Translating Climate Op-Ed
A few days ago, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed written by a collection of scientists claiming distortion of science in support of climate alarmism. I don’t necessarily agree with everything they wrote, but their central point seemed quite sensible: whether or not “drastic actions on global warming are needed” is not something on which all scientists agree. I’d go farther and say that it’s clearly not even a scientific question; it involves a great deal of politics (i.e. how do we balance different values as a society) and economics (how will various types of “drastic actions” affect our ability to address these different values). But the main thrust of the letter is that a climate change orthodoxy is being imposed upon the scientific community to support this political stance. The letter provides a few examples.
The Journal has since published a response, which I will attempt to translate for ease of comprehension:
Do you consult your dentist about your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.
Science is based on appeal to authority.
But all those signature drives that claim to establish a “consensus” on climate change by collecting names from anyone with a higher degree? Those still count.
You published “No Need to Panic About Global Warming” (op-ed, Jan. 27) on climate change by the climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology.
Science is also based on ad-hominem attacks.
While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science.
The only people allowed to comment on “climate science” are those who publish papers supporting drastic action on global warming. Neither physicists nor meteorologists may comment. Nor may statisticians, geologists, or chemists.
The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert.
Nor may anyone who fails to bow to the climate change orthodoxy. There is an overwhelming consensus among those who agree with that consensus.
This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.
There have been cases when the prevailing interpretation of the data has turned out to be right, and those who questioned it were wrong.
Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade.
The warming trend has not become less intense or widespread in any way whatsoever.
In fact, it was the warmest decade on record.
We don’t know what a warming trend is.
Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown…
We created an imaginary world where the following is true:
…that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures…
The warming trend has become less intense in some areas. Or less widespread but just as intense. Or less intense and less widespread.
…warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming.
The orthodoxy is that global warming is happening even when you can’t see it in surface temperatures. Pointing out that you can’t see warming in surface temperatures will be interpreted as a denial of this orthodoxy.
Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.
There is data we don’t have, and we wish we had it. But we don’t need it because we know exactly what it is. It’s “data” in the same sense that a computer program is the planet Earth.
The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear:
The role of scientific bodies is to craft simple nuance-free statements on behalf of their members. Please ignore that the op-ed to which we are responding opened with Nobel Prize-winning physicist Ivar Giaever rejecting such a statement (and resigning from the relevant society in protest).
The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible.
We are equally certain of global temperature trends and their precise causes.
Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.
“Apparent”, “increase”, and “significant” may be interpreted by politicians as required.
Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused.
Research shows that 97% of papers published by climate-change research journals do not go out of their way to claim that climate-change research is unimportant.
It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.
Anyone who disagrees with our values or economic priorities is reckless.
In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth.
Climate scientists are well qualified to make macroeconomic predictions.