OPINION: Why The Confusion Over Climate Change?

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E. Calvin Beisner Founder, The Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation
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On October 8, my friend Dr. Richard Lindzen — a former Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at MIT and member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences — presented a lecture for the Global Warming Policy Foundation. Everyone who thinks about global warming/climate change should read it. More, everyone who thinks about science and its role in human society and politics should read it.

Obviously, I don’t need to reproduce the whole thing here. You can click through for that. But here, in seven (the perfect number!) points, is the gist of what I take away from it (though there’s much more, so don’t be satisfied with this):

1. C.P. Snow identified “two cultures”:

One is the culture of the truly scientifically educated, who understand difficult concepts and theories, and have developed high-level skills in discovering and interpreting data that leave the rest of us in the dust.

The other is the culture of the rest of us, who don’t have that understanding or those skills.

To illustrate: Asking the true scientist to explain the Second Law of Thermodynamics or to define mass or acceleration is equivalent to asking the non-scientist, “Can you read?” The trouble is, the vast majority of non-scientists can’t define mass or acceleration or explain the Second Law.

Consequently, as Snow put it decades ago, “The great edifice of modern physics goes up, and the majority of the cleverest people in the western world have about as much insight into it as their Neolithic ancestors would have had.”

2. In the debates about global warming/climate change, the vast majority of participants, even among those who think of themselves as scientifically literate, are of that “other culture” — the equivalent, among scientists, of those who don’t know how to read.

3. The popular public perception of the science of climate (and climate change) is that it’s quite simple, really: There’s one phenomenon to be explained (“global average temperature,” or GAT, which, by the way, is a thoroughly unscientific concept). And there’s one explanation for it: the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

4. The reality is that Earth’s climate system is probably the most complicated system we’ve ever studied, with the exception of DNA and the human brain.

There are dozens of categories of factors that influence it, and thousands to billions of individual pieces of each category, and all of those factors are constantly changing and would be changing even without any external forcing (such as human-generated increase in atmospheric CO2 content).

GAT is only one of many important phenomena to measure in the climate system, and CO2 is only one of many factors that influence both GAT and all the other phenomena.

5. CO2’s role in controlling GAT is at most perhaps 2 percent, yet climate alarmists think of it as the “control knob.”

6. Most people readily confuse weather (short-term, local-scale temperature, humidity, precipitation, wind, cloudiness, and more) with climate (long-term, large-scale of each) and think weather phenomena are driven by climate phenomena; they aren’t.

7. Consequently, as Lindzen says:

Now, here is the currently popular narrative concerning this system. The climate, a complex multifactor system, can be summarized in just one variable, the globally averaged temperature change, and is primarily controlled by the 1–2 percent perturbation in the energy budget due to a single variable — carbon dioxide — among many variables of comparable importance. This is an extraordinary pair of claims based on reasoning that borders on magical thinking. It is, however, the narrative that has been widely accepted, even among many sceptics.

And what Lindzen accurately describes there is, my friends, what makes it so difficult to have rational discussions about global warming/climate change.

Nonetheless, for political and psychological but not scientific reasons, politicians everywhere and lots and lots of scientists who really ought to know better (and many of whom probably do but are too afraid or are in careers too dependent on conformity to admit it) are dead certain that we can control GAT, that we must control GAT, that the guaranteed way to control GAT is to control CO2 emissions, that we can control CO2 emissions, that we must control CO2 emissions.

They are also certain that doing so, though it will cost in the realm of $70–$140 trillion to reduce GAT in 2100 by 0.17 degree Celsius, makes perfect sense and anybody who questions it is a Troglodyte.

I can’t figure a better way to end than with Lindzen’s concluding words: “Go figure.”

CalvinBeisner, Ph.D., is Founder and National Spokesman ofThe Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.