Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nuts and Nutsier

I'm a week late with this post. Today I will be commenting on the editorials posted in the Kittanning Leader Times on Saturday, December 5, 2015. By now anyone who reads this post has probably forgotten the details of the editorials in question. The first editorial in praise of Oklahoma Wesleyan University president Everett Piper for his blog post chastising self-absorbed and narcisstic students I just can't find online anymore. Therefore, I will forego comments on that editorial. The second editorial, entitled "A 'climate' for nuts" in the Leader Times, can be found here.

The basic thrust of the editorial is that the world leaders meeting at the UN-sponsored Paris climate conference are nuts. Rather than concentrating their efforts on combatting the evils already afflicting a large segment of the world's population -- disease, poverty, political oppression, etc. -- they are trying to figure out a way to reduce global warming and mitigate its effects. According to the board, scientific predictions of global warming are way off. We may be headed for a period of global cooling instead. Furthermore, the plans likely to be hatched at the conference will not only misdirect billions of dollars needed to solve real the real problems listed above to expensive, inefficient, and ineffective alternative energy-generation projects, they will also sink capitalism and cripple the global economy.

Here is my summary of their argument:

  1. There is good scientific evidence that the global climate will cool in the coming decades.
  2. Any solutions to anticipated global warming likely to be adopted at the Paris climate conference will cripple the global economy.
  3. Any solutions to anticipated global warming likely to be adopted at the Paris climate conference will end capitalism.
  4. Therefore, the world leaders who are likely to adopt these solutions are nuts

Of the three premisses in this argument the editorial only presents supporting evidence for premiss one:

Not only has there been significant pause in Earth's warming, there's credible scientific research — based on solar activity — suggesting a significant cooling decade beginning in 2030.
Apparently, they assume the evidence in favor of premisses two and three is common knowledge. Ha, not only is it not common, it's not even knowledge! More on that later in the post.

It is not helpful to the board's wafer-thin argument that the "significant pause in Earth's warming" is a myth. What about "a significant cooling decade beginning in 2030?" The board is referring to a recent study that predicted solar activity will drop to a level not seen since the 1640s, a 50-year period of reduced sunspot activity called the Maunder minimum that occurred during the "Little Ice Age," a period of relatively cooler global temperatures that extended from about 1300 - 1850 AD. Many media reports about this study extrapolated from the study's conclusions about solar activity that global cooling will result. The study's authors did not draw this conclusion in their paper but two of them have subsequently offered their opinions on the consequences of the predicted "solar minimum" on earth's climate, namely that we can expect global temperatures to drop. Both have also stated that they believe changes in the level of solar irradiation make a larger contribution to changes in earth's climate than current human activity. Here is Dr. Helen Popova's statement. Dr. Valentina Zharkova, the study's lead author, comments about it here and here.

Neither of these researchers is a climate scientist. If you already believe that climate scientists as a whole are already too invested in the theory of man-made climate change to accept the idea that reduced solar activity could interrupt or cancel out the climatic effects of greenhouse gases, then the fact that Popova is a physicist and Kharkova a mathematician might lead you to trust their opinions more. If, on the other hand, you already believe that climate scientists as a whole have it basically correct, then you are likely to discount Zharkova and Popova's opinions on the relative climatic effects of reduced solar activity. It's worth pointing out that solar activity has already been on the decline while global temperatures have been increasing. There are other studies that argue changes in the levels of greenhouse gases and other resulting atmospheric changes have contributed more to changes in global climate than changes in solar activity/output. See here and here.


Bottom line. The debates over AGW remind me of the debates over evolution vs. creationism. On the one hand, you have a body of scientists that claim they have extensive, multiple lines of independent evidence supporting a dominant theory. On the other hand you have outliers who question the theory, most of whom have a prior commitment to another explanation for the evidence that comes, not from careful investigation of evidence but from a take-no-prisoners commitment to "revealed religion." Many climate science deniers come from the same group of religious zealots. Others are not so religiously precommitted. Nevertheless, when I read detailed debates about the specifics conducted on various blog sites and in academic articles, I get the same overall impression I got when following creation/evolution debates on The outliers critique a mainstream position and mainstream responders reply with a detailed explanation of the position that shows 1.) the critique misunderstood the position; 2.) the critique uses evidence incorrectly; 3.) the critique makes fundamental logical errors, and/or 4.) the critique, if correct, would undermine the critiquer's own position.

Readers will get their own mileage out of reading these climate debates. I can only speak for myself. IMHO this editorial is a poorly-argued piece of right-wing propaganda. I can't wait until the Leader Times passes out of the control of the nuts at the Tribune Review!

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