Jan 312010

This is becoming more than a little annoying, to be honest. First, there were the Climategate e-mails. Then, the claim about Himalayan glaciers. Now the latest: according to the Daily Telegraph, claims made in the IPCC report about vanishing ice in the Andes and the Swiss Alps were based in part on a popular magazine, in part on the dissertation of a Swiss student who interviewed mountain guides.

And this is supposed to be the foundation for a multi-trillion dollar shift in the world economy in the coming years?

To be clear about it: I am not a “climate change denier”, disgusting as I find this term implying some kind of analogy between genuine scientific skepticism and things like Holocaust denial. Questions raised by Climategate notwithstanding, I do believe the data, and the data show that there was warming in the past several decades. However, the IPCC report was supposed to go much further, and provide answers to some very clear questions. Namely 1) is there a long-term warming trend? 2) is it due to CO2? and 3) is it bad for you?

These are not easy questions to answer. The long-term warming trend that might exist is hidden behind noise: large year-to-year fluctuations, the 11-year solar cycle, other longer-term cycles. The data may perhaps be equally well fitted by a model that proposes a long-term cooling, but medium-term fluctuations which caused the current warming cycle. Here’s where the second question comes in: the model should not be a mathematical mind game but firmly rooted in physics. Do we know the physics well enough? Knowing the cause is also important if we wish to reverse the effects… if we misunderstand the physics, all our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions will be in vain, while we ignore the real causes. And even assuming that the physics is clear and the models are reliable… why is warming such a problem? Sure, ocean levels will rise a little and some cities may have to move in the coming century… on the other hand, for instance, how about vast stretches of tundra that become fertile and can be used to fed the planet’s growing population?

The IPCC gave us firm conclusions. Yes, there is a long-term warming trend. Yes, it is due to anthropogenic CO2 (hence it can be reversed by reducing CO2 emissions). And yes, all things considered, it is very bad for us. But… If the IPCC’s conclusions on these questions are based on sloppy research, why on Earth should I believe them? Is it something like Pascal’s wager, because we have nothing to lose and everything to gain by betting on the IPCC being right? I’m sorry but I don’t buy that just as I’m not buying Pascal’s original argument either… I’d rather end up in Hell as a virtuous pagan than as a hypocrite.

 Posted by at 2:12 pm