Opinion: Global warming carries serious consequences
June 28, 2017
Regarding "Global warming theory has holes," I am not attacking Jim Clark personally, who is a smart and accomplished man.
I'm attacking his ideas because we view evidence so differently. This is a defining problem of our time when whole news outlets exist to feed us the selective "facts" we are looking for.
I'll begin where we agree: It is valid to question and debate ideas on what we do about climate change. An irresponsible course of action will carry serious economic impacts, and we all need to be informed enough to have a voice in our energy future. But Clark's piece is focused mostly on undermining public trust in the process of science. Let's look at how he uses classic tricks in the anti-science playbook:
1. Complain about Al Gore and his huge speaking fees: As Clark concedes, Gore is not a scientist. He's a celebrity with a pet cause. It's what they do. Get over it, and focus on the science.
2. Convenient oversimplifications: Clark says the "theory" is that industrialization causes global warming. This leaves out an important distinction. Science says global warming is caused by earth's natural greenhouse effect, which is now being amplified by excess CO2. It is a fact, not a theory that excess CO2 comes from fossil fuel burning. We have directly measured this increase from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 400 ppm in the last century (Source: NASA). This is extremely concerning because proxy data show that the earth has never been above 300 ppm in at least 20 million years. But here's the anti-science comeback:
3. Climate proxy data are not reliable: Just as forensic science reconstructs a murder scene without any witnesses, proxy methods allow us to make predictions based on past patterns. Clark doubts these methods would hold up in a court of law. I say they absolutely would. There isn't space here to explain the process, but science is about using technology to see what is otherwise not seeable. No one has ever directly seen sub-atomic particles, yet the tools of science overwhelmingly tell us they are there. By Clark's logic, we should have turned our backs on the methods that led to modern physics and chemistry. Some tried, which didn't turn out so well for Galileo.
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4. University of East Anglia "climate-gate:" Clark claims researchers suppressed temperature data to keep research grants coming in. Completely untrue. Five years of emails were hacked from university servers and comments were strung together, out of context, to build a misleading story. The researchers were cleared of scientific misconduct by multiple panels from multiple entities. Skeptics would counter: "But those are all academic inquiries. They are in league together!" By that logic, why should only doctors be allowed to teach other doctors how to perform medicine? (Give me access to five years of your emails and I'll bet I could use your own words to build a bogus, humiliating story against you.)
5. 2011 Forbes Magazine article discloses that climatologists altered data: Same story, just a repackaging of No. 4. This article comes from the Heartland Institute, a partisan, oil-funded think tank.
6. Wikipedia lists 65 published scientists with honest doubts on climate change: 65 out of thousands. There will always be outliers on scientific consensus. Richard Lindzen, a prominent climate change skeptic, also questions the links between smoking and lung cancer. If these people could design repeatable experiments to back up their claims, they would be taken seriously. Negative arguments might work in a courtroom, but they don't advance science. You don't get to say: "Your evidence is not good enough, so I win by default." You have to do the hard work to gather your own evidence. If it is solid and repeatable, your "revolutionary" idea will gain traction.
7. Denigrate climate science by calling it a "religion:" Religion is the belief in a supreme being; something that is inherently untestable, and therefore is not part of science. Clark's use of the word here seems to say: "Those scientists are just clinging to a self-protective world view and they need to open their minds." I think a person of faith should be offended when anyone uses the word "religion" in such a mocking tone.
Clark concludes by asking us to be the judge and the jury about a human role in climate change. I think he just wants us to be the executioner.
J. Derek Larson teaches a class called "Energy, Environment, and Climate" at Sierra College in Truckee.
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