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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Barry Bickmore: My reply to Senator Hatch

My reply to Senator Hatch
by Barry Bickmore, "Anti-Climate Change Extremism in Utah" blog, January 25, 2011
Dear Senator Hatch,
Thank you for your reply of December 21, 2010, in response to my criticisms of your “Climate Change 101” web page.  I deeply appreciated that you took down Lord Monckton’s graphs that included false data.  Sadly, that kind of integrity isn’t universal among political figures.  Likewise, I appreciate that you have sponsored a number of bills that will encourage at least some progress in updating the energy economy.
You also said, however, that you are “not greatly alarmed about rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide at this time,” and I think you would agree that in terms of impacting anthropogenic climate change, the measures you have supported cannot be construed as a strong response to the problem of carbon emissions.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to take another stab at convincing you that you have been misled about this issue, because I believe that if you could be convinced of that, you would have the integrity and courage to try to convince our fellow Republicans to come up with more politically acceptable ways to strongly address climate change.  You alluded to your opposition to the recent “cap-and-trade” bill, and the fact is that I didn’t support that solution, either.  I would, however, favor something like Rep. Bob Inglis’s “tax swap” idea.  I think Republicans should be trying to come up with more solutions like that, which would not impose a greater tax burden or give license for political cronyism.  So far, the only serious idea I’ve heard from the Republicans is Rep. Inglis’s, unfortunately.  Someone like you could change that.
In the following paragraphs, I’ll briefly point out several more problems I perceive in your “Climate Change 101” page and your letter to me.  I’m hoping to convince you that you’ve been too quick to accept arguments that reinforce your natural, conservative tendency not to favor solutions that involve more government regulation.  Everyone does that to some degree, but you seem like the sort of person who is at least capable of changing his mind in the face of evidence.
1. If my goal is to convince you that you are too easily swayed by the climate contrarians, Exhibit A must be your claim in “Climate Change 101” that a single 2009 paper by Lindzen and Choi “disproves the positive feedback hypothesis and, thereby, the accuracy of the UN’s models and the AGW hypothesis.”  As I pointed out in the blog post linked below, several subsequent papers have shown there were a number of serious errors in that paper, and Dick Lindzen has admitted as much.  He now claims he has fixed the errors, and has another paper in the works.  However that turns out, don’t you think you were a little too quick to pronounce “the AGW hypothesis” dead?
2. In my first letter to you, I alluded to two recent studies (published in peer-reviewed, academic journals) which demonstrate that about 97-98% of actively publishing climate scientists agree that humans are significantly affecting the Earth’s climate.  You responded that you are “accustomed to polls but [are] unsure of their value in science. As you know, scientific advances often come at the expense of consensus positions.”  
Well, of course they do, but does that mean policymakers should automatically side with fringe positions on the off chance that they might be jumping on the next Galileo’s bandwagon?  In your case, it’s clear that you don’t really have the background to assess whether Dick Lindzen and a few others, or the entire rest of the climate science community, is correct.  So while “polls” may not be of much value when “doing science,” they are a reasonable way of finding out who has amassed enough evidence to convince most of the experts, so that laypeople can have some basis for informed judgements about technical matters.  Isn’t it fair to say that you have been a little too quick to listen to those on the fringes, when you don’t even have the expertise to tell whether you are being hoodwinked by falsified data (as in the case of Lord Monckton’s graphs)?
3. After dismissing the value of scientific polls that establish a consensus of 97-98% of the experts, you go on to say what DOES impress you.  “To me, it is enough to know that a number of the actual authors of the IPCC reports do not support the conclusions laid out in Summary for policymakers, which is not a scientific document.”  As evidence for this claim, your web page links to a document with a number of quotations culled from Senator Inhofe’s “Minority Report.”  I had to ask, if 97-98% of the experts don’t impress you, then what percentage of the IPCC authors and reviewers DOES impress you?  I actually went to the trouble of finding all the IPCC scientists mentioned in the latest version of the “Minority Report” (I believe I found one or two more than you had,) and calculating the percentage of the IPCC authors and reviewers who made it to Inhofe’s list of dissenters.  The answer?  Less than 1% of the authors, and less than 1% of the reviewers.  THAT is what impressed you.  Isn’t it fair to say that it shows clear signs of bias when you consistently side with such a tiny minority in a subject about which you have no expertise??
For more details on the IPCC dissenters, see this blog post:
4. Some of your ideas about what the climate science community does agree upon are a bit skewed.  You say, “There does appear to be general agreement that the earth is in an overall warming phase as it recovers from the Holocene and Little Ice Ages.”  First, the present Holocene interglacial period has been remarkably stable for thousands of years, in terms of global temperature changes.  (You can check out the Wikipedia page on the Holocene, if you like.)  Second, while people like Lord Monckton like to point out that there has been a general warming trend since the late 17th century (the “Little Ice Age”), and they might even point out that the “Little Ice Age” was apparently caused by a lull in solar output, they uniformly neglect to note that solar output has been stable for the last several decades.  In fact, all known natural climate drivers have been stable or promoting cooling during this period.  And yet, the temperature just keeps going up. 
Please examine the blog post linked below, where I examined Lord Monckton’s claims about changes in solar output driving climate change.  I pointed out that when he cited scientific literature to make his case, he consistently ignored statements in those same papers that the past few decades of warming can’t be explained this way.
Here is a blog post by another LDS scientist making some similar points about your reference to the Holocene and Little Ice Age.
5. Finally, you seem willing to adopt some rather weak excuses for doing nothing.  You say, “Based on the target carbon reductions in that proposal calculated against the IPPC’s assumptions for the warming factor of atmospheric carbon dioxide, the legislation, if successful, would reduce the climate by between a total of 0.07 and 0.10 degree Celsius after nearly a century of effort.”  I’ve seen this argument a number of times, and it seems to me that even if the numbers are correct, its main flaws are that (1) it assumes that nobody in the world outside the US will make any emissions reductions, and (2) no steps beyond the first will be taken to reduce emissions.  By this logic, why should I have bothered adding to my attic insulation this year?  Why would any single person, city, state, or nation take any action at all?  In fact, this type of reasoning would give us license to ignore ANY problem that is global in scope or impossible to solve in a single step.
Can you begin to recognize the pattern I’m seeing?  If a single contrarian paper is published, it’s enough for you to pronounce AGW dead, even though you don’t have the expertise to assess it.  If less than 1% of the IPCC scientists dissent about the IPCC’s conclusions, it’s enough for you to dismiss the overwhelming consensus of experts.  If any natural variations have ever occurred, then you just assume recent changes have been naturally caused, too, even if no natural cause can plausibly be identified for the present trend.  If someone proposes action that won’t immediately and completely solve the problem, you justify yourself in neglecting to take any action at all.
I hope you can now see why I’m saying that your biases have allowed you to be misled about the seriousness of climate change.  We all have biases, so I’m not trying to be overly critical about that.  However, I am confident that if you step back and try to objectively examine your approach, you will agree that perhaps you need to take a second look at the issue.

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