“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” Mark Twain
By Tom Harris
Al Gore expects us to believe that climate change science is settled. According to the former Vice President, scientists know, with a high degree of certainty, that our emissions of greenhouse gases, 82% of which is carbon dioxide (CO2) in U.S., is causing dangerous climate change. The solution, Gore tells us, is a dramatic reduction in our use of fossil fuels, the source of 86% of the world’s energy supply.
For Gore’s position to be rational, there is a string of postulates that would have to be known to be true, or, at least very likely. The Trump administration’s proposed ‘red team-blue team’ climate science investigation must carefully examine each of these suppositions. For essentially nothing in science, especially a discipline as immature and rapidly evolving as the study of climate, is a known fact. They are merely the opinions of experts based on their interpretations of the observations and their understandings of today’s theory. And different experts have different opinions, even about issues that many scientists assume are settled.
Scientists taking part in the red team-blue team exercise will undoubtedly examine the degree to which recent climate change is natural versus human-caused, the efficacy of computer modeling for forecasting future climate, trends in extreme weather, and other topics of current debate. What they will probably not look at, but should, are the very basics underlying today’s climate change concerns. For example, the experts should be asked to properly re-examine whether the Earth really has warmed in the past century. They should look more closely at the CO2 record and determine if levels really have risen since the 1800s and whether human activities are known to be the main cause of the assumed CO2 rise.
Contrary to Gore’s assertions, these sorts of basic issues are not settled. Former University of Winnipeg climatology professor Dr. Tim Ball is an example of a well-qualified expert who does indeed question these fundamentals of the climate debate.
For instance, Ball explains that, while it is claimed that there has been a 0.7 degree Celsius temperature rise in the past century, it is not really possible to know this.
“The best weather stations in the world, in terms of the density of the network, the quality of the instruments, and the monitoring of the sites, are in the United States,” said Ball. “But, even there, meteorologist Anthony Watts’ Surface Stations study showed that only 7.9% of existing stations achieved accuracies better than +/-1 degree Celsius. So how can you claim that a 0.7 degree increase over 100 years has any meaning whatsoever?”
While many people assume that CO2 concentrations have risen in recent decades, some scientists dispute this. Ball said, “The CO2 level from pre-industrial times was completely manipulated to show a steady rise from 270 parts per million [ppm] to the current 400 ppm. Scientifically valid chemical measurements of 19th century CO2 levels in excess of those of today were simply ignored.”
And if there has been a rise in CO2 levels, it may not be as a result of human activities. It could simply be a result of outgassing from the oceans as they warmed due to solar changes. Ball points out that the total estimated human contribution to atmospheric CO2 concentration is less that the uncertainty in the estimate of CO2 emitted from the oceans, so detecting the human contribution is not currently possible.
There are scientists who do not agree with Ball, of course. But even they cannot rationally claim to be 100% sure of their position. The red team-blue team participants must leave no stone unturned and assign probabilities to even these, the most basic assumptions of the climate change debate. For, as Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Tom Harris is Executive Director of the Ottawa, Canada-based International Climate Science Coalition (www.climatescienceinternational.org).
- Tags: Tom Harris