More Reasons to Doubt Scientific Omniscience
We hear it all the time; 99% of scientists agree. All it takes, though, is one overlooked fact to tumble a consensus.
Occasionally we take a look at matters other than creation and evolution, when they are instructive about the scientific process. The scientific consensus on climate change (previously known as “global warming”) is a case in point. Scientists have been so dogmatic about it they have convinced most major world governments to enact draconian measures to counteract it. Climate has changed drastically in the past before humans evolved, they will admit, but they insist that the current climate excursion was caused by people trying to increase their happiness and reduce their suffering. News about global warming often includes denunciations of President Donald Trump for pulling America out of the Paris Climate Accords.
We don’t quote climate “denialists” to get into the mud on this issue. We just look at the secular news itself, which is almost uniformly on the side of the climate consensus, and ask questions (see this list for previous entries). We pass over the ridiculous stories about what’s coming with global warming, like this headline on Phys.org, “Competition between males improves resilience against climate change.” Claims like that nobody could ever know for sure. Instead, we focus on the epistemology of the consensus: how do they know what they claim to know about human culpability for a warming climate? Did the consensus take the following factors into account?
These ‘Dirty’ Thunderstorms Fill Sky with As Much Smoke As Volcanic Eruption (Live Science). Big volcanic eruptions, it is well known, can alter the climate. A well-known case was the Mt. Pinatubo eruption that reduced global temperatures for a time by 0.9° F in 1991. This article says that pyrocumulonimbus storms (pyroCb’s), or “dirty thunderstorms” fed by ash from wildfires, can put as much carbon smoke into the atmosphere as a volcano. “While such major volcanic events are sporadic, Peterson said, pyroCb events occur every year,” the article ends. “But scientists have not studied these storms enough to understand their potential impact on the climate.” Since wildfires are common, and have occurred long before man started burning coal or oil, would climate models produce different conclusions if pyroCbs were taken into account?
Tiny particles high up in the sky give insight into climate change (Phys.org). Black carbon (BC) can reflect incoming solar heat back into space, this article says. So can the clouds that form around the particles. Atmospheric particles, or aerosols, are thought to be the second or third most important factor after carbon dioxide. But do scientists understand its contribution? Note the uncertainty in this quote regarding a substantial contributor to climate change (which would seem to lower temperatures rather than raise them).
Aerosols, tiny particles that are suspended in the atmosphere, contribute significantly towards climate change. However, despite their consequential role, aerosol interactions aren’t very well understood.
The authors say that particles can last for years and influence regions far from cities with their pollution. The concentration of these particles over the Amazon Basin was higher than expected. Does this give anyone confidence in climate models, with their dire predictions of temperature changes a century away, specified in tenths of a degree? Yet those are the models used to scare politicians into taking drastic action.
Microbes eat rocks and leave carbon dioxide (Science Magazine). This news item reveals that geologists and climatologists were wrong about silicate rocks acting as a carbon sink to counterbalance the outgassing of volcanoes. Microbes in the silicates can actually “eat” the rocks and release much of that carbon back into the atmosphere as CO2. A study of these rocks in Taiwan showed that “microbes oxidize roughly two-thirds of the petrogenic organic carbon there and that the rate of oxidation increases with the rate of erosion.”
How does the Pacific Walker circulation respond to strong tropical volcanism? (Phys.org). Read this news item to get an idea of how complicated it is to tease out the significance of individual factors that might alter the climate. Severe volcanic eruptions (SVE’s), like the recent one in Bali, Indonesia, “can affect Earth’s climate.” But by how much? Trying to figure that out is complex, because a large eruption, which is unpredictable, can affect air currents in unexpected ways that are not well understood. Obviously humans are not responsible for what volcanoes do. Note, too, that SVEs tend to have a cooling effect. “The cooling effect from the SVEs is able to cool the entire tropics,” the article says, and yet the temperature anomalies that result are not uniform.
Anthropogenic combustion iron as a complex climate forcer (Nature Communications). Even though this paper mentions a factor that might exacerbate warming, the key fact is that it was not taken into account before. “Our results demonstrate that anthropogenic combustion iron is a larger and more complex climate forcer than previously thought, and therefore plays a key role in the Earth system,” the authors say. This should lead thoughtful observers to ask what other factors have not been considered, that could be larger or smaller than previously thought?
The Politics of Climate Change
Republicans more persuasive than scientists on climate change (Science Daily). This article, pretending to be an unbiased analysis of political attitudes about climate change, ends up as a partisan advocacy piece. The authors of a psychological survey at the University of Connecticut seem disturbed that Republicans who argue against anthropogenic climate change are more persuasive than the scientific consensus. But rather than see if Republican counter-arguments have merit, the authors delve into ways to package consensus arguments in more persuasive ways. They assume that Republicans are engaging in misinformation. “Citing Republican elites who endorse the scientific consensus on climate change may be the most effective way to persuade citizens that climate change is a real and important problem,” says Lyle Scruggs, a professor of political science at University of Connecticut. “That may be a step forward in reducing the partisan gap in public opinion on the subject.” Anyone smell partisanship in that comment?
In closing, maybe it’s worth asking what the ruckus is about. Mike Wall wrote on Space.com, “Life on Venus? Why It’s Not an Absurd Thought.” Venus, we note, is a very warm planet. Astrobiologist David Grinspoon says that the atmosphere a few dozen miles up is pretty benign – if the Venusians can tolerate the sulfuric acid. So why worry? If climate change wipes out human society, some scientists, like the misanthrope Eric Pianka who wants to solve overpopulation of stupid people by releasing atmospheric ebola to kill billions of people indiscriminately, might be happy. Darwin will ensure that the next generation of organisms on earth will be heat-tolerant, acid-tolerant, and will vote Democrat. That’s not an absurd thought at all, now is it? Not for the scientific consensus.