Climate change debunked
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Who do you trust to tell you the truth about climate? The corporate media? The government? Scientific journals? Your friends?
For a long time I was in that mode of absorbing whatever ambient climate information found its way to me, and where the consensus seemed clear accepting that was probably the truth. I made one or two attempts to follow some more specific debates between believers and skeptics about sea ice, but those tended to rat-hole into very specialized technical details or irate volleys of Hitler mustaches.
It was a voice from the past--a well-respected physics professor from my days in graduate school--who jostled me into a more active stance. Unlike the journalists and the politicians and pretty much everyone else I’d heard on the topic, he wasn’t just repeating what he’d heard somewhere else, passively surfing the wave of consensus. He knew what he was talking about, and he took a stand.
Ever been firmly committed on a topic you took seriously, but then something struck a new personal connection for you, and you caught yourself re-evaluating?
That got me looking deeper, actively seeking out data rather than passively receiving it. And I cast off a certain defeatism about evaluating the subject for myself. The climate is a hugely complex topic that I don’t have years to invest building expertise in. The odds that I could genuinely understand what the professionals were saying--much less catch them in mistakes--seemed slim.
But the bar turned out to be lower than I imagined. A lot lower. I got dramatically smarter on the subject as soon as I started seeking out things to read rather than just letting articles bump into me. I started with the UN’s first climate assessment report from 1990, and even that was full of surprises.
We’re all drenched in a storm of climate journalism that triggers alarm but doesn’t educate us much or help us evaluate claims. Who provides the information we have about climate? How do they make predictions? When have their predictions been shown right or wrong? How can we assess the validity of their claims? Where does climate science end and climate politics begin?
Journalists used to ask the Five W’s, to help us fill in context and answer questions like those. That’s apparently old-fashioned. The Internet has brought us the age of the citizen journalist, where anyone can get to the bottom of issues themselves. It may also mean we have to get to the bottom of issues ourselves.
Climate Change Facts
You’ve spilled enough serotonin over climate change to deserve some good news, so I’ll get right to it: it’s not happening.
To be clear, “climate change” is happening in the sense that the climate is always changing. But Earth is not on the brink of catastrophic warming. The models that assume humans’ CO2 emissions drive global temperatures are inconsistent with the data.
If that doesn't feel like good news, if your first reaction is rage, you might want to rage-quit right here.
Climate concerns have become so distorted by partisan politics that the weather is no longer just the weather, it has a thousand other political issues attached to it. Millions have been maneuvered into a paradoxical state where the only greater threat than humanity facing a climate catastrophe is humanity not facing a climate catastrophe. I sympathize. What a terrible no-win situation to be trapped in.
For the rest of you who are open to relinquishing any attachment to the planet warming dangerously, who would welcome a future where humanity escapes cataclysm, read on. There’s a place for rage, and you might leave with a clearer sense where it should be directed.
Proof climate change is fake
How can we know climate alarmists are wrong? Principally because official climate models keep overestimating future temperatures.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has published five reports since 1990 summarizing the wisdom of climate researchers and seeking to inform policymakers. If officialdom has a consensus on climate, this is it. The IPCC sets the tone for how right-thinking governments should approach climate.
IPCC reports are accordingly alarmist and grave. They describe global temperatures much as George W. Bush described Iraq’s WMDs: just about to kill us all.
1990 was almost 30 years ago, long enough for even long-range predictions to be evaluated. The IPCC has consistently predicted more warming and more sea level rise than subsequent measurements show.
Temperatures aren't the only thing climate alarmists worry about. What about acidification of oceans? What about melting glaciers? What about drought and famine? What about forest fires? Those turn out to be overstated as well, but one subject at a time. Climate change has turned into a game of Whack-a-Mole, in which new perils pop up faster than one can subdue the previous ones.
The scientific method has been a great boon to humanity because it focuses questions and settles debates. To keep our bearings amid popping moles, we must stick to it by (a) identifying a specific testable prediction and (b) seeing how it fares against observed data.
You’ll find a thousand people out there making various climate-related claims. But if there’s a main climate claim from an official body, it’s the IPCC’s forecasts of the global temperature anomaly. The warming they predict has not happened.
Per the scientific method, I could reasonably end this article right here, because prediction accuracy is the litmus test. But I found the science both interesting and underreported. Perhaps you will too.
Understanding the climate debate
Establishment client scientists and dissenters fundamentally disagree about a single number. If the average concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere doubles, what happens to the average temperature?
Everyone agrees that the direct effect is to raise temperatures about 1°C, which one can arrive at by solving heat equations. But the planet is a complex network of feedback effects, and netting those out is filled with hard work and controversy.
Alarmists say there's a lot of positive feedback that drives the effect closer to 3°C. A little warming causes ice to melt, replacing bright ice with dark ocean, absorbing more solar energy and causing more warming. Melting permafrost releases methane that blocks more escaping infrared, enhancing the greenhouse effect, melting more permafrost. And so on.
Skeptics say feedback is on the whole negative, otherwise temperatures would have run away long ago. A little warming causes more water vapor which causes more clouds which causes cooling. CO2 is a potent greenhouse gas, but one with diminishing effect, and the atmosphere is already nearly opaque in its infrared bands. Any additional warming effect of CO2 is tiny compared with other factors that really drive the climate.
Climate models that form the basis of the IPCC report generally assume sensitivities in the range of 1.5 to 4.5°C. The trouble is, that implies much more warming than we’re seeing. CO2 levels keep rising, so the models say temperatures should keep rising. In fact, Earth has scarcely warmed at all since the mid 1990s, creating a big discrepancy.
Climate researchers, faced with the discrepancy, didn’t reconsider the CO2 sensitivity but added cooling components to their model. The largest, tropospheric aerosols (read: smog in China), is hypothesized to cancel out a third of the postulated CO2 warming as figure 2 shows.
Note that none of these components are measured, they’re conjectural. The claim is now that rising CO2 levels cause a dramatic and growing warming effect, which is luckily canceled out by a large and growing cooling effect from smog in China.
Yes, say the skeptics, that’s possible. Maybe the global warming elephant is temporarily canceled out by a cooling anti-elephant.
Or maybe there were never any elephants at all. Maybe CO2 is just a kitten that casts an elephantine shadow on researchers’ grant funding. Maybe they’re just stuffing whatever they can think of under the climate crisis to keep it from collapsing.
In any case, if I get to add post-hoc embellishments to my theory, it becomes unfalsifiable. I can make up whatever I need to fit the data. I’m no longer making scientific predictions.
How climate models work
If you have some scientific literacy, it’s not hard to spot trouble in the methodology climate researchers use.
Climate modelers view the planet not unlike Minecraft: a bunch of biomes composed of blocks with different properties such as temperature and dampness and CO2 concentration. Adjacent blocks interact by exchanging fluxes of radiation, water, gases, and so on.
To do climate science like the pros, you assemble a planet of blocks in your computer and run numerical simulations to see how they evolve. There are a thousand tunable parameters, which you narrow down to reasonable ranges by fitting against historical data. Then you run your model into the future and watch how temperatures in Winnipeg or sea levels in Osaka evolve over time.
Model results, as figure 3 shows, resemble a spray of Silly String. Different runs of different models follow quite different paths. The IPCC reports generally average a few dozen together to form a best estimate and show the range of disagreement as the error bars.
Unfortunately this methodology means headlines like “X linked to climate change” is arguably true for just about any X. Flooding in Texas. Drought in Texas. Heat in Boston. Cold in Boston. Because the model predictions vary widely, they invite confirmation bias. No matter what weather you’re experiencing, it’s a good bet you can find a climate model and a Bible verse with a lesson about it.
The IPCC uses the variance among models to quantify probabilities. If nine out of ten models predict more frequent heat waves, they claim the probability is 90%. Scientifically speaking, this is nonsensical. We can’t replay Earth’s evolution a bunch of times and count how often heat waves became more common, so probability claims are unfalsifiable. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) is filled with unscientific language like this.
Old-school scientists take a dim view of the whole methodology. Earth is not made up of blocks, at least not ones the size of Colorado. While it’s easy to design a simple model with blocks and densities and fluxes, and to find parameter values that tolerably match a few decades of history, it just doesn’t show you understand the real dynamics of even a single biome, let alone the global climate.
In fact, it shows the opposite. A man with two watches never knows what time it is. If you have dozens of models that disagree, and you don’t know enough to prune out the incorrect ones, you don’t understand the climate. Climatologists, the old-schoolers will tell you, are not doing science. They’re sci-fi writers with spreadsheets.
Day traders looking into climate science will also spot a familiar hazard. It’s easy enough to think up a clever model of the NASDAQ, to backfit your parameters based on historical data, and to predict historical price moves with impressive accuracy ... and then to go broke betting the model will hold up in the future.
Low-Quality Climate Science
If you’ve accumulated a stack of degrees in physics as I seem to have done, you may be tempted to look still deeper. When I did, I was surprised how many limitations and assumptions encumber our understanding of the climate.
Climate scientists trying to relate climate to CO2 are essentially trying to predict one number, the average global temperature, based on another number, the average CO2 level. That’s telling a boldly reductive story about a very complex planet. It’s like trying to predict how much the average spice will improve the average dish. Even if you can boil those averages down to single numbers, no one cooks the "average dish." You pave over so many specifics you’re not saying anything useful.
In practical terms that means neither of these aggregates is measurable. Both CO2 levels and temperatures vary so much from place to place and moment to moment that estimating their global averages is fraught with speculation and controversy. There weren’t a lot of thermometers 1000 years ago. Even 100 years ago there were scarcely any outside the US and Europe. Today we have more, but getting from thermometer readings to the “average global temperature” is an indirect process involving a good bit of modeling and choices on the part of scientists. A climate model is a bit like a mortgage derivative--based on a “data set” that is itself the output of other models and assumptions and editorial decisions and calibrations and corrections. Raw data in climate science isn’t really a thing.
Climate data comes from instruments with their own limitations and peculiarities. A thermometer measures temperature at one moment, not an average temperature. They are located in some places and not others. Local climates change as forests are cleared or cities develop or airports open for business. Satellites move in orbits, and orbits decay. Human beings with different habits, schedules and priorities manage the instruments and report data from them.
Historical data comes from proxies such as tree rings or ice cores. Their properties today may correlate with historical temperatures or CO2 concentrations, but recovering the original truth requires accurately understanding and modeling historical conditions to correct other influences like rainfall or volcanic activity or human development. There are a limited number of proxy data sets collected by a limited number of research teams in a limited set of locations. It’s not like reviews of the latest Star Wars movie, where there are a lot of independent assessments and you can expect opinions from multiple sources to converge. Historical climate reconstructions depend heavily on which proxies researchers rely on and how they interpret them.
There’s a lot to say about CO2. How it blocks infrared radiation, and whether the atmosphere can block any more in its absorption bands than it’s already doing. By the time you’re applying the 6th or 7th coat of paint to the barn, it can’t get much redder.
There’s the physics of photosynthesis. Modern CO2 levels of 400 ppm may or may not be at their highest in a million years, but plants evolved 400 million years ago when they were ten times higher. Below 150 ppm, plants can’t survive at all, which would be bad news for us all. The world’s flora have been struggling against a CO2 famine for many years, and rising CO2 levels in recent decades have caused a great global greening. Global leaf area has grown 5% since 2000, growing seasons are longer, and crops more plentiful.
There are better climate theories that get no coverage. Cosmoclimatology maintains climate has little to do with CO2 and a lot to do with solar activity, cosmic rays, and clouds. The sun's magnetic field shields the earth from cosmic rays, which influence cloud formation, which regulates the planet’s temperature. When the sun is more active, the shield is stronger. Fewer cosmic rays reach the atmosphere, and fewer clouds form. Fewer clouds mean more light gets to the surface, and the earth warms. Likewise when the sun is less active or we pass through a noisy part of the galaxy, we get more cosmic rays, more clouds, and lower temperatures.
Clouds have the opposite effect on Antarctica. Because it's already covered in bright snow and ice, cloud cover actually darkens it, absorbs more solar energy, and causes it to warm. Cosmoclimatology explains why we're seeing ice spread in Antarctica while it melts in the Arctic, which the CO2 theory cannot. And it easily explains Earth's historic ice ages and melts in terms of the its movements around the sun and the sun's around the galaxy. It fits the data better.
And it says late 20th century warming was just part of a cycle. The planet was hot in the 1930s, cold in the 1970s, hot again around 2000, and will cool back down.
Where climate science meets climate politics
You’ve heard many politicians tell you climate change is all about science. As a scientist, the deeper I dig into it, the more it seems to be about politics.
I had always assumed the UN’s scientific body, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, was created to figure out what drives the climate, or to avert catastrophic warming.
So I was somewhat shocked when I finally visited its website and read its mission:
To provide governments at all levels with scientific information that they can use to develop climate policies
The mission takes as a premise that governments should impose climate interventions, and the IPCC was created is to lend those scientific justification. The goal is not climate understanding or climate mitigation but climate policy.
In other words, the IPCC faces a huge conflict of interest. Its customers are politicians. No politician has ever won an election by promising to do nothing. If “do nothing” were the right answer, would the IPCC say so? What would happen to its funding if it did?
You can see the conflict compromising the science right from the First Assessment Report. Chapter 8, “Detection of the Greenhouse Effect in the Observations,” does exactly what scientists aren’t supposed to do: pick an explanation, then go looking in the data for reasons to believe it.
Where climate science meets clicks
Most of our news about the climate comes by way of journalists. Journalists are sadly in disrepute these days after the scandals of Russiagate, the Covington hoax, the Fine People hoax, the Trayvon hoax, and it seems like there’s a new one every week. But even before I started reading up on the climate, it was clear the media wasn’t giving us the straight story.
How many times have you seen this headline? I’ve been reading it for two decades.
New Evidence Shows: Climate Change Worse than Previously Thought
The article that follows invariably tries to get you to believe climate science is settled, yet new data is catching scientists by surprise. Both cannot be true.
Scientific models are quantitative. If you predict it will rain tomorrow, and I predict the day after (because science), and it doesn't rain for three weeks, we're both wrong. I may be a little less wrong than you, but I clearly don't understand what makes it rain. Climate models cannot both be reliable and fail to predict observations, and yet that’s exactly what the press keeps claiming year after year.
If you want to take the wheel of your own climate education, the media will give you plenty of chances. Much climate news reports “who said what” about the climate, but there are also many articles making objective claims. Bias, distortion, and outright fraud are shockingly easy to spot.
Here’s a random one from recent weeks. Impact of climate change on global banana yields revealed. The summary warns climate change “could negatively impact banana yields.” The subsequent article admits that crop yields are in fact up, but then hypothesizes they might come back down. The BBC tries bravely to twist good news into bad. In this case you can catch them at it by simply reading the article.
Perhaps you heard we just had the hottest July on record. If you dig into the details, “the record” they’re looking at goes back only 40 years, to the temperature minimums of the 1970s, when we were worried about global cooling. There’s a curious tendency to clip “the record” right after some historical extreme.
Or Great Barrier Reef has very poor outlook, climate change to blame. But the text makes clear a number of factors are to blame. If you search online for independent assessments of the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll find Australia’s environmental minister saying the reef is doing pretty well. And a professor who says the reef is doing fine, and who claims he was wrongfully fired for standing up to the establishment climate alarmists. You’ll find invitations to follow the money in Australia’s complex reef politics.
Judge for yourself. Give a half dozen stories about climate a critical reading, look for independent opinions, and decide for yourself whether the corporate media is giving you the straight story.
Where climate science meets corporate welfare
I gave you the good news about the climate, and now I must deliver the bad. You have another set of aristocrats to support.
The ruling class has leveraged the climate scare to construct another government-industrial complex of white-collar professionals who live at the taxpayer’s expense. Governments currently lavish $350 billion per year on subsidies for climate researchers and green industrialists from solar panel salesmen to Elon Musk. Bernie Sanders just promised them another $16 trillion if they can get him into the White House.
It's no surprise that the backlash is growing. French citizens took to the streets to protest proposed petrol taxes that were notionally to save the climate. They smell a rat, and they're not wrong.
More and more academics, Nobel laureates and even a few politicians are coming forward to question the consensus. It is not an accident that dissenters tend to be retired or to come from fields like physics or geology that don’t receive the big climate research money. Amateur watchdogs are blowing the whistle on the institutions for a range of scandals, from sloppiness with data records to outright fraud.
If you pay a mechanic $1600 to fix your car, you can reasonably expect it to be fixed. But if you pay $16 trillion, there’s no chance. That sort of money means jobs for millions, generations of professionals building careers around the problem, sprawling bureaucracies dedicated to it. They’ll study the snot out of it, they’ll build awareness, they’ll advocate and plan and administer. But not only will they not solve it, they’ll actively stamp out anyone else’s attempts to do so. Please name a trillion dollar problem that was ever solved.
Climate alarmists are very quick to accuse dissenters of being in the pay of Big Oil. They suspect, not unreasonably, that money might corrupt people's objectivity. Yet somehow they’ve been induced to judge the climate-industrial complex by completely different standards. What those standards are isn’t clear, but apparently some mechanism allows people awash in taxpayer money to retain their objectivity and trustworthiness.
Having studied both, I see an eerie similarity between climate science and macroeconomics. Scientist-like types such as John Maynard Keynes hypothesized a model of GDP (an unobservable aggregate statistic, meaningful in no one’s life) based on average unemployment (another unobservable aggregate) and the “price level” (yet another). Market economies, he said, will run themselves into a ditch unless governments carefully monitor these aggregates and spend lots of money to actively steer the economy.
Now, we’re warned that “the climate” (an even fuzzier aggregate than GDP) will run off the rails unless governments control “the CO2 level” (another statistical fiction, unrepresentative of any particular habitat) at unimaginable expense.
In more than 80 years, macroeconomists have not discernibly added any value at all. Events have disproved their prognostications repeatedly and catastrophically, from the stagflation of the 1970s to the Great Recession of 2008. But they’re somehow they remain not just on the public payroll but still in control of the world’s currencies. They make life easier for politicians, so they’re not going anywhere.
Perhaps climatologists learned from their example. They’re here to stay too. It snowed in Florida in 1977, and it will do so again within the next couple decades, in stubborn defiance of global warming theory.
But by then they will have pivoted again. “Global warming” has already been discarded as too vulnerable to falsification. Citizens have been smoothly transitioned to the vaguer “climate change,” which could mean anything. By the next cold cycle, if they’re doing their job, you’ll be protesting in the street to stop the coming ice age.
They're gambling you will not notice their many pivots, contradictions, and unfalsifiable claims. Will you prove them right?