This is the second part of my series in anticipation of the upcoming Copenhagen conference. The previous post in this series was a defense of the scientific method.
So, what do I think about global warming? The consensus is a powerful one, and it’s not built upon one tree ring or one temperature reconstruction, it’s been built upon thousands of independent studies by thousands of different authors. That said, there are some valid critiques on methodological issues. Even if those critiques are fully accurate, that isn’t enough by itself to warrant throwing out the entire body of literature, which over the years of reading both Climate Audit and Real Climate I’ve seen extends far beyond just one paper by Mann et al or one set of trees at Yamal. The very fact that there is a controversy, and both sides are able to endlessly rebut the other in a seemingly-never ending cycle of rebuttal, proves that there is indeed more to the story. Like blind men in a room with an elephant, the dissenters and the keepers of orthodoxy have valid observations and methods. Reconciling them requires moving forward, not standing still.
I’ve watched An Inconvenient Truth and I’ve seen A Convenient Fiction. I’ve read the Wegman Report and the RealClimate folks’ highly-convincing response on the technical merits. I read Climate Audit and now, thanks to suggestions from others here, will also check out Watt’s Up With That, but I also cross-check dissenters’ arguments against the RC Archive and RC Index. I think I am doing due diligence here. The consensus for global warming remains robust, despite the dissenters’ well-publicized arguments. Until the dissenters repudiate their partisan political fellow-travelers who engage in irresponsible rhetoric about GW being a “massive lie” or the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people” they will never attain the credibility they require to persuade and influence the concensus the way it has always been done.
Fundamentally, however, the basic goal of those who advocate anthropogenic global warming is simple: to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. The single best route to doing that is to make our civilization more energy efficient and less polluting. Technologies to make this so represent as much of an immense, industry-creating opportunity as the semiconductor industry or the space program. One of Al Gore’s maxims is that you should never underestimate human ingenuity; to this, I would also add the corollary, never underestimate the ability of Americans to make a profit off it, either. Those who argue that the Kyoto Protocol or the upcoming Copenhagen treaty would bankrupt the business world sound to me like Malthusian alarmists, without faith in the genius of men like Norman Borlaug to find ways of escaping the constraints. The business world itself is on board with the opportunity ahead. In that sense, the scientific world has fallen behind. It’s time to catch up… to the Chinese and the Indians. Far from being an obstacle to change, the developing nations see the writing on the wall – in terms of existential threat to their own territory and populations from increased sea levels, but also from the basic security/economic perspectives of needing less oil imports and having greater energy to fuel their growing societies.
So, count me as convinced that GW is real and requires action. The dissenters are important, as they provide a needed critique from within. But they cannot and should not be the cause for holding back on moving ahead full speed.