The BBC asks: “Whatever happened to Global Warming?” after noticing that despite the heat in the media, global temperatures have not risen in 11 years. It writes:
This headline may come as a bit of a surprise, so too might that fact that the warmest year recorded globally was not in 2008 or 2007, but in 1998. But it is true. For the last 11 years we have not observed any increase in global temperatures. And our climate models did not forecast it, even though man-made carbon dioxide, the gas thought to be responsible for warming our planet, has continued to rise. …
So what can we expect in the next few years?
Both sides have very different forecasts. The Met Office says that warming is set to resume quickly and strongly.
It predicts that from 2010 to 2015 at least half the years will be hotter than the current hottest year on record (1998).
Sceptics disagree. They insist it is unlikely that temperatures will reach the dizzy heights of 1998 until 2030 at the earliest. It is possible, they say, that because of ocean and solar cycles a period of global cooling is more likely.
One thing is for sure. It seems the debate about what is causing global warming is far from over. Indeed some would say it is hotting up.
In other words, despite coming up Snake Eyes, the Global Warming crowd will continue to roll the dice.
How much evidence would be required to settle the argument? Another 10 or 200 years of data? Part of the problem is defining what constitutes a “winning outcome” for one side or the other. At the most basic level, there is some confusion in the public mind about whether the “Global Warming” means the world will get hotter or whether it simply means the coefficient of certain man-generated climate variables is positive. Other variables, like solar output, cosmic ray intensity, or terrestrial geological activity could dominate the trend line whatever the coefficient in front of the carbon dioxide variable might be. Mankind is not the only player at the table. That big old earth under our feet and the even bigger sun in the sky, not to mention other cosmic stuff gets to win the pot every now and again. In some scenarios the world could cool even if a human contribution to warming were signficant and actually existed — and it’s not proved as the BBC article asserts. If in fact other variables were pushing temperatures down might a human warming effect actually be a “good” thing?
What is meant by “good” and “bad” changes with respect to Global Warming anyway? Changes in temperature are inputs into another model which measures “good” and “bad”. What is the numéraire of goodness or badness? Is it total biodiversity? Is it human welfare? Assuming we could agree on the measurement, what is the effect of temperature change on that utility function? It has been assumed, but are the models showing a direct correlation between a rise in temperature and “badness” in any better shape the the AGW model itself? Or are they simply the political equivalent of each other. Has anybody asked you whether you would agree to live in a world one degree hotter in the next ten years if you could double your real income? Has anybody polled starving Africans asking them the same thing? The BBC suggests that global temperatures have not risen over the past 11 years. But even if AGW were proved, it would still be necessary to show that the opportunity cost of curtailing human activity would be worth that avoided reduction. Proving that a cup of coffee has stays warmer longer if you are drinking it at work (as opposed to being at home) is separable from showing that the ill effects of drinking a slightly warmer cup of coffee are worth losing your job for.
Despite the setback to their models, the Global Warming people can still play two trump cards: the “runaway” greenhouse effect and precautionary principle. They can claim that even though we’ve not observed any temperature increases, when they come it will escalate so quickly that it rapidly lead to catastrophe. In other words, the fact the forest is quiet doesn’t mean there’s no T-Rex out there. It just means it hasn’t showed up yet. The “precautionary principle” rests upon scenarios of this type. We must sprinkle the anti-dinosaur powder around the clearing in case the they show up. “The precautionary principle is a moral and political principle which states that if an action or policy might cause severe or irreversible harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of a scientific consensus that harm would not ensue, the burden of proof falls on those who would advocate taking the action.” So in response to the observed fact that 11 years have passed without a rise in global temperatures, the Global Warmists will reply, “prove that the temperatures won’t rise in the future”.
But “precautionary principle” cuts both ways. Can those who are pushing carbon controls prove that their prescriptions won’t cause irreversible public harm by crippling economic growth or even destroy the environment via poorly understood nonlinear side-effects? And can they say with confidence that reducing the energy available to mankind won’t condemn it before the low-probability, but high impact events that strike the earth on occasion? How would a society running on windmills deflect a colossal space rock found to be heading on a collision for earth? Maybe it would not have the telescopes to know anyway and therefore the problem would not arise in a civilization of bucolic ignorance. In any event, the precautionary principle suffers from the problem that it can be countered by simply inventing one disaster scenario to pit against another.
Of course none of this matters. Even the eleven years of non-warming the BBC reports is irrelevant. The science itself is unimportant. Not even twenty years of freezing winters would cool the ardor of activists. There are too many political careers and too much money riding on the Truth of Global Warming for that train to be canceled. We’ve got to get aboard whether we like it not.