Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Be prudent with climate claims

Yep the earth has cooled and warmed many times! Thanks Ian for the article.

SCIENCE and technology have already achieved considerable mastery over nature, and massive local achievements. But where is the borderline separating us from what is beyond human power?
Where does scientific striving become uneconomic, immoral or ineffectual and so lapse into hubris? Have scientists been co-opted on to a bigger, better-advertised and more expensive bandwagon than the millennium bug fiasco?
We can only attempt to identify the causes of climate change through science and these causes need to be clearly established after full debates, validated comprehensively, before expensive remedies are imposed on industries and communities.
I first became interested in the question in the 1990s when studying the anti-human claims of the "deep greens". Mine is not an appeal to the authority of any religious truth in the face of contrary scientific evidence. Neither is it even remotely tinged by a postmodernist hostility to rationality.
My appeal is to reason and evidence, and in my view the evidence is insufficient to achieve practical certainty on many of these scientific issues.
Recently Robert Manne, following fashionable opinion, wrote that "the science is truly settled" on the fundamental theory of climate change: global warming is happening; it is primarily caused by the emission of greenhouse gases, especially carbon dioxide; and it is certain to have profound effects in the future .
His appeal is to the "consensual view among qualified scientists". This is a category error, scientifically and philosophically. In fact, it is also a cop-out, a way of avoiding the basic issues.
The basic issue is not whether the science is settled but whether the evidence and explanations are adequate in that paradigm.
I fear, too, that many politicians have never investigated the primary evidence.
Much is opaque to non-specialists, but persistent inquiry and study can produce useful clarifications, similar to the nine errors identified by the British High Court in Al Gore's propaganda film, An Inconvenient Truth.
The complacent appeal to scientific consensus is simply one more appeal to authority, quite inappropriate in science or philosophy.
It is not generally realised that in 2001 at least, one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Third Assessment Report's workinggroups agreed: "In climate research and modelling, we are dealing with a coupled, non-linear, chaotic system, and therefore that the long-term prediction of future climate states is not possible."
Claims of atmospheric warming often appear to conflict and depend upon the period of time under consideration.
► The earth has cooled during the past 10,000 years since the Holocene climate optimum.
► The earth has cooled since 1000 years ago, not yet achieving the temperatures of the Medieval Warm Period.
► The earth has warmed since 400 years ago after the Little Ice Age three centuries ago.
► The earth warmed between 1979 and 1998 and has cooled slightly since 2001.
The following facts are additional reasons for scepticism.
► In many places, most of the 11,700 years since the end of the last ice age were warmer than the present by up to 2C.
► Between 1695 and 1730, the temperature in England rose by 2.2C. That rapid warming, unparalleled since, occurred long before the Industrial Revolution.
► From 1976 to 2001, "the global warming rate was 0.16C per decade", as it was from 1860 to 1880 and again from 1910 to 1940.
My suspicions have been deepened through the years by the climate movement's totalitarian approach to opposing views. Those secure in their explanations do not need to be abusive.
The term "climate change denier", however expedient as an insult or propaganda weapon, with its deliberate overtones of comparison with Holocaust denial, is not a useful description of any significant participant in the discussion. I was not surprised to learn that the IPCC used some of the world's best advertising agencies to generate maximum effect among the public .
The rewards for proper environmental behaviour are uncertain, unlike the grim scenarios for the future as a result of human irresponsibility which have a dash of the apocalyptic about them.
The immense financial costs true believers would impose on economies can be compared with the sacrifices offered traditionally in religion, and the sale of carbon credits with the pre-Reformation practice of selling indulgences.
Some of those campaigning to save the planet are not merely zealous but zealots. To the religionless and spiritually rootless, mythology - whether comforting or discomforting - can be magnetically, even pathologically, attractive.
Whatever our political masters might decide at this high tide of Western indebtedness, they are increasingly unlikely, because of popular pressure, to impose new financial burdens on their populations in the hope of curbing the rise of global temperatures, except perhaps in Australia, which has 2 per cent of the world's industrial capacity and only 1.2 per cent of its CO2 emissions, while continuing to sell coal and iron worth billions of dollars to Asia.
Extreme weather events are to be expected. This is why I support the views of Bjorn Lomborg and Bob Carter that money should be used to raise living standards and reduce vulnerability to catastrophes.
The cost of attempts to make global warming go away will be very heavy. They may be levied initially on "the big polluters" but they will eventually trickle down to the end-users. Efforts to offset the effects on the vulnerable are well intentioned but history tells us they can only be partially successful.
Sometimes the very learned and clever can be brilliantly foolish, especially when seized by an apparently good cause. My request is for common sense and what the medievals, following Aristotle, called prudence.
The appeal must be to the evidence. First of all we need adequate scientific explanations as a basis for our economic estimates. We also need history, philosophy, even theology and many will use, perhaps create, mythologies. But most importantly we need to distinguish which is which.
Cardinal George Pell is the Archbishop of Sydney. This is an edited extract of a speech given yesterday at the Global Warming Policy Forum in London.

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