Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ron Smith: Scholarship and the 'end of days'

Over all of the last week, the airwaves and print media have been telling us that humanity faces an unprecedented challenge due to the increasing use of fossil-fuels.  The carbon dioxide produced by these carbon-containing materials is progressively accumulating in the atmosphere, where it causes the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’.  The inescapable consequence of this is destructive sea-level rise, an increasing incidence of weather calamities (hurricanes and floods), and particularly a rapid increase in average global temperatures.  

All this from the Secretary General of the United Nations, an internationally-celebrated railway engineer (Dr Pachauri), and numerous experts from home and abroad.  Interestingly, these experts did not include anybody who had any contrary opinion on the thesis as a whole, or on any particular claim.

The crucial question to ask about this most recent spate of claims about imminent climatic disaster is whether it is to be taken as an essentially scientific claim about how things are, or, rather, whether it simply reflects an essentially middle-class liberal unease, about the consequences of human civilisation on the global environment, which has coalesced into a political movement. 

Concern about the impact of technology on human society is at least as old as the onset of the industrial revolution.  More generally, claims of impending social doom are equally familiar, as are the political activists who proclaim the end of life as we know it - ‘the end of days’.

As far as whether the collection of propositions is science is concerned, there is a straight-forward test for this.  As the philosopher, Karl Popper, pointed out more than fifty years ago, the essence of science is that its hypotheses are, in principle, falsifiable.  Science makes predictions and these are checked against how the ‘world’ behaves.  If the world conforms, the theory is vindicated.  If it does not, its veracity is challenged.  This is the situation of the central thesis of (human-induced) climate change.  Following the third report (which contained the infamous hockey-stick diagram), the fourth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicted (‘with 90% confidence’) that global temperatures would rise by anything from 3 to 6 degrees by the end of the present century.  In fact, average temperatures have not risen at all over the last eighteen years and there is nothing about recent trends that suggests it will.  To be sure, global temperatures rose over the period 1980 to 2000 (by almost half a degree).  On the other hand temperatures fell by 0.3 over 1940 to 1980.  Towards the end of that period, some scientists were worried that the earth might enter another ‘little ice-age’ like that of the sixteenth/seventeenth century.  Over all this period (1940-2000) levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide from human activity were steadily rising.  This calls into question the other central thesis of ‘global warming’ that it is directly related to variations in carbon dioxide levels.  One might also add that higher ambient carbon dioxide levels are not necessarily a bad thing.  Carbon dioxide is an essential plant food and raising its level is what is routinely done in greenhouses, anyway.

Similar doubts arise if we look at temperature variations over longer time periods.  The earth was warmer a thousand years ago than it is now and, whatever else may be the explanation, it is clear that the ‘medieval warm period’ was not due to human industrial activity.  As I noted in an earlier blog (April, 2013), it was also warmer than it is now 2000 years ago.  They grew grapes at Hadrian’s Wall.  Given these facts (and plenty of others that could be adduced), it is hard to have anything like 90% confidence in the deliverances of the IPCC.  It is clear that the anthropogenic global warming thesis is inadequately supported by the facts and that conclusion also applies to auxiliary theses about the incidence of extreme weather events and concern about rising sea-level.  In both of these cases, there is scientifically respectable data which challenges the oft repeated claims.  Adelaide University, for example, has been collecting data in a technically sophisticated way for the Australian government on sea-level trends in the Pacific, for some decades.  No dramatic increases have been reported.

So why has none of this played any part in the recent public debate?  The explanation turns, in part at least, on dominant group think.  I wrote about this in my very first blog (‘The Tyranny of Fadism, September 2008).  People are afraid of saying something that others might ridicule them for (or which might jeopardise their employment).  Media persons are afraid that others might mock them if they invite comment that seems to suggest that the ‘king is actually naked’.  There is also the fact that persons in a position to influence these things may have their own agenda.  Former Canadian Minister of the Environment Christine Stewart is quoted as saying, ‘No matter if the science of global warming is all phony … climate change provides the greatest opportunity to bring about justice and equality in the world’.

Sadly, this impulse to stifle debate applies even to the leaders of our universities.  I commented a little over two years ago on the fact that the University of Waikato had formally committed itself to teach ‘sustainability’ and ‘how to achieve a society that values people, the planet and profits, etc.’  I was fearing indoctrination rather than education.  Now the Vice Chancellor of Victoria University has declared himself ‘against the fossil fuel industry’ and committed his university to ‘Educate for environmentally responsible citizenship’.  As I have indicated, I think that many of the questions that are begged by the pious declarations of Waikato and Victoria are still live questions and that they ought to be considered so in a university.

John Stewart Mill’s classic argument for freedom of speech applies here.  At a minimum, you are more secure in your judgement, if you have met the contrary arguments and defeated them.  On the other hand, if, against all prior appearances, you are shown to be wrong, you have been done a great service (however much you might dislike the experience).  The principle applies to scholarship in general and to universities in particular.  It is crucial to their role as ‘critic and conscience of society’.  Having regard to their central role in the democratic process, it is also plainly a responsibility of the media to make a genuine attempt at fairness and balance.


Brian said...

Scholarship & "the end of days"

One might wonder at the prolonged attempt by the United Nations to scare the citizens of the world into believing in this so called Human Climate Change; together with its dire implication of a bleak future, A Hollywood special “Twilight of the Gods”. Although the great pity is that the composer Wagner is not around to take the opportunity to produce a musical Operatic score in a Punk or Rock version!
Dr Smith analysis of this United Nations campaign has left out one important factor. Why is the U.N. going to such scary unscientific lengths to predict extremes of weather likely to imperil civilisation, when just time itself will defeat and expose this as a Comedy of Errors? The weather always does!
May I suggest an alternative motive, perhaps better described as the imposition of a Subjugation by Fear? The ultimate objective being that the United Nations knows best, expects obedience from its member nations, and consequently will gain support for the greatest goal of all. "World Rule by the United Nations".
Already not one of its member countries can secure or implement their own independent financial audited report of just what happens in the allocation of finance at the United Nations. It’s so called “Good Works” prevents any criticism, as humanitarian or ethnic objectives are beyond any reproach or investigation.
The Global Warming idealists are a vanguard for the U.N, and a future vehicle to facilitate and impose extra taxes world- wide, by the simplest of all emotive applications; that of FEAR.

paul scott said...

I notice that the big boss of Asia President Xi, at the APEC conference Nov 2014 has signed an agreement to consider China's outpourings of the toxic gas Co2, probably sometime in 2030. Its all the rave. But it is just his way of joking. China and Asia think we Climate warmer Nations are mad I am sure.
Ron, for me to to investigate the science of Co2 and temperature was extremely challenging, and time consuming. It took me years to have the courage to examine the social advocacy called science, and the temerity to realise it is nonsense.
I have come to the conclusion that United Nations, and the Security Council is a global rat nest of socialism .
Where I am in Asia the focus is on capitalism, but that is another story.
Aside; Obama President USA looked very weak at the APEC Conference

Unknown said...

Anytime Obama is off his teleprompters and globalist written speech he looks weak and inarticulate.

Anonymous said...

You are correct, Ron. It is a scam promoted by those who will benefit. The politicians, the promoters of wind and solar power gadgetry, the publishers of papers which attract grant funds, etc. Not one of their predictions has come to pass - negligible sea level rise, static air temperatures for 18 years, record ice in Antarctica, massive ice in the Arctic, no increase in global air temperatures, etc. In the approaching ice age, heralded by already falling temperatures, our crop growers will need all the CO2 they can get to maximise food production to avoid mass starvation in 3rd world countries.
But then, the loony greenies won't care about that - they want to reduce world population!

Anonymous said...

I watched a program last night about the Poor Knights Islands. Apparently many many years ago they were part of the mainland.
Apparently the water level [ was it ] 140 metres. What did our human ancestors do to cause this and whey didn't they get off their asses to do something about it???????????

Kim said...

Well, unfortunately your article does not provide reference to any of your "scientific" claims.
I would have thought that a non-biased view would use straight scientific data, so I suggest that you base your arguments on those including a reference to them.