In order for climate change, global warming, the new ice age, weather distortion, or whatever to be a major cause for concern, we need to believe three things:
- The temperature of the planet is actually changing (usually, increasing);
- Some significant fraction of this change is due to human activity (and therefore humans can have a significant impact on this change by altering their activity);
- The temperature change will lead to catastrophe.
I think all serious students of the climate accept that the planet is warmer. At the very least, we’re emerging from an ice age, and this will show up as a warmer planet.
We’ve been measuring the levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and watching them go past 400 parts per million. Since CO2 blocks and absorbs certain frequencies of light, it’s hard to imagine an increase in concentration having no effect. Perhaps if every human quit burning stuff, this trend could be reversed, but realistically that’s not happening. The proposals that are being described as “urgent” would have a trifling effect on human CO2 production. China and India aren’t going to change absent a major economic collapse.
It’s possible that technological fixes, including “geo-engineering” might succeed in changing the temperature of the planet, but the solutions being proposed don’t seem likely to actually solve anything.
What is the net effect of any kind of warming? Of one degree? Five degrees? Ten degrees? Each of these would have some effects. Some of the effects will be good, some bad, and some neutral. With any change, if you count up the negative effects and ignore the positive ones, you can show that it’s a negative change. We hear about how bad a given temperature increase will be, but have we fallen into the “if it bleeds, it leads” mentality? Perhaps the benefits of a temperature increase don’t make for sexy headlines, and so tend not to be reported? Or even looked for?
So Skeptical Science Is “Correcting” Me
I really wasn’t going to do much with this Skeptical Science post by Rob Honeycutt called “Correcting Warren Meyer on Forbes,” but several readers have asked me about it and its Friday and I am sort of bored in the office so here goes. I may skip parts of his critique. That does not necessarily mean I agree with it, but several sections of this article are just so trivial (let’s defend Al Gore!) that it is hard to work up any energy about it. As reference, my original article published back in 2012 is here.
Dammit Meyer, You Changed The Words to the Doxology!
The author begins his critique this way:
Mr. Meyer opens with a misleading attempt to frame the issue as a debate on “catastrophic man-man global warming theory.” This approach conflates two very distinct elements of the science on anthropogenic climate change. Nowhere in the published scientific literature can you find the phrase he uses. When I did a search on this term in Google Scholar, what did I find? Mr. Meyer’s Forbes article. Also searching “catastrophic man-made climate change” I get a smattering of non-research related materials coming from people who rejecting human influence on climate. Meyer has formed a completely irrelevant and fabricated framing of the issue for the basis of his discussion.
In Mr. Meyer’s article he claims this is the “core theory” and states that he will use the IPCC as the primary source for this, even though there is no place where the IPCC frames climate change in this manner.
Hey, thanks for making my point! I always start climate discussions by saying that supporters of climate action are frequently sloppy with the way they frame the debate. They use phrases like “climate denier” for folks like me which make no sense, since I don’t deny there is a climate. Clearly “climate denier” is a shortcut term for my denying some other more complex proposition, but what proposition exactly? Merely saying “global warming” as a proposition is sloppy because it could include both natural and manmade effects. Climate change is even sloppier (I would argue purposely so) because it obscures the fact that deleterious effects from anthropogenic CO2 must be via the intermediate stage of warming (i.e. there is no theory that CO2 causes hurricanes directly).
With this in mind, I begin nearly every discussion of climate change by doing what many proponents of climate action fail to do — I am very precise about the proposition I am going to discuss. It’s not just global warming, it’s man-made global warming. And since the climate alarmists are urging immediate action, it is not just man-made global warming but it is catastrophic man-made global warming, ie man-made global warming with negative effects so severe it requires urgent and extensive actions to circumvent. I think that is a very fair reading of what folks like James Hansen have in mind (if he does not think it will be catastrophic, why is he getting arrested in front of power plants?) The fact that Google searches do not yield these precise terms but rather yield millions of hits for meaningless phrases like “climate denier” just go to support one of the themes of my original piece, that the climate debate is made much muddier by the sloppy framing of the issues in the media.
However, while Mr. Honeycutt criticizes my framing as non-canon, he offers no specific critiques of how the phrase “catastrophic man-made global warming” might be wrong and offers no alternative framing. I really do try to pass Bryan Caplan’s ideological Turing test on this stuff, so I am interested — if advocates for climate action do not think “Catastrophic Man-Made Global Warming” is a fair statement of their theory, what would they use instead?