The Skeptical Middle Ground on Warming

I did not see the ABC special the other night on climate, but I am told that as a skeptic of the extreme global warming scenarios, I was compared to both a holocaust denier and a tobacco executiveBoy, you gotta love free scientific inquiry!

One of the tricks of all debaters, not just climate folks, is to create a straw man opponent who is easy to knock down.  Now apparently this show did not even bother to interview a skeptic at all, but they chose as their straw man "people paid off by the oil companies who believe man has no effect on climate."

Well, gee, I certainly can see how with current state of knowledge it is getting tougher to credibly sell the "no impact at all" argument, but I would say that with climate and all its vagaries its still a position that a person can stake out and not be a wacko

There is, though, a middle ground of skepticism that falls somewhere between "man has no effect" and "temperatures will rise ten degrees and the world will end unless we make Al Gore our economic dictator."

One of the things they never explain on shows like ABC's is that most
climate scientists agree that when other variables are held constant
(more in a minute), increases in CO2 will only increase global
temperatures by 1-2 degrees, some of which we have already seen.  It is
seldom mentioned in the press that there is a strong diminishing return
relationship between CO2 levels in the atmosphere and warming (leaving
everything else equal for a moment).  So, the next doubling in CO2
concentrations will have substantially less impact on global
temperatures than the last doubling.  This is something that most
reputable climate scientists will agree with.

So, how do climate researchers get 6-8 degress of additional warming or
more in their models?  They get it from positive feedbacks.  Most of
Nature's processes are negative feedbacks -- push a pendulum one way,
nature tries to bring it back to the center.  Positive feedback is like
a rock balanced on the top of a mountain -- one little push and it
starts rolling faster and faster.

Climate scientists posit (but as yet have not observed and can't prove)
a number of feedback processes that might tend to amplify or dampen the
effect of increase atmospheric CO2 on global temperatures.  The easiest
to understand is the effect of water.  As temperatures rise due to CO2
concentrations, one might expect clear air humidity to go up worldwide
(as higher temperatures vaporize more water) and you might expect cloud
cover to increase (for the same reason).  If water vapor goes mostly to
humidity, then global warming is accelerated as water vapor in clear
air is a strong greenhouse gas.  One to Two degrees of warming from
increased CO2 might then become four or six or eight.  If instead vaporized water mostly
goes to cloudcover, the effect of CO2 is instead dampened since more
clouds will reflect more sunlight back into space.

Generally, one can make two observations about how most of the climate models
that make the news treat these positive and negative feedback loops:

  • Climate scientists tend to include a lot of positive feedback
    loops and downplay the negative feedback loops in their models.  Some
    skeptics argue that the funding process for climate studies tends to
    reward researchers who are most agressive in including these
    acclerating effects.
  • The science of these accelerating and decelerating effects is
    still equivocal, and their is not much good evidence either way between
    positive and negative feedback.  We do know that current models with
    heavy positive feedback loops grossly overestimate historic warming.
    In other words, when applied to the past, these positive-feedback-heavy
    models say we should be hotter today than we actually are.

My much longer article on the same topic is here, where I also address other things that may be happening in the climate and reasons why a poorer but colder world may be worse than a warmer and richer world.  I recommend to your attention this article, which is the best statement I can find of the skeptical middle ground. 


  1. steep:

    I watched part of the program, but then AlGore came on and told me the debate was over.
    I didn't hear how his side won the debate, but its over now, so I turned him off.
    No point in trying to learn more.
    Resistance is futile.

  2. Locksmith Larry:

    This is an interesting site, sounds pretty Libertarian to me. As a small biz owner Libertarian party member, take that as a complement.

    Steep's comment is pretty funny, debate over, so turned it off...

    I have a geology degree and studied the current ice age we are in (just between glaciations at the moment) and understand that between the glaciations there is warming. Been that way for the last 20 million years when Australia left Antartica at the south pole by it's self and we started having ice ages.

  3. Matt:

    Even if it weren't for the fact that climate alarmists are playing a giant game of "let's pretend" with our money and our freedom at stake (specifically, "let's pretend that all of these millions of factors we don't understand at all will remain constant for hundreds of years, even though they've never remained constant for so much as an hour in all of recorded history"), one still has to question the wisdom of trusting people so dense that they can't even predict the _past_.

    Taking a hypothesis that can't even explain _currently observed_ phenomena accurately, and advancing it as a Proven Law of Nature is not science. Hell, even most _religions_ can't get away with _that_ much chutzpah.

  4. JoshK:

    As someone who's family lost many members in the Holocaust, I can tell from the stories of many of the survivors that it was the iron-clad refusal to evaluate all information and think freely that let Socialists (Nazis) take over society. These enviro-dictators are another form of the same madness. There motto is the same, "You cannot question us!".

  5. markm:

    Larry, the thing is that ice ages followed a pretty regular 22,000 year cycle, and the last peak temperature was about 11,000 years ago. We'd be approaching the coldest part of another ice age already if the cycle hadn't abruptly terminated around the time our ancestors were discovering agriculture. The climate has been unusually stable the last 8,000 years; that is, the Little Ice Age, the freezing the former Viking farms in Greenland, and the drying out of a formerly forested region into the Sahara desert, and even Gore's wild fantasies of sudden 20-foot changes in sea level were small things compared to what was going on regularly before. And that period of stability was the only thing that made it possible to grow enough crops to feed cities.

    So that leads to two theories:

    -Clearing land for primitive farming caused enough global warming to abort the ice age cycles and approximately stabilize the climate.

    -Or agriculture was invented many times before, but forgotten when climate changes killed off too many harvests, until the ice age cycle stopped for unknown reasons.

  6. Black Sal:

    JoshK, 'who's' is the shortened version of who is, I think you meant whose, as in belonging to. The Nazis were fascists, not socialists, and 'all information' was not so freely available. If you have a look at propaganda you'll realise that false information was fed to the people.

    Climate scientists are not enviro-dictators and it seems you are being affected by the same kind of propaganda that the German people fell prey to in the 1930's. The first comment on this thread demonstrates a lack of willingness to learn.

    Demonize and ignore the truth is what characterizes both of you.