Now that the head of the EPA has announced an (please forgive the word) Audit of climate science, it is time for you skeptics (and we lukewarmers) to think clearly.
The consensus brigade would love nothing more than to ‘investigate’ the basics of climate science that almost all of us readily accept–the existence and effect of greenhouse gases, our level of emissions of several of them, the noticeable (not unprecedented) rise in temperatures over the past century and the accompanying rise in sea levels.
If the consensus gets to pick what the red team looks at, we can write the results for them and write them now.
I hate to break the news to you, but some of what some skeptics say isn’t very scientific (I’m sure some would say the same about the pronouncements of some of us lukewarmers…) and pushing our weakest arguments to the forefront of any audit would be playing into the hands of our common opponents.
Worse, some of the skeptical agenda is heavily influenced by partisan US politics. This long predates the election of Donald Trump, although it is stronger now than even five years ago. Some of the partisan frenzy comes from my side of the aisle–I’m a librul progressive Democrat, voted for Hillary and would do so again in a heartbeat. But my fellow Dems have set it up so that even when a Republican tries to make a nuanced speech about the climate or the overall environment, the media is given their talking points and the ‘denier’ mud gets thrown. To be fair, some Republicans have also been making statements that are a bit less than nuanced. There’s plenty of plague for both their houses.
But a partisan framework to an investigation of climate science only guarantees something from a Kabuki theater where everybody bows, recites the same lines they have been rehearsing for a decade, simpering behind our kimono sleeves and waving our fans in dismay at the utter wrongness of what the other side is saying.
There is another approach. If we were to bring our A game to this exercise and use our best arguments in a reasoned tone of voice, with qualified representatives marking out actual deficiencies in the consensus view of climate change, we might make a difference.
This would involve leaving some of our most effective political arguments at the door. We should not say a word about some of the very real abuses of process by people ranging from Rajendra Pachauri and Phil Jones to Michael Mann. We need to get over it. There are too many honest and hard working climate scientists to tar the profession with the sins of a handful of bad actors. The same is true for criticism of the IPCC, no matter how well deserved. The IPCC is a handful of staffers supervising a largely unpaid collection of scientists reviewing papers every few years. They get a few things wrong and a lot of things right. It could be managed better. That’s not an argument for a red team to pursue.
The Consensus is largely right on the physics. They are vulnerable because physics is all they have. They have been unable to square the circle of the interactions of the carbon sinks, the effects of clouds and aerosols and other messy details of the Earth systems in play.
Hence, they have been unable to narrow the range of potential sensitivity of the atmosphere to a doubling of the concentrations of CO2 in our atmosphere. If they truly believe that physics trumps biology, geology and other Earth sciences, they have struggled to prove it. That’s where we can legitimately question their confidence in their opinions.
We shouldn’t look for absolute victory–that’s rare in science. We should aim for an acknowledgement of more uncertainty than previously admitted, a widening of error bands and an agreement to look more closely at the lower end of climate predictions instead of a rigid focus on the highest estimates.
This isn’t Trump vs. Hillary. It isn’t Darrow vs. Bryant in the Scopes Trial. We need scientists to soberly assess the points of real weakness in the Consensus arguments and engage with consensus scientists to try and paint an accurate picture of what we are doing to our planet with regards to climate change.
We don’t have a shortage of candidates. I of course would nominate Judith Curry, Nic Lewis, Richard Lindzen and Roger Pielke Sr. Steve Koonin would also be a good candidate. I’m sure there are others. I’d love for Freeman Dyson to have a good look at the proceedings–it wouldn’t hurt to have one of the smartest humans on the planet be at our side. And maybe there’s a Canadian mining engineer who might sign up for the show…
Those of us watching from the sidelines would need to exercise restraint–something not often noticed in the blogosphere, including myself. But it would be worth it to get a result that we could hold up and scrutinize for years to come.
Who would you nominate? (Bloggers often end their post with a question in order to stimulate comments. I honestly want to know–and I don’t think comments will be in short supply.) What does Ben Santer’s letter in the Washington Post mean for all of this? What does Michael Tobis’ post on And Then There’s Physics contribute?
This is a big moment. It comes to us via an administration I don’t like and don’t trust. But here it is. What will we make of it?