Climate Always Changes

There’s no doubt that I am my own worst enemy. I only have myself to blame for being up so early after fuming over something so trivial. On the other hand perhaps that’s what I’ve been missing; maybe it’s more that I’ve felt far more content in my current need to focus on my personal and professional life and leaving the pseudoscience arena on the sideline. Maybe it’s the frustration itself which motivates my writing.

Whatever the case, I find myself at the keyboard, when I could have had an additional hour of sleep before work.

Mike, at Watching the Deniers, has recently written two articles relating to Gina Rinehart’s latest attempt to control media in Australia. Mike did what I had been thinking to do in one of the articles,(Oh Lordy: Monckton rejected by his own political party, but “Uncle” Monckton’s effect on Australia’s media landscape is still playing out) in linking it to a relevant video in which Monckton suggests such an action by Australia’s rich and self-interested. Honestly, if anyone truly believes Gina has the interests of anyone else in mind, except for herself, in such a move, that is very telling of such a person. She’s no Princess Di. But why waste time bashing at a keyboard on something blatantly obvious?

No, in the other post, (Rinehart on climate: deeply concerned about our “lack of understanding” on issue), Mike included a quote from Rinehart which annoyed me;

“It is a fact that there have been ice ages, then periods of global warming to end the ice ages, and these have occurred naturally, including due to the earth’s orbit, and not due to mankind at all.”

When I entered this arena back in 2009, this absurd statement by “committed sceptics”* was already dated and yet, to this day, it just won’t die.

In reply to Mike’s post, I made the point that it’s like saying that Mike clearly doesn’t drive simply because in my time, I’ve seen many thousands of cars on the road and not one of them was driven by him. Of course he drives. He has written posts in the past about driving and had video footage of local flooding filmed from inside his car up on his site. That he is not always the reason behind why one car moves doesn’t refute the claim of his driving.

It’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s good enough and still, this isn’t what bugged me enough to motivate this post.

What annoyed me the most – and is perhaps the core reason why I write online at all – is that such a statement goes just as far along the path of reason as is comfortable before taking one hell of a leap of faith.  I detest when people attempt use favourable scientific evidence to disprove compelling evidence they are not in favour of.

Of instance; for Rinehart’s argument (well, not only hers, of course) to exist, she needs to accept the following results from climate studies to be accurate;

  • Proxy data accurately outlines many millions of years of climatic conditions on Earth,
  • We can accurately model the shape of the Earth’s orbit and the shifts in degree of the Earth’s axis over time,
  • We can accurately measure and equate the effects of other greenhouse gases over the millennia through ice cores etc (*potentially* as I’m not sure which greenhouse gases, if any, are acceptable in Rinehart’s logic)

All of which, I personally feel are compelling results, at least in long term trends, from amazingly talented researchers tackling difficult fields. Yet, at the same time, she needs to refute other results from climate studies and physical chemistry, such as;

  • The observable absorption of infrared radiation by certain greenhouse gases (most notably, CO2),
  • As much as a couple centuries of direct observations in solar activity, ambient temperature, ecological shifts (ie. timing in blooms, migration, location shifts etc), changes in atmospheric chemistry, sea level height and glacial retreat,
  • A scientific community consisting of many hundreds of thousands of research hours yet unable to find compelling alternative conclusions (of course, the previous two points make it clear enough that CO2 atmospheric concentration changes must make a change to the energy stored in the atmosphere – that is a well known and essential component to the habitability on the surface of this planet). Even though the endless rhetoric is provided by committed sceptics, it fails to shift the expert community from this position (what do these committed sceptics know that experts continually overlook?).

On Christine’s blog, 360orBust, I ran into a similar argument by someone attempting to use the scrap of data we have from Venus to overturn the wealth of data all around us (in this case, the individual had a paper or two in peer-reviewed science literature, so it’s telling that instead of attempted to do the same with this gem of his intellect, he shared it in comment threads, linking back to a New Age book he had written at his mother’s expense).

I must admit, I can see the appeal – it’s far easier to accept valid evidence that supports an idea one already holds onto – but science would get nowhere if we allowed our bias to pick and choose what findings we will accept. Attempting to map out the deep history of climatic conditions of Earth is immensely difficult and by no means as precise as directly measuring climate or firing different spectrum of radiation through known quantities of materials as we are doing today. We should be wearier of former investigation rather than the latter – but for people like Gina Rinehart, it seems the latter is too uncomfortable to acknowledge.

It’s funny with this in mind that Rinehart calls for greater “understanding” of climate science in the public via the media (which she is in the process of gaining influence of), especially when genuine understanding places pressure on the source of her immense wealth.

Climate changes. It has always changed – except for the relative stability of the Holocene, which allowed our species to develop beyond hunters and gatherers to the point we developed “gross domestic product”. Ultimately it would have changed again, whether by our geo-engineering skills (as is currently the reality) or by natural means (as the committed sceptics would have us believe is the situation at hand). We need to come to terms with that. What we don’t need are people who pick and choose from equally valid evidence, based on their personal ideologies, influencing our media.

That will lead to an intellectual black hole.

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* In retrospect, I’m more than happy to call those I once considered “deniers” instead “committed sceptics”. Personally, I feel it is the most accurate title that gives such a crowd due respect for what they stand for. The reason for this change of heart comes from recently reading (finally) Carl Sagan’s The Demon Haunted World:

“I’ve tried to stress, at the heart of science is an essential balance between two seemingly contradictory attitudes – an openness to new ideas, no matter how bizarre or counterintuitive, and the most ruthlessly sceptical scrutiny of all ideas, old and new. This is how deep truths are winnowed from deep nonsense. The collective enterprise of creative thinking and sceptical thinking, working together, keeps the field on track. Those two seemingly contradictory attitudes are, though, in some tension…

“If you’re only sceptical, then no new ideas make it through to you. You never learn anything. You become a crochety misanthrope convinced that nonsense is ruling the world. (There is, of course, much data to support you.) Since major discoveries in the borderlines of science are rare, experience will tend to confirm your grumpiness. But every now and then a new idea turns out to be on the mark, valid and wonderful. If you’re too resolutely and uncompromisingly sceptical, you’re going to miss (or resent) the transforming discoveries in science, and either way you will be obstructing understanding and progress. Mere scepticism is not enough.”

Yes, they are “committed sceptics” and thus immune largely to the scientific debate. This is probably why a reasoned rebuttal will not see the death of such silly arguments.

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5 thoughts on “Climate Always Changes

  1. From Ross Gittens in today Age:

    “…Julia Gillard and her supporters have been hoping against hope that as soon as this reality dawns on a fearful public, as soon as the magnitude of the Liberals’ hoax is revealed, voters will switch back to Labor in droves.

    I don’t see it happening. It rests on an unrealistic view of the lack of self-delusion in human nature.

    Political parties and their cheerleaders don’t like admitting they’ve been dishonest – even to themselves. And you and I don’t like admitting we’ve allowed ourselves to be conned by unscrupulous politicians and shock jocks.”

    Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/shift-minds-on-a-tax-unlikely-20120626-210ct.html#ixzz1yxoJs9Ps

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  2. The analogy about driving cars is fantastic! I hope to be able to use that at some stage in my next conversation with a committed sceptic, who, unfortunately, are all too easy to find these days.

    Also of vital importance in this issue is the personal interests of each party. High-profile “committed sceptics” are all too often tied up in business worlds which require constant economic growth and the destruction of the environment just to survive. Conceding that humans are forcing a climate change different to what would naturally occur long-term is conceding that those business worlds are defunct. The “experts” (as you so rightly name them) as scientists make no real personal gains whether they pronounce or denounce human-driven climate change. As the least bias party, the “experts” are the more reliable.

    Call me weak, but I tend to avoid the climate change argument in my blog because it is just immediately rebuffed by so many people. I prefer to write about resource depletion and problems with our economic models – things people all generally agree on – in order to spread a mutual understanding that we need to change the way we live and the way we treat our environment. In doing this, I hope it builds a solid foundation of people who are more likely to think openly and logically about climate change in the future. If this proves a success, I hope those people will move on to read blogs like yours and enjoy them as much as I do.

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    1. I wouldn’t be too discouraged – the committed sceptics are not, as they seem, all too common. In the recent paper, Climate change scepticism and public support for mitigation: Evidence from an Australian choice experiment, Akter, Bennett and Ward (2012), they show that the committed sceptics are not really all that prolific. Sure, there is widespread scepticism about the governments of the world actually working together to mitigate change – understandable with what we’ve witnessed in recent years (and, in Australia, doubly worse due to the internal squabbling that amounts for the average work day of these individuals).

      The committed sceptics are, if anything, noisy, not numerous. I don’t think the high profile individuals are in fact sceptical – I think they just don’t care about the reality, but only about their meal ticket. Same ends really.

      It’s not weak to avoid the subject. When I started out, I took the angle that debating climate change was absurd because biodiversity loss, peak oil, decreasing resource security and population growth all lead to the same conclusion as mitigation of climate change; a decarbonised future. Pure and simple. Certain trolls led me into the debate over the course of my time writing. From that experience, I can understand why you avoid it. None of them provide a valid counterargument, but instead reject strong evidence on points that haven’t been proven or have been proven to be wrong (ie. “Climategate”).

      And a number of the noisier individuals I’ve ran into and since had to say farewell to, unfortunately, as I don’t like “censoring” (such as Pete Ridley, “Adam”, PopTech – merely mentioning his username is enough to bring him around here via whatever special means he has to keep tabs on whoever is talking about him.. vanity.. Rogerthesurf and “Elsa”), will just insult without basis (eg. “you’re gullible and beyond help” etc) and lead to circular arguments that wear you down. If they have valid evidence to support a counterargument, I’m all ears, but in the case of such people, they attack you rather than critically evaluate the evidence. It can be tiring and is ultimately demoralising. I had to leave it alone for a long while simply to recharge and now I just won’t waste my time entertaining circular arguments and personal attacks – I won’t let such people make me as grumpy as they are.

      As the label to the right states, everything here is “CC”; creative commons. If you’d like to repost anything you’ve read here or use the graphics under the tab above, be my guest. Let the haters hate me instead.

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  3. I couldn’t work out why channel Ten kept The Bolt Report going when it rated so poorly , but then I found Omg that Gina Rienhart had a board seat on Ten and it all fell into place .

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    1. You or I fork out loose change to hire a movie we’d like to watch. For her, it’s still loose change, but on a larger scale. Unfortunately, she made the rest of us have to avoid a channel for a short while so she could get her fix.

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