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SKEPTOID BLOG:

I, Global Warming Skeptic

by Craig Good

June 15, 2011

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Donate I am a global warming skeptic. Politically, I land somewhere in the libertarian/conservative camp. If liberal still meant what it did 60 years ago I'd probably be one of those. Whatever my label, I am not a progressive/socialist kind of guy. I wrote on my own blog a long time ago that I needed to be convinced that warming was happening at all, then that people were causing it, and then that it was actually a bad thing.

I have many good reasons to be skeptical about AGW (anthropogenic global warming).
  • I'm old enough to remember "Global Cooling," the population bomb, the hole in the ozone, and any number of other tidings of doom. The Chicken Littles have a track record indistinguishable from that of Harold Camping.

  • The issue is massively politicized. The Left has seized on it as an opportunity to dismantle free markets and grow government. They have entangled it with their beliefs the way creationists entangle evolution with religion.

  • That amount of politicization brings corrupting quantities of money.

  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was formed by the United Nations. The UN is a systemically-corrupt, left-wing political organization. Any organization that coddles dictators and thugs should not be trusted, even if it claims the sky is blue.

  • Anybody who didn't just fall off the turnip truck can see "cap and trade" and carbon credit markets for the bald-faced scams they are.

  • Climate science is very complicated, and there are any number of legitimate questions having to do with the accuracy of our models, the true effect of CO2 as a forcing agent, the reliability of temperature data, the effect of solar cycles, etc.

There is, in short, more heat than light in the AGW debate, and plenty of reason to be skeptical. It's pointless to even begin to talk about policy until the science is solid and well-understood. Which is why I'm so grateful to a particular scientist by the name of Dr. Peter Gleick.

A skeptic isn't someone who merely holds doubts. A skeptic, as my daughter points out, is the one with the truly open mind. A skeptic will believe anything as long as it is supported by data, sound science and a logically consistent argument.

When I heard Dr. Gleick speak at the recent SkeptiCal, I was all braced for the typical alarmist assault. I was about to be called a "denier," and told why Kyoto must be signed.

Except that's not what happened.

Dr. Gleick started by pointing out that good policy without good science is unlikely. I had to agree. He then carefully teased out the science from the politics and talked about the fallacies that commonly appear around the science of global warming. Especially illuminating was the part about cherry-picking data. It was refreshing.

Since his talk I have spent a lot of time on a site he recommended, skepticalscience.com. There they have taken each of the most common science questions, numbered them, and carefully addressed them with the current science. The answers are even presented in basic, intermediate, and advanced formats so that there's likely to be one matching the reader's level of scientific knowledge.

With the caveat that a few of the questions don't belong on their list (42, 63, 105 and 165, at least) because they are economic and/or political rather than scientific, I highly recommend the site.

So, yes, I am now persuaded that anthropogenic global warming is real. That's because I'm a skeptic.

To my friends on the Left: Do you want to convince more skeptics? I mean really? Is the truth more important than your politics? Great. I have some suggestions.

Stop calling people "deniers." That's very clearly a slap in the face, designed to link skeptics to Holocaust deniers. Maybe it plays well with the base, but you'll make no friends nor influence people with that kind of disrespect. Don't poison the well.

Stop calling it "climate change." That's a weasel-worded political phrase that dances around the real issue. It looks stupid. Of course the climate is changing. It always has! If the problem isn't human-caused warming, there isn't a problem. So call it what it is: anthropogenic global warming.

Stop blaming every unusual weather event on global warming. "We blame global warming" has become a joke on the Right, and for good reason. Scientists need to do a better job explaining why a global average temperature change so small that nobody could feel the difference (how about I warm your room up a half a degree and see if you can tell?) can change weather patterns in a way that some places might actually get colder and some weather may get more intense—sometimes. But blaming every heat wave, hurricane, tornado and earthquake on global warming only confuses the issue. It's hard enough for most people to understand the difference between climate and weather.

Dump Al Gore. Even if you don't think the man is a buffoon (I do, and I'm far from alone) you have to admit that he's hyper-political. He's clearly looking to ride global warming to greater wealth and power. A spokesman with his carbon footprint isn't an ambassador, he's a hypocritical liability.

Enough with the "green." Linking AGW to the watermelons of the environmental movement is counterproductive. The environmentalist Left is so infected with woo and socialism that it taints your argument. CO2 could technically be called a "pollutant" but don't try to equate what I exhale with toxic waste. This is a different problem than most "good for nature" issues. Besides, CO2 is the "greenest" gas I can think of. Plants love it, and a warmer world is going to get a lot greener. If anything, the campaign should be to un-green the world.

Hug a nuke. If you really follow the science, really believe that lowering CO2 is important, and truly follow safety statistics then you'll become a nuclear energy booster. Technophobes who reflexively oppose nuclear power are every bit as fallacious as your friends who don't buy global warming, if not more so. So far nuclear power has proven a lot safer than organic farming.

Stick with the science. Unlink it from your politics. The fact that human activity is raising the average temperature of the planet does not necessarily imply the "and therefore" that you want it to. Don't conflate it with your political agenda. The politics comes later.

Scientists: Go Independent. How much do you mistrust a report funded, even in part, by Exxon? Multiply that by ten and that's how much we mistrust the UN. If you're a climate scientist with a talent for speaking or writing, follow Dr. Gleick's example and provide politics-free, all-science talks and articles. The IPCC consensus may be correct but, as a body, its credibility is tainted. It looks too much like political consensus. You'll be much more effective without them.

To my friends on the Right: Are you willing to follow the data? Good, because if nothing can convince you to change your mind, your mind is closed.

Look at the data. That skepticalscience.com site is a good resource. Forgive them for including four economic/political questions (which can't be addressed by science) and look at the other 160 or so. What you'll find is that there are multiple lines of data all converging on one conclusion: The net effect of our increased CO2 output is accelerated warming of the planet. It would be beyond the scope of this blog post to address every one of your very legitimate questions. Let them do it.

If it isn't AGW, come up with a better theory. Remember, it will have to both fit and explain the data. Good luck with that. AGW has reached the status of scientific theory because of the converging lines of evidence, and because it not only fits the data but is able to make correct predictions. Stephen Jay Gould said, "Science is all those things which are confirmed to such a degree that it would be unreasonable to withhold one's provisional consent." Is AGW as solid a theory as, say, evolution, the germ theory of disease, and gravity? Not quite. But it's getting really close.

Don't confuse consensus with consensus. This one had me confused for a long time. Like the word theory, which has a drastically different meaning in science than it does in the vernacular, consensus can mean two very different things. In politics a consensus is an aggregate expression of opinion. It's only as valid as the majority agrees it is. In science it is a description of where the science has led. As Dr. Gleick put it, the consensus is not what gives power to the conclusion, the science leads to the conclusion.

Just because AGW is real doesn't mean you are wrong politically. We both know that freedom works, and socialism and other forms of totalitarianism don't. Recognizing a scientific reality is not the same thing as handing a political victory to the Left. High taxes, giant government, and scams like cap and trade are extremely unlikely to actually help. What will? I don't know. The whole point of a pro-market, pro-freedom agenda is that all of us are smarter than any of us. Thinking that government knows the answers requires kilotons of hubris and a near total ignorance of history.

Oh, and by the way, the United States Navy is counting on it. (update) Serious people charged with protecting the country have come to this same conclusion. For what it's worth.

The bottom line for all of us: Get on the same page. Once enough of us agree on what the problem is, then we can talk about how to fix it. Until then, at least separate your proposals from the science. Science does not tell you that it's time to raise taxes. The more people understand and agree on what the problem is the more likely an actual solution can be found.

I'll get off my soap box now. I got political in this post for very specific reasons. My goal is not, however, to prompt a political discussion. (I predict that many commenters will not read the entire post, but will react to my bait at the top of the jump.) It's to persuade people to just follow the science and save the politics for later. If you are, or know, a global warming skeptic I hope my conversion story proves useful.

Update:

I am gratified by the attention and thoughtful responses this post has attracted. I feel compelled to agree with many commenters and add that scientists need to be totally transparent with the data and extremely scrupulous. There should be no barriers to the raw data, and the very appearance of impropriety has to be avoided unless this is the desired sort of reaction.

Another Update:

This op-ed by Dr. Gleick is, in essence, a piece of the talk I heard him give. I found it the most persuasive part. It's a must-read if you've heard claims about how global warming has stopped or reversed in recent years.

by Craig Good

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