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

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Little Demon

For most Democrats, Donald Trump is the devil, and new EPA Director, Scott Pruitt, is his assistant—a little demon. After all, Pruitt has the temerity to expect an unbiased scientific approach to the threat of climate change. That's unacceptable to absolutists who state that all scientific debate is over (that, in itself, is unscientific, but never mind), and that anyone who disagrees with the Left's alarmist orthodoxy on climate change is a "denier."

Joe Kernen of CNBC asked Pruitt the following question during a recent interview: “Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate?”

Pruitt answered the question calmly, "“No. I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no — I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

That's a reasonable answer. In fact, it's the answer that any unbiased scientist would provide—there is yet plenty of study that must be done, because climate is a complex, multi-variable system that is exceptionally difficult to model with any degree of accuracy. That's why every long-range climate model is notoriously inaccurate. Given that, it's odd that many Democrats and more than a few Republicans want to base major national (and worldwide) policy on unsettled science and inaccurate models. But whatever.

Of course, the climate does change. Always has, always will. No one, and I mean no one, suggests that climate is static. The big question is what the anthropogenic affects are. Stated simply, what quantitative affect does human activity have on climate and climate change? The simple answer is that not one scientist (even the biased ones) can provide an accurate quantitative indication of what that affect might be. Is it 0.1%, 1%, 10%? That's two orders of magnitude, and no one knows what the right number is. The reason is the complexity of the problem, lots of different variables are known to affect climate.

Jeff Jacoby provides an excellent discussion of the modeling problem:
The list of variables that shape climate includes cloud formation, topography, altitude, proximity to the equator, plate tectonics, sunspot cycles, volcanic activity, expansion or contraction of sea ice, conversion of land to agriculture, deforestation, reforestation, direction of winds, soil quality, El Niño and La Niña ocean cycles, prevalence of aerosols (airborne soot, dust, and salt) — and, of course, atmospheric greenhouse gases, both natural and man made. A comprehensive list would run to hundreds, if not thousands, of elements, none of which scientists would claim to understand with absolute precision.

But for the sake of argument, say there are merely 15 variables involved in predicting global climate change, and assume that climatologists have mastered each one to a near-perfect accuracy of 95 percent. What are the odds that a climate model built on a system that simple would be reliable? Less than 50/50. (Multiplying .95 by itself 15 times yields 46.3 percent.) Is it any surprise that climate-change predictions in the real world — where the complexities are exponentially greater and the exactitude of knowledge much less — have such a poor track record?

Pruitt got it right: Measuring human impacts on climate is indeed “very challenging.” The science is far from settled. That is why calls to radically reduce carbon emissions are so irresponsible — and why dire warnings of what will happen if we don’t are little better than reckless fearmongering.
Oh, my. That's heresy among those who treat climate change as a religion rather than a worthwhile area of scientific study. It's just possible that Scott Pruitt can move the EPA away from a religious experience and closer to a scientific one. If he did that, the little demon might actually be an angel is disguise.