One of the profoundly anti-scientific aspects of climate alarmists is the way they play fast and loose with the timing of global warming. For a theory to make testable predictions it has to say not only what will happen but when. And yet the doomsayers’ militant insistence that the human impact on climate has been enormous and disastrous is notoriously flexible with respect to when man-made temperature increases started to happen, when the disastrous consequences hit if they even have, and what the disaster is. We get everything from flooding to droughts and back, even cooling as proof of the crisis formerly known as “global warming”. As to when manmade warming started, it seems to vary by whatever phenomenon they’re trying to squeeze into the theory. Thus a recent CNN story said “Before and after: These glaciers lost an area the size of Manhattan every 10 years since 1931”. So is it in 1931 that the effects hit? Or just with these glaciers, and on something else it could be 2022, 1822, or 4822?
Perhaps CNN was too busy ranting that the end is nigh to fuss about what “end” or “nigh” meant. They raved “The climate crisis is devastating the world’s glaciers. As they melt, ecosystems are destroyed and local industries are ravaged – and perhaps most critically, a major source of fresh water vanishes.” But we still want to know whether the various catastrophes associated with man-made climate change from crop failure to a surge in hurricanes should also have happened 90 years ago and if they did not the theory is refuted. Or whether their flexibility on timing makes it impossible to test, meaning it’s not science at all and no refutation is needed.
For instance, two weeks ago we noted a Guardian story about the five or 10 or 16 tipping points the climate faced that included the sentence “It shows five dangerous tipping points may already have been passed due to the 1.1C of global heating caused by humanity to date.” And the difficulty with this blithe claim is that it attributes all the supposed warming since 1860 to human beings, meaning man-made climate change began to have significant effects 160 years ago. Which if true ought to mean all the bad weather effects it brings should be visible at least 90 years ago in some sort of consistent pattern. And we want to know what it is.
Consider for instance a piece in The Guardian by a “professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards” (the strangest things become academic disciplines these days) that says to forget the famous 1.5°C target because in the first place we can’t possibly hit it and in the second “the 1.5C figure is an arbitrary one”. So they’re just making it up? No. The science is muddled but exact:
“The exact level of temperature rise at which climate change becomes dangerous is simply not known. Indeed, the 33 million people displaced from their homes in Pakistan might justifiably say we have reached it already. As for tipping points, any or all of those flagged in the new research could happen at some point below 1.5C, so we may have crossed one or more already – only time will tell. Just as easily, we might need a 1.6C, 1.7C or even higher rise before the first runaway impacts of global heating are encountered.”
Got it? Good. Now get rid of it because:
“The climate system is so sensitive to additional heating that every fraction of a degree rise counts, so that every 0.1C rise is just as important as every other. Global heating is now translating into extreme weather rapidly: there has been a huge hike in these events over the last few years, during which time the global average temperature climbed by one- or two-tenths of a degree at most.”
So it is here, it just got here, it might not be here yet and it’s definitely coming unless it already arrived.
The New York Times’ “Climate Forward” apparently agrees at least on the timing, in an intersectional outburst about how:
“Colonial Britain’s most prized possession, British India, has become the independent republics of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. Their people have been pummeled by extreme heat, erratic monsoons, melting glaciers and sea level rise – all telltale signs of climate change.”
So it’s here but only just arrived. Except for the bit, to nitpick, where the monsoon has always been erratic, glaciers have been in full retreat for 300 years, and the seas have been rising for 12,000.
We also scratch our heads when the Times opines that “Dramatic reductions in carbon emissions may still help stave off the worst effects of climate breakdown, the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said in April. But as Matthew Bossons writes in a guest essay, the severe heat wave that gripped China in recent weeks showed just how challenging that will be to achieve.” According to this view, very bad if not absolutely worst effects of climate breakdown are upon us now. So how long has it been true? Or is it just semi-true, as they seem to think in saying “China, which is also among the countries most affected by rising temperatures and sea levels, is a harbinger of what humanity faces with climate change. Its historic heat wave of 2022 hints at the difficulties for all of us that lie ahead.” Hints? Is it here, or not? The foundation of the quest for truth is the philosophical principle that a thing cannot be both true and untrue simultaneously. So perhaps they’re not seeking truth here, but power.
Digging into our archive to examine when this type of inconsistency really hit, we find that the BBC announced in 2006 that “* Consensus grows on climate change */ The global scientific body on climate change will report soon that human activities are the only explanation for current trends.” Especially given that it’s “trends” in the plural, the inescapable implication is that the weather had changed measurably by 2006. A sentiment echoed by a National Post columnist who said “The story of the year in 2006 was the mutation of global warming from a nagging worry… into a much more urgent fear that our way of life is under threat unless drastic action is taken” in support of which he cited “an unseasonally balmy January morning in Ottawa, when more people were playing golf than skiing”.
In 2007 the editor-in-chief of the Globe & Mail explained that the “melting polar caps” justified “our year of going green” though of course it “doesn’t mean we have traded in journalist agnosticism for religion…. We are in the business of promoting debate, not dogma.” And one of their marquee columnists promoted debate by quoting the IPCC that “‘Most of the observed increasing globally averaged temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in… greenhouse-gas concentrations…’” even though some losers “will still cling to” alternative explanations “just as there are those who believe the Earth is flat.” So the impact of humans on temperature began in 1950 not 1850?
Six years later the same newspaper insisted that “Denial is no longer an option, UN panel says” and while calling the situation “man-made – and dire” warned that:
“Weather will get more extreme”. Not that it already had. Before listing as evidence things that had: “Superstorm Sandy slamming the U.S. Northeast, massive flooding in Europe, raging heat igniting fires across northern Russia… the frequency and severity of extreme weather in recent years points to new instabilities in the global patterns of ocean currents and atmospheric jet streams.”
Again, to be all nitpicky and scientific, if this statement is true, then we should be comparing weather before 2013 to weather after 2013 to find the proof, both that it has changed and in what manner. For instance flooding in Europe. (Dang.) Although a certain newspaper called the Globe & Mail had also said in 1998 that “It appears 1998 will go down as the year that atmospheric and scientific evidence finally put to rest any doubt that the planet is being subjected to global warming, with human activity the probable cause.”
As to the effect, again, take your pick. “Scientists Blame ‘Climate Change’ For Thick Sea Ice That Halted Arctic Expedition” was a Dailycaller.com headline in 2017 though melting Arctic ice was good enough for MSNBC in 2009. Although the story said “in the last two to three decades the minimum sea ice coverage declined sharply” so the visible effects date to the 1980s or 1990s. In any case, they quoted an expert that in the Arctic “It seems no matter where you look – on the ground, in the air, or in the water – we’re seeing signs of rapid change.”
Let us pause here to emphasize this point: the effects of warming, not just the warming, were everywhere in 2009. So the break in the trend line must be at least 15 years in the past now, perhaps more. It won’t do to cite some novelty in 2020 or to say that while the warming is visible, the effects are still to come. Even if David Suzuki did try to have it both ways in 2002 with an Ottawa Citizen Op Ed saying “The smog and drought we felt this summer are just a hint of the kinds of problems we can expect to become common if we don’t start to slow global warming.” So clear effect and ominous hint simultaneously. Try to put that in a lab and measure it.
Also who can forget the National Post’s 2021 classic “French beekeepers have been stung by a wave of thefts of their hives and plummeting honey bee populations due to pesticides, the Asian hornet and climate change”? Which if taken seriously would require not just an effort to track the incidence of beehive theft in France over time, but to specify as a hypothesis the year that it should have increased because of “climate change”.
No, really. When the same Globe & Mail insisted in 2004 that “America’s cities, blanketed with smog and climate-altering carbon dioxide, have become cradles of ill health and are fostering an epidemic of asthma, according to a report yesterday from a leading group of Harvard University researchers and the American Public Health Association” it went on to assert a 160% rise in pre-schoolers’ asthma “between 1980 and 1994” because “The extra heat trapped underneath the CO2 causes plants to grow more, and produce more pollen and fungus, generating more spores. As well, the higher temperatures favour opportunistic plant species such as ragweed.” Note that here the starting point for the change is 1980.
The same, more or less, is true of the Globe’s 2001 assertion that “Waves in the Atlantic are much bigger and more powerful than they used to be because of climate change. Oceanographers have discovered that the average wave height in the mid-Atlantic has risen from 12 feet to 16 feet over the past 30 years while the biggest waves have risen from 24 to 33 feet.” Although in fact this one takes us back to 1971.
What else am I bid? Anything and everything. Including a Guardian story last year that “The effects of ‘weird weather’ were already being felt in the 1960s, but scientists linking fossil fuels with climate change were dismissed as prophets of doom”. If true, this claim invites us to examine trends in hurricanes, floods, crops, heat waves and anything else popular with the apocalypse set since the 1960s. Shall we?
Maybe not, since we are also bid nothing by a 2001 Globe editorial noting that “‘Over all,’ says the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘there is no evidence that extreme events, or climate variability, has increased, in a global sense, through the 20th century.’” So we must be starting the test in 2001 or later.
Except in 2002 former Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy wrote in that same Globe, which like Whitman clearly contains multitudes and like Emerson regards consistency as for small minds, that:
“Last year at this time, I chaired a task force on climate change for the government of Manitoba and saw directly the impact global warming is having in our own country – diminished water supplies in the Prairies, the slow disappearance of our Boreal forest, increased outbreaks of fire, disease and insects and a melting of Arctic ice drastically affecting the lives of our northern inhabitants. There is no region of the Earth that is immune from the shifts in weather patterns, bringing with them conditions of rising sea levels, extremes in temperatures, volatility in normal climate trends. We are living in a carbon-induced climate maelstrom.”
Yeesh. Surely, if it is true, science can detect the point at which we went from not living in a maelstrom to living in one. So when was it?
Again, take your pick including, as we noted two weeks ago, the weird matter of the melting patterns of the Twaites glacier over two centuries being evidence of human impact on climate. And National Geographic just cited changes in Alpine ice caves since the 19th or even 18th century as proof of recent man-made warming, pushing it back past James Watt’s steam engine to… what? The Newcomen Fire Engine.
It’s even harder if we have no idea what time period or periods they are pointing to as proof of their theory. Thus we are puzzled by constant references to the one about the rise in temperature since “pre-industrial” times. To deal with it scientifically, we’d need to know what that phrase means to those who use it.
When they say “pre-industrial” are they talking about the invention of Watt’s steam engine in 1776? The “takeoff” of first-generation industrialization based on coal and textiles in Britain and then New England in the very early 19th century? The more general diffusion of such techniques in Western Europe and the Anglosphere in the mid-19th century? The “Second Industrial Revolution” of steel and petrochemicals in the late 19th century and early 20th? The increase in production of man-made CO2 around 1950 or its more dramatic rise after about 1980?
These are crucial questions and “all of the above depending what sounds good” is no answer. Because if you get to pick and choose depending what effect your “theory” is meant to be explaining, it’s impossible to test your theory which means it’s not science at all.
In a famous chart, NOAA’s “Climate.gov” division explicitly defines “the pre-industrial period” as “1880-1900”. Which we think would astonish anyone living in Manchester at that time. But that chart also shows a steady increase in temperature from around 1900, which makes for a splendid gotcha until you realize that it means temperature started rising long before man-made CO2 could have had a significant impact and continued to in a constant trend in the face of which insisting that there was a dramatic change in cause makes science tricky.
How would you test that proposition? Find the point where nothing changed and Eureka?
For our part we are very keen to take long-term historical data into account. Including for instance that glaciers have been in retreat since the early 18th century as temperatures began to rebound naturally from the depths of the Little Ice Age. But we think it’s cheating to say the effects kicked in back in 1900 for one thing, in 1960 for another, in 1980 for another and in 2010 for another. As it’s also cheating to say sure, something’s been going on pretty steadily for 200 years, but it was all natural until 1987 and then man-made. How would a scientist test such a claim?
We also think it’s cheating to scare us with stories like “ARCTIC ICE STUDY REVEALS CONSEQUENCES OF CLIMATE CHANGE CAN LAST THOUSANDS OF YEARS” without conceding that if this claim is true, the consequences we’re experiencing today should have roots stretching back to the Roman Republic if not Socrates.
In a study published in February, four Italian scientists looked at whether various extreme weather events were becoming more common and found that by and large they were not. (Among the interesting aspects of their study is that to test the distorting effect of more complete reporting they also examined earthquakes and found that they increased rapidly between 1960 and 2000, clearly an artefact of improved data collection that also affected many phenomena that are routinely attributed to “climate change”.) Now this finding is not important to climate alarmism if you take the position that what we are doing now risks causing major problems at some specified (or even unspecified) point in the future. But it’s highly damaging if you’re someone who says they are being felt now. And if you’re in the latter camp, we also need to know whether you believe they became evident in the last 5 years, the last 15, the last 25 or even the last 100.
Because if you’re not in any camp, or shift between them depending on the catastrophe du jour, and kluge the theory so it can blame bad things on climate change no matter what they were or when they happened even if we have to contradict ourselves to do it, there’s one thing you are not: a climate scientist.