have about a 30 year history.

The main IPCC web site — note that .ch refers to Switzerland, as in Geneva, where the UN has a second headquarters:

They issue detailed assessment reports every few years, the most recent being their fifth assessment report (AR5) in 2013 and 2014 and the previous being their fourth assessment report (AR4) in 2007. The next assessment, the sixth assessment report (AR6 and here) is underway and expected to issue the report in 2021 and 2022.

Each assessment report (AR) is actually four separate reports corresponding to the three reports of their three working groups (WG) plus a combined summary report called a synthesis report.

The three working groups are:

  1. Working Group I (WG1) — The Physical Science Basis
  2. Working Group I| (WG2) — Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability
  3. Working Group III (WG3) — Mitigation of Climate Change

Those links are to the actual outlines for the AR6 reports that will be underway shortly.

The reports for the most recent, fifth, assessment (AR5) are:

  1. Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis.
  2. Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability.
  3. Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change.
  4. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report.

Part of the synthesis report is an even shorter Summary for Policymakers.

All of the reports are available as free downloadable PDF documents.

To most accurately represent the IPCC and its efforts here, here is their mission in their own words:

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is the leading international body for the assessment of climate change. It was established by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) in 1988 to provide the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in climate change and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts. In the same year, the UN General Assembly endorsed the action by WMO and UNEP in jointly establishing the IPCC.

The IPCC reviews and assesses the most recent scientific, technical and socio-economic information produced worldwide relevant to the understanding of climate change. It does not conduct any research nor does it monitor climate related data or parameters.

As an intergovernmental body, membership of the IPCC is open to all member countries of the United Nations (UN) and WMO. Currently 195 countries are Members of the IPCC. Governments participate in the review process and the plenary Sessions, where main decisions about the IPCC work programme are taken and reports are accepted, adopted and approved. The IPCC Bureau Members, including the Chair, are also elected during the plenary Sessions.

Thousands of scientists from all over the world contribute to the work of the IPCC. Review is an essential part of the IPCC process, to ensure an objective and complete assessment of current information. IPCC aims to reflect a range of views and expertise. The Secretariat coordinates all the IPCC work and liaises with Governments. It is established by WMO and UNEP and located at WMO headquarters in Geneva. The IPCC is administered in accordance to WMO and UN rules and procedures, including codes of conduct and ethical principles (as outlined in UN Ethics, WMO Ethics Function, Staff Regulations and 2012/07-Retaliation).

Because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature, the IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision makers. By endorsing the IPCC reports, governments acknowledge the authority of their scientific content. The work of the organization is therefore policy-relevant and yet policy-neutral, never policy-prescriptive.

Click here for more on the history of the IPCC.

You can find some additional information in their Fact Sheet, including:

IPCC assessments provide a scientific basis for governments at all levels to develop climate-related policies, and they underlie negotiations at the UN Climate Conference — the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The assessments are policy-relevant but not policy-prescriptive: they may present projections of future climate change based on different scenarios and the risks that climate change poses and discuss the implications of response options, but they do not tell policymakers what actions to take.

The IPCC embodies a unique opportunity to provide rigorous and balanced scientific information to decision-makers because of its scientific and intergovernmental nature. Participation in the IPCC is open to all member countries of the WMO and United Nations. It currently has 195 members. The Panel, made up of representatives of the member states, meets in Plenary Sessions to take major decisions. The IPCC Bureau, elected by member governments, provides guidance to the Panel on the scientific and technical aspects of the Panel’s work and advises the Panel on related management and strategic issues.

IPCC assessments are written by hundreds of leading scientists who volunteer their time and expertise as Coordinating Lead Authors and Lead Authors of the reports. They enlist hundreds of other experts as Contributing Authors to provide complementary expertise in specific areas.

IPCC reports undergo multiple rounds of drafting and review to ensure they are comprehensive and objective and produced in an open and transparent way. Thousands of other experts contribute to the reports by acting as reviewers, ensuring the reports reflect the full range of views in the scientific community. Teams of Review Editors provide a thorough monitoring mechanism for making sure that review comments are addressed.

Additional information about the IPCC can be found on the Wikipedia page for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

My only real point here is that I am well aware of the IPCC and their work and have seen and consulted their more recent assessment reports.

IPCC Sixth Assessment Report cycle

Although the fifth assessment report (AR5) is the current assessment on global warming and climate change from IPCC, the successor report, the sixth assessment report (AR6) is underway. As the IPCC notes:

The IPCC is currently in its Sixth Assessment cycle. During this cycle, the Panel will produce three Special Reports, a Methodology Report on national greenhouse gas inventories and the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6).

The 43rd Session of the IPCC held in April 2016 agreed that the AR6 Synthesis Report would be finalized in 2022 in time for the first UNFCCC global stocktake when countries will review progress towards their goal of keeping global warming to well below 2 °C while pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5 °C. The three Working Group contributions to AR6 will be finalized in 2021.

The outlines were approved by the Panel at its 46th Session in early September 2017.

Approved outlines of the Working Group contributions to the Sixth Assessment Report:

Press Release: Call for nomination of authors (deadline: Friday 27 October 2017 (midnight GMT +1)

Vision Paper

Leaflet: The Sixth Assessment cycle

I mention this assessment here simply for completeness, convenient reference, and to indicate that I am aware of ongoing work in this area of climate science and climate policy.

IPCC special report on global warming target of 1.5 degrees celsius (SR15)

To date, the target limit for global warming has been 2 degrees celsius, but scientists and policymakers seek to be more aggressive and reduce that limit to 1.5 degrees celsius. They are beginning work a special report, SR15. As the IPCC says:

Following the decision of the panel at its 43rd Session to accept the invitation from the UNFCCC, at its 44th Session, the Panel approved the outline of Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty.

The report will be finalized in October 2018 .

Authors and Review Editors

Outline: Global Warming of 1.5°C

Schedule

Report page

I mention this special report here simply for completeness, convenient reference, and to indicate that I am aware of ongoing work in this area of climate science and climate policy.

What are the IPCC SAR and TAR?

SAR stands for the Second Assessment Report of IPCC, issued in 1995 and 1996.

TAR stands for the Third Assessment Report of IPCC, issued in 2001.

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is the most recent and current report, issued in 2013 and 2014.

No, the fifth assessment is not called FAR. It’s simply AR5.

And the fourth assessment report is simply called AR4 as well.

And the sixth assessment report will be simply called AR6.

Maybe that was simply because FAR was already used for the First Assessment Report:

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is the primary treaty or international law governing international efforts to address global warming and climate change.

The Kyoto Protocol and recent Paris Agreement fall under the umbrella of the UNFCCC Framework Convention.

Periodic UN conferences are held to develop additional, specific, targeted treaties to address aspects of global warming and climate change. The most recent such conference being the Paris conference which developed the Paris Agreement.

The assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provide the scientific basis provided to governments which are negotiating at these UN Climate conferences, which are held as part of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

More information about UNFCCC can be found on the Wikipedia page for United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

My only point here is that I am fully aware of this treaty and its relevance to global warming and climate change.

Kyoto Protocol

See the UNFCCC section above.

It may be called a protocol, but it has standing as an international treaty.

My only point here is that I am fully aware of this treaty and its relevance to global warming and climate change.

Paris Agreement

See the UNFCCC section above.

It may be called an agreement, but it has standing as an international treaty.

My only point here is that I am fully aware of this treaty and its relevance to global warming and climate change.

Even the IPCC is not as certain as their headline claims say

In the Summary for Policymakers for their AR5 assessment report for Physical Science Basis, IPCC says on page 5:

In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years (medium confidence).

What?? Only medium confidence? Why not high or a virtual certainty?

Okay, I’ll give them credit for intellectual honesty there.

And they put likely in italics!

What do they mean by likely? According to the footnotes on the preceding page of the report:

1 In this Summary for Policymakers, the following summary terms are used to describe the available evidence: limited, medium, or robust; and for the degree of agreement: low, medium, or high. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: very low, low, medium, high, and very high, and typeset in italics, e.g., medium confidence. For a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels can be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence (see Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details).

2 In this Summary for Policymakers, the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: virtually certain 99–100% probability, very likely 90–100%, likely 66–100%, about as likely as not 33–66%, unlikely 0–33%, very unlikely 0–10%, exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Additional terms (extremely likely: 95–100%, more likely than not >50–100%, and extremely unlikely 0–5%) may also be used when appropriate. Assessed likelihood is typeset in italics, e.g., very likely (see Chapter 1 and Box TS.1 for more details).

So, likely means “likely 66–100%” or anywhere from only two out of three to absolute certainty. That’s quite a range.

And to be clear, they did not say very likely, which would be 90–100%.

Later on that same page they say:

It is virtually certain that globally the troposphere has warmed since the mid-20th century. More complete observations allow greater confidence in estimates of tropospheric temperature changes in the extratropical Northern Hemisphere than elsewhere. There is medium confidence in the rate of warming and its vertical structure in the Northern Hemisphere extra-tropical troposphere and low confidence elsewhere.

That’s even more weird. They start by saying virtually certain, then descend to medium confidence for the Northern Hemisphere, and then descend even further to low confidence elsewhere.

So, how can something that is less than 90% certain be considered virtually certain? That makes no sense to me.

Their Summary for Policymakers of their Synthesis Report for AR5 says on page 2:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal

(My bolding.)

How they get to unequivocal from medium confidence for the entire Northern Hemisphere and low confidence for the rest of the world strains credulity, to say the least.

I would note that their medium confidence is not for the entire Northern Hemisphere excludes the stratosphere and tropical regions in the Northern Hemisphere, for which the low confidence apparently applies. That’s even worse.

To be fair, they probably really are doing the best that they can. Especially considering that this is a very large committee comprised of scientists from a variety of countries.

Still, their best may simply not be able to satisfy my, higher standards.

IPCC uncertainty terminology and characterization

I’m extremely bothered when scientists feel the need to use overly-complicated terminology simply to express certainty and uncertainty. You either know for sure or you don’t. And if you don’t know for sure, say so. Or just say that you don’t know. If the situation is not that clear, then you have no business using exaggerated, hyperbolic language such as unequivocal, settled science, and beyond debate.

In the executive summary of chapter 1 of the IPCC Physical Science Basis AR5 assessment report, the report summarizes briefly:

Treatment of Uncertainties

For AR5, the three IPCC Working Groups use two metrics to communicate the degree of certainty in key findings: (1) Confidence is a qualitative measure of the validity of a finding, based on the type, amount, quality and consistency of evidence (e.g., data, mechanistic understanding, theory, models, expert judgment) and the degree of agreement [1]; and (2) Likelihood provides a quantified measure of uncertainty in a finding expressed probabilistically (e.g., based on statistical analysis of observations or model results, or both, and expert judgement) [2].

Got it? They are going to use qualitative measures and quantified measures that include expert judgment. Curious how they imagine that expert judgment can be both qualitative and quantifiable. Sorry, but that seems like too much of a stretch to me.

On the qualitative front for confidence they say, for note 1:

In this Report, the following summary terms are used to describe the available evidence: limited, medium, or robust; and for the degree of agreement: low, medium, or high. A level of confidence is expressed using five qualifiers: very low, low, medium, high, and very high, and typeset in italics, e.g., medium confidence. For a given evidence and agreement statement, different confidence levels can be assigned, but increasing levels of evidence and degrees of agreement are correlated with increasing confidence (see Section 1.4 and Box TS.1 for more details).

On the quantifiable front for likelihood they say, for note 2:

In this Report, the following terms have been used to indicate the assessed likelihood of an outcome or a result: Virtually certain 99–100% probability, Very likely 90–100%, Likely 66–100%, About as likely as not 33–66%, Unlikely 0–33%, Very unlikely 0–10%, Exceptionally unlikely 0–1%. Additional terms (Extremely likely: 95–100%, More likely than not >50–100%, and Extremely unlikely 0–5%) may also be used when appropriate. Assessed likelihood is typeset in italics, e.g., very likely (see Section 1.4 and Box TS.1 for more details).

I don’t have any quibble with their levels or terminology per se, but I do object strongly to the use of language such as unequivocal, settled science, and beyond debate, when the IPCC itself is essentially admitting that they have not reached the 100% threshold for significant aspects of the science of global warming and climate change.

I would quibble with their limiting confidence to only three levels, even as they allow for ten levels for likelihood for likelihood, or at least seven in most cases. To my mind, confidence is extremely important, so that a binary choice between merely medium and the vague robust or high seems to leave too much discussion of level of confidence out of the discussion.

I would feel more confident about the work of the IPCC if they had three levels of medium and three levels of robust and high. Such as:

  1. Barely medium.
  2. Moderately medium.
  3. Solidly medium.
  4. Reasonably robust, or reasonably high.
  5. Solidly robust, or solidly high.
  6. Extremely robust or extremely high.

I would note one urgent caveat for my proposal, which is that such additional levels of distinction of certainty should not be used if those assigning them to claims have no sound scientific basis for their assignments. These are not supposed to be mere opinions of certainty, but require a sound if not outright quantifiable basis.

I would be comforted if the confidence really was extremely robust or extremely high, but I am not comforted if it is merely reasonably robust or reasonably high. Remember — I have very high standards.

And I would note, as I have elsewhere in this paper, that some of the important results of the IPCC are only medium. If they were solidly medium or reasonably robust, I would be more comforted, but we simply cannot tell given the current IPCC uncertainty nomenclature.

Maybe my biggest objection is that there is no elaboration as to how the how the uncertainty assessments were derived. I have questions like:

  1. What is the uncertainty assessment process?
  2. Is it pure consensus or a vote?
  3. How often is the assessment reviewed? Once per AR cycle?
  4. How early or late in the AR cycle is the assessment made?
  5. Who gets to participate in the assessment? Any scientists outside of the particular working group?
  6. What are the technical criteria for who may participate in the assessment?
  7. Is there any math involved in deriving these levels? If so, what is it?
  8. What variables or metrics are involved in that math? And how are those variables and metrics determined, derived, measured, and calculated?
  9. Or, is this all simply seat of the pants, subjective, and simply the judgment of the authors?
  10. Any sense of the degrees of bias that may be involved in these assessments?
  11. How much uncertainty is there about the uncertainty? Like an error bar on the confidence. Or maybe the current three levels of confidence are implicitly representing a significant degree of uncertainty about the uncertainty.
  12. What guidance and training are the authors given to assure some sense of rigor and consistency in the uncertainty assessment process?

I would also note that I know of no other area of science where such elaborate qualification and quantification of uncertainty is considered normal. I think in most fields of science, such careful shading of uncertainty would be a cause for great alarm.

In summary, I have four objections:

  1. More gradations of certainty are needed. And some sort of error bar on the assessment of uncertainty.
  2. The method and process by which the uncertainty assessments were determined needs to be disclosed and detailed.
  3. There is simply too much uncertainty in the results of the IPCC. And the lack of sufficient gradations makes it more difficult to judge the judgments that IPCC provides.
  4. This whole level of rhetorical categorization of uncertainty seems unprecedented in science. What makes climate science special and requires this? Shouldn’t we wait until they no longer need anything less than extremely robust and extremely high confidence?

IPCC: It is certain that…

IPCC has generally been fairly good at using their uncertainty terminology, but occasionally they lapse into… certainty.

I found a few references to language of the form “It is certain that…”, specifically in the following reports from AR5:

There aren’t that many references, but they do stand out in strong contrast to the care used throughout the reports, including the rest of those three reports.

They should have simply used their own terminology of virtually certain, or added yet another adjective if they wanted to emphasize a level of certainty above that (99.9%?), or maybe had another level below virtually certain so that virtually certain would be reserved for these few places where near-certainty is warranted, but to lapse into absolute certainty seems uncharacteristically un-scientific.

I mean, in science, nothing can be absolutely absolute, at least not when human beings or mechanical or electronic devices or computer software (bugs anyone?) are involved. The IPCC would be well-advised not to pretend otherwise — in my opinion. Or in my judgment, since I do have a technical background.

As a matter of principle, scientific principle, philosophic principle, and public responsibility, IPCC should refrain from claiming that anything is strictly certain.

Continued in Part 2 of 4

Continue to Part 2 of 4.

Jump to Part 4 and Conclusion.

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