Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Climate and Politics

Michael Gerson has a column in the Washington Post on how climate change has become politicized. At the same time, Wired has an article about the National Center for Science Education (NCSE) adopting a new policy supporting the teaching of evolution and climate change.

Gerson is one of a group of right-leaning moderates who accept climate change theory as established fact. In Gerson's view, the right rejects warming theory largely because the left uses it to advance its agenda. There is some truth to this but it is incomplete. He dismisses the Climategate emails.
Climate scientists, in my experience, are generally careful, well-intentioned and confused to be at the center of a global controversy. Investigations of hacked e-mails have revealed evidence of frustration — and perhaps of fudging but not of fraud.
What the emails actually show is that climate scientists are indeed true believers but some of them have questioned why their predictions are off. More importantly, they act in concert to suppress dissenting opinions. If a peer-reviewed journal publishes a dissenting paper, they get the editor fired.

This is the hallmark of an information cascade. This happened with dietary fat. For 50 years it was accepted that dietary fat caused heart disease. Finally a major study proved otherwise. It turned out that a small minority of dedicated scientists had pushed the dietary fat/heart disease link to hard that it became the accepted view and any dissent was tamped down. This is happening to some extent with global warming.

As for the Wired article, I would like to know what would be taught in schools. Would they include Al Gore? He has admitted that he finds the IPCC's findings to be too conservative and has his own set of experts. Would they include the IPCC? Sections of their most recent report were copied from environmental group's position papers instead of from peer reviewed journals. Would they include the recent Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project which verified that the world has warmed over the last several decades and if they do include it, would they point out that this same study shows that warming stopped around the year 2000? Would they include predictions from the last 20 years of climate science that have failed to materialize (in 2000, NASA's James Hansen predicted that parts of Manhattan would be underwater by now)?

This is the problem with climate science. The field has a number of alarmists who think that the only way to get action is to exaggerate the risk. This totally discredits their cause, especially when it has been co-opted by political extremists.

The earth has warmed in the last century or two but it is still debatable how much of this was caused by humans as opposed to natural cyclical forces. Even more debatable is how much more the climate will warm. All of the warming productions are based on unproven feedback models. Finally, no debate at all has been given to the benefits of a warmer world.

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