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    13 August 2007

    Skeptics Beware

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    Given all the bamboozlement surrounding climate science I thought I'd share a recent LTTE I wrote in response to a local (SC) climate skeptic who managed to get his misinformation past the brilliant censors at the Post & Courier. Some quick background, popular skeptic Stephen McIntyre invented a controversy which was unprofessionally recited--incorrectly at times--by skeptics throughout the blogosphere and the media. A minor error that moved the record high temperature in the continental US from 1998 to 1934 and causing the high point to move from "being in a virtual tie, to being in a virtual tie" was the culprit here. (The site I am quoting here has been attacked and will make your browser freeze up. Click this link at your own risk!) We should thank McIntyre for finding this error but ignore his claims that it is a big issue. It only affects the continental US data not the global data. And it is global warming.

    Anyway, a recent letter to the editor (titled "Warming skeptic") attempted to downplay the validity of climate science in an attempt to berate believers of climate change and their associated political movement's "public fright campaign." The thrust of this effort was to advise against solar and wind energy and for more coal power. These issues are worthy of debate but corrections to the conclusions arrived at within this letter relating to the facts surrounding climate change are needed. These corrections will likely cause readers to reevaluate the possible benefit of renewable energy sources and the frightening contribution additional coal plants may have on climate change, especially if they aren't fitted with the latest technology to sequester the high levels of carbon emissions associated with the use of coal (and other hydrocarbons).

    The letter begins by noticing that science is always changing. This is correct; every day scientists learn a little bit more about climate change and how it will affect Charleston and the planet. That is why it is important to stay up to date on the latest findings. Pointed out in the author's effort is the effect of the sun on climate variations. What is missing from this analysis is a plethora recent science that has found that the sun does fluctuate in intensity but that it has little effect on our climate. The author likely used studies of solar trends from the early 90s that have been thoroughly discredited as proof that global warming is not related to human influences. Anyone who has so much as cracked a scientific textbook is aware that while fluctuations in solar intensity occur in short periods, fluctuations in CO2 levels are orders of magnitude longer. Therefore, any correlation between solar and CO2 signals are only spurious conclusions that have been thoroughly debunked.

    Later in the letter the author cites poll data from the same period (the early 90s) concluding that scientists were skeptical of the hype surrounding global warming. Of course they are skeptical, we should be grateful for this. Scholars are often skeptical of mainstream conventional wisdom and the media's sensationalism. That doesn't mean that the science is false, only that it is eternally incomplete. But the idea that there is an absence of consensus that climate change is a human induced phenomenon is a falsity. In fact, a thorough analysis published in Science Magazine found that in 928 peer-reviewed scientific papers on global warming published between 1993 and 2003, not a single one challenged the scientific consensus that the earth's temperature is rising due to human activity. In 2002 the Bush administration's EPA admitted (reluctantly I'd imagine) that the warming trend "is real and has been particularly strong within the past 20 years ... due mostly to human activities." Most recently the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—constructed of scientists from 113 countries—found that global warning was "very likely" man-made (that's a 90% probability).

    Skeptics are finding it harder and harder to piece together misinformation to deny scientific conclusions in order to pressure policy makers to adopt ideology as a replacement for sound science. This is easily done when you actively search for conflicting data, especially from the past. Climate skeptics are entitled to their opinions but are increasingly standing on stumps from the past. Stumps are dead ends, if skeptics aren't careful they will soon be submerged by their own faulty logic.

    Posted by Geoff

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