DeSmog Blog’s Mission Statement Quashes Rational Skepticism

One can (correctly) argue that the foundations of the modern scientific inquiry are built on the foundations of rational skepticism. Contrary to some beliefs, science cannot “prove” anything. Rather, it is premised on the “refutation” of untruth. By eliminating all other possible explanations, the scientific method thereby accepts a theory as “truth”. All fields of inquiry which purport themselves to be scientific, but for which no theory is refutable, are not science.

So, what should we make of climate “consensus” promoters who deny the irrefutably of specific, unproven theories? Does this not contradict the basis of rational skepticism? For example, Jim Hoggan (a lawyer) and Brendan DeMelle (a writer) have this to say about those who question the “consensus truth” regarding ACC:

Unfortunately, a well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign is poisoning the climate change debate. Using tricks and stunts that unsavory PR firms invented for the tobacco lobby, energy-industry contrarians are trying to confuse the public, to forestall individual and political actions that might cut into exorbitant coal, oil and gas industry profits. DeSmogBlog is here to cry foul – to shine the light on techniques and tactics that reflect badly on the PR industry and are, ultimately, bad for the planet.

This is truly a gem of distortion which I will de-construct one claim at a time:

  1. Claim 1: The climate change debate is implicitly settled.

    Truth: There is an implicit assumption throughout this statement that the debate on climate change is settled. This is misleading. There is significant disagreement among climate scientists regarding the degree to which humans contribute.

    The often cited metric of “the 97% consensus” on anthropogenic climate change (ACC) is derived from a 2008/9 Gallup poll in which respondents were asked “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?” 97% of respondents who were climatologists actively publishing on climate change responded with “yes”. Therefore, the claim that “the debate has been settled — once and for all” is not the claim made made by “the consensus”. Rather, it is made by promoters who harbor social, environmental, political, and economic motives that are not purely scientific in order to silence debate.

    The reality is that significant disagreement exists among climatologists regarding climate models, the importance of variables, and the significance of findings. To not point this out is entirely misleading.
  2. Claim 2: The “opposition” is a well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign who are aligned with the interests of the coil, oil and gas industries.

    Truth: The most serious opponents to anthropogenic climate alarmism are actual climate scientists. For example:

    1. Dr. Judith Curry — a climate scientist — operates the very popular Climate Etc. Blog
    2. Anthony Watts, a climate scientist by training, operates Watts Up With That -(WUWT) – the most popular blog on climate science – along with a host of active co-bloggers. Contributors to WUWT have consistently shown that much of the data used in pro-ACC models has been normalized (i.e., “doctored”) to show results which are consistent with funding dollars from the international organizations, such as the UN’s IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and even the US’ own sacrosanct NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration).
    3. Dr. Roy Spencer — also, a climate scientist — who, by the way, is included in the often mis-represented 97% consensus — operates his own blog on climate science which is very skeptical of many claims about the veracity of ACC. In the following video, Dr. Roy Spencer testifies before Congress, in front of many elected bureaucrats who undoubtedly cannot fathom their inabilities to comprehend that someone knows more about something than themselves:

      Video: Dr. Roy Spencer debunk the “97%” Consensus
    4. Dr. John Christy — yet another climate scientist — has consistently pointed out the tautologies in common cited climate models which purport to show how anthropogenic CO_2 has resulted in climate change.
    5. Dr. Richard Lindzen — an MIT atmospheric physicist and one of the world’s leading climatologists — has proven himself to be an inconvenient thorn in the side of the IPCC which has taken the explicit stance that a global carbon tax is necessary. Dr. Lindzen refutes the IPCC in the following video:

      Video: Climate Change: What Do Scientists Say?
    6. The list of so-called “deniers” (i.e., those who do not fit into 97% consensus even though as we’ve seen many “deniers” are included in “the consensus” poll) goes on ad nauseam. In fact, DeSmogBlog has done an excellent job in compiling dossiers on this minority of “troublemakers” in its very own “Climate Disinformation Database“. The research appears to be quite exhaustive, but I fear that it supports a claim which opposes its own position.

      Although I am not familiar with every name or entity on the list, I see no evidence of any systemic connection or conspiracy between serious opponents of “the consensus” and connections with corporate interests such as “Big Oil” or the nefarious “Koch Brothers”. Instead, I am left with the distinct impression that the largess of the list demonstrates the hubris of DeSmogBlog’s binary worldview. The smug position that “you’re either with us or against” creates enemies where no enemies need exist. It marginalizes and alienates the middle ground of rational skeptics — many of whom, by the way, do not disagree with the notion that humans impact their environments and do not disparage the principles of environmental stewardship and ecological awareness.
  3. Claim 3: The counterfactual to Claim 1 (i.e, “we” are NOT a well-funded and highly organized public relations campaign who are aligned with the interests of the coil, oil and gas industries).

    Truth: Most major oil companies favor a carbon tax. In 2016, six of the largest international oil companies jointly addressed a letter to the chief of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) calling for a carbon tax. The implementation of such a tax would be the greatest Pigouvian (i.e., punitive) policy ever conceived. By passing on higher energy costs to consumers, regulations would in effect punish consumers at the expense of other energy producers — namely, coal. Oil and gas producers would be an economic beneficiary of carbon taxes at the expense of coal which still has about a 30% market share on global energy needs.

    Later on in 2016, ExxonMobil joined the ranks of oil companies which support a carbon price. The hazard of buying goodwill from elected officials should be apparent1.

    In fact, the “97% consensus” and its promoters are heavily subsidized by multiple international agencies which would partake in financial gain from a global CO_2 tax. Entities linked to central banks (i.e., the UN, the World Bank, the IMF, etc…) have longed promoted a global tax as a means of more “efficient” wealth distribution2. That these scientific organizations have found congruous results is not surprising given either a) the findings are self-evident; or, b) their common sources of funding. Hypothetically, if I were a institutionally-minded researcher (i.e., one who is motivated by a long-standing and well-funded career), I would tend to research and demonstrate things which are expected to result in grants and other forms of funding. As they say, “follow the money”. The whole thing is oddly reminiscent of the Septuagint3.
  4. Claim 4: Profits of coal, and oil and gas companies are exorbitant.

    Truth: This claim is categorically false. As I show in my article entitled, False Profits: A Prodigal Value Investor Returns from the Oil Patch, the highly commoditized oil and gas business continuously struggles against resource depletion resulting in stated accounting profits which grossly over-inflate actual free cash flows. The early days of oil and gas exploration in which metaphorically sticking a straw into the ground would produce Spindletop-sized gushers have been over since the 1970s. As for the coal business, it is in far worse economic shape as evidenced by the growing list of major bankruptcies. I am not the first to ponder how the fate of coal presages the fate of oil.
  5. Claim 5: Counterfactual claims to the “consensus” are bad for the planet.

    Truth: This claim undermines the entire basis of scientific theory by quashing rational skepticism. The reality is that many skeptics who are branded “deniers” are not in fact touting creationism being taught in schools, Christian Science, Sharia Law, or some other brand of mysticism. This is a blatant distortion to scare well-meaning folks into thinking and acting a certain way. Moreover, skepticism does not question the reality of climate change — i.e., the reality that climate change happens, it has been happening for billions of years, and that industrialized human existence is but an insignificant blip on the geological time scale.

    The prevailing theory on climate change is that CO_2 is both correlated to and causal of temperatures. The prevailing theory is based strongly on a mechanism in which greenhouse gases cause in-situ warming of the atmosphere. Over recent history, the high correlation between greenhouse gases and temperatures has lead many experts to the consensus that CO_2 is the primary culprit for the recent warming trends. The majority of models for climate change are premised on multivariate co-linear and logarithmic regressions for which in-situ warming by CO_2 and other greenhouse gases is usually believed to be the most significant factor. The logical conclusion of the veracity of the in-situ warming theory is that anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions are causing and accelerating climate change. However, the relationship between CO_2 and temperatures is likely more complicated than what has been commonly espoused by the alarmist promoters of “the consensus”.

    Does CO_2 cause temperatures? Yes, to some degree the greenhouse effect is expected to be positively correlated with temperature — the mechanisms for such a relationship are shown to be facile. However, there are other mechanisms which can also be shown facile which predict that rising CO2 is an expectation of rising temperatures. Climate models which rule out (or do not depend on) in-situ warming of the environment mitigate the extent to which greenhouse gases are the primary mechanisms of climate change. Ruling out greenhouses gases as a major causal factor also weakens the argument that anthropogenic carbon emissions will be expected to have the net 2-3^{\circ}C impact on global temperatures which “the consensus” has commonly cited as a probable outcome of ACC. Still, even if we preclude that in-situ warming is the main driver, it is likely still a driver.

    The veracity of climate models which do not rely on in-situ warming suggest that the prevailing attitude on climate change confuses correlation with causation. For example, one paper proposes an explanatory model which depends on both in-situ warming from greenhouse gases as well as “a store-and-release mechanism from the ocean”. Results from the model indicate that in-situ warming need not be a major causal factor which explains observations. Instead, a “store-and-release” mechanism involving a feedback loop between the atmosphere and oceans can explain the correlation between measured CO_2 levels and temperatures. As as aside, both mechanisms need not be exclusive of one another — both can happen simultaneously. The “store-and-release” mechanism also helps explain the step-like nature of climate change.

    Conjectures that rises in greenhouse gases may be a partial result of rising temperatures have been long-maligned within the tightly-knit circle of climate alarmist and political activists. The veracity of any such model would indicate that the commonly perceived relationship between CO_2 and climate change rests upon a cleverly constructed narrative which is actually a tautology — tautologies can be insidiously convincing since they can be constructed according to our own confirmation biases. However, theories and claims which challenge the institutional status quo do not in any way undermine science. They are simply a time-honored process within scientific inquiry. That they are heavily maligned indicates that those who attempt to undermine them either genuinely believe that by doing so they are helping the environment… or that they have an ulterior agenda.4.

    In addition, the preponderance of recentist climate prediction models are known to be subordinate to the long-term view on cosmic mega-cycles in which a 2-3^{\circ}C deviation from the mean is not unusual. For the last million or so years, the Earth has been in a glacier mega-cycle made up smaller 100,000 Milankovitch cycles. These glacial cycles are comprised of extended “ice ages” followed by relatively brief warmer periods lasting several thousand years. Human society has existed during an uncharacteristically stable and warm period which arguably allowed crop cultivation and then civilization. If the Milankovitch trend continues as it has for the last million years, another extended glacial period age is likely on the no-so-distant horizon (on the geological time scale, that is). Even during the current warm period, Earth’s atmosphere was likely warmer than present day mean temperatures by an average of approximately 2^{\circ}… and this was much prior to industrialized human society.

    Figure 1: CO2 and Temperature during the Milankovitch Cycles

    Approaching climate on an even larger scale is further problematic for proponents of the in-situ greenhouse gas theory on climate change. Over the Phanerzoic time scale, the relationship between atmospheric carbon and temperature is nil. Critics of Phanerzoic carbon modeling argue that models built on climate dynamics which were relevant millions and billions of years ago would not be relevant today. Perhaps, but they do nonetheless support the frequentist view that climate is the result of multiple inter-related factors in which cosmic factors exceed local atmospheric dynamics.

    Figure 2: Phanerzoic CO2

  6. If nothing else, a study of climate cycles suggests that alarmism on greenhouse gas emissions may be made irrelevant based the preponderance of mega-cycles. The veracity and importance of these cosmic phenomena is not controversial to climate scientist, yet these factors are not included in recentist climate models precisely they occur on time-scales which exceed human measurement or control.

    If I had a knack for art, I would characterize this comically as ants debating over ant mound impact models, totally oblivious to the specter of the encroaching boot-heel under which their entire existence will be squashed; this boot only bears the label: “Milankovitch”.

Diatribe on the Well-Intended Scientific Consensus Regarding ACC

The implicit argument underpinning the moralistic impetus for simplifying the science of ACC is simple: “if we are right, maybe the world will be a better place to live” — “but, if we are wrong, the prospect for trillions of dollars in wastage and malinvestment is worth the risk.”

This moralizing modus operandi reminds me of the moral dilemma within The Watchmen, a graphic-novel-made-movie, in which two well-meaning protagonists are cast as opposing ideals, in which one ideal must ultimately destroy the other for it to succeed. On one side, Ozymandias represents “moral relativism” — the idea that “ends justifies means”. On the other, Rorschach represents “moral absolutism” — the idea that choices cast as morally relativistic are actually false choices.

Moral relativism believes that if the ends are truly unto themselves worthy, then those who carry out those ends are ultimately justified no matter the human or economic costs. Ozymandias is smarter than the everyone else and therefore knows what is better for everyone else. He is justified in leading — what he views to be nothing more than — elevated sheep to the slaughter if that furthers a “good” cause. That “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few” is a Roddenberry-ian logical conclusion, but a moral hazard arises because “needs” are imperfectly defined by imperfect, fallible beings (usually bureaucrats)5.

On the opposing end of the spectrum there is Rorschach who represents the ideal of “moral absolutism”, in which there exists only good and bad. In the comic, Rorschach learns of an elaborate hoax which is meant to trick humanity into peace, but involves death and destruction commensurate with that of nuclear war (i.e., the thing which the ruse is meant to prevent). Rorschach views this well-meaning deception as a false choice of an overly-simplified binary worldview. In his heart, he believes that most people are good and when presented with truth, will make the right moral decision. But as for true evil — it must be destroyed or incarcerated in order to prevent the genetics of evil from further propagating. This morality is perhaps best captured by the following Ayn Rand quote:

There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil… In any compromise between food and poison, it is only death that can win. In any compromise between good and evil, it is only evil that can profit.

– John Galt’s Speech

The paradox of who gets to decide which people are “in need of” Rorschach’s brand of justice is not lost on the audience.6.

No analogy to reality is perfect, but I often find myself pondering, “what would Rorschach think about ACC?”

Is over-simplified climate science which purports that “the consensus knows best” a deception on the public to make the “right” decisions justifiable? Or is that a false choice?7

I know where I stand on this issue.

Parting Thoughts

I do not question that the planet is warming. I also do not object to the idea that humans can contribute to climate change. I can even tolerate the extent to which this issue has been hyper-politicized. In fact, I actually believe that humans can and do exert both localized and globalized effects on climate — but to boldly claim that this debate is finally settled marginalizes critical nuances such as to what degree we exert an effect and to what degrees key variables interact within the broader mechanisms of climate.

In summary, my frustration is not over the “fast and loose” science or stylized facts, but rather it is with the moralizing tactics by which the promoters of the imagined “consensus” patronizingly cloaks its efforts to silence rational inquiry. In my opinion, the issue of scientific inquiry is morally absolute, even as far as to exceed the conclusions regarding the “so what?” factor. But just to humor the thought: “So what is the general public’s over-simplified view on ACC ends up being approximately right?”8 “But so what if it is exactly wrong?”9

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. Rex Tillerson should have just asked JPMorgan’s Jamie Dimon about his experiences. Spoiler alert: Dimon’s attempts to avoid partaking in the subprime bubble didn’t end well to the tune of $27.4 Bn in fines, even after Dimon agreed to acquire Bear Stearns!
2. The widely-held belief in classical economics — i.e., the form of economics espoused most effectively by Adam Smith and the Chicago School of Economics — is highly inconvenient to this collectivist agenda.
3. In the 3rd century BCE, Ptolemy II summoned seventy unwitting scholars to translate the Old Testament; although totally cloistered from one another, all seventy returned to Ptolemy with the exact same translation.
4. In my opinion, a likely ulterior motive is political activism regarding government’s role in taxing and redistributing productivity; in this regard, carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions are seen as an “efficient” proxy on productivity. This seemingly far-out conjecture is an explicit IMF policy recommendation. No tin foil hat needed.
5. In this way, Ozymandias is cast as the perfection of the common ideal for history’s greatest genocidal megalomaniacs such as Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler, Joseph Stalin, Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, and the prophet who shall rename nameless (for assurances that no bodily come to me) — all of whom believed that their ends would be ultimately justified. The chief difference between Ozymandias, Alexander, the prophet and those who failed is chiefly success in achieving their ends.
6. Philosopher Karl Popper deals with this quandary by concluding that “a tolerant society must be intolerant of intolerance”. That Popper’s two greatest disciples, George Soros and Milton Friedman, who were catalyzed in opposing philosophical directions by this very quandary, can be cast as archetypes for Ozymandias and Rorschach is perhaps not purely coincidental.
7. Is it a false choice to have pit ourselves strongly on one side of the ACC debate?…perhaps as in the false choice between having to decide between moral relativism and collectivism versus moral absolutism and individuality?
8. So what if “the consensus” view is right?” So what if humans directly cause a 2-5 ^{\circ} C temperature anomaly during our brief existence? Maybe it will inadvertently help avert the coming ice age. As far fetched as this seems, it is feasible. In fact, the entirety of human civilization has been built upon a needlepoint of unusually warm and stable climate. But the greater point is to reflect on the fundamental uncertainty regarding highly-specified and fantastic conjectures regarding the future, such as: “global temperatures are on the verge of going hyperbolic as a direct result of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions”.
9. And if we are to be truly scientific, we must also ask the counterfactual question: “so what if it turns out to be wrong?” So what if alarmism succeeds in convincing bureaucrats to waste trillions of dollars on a dead-end research and infrastructure that could be more efficiently spent elsewhere? So what if the ends of alarmism further the economic agendas of the largest central banks and collectivist/globalist transnational organizations?