Month: September 2014

Climate Musings on a Messy Battlefield

Bit of a semi-personal ramble through the ever messier battleground of the Great Climate Change Debate, so excuse the slightly informal, random approach as events over the last few weeks pop in and out of my head.

I’m actually quite surprised at how generally polite everyone is. It could so easily descend into a bitter slanging match. The fact that it does not (well, not very often!) is testament to the general upbringing of the opponents I believe, combined with the Western cultural norm (particularly the English cultural norm) of preferring politeness over abusiveness. No doubt also the perceived need to maintain some sense of personal decorum when one may be perceived as representing some professional sector, academic institution or whatever.

Personally, I’m annoyed, very annoyed. Many reasons I guess, not least the irreversible contamination of science by advocacy, political motive and social science manoeuvring which I see on a daily basis in the ongoing ‘debate’ over whether Man is largely responsible for the climate which we now have. But what really annoys me is the industrialisation of the seascape which I am forced to witness as I wander along the Wash coastal fringes with my dogs (more on them in a moment). It annoys me intensely that these environmentally unfriendly marine monstrosities are there because a few people cried wolf and we all believed them. They are testament to mass hysteria and delusions of imminent catastrophe; certainly not to engineering excellence or effortless efficiency. They are costing me a packet to be there in all their uselessness and offensive green posturing. Countless seals died horrible deaths in order to lay the cables going to them. Seabirds no doubt are still being chopped in half by them as they attempt to navigate such an alien forest plonked straight in the path of their ancient migratory routes. For what? So they can generate a tiny proportion of our energy needs, inefficiently, at huge expense, only when the wind blows. So they can stare defiantly at me as I walk my dogs along the sea bank and I in turn can scowl back at their irritating affrontery.

Feedbacks: what we don’t know, says Kate Marvel in her wittily constructed, well written, but slightly condescending blog post which might possibly entertain more children than adults. What we do know, she informs us, is that humans are ‘most likely’ to be behind the ‘recent warming’, implying that we are responsible for all, or most of it: which is perplexing given that climate sensitivity (which basically measures the net positive contribution of those ‘unknown’ feedbacks to ACO2 mediated warming) seems to be on a definite declining trend. First Otto et al, then Lewis and Crock, now Lewis and Curry. ECS and TCR ‘best estimates’ keep getting pegged lower in scientific publications. Which means that ‘what we know’ about man-made climate change is constantly under review and the uncertainty with regard to us being responsible for all or most of the post-industrial warming trend is growing even as our knowledge of natural climate forcings improves. It also means that, very likely, those environmentally damaging monstrosities which impair my sea-view on my dog walks and which drain money from my pocket were, in fact, not necessary. Which riles me, it really does, and, at times, means that I am tempted to be impolite during online discussions about climate change.

I could have been impolite to paleo-ecologist Jacquelyn Gill, even as she accused me of trolling and then of knowing more about dogs than climate. I could have, but English reserve and a decent upbringing I guess got the better of me. Slightly ironic too, as what I know about dogs is not much really. A combination of first hand experience of living with four German Shepherd rescues and reading some of the accumulated literary offerings of others who have put down in print what they think they know about dogs. What’s fairly certain is that dogs were domesticated by humans (or allowed themselves to be domesticated!) as far back as 30-40,000 years ago in the depths of the last Ice Age proper. So our companionship predates the Holocene by many thousands of years and survived the truly catastrophic abrupt climatic upheavals of the Younger Dryas etc. interstadials as the huge ice sheets covering much of the Northern Hemisphere reluctantly and falteringly retreated. So people and dogs go way back, long before us humans supposedly started changing ‘the climate’, even before the Holocene – which certain sections of the scientific community are now clamouring to rename the Anthropocene in honour of our supposedly over-weaning influence on our environment. I’m sure Jacquelyn Gill does know rather more than myself about certain aspects of past climate related to her expertise on paleo-ecology, but I’m equally certain that she cannot claim to know more about the exact causes of very recent climate change than most other people who populate the online and offline debate on AGW/CAGW.

If I’d taken up that offer of a place on a Masters course in Atmospheric Physics at UEA all those years ago, I suppose I might now be in a position where ‘experts’ like McGill could not accuse me of being a scientific ignoramus. Then again, I suspect my hoped for academic career may have been curtailed in the years to follow as I railed against the take-over of climate science (and funding opportunities) by consensus AGW. I didn’t take the offer up because I couldn’t afford to, then lapsed into a decade of hedonism, moved several times here, there and everywhere, decided I liked dogs rather more than most people, and here I am today, taking schtick from arrogant academics on Twitter! Academics who believe that Naomi Oreskes has something important to say about climate change by virtue of the fact that this is what she “does for a living and has expertise to contribute FFS”.

There was a meeting of the great and good (and no doubt a few of the bad and the ugly) of the climate change debate recently in Bristol it seems, where Mann delivered a talk to an audience including several well known sceptics. Despite the potential for fireworks, by all accounts it seems to have been a fairly muted affair, with said sceptics remaining strangely silent during Q&A time, for whatever reason. Good luck to those who attended; perhaps it was a worthwhile experience, but I think these sorts of events are not going to make much headway as far as progressing the debate on climate change is concerned. People doing good science is going to contribute most to the ongoing argument over whether we are indeed instruments of our own climate mediated demise or we are just minor bit players, or even innocent bystanders to a natural spectacle.