Am I the only happy person in Wellington this week? I blame the weather.
In the Great Wellington Cafe Hunt, the current leading contender is Havana. Comfy sofas, many nooks and corners, outside space for summer, and food at not unreasonable prices1. Downside – its not in centre of town, but hell, people are vaguely going past it on their way homes. So I will be there 4.30ish, although I’ll have to be off by 6.15 or so.
Climate Change Scepticism Memes
Scepticism is an intrinsic requirement for science to progress. It helps us ask the right questions to test our theories. However, many questions continually arise in scepticism about climate change. To some extent, these arguments qualify as memes, in that they propagate and proliferate and as memes, they resist disposal by answers. So what are some examples?
“The effect of human-produced greenhouse gases is tiny in comparison to the warming effect of water vapour”. This is true, but irrelevant. The amount of water vapour in the atmosphere changes on a daily basis and is not within our ability to influence. Water vapour multiplies the effects of our own changes to the climate.
Another meme is the uncertainty of our predictions. Uncertainty is inherent when studying a complex system like climate. The scale of response to increases in greenhouse gases is governed by a host of feedback mechanisms, some of which interact with each other. Hence the IPCC’s 2001 warming predictions of somewhere between 1.4 and 5.8 C. This uncertainty makes it difficult to work out the optimum response to minimise climate change, but it is not an excuse to pretend it isn’t happening.
Other memes lie outside the bounds of scientific debate. The oft-repeated claim that “global warming stopped in 1998” is an example of cherry-picking of the data. 1998 was the warmest year on record. By definition, temperatures have been cooler since the record-setting year. The global temperature record has fluctuations because the climate has fluctuations but the long term trend is upwards and it is long term trends that matter.
The meme that “climate change prediction depends upon obscure computer modelling” is just plain wrong. I advise everyone to read Svante Arrhenius’ 1896 paper “On the Influence of Carbonic Acid in the Air Upon the Temperature of the Ground”. Made with a pencil and paper, his predictions are within a factor of two of the IPCC predictions, on a global scale. What computers are needed for are the detailed calculations of impacts on a local scale.
A final meme runs “scientific truth is not determined by consensus so the fact that most scientists agree on climate change doesn’t mean that climate change is happening”. It is true to say that science does not depend upon consensus. I’d go beyond that to say that scientists hate consensus. It is boring. We scientists are trained to argue with each other, over every tiny little point. We love a good bust up. When we start agreeing it’s because we understand what’s going on.
1 – Food comes from Fidel’s, so we could just go there instead.