Streetwise Professor

March 17, 2015

Is the AGW Paradigm Entering Its Crisis Stage?

Filed under: Climate Change,Politics — The Professor @ 10:39 am

I haven’t written about “climate change” for quite a while, mainly because the debate has become as flat as the global temperature trend. But two recent articles have stirred me to respond, in part because they ignore (or should I say deny?) that inconvenient truth. And in that tale there is the suggestion that the climate change paradigm is entering a crisis stage.

The most egregious is a study that purports to link the horrific Syrian civil war to climate change. Specifically it alleges that CO2->higher temperature->drought in Syria->civil war. This work is unscientific and manipulative, to the point of being mendacious, because every link in that causal chain is in dispute.

Even if one stipulates the first link, the second link is tenuous in the extreme. Like temperatures pretty much everywhere, temperatures in Syria experienced a jump around 1998, and have exhibited no real trend since. Climate models do predict that anthropogenic global warming should lead to drying in the eastern Mediterranean, but the mechanisms associated with this, namely a rise in air pressure and a change in sea surface temperature patterns, are not observed in the data. Yes, there has been an anomalous drop in precipitation in Syria, but this drop is substantially greater than CO2-driven climate models predict. Thus, the models upon which the CO2-drought causal link is based do not explain the observed data. Finally, as the study itself acknowledges, the water crisis in Syria has also been driven by bad water use policy as much or more as it has been by the decline in precipitation.

Then we get to the last link. Attributing any complex social phenomenon like a civil war to a single factor like a change in climate is a dubious exercise. Dubious in the extreme. Moreover, taken seriously, this hypothesis would predict that civil unrest/revolution in the Middle East would be associated with drought, and hence other countries in the region experiencing drought would be susceptible to revolution, and those not experiencing drought conditions would be less susceptible.

This prediction fails on both counts. Note that the Syrian revolution was a part of the “Arab Spring,” which resulted in a near simultaneous outbreak of civil strife in Libya, Egypt, Yemen, and Bahrain, as well as Syria. None of the first four countries experienced drought in the years leading up to 2011. Further, one country that did experience a decline in precipitation similar to that in Syria-Jordan-did not experience unrest. In other words, the theory has false positives and false negatives. Indeed, Syria is the only data point that matches. Cherry pick much?

Further, there are numerous other factors unique to Syria that help explain the outbreak of unrest and the subsequent horrific civil war. These include most notably the existence of a long-ruling dictatorship of a religious minority regime locked in a decades-long death struggle with the Muslim Brotherhood, and the dramatic growth in Islamism in the region generally. Perhaps the socioeconomic dislocations resulting from the drought exacerbated the potential for conflict, but to promote that to the center of the narrative is dubious at best.

No, this seems another example of cynical opportunism, whereby the climate change establishment hijacks human misery to advance its cause. The recipe is familiar. Find some tragic event, and then construct some story-usually quite tenuous-linking that tragedy to AGW in order to push the agenda. This is not science. This is propaganda.

The other example is a study that uses an ensemble of climate models to make the frightening prediction that the rate of global temperature increase is almost certain to accelerate in the coming decade.  The Guardian article states that this is based on “data from more than two dozen climate models.” Well, that’s exactly the problem. Models don’t produce data. They produce predictions, and the predictions of these models fail to match the real data in crucial ways. Most importantly, the lack of warming in the last 17 years is a black swan event that the models have uniformly failed to predict. But unabashed by the failure of their models to reproduce the recent past, and in particular to the failure of the real world data to live up to the models’ apocalyptic predictions over that period, the modelers confidently predict the near future: “Pay no attention to the last decade. Just wait! Apocalypse is around the corner!” This is Heaven’s Gate, not science.

The increasingly frantic efforts of the AGW alarmists is most likely a symptom of the failure of previous predictions to come true, combined with the failure of the previous alarmism to generate popular support for costly policies to mitigate CO2 emissions. It is a doubling down on belief, rather than a sober application of the scientific method. It is right out of Kuhn-the crisis stage of a paradigm. And that’s what AGW is: a paradigm, not “settled science” (which is an oxymoron).

Sadly, in an age where science has become politicized, this is accompanied by political witch hunts, such as the one waged by a watermelon Arizona congressman, that has led at least one scientist (Roger Pielke, Jr.) to “shift . . . academic work away from climate issues.”

Ironically, no doubt many of those who cheer such efforts also think Galileo was a hero. Square that circle for me.

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  1. There have been many silly things said and written about global warming. This post is just another one.

    Comment by Podargus — March 17, 2015 @ 1:40 pm

  2. @Podsrgus

    Your post is sheer self referential genius. You have bested Douglas Hofstadter and Kurt Godel in two simple sentences.

    Comment by pahoben — March 17, 2015 @ 3:19 pm

  3. Any reference to TK’s Structures makes the day brighter. Good memories of a great book, if nothing else.

    Comment by RM — March 17, 2015 @ 4:41 pm

  4. @RM
    I can’t believe I put Hofstadter before Godel or for that matter included them in the same sentence. I was overcome by the desire for dramatic effect.

    Comment by pahoben — March 17, 2015 @ 5:19 pm

  5. @pahoben-I did think that was an odd pairing, esp. giving Hofstadter pride of place. But I got your dramatic point 😉

    The ProfessorComment by The Professor — March 18, 2015 @ 11:35 am

  6. The Wood Elves are whispering they are ever so hot. Wood elves transcend science you know and it is just that some of us are deaf to the higher knowledge they offer.

    I finally saw American Sniper and really enjoyed the movie.

    Comment by pahoben — March 19, 2015 @ 5:17 am

  7. I am currently reading “The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter Meat & Cheese belong in a Healthy Diet”. Have gotten through the history of the “Low Fat” and “Plant based Fat” diet recommendations became the mainstream recommendation.

    Serious, highly qualified scientists at prestigious research institutions who disagreed found themselves ostracized and removed from funding and journal publication. Just got done with McGovern Committee report and the fallout. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) & the AMA were the only organizations out of 18 that dissented. The NAS got cut off from federal funding for a review of the committees work and then raised its own money and published. They then got clobbered by the Opinion Leader press (does that date me?) and the resultant political heat.

    Maybe her next book will be on AGW research politics 😉

    Comment by JavelinaTex — March 20, 2015 @ 11:56 am

  8. @Jav
    I guess science has always been politicized and seen only as a supporting element of some ideological belief system. As you note the first casualties are honest men trying to do honest work. The last casualties are the proponents and then too often only casualties of history as evidence slowly mounts that prediction and reality are ever farther apart and can never be joined.

    Comment by pahoben — March 23, 2015 @ 8:54 am

  9. @Jav
    One of the things that strikes me about AGW is the ignorance of paleoclimate. It is like the “climate” is judged against that one golden year when the summer weather was perfect and John or Jane Doe lost their virginity on that wonderful vacation at the lake. Any deviation from that must be due to the influence of evil man.

    Comment by pahoben — March 23, 2015 @ 9:08 am

  10. […] another example of the “elites” letting no good crisis go to (political) waste. As I discussed in March, there was indeed a drought in Syria, but no credible scientific evidence links the drought to […]

    Pingback by Streetwise Professor » Adam Smith Goes to Syria: How Bad Government Policies Turned Drought Into Famine — December 21, 2015 @ 7:39 pm

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