Monday, June 15, 2009

AGW, Again

Freeman Dyson Taken On AGW Hysteria

In recent news, the war against AGW hysteria found another major ally in Freeman Dyson. Dyson, a towering figure in physics, has taken on Hansen and Gore at the root of their argument, which is the so-called "consensus" that the science is "settled," which gives them the excuse they need to avoid any and all debate on the merits of their theory. Dyson goes right to the heart of that avoidance, and ridicules even the mention of the word "consensus" along with the word "science." His contention is that there is not even an AGW theory, given that there can be no theory if there can be no experiment designed to test it.

In an interview with Yale Environment 360 we can read Dyson's answers, which are so much more satisfying than the way he was portrayed in the New York Times Magazine article that made this issue arise to public consciousness. And his own words are persuasive. He admits that he is no expert in climatology, but is an expert in the scientific method. So he says, most persuasively:
Dyson: I think the difference between me and most of the experts is that I think I have a much wider view of the whole subject. I was involved in climate studies seriously about 30 years ago. That’s how I got interested. There was an outfit called the Institute for Energy Analysis at Oak Ridge. I visited Oak Ridge many times, and worked with those people, and I thought they were excellent. And the beauty of it was that it was multi-disciplinary. There were experts not just on hydrodynamics of the atmosphere, which of course is important, but also experts on vegetation, on soil, on trees, and so it was sort of half biological and half physics. And I felt that was a very good balance.

And there you got a very strong feeling for how uncertain the whole business is, that the five reservoirs of carbon all are in close contact — the atmosphere, the upper level of the ocean, the land vegetation, the topsoil, and the fossil fuels. They are all about equal in size. They all interact with each other strongly. So you can’t understand any of them unless you understand all of them. Essentially that was the conclusion. It’s a problem of very complicated ecology, and to isolate the atmosphere and the ocean just as a hydrodynamics problem makes no sense.

Thirty years ago, there was a sort of a political split between the Oak Ridge community, which included biology, and people who were doing these fluid dynamics models, which don’t include biology. They got the lion’s share of money and attention. And since then, this group of pure modeling experts has become dominant.

I got out of the field then. I didn’t like the way it was going. It left me with a bad taste.

Syukuro Manabe, right here in Princeton, was the first person who did climate models with enhanced carbon dioxide and they were excellent models. And he used to say very firmly that these models are very good tools for understanding climate, but they are not good tools for predicting climate. I think that’s absolutely right. They are models, but they don’t pretend to be the real world. They are purely fluid dynamics. You can learn a lot from them, but you cannot learn what’s going to happen 10 years from now.
And then this about the basis of the whole kerfluffle - the computer models at the core of every true believer's soul.
I mean it’s a fact that they don’t know how to model it. And the question is, how does it happen that they end up believing their models? But I have seen that happen in many fields. You sit in front of a computer screen for 10 years and you start to think of your model as being real. It is also true that the whole livelihood of all these people depends on people being scared. Really, just psychologically, it would be very difficult for them to come out and say, “Don’t worry, there isn’t a problem.” It’s sort of natural, since their whole life depends on it being a problem. I don’t say that they’re dishonest. But I think it’s just a normal human reaction. It’s true of the military also. They always magnify the threat. Not because they are dishonest; they really believe that there is a threat and it is their job to take care of it. I think it’s the same as the climate community, that they do in a way have a tremendous vested interest in the problem being taken more seriously than it is.

Lots more stuff where that came from. But even as he shoots down the basis upon which governments around the world are being pressured to act, what is never mentioned is the most interesting to me. The one funny thing about this debate is that the two sides both avoid the real issue. It is not about what bad people did to ruin the climate, and it is not about economic or health outcomes from this or that type of climate change. No, the real debate, the one that Hansen et al refuse to have, is how do we get the idea that humans can, by coordinated action, affect climate, and cause global temperatures to decline. Especially knowing that the real danger to humanity is posed by ice rather than tropical heat, the silence on this crucial issue is astounding.

One side says that we have spoiled our nest and must be punished. The other side says that there is nothing to see here, so move on. But the center of this is humanity taking control of global climate. Never mind that we have enough trouble making tiny changes to weather on a local scale, now let us embark on a grand experiment to alter a planet's climate. Not based on data or experience, but on fervor bordering on religious belief.

Before we go off half-cocked, is it not reasonable to get our facts straight before we make any substantial investment? I know this is heresy to the Hansen/Gore axis, but we really do not have enough data to make any of the prescribed moves to change this thing that, for all we know, may not even be broken. Or it may be but what we do might be the exact wrong thing. Alternatively, if the worst scenarios are about to unfold, there is absolutely no chance that humanity will be willing to invest more than a token amount in the prescribed changes to worldwide human behavior.