Scattershot?

The other day I read a letter to the editor in the Atlantic that said that “there is no debate” about Global Warming within the scientific community. I think she may have gotten her stories mixed up, and her misplaced certainty belongs with the Darwinists, who, indeed, are in the happy position of defending a solid and tested theory against a bunch of Yahoos. Unlike evolution, tried and true after 150 years or so, and demonstrated again and again in the field and the lab, Global Warming is still rather speculative, though you’d have a hard time telling that from the press.Now, let me be clear right from the start: I think that if we would stop burning so much fossil fuel that would be a great thing for a lot of reasons, not the least of which are better public health (air pollution being one of the great ‘hidden’ public health problems of the day) and geopolitical sense. But the science of Global Warming (GW), that’s something else. It’s really three linked propositions:

  • The earth is getting warmer
  • The earth will continue to get warmer
  • The earth is getting warmer because of human activity

Is the earth getting warmer? Not easy to tell, records are short, inconsistent, need to be ‘adjusted’ and they don’t agree. Still, some claim that a clear trend is visible in the data over the last 150 years. It certainly IS warmer now, in some places, like the Alaskan tundra, than has been normal over the last several generations. But what does that prove?Okay, let’s grant, for the sake of argument, that it is warmer now than normal. Do we know that it will continue to be so for very long? 100 years is a pretty short trend in geological terms. Couldn’t it change again? GW advocates claim that the trend will continue because they feel that they have discovered the mechanism, greenhouse gases, which forms the link to the last point above.

Their evidence for this link, and the putative trend, however, is largely based on huge computer models of the climate system, models which are calibrated to data used to prove point number one. It’s a bit of a self-referential system. When I listen to scientists go on about their models, and I do have that opportunity at meetings now and then, I get a sinking feeling…Is this science? Isn’t science supposed to be about observation, hunches, hypotheses, then testing to DISPROVE the theory? When your theory is based, largely, on models, there are no experiments to run to test it because any negative result can always be treated as a poor calibration. The modelers are actually in the position of assuming that their model is right, and the assumption is made because the model matches the data, and the data are the basis on which the model was developed in the first place. I fear that the models have supplanted reality for these people.

Not that I’m sure they’re wrong – they might be right, and if so, it’s way too late to do much about it other than adjust. Thus, I find myself in agreement with our president for the second time. First, I agreed that we should invade Afghanistan to topple the Taliban; second, I agree that GW needs more study. Nice that I can agree with our leader on at least two things; too bad everything else he does is dead wrong.

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