Political Answers on Climate Change
The truth is that I’ve started to really hate “climate change” stories.
The problem is that both side have made it into an item of faith. On the AGW side, the "Apostle’s Creed" is that climate change is an existential crisis, that all unpleasant weather events -- and an amazing number of other things -- are caused by climate change, that current changes in temperature are unprecedented, that human-driven causes are the principle reason for temperature increases, and that any measures to ameliorate climate change are justified, no matter the cost or impact. What’s more, any further discussion is pointless, as seen in the the recent editorial by the editor of Science magazine ("The beyond two-degree inferno"):
In the history of humankind, there is a dearth of examples of global threats so far-reaching in their impact, so dire in their consequences, and considered so likely to occur that they have engaged all nations in risk mitigation. But now with climate change, we face a slowly escalating but long-enduring global threat to food supplies, health, ecosystem services, and the general viability of the planet to support a population of more than 7 billion people. ….
The time for debate has ended.
On the contrary side, at least politically, the corresponding item of faith is now that anyone who gives any credence whatsoever to any part of the debate about climate change is a a RINO who must be drummed out of anything resembling conservative circles.
Chris Christie ran into this the other day, when he said, “I believe in climate change. And human beings contribute to it.”
The Daily Signal trolled it on Twitter:
— The Daily Signal (@DailySignal) August 3, 2015
People fell for it:
— Sissy Willis (@SissyWillis) August 3, 2015
The annoying part is that almost no one seems to actually think about it any more.
Here’s what we can say pretty clearly about climate change. Here, I’m once again stating a theory as I discussed in my “Science and Darwin” piece. Like in that piece, I’ll add a comment to each step to describe confidence.
- There have been significant changes in the overall climate over time, including a pretty significant rise in the global average surface temperature over the last 400 years. Basically, we’ve got good actual measurement data for this. Very well supported.
- Concentration of various greenhouse gases, including water vapor and carbon dioxide(CO2), contributes a lot to what that temperature is. Here, we know that the effective temperature of a black body where Earth is would be around 252K, but the actual average temperature is around 288K. The difference is greenhouse effect. Very well supported.
- Concentration of CO2 has increased significantly in the time we’ve been measuring it, and there is good evidence that it has increased over the last 400 years. Again, we’ve got actual measurements, both of the real atmosphere, and of trapped air in ice core samples and such. Very well supported.
- Humans have contributed to that increase in the concentration of CO2. Well supported.
So far so good. However, to fulfill the full Apostle’s Creed, we have to add some points.
- Current global warming is an existential crisis. This is questionable on a number of points, but one of the core arguments depends on very high estimates of the actual temperature change. There’s not enough room for a full discussion of this, but basically it depends on a compounding of many worst cases for many different factors. (See, for example, posts here, here, and here on climate etc.) Controversial
- Human CO2 release is the principle reason for climate change. This is also controversial, for a number of reasons.
- Human-caused climate change is more important than any other use for the money. Again, this is actually controversial, although disagreeing with this is enough to be declared a heretic and “denier” even if you agree with all the previous steps. There’s no better evidence for this than the decision, under political pressure, that the University of Western Australia would not proceed as an institute for evaluating the economic cost-benefits tradeoffs of development projects because Dr. Bjorn Lomborg was to be involved.
So now, go back to what Christie said: “I believe in climate change. And human beings contribute to it.” That is, he agrees with the well-supported points above, and didn’t say anything about the rest of the Apostle’s Creed.
Now, that’s a careful answer and a lawyer’s answer: he didn’t say anything more than he needed to. It ought to be completely non-controversial, although without expressing credo in the rest of the Apostle’s Creed of AGW, it would certainly get him proclaimed a “denier.” What it shouldn’t do is get him attacked from the right, or at least from people on the right who think looking at the facts might be important.
Science ought to be first about looking for the truth – and sometimes, looking for the truth is a little more complicated than 140 characters.