Challenging the Climate Change Consensus

(More alliteration for you.) What we've got here is a failure to communicate. I ran into this back in the day when I was foolish enough to dive into the Intelligent Design debate. I would end up arguing with very smart believers in orthodox neo-Darwinism, and they would keep giving me implications of their theory as if they were evidence for its truth.

The same happens when I (again, foolishly) try to show why the climate change consensus is not as airtight as its strongest advocates assert. For example, the consensus currently says that if you double CO2 concentrations, the long-run equilibrium (i.e. after all feedbacks play out) effect on the global temperature will be about 3C. (They give a range, but 3C is best point guess.) And then this estimate of the earth's "climate sensitivity" is the basis for the projections about the optimal carbon tax, why we need to take immediate action, etc.

Now as you know, there are PhDs in the relevant fields who challenge this consensus view. They say there are serious flaws in the official story. I'm not going to go over their claims here, except this one: If you look at the observational record, so far the historical "transient" (not long-run equilibrium) response to increased CO2 has been much less than the consensus estimates. I.e., just looking at how much CO2 has increased since 1880, and seeing that global temperatures have gone up only 0.7C so far, you get a very low observed sensitivity.

Now there are two main "consensus" responses to this point. First, there are other things going on besides more CO2 (and other GHGs) being pumped into the atmosphere. E.g. industrial emissions also put aerosols up there, which may have had a cooling effect and so masked what would have been greater warming in the 1970s. Second, the 3C best guess is a long-run, equilibrium concept; 120 years is not enough for all the feedbacks to work through the system.

OK everyone got that? The cutting edge models are consistent with the observed trends, but the skeptics' point is that thus far, we haven't actually seen the alarming degree of warming in response to CO2 emissions. So they're saying it lends credibility to their point of view, that these models are bunk, and that people who keep claiming that the models have been "verified" are probably misleading the public with those claims.

Now let's focus in on "PI"'s response to this challenge, in the comments of a MarginalRevolution thread (and if you read our exchange, you'll see he is very sharp, so I'm not picking on a blowhard here):

BOB: "empirical observations THUS FAR have not demonstrated this high sensitivity"

PI: Again, that's misleading. You can't note that the transient response is smaller than the equilibrium response and claim this is evidence against high sensitivity; the transient response is ALWAYS smaller, no matter what the sensitivity. You can equally well say that empirical observations THUS FAR have not demonstrated or even favored low sensitivity. Indeed, from the shape of the estimated climate sensitivity probability distributions, it's been easier to observationally disfavor low sensitivities than high ones.

The fact is that the two are difficult to distinguish from each other at this point, given the limited length of observations, the until-recently small accumulations of excess CO2, the uncertain response time of the system, and the uncertain forcings. We EXPECT low and high sensitivities to give similar responses in these circumstances. The observations so far exclude sensitivities lower than 2 C with high probability, and sensitivities greater than 5 C with somewhat less high probability, but beyond that it's really difficult to say more.

Everyone catch that? The observed 0.7C warming over the last 125 years rules out the 2C estimates more than the 5C estimates of climate sensitivity. (To be clear, the observed forcings have been less than what a doubling of CO2 would have produced; I'm not saying the consensus "ought to have" yielded an observed warming of 3C.)

To put it in other words, I am pointing to the low observed warming as evidence that the models are fundamentally misguided, and PI's response is that no, according to the models, the models are just fine. Yes, that's true, in the model, the model is correct. But we didn't need to look at the data to make that point.

Gene, I am sure my good friends are going to have at me with this topic of climate change, so if you feel inclined please post other examples of this mistake in the comments. I.e., cases where very knowledgeable experts in a field can't step outside their orthodoxy in order to deal with critics who are asking for evidence that their worldview is correct. Basically, scientists who do the same thing as a fundamentalist citing gospel passages when asked to prove the authority of scripture.


  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Even I barely followed that Silas, so I doubt others did.

    Please limit your criticism to this particular post, since not everyone has had a vendetta against me for months. There is plenty for you to mock in this post alone.

  3. Well, the broad idea that science could ever prove, say, the non-existence of the soul runs along the same lines. Science starts out with the PRINCIPLE, "We're only going to acknowledge and search for physical causes." This is fine as a foundational principle, and is what makes physical science a distinct discipline.

    The problem comes when, after some number of years of following this principle, "science" announces, "A-ha -- all we've found operating in the universe are PHYSICAL causes! Good evidence that there is no soul."

    They've lost track of the fact that this was their premise, and so cannot possibly be their conclusion -- they cannot spot the petitio elenchi. (The Dorothy Sayers link I posted recently has some good stuff like this as well.)

  4. See, Silas, if we ever did decide to delete any of your obnoxious and off-topic comments, it will be evidenced by the text in the first comment of this thread.

    IF we ever did decide to do that.

  5. Bob, I hope you don't mind my chopping SB's comment -- it's just that I got a real good chuckle out of doing so.

  6. I don't see why it's so hard to apologize for knowingly attributing beliefs to me that I don't hold, which is what I linked to, but I'll shut up about it for now since Gene has revealed what he will resort to.

    My point -- which I consider on-topic -- is this: Yes, you could have a valid criticism of the climate science. But where is all this going? Whatever vendetta I have, Bob seems to have a vendetta against anyone who attempts to prove the existence of a global public good with serious consequences of ignoring.

    In the process of responding to such alarmists, Bob has tipped his hand: he really doesn't want property rights in the atmosphere. Why he is so strongly against this, I do not know. Libertarians -- principled ones -- are supposed to want there to be property rights in scarce resources. Yet Bob has spend at least the last several months acting as if he must prove that libertarian principles do not *currently* imply that there should be assignment of property rights in the atmosphere.

    Why? Even if you can prove this alarm phoney, there are any number of conflicts that come up. What about people who depressurize the atmosphere to make a product? What about non-GHG pollutants?

    So why did Misesians suddenly jump from "There should be private property rights in everything" to "...except when it would inconvenience me"? Or were they always that way?

    I ask that you consider this on-topic for how it addresses why libertarians should care about criticism of climate science.

  7. As long as you got a good chuckle, Gene. It's not like there are well-defined property rights in the blogosphere.

    Silas, let's wait until some journal is willing to consider my 20-page article on the issue of property rights in the atmosphere. (Right now I've tried a few that say, "We'll call you, don't call us.") Then I'll post it online and you can point to my specific arguments and say why they're dumb, rather than continually bringing up an op ed I wrote 4 months ago.

  8. Bob, as far as I can tell, you stand behind that shameful op-ed, so it is still fair game to invoke claims you made there in discussion of claims you're making here.

    Remember, TokyoTom and I never disputed your claims about politicians screwing things up. The problem was that you went well beyond that, to claim that the earth's carbon emission capacity isn't scarce *even* when you accept the IPCC report, to use your own personal bizarre unspecified definition of "market solution" and criticize those who don't adhere to it, to claim that evicting others from their land is no big deal, to reject any attempt to give any defintion whatsoever to private property rights in the atmosphere.

    Now, today, you continue to make the non-existence of global harm from CO2 emissions your "hill to die on", as if you can just eke out a good-enough rationalization for not defining property rights in an atmosphere quickly becoming scarce. And you think that op-ed isn't relevant?

    Your behavior has been a major shock to me. I would have thought your first priority would be to argue for well-defined, principled property rights in the atmosphere, but apparently, mocking anyone who attempts to do that before you is way higher on your list. That is a shame, because libertarians should be tackling the problem of rights in the atmosphere, whether or not this particular threat is real.

  9. "since Gene has revealed what he will resort to."

    Yeah, I'll "resort" to things like: if someone takes a crap on my doorstep, Silas, I'll remove it.

    Why do you think this was just "revealed"? Did I ever hide the fact I would clean out your diarrhea of the keyboard any time I felt like doing so? No, what I said was, when I deleted your comments, you would know about it.

    And do you, little boy?

  10. Incidentally, in case we have newcomers drawn here by search engines--hang on a second, ahem, Sarah Palin, Britney Spears, Callahan & Edwards love-child, OK--here is my shameful op ed that Silas is referring to. Ah, I still love it so.

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  12. Unbelievable! Gene manages to find a way to dig himself even deeper! Not capable of making a substantive response to my ideas, he resorts to calling names! He calls my remarks "diarrhea" and "crap" and then calls me a "little boy". This is on top of his continued baseless claim that only I make personal attacks -- a pot/kettle case if I ever saw it.

    Let's get real: Bob and Gene are so horribly wrong on the issues that any way I tell them is going to hurt their feelings. Yet despite my past refusal to make personal attacks, Gene feels justified in calling me "obnoxious" because he ... doesn't like the tone! And all while constantly launching personal attacks of his own. Probably even going to ban me because he can't take it.

    (Side note: it's kind of funny that he keeps referring to my banning at EconLog as evidence when he doesn't know the details of it, which aren't favorable to his claims.)

    Anyway, for anyone reading, go here to see the summary of how I demolished Bob's ridiculous and offensive remarks about cap-and-trade, and here to see me tear apart the last thread he was desperately holding on to in order to save face.

    It's sad to see libertarians fall like this, it really is.

  13. "Not capable of making a substantive response to my ideas, he resorts to calling names! He calls my remarks "diarrhea" and "crap" and then calls me a "little boy". This is on top of his continued baseless claim that only I make personal attacks -- a pot/kettle case if I ever saw it."

    What was your "idea" here? That I had "revealed" what I would "resort to" by deleting your comment. So I explained why I deleted it -- it was obnoxious and off-topic. But, actually, I deleted mostly because I thought it would be funny, after your paranoid claims that we had secretly deleted your non-existent comment in another thread, to watch your head explode if I actually deleted one of your comments.

    "Let's get real: Bob and Gene are so horribly wrong on the issues that any way I tell them is going to hurt their feelings."

    Silas, have you ever written for peer-reviewed journals? Bob and I do, a lot. Do you know how often you are told you are wrong if you do so? A lot, a lot. Do you think Bob or myself sulk around with "hurt feelings" whenever we get a negative review? In fact, have you noticed that Bob and I have each been telling the other one that he is wrong, in no whimpy terms,, on the RP/LRC issue, for months now? And notice that neither of us has tried to "ban" the other one from a blog we share? That's because, in our academic training, we've learned how to engage in civil, scholarly debate.

    Frankly, I don't even really know whose right in this issue you and Bob are "debating" (meaning you stalk Bob ceaselessly across the Internet and hound him on this topic). All I know is, whenever I find myself in the midst of it, I see Bob struggling to make sense of your remarks, e.g., "Perhaps what you're saying is X, Silas," and you responding something like, "You are so stupid and totally wrong that now you have to put words in my mouth!" when he was just trying to figure out what the words OUT of your mouth actually meant.

    I.e., I don't know who is right in your "debate," but I do know who is acting like a "little boy." (I've raised three children -- I recognize a temper tantrum when I see one.)

    "(Side note: it's kind of funny that he keeps referring to my banning at EconLog as evidence when he doesn't know the details of it, which aren't favorable to his claims.)"

    Yes, yes, I know: You were just politely trying to inform them of how stupid they were, and they were so hurt by having their gross imbecility brought to their attention that they had to ban you to protect their own fragile egos.

    BTW, the only reason I keep at this, mate (rather than just ignoring you completely, as I probably ought), is that you do show flashes of coming around, e.g., when you realized we had NOT deleted your comment on that other thread, your concluding remark was pretty damned funny, and showed the right spirit! Keep that up, mate, and drop the "He's putting words in my mouth!" persona, is my advice.

  14. "This is on top of his continued baseless claim that only I make personal attacks -- a pot/kettle case if I ever saw it."

    Oh, and by the way, Silas, several times, I have explicitly denied that I claim "only Silas" makes personal attacks -- indeed, I have boldly acknowledged, "No, Silas, that last bit was a personal attack on you." Just as today's remarks were, unashamedly and unabashedly, personal attacks.

    The difference, as I see it, is that I am quite openly personally attacking you, for the reason that you, personally, keep coming around my blog and acting like a four-year-old. The thing I don't like about your personal attacks is that they are covert and denied, e.g., "Bob, are you really so stupid that you could hold position X."

    Then, you hide behind the subterfuge "Oh, poor picked on me, I was only critiquing Bob's ideas!"

    Silas: I HAVE MADE SEVERAL PERSONAL ATTACKS ON YOU. That's because your personal behaviour is often way out of line. But when I make a personal attack, I have the balls to say what I'm doing.


  15. Just a concluding remark, I actually get p*ssed when a journal rejects my article, Gene. In fact, if they ask me to do a substantial revise and resubmit, I often don't because I can't believe they didn't offer me a tenure track job after reading my submission.

  16. FWIW, Bob`s IER piece was cross-posted to the Mises blog, which allows comments.

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