Climate Disputes (WAS: Re: 180 IQ idiot)

From: Richard Loosemore (
Date: Fri Nov 25 2005 - 14:48:48 MST

> On Nov 25, 2005, at 10:41 AM, Martin Striz wrote:
>> On 11/24/05, J. Andrew Rogers <> wrote:
>>> A common misconception fostered because it is useful to some
>>> ideological factions. When global temps rise, CO2 levels tend to
>>> rise, not the other way around.
>> Ah, yes, the grand conspiracy of the cabal known as the entire
>> scientific community. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
>> (that bastion of political ideology), a body which collates published,
>> peer-reviewed data from hundreds of papers, representing the findings
>> of thousands of scientists, has deteremined that humans are
>> contributing significantly to the global climate changes that we are
>> facing. But Mr. Rogers knows better.
> Where did I state that humans are not contributing to climate change or
> that elevated CO2 levels do not contribute to atmospheric warming? Oh
> yes, that's right, I did not.
> There are so many shining examples of poor reasoning and
> rationalization when it comes to the topic of global warming that it is
> appalling, though that is true with most topics. You are just adding
> to that noise, by parroting dogma rather than, say, downloading the
> Vostok data. The Vostok data shows a strong correlation between CO2
> and temperature, but does not strongly establish causality and there
> are well-established mechanisms in science for the causal link to go
> both ways.
> Far more is attributed to the scientific community by ideologues on
> this matter than is actually claimed by the scientific community for
> the most part. Are CO2 levels a valid and significant mechanism for
> driving climate change? Certainly. Are CO2 levels the primary
> mechanism of climate change on earth? Doubtful given the evidence,
> though it likely contributes. Conflating the first case with the
> second or correlation with causation is a serious failure of most
> people's understanding of this topic. Unless, of course, the topic of
> interest is CO2 levels rather than climate change -- a distinction with
> a real difference.
> It is ironic that these failure modes are essentially identical to the
> failures in reasoning of the Creationist/Intelligent Design crowd,
> except that the shoe is on the other foot. Careful reasoning is
> frequently only useful when it supports a position one already agrees
> with.
> J. Andrew Rogers

I sympathise with you on the general point of being attacked for
statements you did not make, but I have questions about what you were
actually trying to say with your original comment.

1) Agreed: mere correlation is, of course, not evidence of a causal
relationship. CO2 could rise and fall in step with temperature (as
indeed it does, in the Vostok cores and in the published data from the
EPICA project that hit the news networks today) and yet we could still
be in the dark about whether CO2 was causing the temperature change.

2) A propos of the climate change debate generally, the CO2-Temp
correlation is only one small part of the overall scientific claim:
   (a) Fossil fuel consumption has caused a massive change in CO2,
putting the world today at the most extreme point on a graph that goes
back 650,000 years. For the EPICA news from today, see, e.g.
   (b) Climate simulations clearly indicate that if you pump CO2 into
the atmosphere, you are likely to destabilize or heat the atmosphere,
   (c) The planet shows the effects of a truly astonishing and rapid
climate change going on right now, regardless of whether it was caused
by CO2 emissions or whatever.

3) The *real* problem for science is that there are some ideologically
driven groups who pick out isolated factoids from the mass of evidence,
then use these isolated factoids to try to make assertions about the
reliability of the entire body of data. For example: "CO2 does not
necessarily cause Temperature change, so Global Warming is not real."

4) You confused me, and obviously several other people, by seeming to
align yourself with the anti-science conservative ideologues mentioned
in (3), when you inserted the phrase "common misconception fostered
because it is useful to some ideological factions" in your comments.
You also said that "When global temps rise, CO2 levels tend to rise, not
the other way around," .... and *this* is a strong assertion of causal
effect, on *your* part. You accuse people of being confused about
correlation and causality, but then you jump from citing correlation
data to claiming causality yourself (the words I just quoted). At the
very least, I am confused about who you are attacking, and what for.

5) Finally, it seems to me that you also are taking stuff out of
context, as the people I referred to in (3) tend to do. If there were
no other data than the historical correlation and some proposed
mechanisms which, as you point out, could equally explain a causal link
in either direction, we might all be neutrally debating the matter. But
that leaves out the factor I listed in 2 (c), above: to wit, the huge
increase in CO2 in the last few hundred years, and the simultaneous huge
increase in temperature and huge ecological changes that seem related to
the temperature change. *That* factor is what swings the interpretation
in one direction. By insisting on talking only about the evidence as if
that factor did not exist, you imply that we should be neutral in our
interpretation of the CO2-Temp correlation .... but it is precisely
because of those other effects that the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change, taking account of the whole body of evidence, is not
neutral about the evidence.

So, yes, you could be right to point out the way that CO2-Temp
correlation does not mean CO2->Temp causality BY ITSELF, but by omitting
to mention that most environmentalists do not take the data by itself
but instead take a larger view (like the IPCC), and by instead accusing
those enviromentalists of being an ideological faction that has
deliberately fostered misconceptions, you align yourself with the
antiscientists at the same time that you deny doing so.

[The above not meant in a derogatory voice, only as carefully analytical
as I can manage under time pressure.]

Richard Loosemore.

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