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My Answers to Willis Eschenbach’s 14 + 2 Questions

Repost Mr Eschenbach had not had the chance to respond to this article before the two weeks wherein comments are automatically closed have elapsed. This re-post will allow him, and others who have not yet read this article, to comment.

Over at Watts Up With That, Willis Eschenbach asked 14 + 2 questions about climatology which he wanted answered by mainstream climatologists. Walter Meier—who appears to be a sweetheart—from NSIDC took a stab at answering them.

I was asked to take a look at Eschenbach’s and Meier’s answers and then answer myself. Here we go.

Preface Question 1: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

Nope. Although I would rather be outdoors killing me something to eat unbothered by cell phones, car alarms, iPad-carrying hipsters, and this damn computer. I am a friend to trees, dandelions, soft rain, and fuzzy animals, especially the delicious ones. But I would never slur myself with the quasi-religious title “environmentalist.”

Nobody likes a mess, and everybody should be made to clean up after themselves, especially outdoors, With me, the people-parts of the environment comes first, and all the non-people parts are a dim second. Plus, I have sufficient confidence that mankind can solve its own problems.

Preface Question 2: What single word would you choose to describe your position on climate science

Tired. If the debate had remained among scientists about which cloud parameterization was best, how to carry through observational uncertainty in models, or on methods to quantify sensitivity to changes in solar irradiance, then life in climatology would interesting and stimulating.

But of course it hasn’t. That technical stuff still happens, but it’s buried under layers of “advocacy.” It’s got to where you can’t trust anybody.

Everything is now predictable. If I hear one more “activist” or politician lecture me that “It’s worse than we thought (which is why I should be allowed to regulate your life)” I’ll scream.

Question 1. Does the earth have a preferred temperature, which is actively maintained by the climate system?

No. Not only that, but the Earth has no preferences of any kind. Only that which is aware can have preferences.

No complaining about my answer please. I understood the question; I get it. Here’s the answer you expected: Nothing in the universe has remained constant; ipso facto, nothing on Earth has, either. Its orbital parameters are constantly shifting, its heat source constantly fluctuating, its own surface constantly rearranges itself, and each brand of its living matter insists on dying, procreating, and expelling various effluvia into the dirt and air.

There is no way—as is no way—to derive any kind of equilibrium from these conditions, except that you specify all these conditions as constant. And since they are never constant, over no time period, there can be no equilibrium.

Question 2: Regarding human effects on climate, what is the null hypothesis?

Lord save us from statistics talk. It is this kind of simplistic thinking—this search for quick yeses or noes—that has caused half the problems. Lust for power and prestige and downright ignorance has caused the rest.

But, to play along: You might say that it is “mankind has no effect.” This hypothesis is immediately false (see Q1). Of course mankind has an effect; but so do ants, bees, walruses, and aardvarks. The only questions of interest are how much effect do we have, are those effects harmful or helpful, and are there ways to mitigate the harm and stimulate the help?

Question 3: What observations tend to support or reject the null hypothesis?

Go to a window and breath on it. Notice that fog? That’s all the evidence you need that you and the rest of your species affect the climate. Sure, your breath, sweet as it may be, changes things only infinitesimally, but even the smallest change falsifies the “null” of no effect.

As to what observations indicate the magnitude of your effect, I believe we all know the usual suspects. Although it wouldn’t surprise me in the least to learn that, five years from now, some heretofore unknown Molecule X or Cause Y turns out to be “more important than anybody realized.”

Question 4: Is the globe warming?

Sure it is, in places and times. It’s also cooling in other times and places. And it will go on warming and cooling heedless of anybody’s feelings.

Question 5: Are humans responsible for global warming?

Of course, partly. Just as they’re partly responsible for global cooling. I think the better word—the one that’s in the mind of all those who would rule us—is culpable. How culpable is mankind for the changes in the historically-badly-semi-observed climate?

People are hot to assign blame for inclement weather. Since there hasn’t been too much of that, they’re latching onto weak or vague promises of future inclement weather to claim that intervention—guided by them, naturally—is necessary.

Incidentally, nobody or nothing experiences climate, whereas everything experiences weather, defined as the constant changes in wind, water, temperature, pressure, and so forth. It sometimes appears that a thing experiences climate, but that is only because it is existed long enough to have experienced a lot of weather. “Climate” is entirely a statistical phenomenon (or a series of statistical phenomena).

Environmentalist and political leeches are staring lustfully into deep pockets and scheming ways to filch nickels of each dollar from millions of shallow pockets. To these folk, it is a priori true that mankind is culpable for all of nature’s ills. This is why so much of the debate is wearisome: what these people accept as evidence and their appreciation of uncertainty is severely limited.

Question 6: How are humans affecting the climate?

This is yet one more version of Q2, asked for the fifth time in a row. The short answer is that they are affecting it in every way that it can be effected.

Listen: built into these questions is the implicit dichotomy that mankind does or does not affect the climate. I reject this dichotomy: or, that is, I accept it, but regard it as obvious that we do affect the climate. A far better question is, as I have already said, how much? And as to that, see the next questions.

Question 7: How much of the post-1980 temperature change is due to humans?

I don’t know. Nobody knows. Those who claim to know are too certain of themselves. In order to say why, for example, temperature has changed, we must know what temperature used to be. And that we do not know with the level of certainty sufficient to precisely apportion blame to the dozens and dozens of possible causes of change. This would be the case even in climate models are perfect, which leads us to the next question.

Question 8: Does the evidence from the climate models show that humans are responsible for changes in the climate?

With bells on. But so what? In effect, they were programmed to say that. They certainly weren’t programmed to say that mankind wasn’t responsible.

The facts have been made to fit the case. Modelers went into this trying to prove their theory that man-caused change is noticeable; very few tried to disprove it. We have been shown how these models have reproduced, statistically speaking, past data. But these reproductions are weak evidence that the theory behind the models is true. Any number of alternate theories could be used to build models that reproduce past data just as accurately.

This means that the best and most convincing evidence is how well a model can predict the future. As to that, read on.

Question 9: Are the models capable of projecting climate changes for 100 years?

Of course they are. But they have not demonstrated that they can do so accurately. See the next question.

Question 10: Are current climate theories capable of explaining the observations?

Yes, of course; partly. But in order for us to believe these models—that is, have confidence in the theories that drove their design—they have to skillfully predict independent data, which is defined as data that was not used in any way to build or inform them. (“Hold out” data almost never counts as independent data, incidentally, because it is always peeked at.)

That models have not yet done so is partly not their fault: there just hasn’t been enough time to make a set of independent predictions of sufficient length to judge their skill. Those few predictions we have seen have not been good enough to beat a naive persistence model: which says that what happened last year, will happen again this year. I’m not even sure that models have beat independent “climate” forecasts, which say that what happens next year and every year will be the same thing.

Question 11: Is the science settled?

No.

Question 12: Is climate science a physical science?

Yes, of course.

Question 13: Is the current peer-review system inadequate, and if so how can it be improved?

It sure is, but it can’t be improved: it’s broken in every field, not just climatology. Humans are just too crazy for there to exist a perfect truth-discovering mechanism. If anything, too much is being published. See also this.

Anyway, the real difficulty is not among scientists, but among politically active civilians who believe whatever they want. Bizarrely, these folk always have stronger beliefs than do most scientists. Worse, activist mania gives rise to a strong negative pressure that influences scientists such that they (the scientists) artificially increase the confidence they have in their theories.

This is because it is human nature to show friendliness by tailoring your message to suit your audience, and there is no more receptive audience than an activist looking for a new way to grieve.

Question 14: Regarding climate, what action (if any) should we take at this point?

We should all agree to calm ourselves. I suggest a one-year moratorium on any public announcement of climate science. No press reports, no blog posts, no Senate votes, no speeches, no new environmentalist literature, and especially no new journal papers. Where appropriate, granting agencies should agree to one-year extensions so that nobody frets over their pay.

Everybody should agree to just shut up for one full year of peace and quiet. What joy!

Scientists can and should work during this year; they can talk informally among themselves, but they must not talk to any civilian; no hints given, either. They should spend this time free of political tumult marshaling their best evidence for and against global warming.

After a year, with the public and politicians less frenzied because they were cut off from a source of worry, scientists can tell us what they have found. But the first who says, “It’s worse than we thought” should be shot dead.

45 thoughts on “My Answers to Willis Eschenbach’s 14 + 2 Questions Leave a comment

  1. Question 10: Are current climate theories capable of explaining the observations?

    Yes, of course; partly. But in order for us to believe these models—that is, have confidence in the theories that drove their design—they have to skillfully predict independent data, which is defined as data that was not used in any way to build or inform them. (“Hold out” data almost never counts as independent data, incidentally, because it is always peeked at.)

    I don’t see the “peeked at” status of this hold out data as being pertinent, but rather, most of the time this hold-out data is not independent of the data used to build the model. In other words, the test data looks just like the data used for construction. Testing a model thoroughly requires novel data and circumstances.

    Amen, Briggs, to the proposed moratorium on climate talk. I’m afraid the blessed year would pass too quickly, though.

  2. It ain’t about temperature. It’s about the heat content of the earthosphere — which continues to go unmeasured.

  3. Preface Question 1: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?

    Yep; that’s where I live – right there in the environment.

    Preface Question 2: What single word would you choose to describe your position on climate science?

    Scornful.

  4. Things are far better than most people think. Oh sure, there is still a great deal of suffering in the world, and many ignorant souls who wish to inflict more. But by and large — on average — we’re a lot better off than we used to be, historically speaking.

    The climate hasn’t changed, not perceptibly, in thousands of years. Maybe a degree or two, and some places that were near-deserts have become deserts over the last 5,000 years or so, but compared to the Ice Age glacial periods, the climate has been pretty nice the entire Holocene. And if it gets a little warmer, hip hip hooray!

    What we need is a moratorium on dourness in general. We need more Thanksgivings, once a week instead of once a year. We have a lot to be thankful for.

  5. Reading that I thought that I must be a mental clone of you William .
    Or the other way round .
    I found myself agreeing not only with the general thrust but also with the detail and the chosen words .
    Impressive …
    .
    I disagreed just with one little detail here :
    “Everything is now predictable. If I hear one more “activist” or politician lecture me that “It’s worse than we thought (which is why I should be allowed to regulate your life)” I’ll scream.”
    You know , William , if you want the crosshair to stay steady , you must expire and hold still .
    So no screaming 🙂

  6. Tom,

    Considering it comes from you, your clone comment is one of the best compliments I’ve received.

  7. Like the questions-and-answers post. Interesting answers.

    It sure is, but it can’t be improved: it’s broken in every field, not just climatology…If anything, too much is being published.

    I respectfully disagree. Or perhaps I’ve got the disease of liberal optimism. Long story short. Peer review is not perfect, like all things involving human beings, it can be rigorous depending on the reviewers or referees. I have given and received constructive criticisms regarding a paper’s originality, merits of the proposed methodologies and issues to be considered. One can think of the review as a kind of collaborative work to make the paper better. No one wants the headache resulting from a poor referee review. I have seen the process, maybe slowly, improved over…uh… # decades of my career.

    Without this filtering process, I cannot imagine how much time I would have to spend in sifting through Google Sea to do a decent review of literature, which is an essential part of an academic paper.

  8. I’d like to share the following lines that I came upon in my most recent read. It probably represents the view of most, if not the majority of, climate scientists.

    Models are no better than the representations of processes that are put into them—and even if you put in a good description of a process, another deficient part of the model may completely screw up the result.

    Mr. Biggs,

    If you can tell me correctly who wrote the above, I shall send you a signed and numbered copy of this print. I think you’ll be so surprised by the answer. You probably would appreciate the print much more than I do.

  9. Down to earth answers. I’m impressed. I must be another mental clone, although I couldn’t have put it so eloquently.

  10. JH,

    I’ll be dogged. I never would have guessed. It must have been said when he was a much younger man.

  11. Briggs,

    I was with you ’till the last. A 1-year moratorium would be pointless.

    Let’s first recognize that we have no – as in none – substitute for fossil fuels. Let’s secondly recognize that CO2 emission have been increasing for the better part of a century and temperatures have been rising for about two. Let’s thirdly plot societal prosperity (any reasonable measure you choose) versus that societies CO2 emissions. Let’s lastly recognize that, absent unpredictable and totally un-legislate-able technological breakthroughs, fossil fuels will be phased out when they run out.

    The correct answer: drill, drill here, drill now, drill baby drill.

  12. I’m interested in your take on McI and Watts and all them. I came into this thing, wanting to be on their side, but testing those on my own side…so that I could learn and make sure the skeptics held up. I have been dissapointed by McI when pushed on details (both in ethics and thinking, though not denying he is smart, smarter than I.) And Watts just seems a total rube. Cozying up to him, because of his hits or him helping with computers, when he is both stupid and evasive is not a good Rickoverian skepticism and really shows an embracing of something bad.

  13. I’m interested in your take on McI and Watts and all them. I came into this thing, wanting to be on their side, but testing those on my own side…so that I could learn and make sure the skeptics held up. I have been dissapointed by McI when pushed on details (both in ethics and thinking, though not denying he is smart, smarter than I.) And Watts just seems a total rube. Cozying up to him, because of his hits or him helping with computers, when he is both stupid and evasive is not a good Rickoverian skepticism and really shows an embracing of something bad.

  14. TCO,

    I left both your comments, even though they are identical. And I’ll keep all your comments as long as you behave yourself.

  15. Hi Briggs,
    Could you re-cue the link to Hal’s site?
    I couldn’t find the Lindzen reference.

    I found the equilibrium view more unbalanced than I’d thought.

  16. Never mind, somehow I missed the big, bold “repost” in the very first word of the article. I’ll shut up now.

  17. Matt, thank you for your delightful answers to the questions I had posed. I was very sorry to find that the comments were closed, so my kudos to you for re-opening them.

    The one answer I wanted to touch on was when you said:

    Nothing in the universe has remained constant; ipso facto, nothing on Earth has, either. Its orbital parameters are constantly shifting, its heat source constantly fluctuating, its own surface constantly rearranges itself, and each brand of its living matter insists on dying, procreating, and expelling various effluvia into the dirt and air.

    There is no way—as is no way—to derive any kind of equilibrium from these conditions, except that you specify all these conditions as constant. And since they are never constant, over no time period, there can be no equilibrium.

    I would disagree with that. Consider a river. As you point out, conditions on the river are constantly changing. Seasons come and go, the water level goes up and down, the river is constantly wandering, the surface of the earth is being re-arranged, the river is cutting a new channel here, forming an oxbow lake there, jumping out of it’s bed entirely in this section and taking a different path.

    Despite all of those changing conditions, however, the length of the river changes very little. When it gets shorter in one section, it gets longer in another. When it cuts off an oxbow lake, a different bend expands. And the total length is never the same … but it oscillates above and below some value.

    It is this kind of “pseudo-equilibrium” that I think applies to the earth. I would go further, and say that the Constructal Law requires this kind of action by such a system as the climate (see here, here, and here (pdf) for more information on the Constructal Law).

    You are correct, of course, that the earth doesn’t “prefer” one state over the other, it is not sentient … but the fact that the earth’s temperature has varied by less than ± 1% over the last 10,000 years indicates that there is some kind of mechanism keeping the temperature from fluctuating more than a very small amount. I discuss this question in some detail here.

    To take another example, consider the human body. The parameters of the environment are constantly shifting, the external heat is constantly fluctuating, the surface of the body may be clothed or unclothed … yet our body’s core temperature remains unchanged.

    So I would say that your thesis, which seems to be that “in nature conditions are constantly changing, so no equilibrium is possible unless you specify those conditions as constant”, is contradicted by those two examples from nature.

    I would be very interested in your comments on that, as I respect your opinion and have greatly enjoyed reading your work.

  18. Briggs,

    Pun? It was a good one if it wasn’t obvious.

    Willis speaks to my concern about your views on equilibrium. You seem to be correct in the very long run – it has to be that way; but in shorter slices, maybe Willis is.

    And different things have different periods of equilibrium.

    I think there’s more to this, it isn’t simply a word game. Maybe there’s a quantum physics of equilibria – a way that you can put a handle on the time-slice a particular system can remain in equilibrium before jumping the gimbals.

    Equilibrium needs both parameters and period.

  19. Willis
    .
    Despite all of those changing conditions, however, the length of the river changes very little.
    .
    This is not right . What has been conjectured was that the ratio
    length of a river / distance source – mouth would be an invariant for a given river with a value around 3 with Pi (3.14) being a maximum .
    While it has not been proven , it is conjectured that the value of Pi arises because of the selfsimilarity due to chaotic dynamics .
    Of course if the distance source – mouth changes what it does at longer time scales , the length of the river changes too .
    The conjecture is also known as not being right for fast and smaller rivers like mountain streams .
    .
    More generally it should be avoided to talk about “pseudo equilibriums” because it is like talking about “pseudo theorems” in mathematics what would clearly be misleading .
    Everything in physics is about looking for invariants in a given system .
    Without invariants there would be no physics , no regularity , everything would just be a confusing random noise .
    But while some invariants are famous and simple (energy , momentum , speed of light in vacuum) some are abstract and complicated (chaotic attractor , CPT symmetry) .
    If there are global invariants in the climate system , they are clearly of the second kind .
    .
    The way I understand what William was saying is that he says that the dynamical state of the system itself is not an invariant what it would be if the system was in equilibrium .
    Mathematically he’d say that there is no asymptote , no stable point or stable cycle in the phase space (= space of all possible dynamical states) which is a definition of equilibrium or a steady state .
    From that follows that the evolution of the dynamical states can’t be predicted .
    Of course I fully agree with that and neither of the 2 examples (river or body temperature) contradicts this view .
    .
    What you seem to be saying is actually the same thing in different words .
    You say that there could be an ensemble of non linear interactions (“feed backs”) that keep the system in a restricted region of the phase space despite the fact of not being in equilibrium (e.g some parameters have small variation intervals even if other have big ones) .
    This is typically what chaotic systems do and the region where they live is an invariant called attractor .
    The constructal theory just proposes one principle (the constructal “law”) which could explain the (or one of several) mechanism defining how spatio-temporal attractors (e.g patterns) are constructed in practice by the nature .
    But the evolution of the system’s dynamical states can’t still be predicted what is also what William says .

  20. In thinking some more about what I’ve written above, i’ve realized it’s nuts. And Briggs is right at any scale or period.

    If the condition of equilibrium requires feedbacks which conspire to increase or decrease the property about some level, the feedbacks would need to have a hound in the hunt. In an inanimate process, how could this be?

    It couldn’t.

  21. Of course rivers get shorter or longer – in fact, some disappear completely over time… And 10,000 years, in geological terms, is a pittance. It’s like saying that you haven’t blinked in the last 5 seconds, therefore you won’t blink any time soon.

  22. Willis,

    I’m with Tom, here. There can be approximate equilibriums—like the human body considered over a short time span—but there aren’t any permanent ones. The trick is in finding the time span in which we can reasonably approximate a physical (biological) system as an equilibrium.

    Of course, all bodies are born, mature, and then die. So there’s no equilibrium over a longer time period. Just as all rivers are born, grow, eventually peter out or morph into something new. So there’s no equilibrium there, either.

    I’m with you that the Earth’s temperature has fluctuated little over the past 10,000 years, but “fluctuation” would be a timid word to describe what happened to it over the last 100,000.

    Plus, even over the next 10,000, while the temperature will be unlikely to do more than fluctuate, it remains a possibility—small!—it will careen off into some undesirable state.

    These uncertainties have to be added to any conclusion we make about the climate.

    Finally, thanks for the opportunity of answering these questions. I’m happy you were able to rebut my answers. I’d like to see more of these kinds of things, since they are surely more helpful than what ordinarily passes for debate.

  23. Great post. Thanks to Willis for the questions, thanks to Briggs for his answers.

    Nice to see Tom Vonk chiming in. I always enjoy his perspective.

  24. Briggs says:
    30 April 2010 at 9:08 am

    Willis,

    I’m with Tom, here. There can be approximate equilibriums—like the human body considered over a short time span—but there aren’t any permanent ones. The trick is in finding the time span in which we can reasonably approximate a physical (biological) system as an equilibrium.

    The core temperature of my body, despite all of the variations in the amount of food I eat, the clothes I wear, and the external temperature, has remained constant (within a very small range) for my entire lifetime. So I am not sure what you mean by “a short time span”.

    Of course, all bodies are born, mature, and then die. So there’s no equilibrium over a longer time period. Just as all rivers are born, grow, eventually peter out or morph into something new. So there’s no equilibrium there, either.

    Yes, and the earth will eventually disappear just as I will … but in the meantime, there certainly can be an equilibrium temperature of my body.

    I’m with you that the Earth’s temperature has fluctuated little over the past 10,000 years, but “fluctuation” would be a timid word to describe what happened to it over the last 100,000.

    The global temperature in the glacial periods seems to be on the order of 6°C cooler than today. While (as you point out) from our human perspective this is a large swing, if we look at the earth as a heat engine, we see that the temperature swing is on the order of ±1%. A thermal engine staying within this narrow range without some kind of temperature governing mechanism is extremely unlikely.

    Plus, even over the next 10,000, while the temperature will be unlikely to do more than fluctuate, it remains a possibility—small!—it will careen off into some undesirable state.

    These uncertainties have to be added to any conclusion we make about the climate.

    Certainly it is possible. However, you still don’t seem to appreciate the amazing nature of a wild system like the climate staying so stable. Clouds change constantly, giant meteors have hit the planet, we’ve had millennium-long huge volcanic eruptions, and yet the earth has not “careened off”. We are so used to the stability of the climate that we see a change of half a degree in 100 years as being noteworthy … where in fact what is noteworthy is that it is only half a degree.

    If you look at the climate models, one of the problems is that they often do “careen off” into wild results. Here’s a view of the results from the ClimatePrediction model … more ClimatePrediction model results here.

    As you can see, many of the results just drop straight down off the page, while others skyrocket into space … why? Because the model does not contain any governing mechanism. How often does this happen in other climate models? Well … we don’t know, any such results would get left on the cutting room floor.

    Is the governing mechanism I have proposed correct? I don’t know, although I think I have made a good case for it. Are there more thermostatic mechanisms at work? It seems quite likely, given the Constructal Law.

    Finally, thanks for the opportunity of answering these questions. I’m happy you were able to rebut my answers. I’d like to see more of these kinds of things, since they are surely more helpful than what ordinarily passes for debate.

    The thanks are mine to you, for answering the questions. As you point out, what usually passes for debate in climate science is “I claim X” followed by “You are an idiot” or “You are in the pay of Big Oil/Greenpeace/the NSF/the CRU, so we can ignore you.” I asked the questions to highlight both the areas of agreement and those of disagreement.

  25. One further note. People often think that the reason that the global temperature changes so little is that the planet is so huge, and thus has huge thermal inertia. But in the course of a single year, the global temperature has about a 5°C swing … so that can’t be the reason.

  26. ya know,

    The catastrophe is always several layers removed from what can be measured. Like: oh it’s warming, so ice is gonna melt, then run underneath a giant ice cap, which will slide faster into the sea, so will eventually fall into the sea, raising sealevels, submerging those critical pieces of the planet without which we can’t survive – by the way, this will happen so quickly that the displaced will so disrupt society that war, famine, pestilance, disease will follow; we’re all doomed.

    I’m not real smart. Can’t even spell baysian, much less employ the dear fellows methods. But it was colder back in the revolutionary war days and it’s been warming for a couple centuries (right? did I miss something). And CO2 was at ‘natural’ levels about a century ago (right? did I miss something). None of this is new. SHOW ME THE CARNAGE.

  27. @Willis 4:48 “A thermal engine staying within this narrow range without some kind of temperature governing mechanism is extremely unlikely.” But how much of that stability can be attributed to the stability of the temperature difference between the solar source and the spatial sink? Given a stable material composition of the earth, how much difference can something as tenuous as the atmosphere make?

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