Sunday, October 16, 2016

Usefully Vague - How Vague AGW Terminology is Abused

How many times have you heard the term "climate change deniers"? And how often have you really thought about what it means, and realized exactly how stupid that term truly is? No one I know denies "climate change". In temperate zones climate changes every year, and even in more tropical or arctic climes, climate still changes somewhat with seasons. Not to mention the even shorter term changes we see with the rising and setting of the sun. Of course, no one denies the climate changes.

Even the larger changes, over a longer term, are not denied by many. We all hear talk of La Nina and El Nino and the effect they have on climate. And history records any number of more dramatic climate events. Ice ages, tropical eras, and, within more recent times, the Medieval Warm Period -- when villages were built now found under glaciers, and the Norse colonized parts of Greenland no longer inhabitable -- as well as the more recent "Year without a Winter". Obviously the climate changes, whether in a cycle or via a series of discreet changes, there is clearly no set and fixed climate that persists immutable.

Of course, that is not what is meant by the term. Rather, when the term "climate change denier" is tossed about, what is meant is that one has challenged one of the many claims made about man-made global warming. The one calling names is upset, not that someone said climate does not change, but that someone doubted a specific thesis relating to -- usually catastrophic -- man-made global warming --most often anticipated to result in disaster in the short term.

However, those parts between the dashes actually highlight the problem with this accusation. Even ignoring the complete foolishness of calling objections about Anthropogenic Global Warming "denying climate change" (a bit of hyperbole if ever I heard one), it also can mislead those who believe in various theories relating to AGW, as there are a whole host of theories, running the gamut from "man is contributing somewhat to a natural warming cycle and may produce some unexpected results in a century or two" all the way to "it is all man's fault and the seas will boil next Labor Day!" And therein lies the problem. Theories of "global warming" cover a wide range of beliefs, resting on better and worse evidence, with a massive number of different predictions, and various claims about how reliable those predictions might be. And yet, when one challenges any one, from the most modest to the most extreme, it is likely he will be labelled a "climate change denier" and, since the term is so ill defined, many will assume the individual is denying everything, from the most extreme to the most modest.

Of course, this is a useful way to argue, especially for those making the most extreme allegations. After all, even those who are convinced that AGW will produce harmful results in a relatively short time frame often disagree with some of the most outrageous claims, and yet, when those claims are challenged, suddenly even those who are fully in agreement with many other AGW claims risk being called "deniers", and others will assume they have gone over to the the dark side. Thus, many of the most unfounded and outrageous claims find a way to safeguard themselves, and to blacken the names of critics, by using a deliberately vague term to confuse the issue.

Now, before we go on, I suppose I should put my cards on the table and give my own beliefs. I am probably, if I am honest, among the "deniers". I believe there are larger and smaller cycles, many solar related, that do seem to bring warning and cooling periods, and we do appear to be warming. Thus, I am not opposed to believing there is some generalized warming, I am just dubious of placing it all on man. It is likely carbon dioxide and water vapor are raising temperatures somewhat, but I do not believe in all the feedbacks and other amplifications many theorize to cause increased warming, above that normally called for by physics. I also have problems with many of the models, as they do not work well when run backward over historical data, making me dubious of their validity. And, finally, I am completely dumbfounded anyone accepts the "hockeystick" chart, since if tails to show many periods of warming and cooling we know happened historically, presenting an almost flat period from 800 to 1900, which does not correspond with historical data. (I also recall when global cooling was a certainty and discussed much the same way, though many now deny it ever happened, but I recall the worries, as a scientifically curious child, so I am not accepting that claim.)

On the other hand, I am neither a climate change denier in the sense of denying there is any climate change, nor that man has no role in it. I know enough to agree adding carbon dioxide and water vapor to the atmosphere can increase the retention of radiated heat. What I deny are the models which exaggerate the amount of heat it would trap, which do not recognize there is an upper limit to the effect in an atmosphere of our density, which postulate feedback and amplification which do not match historical data, and which ignore sinks for both heat and carbon, such as increased plant growth, oceanic solution, deposition in shells and so on. I just believe present models are designed in such a way as to maximize warming effects and as a result overstate those effects, which we can see if we try to run computer models backwards, as they deviate radically from historical values.

But, as I said above, saying this much is enough to make me a "denier", even though I do not disagree with a number of claims, only with a subset. However, since the term is used in such a nebulous way, it can be made to function as a means of effectively silencing debate. Since "everyone knows" "deniers" are conspiracy theorists, and crazies, denying any element is a sign that you are part of the vast, unenlightened mob of loons on the right.

Which is interesting, as, though I admit to disagreeing with a number of proposals, I am also open to proof that would contradict my positions. However, for my skepticism I am called a "denier". It seems a peculiar way to conduct science.

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