Tag: climate and religion
As I wrote in 2016, I don’t cover Climate Change any more, because it’s over. In the sense that Climate Change was ever “a thing”, it was primarily a media phenomenon, and now the media has lost interest, there really isn’t anything to talk about.
As a by-product of the media interest, there was a whole chunk of what passes today for scientific research going on, filling in details for the media to report. Like so much current science, it was basically worthless: a grinding out of suspect results from statistical analysis of big noisy data sets, and of computer modelling. It’s still there, but it’s declining, and will have pretty much died out in another decade.
It’s interesting to try to work out how the Climate Change phenomenon of the last quarter-century will be seen by history. I think mostly it will be just ignored. The fact that a large proportion of the most intelligent and educated people in a handful of western countries seriously believed that humanity was under threat from a warmer climate just won’t make it into popular history. I used to think that the internet made it hard to rewrite history, but I’ve had the experience a few times recently of trying to find news stories from just a few years ago, and it’s really difficult. They are there, in the main, but I don’t think doing a really thorough survey of what people were saying and thinking a few decades ago is going to be any easier than it was in the days of newspaper archives.
I was moved to re-address this dead subject because Ed West quoted from Stephen Pinker’s new book, which says
A recent survey found that exactly four out of 69,406 authors of peer-reviewed articles in the scientific literature rejected the hypothesis of anthropogenic global warming, and that “the peer-reviewed literature contains no convincing evidence against [the hypothesis]”
As I remarked, this causes no problems for history, because it has no relevance to the Climate Change media issue which is the real thing that happened in the 1990s and 2000s. The hypothesis that human CO2 emissions have a warming effect on the climate is reasonable, quite likely true, and fundamentally impossible to disprove. It is also of no practical importance. Climate change was an issue because of the idea that this warming effect would be large and self-amplifying — that is the question which was under serious scientific dispute. But both sides of that dispute were part of the “97%” who accepted that humans cause global warming. If it turned out eventually that the vast majority of scientists were wrong about the climate, that would be something difficult to explain away. But they weren’t and aren’t, at least in any kind of recorded formal way. If someone in 2040 were to claim, “Everyone in 2004 believed that we were under threat from Climate Change”, the answer would be, “no, no, there was a lot of hype in the press, but the science at the time was pretty cautious and sound, and didn’t imply anything of the sort. It was just a bit of media hysteria that some politicians made capital out of”.
Nothing really new here, but pulling a few things together.
Start with Joseph K’s observation:
Between the replication crisis and the Great Poll Failure of 2016, quantitative social science has basically committed suicide
— Joseph K. (@fxxfy) November 9, 2016
This is a good point, and I added that the failure of financial risk models in 2008 was essentially the same thing.
The base problem is overconfidence. “People do not have enough epistemic humility”, as Ben Dixon put it.
The idea in all these fields is that you want to make some estimate about the future of some system. You make a mathematical model of the system, relating the visible outputs to internal variables. You also include a random variable in the model.
You then compare the outputs of your model to the visible outputs of the system being modelled, and modify the parameters until they match as closely as possible. They don’t match exactly, but you make the effects of your random variable just big enough that your model could plausibly produce the outputs you have seen.
If that means your random variable basically dominates, then your model is no good and you need a better one. But if the random element is fairly small, you’re good to go.
In polling, your visible effects are how people answer polling questions and how they vote. In social science, it’s how subjects behave in experiments, or how they answer questions, or how they do things that come out in published statistics. In finance, it’s the prices at which people trade various instruments.
The next step is where it all goes wrong. In the next step, you assume that your model—including its random variable to account for the unmeasured or unpredictable—is exactly correct, and make predictions about what the future outputs of the system will be. Because of the random variable, your predictions aren’t certain; they have a range and a probability. You say, “Hillary Clinton has a 87% chance of winning the election”. You say “Reading these passages changes a person’s attitude to something-or-other in this direction 62% of the time, with a probability of 4.6% that the effect could have been caused randomly”. You say, “The total value of the assets held by the firm will not decrease by more than 27.6 million dollars in a day, with a probability of 99%”.
The use of probabilities suggests to an outsider that you have epistemic humility–you are aware of your own fallibility and are taking account of the possibility of having gone wrong. But that is not the case. The probabilities you quote are calculated on the basis that you have done everything perfectly, that you model is completely right, and that nothing has changed in between the production of the data you used to build the model and the events that you are attempting to predict. The unpredictability that you account for is that which is caused by the incompleteness of your model—which is necessarily a simplification of the real system—not on the possibility that what your model is doing is actually wrong.
In the case of the polling, what that means is that the margin of error quoted with the poll is based on the assumptions that the people polled answered honestly; that they belong to the demographic groups that the pollsters thought they belonged to, that the proportion of demographic groups in the electorate are what the pollsters thought they were. The margin of error is based on the random variables in the model: the fact that the random selection of people polled might be atypical of the list they were taken from, possibly, if the model is sophisticated enough, that the turnout of different demographics might vary from what is predicted (but where does the data come from to model that?)
In the social sciences, the assumptions are that the subjects are responding to the stimuli you are describing, and not to something else. Also that people will behave the same outside the laboratory as they do inside. The stated probabilities and uncertainties again are not reflecting any doubt as to those assumptions: only to the modelled randomness of sampling and measurement.
On the risk modelling used by banks, I can be more detailed, because I actually did it. It is assumed that the future price changes of an instrument follow the same probability distributions as in the past. Very often, because the instruments do not have a sufficient historical record, a proxy is used; one which is assumed to be similar. Sometimes instead of a historical record or a proxy there is just a model, a normal distribution plus a correlation with the overall market, or a sector of it. Again, lots of uncertainty in the predictions, but none of it due to the possibility of having the wrong proxy, or of there being something new about the future which didn’t apply to the past.
Science didn’t always work this way. The way you do science is that you propose the theory, then it is tested against observations over a period of time. That’s absolutely necessary: the model, even with the uncertainty embedded within it, is a simplification of reality, and the only justification for assuming that the net effects of the omitted complexities are within error bounds is that that is seen to happen.
If the theory is about the emission spectra of stars, or the rate of a chemical reaction, then once the theory is done it can be continually tested for a long period. In social sciences or banking, nobody is paying attention for long enough, and the relevant environment is changing too much over a timescale of years for evidence that a theory is sound to build up. It’s fair enough: the social scientists, pollsters and risk managers are doing the best they can. The problem is not what they are doing, it is the excessive confidence given to their results. I was going to write “their excessive confidence”, but that probably isn’t right: they know all this. Many of them (there are exceptions) know perfectly well that a polling error margin, or a p-value, or a VaR are not truly what the definitions say, but only the closest that they can get. It is everyone who takes the numbers at face value that is making the mistake. However, none of these analysts, of whichever flavour, are in a position to emphasise the discrepancy. They always have a target to aim for.
For a scientist, they have to get a result with a p-value to publish a paper. That is their job: if they do it, they have succeeded, otherwise, they have not. A risk manager, similarly, has a straightforward day-to-day job of persuading the regulator that the bank is not taking too much risk. I don’t know the ins and outs of polling, but there is always pressure. In fact Nate Silver seems to have done exactly what I suggest: his pre-election announcement seems to be been along the lines “Model says Clinton 85%, but the model isn’t reliable, I’m going to call it 65%”. And he got a lot of shit for it.
Things go really bad when there is a feedback loop from the result of the modelling to the system itself. If you give a trader a VaR budget, he’ll look to take risks that don’t show in the VaR. If you campaign so as to maximise your polling position, you’ll win the support of the people who don’t bother to vote, or you’ll put people off saying they’ll vote for the other guy without actually stopping them voting for the other guy. Nasty.
Going into the election, I’m not going to say I predicted the result. But I didn’t fall for the polls. Either there was going to be a big differential turnout between Trump supporters and Clinton supporters, or there wasn’t. Either there were a lot of shy Trump supporters, or there weren’t. I thought there was a pretty good chance of both, but no amount of Data was going to tell me. Sometimes you just don’t know.
That’s actually an argument for not “correcting” the polls. At least if there is a model—polling model, VaR model, whatever—you can take the output and then think about it. If the thinking has already been done, and corrections already applied, that takes the option away from you. I didn’t know to what extent the polls had already be corrected for the unquantifiables that could make them wrong. The question wasn’t so much “are there shy Trump voters?” as “are there more shy Trump voters than some polling organisation guessed there are?”
Of course, every word of all this applies just the same to that old obsession of this blog, climate. The models have not been proved; they’ve mostly been produced honestly, but there’s a target, and there are way bigger uncertainties than those which are included in the models. But the reason I don’t blog about climate any more is that it’s over. The Global Warming Scare was fundamentally a social phenomenon, and it has gone. Nobody other than a few activists and scientists takes it seriously any more, and mass concern was an essential part of the cycle. There isn’t going to be a backlash or a correction; there won’t be papers demolishing the old theories and getting vast publicity. Rather, the whole subject will just continue to fade away. If Trump cuts the funding, as seems likely, it will fade away a bit quicker. Lip service will occasionally be paid, and summits will continue to be held, but less action will result from them. The actual exposure of the failure of science won’t happen until the people who would have been most embarrassed by it are dead. That’s how these things go.
I wrote before, that while religion can be a force for reaction,
Religion, or at any rate Christianity,
should not be
the primary basis of a reactionary state. There are too many factions
(even within nominally hierarchical churches like the Catholic
Church). If the mechanisms for resolving religious disagreement come
to dictate government policy, that perverts religion and destabilises
The liberal approach to this problem is to separate church and state —
to guarantee the church’s independence from the state. This can be
fairly workable, but it can reach absurd lengths: the currently
dominant interpretation in the USA is that the state cannot act in any
way out of religious motive. No genuinely religious person would
willingly tolerate that, and it has only come about because the
irreligious, or, more accurately, the adepts of a religion that has
managed to classify itself as a non-religion, have taken all power in
the state. (It also interprets a 220-year-old law in direct
contradiction to the way it was understood and followed for the first
150 years of its existence, which is an insult to logic and to the
concept of law, but that’s not important right now).
The problem with separation is that church and state become
rivals. Bishops can become a dangerous example of the kind of
I wrote about two years ago — people with substantial real power that
is not formalised within the state. My recommendation for other
“mighty subjects” is to require them to accept a state position of
honour which puts them under supervision by the sovereign. This is
problematic in the case of a clergyman who can properly claim to be
serving a higher power than the sovereign.
The solution that England found was to put the whole church under the
nominal control of the state. That doesn’t mean that the Queen is the
High Priestess, and she doesn’t routinely rule on doctrinal matters,
but it does mean that in the case of a serious disagreement between
church and state, state wins. If you don’t want an actual theocracy,
that is what has to happen.
In order to work, the relationship between church and state has to go
both ways. If the church is to survive under state control, the
sovereign, and the large part of the leaders of the state, have to be
supporters of the church.
There is still room for religious freedom, but that’s not the same as
all religions being treated equally. If you want to be high in
government, you should be a member of the established church, or else
be very exceptional. If your dissenting religion involves human
sacrifice, or advocates overthrowing the state or the established
church, then it will be suppressed like any other criminal or
It is in the interest of state and society for there to be an
established religion in which the majority of the population
participate. Normal behaviour should include regular religious
There might even be a case for small fines for non-observance. Or
maybe better, the state-backed social insurance / welfare system could
be run through the church — dissenting churches can go and set up
their own. There is great social value in giving the nation a venue of
shared ritual, and atheists can put up with sitting through an hour of
drivel once a week, particularly if they know they are not the only
ones just going through the motions. Just think of all the other
things you sit through for the sake of fitting in socially.
Note that, like many reactionary proposals, this one is targeted at a
particular people in a particular place. The Church of England would
probably not be appropriate for a small
research/manufacturing-oriented colony on a seastead. It is
appropriate for England. The principles underlying the argument are
more broadly applicable, and even the seastead should have some
established pattern of ritual.
Two independent links appeared today, reinforcing the same point: that you can’t discard moral laws in favour of reasonable utilitarianism. Not “you shouldn’t”, “you can’t”.
First, Charlotte Gore. Her workplace has banned electronic cigarettes. They haven’t given a reason, but the assumption is that the reason is that smoking is immoral. Smoking was not immoral 30 years ago, but a determined, rational, effort was made to dissuade people from smoking because it is unhealthy. The result of 30 years of evidence-based pressure is that people now have a mild superstitious revulsion of smoking, or in plainer words, smoking is immoral. Smoking in an office is particularly immoral, because it is something that has generally not been permitted for a long time, and has been actually illegal for a few years. Smoking an e-cigarette is not unhealthy*, and not illegal, but it is the same activity as smoking a cigarette, and so it is immoral. Giving up smoking is an act of willpower and self-denial, and is morally praiseworthy, and simply to change the way you smoke (to not be unhealthy), rather than performing the morally admirable act of giving up, is a moral weakness that should be deplored. This despite the fact that making smoking immoral was something that was decided, within my memory, purely for health reasons.
Second data point, via Razib Khan. He links to an article on Nature retelling the by now well established fact that the healthiest weight to be is what our expert advisers call “slightly overweight”. Khan understands the underlying dynamic well, though, because his own blog post is titled “Obesity as morality and health”. Again, public health educators are in the morality business, whether they want to be or not.
And while all this health advice is leaking into morality, and starting to become fossilised as moral standards independent of their original underlying health-advice origin, as in Charlotte Gore’s workplace, we are all absolutely required to remember one essential fact of morality: anal sex is not immoral. It is not immoral because people used to believe that it was immoral, and they were wrong. If, hypothetically, homosexuality had been approved by the Church for the last thousand years, and the sacrament of homosexual marriage had had special music written for it by Bach, Mozart and Rutter, I think we would by now be well down the road of anal sex being banned on health grounds by smug lefties. “Promoting homosexuality” would probably already be prohibited from state schools, along with cigarette machines in pubs and cheese-rolling competitions.
I don’t have strong feelings about homosexuality either way. (Well, I strongly don’t want to participate, but you know what I mean). My point behind the above is that the political weight behind gay rights, particularly now, is driven above all by the desire to hurt, piss off and humiliate conservatives and traditionalists. There is no other basis on which a person can, at the same time, support both encouraging people to have anal sex on the grounds of personal fulfilment, and banning salty sandwiches on health grounds. (Don’t miss the cartoon on that story!) I would tend to agree with Peter Hitchens that the tactically sensible course for conservatives when asked about gay rights is to shrug and carry on talking about important things instead.
*I don’t know if that’s completely true, but whether e-cigarettes are harmful or not, the real point is that it is felt they ought to be harmful
While I’m on the subject of climate, is there anyone with background in system modelling who can tell me what’s wrong with the following. It seems obvious to me, but I’m probably missing something important.
Take a global climate model, without human GHG emissions.
There should be no long-term climate trend, or at least none on the scale of what GHG emissions are supposed to cause.
Perturb the climate model in some way: maybe a major volcano, or a temporary solar variation, or something.
That perturbation, if it is big enough, will detectably affect the climate, including the global average temperature.
The perturbation is a one-off, so it will end. After the perturbation ends, does the global average temperature stay around its new value, or does it move back towards its old value?
My understanding is that the best current models of the climate exhibit positive feedback. That would mean that there are no forces that would cause the climate to move back to its old value. Block out the sun for a bit, the climate will get colder, and when the dust has settled (literally), it will still be colder than it was before.
For the temperature to return to “normal” after a perturbation, there would have to be net negative feedback: because the temperature is higher, something happens that removes the excess heat.
Therefore, without negative feedback, the climate would be a complete “random walk”. It could be pushed up or down by solar changes, vulcanism, vegetation changes, even freak weather, and every such perturbation would affect the future climate forever.
That just doesn’t seem remotely plausible to me. Surely such random events wouldn’t balance so well as to keep the climate roughly stable for so long as paleoclimate data indicates?
I feel I must be missing something. Is there some way that the climate can exhibit positive feedback in response to anthropogenic CO2 emissions, as we are told it does, and yet recover from other random effects?
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha
Just the other day I wrote in a comment at Samizdata:
It’s a bit cheap, given that there’s no evidence or even likelihood, that actual climate scientists are responsible for this hoax, to say that jumping to very firm conclusions on very little evidence, and indeed fraudulently improving the evidence that doesn’t quite show what you want it to, are characteristic of one side of this debate rather than the other. But there is a pattern here, at least in the political realm, of sceptics being, well, sceptical, and the warmists not.
Look at what the Heartland story tells us about the person behind it:
- He believes it is justifiable to lie in order to advance the cause
- He is not able to seriously consider the arguments of his opponents, even when trying to pretend to be one of them
- He has no instinctive perception of scale — he thinks a couple of million spent by Heartland is significant compared to the hundreds of millions spent by Greenpeace, WWF, FoE, Oxfam, CAP, and the world’s governments.
- He doesn’t think the morals he applies to others should apply to him. The major climate-related expense in the Heartland accounts is paying scientists to prepare papers and attend conferences — something his own institute does at the same time, with the same sort of funding from the same sort of people.
- His evidence doesn’t prove what he thinks it proves. If a piece of essentially information-free data fails to clearly contradict a piece of probably-bogus data, he says the former proves the latter. (That is essentially the story of the Hockey Stick condensed to a sentence).
Now, of course, if the leak was done by some dim environmentalist activist, it would still be unfair to smear actual climate scientists by attributing those same qualities to them.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
Peter Gleick. Macarthur fund. Leading climate scientist.
Of course, that’s just one rogue scientist. They’re not all like that. I mean, they have ethics task forces and stuff.
Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.
I’ve been reluctant to engage with the arguments that climate scepticism is the product of massive pollution-industry funding, because I always felt that the truth – that the public climate scepticism movement relies on the work of a handful of amateurs operating on a shoestring – was more embarrassing to the sceptic cause than the “well-funded denial machine” fantasy.
Meanwhile, it acted as a useful filter: anyone who pushed the “massive funding” line, either knew nothing about the debate (which is not a fault, but is worth knowing when you’re discussing it with them), or else was incapable of recognising the very very obvious.
Thanks to the Heartland leak, the cat is now out of the bag: The NIPCC conference costs Heartland $388,000 a year to run, and the funding for the centrepiece of the whole sceptic campaign is a few back-office people to organise, and a few scientists to write papers. There’s no budget for advertising or publicity, other than the website, because there is no advertising or publicity.
Oxfam have had huge climate-alarmist posters, in a campaign carried out by RKCR/Y&R all over Luton for a couple of years (anyone have a clue what that costs?). That is the sort of thing that sceptics don’t do, because they cannot afford to.
I’ve started to take more interest in North Korea. The reason for this is an embarrassment: I have argued that a possible route to a form of government closer to what I want to see is that a one-party state comes under the control of a single strong leader who is able to convert it into a hereditary monarchy, by concentrating power to himself so strongly that he is able to leave it to his heir. It later occurred to me that the country which has come closest to doing that is North Korea, now anticipating the succession of the third generation of the Kim dynasty.
Like I said, an embarrassment. Probably the one-party-state to hereditary monarchy thing isn’t such a good idea. But I’m amusing myself by studying my own reaction to this inconvenience to my theories. It’s interesting to play at being rather more attached to the theory than I really am, and look for cynical ways to rebut arguments based on the evidence of North Korea.
The most fun approach would be to argue that North Korea is actually really well governed, and the problems it is perceived to have are either falsified by the media, or are the results of steps taken against it by jealous republicans abroad.
It is the sheer ludicrousness of that argument that has induced me to look at the question at this “meta” level. North Korea is pretty much the poorest and most backward country in the entire world, while the part of Korea given a different form of government by an arbitrary line of latitute has become one of the dozen or so richest and most advanced. If North Korea had been merely bad, I might have seriously attempted a defence of its system, but as things are it is impossible to do so with a straight face. That situation makes some degree of self-examination inevitable: exactly how stupid does an argument have to be for me to reject it as I have the “North Korea is actually really well governed” line. And what does that say about me?
(This interesting point from Nathan Bashaw seems relevant).
Part of the question is how easy it is to dodge the problem. And here I can really do it. For one thing, we don’t really know who has the power in North Korea — for all we can tell, Kim may be an empty figurehead entirely under the control of military and party officials. In any case, the problem in North Korea is not who is in charge, it is that it is attached to a collectivist economic system. Kim is legitimate not because he is the annointed heir of Kim Il-Sung, but because he is the carrier of the flame of communism.
That gives us another data point: North Korea does not in fact convince me that hereditary government is a bad idea. Despite the problem that everywhere else in the world has dumped NK-style collectivism, with the possible exception of Cuba, which… is ruled by the brother of the previous leader. Hmmm.
I don’t think I can really draw conclusions about attachment to ideology here. But the question’s still open: I’m going to keep an eye on the process of my adapting judgement to ideology and vice versa. I’m well placed to do that, because I am not in a social group united by my ideology — other than a few other bloggers. Also the fact that I’ve recently abandoned ideological positions I held for most of my adult life gives me an extra reserve of cynicism to draw on.
I already started with yesterday’s post, where I deliberately went through the motions of drawing ideological conclusions from the undercover policing scandal.
Aretae has also been writing along these lines recently. One of his most important points is that there is no basis for anyone to be certain or even nearly certain about these difficult ideological issues. When he puts forward ideas, it’s all 60% this and 70% that.
That’s very sound. But is that the way anyone really sees things? The reason I’m able to take this detached approach to my royalist ideology is that I genuinely do have doubts. Again, that’s probably because it’s fairly new to me, and it’s out beyond the lunatic fringe in the public debate.
For a comparison, take the issue of climate change. I am persuaded by the evidence, and have written here, that there is considerable room for doubt of the pronouncements of the climate science experts. I claim that the evidence tends to support the position that dangerous climate change is not happening and will not happen.
That’s fine. But what I haven’t said in so many words is that I have a deep inner certainty that anthropogenic global warming is all rubbish. That certainty cannot be justified by a reasoned analysis of the evidence: in no way do I have sufficient knowledge or understanding of the science to achieve such confidence in any conclusion. Where does this certainty come from?
If it is simply overconfidence, that’s almost the least bad possibility. At least in that case, the direction of my conclusion is based on reason. What’s more worrying is the possibility that the inner certainty is totally independent of my reason, and the reasoned conclusions I have drawn are only rationalisations of my faith.
If that’s the case, where did the faith come from? I would have to have made some kind of intuitive, rather than rational, judgement on one side of a very complex issue. What is the source of that intuition? I don’t know, though I could take a few guesses. Is that intuition to be trusted? In general, absolutely not. There are too many cases of people reaching opposite certainty on the basis of intuition, and there is no basis for judging one person’s intuition against another.
Now maybe my intuition, unlike yours, is reliable. It does have a fairly decent track record. Also, I’m not in the habit of being certain: of all the other things I have written about on this blog, I don’t think there are any that I have the same inner certainty about that I have about AGW.
There is a very strong consensus among the sort of people I read (reg, Tim, Neil, isegoria) that the reporting about the nuclear reactor problems at Fukushima is a typical hysterical overreaction by ignorant greens, lefty ideologues, and sensationalist media.
I threw my own rotten tomatoes at the target, when I looked at deaths from other kinds of power stations.
There is just one voice among my hundred or so blogroll subscriptions saying that in fact a major disaster has occurred that will seriously affect Tokyo.
Well, it’s hard to score 100%, isn’t it? So one guy happened to fall for the bullshit. Big deal.
The thing is that the one guy isn’t a green, a lefty, or a journalist. He isn’t as a rule overly trusting of the MSM. And he knows a good bit about nuclear reactors. I’m talking about M Simon of the blog Power and Control.
He could still be wrong. I’m not bringing the question up now to guess at whether he is or not: I don’t have to do anything different either way, and we’ll know in due course.
I’m interested, though, in the shape of the argument. We know we’re surrounded by ignorant greens, lefty ideologues and sensationalist media. But what if, by coincidence, this time they’re right?
The situation reminds me of the Anthropogenic Global Warming argument in reverse. Mainstream western scientists know that “science is under attack from a well-organized, politically well-connected and, above all, well-financed opposition”, and that “The real war is between rationalism and superstition”, and if a small proportion of Richard Lindzens and Freeman Dysons are mysteriously on the wrong side, well, weird stuff happens in politics.
Mr Simon is so keen on fusion that he wants to get rid of fission generation. And he doesn’t like the Japanese. (I knew an old guy who was in the US Navy, and he didn’t like the Japanese. Stands to reason). Yeah, that will cover it, I don’t need to bother with his extremely detailed arguments.
Easy to do, easy to do… As I said, it doesn’t matter this time, because we’ll know one way or the other soon enough anyway. But I’m fascinated by how the story plays out.
Most of the commentary on the cold winter has been too stupid to discuss, so I haven’t. Certainly, cold winters do not prove that the climate scientists are wrong, though it does suggest that alarm is overstated: not only is weather not climate, but climate variability is so dwarfed by weather variability that it is not remotely possible to actually notice whatever climate variation there might have been over the last hundred years. The actual weather changes in any given place from year to year or decade to decade are vastly bigger than any global climate change we have seen. As I say, that doesn’t make climate change wrong, but it does make it less relevant.
But most stupid are the desperate attempts to claim that cold winters are caused by global warming. Not because that is impossible, but because there has been scant regard for facts. I have been informed by one earnest physicist that snowy winters here are to be expected, because global warming increases the amount of water in the air. That would be sound logic if English winters were normally cold and dry, but they are not – winter conditions here are normally that if there is a clear night, there is frost, but if there is cloud cover, that keeps the ground too warm for frost, and it rains. We have snow this year because it is colder, not because there is more moisture.
Some random genius on Twitter takes the biscuit for claiming that the cold winter is to be expected, because global warming has melted icecaps, changed ocean salinity, and diverted the Gulf Stream. Again, logically sound, but the ocean salinity has not changed and the Gulf Stream has not moved. Apart from that, good try…
Monbiot’s theory, that warming at the pole has disrupted atmospheric circulations, bringing cold weather down, is at least not obviously contradicted by the facts. It might be true. But there was certainly no consensus predicting it.
What has made this issue worth mentioning for me is the excellent collection of articles gathered by hauntingthelibrary, of the climate mainstream explaining that mild winters in Britain are the result of Global Warming. We are all familiar, I am sure, with the classic UEA “snowfall a thing of the past”, but he shows that that was not one random nutter.
* Less snow and rain for islands (Hadley Centre)
* Warmer and Wetter Winters in Europe and Western North America Linked to Increasing Greenhouse Gases (NASA,Nature)
* The recent warm winters that Britain has experienced are a clear sign that the climate is changing (James Hansen)
The point is not that they are wrong. The fact is that the climate system is so complex, and the climate signal is so faint against the weather background, that there is no possibility of being right. If global average temperatures really have increased by a degree or so over the last fifty years, and I cannot see that there is any way to tell whether they have, then what the results are is equally unknowable. Weather is just too big a thing to see around.
The other point is the sheer lack of restraint in putting forward ad-hoc climate theories without the slightest thinking-through in response to any weather. Journalists do journalism, but this kind of speculation is what scientists were traditionally so unwilling to do that, 25 years ago, there was a popular stereotype of the scientist who couldn’t commit himself to anything because “the evidence is not yet complete”. That change is the most significant element in climate science.