Question time – climate change
May 16, 2014, 1:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When a Smart Person is talking to a non-Smart Person, he loves to line up an enumerated list of ‘Questions’ for that person. Devastating questions. In answering them the non-Smart Person will inevitably reveal how much of a neanderthal he is somewhere.

Let me demonstrate by tackling some Questions recently asked of Bryan Caplan by (some guy who wrote a cartoon book) regarding Climate Change.

Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas?

Um, sure? ‘Greenhouse gas’ is a category of thing with a definition. Carbon dioxide meets that definition. Duh. This is like asking am I comfortable saying that 2 is an even number. There is not real debate about this.

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations?

I guess; if humans emit X CO2’s then at least in short-term there are X CO2’s that weren’t there before. Though there could ultimately be feedback effects, which I don’t trust anyone to have modeled well. (For example more CO2 -> more trees -> less CO2, so it’s a wash? I dunno. Nor do you.)

Perhaps the real implied question is, if one goes back to (say) 1850 and spawns a parallel universe in which one instantly and without pollution kills all the humans, then runs the clock forward to today, is there more CO2 in our universe than in that parallel universe’s 2014? In that case, my even-money bet would be ‘yes’. But I don’t feel hugely strongly about that. I also don’t care or think it is germane to much of anything.

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century?

So they say. I haven’t been measuring. I have seen measurements that seem fine and show warming from the late 1800s to ~2000. It seems to have paused in the last decade or two though.

Climates change. Did you know there have been “Ice Ages”?

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures?

I doubt it, unless ‘partly’ is defined so expansively as to mean ‘causing an epsilon temperature increase, with probability epsilon, for some epsilon>0′.

Again it would be convenient to check that parallel universe, but absent that, all we have are computer models to inform our answer to this question. I don’t trust the output of those computer models to have the resolution or accuracy enabling them to establish a hypothesized Human Responsibility Factor as being measurably, statistically-significantly different from 0. Does the cartoonist? If so, why, exactly?

That “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”?

‘The’ dominant? No, I do not think this extremely likely. I think it is one of the possibilities, sure.

By the way, none of the above questions matter one iota regarding what forward-looking climate change policy ought, or ought not, to be.

Thanks everyone, this has been: QUESTION TIME

6 Comments so far
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I always enjoy the “do you understand basic principles of science approach” from people who go on to demonstrate conclusively that their scientific education is rudimentary. I’ve noticed that I never get this attitude from serious scientists; they always seem more focused on whether their own facts and arguments add up to good sense.

Comment by texan999

It’s funny but the typical Smart Person doesn’t even know what’s wrong with that line of questions.

CO2 is a greenhouse gas.
CO2 is not a particularly strong greenhouse gas.
CO2 emissions (if we understand climate at all) cause a small increase in temperature.
Climate is dominated by positive feedback loops and if the temperature goes above a certain limit it will then increase radically.

Then there are some other assumptions that become necessary because of (4) – like “the temperature was never above that limit” (or the prediction of a positive feedback loop is negated).

That’s why climate scientists fake old tree ring data.

This list of questions strongly implies the questioner is ignorant* of all that.

* Apparently this word has a meaning outside of “says something Smart People disagree with” – I’m using it in this archaic sense. Please forgive my outdated language.

Comment by Steve Johnson

Yes, strangely, I’ve never had a warmenist try that condescending exchange with me by including a question like, “Do you agree that CO2, normally acknowledged as a greenhouse gas so weak that it’s almost completely dominated by water vapor in that role, has suddenly been revealed as a dominant greenhouse gas by the insight that it’s subject to a positive feedback loop, in the absence of historical data for any such thing, and despite the fact that models which incorporate the postulated positive feedback loop have failed utterly to match the experimental data for some decades now?” The data are always just about to start matching the model, any year now, as soon as things get back to normal, after whatever inexplicably anomalous period we’re in.

I’ve never yet run across an AGW enthusiast who could even grapple with the difference between a positive and a negative feedback loop, or explain the role of the feedback assumption in his thinking, let alone justify the assumption that the loop is positive. At that point, they typically change the subject and start talking about tropospheres and monotonic increases. Squid ink, in other words: a panicked expulsion of murky matter designed to disorient predators. Or, as Bill Whittle was explaining this week, gaslighting. “The model never said that. The model that failed to match future data has now been converted into another, retrofitted model that sort of matches the data. The model was always this way.”

Comment by texan999

Solid comment but you’re making a huge language mistake here.

They’re not “warmists”. There is no word to describe people who understand the holy truth of anthropogenic climate change.

There are only words to describe people who – due to ignorance* – fail to believe in anthropogenic climate change.

* This time it’s ignorance in the modern usage. Any strangeness due to the term “ignorant” being applied to someone who actually has more knowledge about a topic is just further evidence that the denier is ignorant.

Comment by Steve Johnson

“Warmenists” is outdated now, anyway, as they’ve become changenistas or disruptivas or something. I don’t even know what they advocate any more, except central control of everything to prevent something awful that only they can see coming, and that drifts around constantly. Whatever it is, we’re against it! And we always have been!

But I agree, there’s no name for people with the correct opinions. They’re just People, the same way the mainstream media are Centrists and can’t even understand what the bias question refers to. We’re evidence-driven! We stand for common sense!

Comment by texan999

[…] A semi-elegant thought experiment on the question of carbon dioxide: […]

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