The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Not Okay

In a number of recent posts, I've commented on "the narrative"—a story espoused by politicians, their supporters, and their trained hamsters in the media. The narrative is repeated continuously and reinforced by anecdotal media stories until those with neither the time or the interest to probe the narrative's validity accept it as conventional wisdom. When others question the narrative, its lack of a clearly defined factual basis, its outright lies and distortions, its melodramtic implications—the name-calling begins.

Rather than a factually based debate to prove that the narrative is, in fact, the true version of an event or projected outcome, those who ask legitimate questions about the narrative (no matter what it is) are called "deniers" or "obstructionists," or "mean-spirited," or simply "crazy." After all, it's much easier to promote ad hominem attacks than it is to defend a narrative that is based on a foundation of factual distortions or outright lies.

In less than two months, Barack Obama will travel to Paris for a major "summit" on climate change. The intent of the summit is to put policies into place that will somehow reduce the rate of change in climate. Forget for a moment the hubris of such a goal—after all, the world's climate is continually changing and has been for millions of years. But Obama's narrative, now adopted by hundreds of millions of others, is that human activity, specifically carbon production, is a primary cause of climate change. Unfortunately, the specific quantitative aspects of carbon's impact are unknown. But not to worry—the narrative states that any debate is over, that "99 percent" of scientists agree with the narrative, that only deniers question the validity of the broad claims embodied in the narrative. Those who believe the narrative dismiss statements by hundreds of serious climate scientists that the original "hockey stick" graph (developed by Michael Mann and promoted by Al Gore) that accelerated acceptance of the narrative and the data used to support it are fraudulent.

But back to the narrative. Yesterday's New York Times, a very strong supporter of the climate change narrative, presented a beautifully illustrated article entitled, "Greenland is Melting Away." With color photos of rivers running from glaciers through open land along with ice fissures and fractures, the NYT promotes the narrative that humankind and its production of carbon dioxide is responsible for it Greenland's melt.

Not surprisingly, many of the comments that follow the article (there were hundreds) reinforce the  narrative, some of the more extreme suggesting that this is a harbinger of human extinction—either you agree to stop climate change or you're in favor of the extinction of our species! A few commenters calmly mentioned the Medieval Warming Period (MWP) in which (more than a millenium ago) Greenland was, in fact, green. How, they asked, could that be? The warming after all, occurred long before oil or the gasoline engine, and at a time when the population of humans was relatively tiny by modern standards.

I'm happy to say that I scooped the NYT and its commenters by discussing Greenland way back in February of 2007. I wrote:
Have you ever wondered why Greenland, the Island in the North Atlantic covered with Glacial ice is called, well, “green” land? I thought it was probably a rueful joke. But I was wrong. Greenland was very green during the last Global Warming period (A.D. 800 – 1300). The Vikings actually farmed there. Later the earth began to cool, and the green land slowly became white with ice and snow.

Global warming more than 800 years ago? Must have been auto emissions, or industrial pollution. No, that can’t be. It must have been all the CO2 humans pumped into the atmosphere. Oh wait, that was before the industrial revolution when the population of the earth was about 300 million, just more that 5 percent of today’s.

Hmmm. Curious.
Protectors of the narrative are not to be cowed by the "Green" in Greenland . "It's not the warming that matters, they contend, "it's the rate at which warming is occurring, accelerating far too rapidly."

But how do they know that the  rate of warming today is substantially different than it was as the MWP approached? After all, there were no scientific instruments to measure temperature in the year 800 AD. Today's climate scientists use "proxy measures" (e.g., tree ring data or ice core samples) to determine temperatures from long ago, but the proxy measurements are inexact, localized, rife with interpretation problems, and are at best, guestimates of what really happened. Those who support the narrative take them as the gospel, but more serious climate scientists readily admit that proxy measures must be taken with a scientific grain of salt. When they are used as the basis for climate models, the model is built on inexact data and will therefore yield inexact results.

The bottom line—it's okay to question the narrative. You are not a "denier" or an "obstructionist," or "mean-spirited," or simply "crazy." You are, in fact, simply looking for clarity before serious policy decisions, affecting the live of hundreds of millions of people, are made. It okay to ask for scientific proof, quantitative results, and independently verifiable models.

It's not okay to suggest that the scientific debate is over, or that consensus has been reached when it has not. It not okay to accept fraudulent data without a question. It not okay to allow ideology to trump science. That's what the climate change narrative is doing, and that's not okay.