May 31, 2014
The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change
There's a lot of shopping days left until Christmas comes around again, but nonetheless I've been watching a pantomime. You can watch it too if you like. Here's a video recording of Thursday's United States Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing that purportedly examined "The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Process". I don't usually spend my time avidly watching committee meetings on the other side of the Atlantic, but this one was of great interest to me because a fortnight ago I spent a couple of days at Exeter University listening to a long list of scientists expounding about how they took part in the "IPCC process", and their resulting conclusions.
Thursday's proceedings in Washington DC started with committee chairman Representative Lamar Smith (R. Texas) reading a pre-prepared statement which began as follows:
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently released three working group reports on climate science – focused on physical sciences, impacts and adaptation, and mitigation. These documents make up the Fifth Assessment Report.
Similarly, the White House recently rolled out its National Climate Assessment, which takes a closer look at climate change and policy in the U.S. Both the IPCC and the White House’s documents appear to be designed to spread fear and alarm and provide cover for previously determined government policies. The reports give the Obama Administration an excuse to control more of the lives of the American people.
The IPCC’s goal is an international climate treaty that redistributes wealth among nations. The Administration’s goal is to impose greenhouse gas regulations, which will stifle economic growth and lead to hundreds of thousands of fewer jobs each year.
On the heels of these catastrophic predictions, the President plans to announce next Monday his most costly climate regulations – new climate standards for power plants.
Can I take it that you get the general drift by now? Nearing the end of his presentation Representative Smith went on to say that:
The President and others often claim that 97 percent of scientists believe that global warming is primarily driven by human activity. However, the study they cite has been debunked.
While the majority of scientists surveyed may think humans contribute something to climate change, and I would agree, only 1 percent said that humans cause most of the warming. So the President has misrepresented the study’s results.
We should focus on good science, rather than politically correct science. The facts should determine which climate policy options the U.S. and world considers.
After the hearing a press release reiterated Lamar Smith's comments reproduced above, and added:
A distinguished panel of experts involved in the IPCC and National Climate Assessment process unanimously stated that the science of climate change is “not settled,” as the President and others often state unequivocally.
To begin our own forensic analysis of what was actually said, here are all four of the distinguished expert witnesses, sat in their respective hot seats:
Now I do agree with Lamar that "humans contribute something to climate change" and that "facts should determine which climate policy options the U.S. and world considers" so let us examine some facts together. One of the witnesses called to present evidence to the committee was Richard Tol, Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex. During the question and answer session after all the pre-prepared statements had been read out Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R. California) asked:
Is this 97% of all scientists believe that global warming, global climate change, is a result of human activity – Is that accurate or inaccurate, from what you see from other scientists, and from what you know?
In his reply Prof. Tol said, amongst other things, that:
It is pretty clear that most of the science agrees that climate change is real and most likely human made, but this 97 per cent is essentially pulled from thin air – it’s not based on any credible research whatsoever.
A bit later one of the other witnesses, Dr. Daniel Botkin, interjected to add that:
What a scientist finds out is science. What a scientist says is opinion. Science is not a consensus activity. Science is innovative and invention and discovery.
All of which may help to explain why Professor Peter Cox had this to say in Exeter recently, in a presentation to the general public entitled "IPCC: building on the 'miracle' of consensus.":
To quote Prof. Cox:
Some people are concerned about this. How could we possibly come to a consensus? Is it that we are all kind of "herded" by Thomas [Stocker]? Scientists are like cats, we are not herdable, ask any University! We don't like to agree, in fact we are motivated by not agreeing, so how could we possibly get to the point where we can agree? Is it the Intergovernmental Panel of Cat Control?
No it's not! Part of the reason we agree is because some of it's obvious. It's been obvious for a long time… We are more and more sure about the obvious.
Quod erat demonstrandum?
P.S. Some alternative interpretations of last week's United States Committee on Science, Space, and Technology hearing are now available at:
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