Sunday, July 29, 2012

"The Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic"

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming.

That is the beginning of an op-ed by Richard A. Muller which is well worth reading in its entirety.

If you don't know Muller, the short version is that he was for some time the darling of the denialists, being the most credible critic of climate change research, a rare person who could legitimately be called a skeptic in the best scientific sense. In April of 2011, he became dead to the denialists. The op-ed is a distillation of the findings he first reported then, and of follow-up work since.

Those bent on denialism may try to cherry-pick some fragments from the end of the op-ed. If so, maybe I can save them some typing by stating that I don't dispute anything from the end, any more than I do from the lede. What I would really like is not to blunder into some wild set of programs pushed by the most zealous alarmists, but to get to a rational starting point, where everyone agrees on Muller's fundamental conclusion.

Finally, to the so-called agnostics: Yes, you could still make the case that this is yet another argument from authority, that you will insist that you remain unpersuaded because you haven't had the time to study the problem yourself. If so, so be it. But I do wish you would ask yourself how many other aspects of life you accept, entirely because the experts in those fields have converged.

(h/t: Jack, via email)


[Added] You'll be shocked, shocked to see that Andrew Revkin has rushed about gathering up brickbats for Muller, but you might find some worthwhile bits, if you're the sort who follows this Debate© closely. (h/t: John Horgan)

[Added2] Also via Jack, a delightful catch from Roy. Connoisseurs of homo wingnuttia are encouraged to follow the links Roy offers to the Power Tool blog posts, but this bit from the second one is just too good not to quote:

Hmm, maybe the Kochs are actually interested in good science after all, and perhaps their critics might want to give some benefit of the doubt to other Koch-supported research projects?

Man. Lipstick on a pig doesn't even come close.


Ocean said...

In reference to the argument from authority, I wonder if those who question the scientific consensus on the topic, would apply the same criteria and go to medical school-residency training before they consider a proposed treatment for their, say, newly diagnosed cancer or heart disease.

I guess they may even consider doing research for a few years at NIH before deciding what treatment to opt for.

Interesting people those denialists!

Brendan Keefe said...

I have a particular agnostic in mind who I hope will address that.

Brendan Keefe said...

I should add that I don't exactly equate agnostics with denialists, when it comes to AGW.

Ocean said...

What's the difference between those who, in spite of 95% of scientific community going in one direction, they cling to the 5% that justifies their doubt and a denialist?

In this case for all practical purposes, clinging to doubt justifies inaction, status quo, so IMO it's the same as denialism without the conviction.

Brendan Keefe said...

Put that way, I can't really disagree. And sure, there's some blurring of the line between the two terms.

I guess I'd say that in my mind, an agnostic in this case really is one who insists he or she does not know, and really is open to accepting the consensus view at some point, at least in principle. The denialist, on the other hand, is someone who will not budge from views such as "it's not getting warmer, it's all a leftist lie" or "the planet may be getting a little warmer lately, but it's entirely natural and part of a cycle, and has absolutely nothing to do with humans."

P.S. Firefox does not, out of the box, recognize denialist and suggests instead Stalinist, which proves that Mozilla is part of the liberal conspiracy to take away your Humvee.

Ocean said...

Yes, I can see the difference in principle, but again, not much in practice.

I always suspected Mozilla must be part of some conspiracy or the other. It's that fox greedilly hugging the world that made me suspicious...

Brendan Keefe said...


Brendan Keefe said...

Added Revkin link.

Brendan Keefe said...

Added Jack's link to Roy.