A Few Things Ill Considered

A layman's take on the science of Global Warming featuring a guide on How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

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Scientists Aren't Even Sure

(Part of the How to Talk to a Climate Sceptic guide)

This article has moved to ScienceBlogs

It has also been updated and this page is still here only to preserve the original comment thread. Please visit A Few Things Ill Considered there. You may also like to view Painting With Water, Coby Beck's original fine art photography.



  • At April 20, 2006 6:13 PM, Blogger Dano said…

    BTW, coby, this bloggy goodness was a great idea and I'm glad you followed thru to make it happen.



  • At April 20, 2006 8:52 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Thanks, Dano. I appreciate the encouragement. And your visits! I don't know how you manage to have a presence on so many blogs, BTW. Even using Bloglines I am forced to skip many a post, or look in only after a zillion comments have made it in there, yours usually among them ;)


  • At April 21, 2006 3:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    That's because Dano is actually a collective of 413 people. Be careful or you too may be assimilated by the Dano.

    But I understand that he is lobbying for a 26 hour day to fit everything in.

    John Cross

  • At April 21, 2006 9:32 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Let me guess: resistance is futile, right?


  • At April 21, 2006 9:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hey Coby, since you've got time on your hands :), why not do a post deconstructing the Phil Jones v. Bob Carter interview? Carter managed to pack in a bunch of septic conflations that are very common but I think you may not have addressed yet. Also, most of the points he made were prone to some effective one or two sentence rejoinders.

  • At April 21, 2006 9:52 PM, Blogger coby said…

    I don't find that, do you have an earl handy?

    Thanks for the assignment, I was almost going to visit my real life... ;)

  • At April 22, 2006 6:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    James Annan links and discusses it at http://julesandjames.blogspot.com/2006/04/septic-nonsense-on-bbc-againsigh.html#comments . Thinking about this more, it might be very useful for everyone on the sane side of the GW debate to have a cheat sheet of very short responses to some of the common septic crap. Looking over some of your earlier posts, it seems to me that a short answer could be developed for most of those and would cover part of the need.

    Much of what Carter said was actually in a different class and so is not covered by your existing material; e.g., when asked by the moderator about ocean acidification he brushed off a direct answer and talked about how we need CO2 to live, that increased CO2 is good for plants, etc. Part of a short response to that might be that we need water to live, but that doesn't mean we can't drown in it, that the science shows that in general plants don't benefit from the increased CO2 but may in fact suffer from it, and that acidification has been shown to be a great threat to ocean life by dissolving shells, among other things. To be useful, these answers shouldn't exceed three or four sentences. A short bibliography of one or two recent studies backing up these points would also be good to have.

    I'm thinking of all of this in not only a web format but as a tabbed binder that one could take to debates, consult for Q+A sessions after GW talks, and leave near the telephone in case a reporter calls. Speaking of reporters, it could also be very useful as a reference for them.

    In fact, this is such a good idea I'll even help with it! :)

  • At April 22, 2006 7:10 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Steve,

    These are some ideas I've been having too. Some of my posts are definately the short answer, others are the long answer. What I would like is for each post to have a short and a long. And as you suggest a bibliography of references. Actually, the "cheat sheet" concept was the whole motivation, though I only had ideas of using it myself for bickering on sci.environment, RealClimate ruined that ;)

    Why don't you email me and I'll let you know about some of the balls that are already rolling.
    -me- 101 at telus.net

  • At October 26, 2006 7:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hi and thanks a lot for the good work !

    About scientific uncertainties, you could also use the argument of russian roulette : you don't know for sure if there is a bullet in the charger, but unless you are suicidal you definitely don't want to know if you were right or not !


  • At February 20, 2007 7:19 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    There is no concensus in Science, just like there is no concensus in Religion.

    Everyone has their own little belief system. This adds humour and color to an otherwise borring existance on Earth.

    BTW, the Christian God is the only true God.

  • At March 18, 2007 12:12 PM, Blogger Heiko said…


    I think the answer is that scientists are 100% certain (or as close as that gets in science) that greenhouse gases cause warming.

    What they are not 100% certain about is that there's a net warming contribution from humans, and that's largely because of uncertainty about aerosol cooling, and what they are 90% + certain about is that more than 50% of warming from 1900 to 2005 is anthropogenic.


    As for climate change being "dangerous", that's got a strong value judgment component in it. If we were talking about a meteorite impact, it would be hard not to label it "dangerous", but you know that the complex risks and opportunities afforded by climate change are such that this is a matter of sujective judgment, and not purely of objective science.

  • At March 20, 2007 9:42 AM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Heiko,

    Nice to have your comments again, sorry I have got behind answering!

    I don't have any disagreement with you description of how much and about what scientists are certain.

    Yes, dangerous is a value judgment and I think it is high time for a formal definition of what is "dangerous climate change" which are words in the UNFCC treaty and a concept central to the IPCC assessments. But I also think that there will be easy agreement on just what it is that humanity should value: health, food and water. Of course the devil will be all over the details of how to measure these things and even for so in how to best achieve them.

    I also agree with your underlying message that this debate needs to move beyond the science of atmospheric chemistry and it should do so quickly!

  • At September 06, 2007 11:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Even so, you will never ever get a purely scientific source saying "the future is absolutely certain".

    But what certainty there is about the basic issue is close enough to 100% for all practical purposes that it should be taken as 100%. Don't wait for scientific certainty, we are there. Every major institute that deals with climate related science is saying AGW is here and real and dangerous, even though they will not remove the "very likely" and "strongly indicated" qualifiers. The translation of what the science is saying into the language of the public is this: Global warming is definitely happening and it is definitely because of human activities and it will definitely continue as long as CO2 keeps rising in the atmosphere.

    Aren't you contridicting yourself here?

    When we can find statements in what you use as references such as:

    "Reference to Hansen 1999:

    We suggest that further warming in the United States to a level rivaling the 1930s is likely in the next decade, but reliable prediction requires better understanding of decadal oscillations of ocean temperature."


    "Reference to Hansen 2001:

    “We find evidence of local human effects ("urban warming") even in suburban and small-town surface air temperature records, but the effect is modest in magnitude and conceivably could be an artifact of inhomogeneities in the station records. We suggest further studies, including more complete satellite night light analyses, which may clarify the potential urban effect. There are inherent uncertainties in the long-term temperature change at least of the order of 0.1°C for both the U.S. mean and the global mean."

    There are several references saying the same thing: we need more study. Yet so many people say the debate is over, and the results are written in stone.

    And to Jean-Pierre:

    "About scientific uncertainties, you could also use the argument of russian roulette : you don't know for sure if there is a bullet in the charger, but unless you are suicidal you definitely don't want to know if you were right or not!"

    No, but I sure would want to do further research to see the danger.

    I mean, the way the AGW alarmists see it, we're playing russian roulette with one round in an automatic instead of one round in a revolver. Big difference in the odds!

  • At September 06, 2007 4:15 PM, Blogger coby said…

    Hi Anonymouse,

    You are clearly avoiding the central point of this post: scientific language needs translation into vernacular before the lay audience can get the meaning out of it. So don't bother looking for quotations that are equivalent to my proposed translation, the scientific sources will always have the caveats and the uncertainties.

    That said, your offered quotes are red herrings. The first Hansen is about what the future will bring, not about observed consequences of measured forcings. The second quote is about refining details that are not relevant to the broad conclusions that are policy relevant.

    Needing more study is not a contradiction to knowing some things with certainty. We know with certainty that the world is warming due to human actions, we need more study to know as close as possible exactly how things will change.

    WRT your russian roulette comment, yes sure, research more before pulling the trigger. In the analogy, pumping CO2 inot the atmosphere corresponds to pulling the trigger so clearly you are supporting the idea that we must cease this action until we are certain there is no bullet in the chamber. I agree!

    Thanks for the comment.


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