Posts Tagged ‘Skeptic’

The formation of an AGW Doubter

August 12, 2008

‘AGW’ of course, is short-hand for ‘anthropogenic global warming’, which itself is short-hand for the theory that proponents claim to be reality, that carbon-dioxide emissions from human sources such as cars, coal-powered generators and so on into the atmosphere is (via the ‘greenhouse effect) causing the planet to warm, which will result in higher sea levels flooding coastal areas, wipe out species destroy crops and basically bring on some sort of secular Armageddon.

Okay, I’ve given myself away. I really doubt that these alarmist scenarios are likely to happen, that polar bears or penguins are going to die off, that NYC will be flooded, and if these things were to happen it would be natural causes, not the result of something ‘we’ had done.

I have another blog, but I noticed that I was posting more and more on ‘green’ issues, while the intent of my original blog was to encompass my thoughts on everything. So this littleblackduck will focus on other ‘dithpicable’ things and this one will be for my thoughts on everything ‘green’. For a start I’ll cross-post the things I wrote originally on lbd.

But first, some background:

I finished high school in 1989 and took a year off before going into university. I suppose I need the year or so of crappy, low-paying minimum wage jobs to convince me of the value of higher education. Needless to say, it didn’t take very long.

I was over at a friend’s place one evening, sitting around with her and her dad when the subject of Global Warming came up. This was in 1990, the year of the first IPCC Assessment Report on Climate Change, just under two years after James Hansen’s testimony on man-made CO2 emissions being behind global warming. And we both thought that this global warming was a bad thing.

Both my friend and I had been convinced – this was a top scientist at NASA after all – but my friend’s dad thought the whole thing was absurd. He mentioned how they were previously warned about global cooling. He said that a large volcanic explosion could dump far more into the atmosphere then Man ever could and the earth had recovered just fine before. We all soon dropped the subject. We couldn’t convince him that we were right, that the earth would be dying if people didn’t change their ways, and we couldn’t convince him of what we thought; that he was so very wrong. Just don’t call an old Jewish man, who had relatives die in the camps, a Denier.

In University I took an Arts degree and had my fill of ‘critical theory’ and cultural studies and the rest. It was true that the department – like a lot of Arts faculties in University – I was in was left-wing dominated, but we didn’t think so at the time. We thought that what we were learning was true, as opposed to the right-wing dogma in the mainstream media and every single institution known to civilization. Again, the science at the time, in the early 90s, seemed to support the theory of CO2 causing global warming, that industrial pollutants were slowly heating and choking the earth. This was before the hysteria claiming the earth would be flooded up to the Appalachians; most of the projects were fairly long-range and less dire. However, notions even then of carbon-credits were looked on with suspicion and rightly so. If only that were the case now.

I admit I didn’t spend much of my twenties thinking much about global warming, but I assumed what we’d all been told was probably true. I didn’t have a car (or even a drivers license) and with such low-paying jobs as could be found in the midst of a recession I couldn’t afford a life of conspicuous consumption even if I’d wanted to. Having a mother who grew up during the Depression and World War II, I’d already been raised to be pretty thrifty. I figured my own impact was pretty low.

At most I’d tut-tut about the SUV drivers and their gas-guzzling ways (rather than their bad driving habits – why are they the first in the ditch when it snows?), read up on what sort of appliances or ways of doing regular chores might be more energy saving.

But slowly, over the beginning of this current decade, the climate alarm bells started to sound more loudly, the demands for action became more urgent, the warnings more dire. Naturally the media would jump on the most dramatic and cataclysmic scenarios, as they always do, whether it be Y2K or bird flu or mad cow disease…

I won’t go into detail here about any of the jobs I did between when I graduated University in 1995 until now, except that they were all media related. In addition, my mother was once a journalist, as was her mother. So I’ve long and repeatedly been inoculated with a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when it comes to media hysteria. I remember well when ‘dot coms’ flourished and there were claims that this was a new way of doing business and that the DOW would soon hit over 30,000. In the midst of all the hype of this new tech utopia, I remember thinking: “this is all bullshit”. If I’d only understood short-selling at that point I probably could have retired then. The ensuing Nasdaq meltdown didn’t surprise me in the least.

Then Michael Crichton ‘came out’ against man-made global warming. I’d enjoyed the book Jurassic Park (which I’d read before it was made into a movie), but thought at the time that he’s only an author, not a scientist… Because he’d been a famous author, his stance generated a lot of media attention. I remember wondering at the time how anyone could doubt global warming, that he must, deep-down, be one of those right-wing nuts or worse, someone who liked George Bush Jr… Of course, I hadn’t read what he’d actually written or said, the very thing which had generated so much controversy. I assumed that most of the UN statements and so on were correct, that only a few nutjobs seriously challenged it, but at the same time, I wasn’t interested enough in the subject to either question it, or seriously examine it. There’d just been other things that occupied more of my time.

And then that movie came out. We all know which one I mean, Gore’s Inconvenient Truth. That movie was a turning point for me, though obviously not in the way the makers surely intended. The more alarmist the projections, the more I figured I should read up on the subject. I still believed the basic premises at this point, I just though the doomsday scenarios were likely pretty exaggerated. I recalled the famous “Hockey Stick” graphs, and thought at the time that it didn’t look quite right to me. I found it a bit incredible that the global temperatures showed so little variability over the millennium until just the past decade. I was already familiar with the warming period of the middle ages, followed by the little ice age. Besides, this famous graph still only went back to the year 1,000 and the earth is nearly 5 billion years old. The timescale of humans is tiny compared to that of the entire earth.

So I read up in various internet forums, read the related news, read posts of people commenting on their take these news items, read up on the links they provided to support their claims. I came across sites like realclimate and others, which I bookmarked for later reading.

In the meantime, and during my searches, other stories creeped into my consciousness. Warming on other planets, for instance. Not just Mars, but also Jupiter, Pluto, moons on Saturn… I didn’t see this as a refutation of AGW, but I did think it needed further explanation. So I’d go over to sites like realclimate to see what they had to say about it, and they made some good points about Pluto’s orbit, or that the trend on Mars was really only a few years…

However, when I started to read other items on this site and others, I noticed a few things. One was a arrogance the people posting on the various sites (those commenting, as well as the writers). There’s not a single one that stands out in my mind now, it was more an overall tone; patronizing and condescending and sarcastic – rude almost – but hardly academic. Not the sort of discourse one would expect from people insisting they are real scientists.

I noticed too that one of the contributors of Realclimate was Michael Mann, progenitor of the famous Hockey Stick Graph. I learned that another more active member worked with James Hansen at NASA as a climate modeler. It’s natural that those who work in a field where it’s their graphs and their climate models were used would be likely to try to defend them. Most of the other sites appeared to be maintained by various activists, a lot of journalists, and all seemed to be pretty one-sided. Then the excellent Arts and Letters Daily started a new site, Climate Debate Daily.  Though I agree with some of the criticisms (such as the simplistic ‘for’ and ‘against’ format), it is a pretty decent resource.

Out of habit I don’t tend to take any blog or article or resource or study as the final word on anything. What I do is seek out the opposing views on a given issue (such as whether the sun is a factor or not, whether warming on Mars matters or not), try to find what they’re basing them on, and where possible, see the original source (such as the ‘consensus study’ in Science or NOAA data).

The change in my views was therefore quite gradual. I avoided certain websites and links to them altogether if there were the source someone had cited for their claims – such as Newsbusters, but also such sites as Gristmill, presuming that each would be biased. But I also saw sites that I initially thought more reliable were actually some of the worst of all.

I learned that actual earth temperatures are currently not increasing. That the Oregon Petition is not a hoax as some claim. That there is actually very little ‘industry’ funding the ‘denialist side’, and even most of that is indirect. That a lot of the earliest critics are not cranks, but very reputable scientists, despite what various smear sites have to say about them.

Some items I only came across because of the various sites I found attacking them. One example was Britain’s Channel 4 documentary, the notorious Great Global Warming Swindle which, despite the sensationalist title, was actually more restrained. Despite all the attacks I naturally watched it to make up my own mind and if I were to weigh it against Al Gore’s movie there’s no contest. No wonder the attacks have been so vicious, culminating in the OFCOM ruling in which both ‘sides’ claimed a rather dubious victory. The OFCOM involvement came about largely due to complaints by activists. This was merely one of many, many examples of attempts by those who claim ‘the debate is over’ to stifle said debate.  I’m not sure what alarmists hope to achieve with these tactics, but for me they completely backfired. I’m sure I’m not the only one either.

Whenever someone actively tries to shut someone else up, one always has to wonder why they feel the need to do so.  It is important to always question the motives of anyone who attempts circumscribe free speech, particularly on any contentious subject.

I’ve asked over and over again: if the arguments for one side are so strong, they why do they find it necessary to lie and smear and exaggerate and censor?

Why do people use graphs to support their arguments tend to use graphs that have either been discredited or are a decade out of date? Why do so many of the most ardent proponents have no science background whatsoever (but a very long history of activism or promoting other left-wing views), and what would happen to the careers of those that do if their models and theories if the overwhelming weight of evidence failed to support them?

If wind and solar are so great then why is there a need for massive subsidies?

And if there really is so much ‘industry’ funding, then why is Exxon the only oil company that gets singled out, or why is it the only one funding anybody?

I don’t think that AGW is a hoax, or a fraud. I do wonder at the motives of some of the more active proponents, particularly those who stand to make a fortune through carbon credits or alternative energy subsidies.  Though some of the data used to support it might very well fudged or manipulated it is probably more out of wishful thinking, or ineptitude than deliberate malfeasance. However, I find Anthropogenic Global Warming to be a specious theory, not strongly supported by either hard science or evidence or data, that there is no consensus (nor does such a thing matter) and I find some of the most vocal adherents stick to their positions either because it supports their pre-existing ideological world view or because they cannot afford to be wrong.

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