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Science fights back

Written By: - Date published: 12:11 pm, May 12th, 2010 - 16 comments
Categories: climate change, science - Tags: ,

Science is the most socially disruptive force in the world. Astronomy did away with the earth as centre of the universe. Evolution did away with humans as the centre of creation. Physics created nuclear energy and The Bomb. Technology created modern telecommunications and the internet. Naturally, many of the changes brought about by science have been vigourously resisted – just ask Galileo Galilei. But facts can only be denied for so long. The truth will out.

The message of climate change is another of those scientific truths which is socially disruptive, and therefore vigourously resisted by some. We already know that there is a well funded corporate campaign to obfuscate and deny climate change science (similar to the tobacco industry campaign to hide the truth about cancer). We already know that no amount of evidence or reason will ever convince those who have already made up their minds to deny. The task of climate change scientists is almost impossible. Deniers will keep denying until the facts completely overwhelm them, by which time it will be far, far too late.

It is in this context that we have seen the massive denier “climategate” beatup. The scientists involved at CRU have now been cleared by two separate enquiries (here, here). Similarly the beatup about minor errors in the huge and authoritative IPCC report. Meanwhile, the world keeps warming.

I personally think that we are too late (1 2 3) and ecofuck is coming (sorry, that’s my personal term for it). But even so it’s good to see signs that scientists are starting to fight back outside the realms of their journals. By highlighting the nonsense claims of deniers. By taking legal action. And now in an open letter from 255 members of the US National Academy of Sciences, including 11 Nobel laureates. Here it is almost in full:

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet. […]

Many recent assaults on climate science and, more disturbingly, on climate scientists by climate change deniers are typically driven by special interests or dogma, not by an honest effort to provide an alternative theory that credibly satisfies the evidence. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other scientific assessments of climate change, which involve thousands of scientists producing massive and comprehensive reports, have, quite expectedly and normally, made some mistakes. When errors are pointed out, they are corrected. But there is nothing remotely identified in the recent events that changes the fundamental conclusions about climate change:

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth’s climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Much more can be, and has been, said by the world’s scientific societies, national academies, and individuals, but these conclusions should be enough to indicate why scientists are concerned about what future generations will face from business-as-usual practices. We urge our policy-makers and the public to move forward immediately to address the causes of climate change, including the un restrained burning of fossil fuels.

We also call for an end to McCarthy-like threats of criminal prosecution against our colleagues based on innuendo and guilt by association, the harassment of scientists by politicians seeking distractions to avoid taking action, and the outright lies being spread about them. Society has two choices: We can ignore the science and hide our heads in the sand and hope we are lucky, or we can act in the public interest to reduce the threat of global climate change quickly and substantively. The good news is that smart and effective actions are possible. But delay must not be an option.

Hell yes.

16 comments on “Science fights back”

  1. walter 1

    amen!

  2. Agreed.

    The discovery of typos in the schedule to a few documents will not change this.

    Our world is well and truely ecofucked unless we change our ways.

  3. David 3

    Quite right ROB, So tell me, how much has the world actually warmed in the last 100 years? I seem to see different figures everywhere.

    • r0b 3.1

      You’ll be seeing global or local figures on air temperature or ocean temperature (or averages of both) in both Celsius and Fahrenheit, so yes you’ll see a few different numbers. But over the last 100 years the rise in average global air temperature appears to be about 0.5 to 0.6 degrees Celsius.

      • David 3.1.1

        Thanks for that. .6 was a figure which came up a fair bit. Its hard to know especially when the IPCC were predicting a whole 2-6 degrees! .6 doesnt seem like much compared to that.
        Personally I’m a bit more concerned about soot and land transformation causing climate change than CO2. Soot from China seems to be the problem with the Himalayas.
        I’m also a bit puzzled why the IPCC in their reports (AR4) exclude the influence of clouds in their modelling of future trends.
        Do you know why? Its odd, I would have thought clouds played a big part in our climate.

        • r0b 3.1.1.1

          Its hard to know especially when the IPCC were predicting a whole 2-6 degrees! .6 doesnt seem like much compared to that.

          0.6 is the last 100 years, IPCC predictions are the future.

          Do you know why?

          No, sorry, not a climatologist. I could look in to it, but not right now…

        • lprent 3.1.1.2

          I’ll give you a rough answer… Don’t have time for more..

          Because the IPCC in the first (science) part of the report (there are 3 parts of varying quality) does really really conservative science. In other words what can definitely be proved.

          So for instance the last IPCC report still hasn’t included the effects of increased glacial flows from ice packs when the constraining sea-ice is removed. So consequently, ice-melt is vastly under-estimated because the model(s) used by the IPCC assume that ice will move out to sea at their old pre-climate change glacial pace. This has been since proved by the sea-ice breakups on the Antarctica peninsula to be a vast under-estimate. However at the time the report was written (2003-2005 from memory), that wasn’t proven.

          The problem with clouds is that we still don’t know a hell of a lot about them, what triggers their formation and retention, and their full effects on climate. The micro-models that have been done bear little resemblance to reality. So they are aggregated in the IPCC reports as macro-figures, just like the glacier movement rates are in AR4.

          However you can probably say that clouds won’t have that much overall effect because they have two main effects.

          Sure they reflect incoming photons, but usually only after they are well down the atmospheric column – ie make no large difference to the amount of heat generated by collisions with the greenhouse gases. So unless there are increased very high clouds from climate (which there is no evidence for), they’d make little difference to the transition from higher to lower energy states that is the essense of the greenhouse effect.

          Plus they also retain heat below them. You really only get seriously frosty nights when there aren’t overhead clouds preventing heat from moving up the atmospheric column as eventual escape into space. That happens because clouds are almost entirely water, and water loves to suck up, retain and re-reflect heat.

          Generally, the forecasts are for increased cloud cover as more water gets pushed into the atmosphere, but there is little evidence on how much. Increased low-level clouds from a warmer climate will help increase heat retention close to the earths surface, while having a minor effect on reflection. There is no evidence for increased high level clouds as a result of climate change.

          So the IPCC pretty much ignore the effects of clouds because there isn’t enough evidence. But I’d say that it is far more likely to increase climate change rates than not.

          From memory there is a whacking great big section on this in AR4, with a whole pile more that I have forgotten…..

          • Rich 3.1.1.2.1

            Don’t argue with deniers, it’s a waste of time. Just ban them..

            • barry 3.1.1.2.1.1

              Couple of comments Rich.

              1. I am aware that climate is changing and I suspect that its getting warmer and probably getting wetter in some areas and drier in others, But Im not at all sure that the effect is AGW caused. Its almost certain that AGW is only part of the cause.
              2. IF the change is not AGW caused, then all the efforts put into CO2 reduction will be not only a complete waste of time, but a very dangerous diversion and probably a reprehensible waste of time. That wasted time being the time that should have been put into some other effort to counter the warming effect – or possibly even take advantage of the warming effect. And after all, there are some who say its already too late anyway to stop the change even if it is CO2 caused – so if they are right, then taking aim at CO2 is a waste of time and effort.
              3. I dont regard myself as a denier – I regard atheists as deniers. You see deniers are people who are taking an approach to a subject that CANNOT be proven. Atheists deny that god exists – trouble is you cant prove that he (of course god is a he!) does exist. Applying the denier status to those who take issue with you is simply to tell them that you cant prove what you take to be truth. Sort of the same approach that the nazis and the communists took to administration.

              • NickS

                As the local representative for the Evil Atheist Conspiracy, allow me to address your third point, with all the regulation snark.

                3. I dont regard myself as a denier I regard atheists as deniers. You see deniers are people who are taking an approach to a subject that CANNOT be proven. Atheists deny that god exists trouble is you cant prove that he (of course god is a he!) does exist. Applying the denier status to those who take issue with you is simply to tell them that you cant prove what you take to be truth. Sort of the same approach that the nazis and the communists took to administration.

                Lolwat?

                Hello adult illiteracy/strawman, because being a minion of PZ Myers, reader of the ever sage-like Wilkins and their associates, owner of Dawkin’s The God Delusion and general atheist curmudgeon, the main stream of atheist thought is that there is insufficient positive evidence for god and that what evidence is presented is typically better explained by science than religion and that the arguments put forward are flawed. Of course, your mileage may vary, as atheism is a beautiful mosaic of opinions, arguments and the occasional bit of down-right stupidity, depending on an individual’s ability to think and exposure to atheist resources. But it’s not that had to see clearly your claims about atheists are complete apologetics propaganda, aka bullshit, and show a willingness to avoid researching a topic properly and not bothering to empirically examine your beliefs.

                I recommend a heavy dose of John Wilkin’s blog, a bit of Chris Schoen’s u n d e r v e r s e, along with any and all books by Dr Bart D Ehrman and PZ’s posts The Courtier’s Reply + Elephant’s Wings.

                Also, I call Godwin’s Law on the Nazi reference so gtfo off the internet.

      • lprent 3.1.2

        Yeah that is the average, however averages (like all statistics) can conceal a lot.

        However in the Arctic regions and at the edge of Antarctica it is closer to 5C. In other worlds, the worlds cooling air-conditioners are starting to get warm. They’re still keeping us cool, but they are losing their ability to do so.

        Around the rest of the world, the changes in temperature also vary a lot, mostly based on changes in wind-patterns and proximity to ocean currents – both of which are heat transfers. Some places have had quite large changes already – just look at the wide areas of coral bleaching due to water temperature changes. Some temperate places like NZ haven’t changed very much at all.

  4. Lew 4

    http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/science.jpg

    This is science’s fundamental defence: that it can describe and predict reality. It can. it does. It is. My wife bought me the t-shirt.

    Unfortunately the communication aspects — gaining buy-in, and making people accept the science — are not quite so certain.

    L

  5. Joe Blog 5

    I find it interesting that according to their website the US National Academy of Sciences say that they have “approximately 2,100 members and 350 foreign associates” which means these 255 represent only 10% of their organisations membership.

    • r0b 5.1

      It’s a big job for someone to contact so many individuals JB – don’t you think 255 (with 11 Nobels) is enough to make the point? What percentage of the Academy do you think has expertise that is relevant to climate change? Are you suggesting that the other members of the Academy disagree?

      • BLiP 5.1.1

        Strange, isn’t it? The Right is happy to accept a less than 50 percent consenus amongst economists that a rise in the minimum wage will result in higher unemployment but squeal and wriggle when more than 90 percent of climate scientists say we’re all fucked.

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