Tuesday, 6 August 2013

A Sensitive Issue and Why Advocacy is not a Moral Imperative

So, the climate debate rushes swiftly on, not so meandering now, not gently spreading out and forming nice ox-bow lakes of comfortably 'settled science', but gushing anew, foaming and bubbling as 'radical' viewpoints begin to be expressed in the mainstream media and observations of 'non-warming' start piling up like so much drifting snow against the front entrance of the warmists' enclave.

I would say that this paper by Otto et al in Nature Geoscience caused the first really major geological upheaval and set the waters rushing downhill once more. It is authored principally by IPCC scientists and is peer-reviewed (a must it seems, on any papers having to do with climate science, though noticeably not so in many other scientific research fields). I quote:

"The authors include fourteen climate scientists, well known in their fields, who are lead or coordinating lead authors of IPCC AR5 WG1 chapters that are relevant to estimating climate sensitivity. Two of them, professors Myles Allen and Gabi Hegerl, are lead authors for Chapter 10, which deals with estimates of ECS and TCR constrained by observational evidence. The study was principally carried out by a researcher, Alex Otto, who works in Myles Allen’s group."

The paper is disappointingly hidden behind a paywall which, considering the very significant nature of its contents, particularly in relation to public policy, I think is a tad scandalous, but then I suppose I am one of these Moon landing conspiracy theorist types aka 'concern trolls' (who, to their eternal credit, do not at least believe that our major satellite is made of cheese).

The basic gist of Otto et al is that, given recent observations concerning global temperatures (in particular the 15 year 'pause'), combined with the fact that atmospheric CO2 has been steadily rising throughout that period, there is a scientific case for lowering estimates for Equilibrium Climate Sensitivity (ECS) and Transient Climate Response (TCR). These two quantities basically describe how our climate can be expected to respond (in terms of degrees surface warming) to a doubling of the concentration of atmospheric CO2 in the long term and in the short term, respectively. They are now pegged at 2 degrees C and 1.3 C respectively. Contrast this with the published IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) which gave a 'best guess' figure for ECS of 3 degrees C. It is widely expected that AR5 will incorporate these downward revised figures for climate sensitivity and this appears to be producing considerable consternation amongst the warmist community at large because, up until now, the IPCC has been THE voice of authority on everything CAGW and the main impetus behind policy measures worldwide.

In a seemingly desperate attempt to counter this growing acknowledgement of a lowered climate sensitivity and in particular the existence of the highly inconvenient global warming pause, the Met office recently issued three papers seeking to downplay the significance of these events. Otto himself commented on the significance (or otherwise) of the revised climate sensitivity measures via the platform of the Met Office here. On the subject of the 'pause' or hiatus, we are now asked to believe that pauses in warming were always 'to be expected' and that they are not especially significant and were a feature of the models from the word go but Met office scientists failed to communicate this fact to the general public! [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-23409404]

Lest we are tempted to swallow this new explanation for 'warming that isn't warming' (along with 'missing heat' gone deep sea-diving), I draw your attention to another paper by Meehl et al which shows that a 15 year pause in global surface warming, far from being an 'expected' and not very significant deviation from the predicted rise, does in fact occur only once in 375 years of model runs. As each year passes and still global temperatures stubbornly refuse to accede to the increasingly urgent requests of the global warming zealots, the mismatch with reality becomes ever more difficult to pass off as 'within the limits of expectation of the models'.

The imperative to look again at the supposed 'urgent' policy implementations which are wreaking havoc upon our landscapes and upon our pockets, cannot be overstated, yet such a move is being resisted by our Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Davey, intent as he is on going full steam (or should that be wind) ahead with the 'greening' of our energy supplies largely via vastly expensive and inefficient onshore and offshore turbines.

Where policy is concerned, University of Bristol climate scientist Tamsin Edwards, recently had the temerity to suggest that climate scientists should not be tempted to advocate for politicians, industry representatives and environmental pressure groups, even if they are convinced of the reality of man-made global warming. This, she suggests, damages public trust in scientists, climate scientists in particular. I would agree, but her seemingly reasonable comments are stirring up a furious backlash in the media, with many saying that climate scientists should not keep quiet and remain neutral on such an important issue as climate change, even, as in today's Guardian, that climate scientists have a 'moral obligation' to advocate on behalf of their science. This is the biggest load of tosh and absurd nonsense I've read in literally hours (the last being the laugh-a-minute latest AGU statement on climate change). There is only one moral obligation upon scientists as scientists, and that is to gather and present the facts impartially to their chosen audience, be that their scientific colleagues and/or the wider public.

We may argue that, as human beings, scientists are morally obliged to communicate their findings to the general public. I wholeheartedly agree. Some of course, may be better suited to this role than others. I vehemently disagree however that this communication should take the form of advocating policy 'solutions' because this compromises their roles as scientists. What they should be doing, if they are able, especially in the contentious field of climate change, is communicating honestly and impartially their actual research such that it is accessible to the public and then letting the public decide for themselves whether the policy solutions advocated by politicians, green groups and renewables industry executives, justify the measures being taken. This is the role of the truly responsible scientist; no more, no less.